I recently had the pleasure of running an introductory role-playing scenario for group of friends who were interesting in trying out tabletop RPGs. A few weeks prior, they had asked me if I could run something for them. So I dusted off an older one-shot sci-fi adventure, printed out some character sheets, packed up my dice, and readied myself to introduce (mostly) brand new players to role-playing. But was does an introduction to role-playing entail? Rule books and dice math? Character sheets and experience points? Hit points and critical hits? TPK and alignment arguments? I gave it some thought and came up with a few methods for introducing new players.
There is no wrong way to role-play; there is only preference. My preference is to focus on stories and character development. Because of this preference, the rules as written or tactical play take a backseat to narrative drama and moments of cool. I’m going to try to put this bias aside for the rest of this article and focus more on what works on introducing new players to role-playing.
The Deep End Method
One way to introduce a group to RPGs is to show them the coolest stuff it has to offer. This method has the benefit of showcasing what RPGs can do. Usually involving all the fun crunchy bits and a feeling of empowerment. They get thrown into the deep end with all the choices, options, and freedom that most RPGs can provide. You guide them to create badass characters and put them into epic encounters with larger than life conflicts. Some new players love this approach. They’ll drink up anything and everything you give them. The deep end method works best with experienced and enthusiastic gamers. Even if they’ve never played an RPG, they’ll have past game references that easily help them understand the mechanics and concepts from RPGs.
This is how I was introduced to role-playing. My first group and I created ungodly powerful characters with our GM’s help. Our small team – a half-elf techno arch-mage, a dimension traveling death cyclops, and a vampire lord assassin – cutting a swath of destruction through hordes of were-creatures and corrupt techno corporations. It was an uncontrolled random whirlwind of epic fun.
The downside of this style of introduction is the player overload factor. With all the advanced knowledge thrown at them all at once, players who were unsure or timid about playing in the first place may feel overwhelmed or just confused. The hesitation doesn’t always lead to complete failure. The concepts and the general chaotic enjoyment can still spark an interest and eventually, like in my case, an obsession. I never got into role-playing until after we toned everything down and I had a little time to really absorb what was going on. Which brings us nicely to our next topic.
The Slow Growth Method
Like the deep end method you expose your potential players to everything, you just do it slower. At first, everyone makes starter characters, goes on cliche adventures, and skips the rules and mechanic they don’t know or forgot. Then over a series of sessions the group makes more robust characters, has more adventurous exploits, and gains a better grasp of the rules. Until one session they are comfortable with the characters they build. They chase adventures that intrigue them. The rule set becomes familiar. This method works best with people who like to tinker, analyze, or explore games.
This method could also be called the natural method. A lot of groups just starting out begin role-playing this way. Without an experienced person to step them through, they will read through the books and gaining an understanding of what the can do. They discover how they role-playing as a group. The group effort helps them both teach and learn from each other.
The obvious downside to the slow growth method: the progress can be very slow. Some players find the slower pace boring and lose interest before they really hit an aspect that speaks to their play style. While others may zoom ahead of their peers and get frustrated because the others haven’t caught up. These problems can be easily addressed as the group adjusts and compromises on pacing. Maybe even breaking it into manageable chunks.
The One-Shot Method
This is my preferred method of introducing new players. Grabbing a published adventure or building one of your own. Using the self-contained nature of the adventure to introduce players to the concepts of RPGs. Giving the players a choice of a few prebuilt characters related to the adventure. Take a few minutes to explain the character sheets and a few basic rules. Once everyone is settled in, describe the opening scene and see what the players do from there.
This method lives in the middle ground between the deep end method and the slow growth method. The players get right into the action. The providing characters and only using basic rules can keep the complexities down. They can explore their options within the narrative of the adventure without worry. Many new players who are curious about role playing find this method comfortable and can draw parallels from board games and party games. Experienced players can test drive out a system without buying into something they don’t know if they will enjoy.
The major disadvantage of this approach is player investment to the characters provided and the adventure laid out before them. If the majority of them aren’t interested in your western styled space opera where they need to defend steaders against and a local landowner threaten to take their land by force, then the one-shot adventure won’t hold there attention. The best way to up the chances of success is to use an adventure that has familiar concepts for the players and character that fit into familiar cliches.
These methods are not the only ways to introduce new players to RPGs or at all the best ways. You could introduce players to RPGs by using one of the methods or something completely different. At the end of the day if people had fun playing it can be called a success.