Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Make the First Time Memorable

by ktylerconk
Make the First Time Memorable
by Tobie Abad
February 2012

Just like anything else in life, when we try something for the first time we want that experience to be extremely memorable and special.  We want to make sure everything goes well and we want to somehow have a keepsake of that wonderful experience.   When it comes to introducing the concept of table top role-playing games to new players, the same expectations and hopes apply.  After all, as much as we love the games we play we have to remember how alien and strange the concept may sound to people who haven't tried it before. We can use analogies such as improvised theater or interactive movies as examples, but no one really grasps the full fun of a game without literally playing one.  Here are some of the things I have made it a point to do to always make someone's first game a memorable experience.

by Sam Cockman
Know what they want
Don't start by deciding on what game system to run.  Instead, start by asking what interests the new player the most.  Does the new player love action movies with all the gun fights and car chases?  Does he have a soft spot for romantic comedies and crazy chick-flick dramedies?  Does she have a thing for magic and fantasy and can recite key lines from Lord of the Rings without effort?    If you're not sure, ask for specifics.  Ask for what scenes he loved the most in his favorite movie.  As for what aspects she really enjoys about her favorite shows. From the information you get, then decide what game system you'd like the player to experience.  But in many ways, be sure to choose only the game system that popularly explores the desired aspects.  What you hope to accomplish in your game choice is the new player becoming interested enough to get the book after the game to learn more about playing it.

Bring Down the Game to the Basics
Games such as Dungeons and Dragons or GURPS can be frighteningly intimidating to a new player with all their maps and traits and systems.  But that doesn't mean such game systems cannot be used to introduce a new player to a game.  Don't make the mistake of trying to explain every single system on the first game night, however.  Instead, try to do away or minimize all the systems that don't push the aspects your player wants, and focus instead on the systems that do.  After all, what you want to show is that the things they love can be represented in a game.  And the idea that such systems exist to make that aspect something they can experience becomes a huge draw in wanting to try learning more about a game.

So if a fan, for example, states he wants to play something like Underworld, then just grab your Vampire the Requiem book, ignore all the Bloodlines and Clan Disciplines and just ramp up the combat system with a nice sprinkling of Celerity, Vigor and Resilience.  The werewolves don't even have to use the werewolves of the Werewolf the Forsaken system.  Just use the same system for the vampires, but describe them as werewolves.  While accuracy is sacrificed, the game becomes much easier to run and to grasp for new players.

Bring Up the Familiar Touches
With the game itself being totally new ground for a new player, help raise their confidence level by catering to their comfort zones.  Romantic Comedy games should have the stupid antics and the eventual confessions.  Action games should have the moments when the hero seemingly is out-gunned.  Horror should have the freak out moments where panic feels overwhelming.  Super Hero games should have a sense of doing good does make a difference in the world.  If the player seems a bit lost, don't be afraid to "caption" scenes in your game.  "You've been working at your desk all day when the doors open and he comes in.  The best looking guy you've ever seen.  The game's Love Interest."   What you want to do is get the players into the idea that the story does unfold around them, and their actions make a huge difference in what can happen next.

Do the same with the Non-playing cast.  Use tropes if you must.  Use cliches if it helps them grasp the way a game flows.  You're not trying to prove you're the best storyteller out there.  You're trying to get people who  have never gamed to be interested enough to invest an hour or three into a game.  Trust me, there are a lot of other things a non-gamer would want to do with three hours of their time.  If you can't win them over by gaining their interest, the game will fall apart real fast.

And don't forget, the NPC cast is your best way to "show" how to role-play.  While there is no right or wrong way to role-play (just preferred and greatly discouraged ways) by showing them how you do it, you can encourage them to do the same.  Use distinct voices if you want to.  Use accents if you feel like it.  Or just have a visual cue or signal to reflect who you are.  A good sign they're getting into it is when they shift from referring to their character's in the third person ("My character will say 'What are you doing?'") to the first person ("I look at him and shake my head.  'What are you doing?'")

by plate tektonics

Throw Something Unexpected
Boost the uniqueness of the game experience by throwing something unexpected.  Maybe in the Action-packed game, the hero is suddenly forced to make a moral choice:  Killing the villain is the best action, but the hero suddenly discovers the 3-month old child the villain is raising.  Or in the game inspired by Dr. Who, knowing the player loves the show, you throw in a cameo of spin-off shows like Martha Jones or the cast of Torchwood.  A zombie game can have a totally unexpected twist if you suddenly reveal that the cure is found just as they wipe out a HUGE mass of zombie children - did they just commit mass murder?

Think of the best movies you've seen and you'll find there were such moments that made you go, "Whoa..." Try to find a way to inject that same moment into your games and even if the new player decides gaming might not be for him, he will still leave with a fond memory that he most likely will recall if not share in the times to come.

Share the Sheet
At the end, let them keep their character sheet.  Be sure to have included in the sheet a few weblinks of what game they played and perhaps other similar sites to check out.  While they aren't obligated to check the sites out, if they do ever come across the sheet again in the future chances are they might remember that fun memorable game, and opt to look into gaming again.  Gaming takes a lot of commitment, so its not really something everyone would be in to.  But that should never stop us from trying to share our passions with others.
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