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Tuesday, 22 October 2013

How we acquired new players - the growth of the hobby

Many people are saying that they've got a problem finding a replacement player for their group.
Personally, I find that we've got the opposite problem. Two brand-new players were waiting
for me to find free spots in a group.

And we just managed to attract another two players last week-end. No, wait, that's wrong: two newbies found us and asked nicely to be accepted, we did nothing but gather at the regular time... unlike the other two, which we found after organising an Open RPG Day.
Either way, there were no problems, of course. We're planning to start them within 2 weeks from the day they asked. Which is less than the other two had to wait, but sometimes, the waiting period is down to luck.

One of those that found us* is brand new to RPGs in general. She's got quite a bit of experience with boardgames -  she mentioned going to competitions - so I'd expect systems not to be a problem. We'll see about the roleplaying part.

The other guy is looking for a group, but has been unable to find one for a while. He has played before. Still, even not counting him, that still means we've got 3 newbies that haven't played an RPG before.

So, have you got a steady influx of new players, or do you find it hard getting new players? Either way: why?
(My own answer: I'm following the ideas in Ron Edwards' Sorcerer and Sword long before I read his suggestions. That explains more than half of my - let's call it a success).

*How a player found us instead of the other way around: a cautionary tale, or at least a hopefully-funny one
Our latest and newest player found us simply by virtue of the group playing in a boardgame store (where they loan you a table to play the game of your choice with your friends, for as long as you want, for 1 EU per person).
She seemed like a regular, or I think I've seen her already. So, while we were setting up the map of Manhattan 2080, the dice and the rest, she approached us and asked what we're playing.
"RPG. You know what it is, or do you want me to assign Victor and Kalin to explain while we start the game with Teodora?"
Immediately after I said it, I sensed she was ready to react sharply at this point. I remembered from many female players are embarrassed that men assume they don't know what the game is. So I...kept going, discarding the advice of the good people on
Mainly, I interrupted her objections - not polite, and definitely something people on would advise you against. But I had decided it makes sense.
"Well, people here tend to be into boardgames. Some of them aren't familiar with RPGs, so we're used to offering explanations."
That did the trick - she probably knew people that weren't aware what RPGs are, herself. And if it was necessary to explain, obviously I wasn't trying to single her out, not for her gender nor for any other reason.
(Thank you,, for warning me that yes, female players are more likely to feel some asshole is singling them out! In all honesty, I'd offer to explain it to anyone, male or female - but I understand why she might be a bit edgy. And understanding helped smoothing it out).
So she asked who's running it, which was me this week. And she asked to watch. She has said she knows what an RPG is, and I believed her. Still, she has never participated.
So I assigned it to the players that weren't in the starting scene to explain what's going on - which is surprisingly hard if you're unfamiliar with the setting - and stopped paying her attention. Rude? No, it simply means a Referee can only spare so much attention to people that aren't playing!
I was amazed after I realised she has remained close to an hour. IMO, watching roleplayers is like watching a radio novel, meaning some people do that, but it still amazes me!
So I figured she might really be interested - or starting to get interested, hopefully (we're always on the lookout for new players). Still, she has only asked to watch... so I made the next step.
"Would you like to try playing?"
"Yes, I've always wanted to!"
Now, that was a new. I've always assumed that in a boardgame store, if you want to join, you go and ask people whether they'd teach you the rules. Hey, that's what I do - and I've seldom been turned away!
So, we exchanged e-mails and phones (or rather, I gave her my e-mail and phone). She promised to e-mail me, and she did the night after that.
Long story short, she starts the next week. She could have started this week, but she's got a scheduled boardgame tournament.
So her first game is likely to be a FATE Tianxia one-shot. After that, the plan is for her to join our on-going Fates Worse Than Death campaign, which is what she has already seen. Depending on the one-shot success, we might come to alternate weeks between them, though.

I suspect there's at least a bit of a regional difference. Boardgames have never been considered an odd thing around here, including adults playing them. This might have something to do with the popularity of chess, backgammon, card games and games like yahtzee.
Sure, the first roleplayers were geeks, indeed. The current crop is no more geeky than society seems to accept as normal. So we're not a big part of the mainstream, but we're not singled out, either. Hey, there was recently a LARP-boardgames event that had received the support of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education!
Still, I doubt it's that different in most of Europe, and even in the USA. Maybe some people in the Bible Belt still believe RPGs are satanic (thanks to Jack Chick and assorted fundies), but outside of it? I'd bet you can start a new group more or less at will, if you do some legwork.