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.