I’m not entirely sure playing an RPG in a convention-like environment or at a gaming store is as good as we might hold it up to be sometimes.
A couple of weeks ago, I went out to a comic store in my city that’s known for having lots of players. Wednesday night Adventurers League easily has 100+ players spread among 14-18 tables. That means a lot of things, good and bad. Good: no worries that games won’t happen, of course, and lots of folks to chat about games with. Bad: OMG noise. Often during the course of our adventure, I simply could not hear the DM. Some of that came from him being a relatively quiet person, but he certainly wasn’t mumbling. Other things bothered me slightly, but honestly almost all of those things just came from the stresses of trying to keep some level of organization in a crowd of that size.
This is a different experience for me, because I usually play online. What I’d call my “main” game takes place over Google Hangouts for video chat – everything other than conversation happens traditionally. The DM talks to us – half the group is in the room, half the group is online – we look at our character sheets & roll actual dice, and everybody has a great time. Given that we spread between three time zones, this comes as close as we can to the traditional home gaming session.
I also run games on Roll20. That presents some differences as well, obviously: we mostly play on a grid, the math is easy, but (in my case anyway) the groups mostly include people that don’t already know each other. That doesn’t make it better or worse, of course, but it definitely provides a different type of experience.
Both of those felt better to me than the dozens and dozens of people arrayed around the tables. For one, we can usually hear each other, modulo the occasional technical difficulty. The more intimate experience also changes the direction of game itself: you can more easily interact a dungeon and explore the world, plus engage in far more roleplaying. In a crowded, loud setting, it mostly comes down to “I hit it with my hammer”.
This doesn’t mean I won’t go back to playing in a store. I might explore other stores or other times of the week to cut down on the noise, but a dungeon crawl with folks I don’t know can still be fun. The best part of it, honestly, is seeing players from different RL backgrounds rather than the “neckbeards with glasses” (of which I am most definitely one). And my very favorite players, the true newcomers who have never ever played an RPG before, often start out at their friendly local gaming store. But I have to find a better way than the madness I experienced…