Over the years I’ve had the privledge of running sessions where most of the players were new to the hobby. In this column, we’ll take a look at some strategies for planning out that first session. The goal in planning such a session is to showcase some of the essential features of the system, while giving them a successful and enjoyable session. Much of these ideas are not original to me, but hopefully it will be helpful to have them here, all in one place.
FOCUS ON THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS
When planning your session, make a list of all the essential elements of your particular game/genre. For example, if you are playing fantasy, people expect exotic monsters and spells. If it’s space opera, your game needs blaster fights, space battles, and an alien beastie or two. These “set pieces” can be used to plan the major encounters for your game. While your game session shouldn’t focus solely on action, it needs to be there. More seasoned groups don’t mind long roleplaying encounters, but that may not be the best apporach for encouraging new players.
INCLUDE SOME ROLEPLAYING THROUGHOUT
Roleplaying doesn’t come easy to most new players. Nor should it. They’ve just been handed a character sheet filled with strange information, and may not be sure about what’s to come. Since the first encounter of a session is usually a hook, try to have the NPC dangling the hook invite some questions. For example, suppose the players are being given a briefing by a Star Admiral for their mission. Have the admiral ask them (in character) if they have any questions or would like additional equipment. As GM, you can ask any quiet players if they have anything to ask or contribute as well. Kindly try to include everyone.
Don’t limit the roleplaying to just the beginning of the session. You might include intelligent foes they can capture and interrogate later in the session. They might meet a helpful wanderer in their travels, or even an injured prisoner early in the dungeon, warehouse, or crashed spaceship. These provide great opportunities for roleplaying throughout. They help make your game more than “monster, trap, monster, trap…”
MAKE IT EASY
When in doubt, err on the side of the players. Make the monsters a little easy or have opponents run away after a few rounds. The purity of the rules is less important than generating enthusiasm in new players. As you run a session, you might find that you made it a little more difficult than you planned. No problem, the players don’t know how many hit points their opponents have and you can adjust on the fly. You can do this if a battle is going too well also, though I’d limit this to the final battle. You can always stretch it out a couple more rounds to give them a satisfying conclusion.
MAKE A CHEAT SHEET
If any of the rules are a bit arcane (so to speak), you might want to provide the table with a cheat sheet or two. Also, you can include some hints on their character sheets as well (for example: “Always roll under”). These little helpful touches can greatly improve a session.
Our hobby is graying a bit, but we still love it. It brings something different to our leisure time that other games and activities can’t. It’d be great to pass that on to new players to grow the hobby. Giving them positive experiences early in their gaming careers is critical for that to happen.
You can always kill their characters later.
(Cue Dread Pirate Roberts joke now).
How do you help new players have positive early exepriences? Let us know below.