Assimilating the Straights

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 59: Games for Non-Gamers

Name three games you might use to get someone who has never roleplayed before into roleplaying.

Ahh yeah, the loaded question of converting the heathen. I have to say that I really haven’t done much of that over the years — I ran a gaming club at college that pulled a lot of people together, but generally that just meant that people who were already into gaming were meeting other people who were. (Not always the case: I remember the time De walked up to the gaming booth at the University Activities Fair and asked me to ‘explain this thing’ to her.)
But let’s see: you’ve got a cool, funky ‘norm’ who’s into genre fiction, likes genre movies and action films, doesn’t get too freaked out when they meet the gamer geeks you know, and seems like they’d enjoy the whole thing. What do you do?

Rule #1: Keep it Simple. The last thing in the world that you want to do when introducing someone MY age to gaming is hit them with the DnD wagon — there’s too many rules, too much crap to deal with, too many tactical bits… crunchy is good, but crunchy is also overwhelming. For my money, using something simpler is better.
Game 1: Nobilis or Amber
It doesn’t get much simpler than not having any dice in the system to keep track of or interpret. “You have a 5 in this stat. A five is better than a four. Moving on…” Nominally, I’d use the Nobilis rules as an intro game (especially if they’d read fiction that feed into that kind of game) since the mechanics are quite superior to basic ADRPG and just crunchy enough to let people to tactical things, but still focus on just playing the game. (For those folks that don’t know, Nobilis is a game where you play the role of a character who’s basically in charge of one aspect of reality… like, the character might be the person in charge of Dreams, or Death, or Cars, or Fungus, or Electricity… whatever. The game sessions play out like Sandman and American Gods meets the Matrix, mixed in with lots of politics and intrigue between all the other people in charge of stuff, and it’s pretty damn cool.)
The only problem I’d foresee with something like that is someone taking offense at the religious bits that are mixed into the setting, so I might just use the mechanics and do something else with the setting.
Game 2: Unknown Armies
The character creation rules in UA are all explained in plain english with lots of real-world examples, and the rules for dice are dead simple. Also, the setting (mysterious stuff going on in a ‘normal’ world where you’re one of the people that knows something weird is going on) is a cinch for almost anyone to understand. It’s a tad dark and spooky, but that’s usually alright. It’s the rules I’d use to run a game that used the setting for Vayland Rd. or Hidden Things.
So: easy setting, easy rules, fun character generation. Sounds like a winner to me.
Game 3: DnD
Okay, yeah… I know what I said, but when it comes right down to it, there’s a reason that roleplaying games set in fantastic medieval settings with magic and dragons and crap are so popular: they’re FUN. Throw in the current movie trends of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and you’ve got lots of genre exposure. You have to be careful about overwhelming someone with the rules, but if you focus on just the stuff they need to know to run their character and put them in a group of people who can keep the rules in the background… it’ll work.
It did work: I introduced Jackie to gaming using a fantasy system that is/was WAY more complicated than DnD, and she picked it up easily.
(Also, frankly, some people just won’t feel like they’ve really ‘tried’ a roleplaying game until they’ve tried DnD, because that’s the grand-daddy of them all… it’s the one game that non-gamers are most likely to have heard of.)

Okay, so that’s my two cents. YMMV. Having said that, I think that pretty much anything will work if you pick a game that reflects something the person is really into: with the Buffy RPG out there, Star Trek, Farscape, Babylon 5, Vampire, and at least one game set in about every ‘historical’ setting anyone’s ever thought of, odds are pretty good you can find something that they’re into, IF they’re into it at all.
And some people aren’t, and that’s cool too: Those of you who enjoy that sort of thing will find this the sort of thing you enjoy.


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