Public Play

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 18, 2013

a-to-z-letters-pI believe that public play is one of the best advertisements we have for our games. By playing in plain sight you give others a chance to see what’s going on. The mystery of Settlers of Catan or Dungeons & Dragons is revealed as people hover around the table and watch. This is true for all games including RPGs, card games and board games. Every time I play a board game at my FLGS someone walks by and asks about it.

For years the only place I ever played games was at home. D&D was just another one of my nerd hobbies. I had enough problems with social awkwardness during my teenage years that the last thing I needed was additional ridicule from my peers because I was playing D&D in public. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I realized how much there was to be gained through public play.

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. We bring gaming to the masses as “P” is for Public Play in today’s article.

Gaming Ambassador

When I’m running a public play game I always make a point of acknowledging anyone who shows curiosity or interest in what’s going on. As soon as there’s a break in play (which doesn’t usually take more than a few seconds) I welcome the onlooker and explain what we’re doing. I tell them the name of the game and ask if they’ve a) ever heard of it, and b) ever played it. Usually the answers are no and no. This is when I have a chance to share my enthusiasm for the game and explain it to them. The key is to be brief; summarize what’s going on in a few short sentences. If they still seem interested I invite them to play. More often than not they are willing to sit in, if only for a short time.

Remember that when participating in public play events you are an ambassador for your game. If people see you having a good time they’ll want to join in. If they see you acting like a dick they’ll get the wrong impression of what the game is like.

Board Games

Almost everyone has played a board game at some point in their life. Many people played Monopoly or Scrabble as a kid and still assume that these are typical examples of board games today. Not true. There’s been a board game explosion over them past decade influenced largely by European-style games. Games have evolved and hundreds if not thousands of new games flood the market each year. Kickstarter is helping even the smallest game creators bring their awesome ideas to market. There has never been a better time to be a board game enthusiast. The choices seem endless.

When my FLGS hosts board game night I go as often as possible. I’ve discovered more games in the past two years simply by watching other people play them than I ever though possible. Most of these games I’ve in turn picked up myself and taught to my friends and family. The success of the web show TableTop by the folks at Geek and Sundry is evidence that there are a lot of people out there who are curious about what new games are on the market. Do your part to feed that curiosity in your community.

See Board Games Part 1 and Board Games Part 2.

D&D Encounters

With D&D there are various kinds of public play events, and not all of them are conducive to walk in play. D&D Encounters is the introductory program. Each session is designed for low level play and typically runs about 90 minutes. The idea is that anyone can walk in, sit down, play, and have a good time doing so. By running the game on the same night every single week (Wednesdays) new players can go online and find the FLGS closest to them where the program is running. If they enjoy their experience they’re welcome to come back the following week.

See our D&D Encounters Archive.

Living Campaigns

A living campaign, such as Living Forgotten Realms (LFR), is another type of public play program. This requires a bit of work before hand and is not generally something you can walk up and join in on. Characters must be created ahead of time and follow standard guidelines to ensure balance. LFR sessions are complete adventures and generally take about 4 hours to play. Each PC that completes an adventure earns XP and treasure which the player tracks. Since everyone follows the same guidelines it’s possible for you to take your LFR character anywhere that an LFR adventure is being played and join in. Living campaigns are very popular and commonplace at conventions.

Because it is part of a “living” campaign the community has a lot of input in shaping the adventures. Anyone can submit an idea for an adventure and if approved, contribute to the living campaign by writing the next part of the story. After each adventure PCs are rewarded with story awards. These can and often do have meaningful impact on future adventures.

See 7 Reasons I Love Living Forgotten Realms.

Lair Assault

Most public play is intended to draw in new players, but on the opposite end of the spectrum is Lair Assault. It’s designed to bring the most experienced and self-proclaimed “best players” back to the FLGS to play. Lair Assault is designed to challenge the most hard core players putting them up against nearly impossible odds. The players must create a character ahead of time and if they want to have any chance of success, the PC should be optimized for best results.

Lair Assault is an advertisement for where you can end up after you’ve played a lot. They’re tough grinds, but I’ve never seen more players have more fun than I do when I run Lair Assault. Passersby notice and watch. It’s like advertising graduate school to middle-schoolers: if you stick to it, one day this could be you.

Game Day

On special occasions an influential body will organize an game day event. In March, Wil Wheaton promoted International TableTop Day. The idea was to visit your FLGS and play board games. You could try games you’d never played before, teach your favourite game to other players, meet other like-minded gaming enthusiasts, and hopefully purchase something while you were there. From what I saw and read, this was a tremendous success and I’m betting we’ll see more of these in the future.

Wizards of the Coast coordinates a Worldwide D&D Game Day a few times a year. The next one is on July 15. The adventure is a large-scale event where you can affect changes in real time called Vault of the Dracolich and is described as the first multi-table cooperative D&D Game Day. In Toronto the event will be held at George Brown College (St. James Campus) and we’re hoping to draw in close to 100 gamers. Watch for more details coming soon.

Fourthcore Team Deathmatch

Much like Lair Assault, this program is for advanced players, yet it only requires a level 1 character. This is a whole new kind of D&D where players actually battle other players. The matches play out in real time which adds a new level of excitement and enthusiasm. FTDM required large teams (4 players on each side) so playing at the FLGS is usually necessary simply because of the space required. It’s also a great way to recruit new participants for future matches. Visit the FTDM website for more information.

We’re hosting a FTDM tournament at Harry T North in Toronto on Saturday, May 4. If you’re interested email me (ameron at dungeonsmaster dot com) or leave a comment below and I’ll email you.

See Fourthcore Team Deathmatch – Toronto Tournament & 10 FTDM Character Optimization Tips.

Share the Love

Board games and RPGs are group activities; you can’t play them alone. As gamers it’s our job to promote our hobby and recruit new players. The easiest way to do this is to join in public play games. This might be a small gathering at your local FGLS, library, high school or work cafeteria. It may also be someplace more traditional like at a gaming convention. The idea is to play in view of the unsuspecting public. Show people how much fun it is to play these games and get them hooked. With so many games available there’s bound to be one that will satisfy the gaming needs of even the most discriminate and skeptical onlooker.

Have you participated in public play? Did you make new friends and get people hooked on a game they’d never played before? Where is the most unusual public played you’ve ever played? What obscure game that you love did you convince others to try by playing in public? What games were you first exposed to though public play?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ocampo April 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm

As the only active DM in my country I try to participate in public play as much as I can. People show real interest, and I usually have to rotate players after each encounter, to give newcomers a chance to try the game.

I’ve realised there’s a lot of potential for D&D in Nicaragua, but we lack DMs.
Ocampo´s last blog post ..¡Más compañeros en español!

2 Sean April 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I ran 4e d&d in a store for about 4 years straight, usually 2-3 times a week. I will never do it again. There are good things about it: Meeting new players, getting free stuff. But there are MANY bad things about it: Annoying players, crowded store with loud people playing magic and arguing about rules, store employees who interrupt the game, and again… annoying players. If you are running a public game where anyone can play, you WILL attract the worst of the worst players. I was able to handle it, but after a while you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”.

I did my time! Not interested in doing it again.

Not trying to dissuade others from doing it. Just go in with your eyes open! The free stuff is very awesome though – Encounters adventures and especially Lair Assaults come with awesome maps that you can’t get anywhere else.

3 Alphastream April 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm

As you know, I’m a huge fan of organized play. If someone wants to check out what an organized play adventure looks like, you can download adventures for free for Living Forgotten Realms or request them for Ashes of Athas. In both cases, those links provide rules for creating a character, plus pregens.

Organized play is a great way to become involved in the local community. Exposure to more players and DMs helps refine our own game, as we see how others handle the same adventure. Volunteering in organized play can lead to small and then growing roles if desired. Authoring an organized play adventure for Living Forgotten Realms can result in thousands playing the adventure. This provides a lot of feedback. And, working with editors and administrators can provide better techniques. There have been months were half of the DDI articles were written by people with organized play experience.

I maintain a page on EN World detailing the current organized play programs.

4 Joe Lastowski April 19, 2013 at 8:56 am

There are also the games run at smaller conventions. Often these have themes (one year all the con games, regardless of system, involved zombies), or at least have base stories published in the program ahead of time, but they’re frequently home-brewed adventures.

About a month ago I ran a home-made 4e D&D convention game, and had a blast with a table of entirely new players. Their party saved a village from a red dragon, and there were many cheers when it was all done.

A local college (Hampshire College) runs an event every year called “Deathfest”, where multiple DMs have pre-approved homemade adventures that are very hard, and across 20+ tables throughout a night of gaming you have to try and have your character survive. There’s a local LARP that runs in our area (Deadlands), and whenever a convention comes around, they’ll run a session at the con with plot specifically written to introduce new players to the game.

Couple things I’ve noticed about running con games:
- I always provide pregens, because when I’ve only been given 2-3 hours to run a game, there’s no time to waste building characters
- Simpler is better. I often build mostly Essentials pregens for my public games, because there are fewer mechanics for new folks to learn.
- Fewer choices. While I don’t love railroading, when you’re running in a set time slot at a con, players will spend tons of time debating if you give them too many wide open choices.
- Defining characteristics. I often give each pregen a single defining characteristic to roleplay, which provides newer players with a crutch to fall back on, and gives experienced players a starting point to jump from in roleplaying situations.
- learning curve. If you’ve got new players, give them an easy fight to get to know their characters’ powers. 4e D&D is great for this, because most of the powers are At-Will or Encounter, so they’ll be available again the next fight. I threw some minion skeletons and one slightly tougher zombie at the party in my recent con game, so they knew how their powers worked when they went up against the dragon.
- iconic villains. I try to make my enemies at convention games particularly evil in obvious ways, with easy-to-see motivations.
- know the system. Whenever I run a con game, I know what every PC can do, and I put in situations where I can explain the mechanics in clear ways. If I know a new player just barely misses a big attack with a human character, I might ask him to look for the “Heroic Effort” power on his sheet to see if he’s interested in using that to boost his attack roll. If there’s going to be swimming, I make sure the pregens all have decent Athletics checks, and that I can explain the drowning rules if needed.

All of these tactics have helped to make public events at conventions run very well for me, though many of these tactics were learned at great personal pain when I DIDN’T use them at previous cons. There’s nothing worse than suffering from poor planning or bad choices while running a con game, and then realizing that you’ve just ruined the game for a bunch of new players.

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