The new blog carnival for this month involves teaching the game to newcomers.
Joe, over at Greyhawk Grognard, advocates a set of quick start, introductory rules to teach new folks how to play the game. I can't say as I disagree entirely. I think there is a decided dearth of introductory type products in the world of RPG gaming, and it's a real shame that there aren't more, especially in an age when the most "modern" set of rules reads like a Sony manual and requires a great deal of player skill and comprehension to even function on a basic level. Even the introductory type rules WOTC handed out in their Keep on the Shadowfell product were not terribly well explained and were inadequate to explain the concepts that weere at play. Of course, it doesn't always have to be that way, especially since the original TSR D&D Basic set was, as I recall, something on the order of 50 pages of text and included just about everything you needed in order to play the game in perpetuity (yes, assuming you never advanced beyond level 3, but seriously now, give the book some credit) including a rather excellent module that further taught the designated victim . . . er, DM, how to run a campaign for his players. And it all started with character creation, after a very brief "what is role playing" schpiel that we jaded grognards skip over out of hand nowadays.
My quarell, though, is that this entire approach relies first upon there being enough interest in the person's mind to even pick the product off the shelf in the first place (or in the age when the Brick and Mortar Stores are slowly dying off in favor of Amazon.com and direct vendor buys, adding it to one's "shopping cart") and second, being willing to part with the cash to pay for it in the second. Granted, this entire topic is about how to teach somebody the game after they've expressed the interest, so those questions are somewhat moot. However, gaming society has become somewhat insular beyond even what it was originally and, let's face it, we can be rather off putting to the uninitiated.
Any way . . . I don't think a set of introductory rules is quite the right way to go here. Handing somebody a book and saying "here, read this and you're all set, and by the way maybe you should choose an edition now . . ." really isn't welcoming or inclusive. It's akin to handing somebody homework and then asking them to come back next week and speak Shibolleth.
Instead, I think that the best way to teach somebody how to play is, and will remain, handing them a character sheet (most groups I game in tend to have a collection of NPC's hanging around, or the sheet of a PC who's player isn't on hand just for this purpose) and pointing out the first few things they'll need to know immediately (character name and class, race, hit points, armor class, and weapons and gear) and then sit them next to a more experienced player and just have them follow along. Don't demand an action from them, ask them what they want the character to do, and then show them how to do it (pick up a D20 and tell them to roll it and see the result). Don't hand them a host of rules in advance, introduce them to the rules slowly as they are required. It breaks that learning curve and lets the new person participate immediately in the game rather than having to cram the arcana of a rules set into their brains. They came to play, not study, so help them play in a hands on manner.
Of course, this all relies upon the presence of a group willing to help them learn rather than somebody alone teaching themselves, but I'd be willing to bet that many, if not most, of us learned at the feet of a more experienced gamer to begin with, and still do from time to time.
More Little Treasures
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