Dragons in the Outback: Tabletop RPG Gaming in a Rural Area

Rolling gold spinifex, red dirt, faded green trees, and intense blue skies don’t sound like the kind of place you would play Dungeons & Dragons in. The comfort of local gaming stores, filled with people who are interested in playing, and being able to get resource books whenever you wanted (budget allowing) was what I associated with tabletop role-playing. Then a few years ago I moved from a big city, with games stores and my Pathfinder group, to a rural ‘city’ with no games store and my partner doing shift work at a mine. It wasn’t a small country town, but I wasn’t sure what I would find. Turns out that organising around a shift worker and having a toddler in tow while knowing no-one else in town meant I ended up socialising with mother’s groups more than gamers. Tut. I know that tabletop RPG (TRPG) groups are around here and I’ve wondered how they got along with the same issues. So, I asked around.

The hot sun and stinging sand is ruining my immersive experience…

As soon as you’re away from the coast, game stores – the kind that don’t specialise in consoles and PC games – are thin on the ground. But, depending on just how far rural you are, what you are likely to have is internet, and these days online resources and ordering are not to be laughed at. It’s not cheap to order in physical books, but then neither is buying them at a local store honestly. Just using online resources opens up a huge range of options for what to play, and yet amongst the people I talked to, being able to use physical books seems to be most popular; I guess there’s no substitute for flipping through the pages. Living out here means a lot of people head to the coast for holidays, and more than one person mentioned bringing books back with them (board games too!). Going to Brisbane can mean an obligation – or rare opportunity – to return with what bounty can be bought there. So with the infinite possibilities of the internet, and the occasional hunter returning with their prey, there must be several different kinds of games going right?

Funnily enough, around here Dungeons & Dragons is hands down the most popular game to play once you’re away from big cities. Why? Apparently, it’s just the most well known, and the one people started playing years ago and therefore introduced new players to. But players are creative people, and there are homebrewed games around too, thanks to someone getting frustrated with the complications of D&D games (this was before 5th edition apparently). People new to the game who don’t know what’s out there gravitate to what they’ve already heard of, and people who were D&D players from way back introduced new players in their group to it. Considering this is what 5th ed. was specifically intended for, it sounds like it’s working. Even then, it’s not unusual for groups to have multiple games running at once, so people are getting the most bang for their gaming buck.

Internet Shopping. Your saviour when living far from cities.

Like almost anywhere, players find each other by being brought in by older players, and in a rural area where people often move away after a while the players who have hung around become the keymasters for the next group of interested people, introduced from a friend of a friend, or someone’s sister, who’s part of a group and thought they would be interested. I even talked to one group who started without being introduced to it from anyone else but just decided to give it a go and are having a blast, as they rightly should be. Strangely, there seemed to be a much closer gender parity (still majority male) amongst local players in the people I talked to than I’d ever experienced playing in Brisbane. I’m not sure how much the limited population in a rural area affects those interested or those approached to join a group. With the popularity of local community Facebook groups, especially in rural areas, there is of course a local FB gaming group to help find players too (I have even been told of advertising in the local paper for players years ago), but the personal introduction method is by far the most prevalent way to bring people into the game or different groups.

However, in a town where a mine is one of the largest employers, a lot of people do shift work, so I wondered how people organised around that. While it seems like something specific to my location I know it’s not exactly an uncommon problem for groups organising around university schedules and such. A technique that some friends (back in the big smoke) used was regular single-shot games, where it was okay if you could only make the occasional session because each one was standalone. That doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as I thought it would, as it seems to rely on just comparing schedules and shift workers not playing much (poor things).

I assumed that players just did home games, and while there’s obviously nothing wrong with that I’d found being part of a group that used a games store as their base to be a lot of fun. Games stores haven’t always just provided a place to buy what you need – they’ve also often provided a space where everyone shares a common interest. They are more private (and allowing of more noise generally) than other public spaces like a library, materials like extra dice are easily available, new products and options can be easily investigated and asked about, and often a knowledgeable player too in a store manager or employee. But it’s not essential obviously; that surely can’t make that much of a difference outside of somewhere to buy the books? Yet the desire for somewhere like that was mentioned a few times. The (only) town bookstore was rumoured to be planning a space for gaming, to have been gauging interest just earlier this year before moving premises. Could it be that they were setting something up? A phone interview confirmed that people’s hopes were more optimistic than reality; there was a possible space that had the potential of being used in the future maybe, but with no definite plans for it to be adapted for a gaming space (with things like air conditioning – in a place where 40oC+ temperatures are regular by summer, it’s kind of a must-have for a comfortable space).

The same bookstore is absolutely supportive of the local gaming community such as it is; they have a stand of Warhammer products, helped start the local gaming Facebook group to help co-ordinate players (it’s mostly jokes and game recommendations), and are happy to order in any book you like, despite the internet and personal trip being the more common ways to get them thanks to the well known extra cost of shipping anything past a city. Places like local libraries understandably can’t or don’t always offer a private area or outside of hours spaces for sometimes raucous groups, so I think the bookstore will be a long shot hope for a while yet. I wonder how many people will stick to home base or clamour to use it if an available tabletop gaming space ever happens.

Indoors? No sun? Air Conditioning? What is this devilry?!?

Thanks to modern technology and especially the internet, there will always be options for gamers outside the more heavily resourced and peopled cities. Personally, I’m looking forward to having a go at a Play-by-Post game over Facebook run by a friend on the other side of the state. But that human factor, of wanting to introduce something you love to someone you think will love it too, looks like it’s a major factor in keeping gaming alive as long as there’s creative people. I think wherever you go, there’ll be a group going, or you’ll be able to start one.

Have anything to add? I’d love to hear more about people’s experiences being a tabletop gamer outside the cities, especially wider experience outside my own local area. Please comment with your own tales, trials, and tribulations.

If you are in a remote area and looking to purchase games online, check out our friends at Vault Games – https://vaultgames.com.au/

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One Comment
  1. September 29, 2017 | Reply

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