Category Archives: Players

Class Is in Session: Running a Convention Teaching Game

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Game conventions are a great place to introduce new players to your favorite system. But running a game designed to teach a new system is a bit differently than running a game for experienced players. For one thing, you can’t assume that the new player knows anything about the system you’re running–even what type of die to use, if any. Also, you’ve somehow got to do a quick over-view of the rules without boring your players to tears and yet also manage to complete your scheduled adventure.

It’s a lot to juggle. Below are some steps to help you successfully pull off a teaching game. These steps don’t have to be limited to convention games; they’re also useful if you’re running a demo at a game shop or even trying to convince your regular group to try that new game you bought and are dying to run.

  1. Always use pre-generated characters. I’ve yet to see a successful teaching game which started with the players creating their characters. I’m sure someone’s done it, but it does make teaching the game much, much harder. With pre-gen characters, not only do you save valuable play time, but you can also plan your adventure around those specific characters.
  2. Create “iconic” characters. Teaching games aren’t the place for off-beat or unusual character ideas. If you use archetypal  (or even cliché) characters, players can spend less time figuring out their motives and more time learning the game itself.
  3. Don’t make your players add. The other good thing about using pre-generated characters is that you can do as much of  the math ahead of time as possible. You want to be able to tell a player to “roll a d20, then add your BAB [marked in large numbers on the character sheet] to it.” As much as possible, try to keep your players from having to add more than two or three numbers together at a time.
  4. Prepare “cheat sheets” or “quickstart” versions of the rules, if the game company doesn’t provide them. I always make a one to two page summary of a game’s basic rules so the players have something they can refer to while playing.
  5. Consider creating character packets. I create an information packet for each character that contains the character sheet, any relevant character background, written descriptions of the character’s powers, and a brief summary of the game’s setting and background. It seems like a lot, but if you limit the background information to its most crucial elements, your players will thank you for putting what they need to know right at their fingertips.
  6. Simplify the mechanics. Strip away anything not absolutely critical. You want new players to get a feel for the system, not bog them down with modifiers and exceptional cases.
  7. Plan to spend the first quarter of the session explaining the game and its basic concepts. Here you want to focus on the essence of the game, not the mechanics. Sure, do a real-quick mechanics run-down (I usually go through the cheat-sheet), but spend most of this time going over the character sheet and game background and answering player questions.
  8. Tell players to hold their questions until after your explanation. If you’ve done a good game introduction, you may find you’ve already answered the players’ questions. This also helps prevent you from getting bogged down in player questions and having time to finish your introduction.
  9. Begin with a bang. Start your adventure with the PCs in the middle of something: they’re in the car on the way to the haunted house; they’re trapped in a burning building; they’ve just been locked in a room with a group of people, one of whom is murderer. Unless you’re running Tales from the Floating Vagabond, try to avoid the “You’re sitting in a bar…” opening.
  10. Do the  math for them. Try to handle as much of the mechanics yourself as possible. You want to give players a feel for the game, not bog them down with situational modifiers. Let the players roll dice, but add the modifiers yourself and describe the results to the player in words, not numbers. Sometimes you need to give the player numbers, but try to serve them with some descriptions as well: “You’re knocked back against the wall as your opponent’s blade rips through your shirt, drawing blood and pinning your sleeve to the wall. Take 8 points of damage.”
  11. Be flexible. Keep an eye on the clock. If your game is running over time, try to bring it to a conclusion, even if it’s not the one you’d originally planned. You may need to improvise scenes or cut some out. Allow the players to ask questions about the game, but try to keep them focused to the adventure at hand.
  12. Get feedback. If you’ve got time after you finish the adventure, ask for player feedback. What did they need the most help with? What game concepts need to be made clearer? Is there anything that should’ve been covered in the introduction that wasn’t. That type of thing. Really listen to what the players say and, if need be, modify your introduction and information packets accordingly.

This steps should help you teach new game systems to players successfully, particularly when you have a short amount of time to do it in, such as at a game convention. Please feel free to leave comments letting me know if I’ve left anything out or need to improve something.

Teaching the Game: August Blog Carnival

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First off, thanks to Mad Brew Labs for hosting the July carnival on Growing the Hobby. It really got some great discussion going. This month’s carnival actually (and inadvertently) extends that discussion. Much of the consensus about growing the hobby focused on how we, as RPG players and GMs, need to teach our games to as many new players as we can. This month, I take that one step further and ask how do we teach them?

I’d originally intended to call this “Passing it Down” and focus on children and roleplaying, but then I realized that was only one type of new RPG player. So this month, I want to focus on the hows and wherefores of teaching RPGs to new players, whether they be adults or children, people just joining their first game or people who’ve been playing for decades learning a new system.

Here’s some possible questions to get you going:

  • How do you find new players?
  • How do you help them learn the mechanics of a system (and how much of the system do you require them to learn?)
  • How do you teach the non-mechanics part of the game?
  • How do you teach someone to GM?
  • What’s the best beginner system?
  • What’s the best system for teaching roleplaying to kids?
  • How do you run games for kids?
  • What was your first game like? How could it have been better?
  • Should roleplaying be taught in the schools?
  • Do you play with your own kids?
  • Are all-kid game groups better than adult-kid mixed groups?

And, of course, anything else you can think of.

I’ve always enjoyed teaching games and most of the convention games I’ve run have been designed to introduce new players the whatever system I’m running. Later this month I’ll post my techniques on running a teaching game. I’m looking forward to seeing your posts; just put the URL of your post in the comments section below and at the end of the month, I’ll do a wrap-up post listing everyone’s contributions.

27 Surefire Ways to Get Kicked Out of a Game

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Awhile back I did a post on 21 Surefire Ways to Loose Players. With this being Player Month here at Evil Machinations, I thought it time to do a post for the players. Even the most die-hard GMs will change sides of the table, even if it’s a pick-up game at a con. You’d think we’d make the perfect players, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, all too often GMs-turned-PCs are the most difficult players in a group. While orginially aimed at GMs, even players who’ve never sat behind the GM screen should enjoy this list as well.

[Photo courtesy of House of Sims via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0 license]

  1. Repeatedly arrive extremely late to a game session without calling to let people know.
  2. Repeatedly miss a game session after assuring the GM you’d be there.
  3. Refuse to read the rules of the system you’re playing.
  4. Hog the spotlight.
  5. Give long lectures on how the game you run is better than this one.
  6. Tell the GM what he’s doing wrong and offer frequent unsolicited advice on how to run the way you would.
  7. Recite a Monty Python or Princess Bride quote for everything that happens during the game.
  8. Insist on roleplaying every moment of a supply run.
  9. Turn everything said into a sexual innuendo.
  10. Make overt sexual advances to every eligable PC in the party.
  11. Make overt sexual advances to every eligable player in the group.
  12. Argue for every advantage you can squeeze out of the system, even if it takes an hour to win a +1 bonus.
  13. Insist that the GM look up an obscure rule in the middle of combat.
  14. Expect everything to go your way because the GM is your significant other.
  15. Loudly and frequently complain about how your favorite rules system is better than the one the GM is currently using.
  16. Insist that the group run your favorite system, especially if they don’t want to change.
  17. Constantly brag about your über-character in another game and how she would wipe the floor in this game.
  18. Refuse to get dice of your own and insist on borrowing someone else’s.
  19. Continuously forget your character sheet so you can make up numbers on the fly.
  20. Play while drunk (or high)–unless your entire group enjoys drinking to excess while gaming.
  21. Deliberately and/or constantly ignore the rules of the host who’s house you’re playing in (such as putting your feet on the coffee table, not using a coaster, etc.)
  22. Torment your host’s pet(s).
  23. Play computer games while you’re roleplaying
  24. Repeatedly charm members of your own party.
  25. Repeatedly steal from members of your own party.
  26. Insist on going off on your own on a regular basis.
  27. Claim every useful bit of treasure as your own.

How about you? What have I forgotten that really raises your hackles? Please share!

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Player Contributions

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Said while making snacks for the group …
Dave [player]: Hey, can I have experience points for baking cookies?
GM: Sure, Dave can have 200 experience points; Billee [his character] can’t.

[12 Aug 2009 Note: There’s an updated version of this post at Player contributions, Take Two.]

I first ran across the idea of player/character contributions when I started running the Amber Diceless RPG. The idea is simple: you get more points to build your character if you agree to do something helpful for the GM every game session. The exact details are left up to the GM and player to work out. I tried it as written in the rules, but soon met a major snag — getting players to follow through. Usually, I’d get enthusiastic contributions for 3-4 game sessions, then nothing. I tried giving giving out “luck” penalties — i.e. the player’s character would have strokes of bad luck for that game session — to those who didn’t live up to their agreement, but that seemed too punitive. Especially since most “non-contributors” just found they simply didn’t have time to keep up with it. Real Life™ would intrude.

Finally, I came upon an idea that worked. I honestly don’t remember if someone else gave me the idea or if I thought of it on my own. Instead of giving extra character creation points at the outset, I would hand out a small amount of experience points each game session I received a contribution. That way, no one would have to feel guilty if their child got the flu the previous week or if term papers were due, etc. Also, if a player who normally didn’t turn in anything got a sudden burst of inspiration, she could make a single contribution, without having to take on a long-term commitment she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

What kinds of things make good character contributions? Most of my games are very character-driven. Character backgrounds really do matter and will have an effect on the game as a whole. So the more I know about someone’s character, the better I can include them in the game. I generally hand out an optional character questionnaire to each player at the beginning of a new campaign. Filling that out and returning it to me is a favorite contribution for my players. Character portraits also count and, yes, I do accept references to book covers or movies as character portraits, as well as written descriptions; I don’t think this contribution should be limited to just those who can draw. As far as character journals go, each player can specify if his journal exists in-game (where another character may be able to find and read it) or out of it (just between the player and the GM).

Character journals and game session notes are definitely my favorite contributions to receive. I run “off the cuff”; frequently, my game notes for a particular session are a list of NPC names and possible locations. I make up most of the details during the game session and I find that if I stop to take notes, I lose the flow of the game. So having someone else in the group writing this stuff down for me is a huge help. That way, I don’t run into a problem of Bill But-You-Said-Last-Week-His-Name-Is-Fred, the baker.

I’ve also given out experience points for writing in-game newspaper articles, making topographical maps of an area or architectural drawings of important buildings, mapping genealogies of a country’s royal family, creating game “props” (such as a treasure map), … even writing an in-game academic dissertation complete with fictional bibliography and proper footnotes, penned by one of the PCs.

Basically, I’ll give out small amounts of experience for anything that is pertinent to the game and helps decrease my workload. How small? In Amber, World of Darkness, etc. games, I hand out one experience point per game session. On rare occasion, I might give out two for something that the player worked really hard at (see the academic dissertation above). For a AD&D game, I usually award 100 – 200 experience points, depending on how useful and detailed the contribution is. But in all cases, I have one overarching rule — a character can only get experience for one contribution each game session.

Of course, I’m the final arbitrator about what constitutes an helpful contribution and how much experience a PC gets.

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