How To Introduce New People To Roleplaying

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0065

A Brief Word From Johnn

Thanks For the Great Tips!

I thought this would be a tricky issue to write because I was stumped for ideas on introducing new people to our favorite hobby. But, through last week’s Tip Request, we have enough great tips now to fill two issues! Thanks, you guys and gals are awesome.
I decided to split your tips up into two categories/issues:

  1. How to introduce new people to roleplaying (this week’s issue)
  2. How to get new people hooked on roleplaying (next week’s issue)

Through Thick & Thin

My group is finally gaming again tonight after a few consecutive cancelled sessions. I was getting pretty frustrated coordinating schedules and game dates only to have them cancelled last-minute. The solution for me was a player, Dan M. (thanks Dan!), stepping up and getting the job done.

So I urge you, if your campaign is going through a bumpy period right now, stick with it. Look for alternate solutions and enlist your players’ help–they want to play as much as you do.

Warm regards,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

How To Introduce New People To Roleplaying

Send Out Invitations

From Ian M.

I have been part of a fairly insular group for 20+ years, but my wife bought me the new Star Wars RPG for Valentine’s Day, and I am thinking of running a game with all new players.

I identified several people who might want to give it a try, and I have made up a flyer with several pics from the movies and made up my own captions, e.g. the scene where Luke first gets his hands on a lightsaber with the caption “hey, Hey, WATCH it with that thing!”.

The text of the flyer is really an invitation. It starts out “YOU ARE INVITED …” with all the time and place stuff.

And then it goes on: “Okay, don’t freak out on me here. This isn’t a Star Wars party–it’s much worse than that. You’re being invited to play a game. Ever hear of Dungeons and Dragons? Good. We’re not playing that. But we are going to play a role playing game; the Star Wars Role Playing Game. Now, you might be thinking “role playing games are NOT for me.” Relax! No offense taken. Just RSVP by saying “No way, man!” Or you might be thinking “well, maybe I could try it, but I don’t expect to LIKE it.”

Great! If you don’t like it, there is no obligation to keep playing in later game sessions. (Though that IS how these games work–if enough people are interested, we would schedule another session and pick up where we left off.) It’s also okay to ask questions. There, now was that so bad? If you decide to come, please bring a snack or soft drink to share.”

One more thing: I don’t expect to get everybody I send the invitation to…[but] if you can educate people in a non-threatening way, they will be that much more open to trying it.

Johnn’s 2 cents:

An invitation is a great idea! Paper or email based. It allows you to ask people in a safe way. And people can digest the information privately as they read it, there’s no peer pressure to judge things.

I like Ian’s use of humour in his invitation as well. If you can laugh at yourself it shows confidence, which new players will pick up on and feel good about.

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Chat About Your Hobby

From Markus W.

Keep talking about your favourite hobby. Use every possible opportunity to tell the people you know of your exploits in the world of role-playing. Emphasize the stories and the adventures and the characters, not rules or systems.


If someone asks what you did last night, tell them you were playing a game with some friends. The person will probably ask “what game?” and you then have the option to chat about your hobby.When chatting about roleplaying, leave out game-lingo. Adding to Markus’ tip, also emphasize the fun everyone had at the table. Tell the person if anyone laughed ’till pop came out of their nose, or if anyone got so excited they fell off their chair type of stories. People respond well to “fun and games” conversation.

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Invite Spouses & Girl/Boyfriends

From Markus W.

Now this is a risky one: make your players bring their girl/boyfriends, wives or husbands. Admittedly many people in relationships have problems differentiating between player and character, and consequentially cause atmospheric disturbances.If, however, both can take pleasure in role-playing together, you’ve won a new player who will certainly be a regular!

The advantage is that no partner will ever moan about the other spending too much time role-playing anymore. I introduced my wife to role-playing myself and now she is as hooked as I am, with no damage done to our relationship.


If your group doesn’t mind, try to invite spouses and friends to watch for a little while so that they better understand what you do and why you like it. They’ll feel more comfortable about spreading the word for you too.

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Organize An “Introduction To RPGs” Workshop

From Maarten van B.

I GM’ed for several years in high school, but stopped when I went to study abroad. A year or two after I came back, I wanted to get started again, but I wasn’t acquainted with any roleplayers at that time. I knew a few friends who played RPGs on the computer, or who had read Lord of the Rings, but none of them had ever heard of roleplaying games such as we discuss here.

So what I did was actually quite simple: I designed a nice flyer, with a small but varied selection of fantasy pictures (battle, magic, elves etc.), added a few hopefully inspiring lines of text in the spirit of “Ever wanted to know what it would be like to…” (fill in the blank: live the life of an elf, beat a powerful dragon, save a captured princess from an evil sorcerer etc.) and announced that I would be holding a Roleplaying Game Day two weeks from then.

The programme for that day was quite simple:

10:00-11:00Welcome drinks and a chance to ask preliminary questions
11:00-11:30Introduction to RPG by the GM (that would be me)
11:30-13:30Workshop 1: Creating a fantasy character (simplified system)
14:00-16:00Workshop 2: Living in a fantasy world (a shorty introductory adventure with the earlier created or a pre-made character).
16:00- 18:00Movie (which in my case, we never got around to)

7 people showed up: a few of my friends, and a few of their friends as well; they really enjoyed making characters and they enjoyed the following adventure even more.

I hope this works for others as well.

(Tip: it’s also important to gear your flyer and your workshops towards the type of campaign you intend to run.)

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Invite People To Watch

From Samir

When my gaming group gets low due to attrition (people moving away) I usually ask the players to ask around their work place for new players. Most of the time they come in with a new person or two and about 1/2 the time the person stays with the group.99% of the time a new person will state that they are only there to watch. However, having been a GM/player for over 20 years I have determined that being a spectator of a tabletop game is boring. I try to have a character ready for any visitor to play.


This is a *great* way to get new people involved with your favorite hobby. Asking them to watch is a safe way for them to learn what it’s all about. It’s “try before you buy”.I have started many watchers off by asking them to play a minor NPC an hour or two in the game–an NPC I’ve specifically planted for the purpose. I kept the NPC simple yet interesting (i.e. a strong character hook) and gave them a quiet personality to help the player feel comfortable.

Please ask your players before inviting people to watch though. Some groups may feel uncomfortable roleplaying in front of spectators. If this is the case, try having a “test” watcher–someone the whole group knows and feels comfortable with. Ask the players after the session if having a spectator bothered them at all. If not, ask them if you can invite a newbie.It also really helps to seat watchers beside good roleplayers, or players who have a lot of fun at games– their enthusiasm will be contagious.

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Spread The Word Using The Internet

From Joel M.

Use those handy online resources. My situation came about because I was unable to find a role-playing group in the area and I used a message board that I take part in to recruit players. Since we’re scattered around the world we play over IRC once a week. I specifically mentioned in my recruitment that no experience with the game was needed to play.

The advantage to doing it this way is that you can get your message out to a lot of people who do not typically play role-playing games and it beats hassling the people you know who don’t play or random strangers trying to recruit new players.

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Be Open To Answering Questions

From Heather Grove

Welcome to The Burning Void An excerpt, with permission, from The Burning Void Roleplaying Resources Newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 6, Make the New Guy Welcome:If someone asks you about roleplaying, take a few minutes to answer her questions. We roleplayers can get defensive sometimes (with good reason, admittedly), and we can confuse a genuinely interested party with someone who just wants to ridicule us.

Not to mention that some of the people who think they just want to ridicule us actually find the hobby interesting once they know more about it. Reacting badly doesn’t make other people want to learn more.Try to be polite to people who show an interest in your hobby. You don’t have to game with every one of them. You don’t have to spend all of your time explaining things to them. Just don’t make them think of all roleplayers as snobbish and irritating.

You might collect a few links to web pages that you think explain things well, and give those to people who ask you questions you don’t have time to answer.If you’re interested and have free time, make yourself available to answer people’s questions.

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Hook Them With The Story — Not The Dice

From Benedira Hook them with a piece of a story, just like book jackets and movie trailers do. Don’t talk about dice or numbers or character sheets. [For example, on an invitation]…give them a short but catchy cliff-hanger and then ask what they’d do. People buy books to see what happens next, and trailers get them to the movies to see what happens next – it will work the same way with RPG’s.Some friends and I tried this at a sci-con one year, to recruit players for a LARP game that wasn’t exactly science fiction.

We knew we wouldn’t have enough players, and that we’d need to recruit more. We got a package of business card stock from a local office supply house, then proceeded to type up 40 blurbs about potential characters. Every one that stopped by our table got handed one of these cards, with an invitation to play. Of the forty we handed out, 28 came to play. Only two of them asked for different cards.The secret (I think) was that we didn’t use role-playing words, or terms the people wouldn’t understand.

We used common words just like authors would on the back of a book cover, and always ended it with the question ‘What do you do now?’ It worked great, and a lot of the new players were asking where they could find out more about the game.

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It’s a Cooperative Game

From Sun M.

Recently me and some of my friends heard about D&D. We unfortunately only had the source books and had no-one who had experience to help. I am the DM and I have never played before now. But, I know one of the things you really need to show someone who’s just starting is that this is not a game you “Win”.Try and show them how the game is a lot like real life without a final big boss to beat and the like.


This is a great point because many people specifically enjoy party or group games vs. winner-takes-all games. And many people do not realize that you can make roleplaying a 100% co-operative and social game to enjoy with friends.

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Reminisce About Great Campaigns

From Michael

Have fun reminiscing like we roleplayers always do, but around your non-playing friends. When they hear a story or two, and the cheer in your voices, they are going to want to know more.If they are a fantasy or sci-fi fan tell them the story of your whole campaign. Sure this may take a few hours, so this is especially good to do during long car rides, but start where the campaign really got exciting and tell it up to the present or all the way to the end.

After hearing the whole amazing story from a veteran player they will be primed to join in if they have any interest at all. Otherwise your game probably isn’t for them. If possible, have the player tell the story since they are more likely to present it like a good book because they only remember the exciting parts. Gamemasters tend to be bogged down in details and are full of stories about what the players missed, or couldn’t figure out.

Next Week’s Tip Request

“Character Questionnaires”

Next week will be part II of the new roleplayers’ series, as mentioned in the Brief Word From Johnn section. Any more tips on “How To Get New People Hooked On Roleplaying” are welcome!

I thought I’d also skip ahead and request tips for Issue #67: Character Questionnaires.

Background and personality type questions:

  • Sample questions
  • Links to web pages with questions
  • How do you use these kinds of questions in your campaigns?

Send your tips and ideas to: [email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Using Miniatures/Props To Enhance Cinematic Gameplay

From Kahn B.

Once more I tip my hat to you for the great work you do on the roleplaying tips weekly! They are great!

A little anecdote about how miniatures or tokens can enhance game play, not only for tactical, but also cinematic reasons:

During a session we played, my player went into a large chamber, with a firepit in the center of the room. A huge flame was burning in the pit. We put a burning candle (like the ones you put in the little lanterns on graves) in the middle of the floorplan to show where the pit was.

In fact, the flame was a fire elemental that attacked the group when they opened a treasure chest (I think this was a Dungeon Magazine Adventure by Jeff Grubb). A fight broke out and finally the players killed the elemental.

When the player landed his deadly blow, I didn’t tell them, the fire elemental’s dead, I just got up and extinguished the candle… Cool effect! At first, they needed a second to realize, what’s up, then I heard a relieved sigh and one player’s voice: “It’s dead, we extinguished it….” And after that, everyone burst into laughter. It was a close fight, and the ritual act of extinguishing the candle really gave it the final, cinematic touch…..

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Multi-Tasking Through Non-Linear Play

From Damien W.

Thanks for the newsletter. Great work!

On topic now. I’d like to mention an aspect of multitasking that people might not have noticed. The real world isn’t linear! Things don’t happen in order, and they don’t line up for your attention. This is a particularly useful insight for cinematic combat.

Think about an action movie. In an exciting scene, where the heroes are beset by numerous perils at once, we have only a single viewpoint – but we still manage to observe all the significant action. How? Because the camera skips the bits we don’t need to see. It’s an idea that can apply to gaming, particularly in a game where the rules are loose enough that the player’s aren’t in full control. The GM can focus player attention from one crisis to another, partially resolving one situation or leaving a cliffhanger to shift to a different character or action.

Imagine a group of (fantasy) heroes in combat on a mountainside chock full of cliffs and chasms and bad guys. [The GM]…breaks down the action, using the ‘movie viewpoint’ idea. The GM describes the scene for all the players, and gets their initial reactions.

At this point he picks one player and deals with their actions – not for a single ‘turn’, but for two or three or five turns, or as long as is appropriate. If the action is likely to be resolved without needing input from other players, don’t shift attention until the action is completed. Instead, make the other players the audience, get them to share the excitement that the acting player feels.

First, the players see the bad guys on the cliff path. Warrior types charge, the thief type climbs and sneaks around the flank, the wizard type starts to cast a spell. Bad guys prepare weapons and shoot arrows. At this point, focus attention on the two PC warriors, and fight a few rounds of combat. Ignore the other PCs until something changes – such as the enemy thief-type preparing to jump the warriors from above.

Here’s your cliffhanger – tell the warrior players about the threat, but don’t let them act on it, because their characters haven’t been warned. Now it’s the rogue PC’s turn. Run some rounds of climbing and sneaking checks, then have him discover the enemy ambusher at the pivotal moment. You can bet that the fighter PCs will be cheering the thief PC on as he out-sneaks the enemy sneaker.

It’s a balancing act. Player actions will affect each other, so one player can’t get too far ahead in time. Also, you can’t spend too long on one person, or attention will wane. And it’s a multitasking challenge. But properly handled, this system can add a lot of unpredictability and excitement to combat. It works best in a system with inbuilt flexibility (or with fluffy combat rules), or in a systemless game.

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Tips For Converting A Fantasy Novel Into A Campaign

From Cayne

For those people that are so inclined, here is a ‘novel’ way to run a campaign: take your favorite novel and run it in your favorite game system.

Running a campaign based as closely as possible to the novel can be VERY challenging though. I do not suggest that first time GM’s try this technique. Hopefully, I can assist in smoothing out some rough spots in the mechanics and planning.

  1. Select the story that you want to run carefully. Not every novel/story is going to work for this task. You want to choose a fast-paced novel with plenty of adventure.For short campaigns, a stand alone novel may be the best choice. If a large campaign is what you are after, then I suggest a series of novels no less than three in number.The largest factors in this process, in my opinion, is your excitement level regarding the story and your familiarity with the storyline. The single most important question one must ask themselves is this: Am I interested enough in this storyline to see it through to the end? If the answer is yes, then away you go.One piece of advice that I would like to stress. Whatever you do, do not let any of your players read the storybook(s) as you play them. Speaking from experience, there was a fair amount of negative EXPs handed out to the player with the big mouth in my campaign. Even a knowing grin from the player can ruin a suspenseful moment for the other people involved.
  2. Something that really helped me when I ran a story as a campaign was note taking. What I did when I had selected my story was to begin re-reading it. As I read the story over again, I had on the table in front of me a large pad of paper. As I read crucial points in the story, I made very detailed notes on the circumstances.Things that you might want to consider noting are:
    • setting: where did the event occur?
    • characters: who were the major characters involved?
    • buildup: what lead to the occurrence? (refer to previous notes for continuity)
    • outcome: what important changes were brought about by the situation?
    • potential hooks: what factors work to allow you to leave the game suspenseful?
    Another thing that I did was to read a set limit of chapters (depending on the author’s choice of chapter length). This enabled me to save my writing hand and also made it easier to manage running the campaign. As I planned to run the game once a week, I had a large space of time to plan in advance. If you plan on running a game more than once a week, prepare to spend a lot of time reading. Taking care as to where/when to stop the game night is very important, as the author most likely leaves hooks at the end of the chapters. Leave the Half-elf hanging by his fingernails on the edge of a crumbling precipice while his Gem of Godlike Powers falls out of his pocket and down into the abyss. This will get your players foaming at the mouth for the next game.
  3. Know your game system like the back of your hand. If you plan to incorporate magic from the novel into your game, knowing the system of choice could serve you very well in a tight spot where you need to make an out of the blue amendment/decision.I alleviated that problem by not allowing any magic-users in the party (which was all for the better since the main magic-using character was the antagonist of the story).Converting magic items is equally important in that certain characters in your story may well own or receive a special item throughout the course of the game.Remember that if one character receives the lion’s share of items, it is due to the storyline and not favouritism. If there are certain rivalries in the group (rivalries not being a bad thing in themselves), you might want to compensate for that by creating some minor items that would not interrupt the continuity of the story.Tip: If he does not get it in the story, do not give the Half-elf the Gem of Godlike Powers unless you are prepared to deal with it.
  4. Try to match your players’ playing techniques with the major qualities of the characters in the story. Make a list with four columns. In the first column, place the character’s name. Column two is for the positive character traits. Column three is for the negative aspects of the character. The last column is for the player that best suits that character.For now, I hope that this will give you some helpful suggestions to begin converting your favorite story into a game that will run smoothly and keep both you and your players excited. If you have any questions that you would like to pose to me personally, you can send me an email.

For those that are curious, the story that I ran was Tad William’s ‘Green Angel Tower’ series. It was one of the most amazing campaigns that I have ever run.

Happy gaming,