I've been very lucky. I've been part of a really stable group for a few years now. Wesley and I had struck up a few conversations with a couple we kept running into at PAX, and as luck had it, they happened to be live fairly close to us. Mike and Morgan quickly became part of our regular game group and two of our best friends. Sadly, they'll be moving further away soon, and I'm left in the position of looking for a new group of players.
It's a position I've found myself in more than once over the years. Finding a good group can be hard enough, but avoiding a bad one can be even more difficult. For every decent group there are a dozen terrible ones. There are a few things you can do to avoid getting stuck with one of these horror story groups. First, it's important we be able to recognize a few of types of bad groups.
First, the ever hideous power gamer group. These are folks that take the role playing part completely out of the game and reduce it to simple numbers. It's usually populated by Min-maxers and munchkins. The atmosphere will leave the average player dying every other encounter or feeling completely useless as the rest of the party mops the floor with the enemies before you've even had a full turn. Most of these player would be better off starting a fantasy football league.
More frustrating than never getting a chance to shine, is never being challenged by the game at all. Part of the fun of tabletop gaming is to challenge yourself and your character. Coming together to pull off something to turn the tables on a really nasty enemy is a cornerstone of a good tabletop experience. There are DM's out there that are too afraid of the players to put them in a situation like that though, and will throw fight to keep everyone "happy." What you end up with is a bunch of bored players that don't stick around long.
|Player: Oh no, I'm almost dead! DM: It's okay, the dragon uhmm... dies of old age.|
Timid DM's are usually the product of one too many ragequitter. Losing a character sucks, but to these players, it's like losing a family member in an 80's action movie. They have to go all first blood at the DM because it's always "so unfair" that she/he killed their latest bard. After even one explosion, it can be difficult to get the game moving again, as the ragequitter perceives everything that happens from that moment on as a personal attack on them.
A ragequitter is often an overly aggressive player, which can present a problem even before their character dies. Often these players are convinced that their knowledge of the rules is superior to that of anyone else in the group. They'll argue all night to get their way. They are the hero of this adventure and everyone else is just along for the ride. The aggressive player will berate other players for their class choices, scoff at a GM's encounters and generally try to force their way through any situation the party encounters. If every visit to the tavern ends in a brawl, you've probably got one of these players in your group.
|Don't let the grin fool you. Goblins are notorious cheaters|
I've come across every one of these player and more in my time at the table. The best advice is to play with people you know. Getting a stable group of well adjusted people isn't impossible at all. It's important that everyone be able to feel comfortable in the group, so getting together to talk about the first adventure, build characters and backstories before actually playing is a great way to test the group dynamic.
Get the group together a least a couple times before you start the game. Try to find a regular schedule that works for everyone. Most importantly, find a game that everyone is interested in playing. Starting off with a system everyone knows makes for a lot less headache for the players. They're able to focus more on communication and teamwork when they aren't checking sourcebooks every five minutes.
You're bound to have a few bad experiences. I let one very bad experience keep me from playing for years and I've always regretted it. Tabletop games are awesome, and no single group should take you away from a game you love.