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Reflecting on how far we’ve come together on this site got me thinking about how far I’ve come as a person. It seems like not that long ago, I was 3,000 miles away from home, making it on my own for the very first time. That kind of experience is this avalanche of emotions. You feel fear, doubt, solitude; yet you also feel freedom, like you have the ability to start anew. The opportunity to reinvent the person you are, the person you’re becoming, is right at your fingertips when you leave home like that. Some parts of you come, while some parts stay home. The one thing I knew was coming with me to Arizona was this new thing, at the time, that we know as gaming.
We won’t go too much into the experience, as it doesn’t have much to do with the goal of this post. However, if the curiosity pokes you, reach on out and I can tell you about it. With all the mushy, personal experience stuff out of the way, what is it like to find a gaming group after you move? In short, it’s quite an interesting experience, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think; at least it was for me. We all live in a time where connecting with people is easier than it ever has been before, and using that to your full advantage is the key to gaming wherever you go. My gaming time in the valley was all thanks to a site called Meetup. Many people have heard of it, probably even looked a tiny bit, but never taken the dive into it. It’s easy to see why: you don’t know what to expect, there could be a grandiose number of people on the page but you have no actual gauge of what it will be like, and to make it all worse, you’re in a different place where you may not necessarily know what people are like there.
Intimidating, surely, but sometimes you just have to take that random venture out in to the world to get the good stuff. Phoenix revealed some rather interesting people to me, not all of them that I went through effort to keep in contact with. Not because there were bad people, or ones I didn’t like, but just because sometimes people aren’t designed to be best buds. To turn that on its head, there are a couple of friends that I keep in contact with from my Meetup adventures, and had some very memorable games during my stay. It was really strange to go to a random bar in the desert to play D&D, but it makes for a hell of a story! For gamers in a new city, I do recommend surfing on Meetup to help find some people that can eventually make up your regular home group, but know there is a multitude of other platforms. ENWorld has a forum, Facebook has thousands of groups and pages. Tap your resources, and you’ll probably find out that you can make yourself right at home wherever you go.
Based off this real life example, this uncomfortable leap of faith that we have to make to assimilate to a new environment, what can we learn? To apply it to a gaming context: when you introduce player characters to a new area, do some stage setting first. If you give the characters some ties to the area they’re moving to, it does a few things. Firstly, it adds a sense of depth. Character backgrounds, player agency to shape the past and future, we talk about it all the time. It’s just another little thing you can to do enhance these pillars of roleplay. More importantly than the personal ties, the characters need a resource to tap. In most fantasy settings, this is located in the common room of some tavern. Tropes are comfortable, safe, and can capture a really nice feeling, but shaking it up creates the memorable plots.
Just like in our own world, there are ways to learn about places before someone travels there. Granted, it’s far easier to use a Google search bar than a library full of books that may or may not have been written for such useful purposes, but it’s something to consider. Some of you are probably thinking that this is an incredibly boring way to solve this issue, and I wholeheartedly agree. We have to acknowledge it’s there, though, because everybody has a different play style. The way I handle this in my group is that I deliver information after a brief assessment of what the character might know based off their age and overall background experience. Collaboration between a player and the GM comes up constantly in things I put out, and this fits that model for me too. The player will come up with a justification as to why their character would know something about the subject, the GM assesses the plausibility of it being truth and adjusts the DC of the roll.
This sounds really basic, but knowing exactly what we’re doing when we do it is key to tuning it to perfection. You can stretch out this interaction with multiple questions that increase the richness of the answer. Recently, when revealing information about Drakkenhall to my wizardly player, I didn’t simply ask him if he would know anything about the city from his studies. I asked him exactly what type of things he studied, what seemingly unrelated subjects were necessary to support the theory of those things. It helps me paint a broader picture of human understanding, not just belittling this poor character’s entire life experience to one roll for a small piece of info. The player learned a great deal about its policing procedures, political structure, known figures of authority, along with a few other quirks the city has. The way we came to this, though, was by mapping the past experience of the character, giving the knowledge a lot more realistic depth.
Now that my really long winded explanation of my thoughts on the subject are over, we can sum it up with a couple of simple rules. When you’re introducing a new part of your setting to the characters, try to think of:
- All the things you innately know about a city you’d possibly move to, and what research you’d have to do before going there.
- What resources the characters could use to assimilate themselves better.
- How the general populace might receive things that they do that are seemingly normal to them.
- How the methods of the local authorities could interfere with the characters intentions or goals.
New places with the same characters are exciting. They allow the players to apply previous knowledge their character has gained, just like they would in real life, without all of the stakes and baggage that normally comes with it. Try to make that experience genuine, fun, and intriguing. What else would you sprinkle into the mix to keep the newness of a location from grinding your campaign to a halt?
Stay Metal \m/