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© 1998-2001 Dru
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Teaching New Players
I've always loved teaching
new players how to roleplay. Over the years, I've found that most new
players face two big hurdles: (1) mastering the rules or technical aspects
of the game, and (2) feeling comfortable getting into character. Every
GM probably has different ways to ease new players into the game, but
this is one I've used for years and which has never failed me yet.
Rules: The most important thing to do is to avoid confusing new
players with the books and books of rules that most games can't seem to
do without. Assure them that understanding the rules will come in time,
and that in most cases they don't need to learn all the rules to play.
(Confession time: I've been playing Hero for years without completely
understanding all the rules ... I learned character generation, and after
that, I rely on GM-provided charts and cheat sheets to figure out which
dice to roll.)
If you can, sit all
of the new players down together for a character generation session. You
can do this individually, but doing it in a group helps avoid repeating
the same explanation over and over and also makes the new players feel
better—they realize they aren't the only ones who are confused,
and can moan and groan to each other as they work.
Walk the players through
character generation step by step. Start by describing the types of characters
they can play (e.g., classes or archetypes and races) in very general
terms. If any of the classes or races has a significant disadvantage,
mention it (e.g., in AD&D, mages cannot usually wear armor or use
weapons well). Let the players decide what kind of character they want
Next, have the players
think up names and physical descriptions for their characters. This will
help them feel like the character is a person, and it will help guide
them through assigning attributes, skills, and other statistics appropriate
to the character. After they have a rough mental image of their character,
begin walking them through rest of the technical side of character generation,
constantly assuring them that it gets easier as they learn the rules,
and helping them maximize their characters' powers as much as possible.
First-time characters shouldn't be permitted to be too weak! A new player
will only get discouraged if the character is killed or gravely injured
right off, or if the character doesn't seem to contribute anything important
to the game.
Remember, this isn't
the time to get into long explanations of point breaks or statistical
tradeoffs; keep your explanations general. If the player is keen on learning
more, s/he can read the rulebooks later.
Next, permit players
to buy equipment for their characters. This is usually fun, and it provides
you with a chance to quickly discuss encumbrance rules. It also helps
them flesh out their characters a little more.
The final step is to
teach them the basic rules of making skill rolls or engaging in combat.
That's best done in tandem with the next section.
Character: Some players are natural actors and will fall right
into character. Others will have more difficulty remembering that they
must roleplay, not simply direct the character around like an avatar on
a video-game screen. I like to introduce players to roleplaying—and
to the basics of combat and skill use—by throwing them into an archetypical
situation that almost every media-savvy player will recognize ... the
Of course, the bar brawl
doesn't start immediately. First, tell them that they're in a bar. Give
it a quick description, pull out or draw maps if you have them. The nice
thing about bars is that they're genre-generic ... you can find them in
fantasy or science-fiction, gothic horror or cyberpunk ... in any culture
that uses alcohol. (If the culture doesn't use alcohol, try a shopping
trip that turns into a brawl). Let the characters order food and drink
... and require them to use "I" instead of "My character"
and to speak directly to the NPC ("Hey, gimme a beer.") instead
of the GM ("I order a beer.").
Provide a few interesting
NPCs for them to interact with. Maybe a flirtatious waiter or waitress,
a glib gambler, a surly drunk, a rude bravo, a mysterious cloaked figure
or a talkative child. Let the characters talk among themselves, too—encourage
them to introduce themselves to each other.
And then, of course,
make sure it all ends in a brawl.
The nice thing about
the archetypical bar brawl is that it is usually governed by an unwritten
code of honor—no weapons—and it offers lots of opportunity
for fancy manuevers like throwing tables and chairs, swinging from rafters,
sliding down bars, and so forth. Bar brawls are usually fun for the players
and give you a chance to guide players through the mechanics of doing
things in the game. Let players tell you what their characters want to
do, and then explain what they need to roll or accomplish in order to
do that. Remember to keep them using "I" when they tell you
what they want to do!
The point to the brawl
is to provide combat without risk of serious injury or death. If the brawl
gets ugly—that is, if a player character pulls out a weapon—either
have NPCs try to warn the character off ("You don't want to up the
ante, pardner") or bring in the authorities to break everything up.
The player characters might escape or get off with a stern warning or
even a fine, but you shouldn't impose any stiffer penalty than that on
them this first time unless taking the characters to jail is part of your
campaign concept. Bringing in the authorities serves to remind the players
that their characters must work within society; that they can't get away
with anything they want.
After the fight is broken
up, the GM can close the session or move it on. The bar brawl can be a
significant start to a new adventure (maybe somebody they met in the bar
approaches them later with a job offer) or it can be an isolated incident,
a sort of "training session" that the players all recognize
is not tied into the larger campaign in any way. However, it will have
broken the ice, given players an idea of how the game works and what their
characters' skills and limitations are, and introduced the characters
to each other so that they begin to understand what others can do, as
There are many ways
to introduce characters or to run an opening scene, but most of those
ways imply that the players are already familiar with the conventions
of the game. For completely new players, it's vital that you take some
extra time and effort to ease them in ... remember, they're our most important
resource; this hobby can't survive without them!
originally written July 9, 1999
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