Dungeons and Dragons and Buffalo Bill

A while back, I posted on the Twitter dot com.  I don’t know how to easily search for my previous tweets, so I will paraphrase.

“DM’s, if you have a new player, especially a female one, consider holding your first session in a public place so you are not asking her to enter a potentially scary situation.”

I expected to receive positive responses ranging from, “Oh, of course we already do that!” to “Oh, I never thought of that!”  I did get some of these responses.  Surprising me, however, was the amount of push back I got to this comment.  The push back fell into three main camps:

  • What are you talking about?  Usually people who get together to play already know each other.
  • Nobody would feel comfortable playing in a public place.
  • DnD has always been played at people’s houses. Everybody knows that’s how it’s done, and nobody feels uncomfortable.  It’s no big deal.

I have responses to the above concerns, but first would like to tell you about my most recent experience. (Nothing terrible happened.)

A new player with only a single one-shot under my belt, I was scrambling to find anyone starting a campaign I could join.  I went to Zulus Board Game Cafe to see what they had going on.  I joined Facebook groups and looked on Twitter.  I also searched Meetup.  On meetup, I found a group advertising that they were looking for players, new or experienced, to meet every other week at a home in my town.  I signed up for it, and was never really expecting to hear back.  These groups tend to fizzle out.

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It is so hard, as an adult, to find a group that meets regularly, but not too regularly, and welcomes new players and is just now starting.

I was thrilled to promptly receive an email through the Meetup system from the owner of the group.  He was gauging my level of interest/availability, and confirming what days of the week would work for me.  He told me once again that it would meet every two weeks at his home.  Thrilled at the prospect of getting game play, I told him my schedule.  I also asked his address.

I didn’t hear back.

I figured my schedule was not compatible with everyone else’s, so it was not a big deal.  I did get to thinking about what I would do about going over to a stranger’s house if the game had materialized.  It had occurred to me that I would prefer to not meet a stranger at his home.  I had been considering whether I was going to feel comfortable enough to request a public meeting.  This is when I tweeted my suggestion about meeting in a public place.  Since I didn’t hear back from the meeting organizer, it became a moot point.

Until two weeks ago, when he contacted me again.  He said he’d held their first meeting the previous week for character creation. They were in need of a healer.  Their second meeting would be in two weeks.

Okay that’s weird.  Why wasn’t I invited to the first session?  His message didn’t make it clear whether they decided to add an extra player to get a healer, or whether he had been expecting me at the meeting.  Meetup should have notified me if anything was scheduled.  I’d have to check my settings.  Meanwhile, it gave me a perfect “in” to ask about a public meeting.

My reply was uber casual.

“Oh hey I’m sure I’ll be able to make the next one!  I’ll need to double check my child care situation, but I’m sure it will be fine.  You said four pm at your house, right?  And I figure it will last until the nine/ten time frame?  What’s your address?

“Should I just roll up a character, or do you want to oversee it?  I’d be happy to meet you at Zulus or at a Starbucks or something any time in the next couple of weeks.”

His reply, also casual, was a bit incomplete:

‘Yes. Four pm my house.  There’s no need to meet ahead of time to make a character.  We’ll take care of that first thing at the meeting.”

Dammit.

Should I go to a stranger’s house?  It’s probably fine.  I’d feel better with a public meeting, or with a last name or address I could google.  I’m sure it’s fine.

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I don’t want to see this answering the door!

We emailed back and forth over the next week.  We talked about my race and class choices, and recommendations on where to get the 4e books. All the emails went through the Meetup mail server.  After a week, I still had no clue what his address is.  Or his last name.  Or anything about him. Or the other players. Questions about any of that seemed to not be seen.

I consulted Twitter.  Am I walking into a Silence of the Lambs situation?  My responses ranged from, “It’s probably okay, but you need to be extra sure to take the usual precautions.,” to, “Get the fuck out of that situation!”  One person actually said, “This has red flags all over it!  Get out now!”  A weight lifted from my mind.  I had started to self-apply the dreaded words:  hysterical, panicking, overreacting.  I’m just a ridiculous woman seeing danger around every corner.  I should get over myself.  Nobody is trying to attack me.  But seeing that other people shared my concerns helped me to realize that I wasn’t being ridiculous. If anything, it was ridiculous of the organizer to invite me over without giving me any information.

I went back to the Meetup page.  There were no actual meetings scheduled for this group.  There wasn’t a listing for last week’s meeting, nor for the upcoming one.  The group had no additional information about the organizer.  It also didn’t have many recently active members.  The group does have over 200 members altogether, which is confusing.  The organizer is looking for six people.  Has he been unable to cobble together six people from this group?  Why have most of the members not visited over the past year?  Where did he get the other players?  The Meetup group looks long abandoned, but I am being contacted through it.  I didn’t even have his email address, as all of our correspondence went through the Meetup server.  And his first name isn’t exactly unique.  I tried to google and FB search him, but I couldn’t find anything except links to the Meetup Group.  I sent emails to a couple of the most recent visitors to the site to see if they were at character creation, and was unable to find anyone who had met the organizer in person.

I looked at my information.  I had a first name and a city, and the number of people who were supposedly going to be there.  That’s it.  That is all the information I had, and based on that I was planning to show up alone at some guy’s house?

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I AM NOT TRYING TO PUT ANY LOTION IN ANY BASKETS, Y’ALL.

I sent out one more email to him, asking his address and if he could tell me anything about the other players.  Despite having within-the-hour responses to my questions about character creation, I got nothing but crickets with this inquiry.  Meanwhile, I spoke with a friend who gave me some pretty darned wise advice.  He said that if I’m already this uncomfortable, I’m not going to have a good time. Even if everything is safe and awesome, I’m going to be on edge.

Oh, yeah — having a good time is supposed to be a major part of it.

At this point my email asking for details had set overnight unanswered.  I sent another email simply stating that it looked like I wouldn’t be able to make it.  Five minutes later, I received a response saying that was fine and thanks for my interest.

Hmmmm. . . .

Did I avoid being kidnapped and kept in a well until my skin loosened enough to wear as a suit?  Probably not.  (But as a “big fat person,” you never know.  Joke would be on him, though.  My body’s metabolism is so screwed up from fad diets he could keep me in that damn well for a year and I’d never lose enough weight to loosen my skin.)

Is he a regular guy trying to put together a game, and is either too busy or too tone deaf to realize how sketchy the whole thing was from my point of view?  Probably.  Did I want to take that chance?  No.  That would be dumb.  By and large, I try to avoid doing things that would make me yell at a female movie character for doing.

Could I have been explicit that the reason I wanted to meet ahead of time was to meet him before going to his home?  I could have.  Could I have directly asked for his last name and the names of the other players, being honest that I needed to ensure the situation is safe?  I could have.

But I wouldn’t have.

Because some guys get mad.  

This is an illustration of the huge problem with the #notallmen camp.  When women say that they are afraid in situations with strange men, because of our personal experiences and the experiences of others we know, men often react in defensive anger.  This happens even when the man is not being addressed individually.  A general statement online (or a razor commercial) stating that men need to be allies with women will be met with outraged anger that we could suggest they personally might be toxic.

What would it look like if one of these men were met directly with a woman saying, “I need this from you in order for me to feel safe?”  I can tell you what happens.  They get pissed.  Usually when it is an in-person encounter, you will not be met with threats or violence, but you will be met with surly anger.  I don’t want to start a D&D game with that vibe, so, no, I wouldn’t be this direct with a stranger about my need for safety.

And this is why the #notallmen attitude is so dangerous to women.  It creates a situation where we are uncomfortable advocating for our own safety.  

In any event, let me address the three Twitter pushbacks above:

  • Usually people who get together to play already know each other.
    • This was from people who expressed confusion about the issue, because their experience is getting together with friends to play.  Obviously, if everyone knows everyone it is not an issue.  I encourage you to look around, however, and see how the landscape of D&D is changing.  Many people do not have a regular group, and seek games through online meeting applications and whatnot.
  • Nobody would feel comfortable playing in a public place.
    • Sure, I can see that. It would be weird to sit in a Starbucks playing.  It didn’t occur to me immediately, because I live in a city with several game cafes.  Many libraries have meeting rooms you can schedule for free.  But it doesn’t have to be a game session.  It could literally be a meet and greet.  Everyone meets at a cafe or bar.  It might be a good time to trade ideas on the race/class makeup of the team, preferred play styles, etc.  Sort of a pre-character creation.  Thirty minutes, even less, is all the time you have to dedicate to increase someone’s feeling of safety.
  • DnD has always been played at people’s houses. Everybody knows that’s how it’s done, and nobody feels uncomfortable.  It’s no big deal.
    • It is a big deal, and people do feel uncomfortable.  I’m talking about women, because I am one of those and this is from my experience, but I imagine a lot of people would feel hesitant about going to a perfect stranger’s house due to safety issues.  Search for posts from women and members of the LGBTQ community regarding inclusion in the world of tabletop games.  You will find a lot of extremely uncomfortable people desperately finding a safe space in which to play.  Because we love the game.  Also, I’m not suggesting that you don’t play at your home — just that you are aware of steps you can take to make someone feel safe about approaching your house for the first time.

Please consider that Dungeons and Dragons is becoming increasingly more inclusive.  Don’t make people ask you for information.  If you are asking them to come to your home, recognize that giving your name and address, even a Facebook page or Twitter handle, is not much to ask. Prepare to be Googled.

Schedule a pre-game meeting a week or two beforehand so everyone can meet each other.  That is probably good for the game anyway, as it can help coordinate schedules and priorities of the game play.

If someone suggests meeting in a public place, that is a huge hint.  Take it.

Also, more specific to my situation: if you met the person on Meetup, but the details of the event on the Meetup group.  Publicly proclaiming that you are inviting people over makes it seem less likely that you will be wearing that person later.

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Nobody wants this.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.