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I am preparing to start up a Hellfrost game using the Savage Worlds system. Although I've run Hellfrost before, it has always been for people who are already familiar with its fiction and fluff. In this new case though, players will be completely new to the world and everything that goes with it.

I have been mulling over the best way of introducing them to the world given just how many options there are for character creation in particular. Given the structure of the club I am running the game at, I really need to get into character creation in the first session, and don't have the luxury of being able to run one-shots to familiarise them with the whole thing.

My concern is that players will not understand the various options that are available to them during character creation without knowing the back story, but will get bored stiff (as will I), with page after page of notes to fill them in.

So, my question is - What is the best way of introducing a complex game world to players unfamiliar with its fiction whilst still hitting the ground running with character creation?

Note, I am aware I am talking about a specific game world, but feel this question also applies independent of this and this is reflected in the tags I have chosen.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You know the game world better than they do, but they'll probably still have ideas about what kind of character they want to play. So: start by asking what kind of characters they want, and then guide them through the places where that character would fit well into the world.

For example, Alice wants to play a sneaky thief, but knows nothing about the setting beyond that it's a fairly standard fantasy world. Bob, as the GM, tells her that there's an active Thieves' Guild in the High City of Althair, and gives her a few more details on Althairian society. She's interested, but she's looking for more a country bandit feel, and so Bob explains that bandits operated in the Dark Wood during the war, and perhaps Alice's character use to run with that crowd. That suits Alice's idea well enough, and now she and Bob can tweak the details to fit.

Two notes:

1) Make the character creation process a group session. Have all your players sit down together and make characters together, that way their ideas can build off each other as well as your setting details. And while you're explaining the Altharian Thieves' Guild to Alice, the other players get to learn about it at the same time.

2) Be flexible with your setting. If a player, in coming up with their own character idea, has an idea for the world that you hadn't thought of, consider going with it and adapting their idea to fit. For example, Alice likes the Thieves' Guild idea, but really wants a magic-user as a mentor. You originally planned to have the Guild run by a grizzled veteran, but what if the Guild is being run by an exiled sorcerer, instead? This way Alice gets some authorship of the world and her character becomes more deeply connected to it.

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I think @Mike Riverso is right in making the character creation a group process, so you can explain things to the whole party altogether.

Also, the short summary suggested from @Timothy A Wiseman can be very useful.

In my experience the short fiction also works very well: a short piece of text that introduces the main features of the setting; something that the players need to read before the session.

There is a possible downfall that has not been said though. You know the fiction and you know all the little details that make it enjoyable, while the players don't. Throwing all of those details at the same time could be a source of puzzlement for the players; too many information to parse. Try to select a couple of features (or only one) per aventure and revolve the session(s) around that. You'll be able to communicate the nice aspects of the fiction to the players and they'll be able to assimilate them all.

A thought along the lines of the previous one: consider the sessions to be exploratory for the nice features of the fiction. For example: if a nice aspect of the fiction is the rivalry between two races, consider having the party rescue a member of one race held captive from the other one. They'll have the chance to get directly in touch with the nice feature.

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As you say, its hard. I am not familiar with Hellfrost, but I have dealt with introductions in Homebrew settings. I don't think there is a great way to do this, but here are some things that have helped.

Have a summary of key points they need to know

As you say, page after page of notes will bore people even if sent out ahead of time. But having a page or two of the key points (possibly in bullet point) can be helpful, especially sent out ahead of time.

Provide short fiction if possible.

Expecting busy people to read a full novel, much less a series of novels, or even the core rule book can be unrealistic sometimes (and if you can manage that, then you aren't in the situation this question describes). But if you can give it to them ahead of time, providing a short story or two to give flavor can be reasonable. Many established settings have short stories (both official and fan-fic) readily available. You might want to consider custom writing one.

Provide anologies

Most game settings are somewhat like another setting. Its never perfect, but it can help. Rifts is more like Shadowrun than it is like AD&D. Earthdawn is more like AD&D than it is like Star Wars. That sort of thing at least gives a rough idea of what to expect.

Consider having premades available.

Consider having premade characters that your players can either choose between or tweak. Its often much easier to tweak than to start from scratch (though that depends somewhat on the system involved.)

Consider using a trope to make the characters as ignorant as the players

There are lots of tropes used to make the PC(or protagonist in fiction) just as ignorant as the player/reader. Some of the common ones include amnesia (perhaps magically induced?) and a traveller from a far away land (perhaps another reality).

This makes it more natural for the character to explore and ask "obvious" questions. And if revealed openly more natural for a helpful person to explain. It also gives them in character excuses for not knowing.

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