new-bie: (noun) someone who be new to gaming
There is no moment in gaming more important and more critical than the introduction of a newbie into the fold of this crazy hobby. I can't tell you how many people I have met that said they tried to get into roleplaying/hobby games (for the first time) but didn’t like it because they had a bad experience. Which means that each of those folks was one more person we could have potentially added to the strength of our numbers and the pool of available players and gamemasters. More often than not, their introduction was ruined because of unruly players or a GM/DM that didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t know how to keep his peeps in line. So let's take a look at some of the things to think about that will help make the introduction of newbies as painless as possible and a memorable experience for all.
Time – It may seem like a trivial thing but setting a definite time really helps. That way everyone knows when to meet and no one is kept waiting. People that are not punctual can lead to irritations that can ruin a game session right from the start. That being said, don’t be too harsh on a newbie who is late for the first session, whatever the reason may be. This could make them feel defensive or that they are being criticized for something that may have been out of their control. Weekends are best since most folks don’t have to worry about getting up early for work the next day (your group’s schedule may differ). Also, make it clearly understood that the game session may last anywhere from 2-6 hours or more, especially if it is a roleplaying session and character creation is involved. But don’t be too miffed if they have to leave early. It's okay to let them ease into it…
Place – If at all possible, host the first session at the home of someone in the group, even the newbie. Houses are the ideal place for gaming as long as it is not overrun with kids, pets or roommates. Apartments are okay too, but they tend to be a little shorter on space and available parking. Use a game store only as a last resort as they usually lack the comfort of a home as well as access to a clean bathroom and a fully stocked fridge. Some shops may have a habit of using too much air conditioning or – even worse - not enough. Game stores also hold a plethora of distractions; customers wandering in and out, shiny new product on the shelf and an owner that keeps a watchful eye on you hoping that you will buy something soon…
Numbers – You may very well have one of those game groups with 15 people in it (poor sap) but I wouldn’t advise inviting them all over when introducing a newbie. Keep it small, say 4 total or so. This way the newbie doesn’t get overwhelmed by the size of the group, especially if he or she is meeting everyone for the first time. A big group also means less spotlight time for each individual person, more personality types to wrangle and possibly a longer drawn out game. Plus it may have the added effect of limiting which types of games you can play since many board and card games have a limit of 4 or 6 players at the most.
Food & Drugs – Arriving to a full spread of food, drinks and snacks makes everyone happy. It’s the way to a gamer’s heart! No one likes to play games on an empty stomach or when they are dying of thirst. Nor does anyone like it when a player has to leave to get food since this usually burns up at least 20 minutes of game time. Ordering pizza is always an option though I daresay there are healthier alternatives. There was an era when I as a host would actually make a home-cooked meal for everyone, accepting non-mandatory monetary donations at the end of the session to cover costs. Easy stuff that feeds multiple people works well, spaghetti, chili and the like. Just don’t go crazy with alcoholic beverages, as this can certainly affect people's attitudes and moods in a negative fashion. And if you partake in some of the more illicit substances you may want to hold off as not everyone might be completely comfortable with this…
Game – While it may be polite to ask the newbie which game they wish to play, it might behoove you to simply pick one for them, as they are likely new to the ideas of this whole gaming world. This takes the pressure off. Choose something easy and fun for their first game, maybe even something familiar, trying to find a style that fits with their personality. Be aware that some games are more cutthroat than others; probably not a good idea to start them off in a game that features shifting loyalties and terrible betrayals! Card games lend themselves well to an introductory session as they usually have simple rules and play fast. Board games are a little more in-depth and require more of a time commitment but tend to give a better view of the hobby. Roleplaying games are the trickiest but payoff the biggest dividends in my opinion. Picking a genre that appeals to them is of course important but even moreso is finding a system with rules that are easy to understand. Remember, most newbies can draw and play cards or roll dice and move around a board but will find the concept of character creation and game mechanics a little strange at first. That is why it is of paramount importance to pick an rpg with simple rules that are clear and concise. Unfortunately, Dungeons & Dragons does not fall into this category, and I have played just about every version there is. Try to find some system that only uses 1 type of die or maybe go with a comedy rpg just to show how much fun gaming can be. A good example of an rpg that is ideal for newbies is Galaxy Prime. It uses only 1 type of die (d10) and the mechanics involve an easy-to-understand-and-explain percentile (%) system from 1-100. And being in the scifi genre you can compare the world and concepts to Star Wars, Star Trek or any other science fiction product that they are familiar with to help ease the transition and learning curve. Don’t forget that they are having to deal with new people, a new game, new rules, new dice, a new world and new concepts all at once. It’s a lot to take in! I would also highly recommend that the gamemaster go easy on them their first time out, as they likely just spent 20-30 minutes making a character and twice that long trying to learn and understand the rules and game mechanics. So make the encounters winnable, give 'em some treasure and if possible let them be the hero who saves the day! Hopefully everyone else in the group will be helpful in assimilating the newbie, gently reminding them of the rules and always exercising patience.
Aftermath – Once it’s all said and done, wait a day or two for it to all sink in. Then have a little one-on-one conversation with them and find out what they thought of the session. Did they like the game? Did they like the other players? Be sure to pay close attention to what they DIDN’T like so you can make corrections in the future; if they didn’t like a certain game, try something else. If they had an issue with another player find out why and try to smooth things out between them. Also, if this has the potential to turn into an ongoing roleplaying campaign make sure to let them know of the commitment involved, whether it be weekly or monthly or whatever. They may not realize how odd it would be for one of the characters in the story (theirs) to suddenly disappear!
The Game Guru Hath Spoken.
HALLOWED BE THY GAME!