So, apparently this month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Mad Brew Labs. Not sure if something special has to be done to join one of these, so hopefully this posting won't rustle any feathers, and if I did something wrong someone will tell me politely instead of casting me into the abyss. Anyhow, the topic for this month is Growing the Hobby, so lets talk.
First off, I'm not in the industry. I've been a gamer for about 15 or so years of my life, and it has been a wonderful experience for myself and friends over the years. I don't have any details on numbers, or other facts that people more informed than me will undoubtedly talk about. What I do know, I am constantly surprised by where I find people who either do, or have, played table top RPGs. This actually works directly into my advice for how to grow the hobby, namely find those people who are interested (trust me folks, they're everywhere) and bring them into the fold.
See, we have a bit of an edge over some other hobbies. You can actually get people involved in table top gaming - and for prolonged periods of time - for free. You just can't do this, generally, with other hobbies. I mean, sure you can lend books for reading. But movies? They need a DVD player, meaning they already have to somewhat be into movies for you to help them aside from them constantly being at your place. Video Games? you need a system. Table Top games though? be they board or otherwise, you can get them into it off of your own investment that you'd have made anyhow. The fact that they have to come to you isn't even a down side to this, because the whole point of the game is to be social with that group of people anyhow.
So what do you do? Talk about it. Talk about gaming at work, if someone is talking about what they did in WoW, mention what you did in your table top game. Find out who may or may not be interested. Odds are there are several people in your group of friends who aren't in your gaming group but are interested in at least giving gaming a shot. So talk to them, invite them to a session, see what interests they have that a table top RPG can sate their desire for. Don't oversell, don't push them into it, just tell them they'd be welcome to try it out and see if they bite. Once they do - and lets face it, there will come some night they have no plans and want to get out of the house. Then you have them - just keep it nice and simple, let them have fun with it.
Step two, where you have them at the table, is where I've seen a lot of people ruin the sale. They get so excited, a new gamer is going to be born, and they forget how much stuff their may be to learn. They run off, grab a stack of nearly $400 worth of books and start setting them down in front of the new person. That new person? Probably crapping their pants and wondering what they just agreed to try out if you're lucky. If not, they're terrified because how the heck are they supposed to learn everything in those 12 books you just slapped down in front of them? So what you want to do is pull it back. Grab one book, the base book. Go through with them and help them make a character. Try to keep the character mechanically simple, but capable. You want them to get used to understanding what the sheet means and figuring things out on their own. Don't go into advanced and complex rules, but instead ease them in and focus on simple fun. (Obviously if they love reading and number crunching, lend them a book or two and have them try it out themselves. I'm talking about "normal" people mostly :D )
Step three is the game itself. Remember that they have a simpler character if you helped them make it. Remember that they're new. Try to make the game fun for them. Don't cheat to let them win, but make sure they get some time in the spot light. Find out where they are comfortable, and play that up. Be flexible with their wants, explain the answers to their questions. If you have to/can, assign a more experienced player to help them out and explain things to them while you are running the game.
After that, make sure they had fun. Invite them to another session, and let the group give some tips/advice on how to really get into things. Include the person in the group and the wrap up, and let them enjoy the social aspects as well. You'd be amazed how quickly you can get new gamers out of just showing them how fun it is, and it works very well. Soon enough, they'll start grabbing their own source books, and perhaps even looking to give GMing a shot. Then, you have them, and a new gamer truly is born.
Our own group has done this several times recently. Our "usual" group of 7 is now nearly at 12-14 from selectively recruiting people into different games and showing them its fun. Granted, there's a college near by which makes finding people willing to experiment a bit easier, but all it really took in each case was a "Hey, you want to give gaming a shot with us next friday? It'll be fun, and won't cost you a cent". So find the potential gamers near you, and invite them to the table.