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I want to play an RPG with my friends. However, they are a bit impatient, and I'd have to wait forever before they'd read the rule-book. I've read it all, because I found it interesting. They kind of like the idea, but just want to play. This brings two problems:

  1. How much of the mechanics do I have to teach? Do I need to teach at all? I'm feeling insecure about them not knowing the mechanics, because later on they might have a problems because of that ("I thought that grenades work differently!", "I didn't know worshiping this god implies X", etc.).
  2. How much lore should I teach? The players inevitably live in the world, so - unless they lived under a rock - they must know something about the world. Their lack of knowledge about the lore results in their characters lacking common sense and basic knowledge.
  3. How should I help them create character, and do it quickly? They need to know the options they have, and creating a character can be lengthy process. Moreover, creation of warrior might be simple(he is just big, strong, and probably stupid); creating a mage or priest in a foreign world, where there are many different spells to be considered or gods to be worshiped might take some time before you know the options.

How should I deal with these issues? I thought that 2. could be introduced by making a scenarios that involve the lore, so they learn while they play, but what about other points?

The games I have in mind are mostly Neuroshima (primary target), Wolsung, D&D, maybe World of Darkness.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have these friends played any tabletop RPG before? \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Apr 29 '16 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Apparently a less subtle reminder is necessary. So.) Reminder: Comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. Future ones will be too. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 29 '16 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you think your players seek out of the game? That will change the strategy that suits. (Expounding any further clearly risks the wrath of the martinet.) \$\endgroup\$ – The Nate Apr 30 '16 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe one could ask this question about the players of just about any game (e.g. hockey) as well. \$\endgroup\$ – jwir3 Apr 30 '16 at 21:53

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Answers in order followed by some discussion:

  1. Out the gate you don't need to teach them anything. As they encounter things that require rules, you inform them of them. So when they first want to try scaling a wall you inform them of how skill checks work and have them roll. You introduce the rules of combat piece by piece. Just ask them what they want to do IC and explain how it can be accomplished.

  2. Again you don't need to teach any, but I find 5 minutes of talking or a half a page of writing is a good primer. The 2 best ways to handle this are have them play characters who would be of similar ignorance(ala in World of Darkness people new to the supernatural, or in D&D, foreigners to the country they are adventuring in) or simply have them roll intelligence type checks anytime they do something that doesn't fit and based on the roll explain to them why that might not be a good idea. Still let them do it if they want. Also offer them lore checks very frequently.

  3. I'd say make characters for them. You can do this either by discussing a general idea of what they want to play or just make a bunch of premades and hand them out. Let them adjust stats at will as they learn the rules, but start by doing all the work yourself. You'll probably enjoy it more and it makes it much easier to get them invested.

Alright, discussion time. When first introducing new players to a game, I personally prefer doing a one-shot: a self contained game and story that is much more rail-roady than normal, is meant to finish in a single session, has pre-made characters and is designed to highlight a few of the main aspect of the game and will deliberately avoid some of the more complex stuff. This will allow them to get a sense of how the game is played without having to learn all the rules or spend much time checking rulebooks. It also keeps the game more focused than a typical campaign session which sometimes can become just messing around with people at the tavern.

It is always possible to turn a one-shot into a campaign if people like their characters or if they like the rules, but want to switch things up, abandoning it all now that they have some idea isn't that hard. You can of course let some players keep characters while others make new ones in either type. It also allows you to jump to a different game if people aren't that interested without wasting all that time building a campaign.

When designing my one shot, I try to create characters that will have all the major archtypes of the game/setting. In addition I try to come up with 2-3 different types of encounters that explore different mechanical aspects so players get a sense of all of them. I usually put in 6ish total encounters, 5 fairly short and easy, 1 hard boss one, essentially like a tutorial mission at the beginning of a video game. I make sure there are some elements that I actively don't include and will have no way of showing up if it's a complex game like WoD or D&D, because that can bog down the game. When showing it off it's best if things keep moving quickly.

Final point. I almost never introduce a game as complex as D&D or WoD without someone else in the group having at least a passing familiarity with the game, or everyone having experience in multiple systems so picking up a new game is fairly easy for them. I don't know much about the other two but they looked a bit more complex than I think is good to start with. If your freinds are completely new to RPG's I'd recommend something like Dungeon World, Fate Acclerated, or Savage Worlds to start, and then move on to one of those once they have the basics of how RPG's work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Also you can make characters with the players explaining them the basics in the cource. It takes some time though. \$\endgroup\$ – Ols Apr 29 '16 at 16:25
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I'm mostly familiar with D&D 5e, so most of my references will be to that game. The principles should be the same though.

If your players don't care about the rules, maybe try running lose with the rules. Rules exist in any game to keep it fun for everyone, so strike a balance between "Rules Lawyer" and "I don't care, do whatever you want." For example, the guy who rolled 18s for his six attribute scores will probably make it less fun for everyone else. But constantly telling your players, "Nope, you can't do that cool thing you thought of because of RULES" may kill the fun. Finding a solution that both fits inside the rules and creatively solves a problem is most the fun; remind your players of this.

Engaging your players in their own type of fun will allow them to care about the rules. Check out this article by Angry DM for some interesting insight on that. As players have fun, they will care about doing it right. If they don't, maybe these games

Beyond that, here are my main suggestions:

Prep sessions

One of my favorite things to do is create a character. I sometimes like it better than the game itself. Consider having a session where you and your players just make characters and run a practice encounter and maybe even a sidequest. This should help them learn some of the terminology and mechanics.

One-off sessions

This is something I stole from another DM. You can use it to allow your players to explore different classes, backgrounds, or even games. Just run a quick, one-session game and have fun.

Run it looser, then tighten as you go

Especially if you are running a one-off session, try allowing them to be creative and even go beyond the rules as written occasionally. Reward players for being creative and enforce rules to keep everyone engaged.

As for the lore part of your question, when you start your normal game, get them to care about the story or an NPC. Once they care about the story, they (or maybe one of your players) will want to learn more about the lore.

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I will give you just one method that will work for any issue where you need to give information to your players:

Use handouts.

It may seem silly at first, but that's what I do when I go to events in my town and want to try a new system, which, obviously, nobody know the rules.

When it's not a game that comes with a beginner box of some sort (such as Pathfinder, D&D 5ed, Shadowrun, Star Wars, etc.), I will make a bunch of handouts for my players, which dumb down most of the basic rules in a bunch of cards so they can read the cards by themselves, without fear of asking How do I attack? What do I roll? What is spellcraft for? Can I cast spells?

I look for character sheets that are simple and easier to read, and complement them with cards, or notes, or tables printed from the core books, images so they can visualize what their armor or weapon looks like.

When I'm running adventures with my regular players, I will often create handouts for anything their characters discover or learn (and that happens a lot).

I will go so far as to print lore directly from campaign books in the form of “tomes” and “letters” that they can read. This avoids any kind of confusion that could come from them trying to remember later things I explained to them verbally, since when in doubt, they can look up the handout again and clarify it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Handouts are an okay idea, but it requires a lot of effort by the GM if they're not already available. The players need to make a contribution to game, to the group fun, beyond "show up at the table." \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Apr 29 '16 at 15:41
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Game Expectations

At it's core, this might be a question about different gaming styles and expectations for what a game is like. I've played at entire tables full of people who had never read a core rule book, and never would - that doesn't appeal to them. While you are interested in reading a rule book and diving into the game's mechanics and lists of options, these players might find all of that to be a burden.

Decision Point
If you expect players to be motivated to explore the rules on their own, and they aren't, you will need to decide if that is a game you want to GM. If it isn't, politely explain that a game like that isn't much fun for you and move on. If you do want to run this game, I have some suggestions below.

Suggestions

  1. Make Recommendations: If players get stuck, remind them what kind of options they have. In D&D, remind them what class features, skills, etc. might be useful. Don't expect them to think through every option they have at their disposal.
  2. Go with it: On the other hand, if players do take their own approaches, let them. If they aren't sure how to make it happen, go back to point 1.
  3. Be encouraging: These players will almost definitely not make optimal choices. They will make choices that seem fun, or seem like good ideas. To you, some of their choices will be obviously sub-optimal. Don't be discouraging. Play along. Adjust the difficulty of challenges as appropriate.
  4. Tone down failure: At some tables, not making the most of your character's abilities or the gaming system can mean certain doom. This might clash with your players' expectations of a rules-light(er) game. In these situations, be prepared to done down the consequences of their choices.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. The recommedations should fit charaters as much as the rules, though. A stupid character shouldn't outwit the smart guys, for example. If you allow rolls for hints, that can help mitigate the feeling that you're solving the problems you set up for them. (Some gms have an annoying tendency to play both side of the table, after all.) \$\endgroup\$ – The Nate Apr 29 '16 at 17:58
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When you introduce new players to a new game (even if those players are experienced with other games), I have been using a few rules, that from the last 15 years I've been DMing, has been proved successful.

1) Start with pre-generated characters. This have some major advantages. First, you are sure the characters will fit in the setting, and that they will be somewhat balanced. Second, it allow you to also pre-determine the motivations and objectives of those characters, making them more integrated with the story you want to DM. Each players only really need to understand their own character, and will get the concept of "roleplaying" (if a complete newbie), or about the tone of the setting (if an experienced player in a new game/setting). Be prepared to answer questions if anyone start asking stuff, but don't require them to eat 40 pages of lore before start playing.

2) Tell everyone this is a one-shot. Don't start a 3-years long campaign without at least one short adventure test run. You (and them) don't know yet if you will like the system, the setting, the characters, or the story in general. So the first contact you will make on the new stuff will be free of long-term effects and responsibility. And if they really REALLY like those characters and want to keep playing with them, you can discuss this after the ending point.

3) Make something small and iconic. In D&D this would be something like "you were hired to defend a caravan traveling from Onett to Twoson. You will fight raiding orcs, then will meet the mayor of Twoson, and will invade the orc lair to beat the orc chief." The intention of this first contact is to get the feel of the game, setting, or system. And nothing beats using a classic hook. Alternatively, if your system provides you with an introductory adventure, use it. D&D has been putting one of those in every Campaign Setting book for a while, with good reason.

3) Learn how to Tutorial. Take a look at most modern videogames. The start of the game usually tell you what you can do, in a controlled environment, where you can try and fail and try again until you grasp the concepts of the mechanic. Obviously, you will not do exactly the same in a tabletop RPG, but this doesn't mean you can't take a lesson there to teach the game mechanics and lore one piece at a time, instead of requiring everyone to read 50 pages of rules before starting. Since the characters will be pre-generated, you know in advance what each one is capable. You can give the Scoundrel a vial of acid, and the Heavy Weapons Person a portable ram or something else unique to each character, and create specific moments on the adventure where they can use their unique toys to learn a new mechanic, or find a data file/scroll with some new lore revelations (that may be actually common knowledge, but not to your players). I advise taking a look in some videos from the Extra Credits youtube channel. In particular, those videos: 1, 2

4) Do not allow the game to freeze. Have you ever been on that moment where you know something must be done, but you have absolutely no idea what? This will happens when learning a new game/system/setting. A lot. And if you allow then to stay stuck until someone figure out some convoluted puzzle, they will lose interest. Remember that (probably) unlike you, your players have not read 40 pages of system and 50 pages of lore. Give them some hints (Alice, you remember that this symbol is from the Church of Pelor, god of sun) or even straight answers if it requires a roll (Bob, you can hack this type of terminal with your palmtop). Remember that you are DMing a tutorial, and those kind of nudges give them system information or setting lore. They will be welcome.

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Depending on the system at hand, it's likely to be possible to run the game without the players interacting with the rules at all. Most RPGs work perfectly well with the players conveying their intent to the GM in natural language, the GM handling the required mechanics, and then using natural language to respond, all with the players needing no knowledge of the rules whatsoever.

As a GM, I was quite skeptical about playing this way, expecting it to add a lot of work for me at the table, but I quickly came to prefer it and discovered that the extra work is minimal, since I'd already been reflexively doing the calculations myself to double-check my players' application of the rules. If anything, making all mechanics strictly GM-facing reduced my workload, since it meant an end to rules disputes, having to justify my application of the rules, etc.

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One thing I try to do when introducing new players is the following:

(for context) This is based off an ability you can buy in the Nobilis RPG for your Imperator (read: Patron God). Basically, your Imperator is so "in tune" with the universe, you get a weird "should I do that?" feeling before doing something dangerous/risky/stupid.

NOTE: this doesn't stop you from doing the action, just warns you that it might not be the best course.

I personally give this ability (or invent one and give it for free in games that don't have such an ability), and use it extensively. The important part, I find, is to do more than just "hmmmm your spidey sense tells you this is wrong". When the ability "kicks in", is the time to actually and properly introduce a rule/concept/lore from the universe.

A typical conversation could go like this:

"I throw a grenade this way" "Your spidey-sense tingles, because, as a soldier who is used to throwing grenades, you know that [introduce scatter mechanic that actually puts the WHOLE team at risk of blowing up, explaining it from a rules standpoint]. "hmmmm... lemme correct my throw then".

This way, you don't force your players to learn anything, AND you don't let them kill themselves by doing something ridiculous.

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For new players, stick to the basics

  1. Character creation: if they are new, coach them through it but focus on creation and their idea rather than optimization.

    If they have played before, all they need is the basics for a given game. All you need to offer is any limits you have.

  2. Lore: let it unfold as the game goes on. Very basic lore about where they are and what they are confronted with. Fill in more lore through interaction, exposition, and plot hooks.

  3. Play

    The simplest way to deal with this is to go back to role playing basics.

    GM: Describe the environment the players are in. (Answer questions where they are raised)

    Players: Describe what they do

    GM: narrate the results.

    Note: only roll dice when absolutely necessary. When in doubt on a rule, go for the rule of cool or shade a decision in the favor of the player. Where failure or bad luck crop up -- which it will -- make your best effort to make it light hearted and overly dramatic with a touch of the absurd. (Let slapstick comedy be a guide there).

    If these are new players, getting used to role playing may take some doing, so removing as many mechanical details as you can until they get used to it will make it more fun and likely reduce your workload. ExTSR's "Shock Treatment" approach works pretty well (at least, that has been my experience).

For More Experienced Players ... ask for more from them

For players who have played a bit but are still not all into the rules:

  • Call for more and better description on their part of what they are doing.

  • Also, you need to get some ground rules established.

    If they aren't interested in the rules, then get their agreement that challenges to your rulings are limited to one per person per session -- at most!
    Get that agreed before you begin. (And do not budge from this).
    This will keep the game flowing per above and benefit the whole table because (as the Bard once said) "the play's the thing!"

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First off, don't worry, I think every other novice group starts out much as you describe. The quick answer is, just "find the fun."

Teach as much of the rules as you like, until you or somebody gets tired of it. Some players will be happy for you to read the rules to them, especially if you're good at reading out loud. Others will get sick of it quickly.

You don't have to teach much of the lore at all, before play begins. It's OK for the characters to start as rather rusticated rubes from an isolated little village - they can learn everything during play, it will be more fun. Don't fret about it "making sense." But you can give them any background that would help them create their characters.

(On the other hand, if you find your players listen attentively to your stories about glorious antiquity, it's fine to delight them with your oratory.)

Character Creation

Do a little research on computerized character sheets. There are a lot of them. If you decide to use one, get familiar with it, to help your players when they get stuck with the technology. A good character sheet will make character creation easier.

Have character generation party. Set the expectation that there probably won't be any actual play this day. You can talk to them about basic concepts of party balance, for example how a mix of different classes and races is best. But mostly talk about the cool things about character creation.

If somebody is just stuck about what options to choose, suggest something that fills out the party but you think matches your friend's personality. Don't obsess about a balanced party.

Make sure you have an extra rule book around, if nobody else has one. Somebody will pick it up while everyone is together, even if they never did before the party. Know what sections to guide them to (again, with an eye towards the player's interests) and have bookmarks in key sections of the book. If there are free online rules, have the URL handy, and suggest folks bring laptops or tablets.

When play starts, make sure to give you novice players some easy encounters, so they don't to know "every trick in the book" to survive. These easy combats are your chance for everyone to really start learning the combat mechanics while having fun. Suggest different good tactical actions whenever somebody seems stuck on their turn.

One other thing, start at first level! Almost all games get more complicated as characters gain experience. And the fewer choices the players have to make before getting a few fights under their belts, the better.

Somehow or other, make sure folks eventually get their own rule books. (I recently asked for a Player's Handbook as a birthday present, just so I could hand it back to my friend.)

You can make handouts. (I prefer JPEGs of rule snippets with images, in the format of those motivational posters.) You can read snippets of the rules, keeping the didacticism lighthearted. ("The reading is from the Player's Handbook, Chapter 9...") But accept that you may always be the rules expert.

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Play the setting you want, but use SimpleD6, Crab Truckers, or some other simplified generalized ruleset.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This could be a good answer, but it's a bit sparse right now. The question specifically asks in the context of much more complex games, so this answer would be improved by explaining why they should abandon that goal and do this instead. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 29 '16 at 21:02

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