Getting the uninitiated to play a role-playing game can be a daunting task. Honestly, having a group of people regularly do any activity is a logistical nightmare. Our modern lives are so chaotic; finding available people able to engage in meaningful social experiences is a blessing. Sharing this hobby with others is a wonderful experience and well worth overcoming a couple inherent challenges. Here’s our guide to clearing common hurdles with new role players.
The elephant in your gaming room is going to be the inherent stigma associated with role-playing games. There is a stereotype of antisocial neckbeards playing Dungeons and Dragons in their parents’ basements while eating Cheetos and chugging Mountain Dew. It’s silly. Even when I was a high-school aged, nerdy virgin, our D&D sessions were far more engaging and fun on a interpersonal level than most barroom drinking sessions I’ve done.
The first step to convincing people RPGs are for everyone is removing this stereotype. Sell gaming as a social experience: honestly describe your sessions. Talk about the absurdity of plots, the logical challenges, the heroic moments, and the spectacular failures. Make your play environment welcoming. Have drinks, food, comfy chairs, room to pace around, whatever people need. Promote the game as an excuse to hang out with friends.
I’d pitch an earlier session of mine to newcomers: “The four of us met up at my place after work. We opened a few beers, I made dinner, we reminded each other what happened last week, and started playing. My character left off sneaking behind some crazy zombie dude; he used to be in our group before Chad over there shoved him out of a plane. Now he was acting super evil and turned the nearby planation into a graveyard. His kid was nearby, so I figured he was responsible. We knocked out the kid, killed his dad (again), and headed back to the prison to meet up with Zack, err, Bonesaw. In this little break, our GM started texting a lady friend, so the rest of us began spamming sexts to each other. Once he got the point, we flashed over to Bonesaw holding off a demon army single-handedly with his crowbar of justice. I had the brilliant plan to shove a brick on our vehicle’s gas pedal and jump out on to their leader while the truck careened into the army. Apparently, I never noticed the alignment issue and the truck flaccidly drive off to the right. Regardless, we saved Bonesaw and lived to fight another day.”
Once you’ve convinced people of the positive social nature of RPG’s, the comradery and teamwork from getting together and chatting about a different world, they might begin to worry about the mechanics and complexity of such a game. This is particularly true if your friend doesn’t play any modern board or video games.
Initially, you’ll need to sell these people on the narrative nature of the game. Depending on the game, the rules for play can be introduced slowly and glossed over when they start playing. Setup a campaign that has a simple starting goal and, if combat is a part of the game, a basic tutorial-esque fight. I like escaping from a prison as a base point. It’s a simple enough premise and no one wants to remain a prisoner, so they’ll be forced to progress. I like having a non-playing character provide a plan to players and give them a couple scenarios. The players weigh choices, maybe come up with something different, and proceed. Moreover, it gets players talking to each other about something in the game.
Now, the other difficulty for new players is character creation. Every system has different complexity levels, but for most this is the most complicated part of the game. It’s usually because this is the most choices a player have with regards to the game’s mechanics and it comes at a point when none of those mechanics have been used.
Sit down with new players and walk them through everything. My starting question is always, “who do you want to be?” For Catalyst, I’ll give a couple examples like, gun-slinging blood mage or fast-talking illusionist. If they give you an answer, adapt it to the game. If not, just ask at each step what they want: what sex is your character, what age, how do they fight, etc. Be liberal in your advice; don’t let them make a character that’s either useless or hard to play. Help them make a character that will be invaluable to the party. Damage dealers are my default starter characters because their impact on the game is obvious.
Finally, make sure your new players are actually playing. During social scenes, prompt for their input. During combat, let them mulligan bad choices. Don’t let experienced players dominate the scenes. If possible, have your story be skewed against experienced players. I enjoy making the early enemies have all the counters to whatever skills my most veteran player has.
Do be aware role playing isn’t for everyone. Like any hobby, there is a certain mindset required. You can guide people to it and shine gaming in a favorable light, but there’s always someone who just won’t enjoy it. Hang out with them elsewhere. For your new gaming buddies, enjoy an evening of laughter, intense debate, adult beverages, and the unique friendship that comes from knowing someone better by their character name.