This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!
Problem: In Search of a Game
I've had a very hard time trying to find anyone near my area who's interested in playing D&D.. Are there any websites where I can join up and play online? Or is there a website I can join and see local groups that are looking for members???
-- Jake, from AskWizards.com
Jake, if you think you have it rough, think about the days before computers were so common. Today, most people have one or more at home, others at school, others at work, and even free for use at the library. In the olden days, gamers had to basically bump into one another -- hang out in the library or the lunchroom after school, find a local game or comic shop with a table in back, or find people who were playing and ask them.
You can still use some of the resources that us cave-gamers used back in the day. I'll get to the internet, because that can be a fantastic resource, but to find a local game for yourself, sometimes the direct approach is best. If you have a nearby game or hobby store, talk to people who work there. People who work in game shops and even comic book shops are often gamers themselves or may know people who are. If so, they can give you a direct, person-to-person referral. Some shops keep lists of DMs' phone numbers or have a bulletin board where people looking for games or players can post notices. It may turn out to be a dead end, but it may also be a font of information. It's worth a visit or a call, anyway (and who doesn't like dropping in at the hobby shop?).
Gaming stores often have information on local gaming conventions. Attending one of those is another good way to meet a lot of gamers at once and network, find out where people are from, see what kinds of games they like to play, and ask whether they know of openings in local campaigns. The convention may also have a gamer-matching service (sounds like dating, and in a way it is similar). Making the rounds at a game convention and talking to people may be your answer.
Likewise, local libraries sometimes serve the interests of gaming in two ways -- they may have conference rooms with chairs and big tables that can be reserved for meetings (including games), and they may also facilitate group activities with bulletin boards and contact lists. A school librarian may help you do the same. There again, there may be a bulletin board -- either a literal one that you pin messages to or an electronic one. Your school might even have a D&D or Games club that you don't know about.
While we had to rely on this sort of thing a generation ago, you have all kinds of advantages through the joys of the internet and easy computer access. If your school, university, or workplace has an internal network and bulletin board system, you may be able to post messages there expressing your interest in forming or joining a game group. I met a fellow gamer back in 1988 through a university bulletin board, and I still game with him today! (Ironically, the person who originally posted his interest in a game, which I volunteered to DM, never showed up.). I play in another group that is mostly people I met indirectly through this friend many years later.
Before I get to naming names of places to go, however, I must ask -- you stated that you want places to play online, but looking for a face-to-face, tabletop game of D&D is very different from looking for a play-by-email game, a play-by-IM game, or an on-line RPG such as D&D Online or World of Warcraft. If you are thinking about an entirely virtual tabletop D&D game, with everyone at their own computer, electronic dice rolling, and real-time communication -- it can be done, but there are obstacles. Add in webcams and you're talking about a gamer's dream -- but it's something of a Shangri-La.
Now, as far as finding games using on-line resources, there are lots of alternatives.
Once upon a time, this was the place for all things D&D on-line. You want a game, post that you are looking for a game, state where you are, and maybe even a little about yourself as a gamer. As other people read the newsgroup, they'll see your note and, if they have an opening (or know of one), they will respond. I've had a couple of players come my way through r.g.f.d.
On the downside, like a lot of usenet newsgroups, this has have tailed off a bit in readership as game-related internet sites have proliferated. When there was really only one place to go, everyone went there. Nowadays, some people don't go for the text-only approach and are more inclined to use more explicitly web-based message boards. Still, r.g.f.d. is worth looking into.
You can do a websearch with your favorite engine for rec.games.frp.dnd and access it there (provided your ISP supports newsgroup access -- most do, but you might need to alter your user settings or download a plug-in). If you are connected to a university's unix computer, you may be able to access usenet through a command such as 'rn' or 'rnews' or 'vnews' in old-school black and white texty goodness. I did a quick websearch and came up with a bunch of mirror sites that lead you to r.g.f.d -- so Jake, you're not alone. As you look for people, other people may be looking for you! You can scan the newsgroup for people already looking for games or players, and you can add your own request.
2. Check Out the RPGA
The Role Playing Gamers Association is a network of gamers all over the world. Their homepage is here on the Wizards website. The organization sanctions and organizes campaigns set in all of the major Wizards-published worlds. If you join the organization, it will share with you contact information for games in your area that you might join. RPGA campaigns such as Living Greyhawk have special rules -- the organization coordinates games so that all of them take place in a shared world. Even if you decide those games are not your bag, you can still make a lot of contacts with RPGA members who run non-RPGA games or who can share your information with other DMs and players that they know.
3. Check the Message Boards
Any gamer-related website has message boards, including the wizards.com forum. Whether it's wizards.com or anywhere else, it's a place where you can post threads looking for a game. Wizards also hosts a link to Meetup.com with a specialized D&D category. At paizo.com, they also have a dedicated section of their messageboards devoted to helping gamers find each other.
You can also try the messageboards or forums at third-party publishers such as Green Ronin, Kenzer & Company, or Malhavoc Press. Whether their products are compatible with 'official' D&D is immaterial. They are compatible enough that the contacts you make are going to be current or former D&D players, and it's all about making connections. Besides, you might even enjoy D&D/d20 with a little third-party flavor.
Finally, a 'clearinghouse' website such as EN World that covers all companies and game events is worth a visit, partly because they have game industry announcements that can include conventions and the like, but even more to access message boards and discussion groups in search of gamers in your area or to express your interest in finding a game on-line.
If you prefer a particular setting or game world, even an out-of-print one (Dark Sun or Mystara, for example), check the no-longer-updated but still chock full of good stuff Kargatane. You can also web search for that particular setting -- most retired worlds and out-of-print games have dedicated, fan-supported websites. Obviously, the odds of finding a game near you are less if you are looking for a particular kind of game. If it's 'A Game' you want, beggars probably can't be choosers, so find a group first, then see whether you can stoke interest in a setting that's close to your heart.
No matter how you conduct your search, remember that it's not about finding the right game group with your first phone call or email. It's about sharing information, making useful contacts, and tracing your way through the web of gamers until you find what you're looking for. Most gamers know a lot of other gamers, so even if your first (or second, or third, or eighth) contact isn't a fit, any of those may connect you to the game that does fit. They may also be members of local gaming organizations as well as the RPGA, and connections between networks can be your ticket to open games.
About the Author
Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.
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