Hooking New Players

An embarrassingly long time ago, one of my fans asked me to chime in on the topic of how to introduce new people to gaming. Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to run the first game for my nephews with my brother (an accomplished gamer) along for the ride. So how did I set it up to try to encourage a good time?

1. Don’t raise the bar too high: We can all remember a magical gaming session when we were learning and everything was just amazing. Too much pressure. Just have fun with it.

2. Set them up for Success: Create player characters who have strong capabilities or allow them to start character generation with enough experience that they’re good at what they can do and they don’t easily run out of options in combat.

3. Use Your Second String Monsters: Don’t expect newbies to bring an “A” game to your table. Err on the side of weaker, more numerous monsters that they can mow through without a high chance of getting killed themselves. Don’t make it a complete cake walk, but you want them to feel successful.

4. Game What They Know: Not many kids these days have read Lord of the Rings. Sure they may have seen the movie versions but the point is that their literary references aren’t the same as when we were starting out. Find out what genres they do enjoy, what movies they think were great adventures. For my nephews, they were most enthused about a pirates game akin to Pirates of the Caribbean. I picked up a one-sheet adventure from Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds website and went from there.

5. Use Your Bag of Tricks: Every GM has areas of their game that they do very well in and other areas that aren’t quite as strong. I like to make hand-drawn maps, use evocative music at the gaming table, paint miniatures, and bring extra effort to the description of things. So I drew out the haunted island and painted up pirates and skeleton figurines the week before the game. (Both got compliments from the boys). Queuing up the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean on my laptop was a no-brainer. Finally, I spent time with the one-sheet adventure that I ran (Dead Men Tell No Tales) to add some extra details.

6. Keep Things Rules Lite: Even the most eager newbie can get rules-overload. Focus on the basics: combat resolution (How do I kill things?), skill resolution (How do I do things?), characteristics (What kind of person am I?), and equipment/weapons/riches (What do I have?).

7. Use a Simpler Game: I’m a convert to Savage Worlds for about the past three years. It really is Fast, Fun, and Furious as a game. I felt it was a decent system to start with. If you use an overly complex system, players can get overwhelmed before they get to have fun.

That’s about it. Not everyone who plays will stick with it, but even if you just have fun for one night, hey, that’s a night of fun, right?

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