Saturday, 10 September 2011

Breaking My Own Rule: Introducing a New Gamer with 4th Ed

As regular readers know, I make introducing new players to this hobby of ours something of a priority. Seven of the players who have so far made it to the table for the Expeditionary campaign are either brand new-gamers or gamers who dabbled once or twice many years ago.

Normally, when I'm introducing a new gamer to the hobby I start with an earlier edition of D&D (you know, an Old School type game) or an RPG based strongly on a computer game or book series they like (I got Aimee and Silv started in all this because they were Dragon Age fans, you may recall). The former group of systems because they are simple, easy to learn and essentially what most non-gaming adults our age think of when someone mentions roleplaying. The latter because it's often the desire to keep playing "beyond the game" that drives folks like Aimee and Silv to ask me to run a game for them.

Tomorrow however, I'm breaking my golden rule. What rule? The keep it simple, keep it roleplaying (not roll-playing) rule. Tomorrow, I'm introducing a new player to the hobby via 4th ed Dungeons and Dragons. 

Right about now, most of the ardently old school gamers who make up the vast majority of my blog readership have just about had a fit. They're probably roaring, "Why? Why?" Well this time the answer is also simple: When I've introduced other newbies to the hobby with Old School D&D (and it's clones) or settings based on computer games I've been playing to the expectations of these new players.

Well, that's exactly what I'll be doing today. You see, tomorrows "grasshopper" is a teenage girl who loves MMO's and World of Warcraft in particular. Now she doesn't love the roleplaying aspect of WOW. In fact, she doesn't even play on an RPG server and asked myself and my wife to create new characters on her PVP server rather than join us on our RP server. What she seems to love about WOW is the tactical planning, the tense combats, the puzzle solving, resource gathering and yes, indeed, the social aspect of raiding and belonging in a guild.

So, as far as I'm concerned, 4th ed is the perfect platform to introduce her to the hobby. The system can be light on roleplaying (using dice rolls to determine social skill challenges for example) although -I hasten to add- I don't subscribe entirely to the school of thought that states 4th ed rules kill roleplaying. As Blacksteel from Tower of Zenopus likes to point out, even when one 4th ed combat takes up an entire session (as seems to happen quite often) there's still room for plenty of witty in-character banter ala any action movie you care to name. But moreover, the social skills challenge framework should help coax her out her shell as far as "in-character" chat is concerned, which appears to be her main stumbling block when it comes to getting into the RP side of things. Plus 4th ed, with all it's similarity to a modern MMO, will have all the usual features she's come to expect from WOW: reusable powers, powers that generally only get used once per fight, tactical planning, long combats, concentration of fire, teamwork, strategy, "tanking" defender characters, "DPS" striker characters, controllers, healers and tough monsters that take a long time to put down.

So yes, as I've said before, there is no such thing as a bad game-system. Only game systems that you yourself don't enjoy. It's no secret that I prefer the more free-form Old School systems to more modern, rules intensive ones. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate 4th ed as a tactical simulation. I myself quit running my old 4th ed game because I got frustrated at clearing just two or three encounters in a session (as opposed to my usual eight to dozen encounters in OSRIC). Not because I wasn't enjoying those two or three encounters, but because I wanted to get a more done in the limited time we had available. I still think 4th ed is a pretty good system -and while as written it can seem to discourage role-playing social interactions in favour of settling them with dice rolls, I would say that's more of a DM issue than a system issue.

So, I guess the moral here is this: when bringing in a new player to the hobby, don't force your own prejudices and preferences upon them. Pick the game system or setting that you think is going to right for them -not you- and then gradually introduce them to your own preferences if you start to think they might be willing to give them a go. Remember, just because your introducing someone to the game it doesn't mean they will want to join you or your group permanently. Quite often, once they have the idea, they'll go off and doe their own thing and form their own newbie group from their own peers. Don't feel this is a bad thing or take it as an insult to your gaming style. You've shown them the way. But just as with most things in life, once you've shown someone the basics, they want to go off an explore gaming on their own terms. If that's what they want to do then encourage them. Offer them advice. Tell them to call you if they need another player. Give 'em some support.

So please, keep your eyes open. If you see someone who might be interested in exploring our hobby, please don't be shy. You'll doing our hobby -and by extension, yourself- a great service if you help to expand our numbers with a complete newbie -or, as is often the case- bring a stray childhood gamer back into the fold.


ERIC! said...

I hate 4e, but you offer valid points. I run my home game of Mutant Future with the family because it has everything my kids want out of a game. They all are super huge fans of Doctor Who, Adventure Time and other odd little shows.

Good Job!


Dangerous Brian said...

Thanks Eric. Mutant Future would definately be the way to go that way.

Ian Coakley said...

I actually really like 4e - while I tend to prefer a more roleplay-based approach, Awesome Fantasy Battle Chess was great fun.

And I do like the whole Skill Challenge bit (once I got used to it...)

Best of luck!

Blacksteel said...

Alright, catching up here, but let me start by saying "you're right". I'll also say "if you're going to run it then it still should be something you like enough to run" and this sounds a lot like some of my early 4E posts, which is kind of funny. I had a lot of the same reasons for trying out 4E with my Apprentices as you give here.

Dangerous Brian said...

Actually, it was reading some of your early 4th ed posts that led to my change of heart.