GM Tips: Introducing people new to RPGs

On 15th March Tim Kearney posted on the RPG Brigade Facebook group asking how you would go about introducing someone unfamiliar with RPGs to this great hobby of ours, in my initial response I posted the following:

I would start with something like Fate accelerated but I would introduce the slightly more gamey elements of it gradually, also setting the game in a world very much like our own using familiar setting elements from a film or a computer game that the players new.

I actually did this with some friends of mine and ran a Grand Theft Auto/Cthulhu Fate mashup as one of my first online games:

Part 1:
Part 2:

I wouldn’t mention the numbers behind the various verbal descriptions of stat levels, I’d handle the number just asking them to give a word rating and would take them through a very simplified stunt process (luckily Accelerated has only two simple stunt rubrics: you either get +2 for certain actions due to skill, equipment, training, etc or 1/session get to do something cool) and then jump straight into the game.

I’ve been thinking about this more since posting my original response; like any hobby the longevity of RPing depends not just on existing players and GMs but on bringing new people into the hobby, luckily the prevailing attitudes towards fantasy, sci-fi and other such things have changed from being solely the province of the geek or nerd to gaining wider acceptance (you only need to look at the popularity of TV shows such as Game of Thrones to see that). However, this increased acceptance is counted (at least to some extent) by other forms of entertainment that clamour for people’s attention, game consoles, HD films, etc.

So, keeping that in mind I thought I’d write this article containing a few pointers about getting new people into RPGs, please note this list is not exhaustive:

  1. Use a genre that your prospective players are familiar with and enthusiastic about
    If your prospective players are always bending your ear about how much they love Star Wars, the works of HP Lovecraft, Conan or whatever then consider running a game set in a version of that universe, not only does it mean that the player will be comfortable with it, providing one less barrier for them to overcome, but if the subject is popular and well-known then it will make your internet session research a lot easier.
  2. Choose a very simple rules system
    It must be very disheartening for someone potentially interesting in RP to sit down and then have to trawl through a really lengthy and tedious number crunching session to create a character, you want as few barriers to their interest as possible; either choose a very simple rules system or, if you must use a crunchy/simulationist system, try to take some a lot of these rules onto your own shoulders leaving the player free to concentrate on the exciting story and getting involved.
  3. Emphasise the element of personal choice
    One of the main differences between tabletop RPing and things like computer games it that the PCs can attempt almost anything within a TT RPG whereas you are normally restricted to pre-programmed responses in a computer game. Make the player aware from the start that they can do anything they want within this fictional world (although there may be consequences in game), I would also advise having a few pre-genned encounters tucked away though, if the player struggles with what to do then you can always wheel one of these encounters out to keep it interesting.
  4. Make your plotline simple with a definite goal
    For the person’s initial game you want them to come away with a sense of accomplishment and having enjoyed the game, this makes them more likely to come back, the player will be getting to grips with the idea of the game during their first session there is no need to further bamboozle them with some intricate machiavellian plotline, make your first plot simple, a few suggestions are given below:

    1. Rescue someone from a villain or monster.
    2. Retrieve a treasure or item.
    3. Explore a dungeon or ancient stronghold.
    4. Bring a villain to justice for a crime.
  5. Sell your setting and the hobby
    Assuming that you want the person to become a regular player than you really need to sell the setting and the hobby in general to them, make your descriptions vivid and interesting, put on some silly NPC voices, if you have them use some props and pictures to bring in a visual element, that way you can be sure when the person goes away they enjoyed themselves and were enthused by the game, this makes them much more likely to return.


Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.