There are many stereotypes attributed to role players, but the truth is that we come from all walks of life. We're students and soldiers, programmers and prison guards, teachers and porn stars. I've resolved to travel across the world and play with as many different groups as I can - to find out what draws people to gaming, to see what we have in common and what's different. I stay for three days wherever I go. One day I run a game for my hosts. Another day I ask them to entertain me, showing me the things they love or find inspiring. The third day is open. If you're interested in being a part of it, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"You don't want to go over there, boy. Davor is running a game. You don't want to interrupt him."
"But I want to play!"
"You? Play D&D?" The man laughed. "Learn the difference between a kobold and a goblin. Learn the secret of the Quivering Palm. Kick in an orc's door and kill him, just because I told you to. Come back then and maybe ... maybe ... you can play D&D."
It probably didn't happen that way, but as Maja tells the story, in its earliest days in Croatia, D&D was a little like the Mafia. "It was an underground subculture," she says. "You had to know someone to get in." One of her earliest boyfriends was a dungeon master and she wanted to try the game. He wouldn't let her; he was afraid that she'd get too caught up in the story. I've heard of male gamers not wanting to play with girls before, but generally at an age where cooties are still a serious concern. The idea of a guy pushing his girlfriend away from gaming because she might enjoy it too much was a new one on me.
Maja finally broke through the mithral wall in 2004, when she met her current boyfriend, Daniel. The founder of Daniel's group started out with 2E D&D when he was thirteen. After reading about people playing Dungeons & Dragons in a magazine article, he went to the café mentioned in the article and wormed his way into the group there. He then introduced the game to his friends, creating a tight-knit group that has continued for years. This remains a common model: a small group of pre-existing friends, driven by a DM who's had some experience with the game and is willing to teach the others. Maja observed that a typical 30-year-old gamer might have been playing with the same group for 15 years. This may be reflected by a common stigma associated with gaming - that it's a way to "avoid growing up."
Some of the stories are familiar. The roleplaying pioneers of Croatia had the same trouble acquiring dice as their counterparts in Bulgaria and Slovakia. Each of Maja's dice had a story; she'd stolen the six-sider from a board game called Man, Don't Carry A Grudge. Two of the other players in my session - Zrinka and a second Maja - told me how they managed to pay their travel expenses to a local convention by using US friends as "dice mules" and then selling the dice at the convention.