It is the best time to be a nerd. Personally, I’ve been channeling my inner Heisenberg for as long as I can remember anytime I’d get the nerd label thrown my way — own it! Fortunately (or maybe a little unfortunately when we get a bit too tribal) we can discover and connect with people all over the world who share our values and interest, finding acceptance and broadening our horizons with new ideas. The same vast sea of people can also challenge those very same qualities we hold, and so it’s up to each individual to become an ambassador of the self. What you do with your stewardship is up to you. As for me, I lean into the better nature of our angels. That means empowering nerds to be the best they can be. And we’re all nerds of some stripe. What does all that have to do with getting new people to play roleplaying games? Let’s get into it.
Bringing New Players into an RPG
Nerd culture is so prevalent and ubiquitous these days you almost can’t even recognize it. There were watershed moments when worlds collided, sure. I’m thinking of times like when Tim Burton’s Batman movie came out and EVERYONE had Bat-Mania. And hey, my hometown Cleveland, Ohio even had our own famous nerd — Genuine Nerd Toby Radloff who made it all the way to MTV. So we’ve done okay over the years.
When it comes to roleplaying games, it’s taken a longer road to get here but I feel it’s safe to say RPGs have woven themselves into the fabric of our culture pretty well by now. With tendrils throughout entertainment media as far back as E.T. the Extra Terrestrial right up to Stranger Things; notable episodes of Community, The IT Crowd, and Big Bang Theory; in songs like Weezer’s In The Garage and I’m gonna go ahead and call it — Scenario by Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes; all the way up to large (sometimes incredibly large) audiences straight up watching people play Dungeons & Dragons on the internet or in person thanks to Acquisitions Incorporated, Critical Role and everyone else sharing their games with the world.
This is a great thing for our roleplaying game hobby.
As recently as a couple of years ago, the Nerdarchy crew made a video about how to find fellow gamers with a tongue-in-cheek suggestions to simply wear nerdy T-shirts and mumble solicitations to strangers about getting some d20s. Fast forward to this very day in fact, when I saw from not one but two fellow gamers sharing stories about welcoming family members into the fold. James Introcaso tweeted that he played D&D with his parents and sister for the first time, while Dan Dillon showed his dad the first episode of his own live stream game The World Tree Burns.
In my neck of the woods, a casual remark around the holidays last year about my uncle’s Christmas village looking like the perfect setup for a D&D adventure led to a one shot for him, my aunt and my brother. The aunt and uncle had never played before but saw it on BBT and thought it looked fun, and my brother hadn’t played in decades (borrowing his red box is what got me started playing in the first place).
All of this is a really roundabout way of getting to the first — and best — way of getting new people to play roleplaying games: just ask them. Or make offhand comments about D&D, that can work too.
At this point pretty much everybody knows what D&D is, the game with the funny-shaped dice and crazy voices. And if that’s enough to pique someone’s interest, then by all means you should absolutely run a game for those people. I guarantee at some point in the game session they’ll get a look of recognition in their eyes as it dawns on them.
“So, I just tell you whatever I want to do and I can try it?” — paraphrase of any new RPG player during their first game
Up until now, I’ve been focusing on D&D because frankly that’s my favorite RPG by a wide margin. It’s what I grew up playing for the most part, it’s still the game I play the most of and it’s still the best in my opinion. But, your mileage may vary and when it comes to bringing new players into a RPG you’ve got it made in the shade, Game Master. What do they know from Dungeons & Dragons?
New RPGs for new RPG players
New RPG players are the perfect chance to try out new games. If you tailor the game experience to the players who graciously come to the table to share their time with you, finding a game you think they might really enjoy can be a treat for everyone involved, even you as the GM. In the video Nerdarchist Ted talks with Ryan Schapels, who is…you know what? Ryan enjoys a pretty awesome career in the game industry if you ask me and it’s hard to keep up! At the time he was the lead writer for Monocle Society who makes Weave. It looks like right now he’s the narrative designer for Harebrained Schemes. #envious But seriously Ryan works his butt off and brings a lot to the table so any company is lucky to have him on board if you ask me.
If you read my post about Weave you’ll know I am really impressed with this game. And if you’re looking for a game to introduce people to RPGs you could do a lot worse. Weave is sort of a hybrid board game and RPG with terrific elements of both plus innovations of its own all inside a compact box you can bring to the next board game night and amaze everyone with.
Or perhaps your friends are huge fans of The Walking Dead, and you’ve all had that discussion about what if a zombie apocalypse really happened. One of your friends thinks it would be awesome, right? (That friend is wrong. It would be as far from awesome as imaginable.) Time to bust out Outbreak: Undead from Renegade Game Studios, where you play as yourselves when the aforementioned worse-thing-that-could-ever-happen…happens in your home town.
Do you have friends who love Stranger Things, Goonies, Monster Squad, Gremlin, Scooby-Doo or any other stories about kids taking on supernatural or scientific mysteries in their small town in the 80s? You’re in luck — there’s two great games out there for you! Tales from the Loop (and the follow-up Things from the Flood), along with Kids on Bikes are two great games putting players in the sneakers of characters facing strange events together. If you’re a huge Life is Strange fan like me, you could certainly hit everyone in the feels and run a campaign where they ultimately have to choose whether to let their best friend live or save the town from a devastating tornado. (I chose to save Chloe. Because c’mon it’s Chloe!)
For your bookish friends with a penchant for turn of the century-ish horror (the previous century, not this one…or the next one if you’re reading this from the 22nd century) there’s the Call of Cthulhu RPG from Chaosium. New RPG players will surely have a great experience when their characters die, go insane or have their brains put into metal canisters and carried across the void of space by mi-go. Yeah…maybe this isn’t the best one for getting new people to play roleplaying games. But you never know, YMMV.
Last by certainly not least, there’s superhero RPGs because let’s face it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has created a legion of nerds and they’re just a die roll away from being gamers.
Watching the Avengers take on Loki, Ultron, Thanos and the myriad other villains across all those awesome films gets the adrenaline pumping right? Now, what if you could become those heroes yourself, right? Or create your own unique superheroes instead, and see how they’d fare against Killmonger, Ghost, Hydra and the rest. Geek and Sundry has a great breakdown of several superhero RPGs out there to help you find the one to fit the group of new RPG players you’ve assembled.
And all this only scratches the surface. There’s a ton of RPGs out there. There’s a whole subreddit of one-page RPG systems with all kinds of creative games you could learn and start playing in minutes. There’s also a subreddit for 200 word RPGs if you want to get really quick and easy. There’s small press games like Lacuna Part 1 from Memento Mori, a personal favorite I found after the movie Inception totally mesmerized me and I thought “I’ve got to find an RPG like this film.” There’s new Kickstarters every day from people creating interesting new games. There’s games based on awesome licensed properties like Conan, Star Trek and Star Wars. (TOS is the best.) There’s generic systems like Genesys, FATE, and Savage Worlds. Literally anything you can imagine, there is almost certainly an RPG out there about it for you.
The simplest way for bringing new players into a RPG is just ask them. Don’t beat around the bush, just say, hey, you wanna play some D&D? Or go the extra step and invite people to a game night to show them how awesome RPGs are. Get some friends, some food, and a big ol’ pile of dice and tell your prospective players you’re running a game and they should totally come and play. I absolutely love playing an RPG with people for their first time and consider it quite an honor. I bet if you give it your own shot at bringing new players into a RPG you will too.
Do you have any tips or advice for getting new people to play roleplaying games, or any cool experiences with new RPG players to share? I’d love to hear about them down in the comments!
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, world building, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy or his own blog The Long Shot, he’s a newspaper designer, copy editor and journalist. He loves advocating the RPG hobby and connecting with other nerds and gamers on social media and his site thelongshotist.com.