Some geeks in social media seem to like to decry the mainstreaming of geek culture. I won’t get into that here, but I will say I’ve noticed a positive benefit: after deriving enjoyment from these movies, big video games and the like, quite a few folks—some of whom I’ve known for years—have expressed interest in trying out some of the other parts of geek culture they’ve heard about but never quite had the chance to try.
So, to that end, I’ve introduced a group of my local friends to roleplaying games, putting together a game explicitly for these newbies. Two of the group are experienced gamers and part of my regular groups, one has had a bit of experience before and the other four are new to tabletop roleplaying in general.
Our first session was a great deal of fun for everyone. This isn’t the first time I’ve run a game for new players before; I really love introducing folks to one of my favorite creative and social endeavors. So, I thought I’d share some tips for those who might be interested in introducing their friends and family to this hobby.
- Explain the Nouns. Rest assured that there are terms that you use casually without thinking about what they mean. They’ve been assimilated into your language by years or possibly decades of experience. Look at a character sheet—each thing on that sheet is going to need to be explained. Brevity is the key, though—ain’t nobody got time for in-depth looks at the narrative symbolism of the hit point. But do explain the terms.
- Provide Summaries. Provide a summary of the most common mechanics in the game. Quick, simple sentences, including things like which die is used to make that roll.
- Encourage Idea Stealing. Anyone who knows gamers knows that we’re creative sorts. We like to create characters, scenarios, monsters, organizations, civilizations, entire worlds. It’s in our nature. That’s sort of intimidating to step into for a new gamer. So reveal the big secret to gamer creativity right off the bat: rampant idea-theft. Find out who their favorite characters in fiction are. Who inspires them. What sorts of media they like. Encourage them to draw on all those things, to combine them in new ways to create their own character and play style. (I know a lot of folks like to use pregenerated characters for new players, but part of the love that gamers have for their games is the direct personal investment that comes with creating your own character. Let them do that.)
- Bring in Ringers. It’s intimidating to play with people who already know what they’re doing. Someone who can bring to bear obscure rules and savvy roleplaying can make a new player feel wholly inadequate…or, they can really help to amp up the new player’s fun. Including an already experienced player who is willing and interested in helping to bring the hobby to new folks is an excellent idea. They’ve got to be someone willing to help mentor new folks patiently, however. There’s nothing that will reduce a new player’s fun more than the experienced player who doesn’t have time for the newbie, grumbling about the time they take to figure out what they want to do, rolls their eyes at first fumbling attempts at roleplaying and the like. Make your game table welcoming for new players. It’s the only way they’re going to come back to it.
- The Sampler Platter Approach. Give them a little bit of everything in the game. Identify the individual dishes our game serves up, and give them a bite of them all. Different players glom onto different elements of gaming more readily, so give your new players a chance to sample all of those things. They’re more likely to find something they like the taste of that way, and come back looking for more.
- Share Your Love. Enjoy your games, first and foremost. As much as I blather on about creativity and the like, we do this for the joy of the game. Get excited. It’ll give your new players something to share—the excitement of the unfolding narrative, the thrill of growing character power and the investment that comes of sharing the sorts of adventure that so many gamers have had for years.
So give it a try! Round up some newbies, roll up some characters, and introduce them to something you love.
Joe is a developer for Green Ronin’s Blue Rose AGE line. He has worked in the tabletop gaming industry for nearly twenty years, during which he’s been a fiercely outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion, both in the industry and in the games we make. He is also a novelist, with his first novel Sacred Band garnering starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Both Sacred Band and his second novel, Shadowtide, are available now from Nisaba Press. Joseph lives in Portland, Oregon with his fiancé A.J.