Playing with (adult) beginners

Every year I find myself introducing a couple of new people into the hobby. They are friends or friends of friends who want to try role playing games. There’s much talk about introducing young people into the hobby, ‘They are our future!’ and all that, but realistically; I’m a 30-something dude – chances are the players I can actually connect and play interesting games with are also adults. And I don’t see much discussion about how to introduce adults into gaming, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter.

My motivations are selfish of course. I’m into a niche segment of a niche hobby, and my experience shows that introducing new people to gaming is likely to be more successful than trying to convert existing role players into the style of games I like.

Enthusiasm is contagious, if I like the game we’re playing it will show, and the beginners are more likely to enjoy the game and come back.

Games I play with beginners
Of course, I would not play every game I enjoy on the first session with a beginner at the table. Some are ruled out due to complicated mechanics, others due to factors in the form or setting. I want games that are rules light, and can be grasped immediately. And I want games with familiar settings, the beginners should be able to visualize the setting immediately, in order to be able to judge themselves what sort of things could happen there and which could not.

  • Zombie Cinema – Like a broken record I repeat the name of that game in every situation. But for introducing beginners it is really an excellent choice. The rules are very simple, and uses a board and common dice, familiar to almost everyone. The game has a clear goal of moving your pawn along the track, and getting into arguments or disagreements with the other characters is not a problem at all. The theme of zombie invasion can easily be switched to any sort of untenable situation or disaster for those who don’t like zombies or have little grounding in that culture.
  • The Daughters of Verona – A storygame of Shakespearean comedy, everyone likes to laugh and have fun, and most people have a passing familiarity with the source material or the romantic comedy genre in general. The rules are very simple and the cards present possible events for play, reducing the risk of analysis paralysis.
  • Witch Quest – The game
    Witch Quest players

    Witch Quest players with props

    about teenage witches and their cats is not for everyone, granted, but for the right audience it has it’s place. The cat/witch pair play get’s someone on ‘your side’ right off the bat, and heartwarming stories can appeal even to very cautious beginners. The rules are not quite as simple as in the previous games, but quite manageable especially if you stay away from the optional section on combat.
  • Swords & Wizardry White Box – Basically any old school style D&D game from before AD&D is fine, provided the beginner actually wants a traditional game and combat focus. It allows the use of strange dice, gives a historical background to the hobby, and introduces concepts valid for many other games.

All these games are games that can be enjoyed by veteran players as well. Remember the bit about enthusiasm being contagious.

The first session
Don’t bring the beginners as guests into a standing game. They will lack the background to visualize events in the game, and therefore be hindered from taking part to their full potential. Pause the regular game and play a one-shot where they can see all the stages of prep and setup, to let them play on equal terms with the existing players.

Before starting the game, do some sort of creative warm up exercise. There are many available out there on the web, the last time I asked everyone to tell a lie, and then to tell a lie about themselves. An easy task to loosen up and break the ice at the table.

I make an effort to keep the first session short, 2-3 hours is good shorter is better. If the game ended too soon you can always play one more time, or have a rewarding discussion about gaming, investigating what could be a good game to play next time.

Don’t kill just the beginners’ PCs. If the game actually is about character death in the way Zombie Cinema and some old school games are by all means kill the PCs. But a beginner leaving the table with the sense that he/she failed or lost the game by having the PC die is less likely to return for your next game. – Official Zombie Cinema page. – Official The Daughters of Verona page. – English translation of Witch Quest. – Offical Swords & Wizardry White box page.

%d bloggers like this: