Those of us who have been in the tabletop gaming hobby for a long time are likely to forget the time that we spent as fresh-faced rookies. This means that sometimes when we end up recruiting new players into the hobby we find ourselves skipping important steps or forgetting that they don’t have our existing frames of reference. The games are complicated and brand new players can get very lost on their own. Even with an experienced player nearby they may find themselves missing important details. So here is my sage advice to the person picking up their first rpg book, loading their first dice bag, and printing their first character sheet. It’s philosophical, rather than technical, but hopefully it’s helpful either way.
1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Rules
When we pick up board games, we tend to set up the board and read enough of the rules to get the gist of what’s going on. Then we figure it out as the game progresses. In a simple enough game, like “Ascension”, this isn’t a big deal. The rulebook is slim enough that if you have a question you can find the answer pretty quickly. An “Ascension” game is also expected to last maybe an hour with four players.
With more complicated games, though, the books get bigger and the games last longer. So when I say don’t be afraid of the rules I mean don’t be afraid to read the whole book, section by section. The chapters are USUALLY in the order that they’re in for a reason, and they’ll give you the building blocks to know what’s going on. Especially if there’s not an experienced player in the group, it’s important for someone to have read the whole thing.
Now, I know this can be weird because a Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook isn’t exactly a novel, and focusing on the crunch doesn’t appeal to everyone. Don’t be scared though, you’ll find pretty quickly that it’s not as complicated as you might think.
- Don’t Worry About Winning
Whatever the game is, it’s important to start by playing for fun. Yes, a lot of games have a competitive element to them. Even Dungeons and Dragons can get competitive if players try to play it like a wargame instead of an RPG. The temptation to start out by trying to be the very best, like no one ever was, can be tempting, but I can only tell you that it won’t make the game fun for you.
There’s a lot of reasons that I say this. The first one is that it’s just not likely to work, and if you’re worried about winning you’ll just get frustrated if you don’t. Instead, focus your efforts on stuff that you think is cool. Have fun with it, make a deck that sucks or a character without optimization, and just play the game like it doesn’t matter for a while.
Look, my first Magic: the Gathering deck was trash. It had too many cards and didn’t have much in the way of synergy. You know what it DID have though? A bunch of big creatures that could trample all over you. And after that? I played a deck that could fireball you for like, 7,000 damage if everything went right and I got a whole bunch of combo pieces that I had no real way to secure. It was fun though, and the idea of being able to burn someone with the MtG equivalent of a nuclear weapon was so awesome to me, even if it only happened every so often.
- Remember Your Heroes
When you sit down to make your first character, or your first army, or your first deck, or whatever, remember your heroes. Remember the characters in the stories that made you interested in the game you’re playing. These things can help you find a design and style of play that makes the game fun for you. These games are as much about style as about crunch, and a good way to learn any game is to start with an inspiration.
So if you’re playing Magic: the Gathering and you’re a huge fan of fantasy characters like Conan, you might try to build a deck around barbarians and warriors. Or if you’re picking up a copy of World of Darkness, you might try to play as Lestat or… anyone but Edward Cullen. Seriously, if you have to play as a Cullen, play as Rosalie.
If you’re a new player then keep these tips in mind as you learn and grow into the hobby, and if you’re an experienced gamer then instill this on your new players. These ideas are basic, yeah, but they make moving into the hobby a lot more fun.
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