Role-Playing for Dummies

Recently, my downstairs neighbor asked me to organize a series of house events he called Role-playing for Noobs. To my surprise, he'd already roped his girlfriend and his roommate into it. Now, all three of them are improv players, the group from which I pull all my players already, AND I'd tried to recruit him a number of times in the past (a Who fan so I tried to get him into my DWAITAS campaign). How this got into his head all of a sudden, I don't really know, though it seems to have evolved from our occasional board game nights. From what he's told me, he has no interest in LARPing,  wants to experience pen and paper and leveling, and doesn't really want any experienced role-players there (aside from this GM). So how do I design the proper curriculum? My thoughts to date, and an invitation to weigh in with your ideas and experience...

Just Game
Obviously, one very easy way to do it is to pick a game and just run it. You want pen and paper and leveling? Ok, let's break out the D&D, roll up characters and PLAY. Except I've got an opportunity to recruit players for my own campaigns here, and I don't want to blow it by using a game that won't appeal to all demographics involved. The group is likely to be 75% women, and neither sword&sorcery (especially on the combat end of things) nor number-crunching tend, in my experience, to appeal to women. That's a pretty broad statement, but I've found that potential players who don't have experience with a genre or specific property are turned off by games set in these. I've often heard the excuse "but I don't know anything about superhero comics / Doctor Who / space opera / etc.". The prospect of not only being overwhelmed by the game mechanics but the setting as well keeps them well away from role-playing in any gi8ven campaign.

To my mind, both elements - rules and setting - must be welcoming to the target group. Obviously, the game also has to be in my library. The first thought that came to mind was Toon, and mentioning it in conversation did get some traction. The game uses old school stats, but is incredibly free-form (avoiding a lot of the negative play experience that comes with "you can't do that"), works well in short one-shots, and everyone's seen and enjoyed the source material.

Breaking It Down
Or I can introduce elements in sequence over the course of several events. Except what ARE those elements. My first thought here was to first get people used to playing characters and collaborative story-telling with a good game of Fiasco. Fiasco breaks the story-telling mechanics down to their essentials in a pretty brilliant way, and I've been meaning to get a game together for ages. (So this could be selfishness talking, especially since improv players should already have these concepts down.) Because Fiasco isn't technically an RPG, it might however serve as a better invitation to those who have been de facto resisting the words "Role-playing game".

Regardless, what are the main ingredients of an RPG that should be covered in any kind of introduction? I'm wary of initiating a character generation session with the uninitiated, because in the past, I've seen players get discouraged by the difference between their idea on paper and how it actually worked out mechanically in a game. So start with a one-shot with pre-generated characters, and only then move on to building one's own character, and finally, introduce them to a mini-campaign lasting a number of sessions, in a setting that speaks to the entire group? Yes, that sounds reasonable, though I may, as usual, be over-thinking it and extending it too far into the future.

Role-Playing 101
Or I could give them LITERALLY what they asked for, with a quick lesson of the basic concepts, perhaps workshopping some elements (rolling up a character, running a little combat) in the process. This might allow to skip directly to "campaigning" with the fewest number of steps, and be a good platform for a discussion on what elements the group feels is important (interaction or combat? for example), and what setting/premise they might like to explore together.

I don't know. So many options even before we get into those last choices... I'd be glad for any advice from the peanut gallery.


Anonymous said...

I'm fond of QAGS myself -- there aren't many rules, and the game mechanics involve bribing the GM with snacks. The rule book is fun too.

Craig Oxbrow said...

TOON was the second RPG I ever ran, age about twelve. (The first was Fighting Fantasy. Then I tried MERP. Which was I think an error.) So yeah, it works...

Siskoid said...

GMing at age 12! I'm impressed.

Anonymous said...

Are the players already interested in a series of events? What about offering an "RPG Sampler" of (potentially) one-offs, starting with something like Toon in the first session, but then giving the players the chance to choose between game themes/systems for the next session? This way the players could experience a variety of genres (and if the current one isn't to their taste, there's always next week) and you could get a sense of their appetite for rules. If they want, they could also choose to continue with a specific game during or after the course of the sampler.
I'd also vote for player-generated characters (I think pre-gens tend to give new players the sense of being actors in someone else's story, rather than their own).
Fiasco is great but I wouldn't start with it. There's no individual dice-rolling to determine victory or defeat, which is something new players always enjoy in my experience.

Siskoid said...

I like that idea, though my concern is time. If each event uses different rules AND requires player-generated characters, we're looking at a lot of time spent on learning new rules and rolling up characters even before we get into actual gaming.

There's probably a middle ground there. On the one hand, pre-gen characters with the numbers filed off, the players need only give it a name, back story and a trait or two. On the other, using a single system but doing a tour of genres, possibly with rule plug-ins that enhance each experience but still uses the same building blocks.

jdh417 said...

I'd really suggest taking another look at D&D (or something close to it). It's got the name recognition and it's relatable thanks to Conan, the Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings.

Just pare down the rules. Given your group makeup, try to run an adventure featuring some romance and swashbuckling action, pirate stuff.

jdh417 said...

Oh, and you're free to try my D&D clone. It needs all of the playtesting it can get.

Take a look at the Classes and see what you think.

Siskoid said...

I'll give it a look (and ask them more questions), though I doubt sword&sorcery is the common ground for this group.

I'd likely have a better chance with Hong Kong Action Theater (they're all part of my Kung Fu Fridays movie club).

Jeremy Patrick said...

My first impression after reading this post was: "why is he trying so hard to impress these people?" You already have a good gaming group and lots of friends. You don't need them in order to play, nor do you need to be a general RPG missionary trying to convert random and (reading between the lines for the roommates) perhaps reluctant people to the glories of gaming. I wouldn't bend over backwards for them; your games are already reasonably rules-lite and approachable, so invite them to "guest star" in one of your regular sessions and see what they think. You don't need to treat them with kid gloves, as gaming isn't (usually!) a terrible esoteric or challenging thing to pick up, especially for skilled improv people. They might like it, they might not, but as long as you treat them fairly and with respect, they'll be able to understand the general idea of RPGs and decide for themselves whether they like it and want to do more.

At least, that's the approach I take now after being in the past so anxious to convince relatives and friend-of-a-friends of how fun gaming can be. Unless you desperately need players, they're the ones who should be accommodating you :)

Siskoid said...

I may have understated my relationship with these people, which I consider good friends. It's not so much that I'm trying to impress them (I'm sure they already find me plenty impressive), but that I'm working out how to best create intro RPG events for any group, really.

Believe me, I've invited them to guest star in ongoing games already, but either because they feel intimidated by veteran gamers (despite the fact, we're ALL in the same gang of close friends, gamers and non-gamers), or because jumping into an ongoing campaign doesn't feel like an introduction.

In any case, we've got maybe 3 episodes left to the current game, which isn't what I would call particularly noob-friendly (rules yes, but setting no), so recruiting and preparing a new campaign/series of one-shots is par for the course.

My regular gamers are starting to move away, or are intermittently in the area, which has made us go to Skype just to keep things going, and while it usually works, it can be difficult (one of them is in a region where they must be using stone knives and bear skins to simulate broadband, for example). They're the ones who trust me implicitly and "would play anything", so if I'm to "create" more of this kind of player, I'd want to design a game to their specific interests.

It's not too different from how I usually operate. It's very collaborative upfront, particularly when deciding on a game and crafting characters. Then I go into my cave and put all the pieces of the puzzle together, hopefully crafting a whole that involves all the characters' arcs, various ideas discussed and themes that emerge in game play.

The post was me thinking out loud, I suppose.

Siskoid said...

AND written for THEM, so they can see what it entails and what KIND of events they want to participate in, because they were necessarily vague when they first mentioned it.

Anonymous said...

Ask them casually what the watch on TV, choose an appropriate genre rpg that covers most of the group, hopefully being system lite, or at least, easily controllable by the GM if it proves to be necessary in play. Find a good convention game or one-shot that provides them with inbuilt party dynamics. And try to be a generally helpful GM along way, being careful to avoid becoming unintentionally patronizing.

Siskoid said...

Good advice!

(Now is there an RPG about Quebecois soaps?)


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