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The Horror! of Introducing New Players

A couple of years ago at Gen Con I had the scariest experience any GM can ever have. One of the players joined my Doctor Who game saying it was their first time role-playing. This wasn't scary because I thought they'll play it wrong or because I'd have to explain anything about the rules. It was scary because I knew that if I screwed up this game that player may never game for the rest of their life.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

While gaming isn't for everyone I've heard many stories of people saying "yeah, I tried that D&D thing a while ago but it was rubbish so I won't do that again". Just like that, the player loses all the great moments they might have had with the right game, and we lose the amazing stories they might have told us.

Thankfully, the player in question enjoyed the game, and was back at the next Gen Con to play some more. But there are plenty of pitfalls in introducing a new player, so let's look at how to avoid some of them.

Don't Force the Issue

Obviously, we all know gaming is awesome but not everyone is aware of this and not everyone gets bitten by the bug as quickly. So if someone you know expresses an interest, or you think they'd like gaming and want to tempt them into a game session, don't nag. Drop them a line and tell them when your game is, and if they are free then great, but if not let them go. Few things will put them off more than you dragging them there. They'll already be hating it before they've even sat down at the table.

Sure, they might need a nudge to try something new and weird, but if they really don't want to, no matter how much you honestly believe it will change their life for the better, let them say no. Keep the offer open though. If they feel welcome then eventually they might say "You know, I'm actually free on Saturday, do you mind if I join that game thing of yours?"

As a quick sidebar, its usually a bad idea to make this sort of thing a date, unless you are already a couple. You are unlikely to impress someone with your 'leet gaming skilz' if they don't really know what's going on. Hitting on them when they are trying to figure it out is also not going to go down well. If something happens later on, then good for you. You might even make a romantic connection together over a gaming table somewhere down the line. But the first time someone plays, the game should be all they are worried about.

Prep Your Group

Generally, gamers are among the most welcoming people I know. But they can also be very set in their ways. If you have a new player you want to introduce (whether you are the GM or a player) mention it to the group before you bring them. Don't just turn up with them on the day. Firstly the GM will need to prepare to cater for someone new to the game, and the players might need to as well. The presence of a newbie will slow things down as they will have a lot to get used to. So the group needs to be ready for that, and patient with it. Don't let Bob getting frustrated 'because the noob didn't know what dice to roll' be the reason they don't come back. Especially if a quick chat to Bob the previous session would have changed his attitude.

Pick the Right Game Setting

Just because a particular game is your favorite, it doesn't mean it will strike a chord with the new player. In this case, licenses are very much your friend, and you can pick one the new player is a fan of. It will be a lot more enticing to a Buffy fan to play a slayer or a scooby than join a game of Invisible Sun, even though Invisible Sun is awesome. If the new player knows the setting they are already halfway there and will feel comfortable in the game world.

Remember again not to force them into playing what you think is best or what you think they'd like. Ask them. Give them some options and see what they like the sound of. Sometimes you'll find the right game is just a no brainer when you check what they are into. One potential new player once said to me "By the way, I've been reading these amazing books recently. Have you heard of this writer called H P Lovecraft?" It was pretty easy to figure out what game she'd like to play first.

Pick the Right System

Even with a setting they know, a new gamer will probably have the most trouble with the rules system. It saddens me to often hear a new D&D player say "I just started playing, but I'm not very good". By which they mean 'I don't quite get all the rules' rather than 'I had no idea about character and story'. When someone sits down to play a game it is easy for a newbie to think the rules are what matters.

All this means that in general you should pick a simple system. If it uses more than one type of dice you might want to consider something different. Remember that while this may all be simple and clear to someone whose been playing for years, the multitude of dice and numbers can be exceptionally off putting to some people. I should also add that it doesn't help to say 'it's easy' - that just makes the new person feel stupid for not getting it. It may only be simple maths to add up three different modifiers and roll a dice, but when you don't understand where those numbers come from or what you are even rolling the dice for its yet another barrier.

Having said that, some people are very comfortable with rules, even complex ones. Someone with a wargame background will feel more at home with a complex rules system they can get their teeth into. I'm also not saying run something narrative either. Dice and rolls give a new person clear tasks to achieve that can be easily explained "I want to pick a lock" "Ok, you just need to roll five or more on this dice." Asking what their motivation is and then asking them to make up a story on the spot can work for some people but can easily be just as intimidating as a complex set of numbers and modifiers.

Make Sure They Play a Character They Like

The character is the key that brings the person into the world, so make sure they have something they are comfortable with. Making them sit through character creation might be off putting depending on the game. Handing then a sheet of numbers and saying 'this is you' is equally unhelpful though. So ask them what they want to play, what powers they might like to have and what attributes and skills they would like to favor, and then go away and make that character up yourself. It will help them understand the character when you can point out the things they asked for and show them where they are on the sheet. "That fireball spell you said was cool is noted there, and its third level so you can cast it three times a day".

Focus ideally on a couple of cool things to bring their attention to. Usually a signature skill and a signature attack. The rest of the sheet is in front of them, but now they know when combat happens they should use their magic broadsword and they are also good at picking locks if that comes up (so make sure the signature skill isn't someone another player is already an expert at). This way the group will help bring them into the adventure "Hey John, can your character take a look at this lock?" This will not only help the player feel part of the group, but also that they are not just tagging along, that the party actually needs them.

Make Sure Their Voice is Heard

To round off, here's the most important thing: make sure they are not ignored. New players used to board games will assume they are waiting for a turn, and the free for all of an RPG may push them off balance and make them frightened to speak up. I've known some people take to it like a duck to water, but it doesn't happen often. So make sure the GM doesn't allow the other players to talk over them, rubbish their ideas, or ignore them. An evening watching other people have a great time really sucks. So listen to them and try to find out what aspect of the game most gets their attention. Is it combat, puzzle solving, role-play etc. Find what might ignite that spark, and remember you have only that evening to do it. If you do it right they might ask to come back again, maybe not next week but maybe some other time. If they have a boring time they will never bother with the game again.

So, in general, the key here is to listen to what they want, much as you should with any player to be honest. Make sure they get to play the game they want to play, not the one you thought was best for them. Once they are part of the hobby, you'll have plenty of time to show them everything else, and they will come to you to find out what most excites you about gaming.
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Rhineglade

Explorer
My favorite aspect of teaching newbies, on a VTT format in any case, is how all the players are just so intrigued by every little thing. They love moving their tokens all over the place and all at the same time. "Classroom Management" becomes a definite skill as you try to contain their enthusiasm somewhat.
 


jasper

Rotten DM
Old farts reply.

Don't Force the Issue, I won't but I not at your beck and call.

or IN the SCA We asked 3 times. So Friday is a bad time. Okay, How about next Wednesday. Wednesday comes around the newbie is no show. Seen this happen a lot. After 3 times, I just posting the schedule to the Facebook page. It is up to you to decide to show up.

Prep Your Group. Tell Bob the goober to stay home. Or he runs the normal table, I handle the new folks. AND DON"T CALL THEM NEWBIES!


Pick the Right Game Setting, Is the new person paying? If not he gets what everyone else gets. Unless it open game night. Then I find them a good match.


Pick the Right Game Setting, you are freaking just rewording the above paragraph! Harumph.!

Make Sure They Play a Character They Like. Sure no problem. New person PLEASE TALK WITH ME. QUIT LOOKING AT THE FLOOR!.


Make Sure Their Voice is Heard. PATIENCE POLLY sit next to the new person and ask them to give us their input. It does not have to be in game terms. Just TALK TO US.


Harumph!
I better get an harumph!
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Yeah, the horror. While I've run card and board games at conventions, I've yet to run TTRPGs at a convention because while I've been DMing for years, I feel uncomfortable running games for people I've not vetted. So much of the magic is the chemistry of the group and I just find public games to fraught with social pit traps. Such issues can arise in any public activity, but it is much less of an issue with more structured activities like card and board games than with TTRPGs.
 


Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
Pretty good advice. But jeeze louise, the singular of dice is die! I see so many people make that mistake, and it just grinds my geers for some reason. You'd think that RPGers, at least, would know better! Anyway, be well and stay safe everyone.
 

imagineGod

Adventurer
Pretty good advice. But jeeze louise, the singular of dice is die! I see so many people make that mistake, and it just grinds my geers for some reason. You'd think that RPGers, at least, would know better! Anyway, be well and stay safe everyone.
Maybe the connotation with death as in "die" like the dreaded TPK (total party kill) is why people stay away from the proper singular for the dice.
 

Yeah, the horror. While I've run card and board games at conventions, I've yet to run TTRPGs at a convention because while I've been DMing for years, I feel uncomfortable running games for people I've not vetted. So much of the magic is the chemistry of the group and I just find public games to fraught with social pit traps. Such issues can arise in any public activity, but it is much less of an issue with more structured activities like card and board games than with TTRPGs.
Well said.
New players are never complete strangers to my table; they are carefully vetted and come with references from existing or past players. Of the numerous qualifications required for acceptance, game experience is the only thing we on't care about.

I haven't brought in a stranger to my game since 2002.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
Yeah, the horror. While I've run card and board games at conventions, I've yet to run TTRPGs at a convention because while I've been DMing for years, I feel uncomfortable running games for people I've not vetted. So much of the magic is the chemistry of the group and I just find public games to fraught with social pit traps. Such issues can arise in any public activity, but it is much less of an issue with more structured activities like card and board games than with TTRPGs.
Interesting take. I would encourage you to try it once things go back to normal. It adds a very different dimension to your GM'ing skills. Knowing you don't have multiple sessions to pull people into the storyline, trying to read new players you don't know, and relaxing enough to smile and be "on point." These are skills that seem to be hones at conventions.

As for being not vetted. I completely get it.

As for the topic, introducing new people to the hobby is just magical. It really is. Especially if they fall for it much like you did.
 


MGibster

Legend
Yeah, the horror. While I've run card and board games at conventions, I've yet to run TTRPGs at a convention because while I've been DMing for years, I feel uncomfortable running games for people I've not vetted. So much of the magic is the chemistry of the group and I just find public games to fraught with social pit traps. Such issues can arise in any public activity, but it is much less of an issue with more structured activities like card and board games than with TTRPGs.

Perhaps I'm just a naturally gregarious individual that people adore, but I general don't find running or participating in games with strangers at conventions to be fraught with social pit traps. In fact, I usually don't run into a lot of traps in most social situations. I won't say that every experience has been positive, but for the most part I've enjoyed gaming at conventions or local events open to the general public. In fact, it's a fantastic way to meet new players and what better vetting process than to actually sit down and play a game with someone?
 



And I think sitting down and actually playing a game with someone is the best way to ensure that they're suitable.

The point of vetting is to ensure someone is suitable before they take up the intended task. In this case, so as to not waste table time, and annoy the other players. Time spent at the table is for gaming. A prospect shouldn't even set foot in the room without establishing that they are the right sort for the group.

You can teach a anyone to game, but to fit within a group, to meet the expectations and standards, that the individual has to bring, and that is far more important than knowing how to determine recoil drift or how to apply a known toolkit.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
And I think sitting down and actually playing a game with someone is the best way to ensure that they're suitable.
Have you ever found new players for home games while DMing convention games? I see this happening at games run at your FLGS, but it seems much less likely at a convention.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
The point of vetting is to ensure someone is suitable before they take up the intended task. In this case, so as to not waste table time, and annoy the other players. Time spent at the table is for gaming. A prospect shouldn't even set foot in the room without establishing that they are the right sort for the group.

You can teach a anyone to game, but to fit within a group, to meet the expectations and standards, that the individual has to bring, and that is far more important than knowing how to determine recoil drift or how to apply a known toolkit.

It would be interesting to read how people vet players for their games. From posts I've read over the years, it seems most DMs and groups are reactive than proactive. They are pretty open to letting someone in, so long as there are not too many players already. But the number of posts on how to deal with problem players indicates that being a bit more proactive and vetting new players is warranted.

When I got back into the hobby and was looking to start a campaign, I had two old high school friends that were up for playing in a campaign run by me. For the other players I posted a notice on a couple local meetup sites for TTRPGs. I gave a detailed description of the setting and style of campaign I would be running, specified the small number of table rules, and explained my expectations for players.

I found that the best candidates were those who also vetting me. There was quite a bit of back and forth until we set up the first session. I think that this mutual vetting really helped ensure a good group. Since then, all new players were suggested by existing members of the group.

I've happily never experienced any of the horror stories I've read in other threads, which is especially fortunate as, before COVID, I ran the games at my home.
 

It would be interesting to read how people vet players for their games. From posts I've read over the years, it seems most DMs and groups are reactive than proactive. They are pretty open to letting someone in, so long as there are not too many players already. But the number of posts on how to deal with problem players indicates that being a bit more proactive and vetting new players is warranted.

When I got back into the hobby and was looking to start a campaign, I had two old high school friends that were up for playing in a campaign run by me. For the other players I posted a notice on a couple local meetup sites for TTRPGs. I gave a detailed description of the setting and style of campaign I would be running, specified the small number of table rules, and explained my expectations for players.

I found that the best candidates were those who also vetting me. There was quite a bit of back and forth until we set up the first session. I think that this mutual vetting really helped ensure a good group. Since then, all new players were suggested by existing members of the group.

I've happily never experienced any of the horror stories I've read in other threads, which is especially fortunate as, before COVID, I ran the games at my home.

Excellent idea, so I'm starting a new thread.
 

Campbell

Legend
And I think sitting down and actually playing a game with someone is the best way to ensure that they're suitable.

I pretty much agree with this. It's why I really value a steady diet of short form play to go along with longer games. It helps find those compatibilities so when you want to be more selective you have direct experience playing with them and hopefully get to see how different players interact with each other.
 

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