In a comment over on Deep in the Game, Tony Dowler suggests handicapping skilled players in gamist RPGs as a way to account for varying skill levels. Here’s the heart of it:

I’m learning to play Go. The guy who’s teaching me is way better than I am. Yet we have fun games because Go has handicapping built in.

I think this is a great idea, and for day 22 of the Blogging for GMs project I’ve got 4 suggestions for handicaps that sound pretty workable.

For starters, here’s a definition of gamism, in case you’ve never heard the term before.

Tony suggests two handicaps in his comment: scalable goals (tougher for the skilled player, easier for the neophyte), and “death points” that can be used to make your next character better when your first one croaks.

I like both of these suggestions, and thinking about them led me to come up with 4 of my own — here they are:

Vary the amount of stuff each PC gets, so a player who’s new to D&D might get the magic items normally allotted to a higher-level character right from the start.
Make the new player’s character more powerful. Avoid giving them more, or more complicated, abilities, and stick to things like giving them higher skills or stats than normal.
New PCs get bonus hit points. If dying a few times until you get the hang of things doesn’t sound ideal, provide a protective “cushion” between the new PC and frequent death (which can be disheartening).
• Borrow from videogames: give the new PC several “lives.” If they croak, they spend one life and — poof — it never happened. (Warhammer FRP calls these Fate points, and gives them to everyone.)

What do you think of this idea, and these approaches to trying it out?