The Roleplaying Path: From Novice to Expert in 5 RPGs

Hi all,

I’m new here so, please, forgive me if something similar has already been asked before. :wink:

I was wondering which are, in your opinion, the 5 tabletop RPGs that you would use to transform a bunch of complete novices into a functional gaming group and why would you include each one of them.

So, imagine that someone ask you to run five 3h-sessions for him/her and his/her 3-4 friends. None of them have ever played an RPG before and they want to get a general idea of what this hobby of yours is all about.

They also want to end up being an autonomous gaming group after the experience, capable of picking-up any RPG of their choice and using it in their next session without external help.

Finally, you can assume that they are creative and open-minded but you can expect they to be a little bit shy in their first sessions too.

Bonus points if the first RPG of your list can be played, with little or no equipment/preparation, 5 minutes after they make that petition to you.

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in order of play -

1-Honey Heist / Witch is Dead by Grant Howitt. One shots but easy on ramp.
2-Monster of the Week - easy to relate to, easy to play and run.
3-Dungeon World - plenty of tv/movie tropes to relate too.
4-Macchiato Monsters - good balance of detail and room to move.
5-Urban Shadows - balance cooperation and competitiveness.

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Thanks for answering.

I didn’t know Macchiato Monsters, it’s OSR, right? Could you elaborate about why did you choose this one rather than any other OSR representative?

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yeah its OSR

you can create a character in 10-15 minutes in macchiato monsters, some of the older osr games take way longer, and that makes even experienced players lose interest

there are gear and monster lists in the game, but you can easily use them as a guide and ad more.

Others may disagree with my list (welcome to the internet :P) so i’ll explain i did not have any version of D&D due to long character creation time, and did not have Blades in the Dark due to complex task resolution (for newer players).

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It’s interesting you mention MM as having particularly fast chargen. In my experience it tends to be on the slower end for newer generation games. (It being a mashup of The Black Hack (quick chargen) and Whitehack (slower than MM chargen) - both being newer generation games.)

I personally would lean towards Into The Odd (Electric Bastionland) since your chargen is done in seven(?) rolls.

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If I can ask a clarifying question: how much improv comfort can/should we assume in the group of new players?

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Low or none. Assume that they have no improv/LARP experience at all.

They are creative people but they don’t know it… yet :wink:

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On a different day this list could be 5 entirely different games.

Shock: Social Science Fiction

Tools and their lessons

GMful play, how to use an antagonist to mess up a protagonist’s normal day,

Praxis, minutae: world building

Sorcerer

Tools and their lessons

Kickers and the back of the sheet: building adventures from players’ backgrounds and input.

The Shadow of Yesterday

Tools and their Lessons

Keys: Making adventures from the character sheets and resolving issues, evolving a character while keeping the character’s core.

Bring Down the Pain: escalating through game mechanics and different mechanics for different conflicts

Near: Making a published setting your own

Blades in the Dark

Tools and their lessons

Structure: learning how the game’s shape helps the GM and ways to break that structure as the game moves forward

Special projects during downtime: break the rules of the game through play

Position and Effect: How the context of what the character is doing and what has been established in the world sets up how risky a given conflict is when dice hit the table.

Rules density: everyone at the table helps everyone else comprehend the rules

Apocalypse World

Tools and their lessons

Agendas and Principles: naming one’s tools makes it easier to access them

Playbooks: World-building through chargen and play, great guidelines for prep

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Nothing wrong with Macchiato Monsters, but for character generation I find 1981 Moldvay Basic is shockingly fast as long as you roll for equipment (which I’m pretty sure Paolo Greco/Lost Pages/MM would do?).

You can even use this lovely generation tool at Save v. Party Total Kill to save time. http://character.totalpartykill.ca/basic/

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I ended up designing my own games to overcome this hurdle so I’ll just write about tools instead of games if you don’t mind. I know it’s impolite to brag about my own stuff but I prefer to talk about something I know well. Also, I can’t really call it totally my own stuff since I’ve been hacking left and right for so many years that now I don’t remember from where I picked some things and which ones I come up with alone. Anyway:

1-Quick brainstorm for worldbuilding. I think I first saw this in the Burning Wheel but wanted to keep things really short, so I ended up hacking from thereand other games until I got a list of about 8 questions. Also, after character creation, I ask the players about the choices they made and their expectations over those to create fronts, NPCs, and other setting elements.

2-Start with player-made character concepts, help them develop their character skills/items/abilities from them. The process so far resembles let’s pretend play enough for people to relax and enjoy themselves, as it makes them active part of the conversation and rewards their input with group acknowledgement.

3-Link their characters with one another and with the world they created. This crucial step prevents 99% of toxic play by giving players a motivation/goal to follow a story of their own instead of running amok and ruin the fiction for everyone else.

4-Set up a clear premise and as a GM, have a good idea on where it can go. After that, light prep like color, places, challenges and such only help to keep things going. Otherwise it all becomes following the players wherever their imagination takes them.

These principles can be taken to literally any game to make it a starting game for any player, as long as you explain properly the agenda of that game to the players. #2 can be reduced to ask the players about their character choices to make sure both the players and GM are in the same page about those. Like, if I choose to play a monk in D&D5e thinking of an anime-like frontline character I may be on my road to a world of frustration unless the GM is aware of my expectations and either embraces them or tells me to play it like that but use a fighter as a base instead.

The rest is about system mastery. All games are great, though I give it that some are better explained than others or are easier to explain once you understand what makes them tick. Some require you to understand a lot of mechanics before getting to play where in others you’re safe by learning them as you play, but none have really unsurmontable learning curves.

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I’ll second Honey Heist as my Game #1. It has an absurd premise baked in, the mechanics are simple but demonstrate a mechanical engine at their core, and the investment is low.

For Game #2, I’d try Golden Sky Stories. Instill in them a notion of interacting with the world that isn’t based in violence but is based on empathy with the characters of the narrative. The mechanical complexity isn’t too much greater, and character creation involves making a few decisions (what henge type you are, and what strengths you have). This game is also heavy on dialogue but also gives players unique, unquantifiable magical tools to be creative with.

For game #3, I think going with Blades in the Dark or Scum & Villainy works well. Ignore all the advancement stuff and the Crew aspects, and just go for a one-shot heist -> downtime cycle. If character creation didn’t take too long, go back into another quick heist. Personally I’d go with Scum & Villainy skinned as Star Wars, because it’s an easy sell with a familiar IP.

Game #4, I’d love to say that sports anime RPG that Storybrewers Roleplaying is working on, but it’s not out yet! I haven’t played Good Society yet, but that sounds like it could be a really fun next step for this group.

Game #5, I’m definitely going to say Hearts of Wulin. It synergizes a ton of PbtA design across different games into a wonderful, coherent experience. Nice capstone for the intro course.

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Thank you for sharing your ideas here, I will use them as a check-list for evaluating games in a future. In the meanwhile… could you provide an example of a game (I don’t really mind if it’s your own game, I’m here to discover new games after all!) that explain that kind of mechanics/concepts/ideas clearly enough so a novice can understand them without help?

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Thank you all, in general, for your replies.

I’m seeing many Powered by the Apocalypse / Forged in the Dark games.

Do you suggest them because they are great games in general, because they are great games for novice players or because they are trendy games right now (so the novice players will have tons of online material/advice)?

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All one-shots:

Lady Blackbird OR Bloody Forks of the Ohio for the keys/flags and relationship maps,

Ghost/Echo for the Otherkind dice, the basic moves and fallout, and the oracular world-building

Mesopotamians for the interesting variation on Otherkind dice, narrative stats, and the count-down clock/fronts

Last Train Out of Warsaw OR Love in the Time of Seið for the Archipelago mechanics, relationship maps, destiny points, and Archipelago play-style.

Danger Patrol beta for the numerical traits/stats, dice pools, harm track, character cards, talents and bonuses, and scene types.

All are free, except LitToS, and don’t require any prep except printing and reading the rules, which are all under 30 pages, most under 15 pages, some are just one sheet. All of them offer a variety of settings/motifs. Half of them are GMless; half of them are GMful. All have some form of pre-generated characters. If you played these five games, I feel, any other indie game would be easy as pie to learn. Most commerical games too!

If I could choose six then I’d add a Pendragon one-shot. But you’d have to make that yourself, i.e. it would require a lot of prep.

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I think we can obsess about which rules to use because that’s what experienced games see when they open a book.

Instead, I’d start by asking them if there was a genre they all enjoyed - or maybe ask for top three and pick the one in most people’s list. In my experience the ability to say … ‘Imagine you were in film X or TV series Y. That’s what this game is meant to feel like’, is very powerful in getting buy in - and that breeds returning players who will know one set of rules after 2-4 sessions so they can make an informed decision about the next 3-4 sessions.

I’d then look for a PbtA or similar ‘light’/‘less mechanical’ system (with as few die-types as possible) to play in that shared ‘universe’. Any system that has most of what a player needs on 2 sides of paper.

So …
Horror … Cthulu Dark?
Urban Fantasy … Monster of the Week?
Supers … Masks?
Sci-Fi … StarWars World? (or Impulse Drive if they don’t like SW)
Fantasy … Probably DW, but if they are coming at this from the LotR movies be prepared to limit playbooks or playbook options to best reflect it’s tropes, and lean away from some of the rules and towards the Middle Earth setting.

I don’t find that the barrier is the nature of the rules in most cases, but in the suspension of belief or understanding of how they are supposed to behave in game.

If you can ask ‘What would Luke, Frodo, Buffy, Batman, etc. do in this situation?’, then the rules become a means rather than an end in themselves.

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For me, it’s the focus. They’re very clearly ABOUT something, character creation is literally “go down the page and check boxes”, and for PbtA games, the core actions of the game are very clearly spelled out in a way that telegraphs how the game is going to go.

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So I think we need some basic considerations here, if we assume the players are so brand new and they need a guide to play, I would recommend the following. (Please don’t burn me at the stake)

Start with a basic, i would pick something for the joy of gaming, something stripped down to the 9s.
Lasers & Feelings. This game would require a couple of pencils, 0 prep,2 dice, and is a basic enough concept that like 90% of gamers/ nerds get.

Second, we cannot be an Indie world without exposing gamers to why we prefer Indies over the norm. So I would say you need to do a DND 5 or 3.5 games. Treat it like the old school RPGs and dumb it down with cheat sheets. I would run a 4 hour one shot, a mix of the character tropes that we as games are all very familiar with.

Third I would say we break them from there with Dungeon World. We show them how more stripped down narrative focused games can really up the ante. Dungeon World takes DND and gives you the heart without the mechanic. I think players need that comparison.

Fourth, I would choose Hillfolk, purely for the character creation and relationship building. Hillfolk gives players a strong foundation to build stronger ties, that make it less about mechanic and themselves and more about others and how we relate to them.

Finally Dogs in the Vineyard. Go back to just the enjoyment of the game and play something odd and unique. Play a game far removed from typical.

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Apocalypse World and pbta games are good at fast chargen with built-in situation that is ready to roll and the tools and best practices of the games are given names.

Blades in the Dark has position and effect as part of the conflict process and those ideas feel important, moreso the more Forged in the Dark games I play. Also, the structure is neat. I discovered structure in the first ten years of my GMing but it was a total accident that I wish I had learned about earlier.

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  • I found out that Moldway D&D is one of the best gateways to understand and get into D&D, as well the the basic free rules of 5e. Almost any old school game will also work. (Blackhack, etc)
  • I finally got into PbtA games by reading World of Dungeons, then getting into a good review/explanation of Dungeon World, then to DW and then to AW.
  • While I got into RPGs by playing Vampire the Masquerade, it seems no one in our group -even the narrator- used too much of the actual rules of the game nor understood the Creative Agenda, the actual experience the designers were trying to get us into. I didn’t found out until many years later. It’s still a great book to get you into reading more and more of the lore before playing the game, as you will definitely want to include as much as possible.
  • Finally my game Offline is meant to be used as a gate into more complex RPGs. It aims for power fantasy because my main audience here strives for it. The players and GM get tools to build the setting and adventure in 20 minutes. It benefits as much from improvisation as from some light prep. Picks up some principles from PbtA and teaches the game from the ritual phrases perspective. It takes care of levels by having the GM narrate how previous difficult challenges become easier after the PCs face enough of them or train enough to justify them becoming stronger or better. Having the whole experience lay on the shoulders of all the group instead of the GM alone is supposed to help train GMs in their trade. Giving them the tools to handle different situations plays a great deal to that too.

Personally I feel there are still not enough games that explain themselves good enough for newcomers, but definitely some are getting better at it. I would also like to know more of those.

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  1. For the Queen
    Its super easy, can be played with no prep and isn’t intimidating at all. You can also play it in less than an hour, especially with new players, which makes it easy to get buyin to. It also is pretty good at teaching basic RPG skills like asking good questions to the other players and introduces the x-card right off the bat.

  2. Archipelago
    Gives a lot of good lessons on how to co-author a story both intoducing a lot of good techniques that teaches you how to both making interesting characters (destiny point), setting scenes, worldbuilding (map drawing) and other good stuff. I especially like how it teaches how to give players narrative power with the “try a different way”, “describe that in detail”, “harder” and “that might not be quite so easy” and safety techniques (veto). It also teaches some good priniciples for how to do good impro (Yes and…)

  3. Downfall
    The shared character in this game is a good way to teach how to build on what other says and introduce players to how to let go of the ideas you have and just let the narrative emerge from the collective storytelling.

  4. Good Society
    Is a very good game to teach how to cooperate about making the most interesting story trough negotiating with the resolve tokens. Its also really good at teaching how to use relationships between characters deliberatly to make the story through also giving you control a secondary character that pretty much serves as a tool to make drama for the other players.

  5. Monsterhearts
    Teaches you how to drive your character like a stolen car! I think it gives a good introduction to Agendas and principles which is a good lesson in how games can be very deliberate in what the tone and focus of the game should be.

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