Today’s guest article was written by Erik Tiernan, who posts on the Stew as Razjah. If (like me) you can’t pitch a game to your players worth a damn, this article’s for you — simple rules based on practical experience. Thanks, Erik!
This article started when I commented (as Razjah) on Martin’s article How Do You Pitch a New Game to Your Players? with seven rules for making the pitch. These rules are based on my experience at college as the president of the Role Playing Games Club. For three years I have seen many pitches from a lot of GMs crash their campaign into the ground before ever getting players interested. If they had followed these rules their game percentages would have gone up. (Warning: This will increase you pitch results, but this will not give you 100% pitch success.)
When you are making the pitch I think there a few rules to success — seven rules to be exact.
Rule 1: Know Your Audience
The secret to any good pitch is to know your audience. You need to know what they like, don’t like, what games they’ve played, and what books and movies they’ve enjoyed. This will allow you to hook them by finding an analogue with something else they enjoy.
The players who really enjoy books with an epic fight between good and evil, like Lord of the Rings, are often looking for a game with a similar conflict. The key here is to build your pitch around what your group likes. If the group has been playing D&D 4e and tiring of slug-fest combats, explaining how Savage Worlds is streamlined and that most enemies are either up and fighting or down and out would be a great way to ensure your group pays attention.
Rule 2: Simplicity is King
I have seen many potential GMs crash and burn during the pitch because they were not keeping things simple. When talking about Corporation, it is easy to get caught up in all the awesome things the players can do and all the differences between the corporations. But when a GM starts talking about heavies and Malenbrach to a group without knowledge of the setting, they can start to get the glazed eye look. Instead, focus on how the agents are superhuman with cybernetics, psychic, and AI capabilities. And licensing to do whatever — like take any car off the street when you need it. Then stop there with the examples!
Remember to keep your pitch short too, like an elevator pitch. It helps keep everyone focused and helps your group remember the pitch (all of it).
Rule 3: Enthusiasm is Important
If the GM isn’t excited to run this game, why the hell would I be excited to play? If you want your game to get off the ground then you MUST love it! I can’t give you tips for finding your passion other than this: if you don’t love the game, you won’t make it sound exciting. You don’t need to love the system, but you need to love your game. Without that love, your pitch will fall flat with your players.
Rule 4: Keep the Big Idea in the Front
If your pitch is about defeating Sauron, that campaign better damn well be about taking down Sauron. When you make the pitch and give some examples, don’t start to slack off on what the campaign is all about. If there is a Tarrasque that has woken up, most of what you say about this campaign should involve it. If there are factions trying to gain power by defeating it, fine. But they can’t be the focus if you pitched a game about beating the Tarrasque. If you pitched the game about the different factions trying to control it/defeat it for power, then don’t make it about the PCs going toe-to-toe alone to simply kill it.
Rule 5: Know the Gameplay Style
Is it going to be a hex-crawl, full of courtly intrigue, an epic journey to stop the Dark Lord, city watch PCs taking down thugs, or something else? Knowing the style for your group is best done by reviewing Rule 1 and asking questions beforehand. “Hey guys, I’ve been thinking of running a game in the next few months, do you think a party of city-watch SWAT agents in Sharn would be cool?” Then take note of what the players chatter about with campaign.
When you know the style of gameplay and incorporate that into your pitch, it helps prevent miscommunication about the game. If some members aren’t huge pulp genre fans, but love Indiana Jones and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, make sure they know that is part of the pulp genre. Or spin your pulp genre to focus more on the two-fisted tales to get them interested in your game.
Rule 6: Have Openings for Player Input
There are few ways that get a player more interested in a game, from what I have seen, than letting them give input into the game. Burning Wheel does this as a default, but D&D can easily incorporate friends, family members, and rivals as NPCs that the party can turn to for help — or avoid. If players can add details to the world, or just have an input on the style of the campaign, it goes a long way to getting interest. People care about things they work on, getting them to work on your campaign (and theirs) is an excellent way to get that caring. This communication can carry on to the table and improve the game, and it also makes the last rule smoother.
Rule 7: Get Feedback from Failure
This is uncomfortable, but if the group doesn’t like a pitch make sure you get the reasons why. A lot of players don’t feel comfortable giving criticism to GMs. Inform them that in giving you this information, the later games can be tailored to match the group’s wants and needs better. If you frequently GM, or frequently get passed because of your pitches, make notes. Use index cards, a Word file, sticky notes, something. Then take that advice when you make your next game. The other rules are important, but breaking this one costs you the trust of your players.
Keep the rules in mind and you’ll be fine, or just use that (mostly) rhyme to remember the rules. They are pretty blunt, but I’ve always preferred easy to follow rules. And remember to elevator pitch. You don’t want this to be too long, just enough to get the idea out there so your players can decide. In general, pull up the NYNG rules and use them for a length guideline. Then follow these rules to get your pitches to stick.
I like the rules, and this straightforward presentation for pitches. Can you expand a bit of the following? If you frequently GM, or frequently get passed because of your pitches, make notes. Use index cards, a Word file, sticky notes, something. Then take that advice when you make your next game. The other rules are important, but breaking this one costs you the trust of your players.
Is the idea that if you ask them “what do you want?”, “what would make a game more interesting to you?”, or “what do you want to hear in a pitch?” and you don’t use the information in future pitches that they’ll be reluctant to provide useful information in the future, because you neglected their effort? Or do you mean something more prosaic, like “Don’t work what people want into your pitch, then fail to deliver on it in the campaign”? [That seems very related to your point 4 from earlier.]
Thanks for the feedback, I probably should have made that section clearer. I mean the first idea. That not using the information will make the group unlikely to cooperate in the future. Many RPGs don’t allow for a lot of player input- so when players do get a chance for that input it needs to be respected. Ignoring it is basically telling your group their opinions don’t matter, that could ruin the trust your players have in you.
Good article, and handy timing. I’m thinking about getting a regular game going next year, but have nothing definite in mind yet aside from, “I want to run a game for my friends that they can all enjoy.” I can easily see these rules helping me refine my process and pitch. Thanks, Razjah!
Last weekend I flipped this around a bit and watched how others in my group succeeded in their pitches, with your rules as my guide. It wasn’t quite our usual pitch session, but close enough that I was able to pick up some pointers. Good stuff!
That is pretty cool. It’s good to see these rule used multiple ways- for observers and pitchers.