How to Train Your (Dungeons and) Dragons

Brent Bowser

Editors’ note: This piece is Brent’s first work for the journal, from Issue 1.

Brent Bowser

The most important element of any tabletop role-playing game is the people. Good people can make a bad game worth playing, and bad people can ruin a great game. There’s no shortage of articles promoting dice, introductory products, and improv classes, so I wanted to highlight tools to help you find people: Organized Play.

You might be familiar with D&D Adventurers League, Pathfinder Society, Starfinder Society, or the Mind’s Eye Society, among many others for just about every game system. If you’re having a hard time figuring out what day of the month your friends can get together to finally play, you may want to look into these nerdy playdates for adults.

Organized Play Systems are a way that allow for tabletop role-playing games to be run in public spaces for public play. There are standardized rules for character creation, standardized adventures to play in, and chronicling systems to keep track of your characters’ treasure and advancement. Adventures are one-shots, and many times there is an overarching narrative linking them together, like a season of Supernatural but (sadly) without the gravelly voice of Jensen Ackles. The standardization and one-shot nature of Organized Play Systems allows for players to jump in at any time, miss a session without being terribly behind the party or story, and take your character around the globe to join game days or, best of all, conventions where you have the chance to participate in massive, multi-table, raid-type adventures.

Joining Organized Play is easy. Ask your local gaming store what nights they play, and show up. Organized Play Systems have pregenerated characters you can use until you make your own. Your
local gaming store doesn’t have any kind of organized play? The game publisher’s website has a way of helping you find events in your area you can join. You’ll also find the rules for character creation on the publisher’s website. Many local chapters of organized play also coordinate through Facebook, Meetup, and Warhorn. Once there, you’ll get your player number, chronicle sheets, and whatever else your particular community uses.

Friends sit around a board game table

After that, you’re all set. Just show up and play games. Check out some other game stores and conventions, meet people, and have fun at your convenience. Most importantly, meet people. Make connections. You’ll meet brand new players, veteran gamers, locals, and recently relocated players. You’ll meet people from a multitude of backgrounds. The lifeblood of any organized play community is the people.

A common critique about organized play is that it’s not as much fun as a home game. It’s a misconception that organized play is too restrictive with its character creation rules, allowable resources, and published adventures. I’ll say it again: A good tabletop role-playing game is dependent on gaming with good people.

The great thing about organized play is that you only have to commit to about four hours at a time. If it’s not for you, don’t go back. It’s different from joining a randomly open campaign on roll20, or posting a “Looking for Roommate” ad on Craigslist, or marrying a person you met on a reality TV show. You’re not going to be stuck in a long-term commitment with people you hate.

Organized play events are a great way to meet people you like and then invite them into your home game. You could even start coordinating with people you like for organized play games. Figure out who you could tolerate sharing a hotel room and being in a car for six hours with on your way to a convention.

I’ve also found organized play to be a great way to learn to be a game master. Limiting the number of allowable resources helps create a baseline of what to expect from your players. The published adventures you run give great insight into pacing and plotting a story, scaling encounters, treasure
distribution, and world building. By running in a community of players, you’ll have opportunities to run games for veteran players that can help answer questions you may have. It’s like having training wheels on your game. The price point for entry is also fairly low compared to starting up an entire

The biggest benefits of participating in an organized play campaign are the skills and relationships you can develop outside of the game. Not just from game mastering, but simply participating in a community can teach interpersonal skills and foster personal growth. I’ve watched people find the confidence to come out of their shells and feel safe in an environment that welcomes them, and watched some of those people go on to become fantastic leaders themselves. I’ve been listed as a reference on people’s resumes, followed job leads from people I’ve met through gaming, and I even performed the wedding ceremony for two people who met at a game I was running.

Two young female presenting people eat pizza over a board game

There are always opportunities to volunteer as an organizer for the community. I started as a game master that became the coordinator for events at my local store. Now, I am a regional coordinator for six states, with over a dozen direct reports and over a hundred volunteers in my area. I’ve learned how to mentor people and resolve conflict. I’ve learned marketing techniques and customer service. I’ve learned how to improve processes, set guidelines, and coach to those standards. You wouldn’t necessarily think of it, but being a volunteer in organized play campaigns provides ample opportunities to manage projects and manage people, and as strange as that sounds, the skills I’ve developed from organized play landed me jobs as an IT manager and project manager.

I can’t emphasize enough how much of a life changer organized play can be for gamers. Even if it’s not your preferred method of gaming, I’d encourage everyone to give it a couple games. I can guarantee you’ll form a connection with at least one person who will turn into a lifelong friend. Who knows? Maybe that friend will be the reason you find a job, the reason you make it through a tough time in your life, or could even be the person you fall in love with.

Give it a shot. It’s only four hours of your life, and you’ve already seen the director’s cut of Lord of the Rings.

Brent Bowser is a comedian, volunteer for the Organized Play Foundation, and red
panda aficionado. (And, as you may know, contributing editor of this very journal!)

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