Introducing Roleplaying to New Players

2007 October 16
by Vanir

A few years back, the Stupid Ranger crew was about to start our very first campaign together (in what would later be known as the Evensbrook campaign), and my wife Efreak was interested in playing D&D with us. She knew what D&D was, but didn’t really know how to play. The thing I found interesting was that she didn’t have too much trouble with all the tables and stats and whatnot (which isn’t surprising since Stupid Ranger was on the scene helping her understand all that stuff). The part she didn’t quite get was how to roleplay.

Limited Pretend

I decided to show her how to roleplay just by doing something very simple. No rules or anything, just pretend you’re a person in a hotel room. She then tells me something I’d heard before, and oddly enough I’d heard it before from oldschool dungeon crawlers. The DM describes your surroundings and says “What do you do now?” and the player says “I don’t know, what am I supposed to do?”. It was a valid question, especially since there really wasn’t any objective. I just wanted her to interact with her environment, maybe talk to the bellhop or something.

My first mistake came by telling her “well, you can do whatever you want”. She thought about it a minute, and then said “I pull out my magic broom and start sweeping the floor”.

“You can’t do that, you don’t have a magic broom.”

“I thought you said I could do whatever I wanted?”

She had another good point. So then I explained to her she could do whatever she wanted with certain limitations. Roleplaying is like telling a story, whether you’re the DM or a player — whatever you’re doing has to make sense. In D&D and other tabletop fantasy games, an additional part of whether or not a character’s actions make sense or not depends on whether the rules say what they’re doing is possible.

That helped her understand how things worked a bit better, and soon she was stabbing evil in the back as Goudy.

Hey, Can I Drive?

A few months later in the campaign, we ran into another unexpected roleplaying issue. We had a blog set up for the campaign, and in her post for the week, Efreak posted about mysterious things happening to Goudy during the night. (I would love to tell you about them, but it would ruin the comic!)

It was cool, but when I asked her about it she hadn’t cleared it with Dante (who was DMing). Since we blogged all the time about our characters’ experiences and frequently made up stuff about character interactions that happened out of game, it was easy to see how she blurred the line detailing who was in charge of writing the story. To make a long story short, Dante decided to just run with it and it ended up becoming an integral part of the story. (One that I can’t wait to draw!)

These days, the players usually run off-the-track things like this past the DM first, but we also love it when this happens. We’ve had several stalled-out characters receive new life when the player is allowed to take the wheel for a second.

So What Have We Learned?

  • Assume Nothing – D&D is some seriously abstract stuff to some people, and stuff that seems like common sense to a seasoned gamer might not to a new player.
  • Players Like To Steer – and sometimes they have really good ideas too. We’ve run into this a couple times with a couple different players in the last few years. It’s the DM’s job to make sure everybody has fun, so if you have a player who wants to steer the story a little and it seems like it’d be fun for everyone, go for it! Nobody says you have to follow the script to the letter. Nobody says you have to let these things completely derail your campaign, either. Make a call, and do whatever you think will be the most awesome for everyone.
  • My Wife Plays A Great Gnome – She totally does. For real. But she’s way cuter in real life!

Anybody Else?

We’d love to hear your experiences introducing new players to gaming, good or bad.

That’s all for me today. Until next time!

6 Responses leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    October 17, 2007

    I’m actually working at introducing a whole group of adults to RPG gaming. ‘ll post about it.

    I think I’ll go with some super simplified character sheets and I’ll keep the important info on my side.

    I’ll just do: Here’s the setup, here’s the hook, here are your tools and roll dice when I tell you…

    Chances are, the wonders of exploration and discovery of the game will be overwhelming enough to create a good session.

  2. gnome permalink
    October 17, 2007

    Ah, that was a brilliant article indeed. Thanks…

    Now, on a more personal note, having played many times with a variety of non-gamers, I have to say it has been amazingly easy. All I ever needed were good wine, a short but interesting horror scenarion (simpler systems like CoC or Chill helped) and some mildly interested friends…

  3. Fang Langford permalink
    October 17, 2007

    “That’s good. You have taken your first step into a larger world.”

    “If you only knew the power of the dark side.”

    The dungeonmaster does not need to be the sole owner of the game. (Sharing this responsibility makes it easier and draws the players in so much more.)

    “You don’t know the power of the dark side! I must obey my master.”

    Come over to the dark side!
    Fang Langford ^_^

  4. Stupid Ranger permalink
    October 17, 2007

    Sometimes, the art of roleplaying can be understood better by watching a few session. I remember my early days in my first campaign… I didn’t know for sure what to do or what not to do, so I didn’t do much too exciting except follow along and do whatever the veterans advised the my character should do. Once I felt more comfortable, I was able to be more of a contributor on the roleplaying side of things.

    To the new players: if you feel overwhelmed because everyone needs you to be as super-star roleplayer, feel free to tell your group & DM that you need a little less spotlight. It’s supposed to be fun, but if it’s stressful and you’re not enjoying yourself, talk to everyone and let them know.

  5. Princess Noin permalink
    October 17, 2007

    I AM the “newbie” in our group…my five years gaming versus their 20+ years each. Plus our system (HackMaster) tends to attract the “old school” gamers who know every rule, trick, item, and errata. Consequently, I’m usually the one getting the advice.

    This summer I finally got to play with a person totally new to RPGs. She was terribly nervous about what to do…and five minutes into the game, it was clear she was a natural roleplayer. And she had no idea… =) It was awesome playing with someone seeing things for the first time…

  6. Chavi permalink
    October 28, 2008

    You write very well.

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