Friday, June 24, 2005

One Shot

Politeness is the grease that enables the machinery of social intercourse to move forward. It only takes a second to be polite, and yet in the increasingly narcissistic western culture that I live in, that second is rarely taken.

This is sad. Moreover it is dangerous to the hobby that we love. Gamers are used to a certain amount of persecution. If not from people in their own community, then from the media, who like to make gamers out to be some goofy caricature or some dangerous new threat, depending on what will sell more papers. Over the years, it's become very easy to develop a siege mentality over it all. My bitterness over certain elements of it is a matter of public record in these pages.

As gamers become an older demographic, we also tend to become more insular. We play with the people that we've played with for years because that's what we've always done. Player groups can become ingrown like a toenail. New people who come into any kind of gaming group are usually treated to unwarranted levels of scrutiny and a certain amount of aloofness. As Gamers become older we also become less tolerant. Actually, it could be argued, that we don't become less tolerant, we just become less willing to put up with situations and behavior that always irritated us.

And if there is any sin that we are most culpable of, it is the sin of Elitism. Many gamers are smart and literate. As mentioned above, we've had bad experiences at the hands of people who are not as sharp as we. This breeds contempt in our hearts for anyone that we perceive as being "lesser" But, that contempt goes from being directed at the truly stupid to anyone who seems unable to meet our standards of personal interaction. Including other gamers who may not have developed the necessary social acumen. It never occurs to us to realize that if we don't teach them...Who will?

So maybe we get a little cantankerous in our old age. We become less tolerant of play styles that clash with out own or people who have different aesthetics than our own.

Good gaming is like a Choir that blends it's voices together in perfect harmony. Bad gaming is when each and every voice tries to drown out the others...Maybe even singing different songs.

As I said, this is dangerous to our hobby. I intend to back that assertion up.

One of the things that I have discovered about people, is that they don't like to do things that they don't like to do. They also don't like to talk to or hang out with people who they don't like, or who don't like them. This would seem to be a no-brainer and yet it's something the gamer community has yet to parse in full. The reason why people get turned off to gaming is generally that they have a bad experience early on. Oh sure, negative portrayals of gamer culture may prejudice a person going in, but if they have fun on the first night of play, they'll come back and try it again.

Here is my topic sentence, Are you ready?

A Person who tries a game and doesn't enjoy the game and/or the people playing it, is never coming back.

Granted, there are people who will try something more than once, just to be sure. Or they have friends who harass and chivvy them into trying something they hate again, but you can't count on this. These situations are atypical. Most folks will try something and if they don't like it the first time they will not go back and if you pester them about it, they'll start to hate it out of perversity.

Hey, if someone dislikes it the first time, They might try it again in another circumstance and discover that they love it the second time. It could be the place or the game or the people or all three that turns them off. Remove the problem and try again and you might get a convert. But you'll have to overcome the resistance that was built up from the first try, and that resistance can be considerable.

This is especially prevalent in Larp circles where with dozens of players it's easy for the FNG to get lost in the shuffle.

In other words, You get only one shot.

So, as per my usual modus operandi, I will try to offer constructive hints on how alleviate the specific problem of new player turn-off.

First Impressions

It's a good idea to let players and/or the GM know that you are bringing somebody new along. Long-standing social situations develop their own sort of behavioral quirks. People become comfortable in their own social milieu to the point that when an outsider is brought in, resentment can result at the sudden lack of social ease. You may have a player who is used to being able to clip his toe-nails at the table or who likes to crack jokes about chicken fucking, or Satanism, or Satanic chicken fucking, or whatever. Being told at the last minute that an outsider may be along for the ride and that he should curb those tendencies may result in some friction.

If, however, you give players some lead time, The idea that they should put on their party manners won't be such a rude shock. If nothing else, they might at least think. "Bob is bringing a new person to the game tonight...Maybe I should shower?"

Gamers get on their moral high horse about appearances and how they don't matter...And yet they tend to judge others just as harshly. (Categorizing them as jocks or preppies or what have you.)

Better Plan: get off your fucking moral high horse and attend to your appearance, because that's how people will judge you when they first meet you. If you look, or smell like something out of Lovecraft, they aren't going to be interested in getting to know the real you inside. And take a shower will you? You smell like high horse.

You know why larpers seem to get laid more often. It's because they get dressed up more often and Larps tend to have more new people coming into them all the time. Larpers get used to trying to make a new impression on people. That's a good habit to get into.


Some people take a sort of perverse pride in their abrasive demeanor. They may have an elitist streak and may be unwilling to suffer fools gladly (or anybody they perceive as foolish)

I know a guy, Who is actually a decent fellow once you get to know him but his brutish demeanor and semi-racist commentary are such a turn-off that it's nearly impossible to bring people into a gaming group he's in, without trouble of some sort.

Other people may have antisocial tendencies and have trouble relating to new people until they get to know them. And there are people who play characters that are so thoroughly unlikeable that new players may decide to hate the player too.

As GM or as a player of this type it is important to try to dial that shit down when you first meet someone. Reserve judgment on a person for a while and you might just find that person extending you the same courtesy. In fact, it's a really good idea to step on players who try to decide whether or not someone belongs in the gaming group after the first session. Getting to know someone is not something that can be accomplished in a single night. Also as a GM it's imperative to impress on your players that if they don't observe party manners in front of new people that you might just take time out of your busy schedule to stove in their fool head for being an asshole. Even if it turns out that the new player is not going to work out for various reasons, You want to crush these tendencies. Just because player "X" didn't work out, doesn't give you a license to be shit head when I bring in player "Y" or "Z".

For players who play asshole characters, it's imperative that you meet the new person in your own persona and get to talk to them awhile. Let them see that you're a regular Joe just like them. Just because you are playing the vampire larps prince doesn't make you a cold blooded bastard. In fact, if the player meets "you" before meeting the "prince", he might have more respect for your chops as an actor. If he meets the prince first and then meets you later, He might just be confused. If he doesn't meet you at all...Well, I think you know where I'm going with this.

The Welcome Wagon

It is important to make a new person feel welcome. This should be staggeringly obvious. But more and more, I see people tossing new players in at the deep end of the pool and then ignore their thrashing and cries for help.

Hey, Here's a thought. Maybe the new person is like you, and everybody else, insofar as they may be a little timid in brand new social situations. Maybe it might be good to cut them some slack for that reason alone!

Learn the persons name (Write it down if you have to, shmucko.) and do the same for his character. (oddly, people seem more able to remember character names than real ones.) There is nothing sweeter to a person's ear than their own name. It means you cared long enough to learn it. There is nothing more irritating to a person than to have someone repeatedly mis-remember or mispronounce their name.Can you guess why?

Go so far as a to take a moment and formally welcome them to the game. Take a cue from every Shriner or Rotarian you've ever met and look them in eye while giving them a warm handshake. Save any hazing or abuse until after you've hooked the poor bastard. If you can't do that, make sure that the ribbing is of the mildest sort.

Be patient. If you, the GM, don't have a lot of patience, see if one of your players has the temperament to act as the FNG's Mentor.

Explain stuff that the player asks about. Do not explain stuff that the player does not ask about as this will overtax his head. As I've mentioned before, let only one voice be the one that explains things to the player. I know you want to help the GM, but invariably you create more confusion as the player tries to process too much disparate information from too many sources.

Also, Be willing to praise a new person when they come up with some new or novel approach or figure something out. Nobody likes playing with someone who doesn't give them any bounce. Newbies like this even less.

Make a special effort to hear what the new guy has to say. Older players will talk over them. You can't ever expect them not to. They will also have the attitude that if they want to say something that they should speak up. It doesn't occur to them that a new person might be a little timid or unwilling to rudely interrupt. You have to adjust for them, or even shut them up when asking the new person what he wants to do.

Stuff to Do

When bringing in a new player, it's a good idea to make sure that his character has one well defined specialty. It shouldn't be too specialized either. Making the new player a competent healer or combatant gives him plenty to do, but making him the foremost expert on European languages in a game set in Chicago limits his utility.

Then make sure that the game you are bringing him into has the opportunity to shine in that specialty in some way. This is another reason why I always advocate creating some pre-baked PC's for newbies. You can slot them fairly easily

Also, keep mechanical crunchy bits to a minimum. If a newbie PC is a combat character, then make sure he's really good at only one type of combat so it obviates having to explain large chunks of the combat system to him. If guns are easy, give him guns. If fists are easy, give him fists...But don't give him both, he'll be unsure of what to do if he has too many options or doesn't understand the options he has.

In Larps, my tendency is to test out brand new players by having them play humans instead of vampires. (I explain to them to be careful, because most vampire can break them into pieces almost reflexively.) It cuts down on having to explain a whole raft of stuff to them.

In a larp setting, It's very important for a new player to be identified quickly and hopefully given something to do on the very first game session. You might be leery of handing a major plot to a new player on his first night, he may not come back, and then your plot is stuck. You could however try to make contact with the new player early on and try to give him a task to do that would last for a whole game session. Something simple and short term. Try to give the player all the factual information that you can do so from the get-off that they would ordinarily have, and then at some point during play make sure that they get to hear at least one big secret and one big lie.

New Players who sit around bored all night don't come back. Hell, Old Players who sit around bored all night don't come back.

The idea is the one that drug pushers around the world have used since the beginning of recreational chemical abuse. The first time is free. And it behooves the pusher to give new clients the good shit... So they get nice and hooked on the good shit.

Also, This idea helps activate passive and active players alike. With an Active player, on the first night of play, they may be looking for an opening or any kind of toehold that will let them get into play or into the game world. Passive players tend to wait for things to happen before they really get involved. If you come along and hand them something on the first night, that may get them going... It may even get them going in a direction you want them to go in.

The practical upshot of all this is that you should aim to create a situation for a new player that requires as little explanation as possible. Low impact is almost always good and lets the player ease at his own pace. It requires real work to make something easy for someone else. Be willing to do that work.

Good ideas

-Make a list of table rules that your game has, Make it understood that newbies are not to be jumped on if they break the rules, because you aren't going to give them the rules until their second session. Table rules are an extra layer of social rules, and as such can wait until next session. The player will be busy trying to learn how to feel his way with the new people. Table rules are simply more information to clutter the mind. They also might create a certain amount of guilt if the newbie screws it up on the first night.

-Include newbies in on the in-jokes. No person likes feeling left out of the fun that everybody else is having.

-Take regular breaks, this gives players some time to try to get to know the new guy/gal.

-Step on anything that seems like some kind of 3rd degree or sexual harassment. Avoid the sort of topics that you'd avoid at a really nice party. (Sex, Politics, Religion,Satanic Chicken Fucking,Etc...)

-Make sure you have contact information for the new person. It's so easy to forget in the rush of all the other things. Once you've got that information, make sure you follow up. Don't assume that the guy is going to call you and ask you when the next game is. Make the effort to get in touch and let them know what's happening Try to do this so they have some lead time longer than, "How soon can you get here?"

Keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out

While most of this information is to help you make new people feel welcome, there is a line that you should draw. New people are still strangers and until you have made some kind of real honest connection with them there are certain things you should not do.

Avoid loaning the new person any cash beyond spotting them for some fries at the fast food joint that you hit after the game. You can write off the loss of 3 bucks if you never see them again. More than that is harder to swallow.

Never loan your books to people that you don't know. I loaned a copy of one of my larp books to a new guy once, he never returned and my book didn't either. I didn't even get the asshole's name because he asked me while I was dealing with a dozen other things. I wanted to help and got burned for it.

My suggestion for loaning things is simply this, get a white board for your room that is solely dedicated to loans. Make sure that you put the name of the book on the board and the name of the borrower and as much contact information that you need to hound the player to the ends of the earth in case he feels like keeping your book. This also keeps you from forgetting that a book has been loaned.

* * *
Getting to know new people is a delicate and occasionally intricate process. Take an extra second for that politeness and grease the wheels.

Sono Finito.


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