This Weekend I posted about D&D Kids and it got me thinking about the hurdles of introducing none gamers to the hobby. The game I talked about in the earlier post actually holds a lot of the tricks I use when I'm trying to get someone to give table top rpgs a try. The thing is since it's already put together as a single game those individual parts kind of blend together and become invisible to the whole. This exactly what a good game should do, but not too helpful if we're going to break down how to make a game easy to learn. Some of these are more obvious than others, but for the sake of comprehension I'm going to cover them all.
Keep It Simple:
This might seem like an obvious piece of advice, but you would be surprised how many times I had friends want to introduce me to a game and just threw 3-8 boos in front of me and told me that everything I know is here. This is not simple. Or the ones that offer to explain as we go (a better option for new players), but then going into why I would get this bonus or that penalty and this if I do this in this way I can "optimize" what I want to do. While these games can be fun, they aren't where you want to start a new player off. If this is a person's first time playing in an rpg where they can do basically anything that alone can be over whelming for them. If you expect them to absorb more that 5 rules on top of that (and yes just what dice to roll for a basic skill is a rule) then you run the risk of them going glossy eyed and either not caring or getting frustrated. Pick a game that has a couple rules that apply to just about everything you can do. with maybe a couple more special circumstance rules. IF the game you love it more complex see if you can hack together the bare bones of a system that can run with only a couple actual rules.
Keep It Small:
As I said above, just the idea of being able to do anything you want or describe how you do things can be over whelming to many people. So don't give them an entire world to explore on top of that. Dungeon crawls actually work great here because there's usually only one or two paths to choose, they are always looking to move forward, and they only have to thin about the room they're in and maybe the room next door. If you don't want something as combat focused try a small town or castle they can't escape. Limit the world a bit to help ease players into the IDEA of gaming while keeping them focused on what's in front of them. This small rule also goes to numbers. Not everyone loves math (I happen to but I'm a freak). There are people out there that even if it's simple addition their brains lock up or tune out if the numbers are in the triple digits. Smaller numbers also means faster math and that means faster turn, which leads me to...
Keep It Moving:
Keep everything quick. People are used to video games and while table top gaming offers much more than a video game ever can those games to offer immediate result. There isn't stop to check rules or charts (see Keep It Simple) when they want to swing a sword, they just hit a button and see results. Now table top gaming will never be THAT fast, especially compared to multiplayer video games, but keep things moving. The steps above all add to making player's turns take as little time as possible and that helps things move. Don't throw too many enemies down at a time (I would say 3 tops for first time gamers) as that just takes up more of your time and leavers EVERYONE waiting. Now the balance here is to not rush players and new players can lock up on what to actually do. To help this without coming off as deciding for them is to...
Mae Cheat Sheets:
Savage Worlds got it right when they released their Combat Survival Guide, but other games can do it too. Basically it's a single sheet of paper that breaks down the actions a player can tae and what they need to roll to do it. At the bare basics I would suggest an index card that has a players Health, Armor, at least one attack with it's damage, and any skills that they are the best at. Probably add the often used skills by everyone like Notice/Perception. A character sheet has everything you could need, but these cheat sheets will have everything THEY need. In fact if you're slimming down a game system to bare bones this might BE their character sheet. Now some of you might be asking how the GM would know all this ahead of time and that would be because...
Make Characters In Advance:
Character creation is lots of gamer's favorite part of gaming, but it also requires understanding of the rules, times, and knowing what you want, all things anew gamer might not have. I do suggest making a couple more characters than players in case people might want some variety or they happen to bring a friend or two. You can also make characters specifically for what you know a person would enjoy, but I would still suggest a couple extra characters for those friends that might show up. Making characters lets you know what to expect when designing the adventure, simplifies the players choice, and lets you showcase some variety the game has to offer. If you're playing a fantasy game for example make sure there's a warrior, a thief, and a wizard so the players can see that these are all characters they could one day play. Pre-made characters can also lead to something that might help bring new players in...
(Optional) Make It Something They Already Know:
IF you're already making the characters one route you can go is make it a game based on something your friends already know and love. Maybe they are Scooby and the gang solving a mystery, maybe they're the gang from Adventure Time. Personally I roped a good chunk of new gamers by playing a couple Venture Brothers games. I will want that this isn't for anyone as one of the great things about gaming is making and playing a character that is YOURS, but this is a starter game and the characters are already pre-made so that's not as huge of an issue. As a bonus one of the thing players need to learn is to not always do what THEY would do, but what a character would do and by using characters they know it gets easier to get into that characters "head space". Those two friends playing Shaggy and Scooby have the "Easily Frightened" flaw or hindrance or whatever and they run into what they think is a ghost. The player would know this is when they yell "G-g-g-ghost!" and run rather than asking, "but I'm not scared so why would my character run away?"
Lie I said someone of this stuff (maybe even all of it) is stuff many of you guys know, but just like bringing in new players there;s always new GMs and sometimes breaking it down and spelling it out helps. I hope this is one of those times for some of you guys out there and more importantly I hope this can get a few more gamers into the hobby.