Meet Gray Ham, a local fan and advocate for the tabletop roleplaying game (TRPG), Dungeons & Dragons! He has worked hard to introduce the game to locals and to create a friendly and helpful community for players. In today’s Featured Interview, Gray talks about his experiences as a player and Dungeon Master in Malaysia. Enjoy!
1. Hi Gray, please give us a brief introduction about yourself!
My name is Gray, and I’m a tabletop gamer geek with a passion for community building and staring at data till it means something to me.
2. How were you introduced to Dungeons & Dragons?
Purely by accident. I actually had no idea paper-and-pencil RPGs exist until 2008, the only time I heard the term RPG (roleplaying game) was in relation to discussions on video game genres like RTS (real-time strategy) or FPS (first person shooter).
Fresher’s week 2008, I signed up to the board games society in the University of Manchester. I actually arrived a couple of minutes late to their first society event of the year, and the only table with a spot left happened to be the one with someone i met in anime society last week. I had no idea what we were playing, and it seemed overly complicated for a board game. I now realize I was playing D&D 4th edition, with some homebrew components inspired by Exalted.
I stuck to playing this campaign for an entire year, only because that one friend I had (who also happened to live close to me) kept inviting me to the sessions every week.
I look back on the early days, and how I was pretty much steamrolled with rules, etc. with no gradual introduction to the game/genre as lessons for how to be a better “introducer” to the hobby.
3. How did you come around to being a Dungeon Master?
I started dabbling in D&D 4e when my “geek society” in Leeds Metropolitan University suggested we dabble in other tabletop games aside from Magic the Gathering.
It triggered memories of the D&D sessions i played 3 years ago, and I wanted to “do it properly” for these complete tabletop gaming newbies.
4.How did your work introducing the game to others begin?
In my final year of university, I was involved in the Adventurer’s League in Leeds, UK. When I came back to Malaysia, I sort of assumed there would be a local group running games in store, etc. My lens back then was assuming Wizards had pushed for D&D in stores that also ran “Friday Night Magic” sessions in Malaysia. Sadly this was not the case, as only two GMs ran public sessions, and didn’t document it.
So I volunteered as the Local-Coordinator for Malaysia, and jump started the D&D Adventurers League in Malaysia. Comics Mart in Mid Valley Megamall has been very supportive of my efforts, providing the space and time for it. Eventually, I attempted to spread D&D through the DCI network of stores through organized play sessions. Due to how little the local scene understood D&D, store support was patchy.
I also got the help of All Aboard Community Gaming Centre’s founders (physically the closest store to where I lived). They hosted me a number of times at their events, especially when it was outside their store, in malls, out-of-state, etc.
5. How has the response been and has it changed at all over time?
It was through our on-ground events that I attracted the attention of the wider RPG community. Eventually, we had a lot of non D&D posts in our D&D social media, that made me decide to branch out.
I didn’t want to be the guy who was known for shutting down discussions about other games: since I was very vocal about inclusivity for a wide base of players, I should be inclusive of a wider variety of games too.
Even though the RPGMY group was small, and lacked the audience size necessary for discussions, I cross-posted and pushed players from D&DMY into it. It’s now a sizably healthy component of the overall tabletop gaming community.
The combination of speaking to card gaming stores (Magic the Gathering / DCI), working with numerous board game cafes, and supporting the wider RPG community, I’ve sprouted more communities surrounding the respective tabletop game genres.
6. Please tell us about your experience running games with strangers and/or newbies.
There are two scenarios where I’ll run games for newbies/strangers: one-shot introduction demonstration sessions, or starting a new campaign group.
I think with one-shot introduction demonstration sessions, the biggest hurdle is that they know nothing about the game. I’ve often referenced recent famous movies to describe the idea of teamwork as a game, in contrast with most player-versus-player types of games. I sometimes try to frame the Game Master as a more “traditional” take on the “computer environment” when players interact with each other and the environment in MMORPGs or single-player RPGs. It’s important to stress that this is a roleplaying game, and it’s the Game Master’s (not the player’s) role to worry about how to “pull it off” (like what combination of skills, and what dice to roll, etc.) and the players should focus on narrative play.
New campaign groups are difficult to form and sustain. I’ve had too many groups fall apart, and some stay together. Over time, I’ve come to value the “sessions zero” and playing a few smaller one-shots with the group before committing to a long campaign.
Session zeros are for players to know each other, and to create the characters in the presence of your potential team-mates. This also puts player personalities on full display, and who is assertive about their respective roles in the group, etc.
Once players have a gauge on each other can they decide to stay in the group, or continue on to find another… it’s basically mass matchmaking / team-building.
7. Please tell us what you’ve come to know about the local D&D community?
While it is true that most of our players are “urban English speaking middle class Malaysians”, I think the nuances of our local RPG community is a unique product of our national circumstances:
Most of our players play online. This is partly due to a lack of supply of neighbourhood games, low density of dungeon masters outside of KL, and the way our cities are arranged (no public transport, etc.)
Players generally have a low commitment to the game. This may stem from the fact most of these “English-speaking” players come from a Chinese-vernacular school background, where hard and a low priority towards play and socializing means they would sacrifice gaming evenings for work, etc.
Parallel to the above is my commitment to building out a community that accepts anyone of any breed or creed (race or religion, because I know of some people who have felt pressured going to church just to socialize, whereas gaming communities can be free from the crutches of pre-Digitality).
Due to the lack of books in Malaysia, this has forced fans of the game to be more digital minded to *ahem* obtain a digital copy of the books (or conversely, it means only the digital savvy people have found ways to play the game). Ironically, this also means many players are cheapskates and are unwilling to invest in the game (but giving them the benefit of the doubt, it could just be our weak Ringgit).
8. How could an aspiring player or DM get started in Malaysia?
Step 0: Sit-in and observe a (few) sessions being run by an experienced Game Master.
Step 1: Play a (one-shot or short campaign) game being run by an experienced Game Master.
Step 2: Download the free basic D&D rules from the Wizards of the Coast website. Read everything.
Step 3: (Optional) Buy the Starter Set and run the short campaign contained within.
Step 4: Buy a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manual.
Step 5: Buy 10 sets of dice from Lazada. Also get some kind of box or sack for it.
Step 6: Buy the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Step 7: Buy a sturdy backpack. Realize you’re carrying too much and buy a rolling luggage for everything.
Step 8: Get a printer. Buy a filing cabinet and a new bookshelf.
9. What were some of your biggest highlights in playing and teaching the game to others?
When someone who’s been in the tabletop gaming community of Malaysia longer than I have, tells me that what I’m doing is great and they appreciate it.
When a younger gamer tells me they didn’t think the community existed, when they’re suddenly exposed to the hundreds and thousands of gamers beyond their little bubble of friends… when children ask their parents when they can play D&D again.
I admit I’m of the younger generation of “digital natives” more inclined towards oversharing on social media. That, combined with my professional capacity as a growth-strategy oriented social media community manager, has influenced my community projects.
I don’t really have a single moment to point to, but every other week, one of the tabletop gaming sub-communities will pass a growth milestone, encouraging me to “take the next step”. It’s always about reaching out and including more gamers and niches into the wider network.
10. What advice would you offer to people who want to start playing or running D&D games in Malaysia?
1. Find a store, cafe, library, etc. venue to run your games.
3. Join your state’s tabletop gaming group (listed under KakiTabletop) and advertise the fact you’re looking for a group/players, etc.
11. Any personal mottos?
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.