There are many reasons why people who are new to TTRPGs don’t take the plunge, but the one that stopped me and I’ve seen others talk about is that they feel intimidated by long term players who will get frustrated if they don’t know the system well. Nine times out of ten, this fear is absolutely unfounded and the regular players are flipping awesome. But whether we’ve been playing for a few months or decades, it’s likely that we’ve all met that player in our time.
New players are what keeps TTRPGs going and swelling our ranks with extra miscreants is never going to be a bad thing. So, this post is a sort of ‘how to’ guide to introducing new players to your system without terrifying them.
TTRPGs OMG WTF
Heading down the rabbit hole of TTRPGs is like learning a whole new language that no-one actually explains to you. When you have a new player, consider giving them a cheat sheet of acronyms – seriously, how many times have I already used TTRPG just in this post without actually explaining what it means?! (Table Top Role Playing Games)
The same goes for common phrases that to an outsider might be confusing (and exclude them from the fun). “roll for initiative”… err.. down a hill? Was I not plucky enough? Oh! Roll a D20 to see who goes first.
Run a Session Zero
Hell, do this anyway! Creating your characters together and developing a backstory helps your group to bond. For newbies this gives them a chance to ask the questions that they feel weird asking during the game, especially if you’re streaming the game. As you create your character sheets together, make sure that all the players understand what the stats are for.
As an example, I’m going to use SPICED (gosh, why would I do that…).
Setting up the points for the game, could be achieved by reading the manual and just working it out, but in a session zero, an explanation will help the new player to understand why you get one base legendary point and if you’re playing with us on Twitch, how the StreamElements options works for viewers to buy players extra points to use in
amazing dangerous & stupid ways.
Session points were explained to me in a session zero that made me far more confident to use them than simply RTFM. And I say this as the person who has a copy of the rule book littered with sticky notes & lists of ideas for characters!
Start With A One Shot
When I first tried alcohol, I didn’t dive straight into the good stuff. I sipped a bit to see if I liked it, overdid it on things that I thought I liked, and eventually settled into a matured taste for drinks that take time and effort. Now, I quaff mead, toast with rum, and know that cider is absolutely not for me.
TTRPGs are similar. Starting with a few one shots, or campaigns of 2-3 sessions are a good way to find out who you are as a charcter. Real life Spanners, isn’t a chaotic killing machine who enjoys being a bloody nuisance, but the initial SPICED one shots allowed me to discover that I play for comedy value. My characters all embody the hold my beer approach which would have been difficult to develop if I hadn’t had the time and space to kill off my first few characters.
Actually, this is part of your session zero, and most good PMs / DMs do this anyway. Before any game, talk through what your red lines and veils. Matt Hayles created a great thread on twitter around this:
Quick #ttrpg thread on why safety tools are for EVERYONE, including close friends and tables that “don’t need it.”
I use safety tools in con play with strangers, games with kids, online campaigns with friends, IRL games with close friends. Lines & Veils and X-Card are my go-tos.
— Matt Hayles (@mathayles) August 23, 2018
This links well to our puppet rules – don’t be a tool about someone’s race, don’t be a tool about someone’s gender, don’t be a tool. Crossing someone’s red line is being a tool.
For those that don’t know, a red line is something that you or a player wants to exclude completely from a game. These could be both actions and words. It doesn’t matter whether this is because of a trauma or if it’s something that they’re not comfortable with, if it’s a red line, then it’s out. No ifs, no buts.
A veil is a bit different. With a veil, you don’t mind it being in the game, but don’t want to go into detail. This is often applied to sex – you might not mind it happening, but roleplaying graphic sex scenes may just be weird, so if it crops up in game just fade to black (possibly with some cheesy music).
If you start the conversation as a PM / DM, it opens up the lines of communication for your new players. Making it clear that you can talk about red lines through a private message too is a useful tool. A good way to handle this for in person games, is to write them on paper & place them in a hat – the PM then sets out the rules using the anonymous notes.
That first game for a new player is really important, so make it fun! If they manage to kill their character in the first 30 minutes, help them spin up a new one and carry on. Add in comedy to help them find their feet and allow them to test out the mechanics of the system until they find out how much fun it is torturing their PM / DM on a weekly basis.
If you’d like to join me as I dip my toes into the murky waters of newbie games with Spanners N00bs Of Doom sessions, jump into The Bar on our Discord channel. All you need is to be new to the SPICED system, have some polyhedral dice, and be up for some shenanigans!
So, once again it’s time at the bar bitches. See you next week.