Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: The First RPG

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, game developer, and graphic designer.

Listen, I know you’re busy, but let’s talk about how you can help me out.

Some of you, maybe a lot of you, play roleplaying games like Wil and I do. Maybe you’ve just recently given them a shot after seeing things like Dragon Age or Fiasco featured on Tabletop. (You’ve seen those episodes, right?) Maybe you’ve been playing for years and the first RPG you started with has faded into legend.

Either way, I want to axe you two questions:

  1. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?
  2. What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

If you think these questions don’t apply to you, please reconsider. Don’t play RPGs (yet)? How did you first hear about them? What would you want an RPG to be to get you to give it a shot—faster, cheaper, more or less digital, more or less random?

I want to be smarter. Give me your knowledge.

 

70 thoughts on “Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: The First RPG”

  1. My first introduction to tabletop RPGs was the good, old Red Box, as run by a cousin of mine. I never really got to play much, but I did buy and read though the Basic and Expert sets extensively. I knew I wanted to play, but I didn’t quite know how to go about doing it. I did make a lot of characters, though.

    For an intro product now, above all it needs to be easy to understand. Nearly any game can become comprehensible when someone who knows it is explaining it well, but to just pick up a book cold and grok the rules… that’s hard. It takes an amazing knowledge of the system, and a real grasp of what questions people will have when new concepts are introduced. Fate Core (at least the backer draft I have) comes close to doing this. With the chops on that team, I have a feeling that Fate Accelerated will be a very good intro product.

  2. What was my introduction to roleplaying games? Well…I believe I was being chased down the halls in high school, 45 pound backpack on my back, shoe laces untied, (just got out of P.E. class just before lunch), and I ducked into a doorway after having skidded around a corner. I pulled the door shut with so much force that the sound not only jostled the thermostat cover off the wall, but it caused the four kids sitting at the table with their dice and character sheets to simultaneously shriek in surprise. I turned around to see the pimple-faced, spectacled cohorts staring at me. One of them joked “HAH! We all missed our saving throw” and the laughter drowned my fear of the bully who rushed past the door; the handle to which was still being held firmly in my fist in an attempt to ensure that from the other side it would appear “locked” if pulled on.

    What do I want in an introductory RPG today? Well, that’s easy…I think…um…well…okay, so if I were a game designer and a magic user all at the same time, I’d imbue the box it came in with the ability to attract more girls to the game. In my gaming group, (I’m 46, by the way), we have a girl gamer, (luckily, my wife), who brings soooooo much creative flow to the story lines we follow. Nothing breathes life into a spirited game with dice than a person who, herself, possesses the ability to GIVE life, right?

  3. I was introduced to D&D in Sunday School in either 1979 or 1980. i played a mage. We spent several Sundays writing up our characters then we went adventuring. Was great fun. Have been playing ever since.

    I look for easy character creation and then simplicity in the rules. A too long a process in character creation can turn a new player off really quick. Simplicity in the rules does not mean the game is simple, just that the ways actions and reactions are resolved is straightforward whether that is a roll(s) of a multi-sided dice(d20), using rock, paper, scissors or a deck of cards.

  4. The first RPG I played was actually something that my older brother had dreamt up. It was loosely based on D&D (I think) and it was a short, solo, dungeon-crawl. He’d given me a poem/riddle at the start of the game that basically led me through the whole thing (if I was concentrating). I was about 11 years old (so 2/3rds of my life ago!).

    In an introductory RPG I’d want, first and foremost, a really clear idea of the tropes and style of the game. I want to be able to read it and know that, as in Feng Shui, getting captured might be a really good idea if I want to go straight to the boss. Or, like in Ars Magica, that my character will grow and develop slowly over years of in-game time. Or, like in D&D, that I need to be a team player in a group.

    Everything else should then tie into those tropes. The mechanics should back up the style of game that’s being presented. For example, IMO, the original Exalted rules talked about fast-flowing super-martial-arts combat, but actually had buckets-o-dice and a very slow, clunky mechanic. This is one of the reasons why I’ve never found anyone to play it with, I believe.

  5. My very first introduction was seeing my cousin with a red box when I was probably around 6. Then getting my own a few years later (10?).

    I would love to get my wife into RPGs that we could play. It’s usually just the two of us or one or two friends hanging out. Something easy to pick up, no miniatures, simple rules. I know there are a lot out there already, but none that I’ve looked at seem to “fit” so far for one reason or another. Really, something that is co-op would be great. We have started playing some co-op board games, but they seem to be rules heavy or take way to long to play.

    Also, my wife has a strange fear of being called a geek (even though she sometimes admits to just me that she is one). If I could “sneak” a RPG like game up on her without calling it an RPG, I think she would really enjoy it. I’m not sure how to do that.

  6. Supposedly like most Germans I’ve started with The Dark Eye and not with D&D. I think it was around 1994 when I heard about it from a friend’s older brother. We soon formed our own group (in 5th or 6th grade) and I’ve been playing without longer breaks since then. (Shadowrun, Vampire, Hunter, Paranoia and some more)

    Most important for a beginner RPG? Less rules, more focus on interaction. Try to beat the power players and percentile optimizers by providing a looser framework where wit and ideas beat finding obscure rules you can bend to your will :)

  7. I’ve played very few table top rpgs, I’m more of a board gamer really (I like heavy stuff, and preferably not Euro). My biggest barrier to entry is actually having a group to play with in my area. I have plenty of people to play with remotely, but I feel many of tools available are sufficient.

    What I want from a starter rpg would be that comes in a digital form that allows players to connect remotely while the GM orchestras the game from his GM version of the client. I know there are tools that allow this, but these tend to be so genericized that its hard to get it going or they are so fiddly that it tears you away from the game itself. I want a AAA pc RPG tool with a well thought out UI and high quality art/animations, is that too much to ask for? :)

  8. 1. My first real RPG experience (not counting the earlier false starts of DnD) was with White Wolf’s Old World of Darkness, Werewolf: The Apocalypse in college. That campaign lasted for over a year and was the gateway game to RPGs.

    2. I want an RPG to be fun without its rules getting in the way. The rules should be there to enforce a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone. Looking back, WW worked so well for us because we actively ignored so many of the rules. It was more inspired by WW and used all the lore and narrative, but it ignored the gritty simulation parts, especially when they got in the way of the action and telling a good story.

    1. Squee, OWOD W:tA! *fistbump*

      Ditto. I was in a massive (20+ppl, I think close to 30 at its height) LARP in college. It was originally Vampire, but there were 2 people playing Garou, and I wanted in on that action. I had crazy amounts of fun, and I didn’t do tabletop til years later.

      My partner and his friends have a roleplaying game company, and have spent the last year reworking their entire system for an eventual relaunch, so I’ve been treated to the back end of game design. And that’s why I will never do one myself. ;)

      I enjoy Dread as a system, because it’s 99% roleplaying. You only need a Jenga tower to determine actions (and how fantastically you die). No rolling, no rules you need a giant book for. Hard to argue with that level of simplicity! OWOD (and NWOD) is nice because it’s one type of die, and a pretty basic rolling system. Add [A] + [B], get at least [x] successes, bam, you’re golden.

      D&D drives me nuts from all the billion different rolls you need to make for one simple action.

      One thing I will tell you, as I tell any game designer who will listen.. If you are writing an RPG book, please please please (please) do the following:

      1. Have a ready-made blank character sheet somewhere in the book (I’m looking at you, Serenity RPG)
      2. Have a picture of that character sheet somewhere near the front, and label it clearly with what each bit means, and (most importantly), where you can find the details in the book (preferably with specific page numbers rather than “chapter 3″).

      I greatly enjoy the NWOD core book, as it has several cheat sheets in the middle of the book for things like combat and weapons tables, etc. They’re excellent for two reasons: A) they’re near the middle, so the most-used area of the book will lay nice and flat, and B) they’re set up cleanly and concisely. I don’t have it in front of me at the moment, but I think they have page numbers to link back to things as well.

      Clear, readable fonts go without saying. ;)

    2. Were you aware that we’re releasing Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition? Because we totally are.

      V20 was massive full-colour tome, 528 pages, all clans, clan variants, bloodlines, relevant Disciplines up to 9, and rules for ghouls. W20 promises to be similar, and is in the final stages of production now.

  9. Introduction to RPGs for me would have been in the early 90s through Warhammer FRP. I remember playing it with my friends older brothers and there friends…I was confused at best and didn’t really get into it much as I had been playing mostly miniature games at the time and I found the idea cumbersome.

    Later that year I picked up my first copy fof D&D…I actually got to read the rules rather than have them shouted at me and became interested and started to run a very bad and overly complex campaign…before settling in and just running games and things that were written already. Over the years I got better at running games, attended others games, went to conventions and got into other variations.

    For me, something that people need for introductions to RPGs are simple things to focus on. Many don’t want to role play initially, they want to just be included or experience a story. To do this, make story telling easy, that is the most important part. Even the title RPG (as mentioned by others) can be off putting… collaborative games with a story line… those my friends will play.

  10. My first RPG is easy for me to remember. My cousin gave me D&D Basic (pre-1983 red box) and Expert sets for my 10th birthday. I was immediately hooked. I continued to play Classic D&D, and avoid AD&D, until I got to college & started playing 2nd Ed. (Have you read the 1st ed AD&D books recently? There are TERRIBLE.) I always felt the simplified rules of Classic allowed for more creativity for both players & GM.

    Today in an introductory RPG I want something easy to understand with minimal reading from a new player. They shouldn’t need hours of book study before creating their first character. Ideally all players would be able to create their first characters & start telling a story within 30 minutes or less.

    1. I second these sentiments for an RPG today.

      I tried the D&D Basic Game (yellow box, minis, tiles, and pre-rolled characters) and it made my kids’ first foray into the world much easier.

  11. I certainly RP a lot – mostly on a website called TegakiE (basically a hand-drawn blog) back when I was in middle school. There were groups and characters that everyone made up and we would draw out our answers to the group leader’s missions and events. Those were fun times.

    I’m not sure if that counts as an “game” though, so I’m going to say my first introduction to the world of RPG would be just last year when my nerd of a math teacher got me to play BattleLore with him. There wasn’t a lot of board games sold in my home country (I swear there were exactly 3 types of board games sold) so I really enjoyed making fun of my teacher for getting crappy cards and making voices when I killed his soldiers.

    In an introductory RPG, I would love to see a good variety of characters to choose from, or simplicity in their creation as well as in the game rules. Sometimes I’m put off by the horrendous amount of rules that I have to follow and keep in mind – of course this doesn’t mean that I don’t give those games a shot, but know others who might not. An appealing story or plot wouldn’t hurt either.

  12. My introduction to RPGs was my library’s extensive collection of back issues of Dragon and Dungeon – I was a youth volunteer, and those magazines were kept behind the desk to keep them from getting stolen. I spent hours I should have been covering books reading through them (mostly Dragon, since I didn’t have the rules to understand all the statblocks in Dungeon.)

    For an introductory RPG product, I want something fairly simple, that allows my players to make their own characters quickly, so we can get onto the good stuff. I’ll second SandandSteam’s hopes for Fate Accelerated – Evil Hat’s design choices line up really well with what I want from a game.

  13. My introduction to RPGs was during my army service. I had just read Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and was sifting through a comic book store when I stumbled upon “MERP” (or in German: MERS) – Middle Earth Role Playing. Since I had fallen for the world of Tolkien, I had to buy the game. I hadn’t even known what RPGs were or what I could expect from them. So I read the rules, played some solo-adventures and luckily I found a comrade who already had hosted a couple of MERP sessions. Together we managed to assemble some friends (all of our army camp) and we really spent some hilarious and nice evenings wandering through Tolkien’s world. Later on, Rolemaster followed, then Battletech and Mechwarrior. Unfortunately, at present I cannot assemble a group to play with, but my love for these Tabletops still remains.

    What I really loved about MERP and Rolemaster was the freedom that each player, as well as the Gamemaster, had. Even the most stupid things were possible (we had a warrior who, since he was quite a good swimmer, decided to take a swim in the nearby river in full armor after a night of heavy drinking in a pub… needless to say that he nearly drowned and the rescue for him was more than difficult). When I was GM I prepared myself with small items, like parchment papers with texts that would bring the story forward, prepared some encounters which might or might not have happened throughout the game session. I think, I enjoyed the preparations just as much as the actual play sessions.

    For an introductory RPG, I would like to have a simplified set of rules and some boilerplate short campaign to get the players into the mood. Nobody should have to read through hundreds of pages of rules. Best way would be a “single sheet” rule (which can later be extended – to even hundreds of pages). I have found some RPGs which follow such a setup on RPGNOW or DRIVETHRURPG, but haven’t yet had the time and people to playtest.

  14. It was 1990. And my friends introduced me to something called Gamma World. I was a computer nerd, tabletop and video gamer, but had never played a pencil and paper RPG. During the first round of combat, the dialogue went something like,
    “So. Uh. What can I do?”
    “Anything you want.”
    “Anything?”
    “Sure. Swing your sword, kick ‘em in the crotch, try to twirl up their hair, whatever. Roll the dice to see what happens.”
    The clatter of those D6 became narcotic. We had a GM that could turn any successful or failed roll into an amazing narrative that always kept us on the edges of our seats. We played that game for years, and I eventually stepped up to occasionally GM a few nights.

    I’m speaking from a beloved nostalgia, so I’m not sure any other paper and pencil RPG could get my attention. That’s why in recent years I’ve turned more toward simpler tabletop and card games. Wil’s “Tabletop” has been wonderful in filling a lost void from my youth that I can fulfill amidst a hectic adult life.

  15. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?

    June 1980, sitting in the school library with a friend, puzzling our way through the Red Box edition of D&D because he knew I liked games. One year later, I would play in my first regular game of D&D, in the “D&D Club”, a lunch time school club sponsored by one of our English teachers. That GM became, and is still today, one of my best friends. I would go on to pick up Traveller, then Gamma World, Champions, and others and be known as the guy who ran all the other non-D&D games. Eventually getting my name on a published setting in 2011.

    What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

    Interestingly, the way the question is phrased gives me pause. Personally, I don’t want an introductory RPG today. I’m a seasoned GM, and want a fully fleshed-out, detailed rules system and a setting with a great theme.

    However, if I consider it from the point of view of “What do you think is important in an introductory RPG today?”, I would say that it needs to be immediately accessible to a group of people who have never role-played before, that are sitting around trying to figure it out. Perhaps it would set them up with a set of characters with basic stats, a pre-made intro adventure, and a step by step guide on what the “Storyteller ” needs to to. This would also be supplemented with references to the appropriate sections of the full rules (or the full Introductory rules) and some brief explanations about how things might be different in a non-scripted game (ie. Once you know how to play, here’s what you can do).

    I think it is very difficult for non-roleplayers to get into roleplaying if they don’t have someone to “bring them into the fold”. Any product that would allow people to more easily start out on their own would be fantastic.

  16. For me it was two near simultaneous events when that cemented my place in the geek column of life. In 1984, when I was 9, old my brother and I had to attend an after-school child care program (two working parents, etc). One of the older kids had just gotten The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing game, and holy crap did I love that movie. As soon as I realized that I could actually play a game where I could pretend to do everything that Indy did in the movie…well that was it man, game over, I was hooked.

    That weekend my Mom took my brother and I out to the mall. As we were walking out my Mom spotted the D&D basic set in the window of the bookstore. She was a big fantasy reader and was curious to see what D&D was about. She bought the set and when we got home, handed it to me and said, “Why don’t you take a look at this and we’ll all play later tonight?” So later that night, I DM’d my very first game.

  17. My first RPG was a Star Wars book that was very much like a choose your own adventure book, but you make the characters and keep track on a special pad of paper. The books all came in a black plastic case with Darth Vader’s face on it. As a kid, I really didn’t like it. I just wanted to read the story. I can remember fudging dice rolls if they didn’t go how I wanted them to. I didn’t come back to RPGs until almost 20 years later, when I played my first one-off game of D&D 4th Edition in a comic book shop.

    I think a good introductory RPG should be simple and put most of the weight on the imagination. It should only require a few dice, a pencil, and some paper. Maybe the whole thing is built into a tablet app, so nothing else is required. To set the hook into the new gamer, he or she should be able to discover what is fun about the game on their own and then seek out a group to continue the fun.

  18. OK so I never played RPG games I was intimidated by those who did :-( (sigh. Something about a closed off tight knit group of people always terrifies me)
    Anyhow – I did know OF them and now I have a ten year old son who can spend hours writing crazy troll, demon, hero, dragon, ice cave etc. stories and I can’t help but think RPG would be a great fit for him – I know he likes the digital RPG world, but I would like him to be better with people than his mother…. What RPG games are good to start with young kids? Where is my best shot at introducing him to like minded kids?

    1. Alas, I don’t know where your best shot is for finding players at that age, but a game like Daniel Solis’s Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple from Evil Hat is a good fit for kids of that age. It’s a story-driven not-quite-RPG in the typical sense, but it’s a handsome book and great, imaginative fun to play for kids who like making up stories.

  19. My first RPG was a homebrew knock-off of AD&D that a friend of mine used to run for us at lunchtime in middle school. We usually played characters from the comics he wrote and drew, too. Later, I played AD&D with a really bad, rules-lawyery group and it turned me off from the game for a long time. I continued to like other RPGs, though, and to this day still prefer more story-focused games to D&D.

    Which means that the question of what I would want in an introductory RPG is interesting; I read it as asking what would be a good introduction for people who like the same kind of RPGs I do. I know some people really like the tactical and simulation aspects of RPGs; I think those are pretty cool, but ultimately it’s story that drives the games I enjoy. I’d want something with rules that aid in the telling of good stories, but get out of the way the rest of the time. Systems that help guide you to make interesting choices with your character and help you when you’re stuck for ideas, but don’t slave you to stats.

    I think a good, clear setting helps a great deal for new players. A well-defined setting often makes it easy for me to get started in a game, because I just want to explore and find out the answers to what’s going on. Character generation is key, too: by the time I’m finished creating my character, I should have a pretty good idea of who he or she is, what he or she wants, and what he or she is setting out to do.

    So this is all easy stuff to come up with, right? *evil grin*

  20. 1) One morning in my freshman year before classes started for the day, I found myself surrounded by a group of guys I’d shared comicbook nerddom with in middle school. “You’re dating Jesse now, right?” one of them asked.
    “Yeah, why?”
    “Awesome. You’re gaming with us this Friday.”
    “I thought I had a date this Friday.”
    “Right: gaming. So here’s the Player’s Handbook; read that over, think up a character. If you’ve got any questions, I’m pretty sure one of us has Study Hall with you. You’ll give her a hand, right?”
    The rest of the guys nodded.
    Their spokesman pressed a copy of the 2nd Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook in my hands. The bell rang. And that was that.
    The boyfriend lasted about eight months; bits of the gaming group and I are still friends, going on fifteen years later. Best date ever.

    2) What I want in an intro RPG… Hm. I don’t *want* to have to do calculus to figure out whether my hit blows past my enemy or takes its arm off, but I’d rather do All The Math Ever than rely on whether the DM’s amused by my description or not for my effectiveness. Dice are holy arbiters; I like ‘em.
    If there are guns involved, I’d like some logic behind the damage ratings (example: assuming a competent user firing into centre of mass, a .45 will do more harm to a target than a .22, even if the .22 in question is a rifle and the .45′s a handgun. So a rule rating every pistol as less effective than every rifle is going to elicit grumbling.)
    Call of Cthulhu has a fun quirk: even if you don’t have ranks in a skill, you can give using it a hail-Mary shot. Sure, you’ll probably flub it, but try anyway: when it’s time to dish out XP, there’s a roll for a chance to add a bit of ability in that hail-Mary skill. I *love* that quirk–character growth becomes an organic reflection of the things the character’s been through. More of that in the world would *rock*.

  21. First off Will, you’ve given me what I believe are two of the best, most inspirational quotes of all time:

    Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

    Hindmarch: “I want to be smarter. Give me your knowledge.”

    Gold, Jerry! Pure gold!

    My introduction to RPGs came on the school bus when I was in 5th grade. My best friend at the time showed me a copy of his Red Book (Basic D&D). That evening I begged my mom to take me to Toys R Us to get my own copy. I still have my (very weathered) dice from that set. I’ve played every version of D&D since, and still play on Friday nights with new friends. I count RPGs (and D&D in specific) as a core part of what makes me me.

    If I had to craft an RPG to introduce non-RPGers into the fold, it would be very similar to one an RPG blogger created with his kids called “Castle Doom” (I think). I can’t recall the author or the blog (GnomeStew maybe?), unfortunately, but it was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read.

    Essentially, the player decides what race/profession/gear he/she has off the top of their heads. So something like a “robot cleric with a stake-shooting gun” or an “8-armed alien with sticks and a garbage can for armor” is perfectly legal. The GM asks what sort of adventure the player wishes to go on. The GM then throws out ideas on how to advance the story, with the player having as much (or more) input.

    Potentially important events are determined by rolling a single d6. A result of “1″ is decidedly bad for the hero. A “6″ is decidedly good. Everything between are variations thereof. The GM then rules how the scene plays out, based on the die roll. This mechanic is used to resolve combat, tense moments (jumping over a large ravine), etc.

    While designed for kids, I think this “system” is elegantly beautiful not only because of its simplicity, but that the player(s) ultimately drive the story in all aspects. This is, in my opinion, the point of RPGs in the first place: collaborative storytelling. It is quick, easy, requires virtually no resources, and can be played anywhere and any time.

    Too many RPGs enforce too many rules for the games to be enjoyable for new players. There’s too much constraint on what can and can’t be done, simply because of rules. Having a system similar to “Castle Doom” steers the focus of the game from rules and cans/can’ts to having fun and inspiring imagination.

    My $1.02.

  22. My introduction to RPG’s came from observing my brother and his friends playing AD&D when I was…9? 10?. It snared my attention unlike anything else could have at the time. I was already familiar with Squad Leader- bro was using me as a practice enemy to sharpen his skills systemically for when he goes up against if peers in the gaming club- so I could grasp the rules…it was the role-playing that got me. Assigning motive, emotion, reason to actions other than pure efficiency. There was a magic to it in my young mind that I get occasional glimpses of even at my advanced age (relative to a nine year old, mind) when I pick up the dice and make my way in any number of fictional worlds. My first actual play experience was with the old, old dragon box, before the blue and red boxed sets.

    What do I want in an introductionary game these days? A world rich in motives and potential conflict, with history, relationships…*meaning* to the current state of affairs. I would point to Dragon Age (they give an excellent run-down on Fereldan and the world in general) and Exalted (their Creation is both fantastical and gritty- quite a feat to pull off!) for examples. I prefer complex over simple moralities, and no obvious right or wrong. The rules ought to be straightforward at first, with simple entry points into the narrative. Leave the richer stuff to later supplements, allow the player to get acclimated first.

  23. Summer of 1978 at National Music Camp (now Interlochen Arts Camp ):

    A cabin mate had a copy of Steve Jackson’s Melee which we and a couple of other cabin mates played hell out of, and then he pulled out En Guarde! which was an almost incomprehensible mish-mash of historical setting material and solo rpg rules. But oh so compelling…

    Jump forward to spring of 1979 when some high school friends that had convinced our Jesuit faculty to let us have a D&D elective class and invited me to play. We were soon also playing Traveller on the weekends at a local library.

    New introductory RPGs need to be simple and fun to play and appeal to girls as well as boys. Lady Blackbird is a shining example, but perhaps requires too many dice. Dragon Age is another good design.

  24. I’m not sure when I was introduced to D & D I recall owning the Basic set[keep on the Borderlands] and remember spending my $20 christmas gift [from my Grandmonther] on the AD&D player’s handbook. I’m fairly sure My exposure to Star Wars predates my exposure to D&D Bhowever by the time Empire Strikes Back was released My friends and I were well versed in RPGing to create our own set of rules to Play in the SW universe [I had a green Light Saber before Luke did :P ]

    What I would like in an introductory RPG is something that I could use to ease my kids into the pen and paper world. The modern equivilent of the Basic set I started with. Thses are kids already used to Video RPGs like Pokemon & have watched their father play Skyrim and Dragon Age [Older child is wetting his feet by playing DA:O himself]. But the transition to Pen Paper and imagination is different for them than it was for me because of the prevolance of videogames. I’ve had minor sucess at running Micro encounters using LEGO minifigs [Side Note: Seriously D&D and LEGO could make a bundle with a combo kit. they could reuse molds/designs from the LOTR, Hobbit & Knights/Castles/Pirates sets and include Micro encounters and dice] but I think the market is lacking a product to help lure the Console Kid to pen and paper.

  25. My first experience was in 6th grade, when I was invited by a friend to who knew I was into fantasy books, to join a group that played after school. My first adventure was with some other new players in B1, The Keep on the Borderlands. The DM worked with us after school, rolling up our characters and explaining what the basic ideas were behind our races, stats, classes, and abilities. He set up the borderlands as the edge of civilization type setting, where many folk who you would not encounter in other places lived and thrived. The DM was a great storyteller, and could set scenes with words that really set the stage – we didn’t merely walk into a tavern and suddenly form an adventuring party. We spent several sessions just getting integrated into the Keep and learning about its place in the world before we stepped outside to scout the caves. Fun times, and it really made me think I was playing a role in a book or movie, rather than just rolling dice and seeing if I survived the fickle favor of luck.

    So to introduce someone to RPG, I’d say setting the stage is the first thing that needs to be done. Why are the players there? Why would they want to be working together? What is the world around them like – flesh out their world, and the players can more easily ‘get into’ it. If the players are in it more for the RP aspect than the dice rolls, it becomes more ‘real’, wether they’re playing a Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or an admixture of those games. The odds my suck to do action “A”, but due to their investment into the character and the story, “A” is what they’ll attempt to do, rather than what the odds would say they should do – and the stories of the adventure the players tell latter on will be richer for it. You’ll still get a few min/max players, but they can learn that stats don’t rule when you’re living the story, rather than the roll of the dice.

  26. The first game I actually played was GURPS, although I knew about DnD and other game systems. It wasn’t until college that I found some friends who were playing these games and were willing to take on a newbie like myself. GURPS just happened to be the rules they were using.

    Although I do agree with most comments so far that a new introductory RPG should be simple, I also agree with Jon Woodland in that as a seasoned player, I personally don’t want things too simple. So I vote for breaking rules into “basic” and “advanced” sets, or having a “light” version for new players. You want to ease a new player in slowly, but don’t limit your entire system based on what only the new player needs. I enjoy being able to start with a cheap beginner version of the rules, and if I like the game, knowing that there are deeper, more expansive rules to continue the story.

  27. My first introduction was probably the various game books and novels TSR put out in the 80s. But I didn’t even know what D&D really was. My first real RPG was Top Secret S.I.

    An intro RPG should have simple enough rules that someone can get them without having plaid before. If it’s going to be something spliti into “basic” and “expert” sets, there should be enough similarities to make the jump easily.

  28. A friend of mine introduced my to the Red Box, way back in school. While we played a lot of standard D&D back in the day, it kind of faded away over time. Things started over in uni, when I was re-introduced to role playing, starting with Vampire, later with Harnmaster and DSA and a bit of Cthulu. Later on, we delved into very free forms of playing without a thorough ruleset, simply by having a good grasp of our respective characters abilities, describing the intended actions and occasionally rolling against challenges arbitrarily set by the DM – usually, if someone tried a very complicated, risky or desperate action. This works pretty good, if you have a good group of players and an experienced DM.
    It is hard to imagine the problems for a party of new players, some might want to spend hours reading through source books, reveling in the epic illustrations, fine-tuning all parameters of character creation, exploring new worlds in their minds. Others may find a game that need extensive reading before getting some action to be too tedious (tl;dr) and need a short introductory text with as few parameters as possible. My ideal system would be easily convertible from digital to classic pen-and-paper play. It would include an open architecture that can be implemented for the many existing RPGs. Because in the end, the game mechanics of all RPGs I ever played come down to some simple, basic operations, like “do I hit my opponent?”, “who has initiative?”, “I want to pick that lock”. Whether the outcome depends on character attributes (“roll against WIS”), special talents (“lock picking”) or is the DM’s call is of no actual importance. A suitable framework would define some basic requirements, like an abstract class in Java, and provide hooks for individual RPGs. This would even allow players to bring their favorite characters into a new group, regardless of the system it was created with.

  29. My first real introduction to an RPG was Call of Cthulhu. Friends were playing as I waited for another friend to be ready to go out, and as they were preparing to raid the basement (always the site of most evil in CoC), I began offering advice. The GM told me (in all friendliness) to shut up or roll up a character. I didn’t do either at the time, and he conscripted me into the next campaign.

    Call of Cthulhu was a great beginner game for me, as it had a very simple character creation process, which meant that while I wasn’t hugely invested in the character, that also meant I wasn’t too worried about getting him killed and was therefor able to relax with him. The simplicity of the system made it easy for me to get into the flow of things and the modules we played had a nice mix of story and action, so I got to see how both sides of that equation worked.

  30. 1. My introduction to RPGs was Christmas 1979 when my parents gave me the original D&D Homes Blue Box. Up until then, I’d never even heard of D&D before. My parents had noticed I liked Sci-Fi and, inexplicably, decided a game of swords and spells was right up my alley. Of course, it turned out they were correct. The game was opaque, though, and hard for a 13 year old geek to figure out, and I didn’t really “play” it so much as just read it and wonder and share it with my friend, Terry, until I got involved in a gaming group in high school and it all sort of started to make sense.

    2. What I would want in an introductory RPG today? Hmmm. Speaking for myself, I’m not sure the rules and books matter as much as long as they’re written in passable English. What would be awesome is videos of people actually putting the rules to use, something that’s much more feasible today than it was 34 (oy!) years ago.

  31. My first experience with tabletop RPGs was when my brother and I used to draw mazes and talk the other person through them, step by step. “You can turn left or right. Which way do you want to go?” or “There are three doors, which do you want to open?” That was fun. That would have been around 4th grade or so.

    In seventh grade, I discovered Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s books when a friend introduced me to Darksword Adventures. That became the game of choice for me and a few friends for a few years. I never wrapped my head around all of it, but I could run an adventure that entertained me and my friends.

    Around the same time, a different friend introduced me to Paranoia (2nd edition). That was my other favorite game for a while. I really wish I could find some people to run a few adventures of that one with today.

    (Let me preface the following by saying that I haven’t done more than glance at the previous answers. If I duplicate what everyone else is saying it is because great minds think alike.)
    I think an introductory game should be a few things:
    1) Simple. There don’t need to be a lot of rules or character traits. I ran adventures of Darksword and Paranoia only knowing a few basic things.
    2) Interesting. The setting should be interesting. It shouldn’t be so detailed that a player needs to read hundreds of pages of world explanation. A couple of pages and some really good illustrations told me everything I needed to know about the setting of Paranoia and how an adventure should go.
    3) Expandable. There could be more information about rules and the setting that are available and can make a richer experience, if the player wants. But that stuff should be easily ignored if someone wants to just get into it.

    And as long as I’m making an RPG wishlist, here are a couple of other things that I would love to see in a new game:
    1) Playable with very few players. Once upon a time I could round up five or six guys to come to my house for a game night. Then all my friends moved away. If it’s a game that can be played and enjoyed with only two or three players, that’s great.
    2) Short. When I do get together with friends, we mostly play card games. A game that can be played in 10-15 minutes would be cool. That’s not the norm for tabletop RPGs, but something that can handle the RPG equivalent of a short story, as well as long campaigns, would be awesome.

  32. 1) The first RPG I think I’ve ever played was Vampire the Masquerade… but it definitely wasn’t the last. We played Vampire while in High School. We would table top in the winter and LARP in the summer. When I got into University we started playing DND 3.5 and even tried a variety of other games including the Buffy RPG, Starwars and Star Trek.

    2) What I look for when introducing a new RPG is a good solid but flexible rule system. I like it when I can tinker with things to create my own spells or items or whatever I’m thinking. I also look for something that has easier characters to play and more complex ones as well. The reason for this is that our groups usually have a few veteran players who’ve been playing for 10+ years, and we always seem to get a new player who’s more interested in their characters eye colour than their abilities and hit point. So we are always looking for something that allows the more beginner player to have fun without being overwhelmed while not having the experienced player get bored.

  33. I’d love to see a game that can be played by two people. Remember the “choose your own adventure” books we used to have? I’m picturing something like that, something low-tech or no-tech or even yes-tech, I don’t care, as long as if you only have one friend, you could invite all your friends.

  34. Oh, and those “choose your own adventure” were pretty much my first introduction to RPG’s but then I also had a friend with lots of D&D books and dice and we’d get together and play that.

  35. I was introduced to DnD sometime around 5th or 6th grade I think, 1979-1980. I had a great time playing for about 3 months and then as time went on, I just let it go. I think I find RPGs intimidating now because I don’t want to feel unimaginative or without basic understanding of how things are supposed to go. I’d love to take part in something but it seems like a lot of hard work to develop. I would want a introductory RPG to have some guidelines for dummies like me who missed out on all the fun for the last 30 years.

  36. It’s not for lack of imagination (I wrote a short story about lesbian giants – when I was 10) or love of fantasy, but I struggled with pen-and-paper sit behind the carboard box and say, “You rolled a 7. The flying axe of Zoran decapitated you,” type games. On the other hand, I loved the original Infocom games (“Leather Goddesses of Phobos” anyone?) And once D&D came to the PC where the scenario was “by others” (like “Wizardry”), I was hooked, even when the die rolls were visible (“You rolled a 7. The giant wasp sings you for 300 hit points.”) So my advice for a current introductory RPG is to have the scenario fairly well laid out and very clear rules (no “Oops, the door is trapped, your rogue died.”) There needs to be some room for creativity or it’ll feel like advanced Shutes and Ladders, but a beginner with no structure is going to do what I did with my first D&D boxed set – read the monster guide, put the tin character pieces on my desk along with my other “cool stuff”, and dump the graph paper and manual in the trash can.

  37. I, too, began my RPGing with the original D&D game. How exciting it was to have a level 3 warrior! I started with a small group of my brother’s friends, sitting around their dining room table, learning how to play the game with a rules book in one hand and my first set of dice in the other. That level 3 warrior is long gone; I believe he died to lucky blow from a skeleton. But that first game led to 20+ years of gaming with a group of people I now consider family. We’d meet up on Friday nights at a local game shop and play until they closed. My first warrior led to my paladin, who took on a life of her own. Our DM was a writer, and through his creativity, we traveled vast lands together, fighting epic monsters, and having a damn good time along the way. Our characters became real, and with our DM’s encouragement, we built lives for them. That’s where my love for RPGs really took off. I loved creating a background for my paladin, and as the years progressed, so did her life before the questing and adventures. I worked on her back story for many years, and although I took her in directions I have since come to regret, I loved how she turned out. I feel like I understand her better than I do myself; flaws and all. Our group has since whittled down to a very few, and we no longer run those beloved characters, but they are all still a big part of who we are, and who we became in real life. An RPG done right is a beautiful thing, and some of my best memories are playing into the night with good friends – laughing hilariously at some screw-up by one or more of us.

  38. What amazing stories! I cannot even think of topping you all’s stories!

    My initiation to RPGs has 2 parts to it. I remember flailing attempts to play a weird Dungeons and Dragons board game with Ralpartha ElfQuest figures we’d painted ourselves (and I still have those figurines BTW). Part 2 is when I saw the Fiasco episodes of TableTop, and that totally grabbed my imagination and hasn’t let go yet (even though I have NO friends to play with)!

    As far as what needs to happen to new RPGs, just do what TableTop did for Fiasco (i.e. demonstrate the way one plays the game) and that will be okay with me.

  39. First RPG: D&D red box, run by my sister, played by me and my brother. I was probably 9 or 10. Don’t remember how long that lasted. Played again in high school with a group of friends. Played Rifts, Vampire, Werewolf, and Warhammer. Had a great time, then lost that group of friends when I moved. Haven’t played much since then.
    What I would like in an RPG is one that doesn’t necessarily require a GM. And being able to play with only 2-3 people would be a plus. I tried to start my own group to continue playing some of the RPGs I played in high school after I moved, but it was really hard. I never felt up to the task of GM, and it’s doubly hard to both start a group from a bunch of newbs and get someone that is brand new to be the GM. I’m sure there are some games like that out there that I just haven’t gotten to, but that’s what I’m looking for. Still working on the group of people to play them too.

  40. My ongoing love affair with RPG’s began when my mom brought home Kings Quest V for our PC. As an avid reader I fell hard and fast for the idea that I could control, (admittedly to a point) which direction my adventure would take. Having one PC shared among four people meant that just as I was fully immersed, my time was up. But like all parents, I knew mine were quick to sign off on anything that a clever kid can pass off as educational.

    So out went scouting, Mom, I’ll never use in real life and the other girls are so totally lying to earn badges instead of doing the actual work, and D%D entered. I found a small group of social outcasts that had a group going and being a social outcast myself, shamelessly exploited the fact they were to desperate for players to even consider not letting me.

    It wasn’t the greatest group and more often than not games were canceled because someone flaked or was grounded but in playing, I began to learn what I liked in an RPG and what I didn’t.

    –Core rules that are basic enough that anyone can be invited into a game and advanced rules that can be added in as you gain exp or your character advances in level or rank. If things are crazy complicated right off the bat, you spend more time checking the guide book than actually playing which is boring but also makes gaming seem more like work than fun. Plus simple rules have a better infection rate among non-gamer friends, potentially giving you a chance to fill more seats come game night.

    –I like a basic premise that is simple to understand, you are a Grey Warden and must stop the Blight, but how you do that is entirely up to you. If you want to lie, steal and trample everyone in your path to victory you can or you can be the noble and true hero that takes time off from fighting the forces of evil to do a low-to no paying fetch quest for a citizen in need. Nothing sours a game quicker than being locked into a single archetype. It’s boring always having to do the right thing or the bad thing, better to have some free will even if it has a penalty for going against the grain.

    –I absolutely LOVE mix and match skills that can be collected or ignored based solely on your whims. Such as, your directionally challenged warrior leader is getting his bearings for the six-thousandth time as you wait in the forest, your bored archer scans the ground. The DM tells you that amongst the debris of the Forrest you see some strange marks in the mud. You look closer and find out they are tracks. Poof you’ve learned tracking lv 1– you basically know if they’re fresh or not. If tracking is something you think might come in handy, you start scanning the ground to level up or if your quest that night is city based, you decide to pass on the skill so that you can take haggling later on. To keep people from becoming ridiculously OP, you have say 3 main talents/skills that you can max and three minor skills that top out half-way up the chain.

  41. Started with classic redbox D&D, moved to AD&D 2nd Edition. That book’s wonky mechanics and weird art were the source of endless imagination, back in the day. I find the more painterly professional modern editions don’t do the same thing for me.

    For an intro RPG set, I’d like something where the rules are clean and easy to understand, the setting is fun and engaging, and the types of characters to play are exciting templates meant to spur creativity. Same characters and demo adventure are probably good add-ons to demonstrate “this is how cool this game can be.”

  42. My first RPG experience was with Palladium’s TMNT game. Good times, good times. I think that game is defunct and has been reintroduced as After the Bomb. Also did my time with D&D and WoD/NWod. I don’t get to play as often as I’d like (or almost ever) but I still buy books and enjoy them. They make me think / imagine characters, even if I’m never going to play them.

    A game I’d use to introduce people to RPGs now would be “Danger Patrol” – http://www.dangerpatrol.com/ – a friend introduced me and a couple other guys to it one night when our regular GM couldn’t make it. Its the closest thing to a “pick up” RPG I’ve ever seen (in the sports sense – a game that sorta happens spontaneously rather than organized). I don’t know if the developer will ever finish it but its playable as is and pretty fun.

  43. Got so wrapped in the memories of my favorite RPG experiences that I forgot to answer the second question. What do I want in an introductory RPG? I want the freedom to be creative. I like to have some basic guidelines into character creation and game play, but I don’t want pages and pages of number-crunching charts and tables. Our old AD&D group started out with First Edition rules, then added from other games such as Arcanum, some 3rd Edition, and other games that had classes or races that sounded interesting to us. Luckily we had a DM who gave us the freedom to create to our hearts content, as long as we could fit the game system into what we were already doing.

  44. I’m eight years old and a friend of my older brother’s comes over with D&D – good ol’ Red Box D&D – and instantly I’m curious about it. Both boys were really wary of this interest (especially since the friend’s way older brother had come over to DM, and they were likely weighing how to appear both fair and not uncool in front of him) and said I was too young to join in – see, the box said 10 and up! Undeterred, I asked if I could just sit and listen to them play. Grudgingly they agreed, and without a word (and this was an epic feat for me) I sat for several hours and listened to them go through a module involving a frost giant’s mansion. I don’t recall the details, but one thought sang in my mind – “I bet I could do BETTER than them!”

    Just shy of two years later, on my tenth birthday, I went and found the copy of Basic D&D my brother had purchased in the interim, brought it to him and set it down and declared that now, NOW I got to play. I would be put off from it no longer.

    I’m glad he gave in and let me play. That, plus having a computer from a very young age and seeing Castlevania at age 6, were the Golden Triumvirate of getting me into the game industry as an adult. Which I hope is a good thing for all…

  45. Gah, second question – introductory RPG? I’d say it depends on the player. Some people really want careful systems and rules, and have to be eased into the storytelling aspect. Others hiss at extensive rule systems and want a good story hook to get them invested enough to read deeper into the rules. It depends on your player. Do you give them GURPS or Toon? I grew more up with the latter, but I had plenty of friends who were RIFTS and GURPS fanatics. There’s no one perfect answer. Know your audience, I suppose…

  46. What was your introduction to role-playing games?
    My introduction to role-playing games was D&D with a gathering of friends most of whom had previously played (or so they claimed). After a few hours of rolling our characters, arguing over rules, some playful banter, and more arguing over rules we finished the night with nothing accomplished. Still, it wasn’t a complete turn-off and I went on to play Traveler by Game Designers’ Workshop a few times with a bit more success.

    That was many years ago, and I haven’t played since, but after watching Dragon Age on Tabletop with my kids, I think it might be time to dust off the dice and try DMing a game for my 10 & 13 year old sons.

    What do you want in an introductory RPG today?
    Back in the mid 80′s I worked at a shopping mall multiplex movie theater. One late night after closing I was talking about RPGs with the only other employee (a good friend to this day) that stayed behind to help me close. Our conversation led to an impromptu mini-RPG, DMed by my friend. The scenario consisted of an attack on the very building in which we sat. I believe the attackers were a rogue motorcycle gang. Using only items that could actually be found in our shopping mall/movie theater, I had to try to fend off the attack and survive the night (I failed).

    I think we played for about two hours, but that little scenario stands out in my memory to this day. Because the setting was already so well known to me, I was able to focus my imagination on the action. Using a familiar setting allowed me to join the plot of the game in a way that no other RPG ever had. Using this method, a beginner could ease into the role playing process much more quickly. As the game progresses the DM could gradually transition the setting into whatever he/she chooses (via teleportation, rabbit-hole, blow to the head, etc.)

  47. Will, this is such an excellent pair of questions. I’ve long assumed that most gamers were introduced to the hobby by a friend. Seeing all of these excellent stories seems to confirm that suspicion. Recently I put together a site designed to help people who are interested in tabletop RPG but don’t have a friend who is already into the game. In other words, it’s where you go if you want to be the person who introduces RPGs to your friends.

    It’s difficult to know what a beginning gamer wants or needs, but I’ve tried to be thorough without being overwhelming. The site is called LearnTabletopRPGs, and I’m always looking for constructive feedback.

    To answer your questions:

    1) I was hanging out in the junior high school library one day and I overheard two of my classmates (surrounded by a small group of curious onlookers) arguing about whether Orcus or Asmodeus was the more dangerous opponent. I had absolutely no idea what they were going on about. It was 1979 or 1980, and D&D was just starting to trickle down into popular culture. I thought the discussion was more than a bit weird, but Will (yet another of them) and John started introducing other elements into the discussion, like fighters and magic users. Magic users? A few Fridays later I found myself rolling up my first D&D character. I was hooked for good.

    2) Others have mentioned Fate Accelerated as having the potential to be an excellent introductory game. I feel the same way, but I also think the audience is important. Some people will be more intrigued by a story-driven system like Fate, while others are going to be attracted to the powergaming potential of a d20-style system. Half of the fun in my early gaming years was figuring out the intricacies of convoluted systems like Aftermath! These days I couldn’t be bothered to spend that much up-front time just becoming familiar with the game.

    In general it looks like the indie games like Apocalypse World and Fate have made a bigger impact on the industry than the revenue numbers suggest. It’s difficult to find a recent release that hasn’t in some way been influenced by them. I suspect that this is at least in part because the thing that tabletop RPGs are best at is the opposite of the thing computer RPGs are best at. Though massive crunchy computer game combat scenes can’t be matched by tabletop games, true character-driven play in immersive, surprising, genuinely unbounded worlds is impossible in computer games.

    Because so many veteran gamers like myself found other games by way of D&D, it seems natural to believe that D&D and it’s d20 kin are the natural way into the hobby. But it’s been many years since D&D first arrived, and the context in which tabletop RPGs exist has changed, the hobby itself has evolved, and the potential audience is broader. I believe introductory games that emphasize the strengths of tabletop RPGs are the ones that will have the best chance of hooking new gamers.

  48. 1) I was a voracious reader of Dragonlance novels when I was twelve and thirteen years old, and that led me to discover their origins as a Dungeons & Dragons module. I got that D&D beginner box set and read all the rules and listened to the CD with delight, but I couldn’t get anyone to play with me. I just didn’t have friends who were into that sort of thing. Maybe some of the boys in my class were playing D&D, but I never got to talk to them about it, and certainly none of the girls did. So, despite really wanting to, I have never actually played a tabletop RPG.

    2) I am way more interested in the roleplaying part, and I will run screaming from math or dice that involve counting. I am really only drawn to RPGs insofar as they would be collaborative storytelling. Video games are my ‘comfort zone’; I love beautifully rendered graphics and soundtracks, and clearly presented design aesthetics. It would be nice to have a multiplayer RPG that you have to play with friends, with a sort of Dragon Age-y ‘your choices matter’ customization thing. That would be very cool. And it could come with level designer software to drag-and-drop your own original adventures to play with friends. Okay, now I’m just fantasizing.
    I would want fast campaigns but persistent characters that you can grow over as many stories as you wish. Clearly my gut would go as digital as possible without losing the in-person interaction. Randomness does nothing for me; options should ideally be limited only by your own crafty imagination.
    A game that did all this for me, I’d pay any price for; however, it would be competing with free-to-play telnet roleplaying games like MUSHes and MUXes (yes, they still exist, and yes, I do sink hours into those when I get the itch). It’s tough competition, because those games double as writing exercises — and I can play spontaneously in the middle of the night.

    I think those are all my thoughts on the subject.

  49. My first into to computer RPG was through my brother. My first time with table RPG was in college. In Singapore, not many people play table RPGs, so i was introduced to it when i went to the US for college. Some of my housemates and their friends were playing the Vampire The Requiem game and I was curious. So i sat in a few sessions and loved the stories, role-playing and sheer imagination. Then was asked to join and play the spy. lol. Was sooo fun, loved the dice rolls too, coz i tend to get good rolls. :D To me, it’s the story. what a team of people can create together and create this elaborate adventure with twists and turns, emotions, dialogue, etc etc. Amazing! So that’s what will attract me. Not so much the focus on mechanics of the game, but a RPG that allows flexibility :)

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