Introducing TTRPGs to new players

My partner recently asked to learn how I play freeform imagination games with her nephews. When the boys and I recount our adventures she is astounded at the levels of detail we explore.

I understand this as a byproduct of playing ttrpgs for over twenty years. Considering her new interest I want to introduce the hobby so we might play together.

Goals

  • System will be on the rules light / free form.
  • Simple oracle system when needed.
  • Random spark tables for free association.
  • Index cards for everything. No printed sheets.
  • Simple location generation.

I want some gamey elements because it’s fun. Currently leaning towards Messerspiel and Recluse for mechanics. Then improving 5 Room Dungeons with the Five Torches Deep puzzle cube random map method.

Essentially, this will end up a gm-less coop game. She is big into architecture, plant-life, physical challenges, and overcoming adversity through relationships.

Let me know your thoughts and experiences. Super interested for feedback from any spark table collectors out there.

Thanks :grin:

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Um. I’m obsessed with how to introduce TTRPGs to people outside the space.

I have a buddy, Jesse Burneko, who argues it requires an “ambassador” - effectively, without a table experience, it doesn’t happen. YOU are obviously the ambassador here - awesome! Live plays and APs have done a little for this, but I’m REALLY interested in getting kids to play with parents (NON-gamer parents … help THEM help KIDS do the thing!).

I’m currently working on a thing (free!) that’s somewhere between a coloring book, choose-your-own-adventure, and RPG, and the dolphin-ing (my head term for helping people leap “out of” and back “in to” the rules) is breaking my head. That and making simple language communicate levels. I get that this is fundamentally different from onboarding an adult, but … love the quest!

I LOVE overcoming adversity through relationships! And plant life! I have a “read-aloud” version of the game for adults (also free!) which might be fun, too?

The approach is very free-form: pick tags, when stuff happens, explain how tags help solve problem to build a pool of d6s (3 max). Roll, 1-3 trouble, 4-5 trouble and triumph, 6 triumph (Blades, but no stats - just tags). I love using downfalls and quirks in cool ways (“I cast the spell - and my golden hair flies free of my hat, shining!”). Tags would totally fit on index cards.

I have a list of “moves,” but they’re entirely unnecessary, and I have some mechanical triumphs (+1/-1 die to next roll, +1/-1 to clock, gain a tag/lose a tag, gain stress/lose stress), but they’re as you debate. My favorite version of that game is probably this one. I’m very into non-combat, normal community stories with some rules to help things move and stay interesting.

What’s a spark table? Teach me? Thanks!

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I love playing with people new to the hobby! They don’t have the assumptions coming from any existing systems so this means they will surprise you with their creativity (you probably already know this from playing with kids!). My main piece of advice is to roll with what your partner comes up with (but again, it seems you already know to do this :slight_smile: ).

I would add to your list of goals/materials some random tables for “details” - what is this room used for, what is in this room, who is here, how it smells here, random out-of-place objects, etc. This might be already covered under your spark tables, but wanted to make sure, as it really helps people’s creative juices flowing if they have couple details they can build the narrative around (vs the blank page / infinite choice problem).

One thing that I found, is that adults, unlike kids, can be anxious to “play pretend.” However, you can easily “nudge” someone new to TTRPGs into by asking them “loaded” questions that leads to them describing the scene/situation. Start with an open question usually beginning with How or Why (but any of the 5 Ws and 1 H will work) to explain something about the scene:

  • How do you know a feast took place here recently?
  • Why do the thugs listen to this old lady?
  • What are the signs that this town is struggling?

…and let them come up with explanation. This (again) eliminates the blank page problem AND makes for an easy actionable task that doesn’t seem like being silly and playing make-believe, but simply answering a question. Anyone can answer a question, even if the answer is made up :wink: Not only you’ll have new players open up to the idea of narrating, it will also give you more details to build upon. Win, win!

Other than that, you seem to have it pretty much covered. Excited to hear how it goes! Keep us updated!

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Here is a good introduction to the concept: BASTIONLAND: Electric Modernity (and Spark Tables)

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I really hate to do self-promotion, but Loner ticks four out of five points. It is geared toward solo playing, but adaptable to group play. Since it is based on Recluse and FU RPG, you could simply use the latter, maybe replacing the core resolution with Recluse itself. FU RPG has a powerful tag system with which you can essentially create any character you like.

In Loner I also included extended “open-ended questions tables” you could use as spark tables.

My advice however is, since you are already doing it, synthesize your system from the elements you prefer from the games you think will work for your “use case” (sorry, computer geek).

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For the Queen is the best intro for super new players. I think it succeeds in that by requiring the absolute bare minimum cognitive load from the players (just drawing cards and answering questions). The players start out by answering questions as if the character was them, but after several rounds they realize they can roleplay any character they wish.

SO from this we can glean that cards are powerful tools for introducing players to ttrpgs. Most people are familiar with cards and it’s easy to keep track of them. You have a torch card? Means you have a torch, etc. IMHO cards aren’t as overwhelming as character sheets and reduce the barrier quite a lot for keeping track of what the player has available to them (skills and abilities included).

Next I think its the importance of numbers, importance of concepts. To a new player, a +1 sword will be more or less the same as a +2 sword. They don’t know the way numbers work in this game very well yet, so they have no idea if this difference is huge or tiny. But if you have something like fire sword and ice sword, the difference is much clearer. The player can use their real world knowledge to extrapolate these ideas into the game world: fire can heat up ice → fire sword will be much better against the ice dragon.

And my final point will be that procedures can make the game much easier. Having a bunch of steps to go through can be daunting, but if you balance them carefully it can help players know what to do next. Board games do this well with their turn structures and option lists. They tell the player what they can and cannot do. In rpgs this will have to be much more vague, but even a vague idea what the players’ options are at the moment can be useful to direct them forward in the narrative. (also having some sort of goal that they have to reach can help with that).

Hope this is helpful, let me know if you want me to dive in to something in detail or if you have any questions. :skull_and_crossbones:

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Chris’ post is the original, I think. I also wrote a bit about them (with examples) here; recently I’ve been building them with Bibliomancer as well (essentially importing public domain texts then parsing for rare phrases).

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I have tried to pass on to a friend Microscope as a starter/intro RPG. I know it doesn’t check all your bullet points so I want to watch this space too!

However, it does have the worldbuilding views and history in it and is more collaborative. I figured once bitten by that bug, they would be open to other rulesets; perhaps even in the world just built!

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I have a similar process but instead of using Microscope I just cheat a bit. I can run any rules-lite OSR game (or even Dungeon World) but spend the first 45-minutes doing this. By the end the new player is so invested that it doesn’t matter what system we are running!

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I am definitely bookmarking that one! At a super surface gloss I was also reminded of Dawn of Worlds. I know it may not be since I glossed a bit, but it is also another source for worldbuildin’

Reminds me a lot of of the world building in Beyond the Wall, though that is a bit more structured and anchored in character based mechanics on a smaller scale. Not building the whole world but a small area in it. Adds the question “Did you see it (WIS), hear about it (CHA), or read about it? (INT)” followed by a check to determine how much of what you think is true actually is true. Works better with a classic GM/Player structure.

Microscope is gorgeous. The best playtime I ever had, it was with Microscope. And I was with completely strangers at the table!

You should put this in booklet format and publish it on itch.io,has anyone ever told you this? :grimacing:

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It’s kind of in my game One Shot World (though this is expanded a bit). I love Beyond The Wall’s system for worldbuilding as well. Perilous Wilds was my #1 influence, though.

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Oh this is so much FUN! Everyone here has such great insight. Let’s see if I can do this proper.

This is a fantastic project. You have my follow on itch. The triumph and trouble section is what sings to me. This breaks down the mechanics in a simple way that teaches real life consequence. You get into trouble then you lose a die. Follow up with, How could you have avoided that trouble? Next time they encounter a similar trouble reinforce the past experience to develop new ways of staying out of trouble.

I also plan on using tags for conditions, items, skills, environmental props, etc. No modifiers!

A few peeps have posted links on spark tables above. Essentially it is a themed pair of tables that usually get rolled 2dX and the results generate a mashup of the two tables. These ‘sparks’ aim to kick start your imagination in unexpected ways, but remain on theme.

This is golden. I appreciate you bringing it up. In the beginning play I plan to ask questions to my partner to gauge difficulty. How hard would this be for your character to achieve their goal? Then use that answer to build out a clock and break down the steps together.

Haha! I will mine all your things. The twist and scene tables included with Loner are looking sharp. Thanks for the share. Don’t hate. You made a cool thing!

I agree with this strongly. There seems to be a trend happening with cards creeping into RPG rule sets and I like it. I will find some time to engage with ‘For the Queen’.

The older I get the less interested I become with modifiers. Procedures are my jam! I think this does indeed come from my love of board games.

To your (also), the player stated goal is the only nugget of truth in gaming to me. Everything else just serves the journey. You helped confirm my ideas which encourages me through this process. Thanks for the advice.

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Hello! My sister (who used to be part of my regular play group when I was young) asked me to introduce her kids to RPGs at a family gathering. Her husband and my wife and kids joined. We used the Tiny Dungeon 2e rules (not the settings or heritages, just the mechanics). I made a stack of fairy-tale-world characters for them to choose from for this one-shot and made my own scenario. The rules were the perfect level for several brand-new players. At the gatherings since then, I’ve been asked to bring another game.

My advice it to find very simple rules where the thrill of rolling dice is available to the players, and focus your effort on creating a wondrous and atmospheric world with lots of things to interact with.

Those are some experiences, since you asked! Let us know how it goes with you and your partner’s imagination games.

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Out of curiosity, why GM-less? Is GM-less just how you usually play, or is there a reason you want to play GM-less with your partner?

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Playing Kingdom Death and Ironsworn over the past 4 years has been an enlightening experience in gm-less style play. In short, the fondness I have is purely driven by the enabling nature it provides.

Regarding play with my partner I aim to provide an experience that reinforces teachings through practice. She wants to feel more comfortable flexing narrative muscles with the nephews. I want her to be able to accomplish that when I am not there. If I just run a standard GM / Player structure she will not develop her skills of stitching together loose ideas into a cohesive whole as well.

My selfish goal is to make more GMs in my life. :grin:

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