How do I get regular people, non-gamers, into playing D&D? Anybody have any useful ideas?
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"So, what's everyone's hobby?" John asked that evening, opening a beer.
"I love gardening," Kyle said.
"I'm into assassinations." Nick was apparently trying to be funny, again. Making a face even. Nobody laughed.
"I play roleplaying games," Zora said. Some started chuckling about that. "No, I don't mean the leather and whips and French maids stuff you're thinking about."
"Wait, is this where you dress up as stupid manga characters and pretend you're them?" asked Kyle, who heard something about something somewhere.
"No. It's where everyone has charac-" begun Nick, but Zora stopped him with a wave of her hand.
"Wait. Let me show you. What would you do if a SWAT team burst through that door over there right now, laser pointers flashing, guns ready, shouting at us to make no move?"
"Why would they do that?" John asked.
"Because, let's say, Nick really is an assassin. But you don't know that yet. Just tell me, what you would do. You first, John."
"I'd make no move. Obey. Possibly wet myself."
"Okay, you're standing there wetting yourself. You, Kyle?"
"I'd jump out of the window," Kyle said.
"You'd die, idiot. We're on the sixth floor," said Nick.
"Hey, if Nick is an assassin, I'm a bloody cyborg, so I'd survive," replied Kyle, taking a sip of his beer.
"Yeah, a gardening cyborg," winked Nick.
"Yes," Zora nodded, "a gardening cyborg, but that's still a cyborg. So you're jumping off the window."
"Wait, wait, you didn't say we can be other people, not just us, ourselves!" John said, grumbling. "I'm not wetting myself, if this is so. I'm an undercover James Bond-like agent then, jumping right after cyborg Kyle, because I know he's in league with Nick, the assassin, and want to stop him from escaping!"
"Okay, you're doing that. And you, Nick?"
"Wait, I want to know what you do, Zora, before I tell you what I'd do."
"Surprise, I'm not here. Instead of me, your ex, Anne is here. She stands and raises her hands in utter confusion. What do you do?"
"I throw my beer onto the floor, because it's not a beer but a disguised smoke grenade. Remember, I'm an assassin."
"Okay. So, John and Kyle, please play a rock, paper, scissors right now, to see which one of you wins... okay... with Kyle winning, he manages to land on a truck and is getting away on it. John, you land on the concrete, but since you're Bond-ish, you just get a few bruises. Nick, your smoke fills the room in an instant. None of you sees what Anne's doing. The SWAT, having seen their ally John jump out, starts shooting in your direction, Nick. Come on, rock paper against me... there, you get hit, you're on the ground and bleeding. What do you all do now?"
"This is a stupid game," Nick said. "I'm not an assassin, this gardener here's not a cyborg, and why the hell should you have reminded me of Anne now, anyway?"
"Okay, calm down, calm down," Zora said. "You don't have to be related to your real person, real selves. You can be anyone else. Remember the Lord of the Rings movies trilogy? We all loved that. Let's give this another try. Imagine you're in Moria, and you're all orcs, guards about to have some gruesome lunch, when you hear a distant noise, as if something fell down a well. What do you do?"
"I reach for my wardrums," John said.
"This is stupid again. If we're orcs, we know the Fellowship will kill us, so what's the point?" Nick said.
"No, they won't necessarily kill you. We can change the story. We'll decide who wins by rolling a dice. No worries, I have one on me. The higher result will win. You can probably beat Legolas."
"Can't I be Legolas?" Kyle asked.
"Yeah, the gardener, and we orcs would eat you," said Nick.
"No, this time you're all on the same side, you're all orcs," Zora said. "But you know what? If you're seriously interested in roleplaying, because that's what we've been playing here, we should give a try to a bit more serious game, one in which you can be an elf like Legolas, or a hobbit, or a human, and so on, and you can kick orc ass. In case you don't want to play orcs. It has rules, kinda like a boardgame, so that we can go beyond the simplicity of rock, paper and scissors, but the basics are easy, and I'll tell you everything you have to know. And when you get bored of that, we can play Star Wars, or Night of the Living Dead, or anything you like, only you'll be the heroes instead of the ones we've seen in the movies."
And they lived and played happily ever after. Except for Nick, who really was an assassin and got killed in action the next week. But that's a different story for a different day.
(Sorry about the very, very unconventional answer, but it worked for me, on more than one occasion. ;))
In my experience, the best way to make new roleplayers is to not start with the 800 pound gorilla that is D&D. Starting with gateway games makes it a lower investment for them – increasing their willingness to give it an honest try – and gives a broader picture of what RPGs are like – increasing the chance they'll find something they like and keep playing RPGs.*
Once you've played a few gateway RPGs, you have a better sense of what these new players like about gaming. Not all of them are going to be interested in the weight of rules or the focus on tactical combat that D&D comes with. Suggesting D&D to the ones who do seem to bend that way makes for a much more workable D&D group. It avoids forming a group only to find out that they have a different kind of game in mind than you do, because they're (e.g.) hoping for more character-based playing-of-roles and less wargaming.
I learned this the hard way, but fortunately one of these players I introduced to RPGs via D&D first is assertive enough that she straight-up said, "I'd rather a game that's not all about fighting." She has loved the other games I've introduced her to since then, now that I know better what kind of gamer she is. That experience also prompted me to pay more attention to the other new players I've introduced to roleplaying, to see what they enjoy about the games we've played, and I've had much better campaigns, with fewer social contract and gaming-culture mismatches, than I have had in the past.
* The only time I start with D&D is when I'm absolutely sure that what they want is a group-based Hero's Journey wrapped in tactical combat in mish-mashed fantasy pseudo-medieval setting. Some prospective players are absolutely looking for that, but there are enough who don't know what D&D actually is like, or who use "D&D" to mean "the activity of roleplaying games" that I no longer simply assume.
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Unfortunately, not everybody likes games. And not everybody likes role-playing games. I am saying this because you should keep in mind you maybe trying the impossible: there is no silver bullet to make anyone like DnD. That said, let´s assume that they can eventually like RPGs. There are some things I have learnt from hard experience to keep in mind.
Is role-playing right for these people?
Role-playing games are a certain kind of games, and there is no game that appeals to everybody. In role-playing games, including DnD, the emphasis is on building a story together. RPGs require a bit of imagination and a bit of not-taking-yourself-too-seriously. If you try to introduce any role-playing game to very shy people, or to very uptight people, or to people that think that "games are for kids", neither they will have a good time nor will you.
Is DnD right for these people?
Assuming your "regular, non-gamer" friends or colleagues are the type of people that may enjoy a role-playing game, you must be sure that DnD is the kind of game that tells the stories that they will like.
DnD stories are heavy in medieval violence (sword-killing) and fantasy (magic, mythical races, dragons). Do these people enjoy reading books like Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, or Game of Thrones? Do they enjoy that kind of films? Do/did they like that kind of videogames (Diablo, Baldur´s Gate, World of Warcraft)?
If not, maybe DnD is not the right role-playing game for them. Choose a game that fits the stories that they like. Do they like horror movies? Do they like science-fiction? Do they like detective/investigation stories? Is there any recent "geeky" movie they have recently enjoyed (World War Z, Pacific Rim, The Hobbit...). Use that as a hook and build an adventure similar to it.
Hide the rules!
This is very important. Non-gamers can be easily intimidated by the complexity of the rules in some role-playing games, especially if they see that the "rules" are several hundreds of pages. They can feel that it is not worth their time ("I need to read all of that? No way!").
Concentrate on the story. Let them concentrate on what they do, what they think, and what they see. If at any point they need to make a die roll, tell them what to roll and what to expect ("Now you roll this d20, and if you get 12 or more you will hit the dragon!", "Roll this d20, and if you get 15 or more the guard will believe that you are the king´s brother and let you pass").
Don´t make them learn any rule upfront. Give them simplified pre-generated characters. Or even better, tell them what their archetype is in general terms (the mighty knight on armour, the powerful wizard, the brave soldier, the geeky scientist) and improvise from there.
Do not get bogged down in rules, do not check the rulebook if you can help it. Improvise. They are not rules-lawyers. They want to have a good time. Looking at someone else looking at a book is not fun. Keep the story moving at all times.
Don´t let the rules get in the way of the story. Never say "the rules don´t allow you to do that". Either explain things in real terms or let them do whatever they come up with. Doing things is fun, being told you cannot do something is not fun unless there is an obvious reason that you can understand ("not in the rules" is not a good reason).
Don´t let the rules take time out of the game. Rules are only fun for those that know them already. In your first session(s) your players are not interested in the rules. (If they ask questions about the rules, answer them simply; let them learn little by little, and by example).
Start by something simpler
If these people have to sit down on a table to play a game, a role-playing game can be too much of a fight against their prejudice: sitting down on a table ("like kids?"), rolling dice, acting and telling a story in front of other people, spending a long time without any clear end or closure... Maybe it is easier to start with a simple, engaging, and time-bound boardgame like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, or Bang! I personally don´t like Bang! that much as a board game, but I mention it because it can act as a gateway into western-like RPGs.
Once they see that it is OK to spend time with friends having fun around a table, role-playing games will be easier to introduce.
The final touch
If they have fun the first time, they will likely come for a second session. Encourage jokes, humor, and laughter. Add snacks and drinks to the session (be very light on the alcohol, though, as it is a double-edged sword).
As a first step, get the none-gamers into gaming in general. Roleplaying is still a niche. And there's a lot of prejudice still around. People cannot imagine what roleplaying might be like.
Start with people you know are playing any kind of game. Cellphone/facebook games. Scrabble. Poker. Football. Just to make sure you have a starting point. There are different games that can lead to roleplaying.
D&D is one large step. Fantasy. Gaming. Unknown group of people. People are afraid of new things. Take small steps. Play a few of their games so they get to know the people. Play games that they can relate to other games or experiences they already know. Once they know the people and have experience playing games, roleplaying is just a next step, no longer the unknown quantity that freaks them.
I've played D&D and various other RPGs for 25 years now and over that time we've introduced a lot of people to RPGs, most of them with D&D. It's not really that complicated. Here's what works for most people starting from when they're about 12 and getting school friends to game to adults doing it with coworkers/friends/acquaintances.
Invite them to your game.
Have someone you know you want to try to introduce to your group? Invite them to it. No really, show don't tell. Hours of hamfisted attempts at explanation are not a great investment. It's highly likely that they played in a game of D&D when they were younger (it was a really big fad in the '80s) or at least saw it played, or that they've seen "that episode" of Community, Big Bang Theory, etc. to the point where they don't need your tortured and confusing "when a daddy dice and a mommy dice love each other very much they play cowboys and indians" description. Unless they've been hiding in some remote corner of a flyover state since 1970, "it's like World of Warcraft/Dragon Age but with no computer, it's all in person" should suffice. Fantasy roleplaying has become a pretty common part of popular culture so leverage that.
Right now there are people at your workplace, etc. being invited to someone else's house to play Catan or Ticket to Ride, or washers, or something else new to them. This isn't any more weird and complicated unless you make it that way.
Example: We had one very "non-traditional" gamer join our group in Memphis - picture a New York style, attractive woman, high-powered manager selling to big corporate clients, hobbies: being high maintenance and little yippy dogs. Not the hang around the hobby shop type. One of our players worked there, she was his manager. They were talking one day about a shared interest in the TV show Babylon 5 (her only geek attribute at the time) and it came up that he played D&D, and after a brief Q&A ("So you wear costumes?" "No") he said "It's fun, want to come sit in one Saturday?" and she said "Sure, what the hell." She became one of the most dedicated players in the group and the one probably most deeply into immersive roleplaying.
Heck, I had given up gaming due to lack of time in college and when I finished, I didn't know any gamers. Years later we had a big group of people playing Magic: The Gathering and I said, "Hey, this makes me miss real roleplaying. Y'all ever do that?" "Oh yeah back in the day." The British guy said "Well, I could run a game of Runequest for us..." and bang we were an RPG group for the next 7 years.
Make them welcome and ease them in.
You don't have to go to great lengths however. Some folks would have you do a deep psych/preference survey of the hapless noob and get a minimalist game tuned to whatever their favorite genre is. Forget that. If your group plays D&D, or Vampire, or Shadowrun, or whatever, then invite them to play that. The game you all enjoy and are passionate about is always the best choice. You're not some paid roleplaying advocate trying to introduce them to the RP community in general, you're having them join your group. You seem to be playing Dungeons & Dragons - literally millions of roleplayers had their first gaming experience be a D&D game, you don't have to worry about your choice of game.
You can have them join an ongoing campaign if it's not of the super serious "one spaz will get us TPKed" type, if it is you might want to run/have the GM run a one-shot instead if the rest of the group is cool with that.
If your game is complex - lots of rules (D&D 3/4e), super complicated setting, super complicated NPC relationships, whatever, you should be prepared to help them through. Maybe they want to watch a game first (though getting them involved ASAP is a best practice), definitely don't make them gen a character unless you have a game where that takes 1 minute or less. Let them play a NPC or something, and note important things without being overbearing - don't tell them "what they should do," any more than someone likes being told that if invited over for Catan, tell them their options (which is ideally "do anything you can think of, though your character is good at these kinds of things ).
Then just generally be nice and welcoming - most people get their ass handed to them the first time they go play poker or Catan with someone for the first time, it's not about that, it's about having fun and gelling with the people there.
If you are trying to run an entirely new gaming group full of people who haven't gamed before - well heck, that's how most of us started back in the day. Same general deal but you have to worry even less about the more experienced/less experienced divide and you can just let it flow, not worrying too much about the rules or plot or "how your last group did it" and just letting them get the experience and devise an experience for themselves - they don't have to play the game "like" anyone else, each group has its own character.
If they don't like it, they won't come back (or more likely will come back for a month or two and then drop out), but in my experience more will stay than will leave. (Or, your group may not want them to join, that's a different but important issue.)
There are some helpful other questions on this SE about help for new players that could help them get traction:
And also info for you on attracting players/forming groups:
A long ago my ex GF asked me what's that D&D you're playing like?
Without going into details and rules etc.. I simply answered:
Well, imagine this. It's morning. You're slowly regaining your daytime consciousness, half asleep and eyes still closed. You can feel the warm sun heating your bear skin in your bed, when it suddenly strikes you. It's not your bed at all...
We went through a 4 hour session without pen, paper, dice or anything else except our imagination. A lot of fun stuff happened. Like she was about to get burned as a witch because she actually still had those modern day clothes on and what not.
Anyway, don't bore a regular person with rules and game mechanics. Let them simply imagine. Because if imagination isn't their thing, you really don't want them to join in the first place. And sometimes, it's just fun to do some good old fashion interactive story telling :)
So, even if they don't get into the game, at least you'll have a lot of fun.
What better works of me is the comparison with other forms of fiction. Someone enjoys reading fantasy/action/adventure/horror books? I try to tell how playing is like be the protagonist of one of these books, and we collaboratively manage to "write" one of these stories.
Films, TV Series, comic books,... even videogames. Whatever fiction your friend likes can have a parallel with RPGs. Just find out which allure him best.
Some people can be attracted if you tell them cool stories of the game (but this can get others away).
The best way is to convince him to try some day. You can barter with that ("ok, I'll go to the opera with you, if you come play with me"). Once you have him sitting in your table, pay him attention:
Important: everybody must help the newcomer, not just the GM.
After you are finished, ask him if he enjoyed the game, what he liked, and what not and if he would like to play another day. Not everyone has to like roleplaying, but if the experience is good enough, maybe he will like to give it another try.
You could show them a video of people engaged in a tabletop RPG. There's really nothing like seeing a game in action. While there are many of these videos, you have to look carefully for well-produced, engaging introductions.
Here are a few I've found:
One of the tough things to do in introducing a random group of new gamers to tabletop roleplaying is figuring what would appeal to them as a group. The only answer that consistently works is to get to know them beforehand, find out about their interests, and talk them about it.
With that being said one of the reasons D&D endures as THE tabletop roleplaying game is the simplicity of the dungeon. The premise is simple and easily grasped by the novice. There is a underground maze, there is treasure in there, and it is guarded by monsters.
A well designed dungeon is not linear and will have multiple pathways to get around it. This is a excellent and simple way of showing the flexibility of RPGs and why they differ from board games. There are choices to be made that are entirely up to the players but not so many that it will overwhelm them.
I would go and get the Swords & Wizardry quick start and go with that for the first couple of sessions. It is free, has a premade dungeon, and uses the classic D&D rules that are the foundation for today edition of the game. Either they will like it in of itself and you go and find other classic D&D products and their retro-clones, or they like the idea of RPGs but want to try some other genre or edition, or they dislike it all together in which case you are not out much time or money with SWQST