20 March 2012

Won't someone please think of the newbs?

One thing that I've noticed about the role playing hobby is that it isn't friendly to new players. I'm not talking about the community itself, most message boards I've seen are filled with people that are happy to lend their experience. No, I'm talking about the actual state of the hobby.

Despite role playing games being easier than ever to actually obtain thanks to the wonders of digital distribution, it seems like the hobby really caters to existing players. Where are the new player guides? Where are the introductory adventures? Wizards of the Coast and Paizo may have gotten their acts together and finally published some competent introductory products, but, judging from all of the forum threads featuring people looking for a product to start with, they haven't done a great job of advertising them outside of the people that already know how to play.

Not good enough.

WotC and Paizo aren't the only publishers to blame, though. Take a look at the introductory chapter of your favourite RPG. You know, that "What is an RPG" that you usually skip over. These chapters are almost uniformly terrible. They raise more questions than they answer, they assume the reader already knows what they are doing or they explain the wrong things. If you move on from there and into he actual "How to Play" chapters you will find that these are no better. They all assume the reader already understands the concept and structure of role playing games and from the viewpoint of a completely new player are mystifying and unhelpful.

Part of the problem is no doubt how difficult it is to actually explain in writing how role playing games work. Since the birth of the hobby this has always been something that was easier shown than told. Decades ago when TV and Film and Video Games were limited a prospective player would probably spend the time to puzzle things out for themselves, but these days? In the age of the Internet there is very little chance that someone is going to spend more than a little time trying to puzzle out your game. They're going to move on to some other form of entertainment or, if they are set on tabletop role playing, they will turn to the Internet to answer their questions. Why don't you go do an Internet search on how to play? I'll wait.

Back with me? Nothing particularly useful, was there? A few lazily written guides that cover the physical steps but don't really communicate the actual how of it. If you're lucky you will find that an out of date primer from WotC that tries to sell you products that are out of print. This is a problem. Our hobby can not grow if it has too large a barrier of entry. Programs like D&D Encounters and products like the Red Box and the Beginner Box are a good start, but they aren't enough. A new player needs to be able to type a few words into Google and get the answers they need.

What I said about the community earlier wasn't strictly true. Gamers might be willing to offer help in a friendly and welcoming manner, but that help is awful. Many of the threads devolve into experienced players arguing about which game or edition the new player should be playing. The advice is contradictory or just plain unhelpful. I'd be surprised if many prospective players leave such a thread any more enlightened than they were going in, some of them are probably more confused.

The Solution

The tabletop RPG community needs a definitive "Newbie Guide". A guide that the entire online community can get behind and point newcomers at. It should come up in web searches so that people curious in role playing can find it on their own. Ideally, the guide would have a nice CC license that would allow anyone to customize and update it. It could birth a hundred more new player's guides.

This guide needs to be something free of system bias and argument. It should explain all of the most basic elements of role playing and contain system-agnostic advice. The ideal guide will point potential players in the direction of clearly written, beginner-friendly and free RPGs. It should contain overviews of various beginner products, such as the Red Box, and links to quick-start rules for the more popular/well-known games. The very basic play structure should be explained along with advice on creating players and organizing games. All of the most frequently asked questions should be answered. Things like "How can I play online?" or "How do I find someone to play with?" need to be answered by the guide.

I'm probably not the guy to write this guide, but I'm going to do may best anyway. New players deserve something like this and the role playing hobby needs new players to thrive.


  1. Hi Boulder :)

    I've found your posts looking for exactly the same stuff you're in search for. I'm founding, together with my wife, a local project to promote RPGs between noobs, most of all new generations (teenagers and families with children in primary schools). The problem with these groups is that while RPGs do nothing or less to make themselves tasty, they also compete with most appealing entertainments from the digital era.

    Our project is so far localized on the italian territory, where we live, so we try to avoid speaking english (sadly the very most of italian people are not that confident with English).

    It would be nice to translate your guide to Italian, when it will be ready, if you feel like it, obviously! :)

    From our side, we're working on a game engine (called Qick, a stupid pun between Quick and Kick, referring to "kickstart" concept) for noobs.

    It will be based on principles like:

    - be easy to learn and quick to play, so noobs can beat the fun out of it ASAP
    - use only D6 so they don't have to find "RPG dices" sets and can play the same day they download it
    - be filled with advices for noobs players and masters
    - be introductory but well-structured, so that "personal opinions" can't seap into rule cracks (I mean: avoid things like Risus' clichèes since novice players can argue for hours with a novice master about what is or is not appropriate to a clichèe)
    - less math, more action: we're using a "number of successes" check method with some quirks. This should allow neo-GMs to correctly set difficulty class ("easy", "tricky", "hard", etc should be simple) and speed up action.

    Since we're in the design process I would love to discuss some choice with you, if you're in the mood. :)

    Anyway, I can't wait for your N00bs-guide to be ready!

    Bye bye
    - Paolo -

  2. @Paolo

    I would love to hear more about Qick, especially if it is something aimed at new players. I very much agree that a game directed at new players should be intuitive, use common accessories (d6, pencil, etc.) and a lot of helpful advice.

    I think the hardest part about creating such a game is writing it in such a way that doesn't talk down to the reader/prospective player. Many simple games are aimed at children and the writing style reflects that, but that isn't really what is needed. Parents are the ones that will be seeking out games for kids 10 and under and they don't need simple language and, let's face it, if they are looking for intro games for their kids they are probably already gamers. No, the people that need help are the ones independently getting into RPGs. I think that's a target age of 13 to 25 and that's an age category that doesn't want to be talked down to. Clarity of writing and concise rules are the best route, in my opinion.

    If you're interested in the progress of my Newbie Guide you can see it in an outdated draft form on google docs.


    That link is to the 1st draft of the guide. It has since undergone a number of changes and edits and I hope to get the final guide laid out into a PDF by the end of the year.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Here I am. The principles you listed are exactly the ones we're following.

    Our project (not Qick, the overall activity) will "split" the effort between children and teenagers and while for the latter we're producing clear, straightforward material (simple rules and deep insights on "how to play"), we won't directly talk to childern, but to families. This mean parents in the end! :)

    Qick will be aimed towards teenagers. It will involve "normal" violence and brawling like every other iconic RPG you could think about. On the other hand we're planning to start a talk series with interested parents, both gamers and non-gamers, to teach them the basic concepts of role-playing, lend them some conceptual instrument and "benchmark" how well they perform in real life. This will help producing good material: writing a good game for children is much more difficult than writing for teenagers, which basically need more attention to "form" but to "substance". :)

    I'll take a look to your GDoc. As for Qick, I really think I'll take the time to write it all down in English also... it will open doors to a lot of interested people which could provide improvements and good advices! :)

    Let's keep in touch. (all contacts here: http://about.me/stickgrinder



Web Analytics