Nightmares in Gaming with Strangers

I walk through the door and my olfactory sense is suddenly assaulted by the acrid odor of cat urine, but it quickly subsides, probably due to the fact that my olfactory epithelium has just melted and is pouring out my nose.  I follow a narrow trail through trash, debris, and what must be discarded science projects, judging by the green and white fur that is growing upon (Petri?) dishes hidden under and piled atop the furniture.  I arrive at the gaming table, err, gaming ottoman, where the cereal box battlemap (obviously drawn by a first grader) rests.

I sit upon the floor, because the sofa is being held hostage by soiled underwear and the cat whose urine greeted me at the door.  I retrieve my character sheet, dice bag, and pencil only to find out that I must use the DM provided pre-gen, because the adventure is basically a railroad where I am forced to do the actions that DM tells me to do.  What is worse, no one else owns their own dice, so mine end up being the community dice pool, and I still don’t know what happened to my metal d20.

I wake up in my bed, drenched in sweat over my nightmare, then I catch the scent of cat urine emanating from my clothes in the hamper two feet away…

RPG Blog Carnival
RPG Blog Carnival

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic, hosted by Critical-Hits, is Transitions & Transformations.  The above has actually happened to me, though it is actually an amalgam of several different events.  So, I want to write about the trepidations of finding new gamers, because I might be on the prowl for a group closer to home.

My current gaming group has nearly died, but I think it is being reborn from the ashes.  The Great Edition Schism brought my group to its knees as the 3.x D&D grognards railed against the adopters and proponents of the 4th Edition of D&D.

I have been in self exile for a while now as I strove to manage the costs of overpriced gasoline, quality time with my wife and daughter, and the seemingly eternal maintenance that comes from being a home-owner.  While I watched the gaming group fall apart from afar, I thought about finding a new group, or at least forming a new group closer to home.

So what is a solitary RPG gamer to do?  Well some of the tools I am aware of include local gaming forums, publisher forums, MeetUp, ENWorld’s locater, RPG Life’s locator, and of course my FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store for the uninitiated).  So I could probably find people…

But the question is will these strangers be up to snuff?  Can they be an adequate replacement to my current (previous?) group?  The answer to latter question is obvious, no.  There is no way in hell a group can replace another group.  Every group brings different perspectives, experience, and baggage with them to the table, so the experience is going to be different.  The real question is am I willing to try different?

You see the problem is that I am often perceived as being an asshole.  I tend to be blunt and I am direct.  So if I do not like something, I say so, to your face.  I am not usually cruel about it (though I can be), I’m just honest.  I expect the same thing from others.  You don’t like something I’m doing?  Let me know and perhaps I will modify my behavior (except for being blunt, if you do not like that, tough shit).  So if being honest, direct, and skipping all the politically correctness is being an asshole, then guilty as charged.

I am also accused of having high expectations that are too high (an elitist?).  Indeed, as I grow older I continue to raise the bar (for myself as well as what I expect from others).  Is this bad?  Perhaps it is why I am often disappointed.

So back to the question, am I willing to try different?  I’m willing to try different gaming systems, different styles of play, but I don’t know about different personalities at the table.  The next question is if I am willing to sit with new people at the gaming table, are they going to be able to handle me?  I’ve never been banned from a gaming group, unless MUDs count (if so, then once).

My need to game will eventually win out over my unwillingness to try different.  So if my gaming group implodes, or the cost involved is too much to travel to game with them, then I need to modify my perception of people and learn to ignore things that usually irritate me.  Something that is easier said than done.

Well that is my current dilemma and my thoughts on the subject.  I also comprised a few questions that would help find the right group if or when I begin searching.

How well should I know the members of the group?

I think I need to know the preferred style of play of the group (role vs. roll, fantasy vs. sci-fi, more social vs. more serious).  Knowing what refreshments, if any, are usually found on the gaming table is good.  I would also like to know what pet peeves the group possesses (and if they commit any of mine).  Also, are there any topics that members become easily offended or upset over (religion, politics, starving African children)?

How long does it take to get the full impression of a gaming group?

Speaking from experience, you’ll never truly know someone until you have spent years together and experienced high stress situations together.  I’m not talking about interpersonal drama bullshit.  I am talking about when people have to make choices that put their comrades’ lives at stake.  But in order to learn most of the details discussed above, I think about three to four gaming sessions would give a complete picture.

What gaming systems does the group utilize?

This is important, because I may not really be into Rifts.  If the group uses a system which has third party publishers, what content is allowed?  Do they limit it to just the core books?

What is their experience level?

I am not speaking about their character levels, though that is also nice to know.  I am talking about how well they understand their chosen system(s).  How long have they used the system(s)?  Have they ever tried different systems and which ones?

What house rules do they use?

Do they ignore or limit certain mechanics?  Have they modified the system or created completely new mechanics?  Do they substitute d12s for d4s (because dodecahedrons need lovin’ too)?

Where do they play and what are the expectations?

Does the group play in Mike’s basement, Bruce’s attic, or Will’s van?   Do I take my shoes off at the door?  Food and drinks are allowed where?  No cursing because of the children.  Is smoking banned or will I be sitting in a cloud of cancer?

I am sure I will think of ten more questions I would need to answer to be able to decide on the group.  The main thing is can I like these guys and gals?  I refuse to play with someone I do not like.  I figure if I posted an ad at the FLGS, it would look something like this:

Fat Asshole in Need of Gaming Group


  • Be local
  • Non smokers (or at least outside-smokers)
  • Clean
  • Interesting
  • Social
  • Open to new systems
  • Possessing senses of humor
  • FUN


  • Covered in pet hair, urine, etc.
  • Dumb
  • Religious Zealots
  • D&D players w/o a battlemap
  • Creepy
  • Stinky
  • Drug Addicts
  • Extreme (as in gaming style)
Listening to: Probot – Probot – Shake Your Blood

8 thoughts on “Nightmares in Gaming with Strangers

  1. I am starting to think that running into the brainless, smelly, infantile gamers is a rite of passage these days.

    Having been through this (and other similar scenarios) before, I usually hold an interview before actually starting a game. If you just get some gamers together, with minimal encouragement, they will start telling you all kinds of stuff about themselves, their characters, and the games they have / would like to play.

    We meet at a low key public location (Denny’s usually) and have a meal together, discussing why everyone is here, what they want, and what kid of game is desired. The game location is kept “secret” and those who are invited will receive a call tomorrow.

    It’s worked for me, in fact, the only creepy weirdos I have had the displeasure to share table with, were those “vouched” for by multiple group members, only to find out they didn’t really know them very well.

    Too bad you are all the way over there in IN, I’d game with you 🙂
    Though if memory serves, at least three or four other bloggers are from IN as well.

    Donny_the_DM’s last blog post..My 4E game.

  2. This is another one of those, I know the feeling comments. Having recently gone through a group vaporization, I’m currently rebuilding a new group, which will hopefully take off in the new year.

    The more I think about it, Find new players or a new group is like find a new job or finding new employees. There should always be interview process where the new players or the group are vetted somehow.

    Bonemaster’s last blog post..Player Networking

  3. @Bonescroll: Yeah, interviews are definitely in order, I’m just wondering if one face-to-face is enough to make a decision…

    @Donny_the_DM: Check, no “vouched for” peeps. Yeah, I know Zachary Houghton of the RPG Blog II lives just on the otherside of Indy from me. Seems like I have run across at least one other…

  4. Many of these reasons are why I haven’t gone back to table top gaming. The last group I was with was people I worked with. My whole department was chock full of gamers and all was good.

    Once the department started to break up (the whole department got fired and I was the only one left – kinda like Corporate Survivor) the game also deteriorated.

    I tried to find another group after that and let me tell you, finding gaming groups in Las Vegas is scary.

    Harrison McLeod’s last blog post..Changing Breeds: The Other Shifters

  5. hehe. The only problem I’ve ever had with gaming with strangers was that some have umbrage with the fact that I’m black (but don’t “sound” it) we talk on the phone, make some great plans, they come over and it’s eyes wide shut, some more jabber, than a “gotta go”, and some laughter (from me).

    Also, at cons. Not only do you get grubby smelly gamer going on, but one guy thought he was vibing with me by telling me his dragonborn was channeling his “inner negro” (no. I am not kidding you. If only I could be so willfully full of imagination) and then starts in some theory about how the races are like different DnD races. Because, well, you know, gnomes are like jews (big noses, like money…).

    And he cheated. So bad he cheated!!!

    But thankfully all of this stuff has been pretty rare. Gamers, despite some quirks and the fact that they spend all day dreaming of being things with scaly skin and pointy ears (like me!) are generally good folk.

    gamefiend’s last blog post..A new look, some new powers.

  6. @Harrison: That is pretty much how I found my last group, through work. Still a great bunch of people, the gaming portion has just dissolved over the years. Heh, I’d love to hear LV gamer horror stories!

    @gamefiend: WHAT! Your black!?! OMFG. Your skill challenges don’t sound black. Just joshing you. The “inner negro” comment had me rolling. I think some people try too hard to cross some imaginary racial boundary… Which is when you get dumb remarks like that. He probably meant well, but had some ingrained notion that he had to identify with you. Or he was just a jack-ass.

    I do agree with you that most gamers are good people, some of us just need some extra attention on the social integration fronts. Most discussions I hear about race at the gaming table involve whether or not its worthy of a level adjustment.

  7. I agree that meeting somebody for coffee will not tell you whether they’ll throw a tantrum when put in a tight spot (happened in my group), but at least it’ll prevent the cat urine problems. I hope. I heard that messies don’t look like it when they’re outside their four walls. But even then I guess we’d just choose another location. 😉

    Alex Schröder’s last blog post..Comments on More Than I Can Chew

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