Thursday, January 29, 2015

Anxious About Their First Time - GM'ing for Brand New Players

Running Adventures in the East Mark again tomorrow night… maybe for some new faces!

For the last year and a half I've been busy running a local game club in the Pittsburgh area called the Norwin Game Knights.  This isn't news for some of you, but for the sake of informing my new readers, we are a family-friendly gaming club that promotes and enjoys all kinds of tabletop games.  Board games, card games, dice games, role-playing games, you'll find just about anything you or your family would like to play.  Typically I am found running an RPG event each month, and often I find myself staring across the table at one or two brand new players.  For those lucky (or possibly unlucky) individuals, the session that I run that evening will be their very first role-playing experience.  But even after clocking-in nearly twenty-five years behind the GM's screen, when running games for first-timers I often feel a significant amount of stress and anxiety.  

Despite the lump in my throat that forms during these games, I tend to schedule quite a few introductory sessions throughout the year.  I am an experienced participant of a very social hobby that depends upon a constant supply of new players.  By running games for those individuals interested in trying out an RPG, I am helping to replenish the "general gamer population," or GGP.  

Fact:  there is a constant down-pressure on our GGP due to several, very serious threats:
  • Losing gamers to other hobbies, like fish-killing or deer-killing
  • Losing gamers to other activities, like sportsball
  • Losing gamers to non-gamer spouses/significant others
  • Losing gamers to workaholism 
  • Losing gamers to "growing up" (eww!)

First Numenera game for six players!

So as you can see, I need to be running these events in order to do my part in refilling geekdom's population.  But I still get "the shakes" each time I set up the dice screen.  The reason is simple: there is a lot of pressure to make sure the new player has a good time.  

While I have a lot of faith in my ability to craft a story and promote positive interaction with players, a player's first time is critical to their future as a gamer.  That first gaming session will be the benchmark for their gaming career in years to come.  Most first-timers will have an "okay" first session, and hopefully will pick up the dice again.  An especially great tabletop experience, full of colorful role-play and incredible action, will hook a new gamer-geek for life.  But a negative experience could reinforce poor gamer habits (such as rules-lawyering, or munchkinism), or even turn someone away from gaming forever…


Fortunately most of the players that I have brought to the table have returned for at least another game or two, and hopefully they enjoy tabletop RPG events in the future.  I can't guarantee that every new player I bring to the table will become an over-the-top, RPG fanatic like yours truly, however I typically give my players an experience worthy of at least a few in-game anecdotes.  

Want to make a great first game?  Wear a hat!

If you are preparing to run a game for one or more first-timers, here are a few tips and tricks that I would offer in order to make that first experience terrific.  I try to do most of these myself, and while I still get a little anxious, being prepared is always helpful!

  • If you are using pre-generated characters, try to get a good idea of the player's expectations before making a choice.  Someone interested in emulating Conan the Barbarian may not be very happy with a spoony Bard.
  • When arranging seating at the table, put the new player (or players) directly in front of you so that you can more closely monitor their interest and enjoyment.  This also makes it easier for a new player to get your attention should they have a question.
  • Seat new players next to experienced veterans, and have a talk with those seasoned gamers.  Let them know that you as a GM expect their help during the game.
  • A new gamer's first time is the most memorable, so milk the moment!  Try to insert at least one scene that focuses on the new player and gives them the opportunity to shine!  
  • At the end of the session, take the new players aside and get their feedback.  Did they have a good time, or was there confusion during the game?  If their excitement is palpable, and they want to get started on their own game, give them a few tips on how to go about the process.  Send them to your favorite, friendly local game store or get their email and walk them through DriveThruRPG or  

*     *     *

Did I miss something?  Do you have any suggestions?  How do you go about bringing new players into the hobby?  Let us all know in the comments below!

By the way, if you are in the Pittsburgh Area and are looking for YOUR first time at a gaming table (or a second time, or a four-thousandth time!) come check out the Norwin Game Knights on our Facebook Group page!

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