Friday, September 5, 2014
How to introduce new players to gaming.
I have noticed in my years of gaming that many veteran players are ambivalent, or even hostile, towards the idea of introducing beginners to their groups. To put it simply, this is blatant stupidity. Our mutual pass-time will never grow without new players, and they have to learn from someone. I for one welcome new players, and GMs, to my table with open arms. Every beginner that sits down to my table is another opportunity to expand my hobby, and a glowing chance to teach someone the good habits that so few gamers have, and help them avoid the pit falls that so many fall into.
Generally the first, and most important, question that arises when discussing new players is what system is best for beginners? Depending on who you ask, you will receive a multiplicity of answers ranging from D&D to Palladium Games, and almost always the response is influenced by the system favored by the person you're talking to. The truth is, there is no right answer, because every new player is different. However there are some items worth consideration when discussing an appropriate system for a beginner. First is familiarity, a Lord of the Rings fan will have a much easier time adapting to a fantasy setting than they would to say Cyberpunk 2020, so it is best to choose a system that works in a setting the player will be comfortable in. The second consideration is the learning curve. We all have our favorite systems, and we know them so thoroughly that we forget how difficult they may be to learn. D&D for example, often the stand-by system for introducing beginners to the gaming table, seems simple to most veterans, but from a beginners perspective it has a steep learning curve indeed. When introducing a new player you want to follow the rule of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid), and use a system that is simple, quick, and easy to pick up. D&D has a complex dice pool, and many minutae in the rulings that can quickly become a book-keeping nightmare for beginners. On the other hand the D6 systems used by the old Star Wars rpg, DC Universe, and Shadowrun are fairly simple, but have hidden complexities to be considered further down the road. The d10 mechanic used by White Wolf's Storyteller system is an excellent one, because it is fairly simple to learn, and you only need to keep track of one type of die, and with the mechanics being streamlined for better story based play it's an easy system for anyone to pick up. I was also recently introduced to the Savage Worlds system, with it's straightforward mechanic, and motto of "Fast! Furious! Fun!" is an excellent starting point for any beginner, especially considering the adaptability of the system to any kind of setting or play style. The percentile system used in games such as Eclipse Phase, and the Warhammer 40,000 line are also worth considering because of the simple mechanic and rather light dice pool, but these systems raise the specter of another issue to be considered, character creation.
Ah, character creation, for many of us it is the most enjoyable part of any new game that we join, to pick up pencil and paper, and draw forth a living breathing individul whose subtle nuances can only be realised through the course of play is often the greatest joy a player can experience. To a beginner though character creation can be a confusing nightmare of strange terminology and complicated rules. Many systems force new players to shove their character concept into a pre-imagined box called a class, which can be frustrating for the first time player whose ideas don't fit into any of the available options. So I have often found that classless systems are best for beginners, although sometimes the reverse can be true as new players can be intimidated by the lack of guidance in classless systems. In the end it is best to get to know your player before picking a system. A serious issue to consider, as discussed before, is the players familiarity with your setting, but you must also consider how complex the character creation system is. Eclipse Phase for example has a wonderful system, and intricate hard sci-fi setting that can be excellent for most science nerds, but the character creation is complex, and can take hours of work for a single character. I will again invoke the rule of K.I.S.S. and say that the best systems are the simplest, the faster and smoother character creation is in a system, the better for beginners it is. In this regard we see systems like D&D show their merits, as they have straightforward character creation rules, pick a class, and race, spend your skill points, pick an ability/feat or two, and presto changeo! you have a character. On the other hand open systems like Eclipse Phase, Shadowrun, and the World of Darkness, to name a few, offer new players the freedom to build their characters as they wish, without the limitations of the class based system. The trade off being the amount of information having to be processed. As always my caveat is simple, know your player, choose the system that will suit them best.
In my experience I have found that it is often easiest to introduce a new player to gaming in a small group, preferably populated primarily by veterans who can offer guidance to the player. For example, a couple years ago I introduced a friend of mine to gaming, she had never played before, so I ran several simple sessions consisting of only her, her boyfriend (a veteran gamer that I've known, and gamed with for years), and myself. She is now coming into her own as a gamer, developing some of the richest, and most well thought out characters I've ever had the pleasure to run. If you don't have this option, I recommend choosing one of your veteran players, preferably someone who is patient and knowledgeable, and having them serve as a mentor to your new player, rather than having a half dozen people constantly throwing advice at them they'll have one calm voice giving them the guidance they need.
In conclusion I believe that it is vital to guide new players based not on your own personal preferences, but on what is best for the player, and above all work with them rather than against them. If a new player wants to do something you've never seen before don't slap them down, reward them by helping them find a way to make it work. Whatever you do, don't be afraid to accept new players at your table, give them a warm welcome, and the benefits of your experience as they learn this strange new hobby. In the end you'll be rewarded with the finest gift of all, a friend.