Is the same page tool overkill for brand new players?

I'm about to run the D&D 5e starter set for a group, most of which are entirely new to RPGs. The Same Page Tool looks like a great resource for a new group playing together, but not necessarily for brand new players getting familiar with the game, the setting, their character, the rules all for the first time.

Is it better to skip the same page tool for the first few sessions to allow people to get used to the game rather than overload them with information?

• I have often wondered this myself. Very interested in responses. – KRyan Mar 26 '15 at 14:04
• Is there a particular reason you are worried it is overkill? As in... they don't know their playstyle yet? Worried they will get bored from answering all the same page tool instead of getting right in? – Theik Mar 26 '15 at 14:13
• @Theik yes, I'm worried about the boredom aspect. Spending hours talking about/reading about playing, rather than playing and learning as we go. Most people have been turned off to something they would otherwise enjoy because of being bored by a garrulous evangelist. I don't want anyone to leave thinking "RPGs, yeah I tried playing D&D once, but we had to talk about it for an hour before we started playing." – StuperUser Mar 26 '15 at 14:16
• @SSD, I've never used it with a group, but having read it, a lot of the questions look to rely on players' tastes, which would informed by experience. Given that these are beginners, it's like asking someone's opinion on whether to check or bet against someone who is usually tight and agressive, who's raised preflop, but checked after the flop and you've got 3 outs, but you're the chip leader, before they've played their first hand of texas hold 'em. You can explain about what it all means to someone new, but is it worth having that conversation rather than just getting started? – StuperUser Mar 26 '15 at 15:07

NO

It's not overkill, it's awesome.

I just used the SPT to kick off a new group. Most (4 of 7) had never played before, and one thought that D&D was some sort of board game.

We had a get-together before the first session where we just hung out and talked about media - what games, tv shows, books, etc., we liked and what kind of stuff we would want to see in a game. At that session, I floated a number of games and we ended up choosing Apocalypse World.

So I went home and printed out the SPT and filled it out. At the next session we went over the answers I had chosen and I explained what I meant and why I had chosen those answers.

Then we started the 1st session. In AW, that means making characters, and they knew it was more important to make interesting choices than optimal ones. It didn't take long and it was very valuable. The game is going strong so far and I think everyone benefitted from a solid foundation of shared expectations.

Next time, I would bring unfilled copies of the form for everyone just to avoid reading all the un-chosen answers out loud again.

I didn't ask what they thought, I didn't poll and choose the top answer. The SPT is not a survey. It's a way to clearly state what a game is going to be like, what it is going to be about. If there had been significant objections to an answer, we could have talked about it and possibly adjusted it.

But they're brand new players, that's the heart of the question. How can they have such strong opinions about playstyle when they've never played?

• So you laid out your choices you were going to play as GM, then confirmed everyone was happy with it, rather than talking every option through with the new players? "This is what I think is best, as long as you're all happy with it?" rather than "How shall we play it?" – StuperUser Mar 26 '15 at 15:10
• Thanks for this great answer. That was pretty much the advice I was going to give people - "Use it to fill in the things that the game text isn't clear and succinct on so everyone knows what's going on" – user9935 Mar 26 '15 at 18:02
• @StuperUser - Go re-read the "Coming together, not coming apart" section on the SPT page: "DO NOT use this as a survey to try to meet in the middle.", "The point is to create a clear picture of what this game is, NOT attempt to mash together different playstyles." It's not necessarily best for the GM to take an autocratic approach to the SPT... but, when forming a new group or dealing with rookie players, that's probably not a bad way to do it. – Dave Sherohman Jul 26 '18 at 14:04

I've had to teach a lot of new people how to roleplay. While I don't break out the full Same Page Tool, there's definitely key points I use from it.

Notably, the first one is "Do you play to win?" because a lot of RPGs don't do that, which makes them the opposite of most games as we understand it. The second is covering whether the motivation should be doing the optimal thing vs. the interesting thing, because again, this is something that is pretty different than most games as we know it.

I wrote about my process with Verbally Explaining Rules. Some specific hurdles to new-to-roleplaying people are these, which I did last time I did 90 Minute D&D:

– There is no list of moves to choose from – you can describe anything you want to do within the expectations of the genre and you do it.

– You can and should ask questions to define what is going on- there is no board or cards to refer to the game state, it sits in your head and your ability to get necessary information is critical

– You should say things in character, you should have characters interact like acting or writing a story

That said, after they've tried it, players can kinda point to the parts they find fun or less fun, and that's a good time to break out the Same Page Tool in full. "Here's how we're playing, but here's some other ways that are supported by other games as well." Then if as a group you find out most people would want something different, you can try out different games, or if they decide it's not for them, they're walking away assuming all roleplaying is, is the one way you've shown them.

The thing is, the Same Page Tool is a crutch. A well designed and well written game tells you how to play it, and if there's multiple ways to play it, how to set that dial. The fact that most game books DON'T give sufficient detail, is the unfortunate reason the Same Page Tool is popular.

It is useful but not in its long form. The Same Page Tool goes into a lot of details. It works well for people who have experience of RPG and want to invest a large amount of time into a game. However, there is too much details for a short series of game sessions.

When I introduced new players to RPGs, I always had a short discussion with them. In the first part, I'd describe what the game was about: setting, who the protagonists were, and what adventure they will have. After that, I'd guide the new player into telling me more about what they think they would enjoy.

Say, this is a game set in the Star Wars universe set between Empire and Return. You are going to play either a crew of a smuggler's ship or a new jedi knights trained by Luke. You are be send by Luke to track down some rumours of top secret Empire facility called War Factory 101. Are you going to be more interested in having lots of fight or a more cloak and dagger game? ... Are you more interested in a narrative or a more rules down game? ... Do you have an idea of character you'd like to play or are you happy to play a pre-generated one? ... Are you happy acting like your character or would you rather use the third person? ... Are you happy about thematic music, lighting, and props or is that just too weird? ...

You are the experienced player here. It is your job to ask the right questions. Of course, the players will have no idea what they want or what they think they want now is not going to be what they want in a few sessions. So, guide them between extremes at the start of the session. And get their feedback at the end of the session: what did they like? What was tedious? What do they want more of? What do they want less of? For new players, I would suggest you run short games of one or two sessions maximum. It will get you a quick feedback loop.

TL;DR: Like the pirate code, the Same Page Tool are more guide lines...

• After the first paragraph this is about stuff that's not part of the Same Page Tool. I suspect it's relevant, but it needs to tie it back into the topic of using the Same Page Tool for it to be a good answer. Could you do that? – SevenSidedDie Mar 26 '15 at 16:34
• @SevenSidedDie: yes, lemme think about it. – Sardathrion Mar 27 '15 at 8:05

I think it depends.

Some players are going to be more interested in talking about the nuances expressed within the SPT before playing. Other people would be turned off.

Some games are perhaps more suited to bringing up some issues touched on by the SPT before play than others. For instance, talking about the approach to character creation might be important for Apocalypse World and related games. That’s not as important for a classic D&D game, where there aren’t a lot of decisions to make at character creation and all the choices are viable.

Context can be important too. Are you running a one-off demo at a game store or a con or are you running what you hope to be a long-running home game? A lot of the prep and ways you approach a one-off game may mitigate the need for discussing the issues of the SPT before play.

As other answers have said, it certainly seems worth the referee or facilitator looking over and thinking about the SPT. It isn’t about trying to come to consensus as a group but about setting their expectations. They do not yet have the experience to have their own answers and opinions.

If there are any SPT issues that you think are worth bringing up before play in this context, do so as briefly as you can. If they have questions, of course, you should answer them, but they’ll understand better as play progresses. There may also be issues in the SPT that you don’t want to talk about before play but that you might bring up during play.

In short, yes the SPT is overkill for new players, but neither should you give no consideration to the issues that the SPT discusses.

I don't think the specific SPT you linked to matters that much. The salient part of this question is, "should I discuss important matters of game tone with brand new players". If your problem is not with the idea of such a discussion, but the particulars of the bankuei SPT, then it is trivial to modify it or even make your own SPT anyway.

Generally, I think an SPT-style discussion will always do more good than harm. Let's say you want to play 10 sessions, each 1 hour long - even with such a modest scope you have already committed 10 hours of your time. What's the big deal about taking 5 minutes to ask "hey guys, are you gonna work together or backstab each other? Do you want freeform, or do you want me to railroad you?"? You will have a meta-discussion anyway, to decide on which system to use, which setting, what times to play at, who will come, whose house you will meet at. "SPT" is just another bulletpoint on that agenda.

Moreover, players will probably spend around an hour doing paperwork to create their character. Glancing at the SPT is not a huge burden as an extension to that.

I can imagine precisely one scenario where SPT is overkill: If you have a player who has never played any tabletop RPG before, has not played a videogame based on a tabletop RPG, has not watched any YouTube series that show the game being played and has not read anything on the internet talking about the game. This is a player that, as far as RPGs are concerned, has been living under a rock their entire life. For a player like this, the first campaign must be sacrificed as a training sandbox anyway before they can get the hang of the game, so any SPT-type discussion is premature.

But to be sure, concepts like playing to win vs. playing for fun (which is arguably the main point of SPT anyway) are very fundamental. Even small children intuitively understand them. To be unable to meaningfully participate in a discussion about such things, you must have never played a game in your life. So, while I'll grant that certainly, there is a point where a player is too unfamiliar for SPT to be relevant, and it becomes a waste of time. But in practice, I seriously doubt you would ever encounter such a player, because that threshold of unfamiliarity is much higher than you would think.

Caveat #1: I say that the SPT is ultimately a net benefit to your group's experience. That's not to say you have to have it - many games have been successfully played without the SPT, after all. Humans have social instincts, and RPGs are usually played with friends or friendly strangers - everyone will naturally try not to be too much of an jerk. SPT is just insurance against them trying, and failing.

Caveat #2: By "SPT", I mean any sort of discussion relating to the concepts in the SPT (such as the one you linked to). Whether you want the discussion to be more or less detailed, what aspects you want to focus on, how you actually conduct it, whether the SPT is verbal or a printed sheet, are all things up to you to decide, and not important for the present matter. Without this caveat, you would end up with pointless solutions like "yes, that SPT is overkill, instead use this abridged SPT" (which unhelpfully sidesteps the issue of whether the goal of SPT is worthwhile in the first place).