How to Introduce a New Gamer to RPG’s?

Ever since Evan Jeshka wrote her first post for RPG Knights about her experience in joining our RPG group I realised that I needed to think about what I was doing in this arena.  With Evan it was introducing an experienced role-player to a D&D like system (Pathfinder) for her first taste and I failed her utterly.  So I began to think about what I would do if I had to go through the scenario again, and then I further extended this idea as I have an in-person friend who has expressed interest but not to the point where she wants to join as of yet.  So I am writing this as a kind of “starter” conversation that I might have to build a new gamer up for it.

character at shooting range
Sharpshooter? Detective maybe? Anything you want! Art is from Silent Legions and royalty free

Role Playing Games are a mixture of acting and sport in a way.  Not the kind of way that a soccer player takes a dive but almost.  In reality the acting is where you take on the role of another person/being/robot/creature/transhuman/caveman etc.  But even then a player may not be comfortable in expressing themselves in the first person around the table (“it feels weird” is the common argument) so they may control themselves in the third person, describing interactions (“Fred tells Wilma he is going to the lodge but as soon as he leaves he takes off the moose hat and goes to the bowling alley to meet Barney.”).  There is of course the player that mixes the styles as well.  This is largely how people interact in an RPG although it can be dependent on the game that you are going to join.

Each game comes with a set of rules on how the game is to be run, and this is where the sports comparison comes in.  You see, you are not just playing a role but you are controlling the role within the bounds of a simulated environment.  Now to play the role of the simulated environment and everything that is not your character is a referee of sorts.  A person whose name changes depending on the game but their role is to be an impartial judge (mostly) for your character (and other character’s) actions, narrating the effect that they have on the universe.  They also prepare areas for you to play in and sometimes just wing it as your actions provide them with a surprise.  One thing that this person takes on as a basis is a deeper understanding of the rules.  Where you, as a player are asked to know your character, the referee must have a much deeper understanding of the rules.  If the rules come into question it is the referee that clears it up.  It may be with a hard and fast ruling that stands for the night and they will do some research or it may be something that becomes a “house” rule which is something that you may use for many games to come.

Most games use dice to demonstrate the “random element”.  If you ask the referee if you can charm the barman into revealing the name of the owner of the bar they may ask you to roll a die and add a score to it.  This roll is meant to simulate a raft of random occurrences that cannot be thought of on an individual basis each time.  Did the barman do this before and get caught?  Is he suffering some kind of illness and feel bad? Is he just a bastard?  Does he find your character alluring?  All these things can be rounded in to that die roll offering some random elements to affect the outcome.  Most games also have skills and attributes that you can add to your roll to increase the chances of succeeding so in these games it is likely a mixture of random element and skill that defines the results of your actions.

There are of course some games that do not use dice also.  Or maybe a game where the players use dice and the referee doesn’t so it is best to ask up front what sort of game you are playing.  There is likely a game for any kind of setting that you can think of and if there isn’t then there are games that are “Universal” and provide you just with a system and an idea on how to apply that to anything you can come up with in your head.

Each game is going to ask you to create a character or characters.  This is where you have the power.  As long as the character you want to play fits into the setting then you can explore anything you want.  Want to play a rugged mercenary like Vasquez from Aliens the movie in a sci-fi then make her up.  Want to be Arya Stark in a fantasy world, then sure, it can be done.  The real power comes though when you really find something that you want to explore yourself and create your own unique character.

new player
Be prepared for the strange and wonderful in your games

Role playing is a great community and socially driven environment.  It has stigmas that still cling to it, you have to be a nerd, it is only for spotty teenage boys etc.  All of these things are pure conjecture and these days there is a good mixture of young and older gamers.  There is a real resurgence for this style game occurring due to frustrations with video game RPG’s being too restrictive and people wanting the freedom to do what they want to do rather than what has been scripted to be done.

The best way to get involved is to play.  Find a referee to play with at your friendly local game store, or on-line on social media.  Talk to them about the game they run and ask them to help you create a character for their game and give it a try.  If you are not so brave as to jump right in you could watch a YouTube video of a game but these really will not illustrate the invested nature that you will have as an actual player so do not judge it too harshly.  Another way is to sit in on a session that is being run and asking questions as it goes also.  If you are brave though and jump in, ask the referee about what sort of rules you should know up front and then play.  Every person that is at the table (virtually if on-line) want you there.  We all love playing with new people and we are all really open to helping someone new to the games.

So what are you still doing here?  Get out there, find a game and start dreaming about the games and characters you want to play!  You may even be keen to be a referee, and if so that is great!  Just go for it and give it a try.  Keep rolling (or not based on the game)!

The art in this post has been supplied from the game Silent Legions by Kevin Crawford and is free for personal and commercial use. The image at the top of the page was created by Joyce Maureira and the lower image by Miguel Santos. Thanks!


  1. OK. I’ll give it a go. I’ll try anything once. Twice if I like it.


  2. I’ve had problems explaining RPGs to new players in the past too, and while I haven’t yet managed to come up with a good written explanation, I have been thinking about the problem for a while. I do note that the potential player who inspired the article has reacted favourably, which is great, but please consider the following to be constructive criticism. 🙂

    I think a lot of your text is vague and deals too much in abstracts. While trying to explain RPGs to my fiancée, she didn’t want to hear about the history behind mechanisms, or the different ways that different games approach the issue; she just wanted to focus on what information was needed for the game at hand. Perhaps an intro essay that deals with “traditional” games as a baseline might help streamline and focus the conversation.

    One thing that seems to be a massive hurdle for the uninitiated, even after you explain the whole [players, GM, characters, imaginary world, dice and rules] stuff, is “how do you actually play?” You can read through the entirety of the new D&D (including the Beginner’s Guide) without learning how to actually roleplay on a fundamental level. Someone new can make a character and come to the table with no idea what to expect when play begins. They might think it’s like a board game or a computer game, for example.

    Figuring out how to explain the procedures, cues, and techniques we use at the actual table, and how it’s a “magic circle” sort of space, is, I think, the biggest problem we need to overcome if we’re to explain RPGs to new players without inducting them through actual play. Examples and videos are a way to bridge the gap, but I feel there must be a way to explain roleplaying in words that a newcomer can understand.

    The problem is, for those of us who have passed through that veil of knowledge, it all becomes unnoticed and assumed, and it’s really hard to think about the underlying fundamentals once you know how the game works. There’s so much assumed structure in traditional RPGs, such as GM authority, who has final say over fictional events, who can introduce new elements to the game of what type, and so on. We rarely discuss it ourselves once we have established our own groups and playstyles, but we need to break it down to that level to give newcomers a chance at understanding the true fundamentals.


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