I recently tried to launch a new gaming group, and for the first time in a long time, I failed to get the group off the ground. Well, that’s not entirely true. We had a session zero for The Expanse and then a first session where an introductory game was played. However, it took me about three months to arrange session zero and almost another two months to get enough people at the table between session zero and the first session. Then, at the end of the first session, we were talking schedules and if/when we’d get together again. It clearly looked like it would be almost another two months before we could all arrange schedules again to get enough players at the table.
After much deliberation and consideration over the course of a few days, I decided to hit the self-destruct button on the group. We were only able to meet for about 4 hours at a time. If two months go by, then at least 20-30 minutes of our time will be spent recapping and blowing off the “pre-game social steam” (idle chatter) that all groups have to get through when separated by vast quantities of time. That’s a considerable percentage, and I really didn’t feel like moving forward in this manner. This is especially true considering that I tried to make the game a weekly affair. It just didn’t line up to my expectations.
Since the group’s launch was aborted mid-flight, I’ve done some careful thinking on what I could have done a little differently to avoid cancelling the game sessions. I came up with nine distinct steps to focus on when creating a new gaming group. Some of these I did well (like the first 4 steps), but others I could have improved upon somewhat. That’s where things fell down for me, and I’d like all of you to avoid these same pitfalls if you can.
Here are my steps:
1) Create a Core Membership
This should be yourself and at least one or two other people. This is a difficult step because you need to already know a couple of people that are interested in firing up a new group. This is where social circles come into play, and you can pick up a few people there. In my case, it was myself and one other person from my Friday Night Magic sessions at the FLGS.
2) Set Schedule
Once you have your core membership, talk with all of them and collaborate a day of the week, a time of that day, and set how frequently you want to play. This can be weekly, every-other-week, monthly, or something along those lines. Once the two or three of you have determined a day, time, and frequency, vigorously defend that time with your family, other friends, and social lives. If you can’t even clear up (or find a clear spot on) your calendar from the outset, then your gaming group is in big trouble. By setting these details, when you get to step seven, you’ll have information to clearly communication to those that are interested.
3) Set Location
Once you know when you’re going to game, then set a location. This can be someone’s house, the gaming area at a game store, library meeting room, and so on. I highly recommend setting the day of the week and time before settling into a location. However, the day/time you pick may not work with your dream location. You may have to cycle through steps 2 and 3 a few times to figure out the best combination of schedule+location. If you can, try to pick a central location in your area. This will boost the number of people that will be interested in your game. In my case, the location was going to be my house because of personal obligations that I have (gotta be home to watch the kid). I live fairly remote, so this reduced the number of people that were interested in making the longer drive to my home.
4) Pick a Starting Game
With the core membership, choose which game you’re going to start with or which game you’re going to dedicate the entire game time to. It’s fine to be willing to switch between games. That was the advertised intent of my failed group. We were going to play short-run campaigns in a wide variety of systems. I think that may have been a barrier to gaining an adequate number of players because most folks seem to want that long-running, epic-feeling, overly-long, and other-hyphenated-adjectives campaigns. My offering of “short but sweet” didn’t attract too many folks.
5) Establish Public Liaison
If you have 2-3 core members, pick one to be the public liaison for the group. This person’s email address and/or phone number will be the contact points for the public when you get to the next step and advertise. Make sure this person is aware that random strangers are going to be reaching out, so that they are prepared for the interactions and conversations.
There are an abundance of ways to advertise a new game these days. I stuck with the cork board at my FLGS, but you can also expand to the World Wide Web and leverage meetup.com, NearbyGamers.com, and FindGamers.us. I wouldn’t advertise the session location. This would just lead to massive surprises as people appear without notice. I would put down the day and time, though. This will allow folks to pass by the advertisement if they know they won’t be free at that time. This will reduce the number of time-wasting phone calls the public liaison gets. Basically, you want the size of the group, the game(s) that will be played, the day, the time, and the frequency to be on the advertisement. If you can make it flashy, eye-catching, or bold (but still contain the right information), that’s great. Tear-off tabs at the bottom with email and/or phone on them are a good idea as well.
7) Clearly Communicate
When someone answers the advertisement, clearly communicate the day, time, frequency, game, etc. to them. This will prevent confusion. I fell down in my efforts with one player. I did not communicate to them that this was a weekly game on Sunday afternoons, and it turned out they could only make one game a month. With just four players (and a GM) at the table, this meant that for 75% of the games, we’d have 50% to 75% of the players present. Oops. My bad. Don’t make this same mistake. If a person is interested, but says they can’t make that scheduled time, pass on them. Things are already set, and it’s best to try to keep it that way for the core membership.
8) Safe Initial Meeting
Bob, Ang, and I talked about this a bit on episode 67 of the Gnomecast, so give that a listen. If you don’t have time, I’ll sum it up a bit. Meet the prospective player in a neutral location. Only bring 1-2 people from the group to avoid overwhelming the prospective player. If the player is from a marginalized group and you have a representative of that group in your gaming circle, make sure to bring that representative if you can. This will create a zone of comfort and acceptance, which should be at every table.
9) Before Session Zero
Session Zero with a group of new players that you don’t know might need to be delayed. You may need a “Session Negative One” (is that a thing?) where the players get to know each other before they focus in on the characters or game at hand. That’s perfectly fine. The Session Negative One isn’t a requirement, but the opening of Session Zero should open up with social contracts, safety rules, expected behaviors, adult content levels allowed (PG, PG-13, R, etc.), and so on. These are some deep topics with some great articles written by our Gnomes. Check them out for more details.