Monday, June 13, 2005

Teaching the Newbies

If you've been gaming for any appreciable length of time you will inevitably have the burden or opportunity, (depending on how you look at it.), of teaching somebody who is completely new to Gaming altogether. Often times this situation comes about as the result of wanting someone in your life to understand a little about your hobby, be it a sibling, or parent, or girlfriend, or best friend.

There are a few safety tips that ought to be included with any players guide about teaching new people but since there isn't, I thought *somebody* ought to step into the gap.

1) Don't start with the hard stuff:

The first time I got roaring drunk it was on Cold Duck. If I had tried to drink anything stronger I would have definitely puked on my shoes. Nowadays when I drink,(rarely) I drink Jagermeister or Ouzo,and while I do occasionally puke on my shoes,(or somebody else's) for the most part I'm able to hold my liquor.

Gaming is a lot like that. When introducing a new person to gaming it is best to leave Champions and The Morrow Project on the shelf. Here are a few games that are good to begin newbies with:

a) Toon and/or Teenagers from Outer Space.(good old fashioned, dumb fun, beer-and-pretzels gaming. Easy systems, and good for a couple of night worth of laughs. Also unlikely to inculcate the newbie in the ways of bloodlust and greed like AD&D might.)

b) Top secret/S.I. (Sadly out of print ,but elegant in it's flexibility and simplicity. Also set in a present day world so you don't have to deal with elves and shit. Newbies might not know why a Tarrasque is dangerous but you really don't have to explain why Libyan terrorists are a problem.)

c) QAGS (But you knew that right, I swear I hadn't even read the book and had a great deal of fun playing in a game at a con. So much fun that other gamers came over to shush me. Oh well.)

d) Vampire LARP (Not quite as Byzantine as the tabletop game but not overburdened with ruleage. Has the bonus of being easy to get into. Chicks dig it too.)

e) Any of the Hunter games from WWGS ( while I'm speaking in the white wolf line, Hunters are humans who live in this regular world but they also battle the forces of darkness.,about which they know very very little. The regular WWGS system is fairly easy to pick up but you might want to explain to the newbie that it might be very easy to get killed ,and that getting killed doesn't necessarily make you a loser.)

This is by no means a complete list but it is a good place to start

2) One man's holocaust is another's fireworks display:

When introducing a new person to a game or introducing someone not new to gaming but new to your group, it is always wise to invite them to a game or two, just to observe. Your style of gaming may bore the shit out of them or excite them completely but it's good to know this sort of stuff ahead of time before you create a character for them and base plots around them. Observing is low pressure and cost nothing from you except the occasional out-of-game explanation. It also give you and your payers time to look the new guy/girl over and make your own decisions before they become a fixture in the game you can't seem to remove... Like the guy who always seems to end up murdering the city guards for no good reason.

3) Crowding:

There is a tendency to want to explain everything right up front. Fight this tendency tooth and nail.

Informational overload is the number one cause of would-be gamer turn-off. Let the newbie ask questions. Then you can know what he wants to know. People process information in chunks but not all at once. When you and your gamers start gang-feeding the newbie about everything in the game system and the game world. You are going to cause them to freak out.

While I'm on this subject, it is best if the Newbie has only one voice to listen to. If five people are rambling on about how combat is run and then going off on the inevitable tangents...Well your newbie is going to be more confused than before. It is best if you simply say "roll a D8 ." and go on with it.

Remember, if you are going to eat an elephant. Take small bites.

4) Mentoring:

As I said, it's best to have a single voice to explain things. It's also a good idea for new characters. You can create an N.P.C. that is wise in the ways of the world or at least wise about knowing who to ask. An even better idea is ask one of your players to sort of mentor for you.(choose somebody who has the right temperament for it.) The player then has his character take the newbie's character under his wing. This way the Newbie get into the habit of asking in character questions IN CHARACTER!

Anything that helps players stay in character is golden in my book.

5) Asshole behavior:

It is best to put certain players on notice that fucking over the newbie is cause for punishment. Some people delight in the most childish shit and this ranks right up there on the dumbfuck list for me. Explain how we might want to put our best foot forward socially at least for the first few games sessions so maybe you could hold off on picking the new guy's character's pockets O.K.?

Gamers can be rude,childish,cliquish,sexist, and incredibly crude. This can make the newbie not only not want to play but it might make the reevaluate their relationship with YOU!.

Put your gamers on notice that newbies are to be respected, at least initially. Any who can't abide by that...Well maybe they are the ones who need to go.

I'm serious, Gaming is a social activity and is one of the best ways I know of meeting new people but it can really wreak havoc when someone in your game decides to be a wanker to your girlfriend newbie instead of giving her a chance.

6) Patience:

This may be gilding the lily, but let me stress this. It is important to be very patient with new people. Reserve judgment on them for as long as possible. Remember they are trying to get comfortable with you too. People tend to learn by example so the kind of gamer and game master you are is going to go a long way towards shaping the kind of gamer the newbie is going to be. Don't be sharp with them when they ask questions and don't explain things to the point that their eyes are glazing over. Don't pressure them to read a half dozen books overnight. Don't expect them to get all the in-jokes. Just relax monkey-boy. There will come a day when you wish that player didn't know so damn much about the game system. Trust me.

7) KISS (keep it simple stupid)

There is an old adage that goes something like this; Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. When insinuating a new guy/gal into a game do your self a favor and put together 2 or 3 different types of Characters and make 2 set of each sheet. One full character sheet for yourself and another "idiot " sheet for the newbie. Let them choose their basic character type and them hand them the Idiot sheet for that Character and keep the full sheet for yourself.

While this requires quite a bit more work on your part .It is very low impact on the Newbie and this is the whole point.

Many make the mistake of believing that walking the Newbie through the character generation process will help them understand more about the system.
Newbies don't care about systems.
Yes I know it's sacrilege but they don't know any better...poor souls. Newbies just want to get in there and do it. For the most part all they need is armor, a weapon, maybe a spell or something

They don't need a whole bunch of arcane numbers and acronyms crowding up their little grey cells ...At least not at this point. There's always going to be time for that later.

When the Newbie finally evinces a desire to make his own character, then give him the books and sit down with him and thrash it out.( here's a tip, to avoid burnout, don't do this before or after an actual game.) but you might make him play the old premade character with the full sheet for a few games to familiarize him with game systems and give you a chance to come up with a reason for the old character to leave and new one to come along.( it also teaches the newbie not to make a new character every week for each new game because it breaks the narrative, no matter how cool the new guy is.)

8) Watch the subject matter:

Finally, it might be a good idea to soften things for your new gamers in terms of your plot elements. In other words, if devil-worship, cannibalism,necrophilia, genocide, and chicken-fucking are regular story elements then you might want to seriously tone that down for the new person especially if they are uptight or a 7th day Adventist.

Hopefully, this advice will keep your new gamers from running screaming into the hills. Although, a good set of handcuffs and gag might work just as well.

Sono Finito.


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