Throughout my gaming lifetime, I’ve tended to have stable groups. By “stable,” I mean that when we would meet for a game, it would tend to be the same players with the same GM. For the most part, each group would last for at least a few years. There have been occasions when we would bring new people to the table, either to join an existing group or in the process of forming a new group. I’ve mentioned previously how I was introduced to the hobby. With that perspective, along with three decades of gaming with both long-time and neophyte players, I’d like to share some guidelines I follow to ease the introduction to this unique hobby.
- Define Role-Playing Game Make sure the person knows what to expect with this type of game. I try to explain “role-playing game” by an analogy to something with which they are probably familiar. One example would be, “While watching a movie or reading a book, have you ever said to yourself, ‘What is that character doing? Why, if that were me, I’d do this, not that!’ Well, role-playing is kind of like that – you step into the role of a character and act or react to the situation.” (I have to credit this idea to my late best friend, Andy. The world is worse without him.)
- Define the setting and genre The new player needs to know what kind of world his or her character lives in. Again, try to relate it to something familiar like a book or movie. Is it high fantasy like Lord of the Rings? Pulp adventure like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Or perhaps it’s science fiction like Star Trek?
- Define the character options Explain to the new player what character types are available. This would probably be easiest, again, by example. Mention specific characters or character archetypes. Would he or she like to play a heroic archer-type like Legolas? A debonair spy like James Bond? Or even a mysterious, pyrotechnic-loving sorcerer like Tim! (From Monty Python & The Holy Grail) The key here is to make it simple enough by using familiar examples.
- Define the basic system mechanics Here is where the player actually learns the nuts and bolts of the specific game. Boil it down to what he or she will use most often. “When you attack with your sword, roll this die, called a d20, and add this number.” “To see if you can dupe the bouncer, roll four of these dice, which are called Fudge Dice, add the plusses and minuses to your Fast Talk skill, and see if you beat his BS Detection roll.”
- Work with them as they create their first character Many systems have complex character creation rules, with dozens upon dozens of options. From ability generation, to skills and stunts, to equipment purchases, a new player easily can be overwhelmed. Be there while he or she creates his character; encourage other players to be involved as well. Explain the options, and don’t be afraid to make suggestions. One option is to use a pre-generated character for the first session, although I don’t care too much for this. I think it removes the investment the player has in the character, which can be an impediment to role-playing.
- Don’t require them to invest heavily at the outset Speaking of investment, unless you are playing a free RPG, the cost of getting into this hobby is high. Even if you only purchase, say, the D&D 4E Player’s Handbook, you’re looking at $34.95 at a bookstore. Add to that the cost of a set of dice, and you can easily spend $45. That’s asking a lot from someone who may play the game only once. So, let them use your books. Let them use a set of your dice. (Yes, that’s right – I’m advocating for someone other than you to touch your precious dice! Don’t worry – they haven’t played enough to build up any bad luck yet.) Once they’ve come back to play a few times, broach the subject of them getting their own supplies. That it, if they haven’t already shown any interest. If the gaming bug has bitten them, they’ll go hunt down their own book, dice, character sheets, etc., on their own.
- Guide them in their decisions during the game This is important. Just as during character creation, a new player will be overwhelmed with the multitude of options set before him or her. We’re used to it, but the new player has never seen a game where you can try whatever you can think of doing. Present a few options to them – “Well, you can fire your laser pistol at one of the robots; or maybe you can pick up your jackhammer and swing it like a club at the enemy captain; or maybe you’d like to run over to the control panel and see if you can open the blast doors.” Also, let him or her know when the character would know something that the player does not. It won’t be too long before the new player starts thinking of other things to do, but, until then, help them out a little.
- Be patient as they learn This can’t be stressed enough. Most games have a lot of rules, new and funny-looking dice, and seemingly countless options open to the player. It will take a while before he or she is familiar enough with the game. In the meantime, answer the questions, show the tables, or point out that ability or power or stat on the character sheet.