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So you’ve decided to jump into the crazy world of tabletop role-playing games. You’ve chosen the game that you want to play, be it an edition of Dungeons & Dragons, something more science-fiction-ey like Shadowrun or Cyberpunk, or an indie game like Burning Wheel. You’ve got a set of polyhedral dice and all of the rulebooks. The only problem is finding a group of people to play with. While this can be a daunting challenge, especially if all you want to do is “just play,” there are a bunch of strategies that can help you jump this hurdle and get into the game.

The best and easiest solution for many first-time players is to get invited to a group that already meets regularly. If you are fortunate enough to know people who play, even if they are acquaintances, you can ask to join the group. I know it isn’t easy to take that first step, but most role-players know that it can be hard to find a group, and will be more than happy to offer assistance. At first, you can ask the GM to sit in on a session to see if it fits your idea of a tabletop game, and to see if your personality fits in with the group as a whole.

Most games are happy to add players, unless there are already too many people involved. It’s generally a good idea to limit participants in a game to a manageable number, you see. With too many players, it’s easy for one sensitive flower to feel slighted when they don’t feel like they have a significant role in the group. A large group can also get unwieldy, especially if the group is prone to spontaneous Monty Python quotes and general tomfoolery. And what group of dorks isn’t, really?

So don’t take it personally when the GM says that his game is full; it’s in everyone’s best interest not to crowd the table. With everyone’s busy schedules, however, it never hurts to have a large pool of players so that there is always a good number of players available if one or more are forced to cancel. Even if you only play once or twice, there may be a player who runs a different game on another night, and meeting him or her around the table is a great way to get asked to join that group.

If for some reason your circle of friends lives in a tabletop vacuum, don’t worry, you do have options. When I moved to New York City, I didn’t know anyone who played RPGs. I had tried to convince my friends to play with me, but, sadly, they were not interested in killing dragons and pretending to be elves. There are only so many nights that I can go to the bar or sit around watching baseball, so I was forced to get out there and find a group of like-minded individuals in order to stretch out my nerd muscles.

I started by searching online, as you do. Putting “D&D” and “looking for players” in the Google search bar, I quickly found a great website called NerdNYC.com. Other then being a loyal forum community that discusses all things dork with humor and friendliness, NerdNYC had a forum specifically set up to introduce players and GMs. They split it up into two forums, players looking for games and games looking for players. And it works like a charm. I found a game almost immediately by looking through the forum and picking one that seemed to match my style. I met with a few guys at a neutral place: the comic book store, (always a good idea when meeting someone over the internet. I hate to be the voice of reason, but crazy people do exist). Once the pleasantries were exchanged and potential characters discussed, we were gaming together in less than a week.

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The system worked well for a metropolitan city like New York, but similar tools exist even in smaller markets. Meetup.com is a website which organizes meetings for all kinds of hobbyists, and playing RPGs is no exception. Here’s a map for all 291 of the Meetup groups that mention D&D in their description. Most are concentrated in the Eastern United States, but it appears that there are a few in Europe and Australia. If there’s a Meetup group near you, that’d be a great place to meet fellow gamers. But if not, it’s possible there are dedicated websites for your area that facilitate role-players getting together and rolling some dice. Use the interwebz to your advantage; we live in a networked world after all. Hell, I bet you have some gamers amongst your Facebook friends. Just be careful outing them to their more conservative relatives.

There’s one method of finding players that has been around since the industry grew out of the war miniatures hobby in the 1970s: hoofing it to your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS). Like a watering hole on the African veldt, these brick and mortar stores carrying the best RPG books, adventures and miniatures and are a surefire bet to meet and talk to fellow gamers. The clerks and owners are usually gamers themselves, and have physical bulletin boards covered with flyers and advertisements looking for players for all kinds of games. Space permitting, gaming stores might even have weekly or nightly games in a back room that are open to anyone stopping by. Head there with your dice bag and an open mind and it would be hard not to walk out with a gaming night scheduled.

Conventions are like gaming stores writ large. There might be a monetary barrier of entry, but even throwing down $20 for a whole weekend of gaming is a small price to pay (travel expenses not included). I’ve been going to GenCon in Indianapolis the last few years, arguably the biggest pure tabletop gaming convention, and I’ve always been impressed with the number of great role-players who make the trek. But you don’t have to go to GenCon to meet gamers, you can’t throw a rock nowadays without hearing about a local meeting of nerdery being organized in a town near you. Conventions are a great place to learn new games and meet new gamers, and, if you can afford the time and money, it gives you a great sense of pride being around people like you. Make friends with your fellow nerds, exchange some email addresses, and you should have no trouble finding a local group.

The last and most difficult way to join a gaming group is to start one on your own as the GM. Jumping into that role is tough, but it can be the most rewarding. Learning a new role-playing game on your own is not easy, and convincing your friends to play may be even harder, but, if the stars align and it works, you will have earned a tight-knit group and a campaign that is catered to your exact tastes.

Beyond knowing the rules of the game well (which is a benefit, sure, but by no means does your knowledge need to be exhaustive), there are a lot of issues to handle when you are a GM. There is a known dearth of guides on how to be effective in running your own game, which is part of the reason so many GMs learn by being players first. My colleague, Alex Macris, has been trying to fill that void, but one document which I think does an excellent job of explaining the complex role of a GM is the Dungeon Master’s Guide for the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Even if you aren’t going to GM using D&D rules, I recommend looking through the DMG for advice on how to create worlds, tell stories and deal with different types of players.

No matter how you go about it, finding a gaming group is half the battle. Staying in a group is the other half, but as long as you follow the guidelines for new players and aren’t a complete weirdo, you should be in good shape. Even gamers, as weird as they can be, have a limit and a new player who insists on smacking everyone with his Flaming Sword of Truth if they happen to misquote a rule will not be very popular.

Unless, of course, you’re LARPing. But that’s a different story.

Greg Tito needs to register for GenCon.

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