Playing RPGs with people who don't play RPGs

edited May 2010 in Story Games
I plan (hope) to spend more time this year gaming with my friends who don't really game, or don't game at all. It's something I really like doing, and I've had great luck with it. It helps to think of it as "something we'll do this one time", rather than looking at it like you would a more serious regular gaming group.

I was planning a few things, and I realized that, of the games I personally own and play and love, there are three clear and distinct categories:

Games I would totally play with my non-gamer friends: Fiasco*, Shab al-hiri Roach, In A Wicked Age*, Lady Blackbird, old-school D&D (pre-1980)

Games I *might* play with my non-gamer friends, depending: Spirit of the Century, Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard, Dust Devils

Games I would never play with my non-gamer friends: Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel, D&D (Red Box, AD&D, 2E, 3E, 4E), Savage Worlds

* denotes a game I actually have played with non-gamer friends

These are very clear in my mind, although I'm not sure exactly WHAT made me categorize them as such. It's not really setting. Mostly mechanics, ease of pitch, front-loaded entertainment value, etc.

It's like pornography. I can't quite define it, but I know it when I see it.

Comments

  • As far as introducing non-gamer friends to the hobby, I've had great success with Lady Blackbird, Geiger Counter, PTA and The Pool.
  • I'd love to hear you break down why you think you wouldn't play those particular games with your non-gamer friends!
  • Posted By: Brian Minterold-school D&D (pre-1980)
    Is there a retro-clone of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lurking? I mean, I played Swords & Wizardry for a while, but it really was too oldschool for even my gamer friends to grasp. I wonder if AD&D might be the experience I'm looking for.
  • Really?

    I'm playing AD&D with some very non-gamer friends and they're in love. Admittedly, it isn't the "best" fit but I'd sooner play that than, say, Fiasco. I think the thing is that my non-RPG gamer friends aren't looking for anything conceptual or open-ended. They want to play a game. AD&D is very very much a game. Fiasco (or, really, any open-ended game that requires a lot of player-buy-in) would scare them off because there's a lot more pressure on the players.

    With D&D all they have to do is say"I want to do this." and I say "What's X stat? Roll Y die" and then I narrate their success or failure. It's a LOT of work for me but it's a lot of fun for them.

    That said, I think Lady Blackbird is a pretty perfect non-gamer intro game. So is Mouse Guard, though.
  • Your categories are unfair! It looks like your "no way" column has games that have a bit of overhead in terms of record-keeping, but aren't really more procedurally complex or difficult to understand.

    When we dove into Mouse Guard we were unprepared for the record-keeping piece of it, because we are all patchouli-soaked freeform hippie bastards, so Clinton just took on the note-taking burden as GM and we didn't worry about it. It worked fine and didn't seem to bother or slow down Clinton. That's an extreme example with a bunch of lazy players - if your friends are excited to play and not lazy, any of those games will totally work.
  • edited May 2010
    Posted By: Paul T.I'd love to hear you break down why you think you wouldn't play those particular games with your non-gamer friends!
    The reason I wouldn't play Mouse Guard or Burning Wheel or most iterations of D&D with non-gamers, I think, is the sheer number of concepts involved. Here's the idea, here's what you character is, here's what all these numbers mean, here's what we're gonna do, here's how the funny dice work, etc.

    There's a lot of explanation involved. That's a level of buy-in a lot of people don't have, or aren't expecting if you've promised them an evening of entertainment.
    Posted By: skinnyghost
    I'm playing AD&D with some very non-gamer friends and they're in love. Admittedly, it isn't the "best" fit but I'd sooner play that than, say, Fiasco. I think the thing is that my non-RPG gamer friends aren't looking for anything conceptual or open-ended. They want to play a game. AD&D is very very much a game. Fiasco (or, really, any open-ended game that requires a lot of player-buy-in) would scare them off because there's a lot more pressure on the players.
    I guess I'd say I see it the exact opposite way around. Fiasco requires you to have seen a couple reasonably common movies, and learn one simple mechanic. AD&D, on the other hand, asks a lot more of you.

    If we're talking about friends who are already into board games, or video games, that's probably different. But my non-gamer friends don't really play any kinds of games at all.
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarThat's an extreme example with a bunch of lazy players - if your friends are excited to play and not lazy, any of those games will totally work.
    My non-gamer friends are definitely lazy. Meaning generally unwilling to learn many rules and the significance of various stats and numbers.
  • Oh, another strong selling point - for me - of Fiasco and In A Wicked Age is the way it draws new players in immediately in terms of inventing a setting and characters before you have to learn any mechanics.
  • edited May 2010
    One more thing - I've had friends who didn't play RPGs, but were interested in them. That's a different thing, to me. I played a year's worth of Savage Worlds with new gamers. Those are nascent gamers, gamers-in-waiting, proto-gamers .. not non-gamers.

    When I say "non-gamer friends" in this thread, I mean friends who have expressed no interest in RPGs, and won't want to play more than once or twice a year.
  • Posted By: Brian MinterOne more thing - I've had friends who didn't play RPGs, but were interested in them. That's a different thing, to me. I played a year's worth of Savage Worlds with new gamers. Those are nascent gamers, gamers-in-waiting, proto-gamers .. not non-gamers.

    When I say "non-gamer friends" in this thread, I mean friends who have expressed no interest in RPGs, and won't want to play more than once or twice a year.
    It seems to me that making a list of games to play for non-gamers is like making a list of hamburgers to prepare for vegetarians.
  • There are some downright excellent vegetarian/vegan hamburgers.
  • Posted By: TulpaThere are some downright excellent vegetarian/vegan hamburgers.
    Veggie burgers they may be. Hamburgers they are not.

    *grin*

    Also, let's not derail the thread. I agree with you. <3 me some vegan type burgers.
  • Mouse Guard is as simple to play as Lady Blackbird. The MG character sheet is a little daunting, true. But in practice the game is really simple and easy to learn if you layer stuff on as you go (also: use the pregens!).

    I think InSpectres is a strong contender, too. The pitch is really simple (Ghostbusters meets Office Space, the Reality Show!), the mechanics are easy to learn, and you have permission to be silly.

  • I thinkInSpectresis a strong contender, too. The pitch is really simple (Ghostbusters meets Office Space, the Reality Show!), the mechanics are easy to learn, and you have permission to be silly.
    Maybe it's just the not-serious-roleplayers that I've tried to introduce but the more spotlight time required by any given player, the less likely they'll enjoy the game. Big mechanics don't scare them, having to be on the spot and deliver entertainment to other players does.
  • So, are your "games I would never play" that much more complex than your "games I might play"? What distinguishes those two categories?
  • InSpectres is on my game-shelf, but I've never played it. It seems like it would go in category #1 or #2, based only on reading it.

    I am playing Mouse Guard now, and it's been great so far. I love me some Luke Crane games.

    But the number of moving parts are definitely more than I'd want to ask of a non-gamer (three kinds of traits, multiple skills and variable ratings for those skills, belief vs goal vs instinct, different weapons, fate and persona points, etc). It's a fair number of things to explain. Compare that to, say, Lady Blackbird, where there's one main mechanic, two sub-mechanics (Keys and Secrets), and a situation that gets people engaged immediately.

    Mind you, this all applies to how I run games, the friends I'm thinking of, and my biases and what-not.
  • InSpectres is great for those types of people that fondly remember Ghostbusters

    Maid works for anyone that has seen a terrible moe anime.

    Seconding In A Wicked Age as an awesome vegetarian burger (Particularly cause of all those oracles at Abulafia).

    Would like to throw in some moderate success with Over The Edge.
  • edited May 2010
    Posted By: Paul T.So, are your "games I would never play" that much more complex than your "games I might play"? What distinguishes those two categories?
    Good question! I'm not sure.

    Spirit of the Century has lots of bits that are quick to grasp, and fun (character creation, aspects), but a fair number of sub-systems. Mountain Witch has really simple rules, but asks more of participants than three hours of light engagment.

    I guess I'd play something from Category #2 with friends who were more actively interested, like my friend Meredith who doesn't like RPGs much, but loves samurai and film noir and Kurosawa movies. I think he'd dig Mountain Witch, but I haven't convinced him to commit to try it yet. (I did play IAWA with him and his wife, and they had a good time, but I wouldn't have brought tMW unless he'd been more enthusiastic.)

    EDIT: It's not "complexity", per se, I don't think. It may be 100% all in my head, and not explicable to anyone.
  • edited May 2010
    Yeah, I hear ya Brian, but I guess what I'm saying is: don't run Mouse Guard so it's more complex or confusing than LB. It doesn't need to be. Maybe that seems difficult? Now I feel like I need to make a how-to video or something. :)
  • edited May 2010
    I don't think MG is confusing or complex, really. In fact, I may never go back to straight-up BW. (Edit: Which *is* confusing and complex, God bless it).

    It's more that, when I think of sitting down with someone with no context for RPGs and a low committment to learning rules, the number of concepts I'd have to explain for MG daunts me.

    But when I think of explaining LB, I have no worries at all.
  • My best experience yet was Polaris. Except for Experience (which you can introduce after a scene or two, or as soon as maybe it looks like it should come up) the mechanics just sound like normal (formal) conversation.
  • OH! Baron Munchausen! I forgot about that game! I've had more success with that game than with anything else with non-gamers.
  • I think the simpler the system and the more basic the story the greater the chance to get someone in on the scene.
    However, you quickly need to establish how this "new gamer" would like to develop, and suggest it, and move on, lest it grows stale.

    Starting out with 1st ed D&D is brilliant, but identifying that this person does not mind rolling more dice and likes vampires is important, as it makes a transition to the WoD easier than just hoping he/she will stay entertained in the 3rd gamingsession of heroville-D&D.
  • To be clear, I'm not talking about trying to bring someone into RPGs as a hobby. I think that's a different thing. I'm talking about friends you see often who are aware of RPGs and don't have any real desire to get into them, but will play one once in a blue moon.

    Just like I'm not super excited about vintage detective films or vegan burritos or racquetball, and will probably never be a regular enthusiast of those things, but I'll gladly do any of them once in a while for the benefit of broadening my horizons and doing something that one of my friends is into.
  • If we are just divvying things up by whether my play-pals play RPGs or not, I don't think that's the most relevant thing to how I pick games to introduce. Here's what I do with a group who has never played RPGs before:

    * I try to get a game whose fictional content is fictional content that they would like. Anne Rice readers love Vampire, that's why Vampire was popular for so long. People are willing to learn an enormously complex game, even up front, if it is connected to fiction they understand and love. So if they're into comics, I look at comic book games. This is why a broad variety of underlying fictions is good and why I was so excited for PTA and Fiasco, they opened up areas of fictions for players that had not been touched on before.

    * Once I have that general idea, I try to get a game with clear choices. This is the main reason D&D (any incarnation) is such a great intro game. There is always, ALWAYS, a clear set of choices as to what to do next. Nobody ever tells a newb D&D player "well, what do YOU think should be there" or "you can do aNNNything you want, man". D&D newbs are told "look, you can be an elf, half-elf, human or dwarf" "cool, elves are cool, I'll be an elf". Simple.

    * I pick a game and situation that have clear objectives. A gloomy exploration of romance and betrayal is badass but it's much easier for everyone to make drama by saying "We need to do X and we've run into obstacle A."

    I absolutely agree that this isn't a "hey, come join this hobby and spend a thousand dollars a year the rest of your life on it lol" sort of situation, though many people feel compelled for some reason to make it that.
  • Yeah, setting is a big thing.

    I think that's why In A Wicked Age is my favorite choice for this kind of game. Everyone knows myths and fairy tales and so on, and the process of creating the setting (oracles and brainstorming) is the absolute best RPG tool I know of to get everyone on the same page in terms of setting PLUS create an interest in the game and the game-world right away - without having to learn a single rule.
  • Posted By: JDCorley
    I absolutely agree that this isn't a "hey, come join this hobby and spend a thousand dollars a year the rest of your life on it lol" sort of situation, though many people feel compelled for some reason to make it that.
    I have met that dude. I only pray I have never been that dude.
  • edited May 2010
    The best thing I've done to interest my non-gamer friends in the occasional story game is to engage them baby step by baby step: winning player buy-in a bit at a time gives a gentle introduction to the spotlighting that will naturally happen later in the session (I vaguely remember something about the "foot in the door" effect from psych 101-- that's probably what happens when you lure them in a little bit at a time by asking focused questions).

    LB is great for a step-wise introduction to the game, but most of my non-gamer friends aren't really into the streampunk aesthetic and are thus usually turned off on the whole idea (even though that's not really what the game is about). If they don't seem to be grooving on the LB pitch, as they usually don't, then I generally end up just using Otherkind dice as a mechanic (the version from VB's blog). I have always been successful with this; the one dice for each goal/danger is intuitive and constantly reinforces player choice over the story.

    I also think that player buy-in from doing group setting drafting at the beginning really helps. I usually start off with prodding them to consensus about a genre and then a general premise (in the non-Egri sense). Genre-based storytelling appears to be a lot more comfortable (presumably because everyone knows the prominent themes under consideration) and probably helps to combat the "what should I do now?" paralysis. After generating setting and the premise of the story, we quickly make characters (which amounts to "Pick a noun and three adjectives to describe your character. Then, write three verbs (or verb phrases) to tell what you character can do."). I always start the story itself in media res, which helps to forestall the "what now?" feeling-- the more narrow choices of reaction are a lot more comfortable at first than open-ended sandbox situations. Finally, I do a simple fan mail things that encourages the players to give explicit feedback and reinforcement, which in turn keeps everyone involved and attentive. Throughout all of this, the goal is to keep it simple and keep the enthusiasm rolling (bad pun, sorry).

    I read these posts and started thinking about why this approach was most successful for me, and I realized that it's because it reduces the number of rules and moving bits and things that can come between me and the players. Inevitably, the success of running a story game with non-gamers relies upon the GM's ability to react immediately to the non-gamers' needs and expectations. Rules and fiddly bits are critical for my gamer friends, but with non-gamers it is literally all about bringing on the entertainment, which in my experience has always meant keeping the learning curve really low, the mechanics non-intrusive, and-- most importantly-- the players engaged. I think of running a game for non-gamers sort of like fishing-- lure them into the game by giving them exactly what they want (in terms of complete control of setting/genre/premise) and then reel them in without ever letting the line go slack. (Sorry if that analogy sucks; I don't actually fish.)
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