Question 1: You’re running an RPG to introduce new players to the RPG hobby this month. Which game and genre do you…

Question 1: You’re running an RPG to introduce new players to the RPG hobby this month. Which game and genre do you choose, and why?

Sure, let’s do this thing. Paul Mitchener cooked up 12 good prompts for his #12rpg thing, and we share a first name, so he can’t be all bad.

Let me share with you the tl;dr version of what I believe are the two biggest reasons folks who are otherwise okay with playing games do not, have not, or will not give an RPG a shot. That first codicil is important! There are whole lots of folks who are just not into playing games.


1. Nerd genres are alienating and hard to relate to unless you’re already neck-deep into this stuff.

2. Folks are generally reluctant to play-act. Or improvise or whatever else you want to call it.

That first one, I think, comes as a surprise to a lot of gamers. Or it starts a long string of nuh-uh! which is tedious because, really, you need more adult friends.

There’s not just the learning curve, there’s the whole “this is nerd shit and I’m not comfortable with this” thing. Elves and orcs and Klingons and all that, yeah, they come with some baggage. Comicons are cool and it’s great that they’re getting so mainstream. Superhero movies are cool and it’s great that they’re getting so mainstream. Sure, yup, the LotR movies too. Media spoon-feeds this stuff to its consumers in a way that games do not. Nor do you actually have to understand them the way you do in an RPG.

So to answer Paul’s second half of his question first, my favorite genre is the one my audience can relate to. I’ve had terrific luck introducing non-gamers to bloody, violent family drama in Sagas of the Icelanders, for example. Any of the non-gonzo Fiasco playsets, yeah, cool. Firefly! Yes! And I’ll explain in a sec.

Basically if I can point my audience at an existing property and they can understand that property (and not all the underlying bullshit that gamer nerds live and breathe), sweet, I’m in. So that’s why I say Firefly: it’s a western in space. There’s nothing nerdy about it other than the spaceships. You don’t have to sit there are speculate about where the Reavers come from if you don’t want. Or how fast the ships fly if you can get to different planets so fast.

That answer is specific to adults by the way. Nerdy genres are a much easier sell to kids.

Okay, the first half. That’s tied to my assertion that folks mostly don’t want spotlight time when they start. They want to feel like they’re participating, and they want their participation to feel consequential, but heavy improv is…hard. But systems are great for that! It gives them something to concentrate on. If it’s a system that is presented and run fairly, it can feel like any other game.

I don’t super-love D&D as an introductory experience for adults because it is, for me, a bad cross-section of hardcore nerd genre and dense mechanisms. But it’s got a huge cachet, it’s the gateway drug for millions of gamers, and generations of positive mind-share matter. But I won’t use it, mostly because if I really care about these people becoming players in the long run, I don’t want to have to untrain bad habits.

Games I’ve used to pretty good effect with nongamers/new gamers:

* Sagas of the Icelanders, already discussed.
* King Arthur Pendragon
* Mouse Guard
* Believe it or not, Burning Wheel. With lots of hand-holding and pregenerated characters. Humans only of course, heavy on the melodrama as presented in the BITs.
* Apocalypse World, run in romp mode and not oh-god-this-is-misery The Road mode.

But if we’re talking kids? And they’re both literate and have solid math skills? D&D allllll the way. It’s colorful and engaging, tons to hold onto mechanically and imaginatively. And they haven’t learned to be ashamed of pretending to be an elf yet.

0 thoughts on “Question 1: You’re running an RPG to introduce new players to the RPG hobby this month. Which game and genre do you…”

  1. Thoughts on Dungeon World for the kiddies (or people who want D&D because they watch YouTube)? I often heart DW as a go-to for introducing D&D, because it’s D&D without all the D&D. But I don’t know if that has any basis in fact.

    Otherwise: Pendragon? Wow. I would not expect that.

  2. Much as I love Pendragon, I have to admit more than a mild bit of awe that you’ve used it well for new gamers. I don’t think I could do that, so my hat is off to you.

    Note: unless they were giant Arthur nerds, then sure.

  3. Mark Delsing ehh. I wouldn’t, and I like DW. But I like it because it’s a faster, easier way to get the D&D experience that I’m already familiar with. Feeding someone DW as their first rpg feels, to me, like having someone try coffee ice cream to learn what drinking coffee is like.

    Pendragon was interesting! It’s pretty easy mechanically and everyone knows King Arthur. And if you’re not a trained roleplayer, having your traits play you isn’t so grating.

  4. SotI is a great pick, and the fact that some of its moves are oblique to what a lot of gamers expect from a game won’t be an impediment to new folks. The strong gender issues might make some people uncomfortable, though, which would be my one bar to proposing it to a new crowd.

  5. Empirically, D&D is most likely to work. Remember that your average person not knowledgeable about a field is likely to know it primarily through top branding efforts.

  6. Paul Beakley yeah, it’s great, but given that it’s potentially triggering to anyone with issues related to misgendering or gender dysphoria, I wouldn’t spring it on strangers specifically because that’s so core.

  7. If I’m in a space where that might come up, and I still believe it’s the right choice, I’ll bring up the shield maiden and the goði, both of which have been useful and popular.

  8. That makes sense, but my experience is such that I would never trust my read of a space well enough, but that might be because of some of the specific spaces I’ve been invited to run games.

    Now, if I had the opportunity to flip it, ie, if I knew these people well beforehand but knew they weren’t generally RPGers or I was able to very clearly say “this is a game that’s going to deal with certain traditional notions of gender very centrally, and I won’t proceed unless everyone is sure they are comfortable with that; there will be opportunities to subvert those notions,” then I would go ahead with confidence.

  9. Love in the Time of Seið.

    Some of its recommendable qualities overlap with Sagas of the Icelanders’, but also…

    I get to watch noobs take a hand in GM’ing; most new players are natural authors and story-tellers & it can be surprisingly less intimidating than being actors only.

    Yes/No/And/But card resolution feels less nerdy than dice to some.

    If the group seems to dig a nerdier vibe, we can move that direction with the seiðr. If not, we can keep it more period drama.

  10. One more thing to recommend LitToS:

    As simple and as good as SotI and other “World” game character creation is, handing some non-gamers a character sheet and having them assign stats and pick a move and such can be a bit of a roadbump on the way to play.

    Apart from picking a name, the LitToS characters are complete. The pre-game period is instead filled by teaching and practicing LitToS’s phrases which feels social and may remind some players of party games they may have tried.

    Everyone should go out and play LitToS with some new gamers and then come back here and tell me how other games are better for this. 😉

  11. Genre is definitely modern pulp action. Every one has seen Indiana Jones, supernatural, Die Hard, or James Bond. So it easy to give them a point of reference without special knowledge, guns go bang, bombs go boom, defeat the villain’s evil plan, and play the suave hero.

    My first thought was an Apocalypse World Powered game like Monster of the week, but I feel they are a masters classes in Roleplaying. Second thought was Savage Worlds but it can be a bit gamey. Even though my 6year old got the basic idea of SW quickly.

    With adults, I will introduce them with either Risus, PDQ, or WuShu, and when they want more system move to Fate Core or a game of their choosing. These games all have free PDFs of the rules, and they use D6s. Creating a character is quick; naming three cliche statements about their character and giving them a rating. The rules are uniform for all task resolutions including combat. And simple to explain and walk through. These games are low prep and I could improv an hour long taster adventure, containing a skill challenge and a fight.

  12. I have an embarrassing confession about Lady Blackbird I should write about sometime.

    (TL;DR: I have no idea how to run it based on just reading the docs.)

  13. Mischa Krilov I reject your offer! But let me explain why: I fully intend to run it someday, and I want to explore for myself my apparent inability to suss out the rules.

    I feel like either the game is incomplete and has a cargo cult thing going (I’ve listened to a couple tables of it at length and been unable to map what’s going on to the RAW) orrrr it’s perfectly complete and my preconception of what are necessary instructions is giving me a blind spot.

  14. Lord of the rings. It is well known and carries enough arch-typical characters that it is an easy get for people. Mission based with a fairly easy combat system. 3 races allowing new players to try the depth of water they feel comfortable exploring. And finally, it’s been main streamed so hopefully no problem with push back from the players on characterisation.

  15. My go-to games for non-gamers (who are the majority of people I play with, lately) are these two:

    1. Musette – it’s a genre-agnostic storytelling game of my design. Rules are easy to understand, we start with a familiar (if cliche) genre they know from TV or movies, and we go for it.

    2. Monsterhearts – if they liked that and aren’t afraid to play characters more in depth, I pull out Monsterhearts. I think it would be wrong for some players (e.g. young children, perhaps), but for most people it’s instant understanding/emotional buy-in.

    I also use a Fiasco playset I wrote to start the game of Monsterhearts, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Makes it easy to get people into the genre, though! No paralysis here – we can just go and go.

  16. I occasionally felt that way about Lady Blackbird (for me, it’s the lack of apparent “plot”, for the most part), so I made a hack which fixes that – for me.

    I’d love to discuss the Lady Blackbird thing further (perhaps in another venue?). I bet that will be fruitful.

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