Uncle’s Games at Westlake Shopcenter in Tukwila, Washington is one of the most successful D&D Encounters locations in the WPN. They pull in 30 to 40 players and DMs every Wednesday to play each next exciting installment. We had a chance to sit down with Ray Grant, Assistant Manager of Uncle’s, to ask him how they make Encounters such a success.
WPN: How do you run D&D Encounters at your store?
Ray Grant: We run two sessions each Wednesday night, staggered about two hours apart. We have adequate space for five to six tables. Most Wednesdays they’re all full. We always have a mix of player types, from players brand new to D&D to ones that have been playing for years. Some tables have consistent players and DMs every week, while others change their DM and party from week to week. We don’t try to artificially mix players, but the players usually switch it up on their own between seasons, trying new DMs or new adventuring companions. The groups usually mingle and chat afterward, talking about how their session went or how they handled certain fights, and that means all the players know each other, even if they don’t sit at the same table.
WPN: How do you publicize D&D Encounters for your store?
RG: Our most valuable publicity has come from word of mouth. Not only do players tell other players about Encounters, but in the store we talk about Encounters to anyone that picks up a D&D book. The Seattle D&D Meetup group has also been invaluable for getting the word out on Encounters at our store.
WPN: What do you do to attract new players?
RG: It’s the first thing we suggest to a customer, even before we try to sell them their first D&D book. The best way to get a player in to D&D is to get them to play. We instruct our DMs to help new players make characters when they start playing. The experienced players get into it too and help new players at their table.
WPN: How do you satisfy returning players?
RG: The program itself makes it attractive to returning players. The Encounters program is consistent, with players not worrying if enough people will show up for a game. Plus we have a big Encounters crowd. Lots of players means you build a community in your store with people that have a common interest.
WPN: What do you add to the program to make it more attractive to players?
RG: We have a “reserve program” that players can pay into if they want. We don’t have a fee to play in Encounters. But if the players pay into the reserve program, they’re invited to a pizza party at the end of the season. We also offer 15% off D&D books on Wednesdays for anyone who plays in Encounters, which also does a lot to drive attendance.
WPN: What do you do to attract DMs?
RG: We offer our DMs free pizza at the end-of-season pizza party, and they love the 15% off D&D books each Wednesday. But honestly, DMs get excited to run games for an engaged crowd like we have, many of whom are their friends. Our players are pretty versatile, with players playing or DMing as necessary based on the crowd any given night. Encounters provides DMs guaranteed players and Uncle’s gives them a guaranteed place to play.
WPN: How do you get new players to come back and become an Uncle’s Games customer?
RG: The game itself is honestly the biggest draw. It is fun and incredibly new player friendly. Plus Encounters lets them try the game with experienced players and DMs.
The way we keep players engaged when Encounters isn’t happening is by talking to them. If they were at an Encounters session and come back later that week, we ask them about how the session went. We ask them about their characters, about how a particular encounter went or what cool stuff they did. Players love interaction like that. That builds up a relationship not just with D&D, but with the store as well, which is the most important part of getting them to come back.
WPN: What’s the most valuable thing Uncle's does to improve Encounters?
RG: We allow our DMs and players customization of their experience. A lot of stores and DMs stick rigidly to what’s published in the Encounters kit, but the best thing they can do to keep people engaged is to let the DMs change things up for their players. Let players make their own characters, even when they’re pretty new.
We also do everything we can to make sure we have a good crowd, and we give Encounters a lot of space. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. We publicize every chance we get, and tell every customer about it. That way we make sure we have as many players as possible, and enough space to fit them without feeling crammed.
WPN: What is the most valuable thing Uncle's gets from Encounters?
RG: Bottom line: it means sales. Not just selling books, but accessories: dice, dice bags, playmats, anything that a gamer might want. Gamers are loyal to the places they play, and if they’re having a great time at Encounters at Uncle’s Games, they’re more than happy to buy their books and roleplaying accessories from us.