Tag Archives: new players

Introducing an Experienced New Player to Your Game

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This is the 4th post of my series on introducing new players to your game.

Most of the time, when you bring an new player into your game, you’ll be adding someone who’s already an experienced player. But whether she’s been playing RPGs for 10 months or 10 years, remember that she’s still a new player to your game and much of the advice given in my post on introducing a brand-new player to your game still applies.

Setting Limits

In Introducing a New Player to an Established Group, I talked about knowing your limits. This is doubly important when you’re considering adding an experienced new player. Most GMs will realize that a brand-new-to-RPG player will take extra time and make them more likely to think twice before adding new players.

But it’s very easy to over-estimate how many players you can handle when adding an experienced new player. It’s extremely flattering to have someone wanting to join your game. However, while you can run pretty well with fewer than your optimal number of players, running with more than that is usually a recipe for disaster.

Figure out the maximum number of players you can comfortably handle and don’t exceed it. If you find you’ve got more people interested in playing then you have seats for, count yourself blessed. In this situation, you basically have two choices:

  • start a second campaign (if you have the time and inspiration to add another game to your schedule);
  • keep a waiting list of players who can join when one of your existing players has to leave.

Never allow yourself to be pressured into adding a player if you’re not ready to. No matter how much your current player wants to add his new girlfriend or how much that new player you met at the last convention begs, keep to your limit. If you don’t, you’ll probably find that running your game becomes a chore instead of pleasure. Remember: if you’re not having fun, no one else will.

Adding the New Player

Get to know him

Before asking that new player to join, spend some time getting to know him. Meet outside of a game session and just talk. Ask him about his previous game experience, what he’s liked or disliked about previous games he’s played. Do this before you tell him anything about your game.

Ask about his favorite character and why it’s his favorite. How he describes his character can tell you a lot about his preferred play style. If you’ve got an entire group of Character Actors, and your prospective player starts telling you about his character’s stats and all the cool bonuses he’s gained and how much damage he can do in combat, he’s probably not the best fit for your game.

If this sounds like a job interview, it is, in a way. And like at a job interview, the player is likely to be on his best behavior. He’ll be eager to make a good impression and will probably tell you that your group’s play style is his absolute favorite thing. That’s why I recommend asking him about his interests before you tell him anything about your game.

The most important thing here is to listen to your intuition. Does this player seem a good fit for your group? Are you completely comfortable around him? It’s okay to feel a few jitters about having to talk to someone completely new, but if he makes you feel unsafe or even just uncomfortable–even if you can’t say why–thank him for his time and tell him you don’t think he’s a good fit for your game.

Tactful honesty is definitely the best policy here. You don’t want to disappoint him; because of that, many GMs will admit a new player, even if they’re not comfortable with him, rather than hurt his feelings. But no matter how hard it is to turn a player down, it’s still much easier to turn the player away at this point than it is to kick him out later when he turns out to be a problem player.

Meeting the group

However, you’re not the only one who needs to be comfortable with new player. The rest of your group needs to be comfortable with him, too. If, after talking to him, you think he’d be a good fit for your group, ask him to sit in on a couple of game sessions. This will give him a chance to see if he thinks he’ll enjoy your game and give the rest of your group a chance to meet him.

After he’s done his “sitting in” time, ask each of your players individually what they think of him. If any of your players feel uncomfortable around him, try to find out why. If it’s because she “doesn’t like his energy,” pay attention to that; it’s probably her intuition picking up on something wrong. In this case, he’s probably not good for your game.

If, however, it’s because he looks a lot like her ex-boyfriend, but she knows she’ll be able to get beyond that after she gets to know him better, go ahead and add him. Players with minor concerns can usually tell you exactly what they don’t like about a player. Usually the group can work through these issues. But you never want to sacrifice a good existing player for an unknown new player.

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Next time, I’ll talk about ways to actually add the new player to the game and Beg, Borrow & Steal (my newsletter) this month will cover six ways to add a new PC to your game. It’s a free monthly (roughly) newsletter of GM tips. You can sign up for that in the sidebar of any of this blog’s pages.

[Photo courtesy of jeffreyw via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Characters for Brand New Players

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You’ve gotten your group and your new player both ready to play. He’s sat in at least one play session and thinks this “roleplay thing” looks pretty cool and both you and your players think he’ll be a good fit for your game.

So now, with all of the prelims out of the way, it’s time to sit down with your brand-new  player and build his character. But what’s the best way to build a character for a brand-new player? That’s what this article, the third in my series on introducing new players to your game group.

Character creation for the brand-new player

There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to creating characters for brand new players:

  • start with pre-generated characters
  • start with character creation

Starting with pre-generated characters

In this situation, you give your brand new player a pre-generated character to play until he’s comfortable enough with the game to build an effective character. The advantage of this approach is that the player doesn’t have to struggle through two (often very different) sets of rules and can immediately jump into play.

Character creation can be confusing and seemingly unrelated to the game itself to the brand new player. He doesn’t yet know what kind of character he likes or is good at playing. That makes it hard to build a character he enjoys, because he doesn’t yet know what he enjoys. In his ignorance, it’s all to easy for him to create a character he hates.

The downside of this option is that none of the available characters may interest the new player

Starting with character creation

The other school of thought says to start by walking the new player through character creation, step-by-step, if need be. This way, the new player will have  (hopefully) a character he likes from day one. What I’ve found, though is that most brand-new players have no idea what kinds of characters are out there, making it difficult for her to come up with a character idea.

The best of both

As a middle ground , I’ll ask  her what kind of character she’d like to play. Then I ask her she wants to create the character herself, or if she just wants to give me the details and let me worry about creating the numbers to match those details.

Even if she chooses to create the character herself, you’ll need to walk her through the character process step-by-step.  At the very least, she’ll probably appreciate some advice about the choices she needs to make, such as which weapons are most effective and which skills would be the most use to her. Remember though, you’re giving suggestions, not mandates. Give her the choices, explain the pros and cons of each for her character, then let her decide for herself.

Before play–the prelude

It’s helpful to sit down with your new player before his first actual play session.  At this time, run him through a one-on-one play session working out his character’s background. This serves two purposes: it gives the a player a dry-run on the mechanics and it helps him learn about his character, both of them will help make play run more smoothly at the official first game session.

Talk with your group

Ask the new player to arrive 15-30 minutes later than the rest of the group. This will give you a chance to talk to your existing group. Let them know if you’re suspending or modifying any rules for this session, especially table rules. Also layout how you expect them to treat the newcomer.

Remind them they were once brand-new players and ask them to be sympathetic if the newcomer makes “newbie” mistakes or doesn’t seem to know how to do things. We forget that we actually had to learn many of the in-game actions we do automatically now (like looking for secret doors or testing the floor with a 10′ pole). Also make sure they know the game will likely move much slower tonight because you’ll have to stop frequently to explain things.

Ask your group to be especially welcome and to keep in-jokes to a minimum (or at least explain them). Reiterate that you want the new player to feel comfortable and welcome. Warn them to be especially conscious about not interrupting him and to be patient while he figures out his character’s actions. Also tell them if there’s anything they shouldn’t say, such as background information the new character wouldn’t know.

Ask (or choose) one player to be a mentor to the newest member. Make sure she has a lot of patience, knows the mechanics and can explain them well.

During the game session

Don’t let the mentor take over playing the new character–it’s great for her to suggest possible actions, but the decision must reside with the new player. If you find the mentor insist the newcomer take certain actions, find a new mentor.

Don’t overlook the new player when asking for character actions. A brand-new player is likely to be very quiet and hesitant to speak out of fear of doing something wrong. He could easily be overlooked in the flurry of activity, especially at the outset of combat. If your group uses a caller, ask the caller to pay special attention to the newcomer.

Be prepared to provide a list of possible actions for the player to choose from. Many brand-new player have no idea what’s even possible for their character to do. But try not to make him feel “on the spot.” If he’s completely stumped, give him two or three possible actions and tell him you’ll come back to him later, so he has time to think things over. Don’t give him more than about four possibilities–two many choices can be as overwhelming as too few.

That’s all for this segment. Next time, I’ll cover adding an experienced player to your game.

[Image courtesy of SmartBoyDesigns via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Passing it On: Introducing New Players to RPGs

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We love this hobby of ours so much, it’s only natural we’d want to spread the word. We do our damndest to get our non-gaming friends to give this “roleplaying thing” a try. This is especially true if we’re far from other gamers and the only way to get a group is to build one ourselves.

But how do you run a game for an entire group of brand-new players? Especially when you’ve been playing so long, you can’t remember what it feels like to be brand-new?

This is the first in a series of posts with ideas to help you introduce new players to our illustrious time sink …er, pastime.

When Your Whole Group is New

 

Do the planning for them

New players are often overwhelmed by the character sheet alone. Are we expected to know all those numbers? How do we actually use the stuff that’s on there? Give brand-new players pre-generated characters, especially when you’re teaching an entire group of first-time players.

By using pre-generated characters, you make a lot of overwhelming decisions for the players. They don’t have to worry about choosing effective skills, powers, spells or weapons, because you’ve already done that for them. Too many choices become intimidating. Even first-time players realize that some choices would be more effective than others, but which ones?

Limiting choices was part of the success of the original D&D game, IMHO. And I think it’s one of the reasons D&D was wildly more successful than Traveller, another early RPG. Traveller had (and still does) an open-ended character generation system. Sure, you chose a branch of service and rolled randomly for skills, but you still had to create a role in the party.

Being from the Navy didn’t give a new player any ideas on how to actually play his character. It was entirely up to you to define your place in the universe. Great for an experienced player with a strong character concept and goals. But if you’d never played an RPG before, you really didn’t know what kinds of things your character could do. If you’d never played Traveller before, you really didn’t know what kinds of things your character could do.

Original D&D took care of that for you. You had only four classes (well, really six—dwarf and elf were treated like classes), each with a very distinct role in the party. Fighters fought, magic-users cast spells, clerics healed and thieves disarmed traps and opened locks. Each class had a built-in purpose that made them very accessible to brand-new players and this worked really, really well new players.

Choose your game system carefully. When you’re introducing a group brand-new players who’ve never roleplayed at all (as opposed to experienced players learning a new system), you want something that’s simple, without being too simplistic. Pick D&D over Rolemaster, Star Wars over Traveller, and anything over Amber (unless your entire group are die-hard Zelazny fans).

This is not the time for you to run a system for the first time. Pick something you’re very familiar with, so you don’t waste valuable teaching (and playing) time looking things up. Plus, if you’re constantly having to look up things, you make the game seem much complicated than it actually is. When you use a system you’re very comfortable with, you give the impression “See, this isn’t so hard. I don’t even have to look up the rules, it’s that easy.” It makes the system much more accessible.

Limit choices, but make sure you give some

If you’ve ever had toddlers, you know how effective an empowering it is to let them choose something from a limited and predetermined set of options. Do you want to wear the green pants or the new skirt? The same goes for new players. Do you want to use a healing potion or have the cleric use her last spell?

Don’t be afraid to make suggestions during play. Most brand-new players will be grateful for the advice, especially if you explain the reason behind your suggestions. Just remember that the players are free to choose something other than what you suggested. That’s part of the  learning experience.

Don’t make them feel stupid or wrong because they made an ineffective choices, just let the results of their actions catch up to them in-game. If one of their choices doesn’t work, explain afterwards why it didn’t work well and what might have worked better. Never imply it was a stupid or bad decision. Instead, use language like “less effective”.

Take it slow

Plan a short adventure. While you may consider a mission to stop an ogre from carrying off the nearby town’s livestock dull and routine, the players have never done it before. They’re not going to feel cheated because the “dungeon” is nothing more than a three-room abandoned farmhouse and the “treasure” is a masterwork (non-magical) sword and a single healing potion. And if your adventure doesn’t look like it will fill and entire game session, remember that you’ll be stopping frequently to answer questions and give explanations. It’s much better to end too soon than to go too long.

Give out information as the players need it

Don’t try to explain the entire character sheet at the beginning of the adventure. You’ll just confuse the players and they won’t remember the explanation, anyway. Instead, explain each section just before the players need to use it. Explain initiative as they’re getting ready for combat. Explain lock-picking when they encounter that first chest. Because they then immediately use that information, they’ll remember it better the next time they need to use it.

When you explain something, also explain why it’s done that way. Explain that you roll for initiative because you need to know in what order things will happen. Explain that you go around the table in initiative order because faster characters get to act first and because it helps you make sure you haven’t missed anyone. While this will help the players remember what to do next time, you’ll probably still need to remind them of the details the first several times they do something.

Follow their cue

Go through the adventure at they players’ pace. If they’re having trouble with combat, add in a few more easy fights. If they mastered skill use on the first go, make the next set of skill challengers a little bit harder. If they want to spend 40 minutes real-time looking for secret doors, let them, as long as everyone is having fun with it (and, if they look that hard, consider letting them find one, even if it just leads back to a room they’ve already explored). Be prepared to change things to fit the group even more than you would for an experienced group.

Make learning the goal

Don’t get hung up on finishing an adventure in the first game session. Your goal should be on teaching the game, not accomplishing the mission. If you’ve chosen a small enough adventure, this probably won’t come up. If it does, remind yourself that your real goal is to encourage these players to come back for more. Sure, the players will feel great if they save the day, but it’s much more important that they have fun.

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This post is a slightly expanded version of a post on the rpgGM.com homepage: Some Tips for Introducing New Players to RPGs. Next time we’ll cover adding a brand-new player to a group of experienced players.

[Image courtesy of tim_and_selena via Flickr Creative Commons]

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August Blog Carnival Wrap-Up

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First off, thanks to everyone who contributed to August’s Blog Carnival Teaching the Game. This is my first time hosting the carnival; thanks for making it a success. This post is a little late, but I just got married last week and am only now getting the chance to get back to a regular schedule. We had some great posts this month:

Again, thanks to everyone who participated. I’ll be hosting the January 2011 blog carnival on Worldbuilding, so mark your calendars 😉 .

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.

“…and you miss!”: Roleplaying and Rollplaying in Combat

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Randall, in his blog RetroRollplaying, wrote a post about the idea of doing away with “to hit” rolls. His post was inspired by a post at Eleven Foot Pole titled No Roll to Hit: Rationale. Both Randall’s and Eleven Foot Pole’s posts focus on “to hit” rolls in 4e D&D, but I’m going to comment on dice rolling in gaming generally

I have the worst dice luck in the world — just ask any player or GM I’ve ever played with. The DM of the main D&D (3.5) campaign  I play instituted point-buy for creating character stats after watching me roll 6 (or was it 8…can’t remember) sets of stats with no score over 10 in any of them…and that’s using the 4d6 method. I ran a Vampire game with a Sabbat pack that missed every single attack role — usually botching in the process.

So as you can imagine, I’m a big fan of dice-less games. I run Amber Diceless and my Storyteller games tend to run very “dice light”. In fact, my World of Darkness players used to tease me that the one game they forgot dice would be the one game they actually needed to use them! However, there are certain games I feel need to be played with dice and AD&D tops the list. Maybe it’s tradition. But a D&D game just doesn’t feel complete without lots of dice rolls.

Especially in combat. Yes, it’s disappointing to miss. Yes, it’s frustrating to come up with a great idea for an attack, then roll a 2. Yes, it can be boring and lonely watching all the other players dealing damage when your dice won’t even let you connect. Believe me, I know. I’ve gone through many combats in my gaming career (both as GM and player) where I missed every single roll.

But guess what? I wasn’t bored. Just because I missed (even all the time) didn’t mean I wasn’t involved in the combat. I respectfully disagree with Eleven Foot Pole’s statement that:

Having waited a full round of initiative and then achieving nothing is functionally identical to skipping your turn.

Sure, it is… if all you’re doing is waiting until “your turn”. Players focused on getting “their turn” miss the point of having a party. If all you have to contribute to the game is points of damage, why are you there, instead of an NPC? This isn’t intended as a snide remark, but a genuine question. What can your character give that goes beyond damage points? An important thing to remember is that role playing doesn’t stop when you start rolling dice. Okay, how did you miss? Why did you miss? Can something be salvaged from your attempt to try next turn? Did your miss unexpectedly aid one of your teammates? Missing as frequently as I do, I’ve learned to think beyond the numbers.

Granted, the responsibility for some of this falls on the already overburdened shoulders of the GM/DM. Players will be able to think beyond the numbers better if the GM gives them something more than numbers to think about. Sure, things are going to get really boring if, as a GM, all you say is, “You miss.” But if as a GM, you say “Your stroke goes past his shoulder as he reflexively jumps back. As a former soldier [if the PC is],  you can tell this was a skilled counter-move — you’re definitely fighting a highly-trained opponent.” Here, the PCs blow may not have done any damage, but they’ve learned something about their enemy, something that may or may not become important later, depending on what you decide to do with it.

If you want to make every action a PC takes be useful, I have an alternate idea: rather than making every attack hit, make every attack worth something, even if the PC misses. For example, the first PC misses, but in doing so, he causes his opponent to duck into the swing of another PC’s sword. Okay, the second PC gets to inflict the damage, but the first PC also contributed to that damage. If you can stress damaging and overcoming an opponent as a team effort, the entire party can be brought into the action on every turn and not just when they happen to hit.

I agree with Eleven Foot’s concern over introducing new players. I think we do need to take the extra step to help new players learn to be good players. Especially if a brand-new player is entering a group of experienced players. But I disagree that allowing a player to hit every single time is a good way to do that. I think it sends the player the wrong information about how RPGs work. Sure, you’ve eliminated the “to hit” for your game, but what’s going to happen to that player when they join someone else’s game? Or play at convention? They’re going to be in for a shock and probably even worse frustration if they don’t know that misses are part of RPGs in general.

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m a big one for changing a system to suit your style of play. If you want to play without “to hit” roles, more power to you! But if we’re talking about bringing new players into the hobby, or making automatic hits the default standard, I think we need to take a closer look at why we want to eliminate hit rolls and find another way to solve those problems.