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Let me start with saying it's been many years since I played D&D. I have a group of friends that meet every week to play board games like Descent, Heroquest, etc. The thing is, none of these friends have any experience with role playing, as you probably know, the idea of acting like they are the character is hard to overcome at first. Not to mention, their imaginations are definitely out of practice.

I know there are a lot of new games out, ones that have tiles, cards, etc, but still allow you to role play. I figure something like this would help ease them into the genre. At least this way, they wouldn't have to imagine every little detail right off the bat.

If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

Related:… – mxyzplk Jul 3 '12 at 5:16
Related-… and my personal favorite answer :) - – gomad Jul 3 '12 at 23:12

14 Answers 14

I've had some experience with this, but generally, this is what I would do. If they are not experienced gamers, then don't worry about the system or rules, and don't let them worry about them. From what you're describing, you shouldn't be trying to find a system to fit the gamers, you need to train the gamers to the experience of Role Play and imagination. As others have stated, determine the setting of the game experience and then go from there.

For a fantasy setting, I'd recommend this: Get them around a table and start with having some of the core classes that exist in most any genre. Warriors, Thieves, Mages, Priests, etc. Have them describe their character to you, and everyone. What does she look like? What kind of weapon does he use? Give them the equipment. Don't bore them with costs, or availability, etc. Make sure the characters have healthy ability scores, so that the players can see their creation be successful in their roles. And just let them know, you'll be introducing more rules as time goes on.

Start with a small village, which can be made to appear in any setting, and don't focus on worlds, continents, countries, and the like. Start the group with the party knowing each other, perhaps growing up together, and then have them work on local items that are interesting. "Trying to find out who's poisoning the crops" might suck, but most everyone can envision combating the goblin menace!

Again, the idea would be to get the players invested in their characters, not a system. You might even just go with Basic D&D which is easily available as free-to-download "retro-clone" PDFs.

Part of what this is going to require is extra effort from you. When you are engaging them in the world, you have to be the catalyst for their role play interaction. Come up with three or four particular NPCs for them to interact with, and then you make the effort of creating their initial impressions with your own bit of acting. Say, there's an inn keeper in the village that they have to speak with. Ask them who's going to speak with him, and then physically act as if you are washing an imaginary cup when they begin to approach "him". "Evening folks, can I help you?" in a voice that indicates the change. Next be sure to require that their interactions are fruitful, without being painful. Don't require them to ask perfect questions to get results, have dialog prepared that gives them abundant info for modest efforts. Remember, again, you're not trying to teach them a game, you're teaching them the fun of acting in character.

Next, be sure that your initial adventures contain elements for each of the PCs to be successful. If you have a thief, have something locked or trapped (Again, something they can succeed with), if you have a priest, then some zombies to be blessed and turned, a wizard might have a few spells that are particularly useful. And don't ever start spellcasters in any setting with crummy spells. Give them useful spells.

If they aren't accustomed to role play, and you shove an 300 page handbook in front of them, it may be a negative effect. I would start basic, and just get them into it, and then make a decision on upgrading, or switching worlds, or even system's when appropriate.

Basic D&D is probably a safe bet, IMO, for a fantasy setting. The character sheets are simple, the rules aren't overly complicated, and it's easy to start. You can even adventure in worlds they might identify with. But really, the rules are irrelevant. It's the setting, and the characters that need to be interesting.

Remember one thing, if nothing else: the quickest way to get people incentivized to do something is to provide opportunity and results for success. If you start any game for new gamers, in any setting, be it mechanized, Star Wars, or fantasy, and immediately kill off two PCs, the effort is going to die.

So, to summarize:

  • Healthy characters that fit something they want to play.
  • Extra description and interaction from you, to incentivize.
  • Focus on the gaming experience not the rules, and don't let them worry about the rules either.

My additional recommendations would be:

  • Keep the introductory session brief (no more than a few hours)
  • Have an introduction and a conclusion, and have rewards at the conclusion.
  • An old trick I used to do was ignore experience, and at the end of a session, have the PCs go up a level. They get more hit points or life, they get new skills, etc.
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FYI, while copyediting this I changed the bit about Basic D&D PDFs because there aren't any available since WotC pulled their legal PDFs. I replaced that bit with a link to Labyrinth Lord, which is the most faithful BD&D retro-clone out there. Please do remove the link or fix that in a way you like better, if my fix isn't what you want. :) – SevenSidedDie Jul 3 '12 at 19:06
One recommendation along these lines that I heard was, say a rat attacks and rolls a critical hit, killing off the character, give them a second chance (e.g. "You die, but a bottle breaks and a fairy restores three hearts!") – Wayne Werner Jul 4 '12 at 15:04

You say you have not played in years. I would pick whatever system you are most familiar with then. From my experience it is much harder to teach people rules to a game and the concept of roleplaying if you do not have a solid understanding of the game.

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Could you unpack this with an example, Colin? – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 3 '12 at 12:58

First Roleplay, System Later.

I would say: don't worry so much about your players & system.

What I mean is that most role-playing systems aren't as hard and difficult to comprehend as quantum physics. If they are adults with ability to count what they see on a dice, they will probably prevail. Math isn't the hard part. With that in mind, you shouldn't make your choice according to how easy some systems are in general opinion.

But that's really for later...

Right now the only thing which may go wrong is in their heads - if they lack imagination whatsoever, they will have a really hard time and it won't matter how many cards, fluffy Cthulhu mascots or fake swords you have.

That's why...

Don't pick any system. At all.

Narrative-driven sessions are really cool. You can use as many accessories as you like, yet still don't loose concentration because of rules. Just tell them to describe their heroes. Ask them what advantages and dis they have. Solve all fights with some quick and stupid system like who throws higher on d6. Just focus on roleplaying. Or better: on acting. Do voices, maybe walk across the room showing off as a golem. Cry. Shout. Laugh. Use only in-game names. What player say is what character say. Do everything a RPG player does, you know the stuff.

And then, after the play, ask them how they feel about being actors. If they say "It's kinda cool, I really love my new character, but... this whole fighting was kinda random" then answer with "Well, you know, there are rules for that. Wanna know'em?"

I think it's the neat approach if you really have players as you described. Not really into acting and with imagination out of practice.

Although: they are board game players, so maybe they will enjoy some basic rules, even during the first session? I don't know them, it's more of your call. If you think they will handle any rules and yet be able to concentrate on acting training, then I think some simple system like GURPS Lite or really basic WFRP (or even D&D) rules may be fun. Just don't use too many rules - how to attack and how to move is probably enough. Focus on acting and imagination - weak spots of your fellows.

That's my very subjective opinion. If I made any mistakes, then sorry for my English ;)

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I didn't see this answer when I wrote the one below. You're dead on. Great answer! – Doomscreamer Jul 3 '12 at 17:36
+1 for suggesting lightweight rules. I was going to write an answer to suggest a one-off freeform session because (1) it is flexible about commited time and (2) if they are board game players, they need to see exactly what roleplay is - later they will be fluent with the rules, but starting with a heavy rule-based game might incline the players to roll back to what they know - board games - and neglect the roleplaying aspect. However, your post describes similar situation much better taht how I would have expressed it. – Vorac Jul 4 '12 at 12:28
You're right, this rollback effect - from roleplaying to already-known board games' style of play - could be deadly. That's why there should be more possibilities to act as a character than to roll dice as a player. I, even (or maybe especially) in games with experienced players, like NOT to use diplomacy, bluff and similar, they are just annoyances. Your char may have significant Intelligence stat, but I'm not going to tell a player that jumping from a tower is kinda deadly. Or, if you curse the king I'm not going to save you from king's justice because you have high Charisma. – naliwajek Jul 4 '12 at 13:22

I would say pick whatever simple system you are familiar with, and pick a "themed" setting: Something based on a world that most if not all your players are already familiar with.

What that setting would be depends heavily on your specific group. If they are Star Wars nerds, play Star Wars. If they all really like a specific novel, play in that world. If you wouldn't want to keep playing in that setting, make it clear from the beginning that this is just a kickstarter, and that you'd re-start into a different campaign / system once they got the idea of pen & paper RPG.

My best "bait" so far was Star Wars 2nd Ed. Easy system with simple mechanics, ready-made archetype characters to pick from, everyone can picture Mos Eisley space port in their mind, everyone has a reason to hate the Empire, play the Main Theme, let's go. :-)

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+1 I'd add to this maybe just plan to run a one-shot game first so people can get the idea, give feedback on what they think or would rather do and/or maybe a different setting once they've had a taster game – Rob Jul 3 '12 at 15:01

Although I sympathize with the rest of the answers here, that are all of the tenor "Screw that, throw them in on the imaginative deep end with pure no-rules roleplay," you were specifically asking for bridge games between role-playing and board games for a group of heavy board gamers.

I would consider these other answers and that possibly cutting bait and taking a purely narrative approach may be the best way to quickly overcome the gap, or at least to give them the opportunity to see the far different side of the hobby. Try it. But if they don't like that, then you can try your proposed approach.

Castle Ravenloft and Gamma World are two RPG/board game crossovers that came out of D&D 4e. They have lots of pieces and might help transition board gamers. Castle Ravenloft is "more board game" and doesn't require a GM; Gamma World goes over the RPG line a little more and does require a GM. Perhaps use them both in that order. (Timothy mentions two other more recent ones in the same vein as Castle Ravenloft, Legend of Drizzt and Wrath of Ashardalon, never seen those two myself but it seems that they're the same kind of thing as they are billed as "compatible" with Castle Ravenloft.)

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I thought about that tone that was being taken, but looking at the games that they've already played, I wasn't sure about what games to offer as they've come pretty close already (especially with Descent). But +1 for the Castle Ravenloft suggestion. – SnakeDr68 Jul 7 '12 at 20:07
Castle Revenloft is probably perfect; that, or Arkham Horror if you're aiming to phase into Call of Cthulu instead. – Yamikuronue Dec 12 '12 at 21:52
While I like your take to the question, I feel compelled to tell Serrith that if he presents a game that's similar to what they already know, it's probable they'll miss the point of roleplaying and just keep boardgaming in D&D and the like (missing the change and the differences). Just as, when I want to play something different from D&D I play a game that can't be played as if it was D&D and play Trollbabe instead of Dungeon World. I aim at making them see the opposite extreme of the spectrum. @Serrith: mxyzplk's answer is really good but be aware of its risks. – Zachiel Apr 7 '13 at 12:12
@Zachiel I think the 10 other answers that ignore his actual question to give him that advice have it covered. – mxyzplk Apr 7 '13 at 13:46
@mxyzplk but this is a comment on your answer, not on the other ones. You gave the idea, I stated out the implications. Still, your idea is the one I like the most. – Zachiel Apr 7 '13 at 15:40

I'd recommend Dungeon World. I've played it with newcomers/beginners and the experience has been similar to the old-school feel of D&D with minimal rules, and the ability to do things that make sense and focus on the role-playing rather than be concerned with rules and battle maps.

To break it down a bit more, Dungeon World is at its core a game about archetypical classes adventuring through a fantasy world, exploring dungeons, and finding loot. It focuses on driving the narrative with the rolls, rather than explaining the results.

From the reddit AMA with the creators

The core mechanic of the game gives you one of three results; -6 means "no, and..." and the GM will introduce something that'll make your life more interesting, dangerous or just plain old complicated. 7-9 means "yes, but..." and you get what you want, except there's a twist or a difficult choice to make 10+ means "yes, and!" where the GM will give you what you were after, 'cause you earned it, but there's always more, so he'll springboard off your success and keep the ball rolling. Every move relies on this inherent structure and each roll adds to the tension and momentum of the narrative.

Each character archetype receives moves appropriate to the classic character.

It also has several unique mechanics to smooth over some tropes of the classic D&D play that our memories remove from our minds. From ammunition, to spell memorization, to rations, to that old chestnut of meeting in a tavern- those rough spots are smoothed over by very non-intrusive, very polished rules.

I'd very much recommend it.

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What makes Dungeon World and other games derived from the Apocalypse World mechanics really easy for utterly new players is that your options are always really clear because of the way decision points are placed in the game procedures, and how they're exposed directly by the Moves printed on your character sheet. "How do I…?" almost never happens in these games! It makes applying the resolution mechanics and getting on with the action really amazingly fast. Minimally interrupting the flow of roleplay helps a lot when you're just learning what roleplay is. – SevenSidedDie Jul 3 '12 at 19:12

I'v had very good success using GURPS (with a high degree of free-form storytelling and selfmade props) to introduce people from very different backgrounds into pen and paper.

The combat cards are very helpfull for basic combat as well and I only give them out one by one as the players basically demand for more choices ;)

The answers to Introducing new players to GURPS also have a lot of good ideas.

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A new answer to the question spurred by Mxyzplk's answer. Don't switch systems- add the roleplaying into a game that you're already playing.

Descent has a campaign expansion, Descent: The Road to Legend. It's not full-on roleplaying, but it heads a lot closer to that with the introduction of an extended campaign and campaign goals, multiple dungeons, and the recurring adversarial relationship with the Overlord and his lieutenants, moving closer to the GM/player relationship rather than the play to win mentality.

It's out of print, though that BGG link does have listings on the marketplace at quite the premium. But if you can get your hands on that, and gradually start expanding even from that, i.e. when the party returns to town, start to roleplay their interactions with the townspeople rather than just the rolls for information and rumors.

With a little bit of ingenuity, they'll be roleplaying without even knowing it.

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My go-to game for introducing anyone to roleplaying is Fiasco, a game in which you create and play out a Coen Brothers-esque scenario.

You’ll play ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably collapse into a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. Lives and reputations will be lost, painful wisdom will be gained, and if you are really lucky, your guy just might end up back where he started.

It's for three-to-five players, GM-less, has no character sheets, and games last about 2 to 2½ hours.

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I upgraded my comment into an answer, based on a related answer. – okeefe Jul 7 '12 at 22:23
There's a Dragon Slayers playset if you want farcical D&D-like experience. – okeefe Jul 7 '12 at 22:27

I've found that if you use simple mechanics and create an initial scenario that is basic and straightforward, you can create a gentle introduction for new players. I second @Rob's idea of making it a one-off. Think of the first session as a throw-away, and everyone will be more relaxed about it.

While there are plenty of systems to choose from, I've had good results with Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying Quickstart PDF. It is brief, clear, and easy to start using immediately. The d100 mechanics are intuitive to most folks, and there aren't too many game concepts that would confuse new players.

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+1 for one-off session – Vorac Jul 4 '12 at 12:23

My favorite system for newbies is the Dread horror rpg (it's an indie game that is out of print, but I believe it is still available in pdf). We've all seen scary movies and this system easily translates a thriller movie experience to the game table. I say make the system easy on the players to encourage the role play versus the roll play.

Why I love Dread: 1. It is rules lite and makes you create a backstory for the character right off the bat. There are no stats on the character sheet, just 13 questions--they want to you think about bad things your character has done as well as good. In the first 12 questions you have to convey to the GM skills, background, and important equipment that your character has, in the final question you name your character. Character sheet ex: What were you known for in highschool? What lucky charm do you always keep with you? What was the most inappropriate time you ever laughed?

  1. All skill checks are done using one Jenga tower which the GM never touches, and if you pull a brick and place it atop the tower you succeed in that skill. If you topple the tower your character is removed from play, simple. This is the only system I've seen where a player decided not to make a skill check because of the wobbling of the tower, if you don't pull a brick you don't succeed, end of story. The tower is a very good representation of the tension the characters should feel in the game.
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The best game I have ever played with that "in between" idea is long out of print (as in it had a companion VHS). It was from TSR as a matter of fact and called Dragon Strike. Essentially, it's D&D at difficulty 1 because the core classes are there and the rules are extremely easy for a pickup game as well as having an RP element if the players are so inclined.

If miniatures are a must, you can always dip into DreamPod 9's game of Heavy Gear if they like mecha action - the rolling mechanic is simple enough and if you don't mind making characters for them, it's really not so bad. Plus since it has an accompanying tabletop warfare game, combat has the elements of a board game in quite a few ways.

Should you want to pull the microscope back a little, Star Wars d6 / Indiana Jones d6 is wonderfully easy to snap together but is completely abstract unless you make or find maps to put figures on a board for (really any RPG will have this same problem unless the minis are a major factor).

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Go with a game that will fit the style you want.

Since you mentioned D&D, you may enjoy the more tactical games. In that case, games like Wrath of Ashardalon and The Legend of Drizzt provide a good intro. They have simplified combat, but similar enough to full scale D&D that everything you learn transfers, and only a very light narrative veneer so you can focus on the combat and tactics.

On the other hand, if you prefer more narrative games, then I would go with one of the World of Darkness games like Vampire: Requiem. The rules get complicated when you do crossover species and add lots of expansion books, but the core rules are relatively simple and straightforward and supports a narrative, social style of play with relatively fast, simple combat.

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Provided that I totally agree with @naliwajek, IMO he gave you the best answer writing:

First Roleplay, System Later.

I'd like to contribute the brainstorming.

If you think your friends could feel more confident with boardgame-like rules (for example using cards, tokens, so that you have almost everything at your fingertips) I found WFRP 3rd Edition more a boardgame than a RPG. So if you and your friends like Warhammer setting, it could be an option.

One of the features which impressed me is that they produced their own dice to make easy to GM the setting of (N)PC test difficulties and make immediate to everyone the understanding of perfomed actions' outcome. GM and Players can still add modifiers, like fortune, misfortune, reckless/conservative behaviour on specific circumstances.

By the way, I still prefer WFRP 2nd Edition, it's more narrative and has really lite rules as reported in other answers.

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