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How to Introduce New Players to Tabletop Gaming

Tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons can be lots of fun between friends. But a steep learning curve and stigma make it...

hoff Written by hoff
3 min read

Tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons can be lots of fun between friends. But a steep learning curve and stigma make it hard to introduce to new players.

Tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons have a lot to offer any group of friends. The game rules build a solid, balanced game that can be challenging, the cooperation and teamwork required to get through a session help pull people together, and the rules ensure that everyone can play hero or need rescuing, it’s an equalizing and entertaining experience to share. Similarly, building a world and a character helps friends flex their creative muscles, the mental stretch of creating a hero and putting her/him in unknown situations is individually rewarding. However, unlike video games, where a computer operates the rules of the game, tabletop games require each player to be familiar with a massive expanse of regulations. Furthermore, there’s a stigma against the games for being “nerdy” that puts off a lot of potential players. But there are a few tricks that can facilitate a reluctant player’s immersion into a tabletop game.

Walk them through the basic rules

Games like Dungeons and Dragons take a lot of explaining and often include rule books that go on for hundreds of pages. Only describe the most important rules, like what each dice means, what skills are most important, and which are relatively useless. Character creation tends to be the biggest obstacle in bringing in new players. Filling a character sheet can take over an hour, longer for those that haven’t ever done it before. For those that haven’t ever played the game, you must help them with setting up their character. Once the character is creat, explain the game with as many examples as possible, comparing the tabletop game to something else that you’re both familiar with. Telling a potential player that constitution leads to higher physical condition and health or that ability is reflexes and nimbleness has less impact than explaining that “Character X from that show we both like would have a lot of constitution but not very much dexterity.” Always relate the game to something they already enjoy so that they better understand the game and can quickly associate it with something they have positive feelings toward.

Ignore rules that are confusing or ambiguous

Because the game loads the player with so much information at once, it’s necessary to trim the fat. Introduce nonessential rules bits at a time. For example, the attack of opportunity rule in Dungeons and Dragons states that any onboard character that carries out specific actions adjacent enemies open themselves up for a free attack. If a new player reacts with a quizzical look or a frustrated huff, brush it off and never mind until the new player becomes more comfortable with what they already know. The wonderful thing about most tabletop games is that the rules are mostly guidelines, some games operate as smoothly with half the rules as with all of them. Find out which rules the new player thinks are unfair or make no sense and change or eliminate them. The game must maintain a good pace; it must move along smoothly and quickly without turning to the rule book every five minutes. Remember, you’re inviting a new player to the game because you think they’ll like it, not trying to impress them with how complicated it can get.

Go easy on the new player

When your new player has a character written up and understands the fundamentals of the game, it’s time to let them loose into the world. However, they’ll inevitably still be confused until they see the game in practice. For the first few battles — the first dozen or so — weight the fighting in the players’ favor. Your new player ought to have the killing blow a few times, even if it means adjusting the dice or health of the monsters. The new player must feel involved with the action to enjoy the game. As time goes on, pit stronger and more dangerous monsters in the players’ way. If ever the player looks like their growing bored or disinterested, it may be time to introduce a boss monster or a tough ambush. Before long, the right balance of challenge and accomplishment will have most newbies as connected to the game as the seasoned veterans.

Adjust the game to fit your new player

Because many rules of tabletop games are so fluid, games can play with wildly different styles. For some players crawling through dungeons and slaying monsters is enough. The in-game treasures and experience points are rewarding enough to keep the game going. But for many players, combat can be repetitive and monotonous. Many players like role-playing and solving mysteries and puzzles to complete a clear and meaningful plot. Find out which king of the game your new player prefers and try to tailor the game to suit them. No game can carry on without players, and when your players lose interest, the game will quickly fall apart. Worse yet, the new player will think that all tabletop games are as disagreeable as yours, turning them away from the hobby entirely. Don’t force the game in a direction your player doesn’t like.

Make sure that everyone is having fun

It should go without saying, but if you’re managing a game, you have to guarantee that your players are enjoying themselves. You can challenge them at times, even occasionally move the game in ways they don’t expect or want, but if they’re continuously put off, they’ll be quick to abandon the party. Allow your new player to slip slowly into the game, let them take on a role at speed, and to the depth, they feel comfortable and make sure that everyone accommodates the new player. Tabletop games are fun, and they’re social, but there will probably always be an element of “nerdiness” to the game, your job is to prove to the new player that the game can be fun and it can suit anybody with the right adjustments.

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