The Roleplaying Path: From Novice to Expert in 5 RPGs


I’m not individually replying all your contributions but I’m reading them all… and taking notes.

Thank you!


With all the different kinds of RPG’s and styles I’m not even sure where to start, so I suspect it depends on your group? But hey, here’s my attempt.

  1. Roll 4 Shoes: It is super easy and simple. It’s basically a one-shot every time. It kinda introduces the concept of having a character and saying what they do in a silly and approachable way. (also angling for the bonus points here!)

  2. RISUS: Same as above, but slightly more involved. Also, genre doesn’t matter, so you’re not immediately pegged in to fantasy or sci-fi or whatever.

  3. FATE: Having a bit more crunch with the Fate Point Economy and forcing to think about scenes and themes instead of just your character.

  4. The Trouble With Rose: For another take on scene based play, without a meta-system like fate points and aspects. Also, peer review after a scene.

  5. I must admit I’m out of ideas at this point. But I haven’t been able to actually play a lot. So there’s that.


We will start with Zombie Cinema - The world’s best Finnish zombie movie RPG. Simple rules, a clear board that shows the current state of all the characters, an obvious goal in “survive the zombies” and also a reason to interact with the other players as you can only advance if your characters are in conflict with each other. Yet it is fun, even if you don’t win. 3 hours is a bit tight, so I steal an hour from game #5.

We continue with The Daughters of Verona - A story game of Shakespearean comedy. It is funny, perhaps a bit risque at times. The limited character gallery shifts between the players during play, so we learn to work within the confines of the premise. Also we laugh together, say embarrassing things and bond over the feast and marriage in the final act. 3 hours is a bit tight, so I steal an hour from game #5.

Next up is something OSR - I’d use Knave, but anything would do really - a bunch of pre-gens to save time at the table. The GM role is introduced, all rolls are made in the open. The joy of the emergent narrative, also we widen the concept of what an RPG is, so they’ll be better equipped to find their direction once our little course is completed.

Next we dive into the rail-roaded story kind of game. I’d take Höstdimma, as I ran that for years and have several scenarios ready to run. But pretty much anything would do, Call of Cthulhu or even Vampire, depending on the cultural preferences of the group. 3 hours is a bit tight, so I steal an hour from game #5.

Not really what you asked for, but I’d rather do fewer things well than to rush through many. We’re still at 15 hours total, at least.


Oh, maybe Zombie Cinema it’s a candidate for @Kyle_Simons’ translation zine? Is it in English already?


Zombie Cinema is both amazing and available in English last I checked! Should be on Euro’s website still?



As a guy in three weekly Blades games and as someone who did this over the course of October 2018 - January 2019, I’d advise against Blades or other FITD games for one of your first 5 RPGs. I’m not sold on the game for short term play; it really, really benefits from system mastery and being able to let the characters, player familiarity with rules, and setting all simmer for a few months. That said, it’s exactly how I want to play longform RPGs.

I think PBTA games are much better choices here. They tend to have quicker character creation that still let you feel like you’ve made meaningful choices that will distinguish your character from others, and some of them are designed to be played as one shots.

When I did this, I went with:

Fiasco - start with a game that puts character, inter-character conflict, and roleplaying first. This isn’t how RPGs must be played, but it’s how I want to play RPGs. I’ll note that I’ve grown less fond of Fiasco in the past few months as an intro RPG; I think the setup tends to take a little too long for new players (everyone loves to pour over those setups), and people sometimes get paralyzed with “uhhhhh what, I can just do anything now?” But my players were immediately in love with it, so /shrug. The speed of play problem will also go away when Fiasco In A Box comes out in the next year or two.

The Warren - Love me the simplest PBTA game. Built for one shots, introduces the concept of the GM, and still easy to pick up as a new player.

Lasers and Feelings - Another simple RPG. I think you could put this before The Warren to better ramp up rules complexity, though I like that The Warren does a better job of giving you specific consequences when people miss a roll. It’s easier to GM in that way, since good consequences are so important for driving a story forward.

For The Queen - This is what I’d start people on these days, but it wasn’t (isn’t?) out when I was introing my current group of new-to-the-hobby people. Love how easy it is to pick up and play. It’s almost a party game.

??? - For whatever your fifth game is, I’d start talking about campaigns. If people are still going at this point, they’re probably sold on the hobby, and I’d want to introduce them to what you can do with a more longform style of play. Lots of good choices here and good suggestions in this thread: D&D, Dungeon World, Monster Hearts, Apocalypse World, Urban Shadows, really whatever it is that sounds exciting to your group.

The Quiet Year is another go-to early game. Dungeon World makes a nice one shot if you want to round out that fifth one shot. Night Witches, too, if it sounds exciting for your group. I haven’t played Lady Blackbird, but it looks like a great choice, too. You might also consider a small LARP for game number 5.

In regards to your question about why people are suggesting PBTA games, I think every possibility you gave is correct: they tend to be good games, certain PBTA games are very good for beginners (easy character creation, dripping with flavor, not hugely complicated basic rules), and also they’re pretty trendy.


“Expert” is really hard to define. I’m going to define it as “Someone I feel comfortable gaming with”.

The sort of players I want to create have the following traits:

  • Larpers. But that’s not an easy on-ramp, so this’ll take a few intro games.
  • Up for queer content, so at least one game that stresses that and others where it’s allowable.
  • Up for emotional gaming, so none of this 45 damage from a d20. That’s not my bag.
  • Do not expect hierarchy in gaming, so none of these wll have a GM. They may need to be facilitated, but that’s not the same thing.

So, maybe:

  1. Honey Heist or Lasers and Feelings or any of these hacks. These remind people what an RPG is, and leverage a lot of what we did as children.

  2. Fiasco, maybe even in a box. Fiasco in a box has simpler setup. Fiasco can be played as almost entirely authorial stance, which can be much easier. At the same time, anyone who wants to RP and improv has room to do so.

  3. Dream Askew. Simple mechanics, no dice. Turn taking in an important way, and removes some of the guiderails you have in Fiasco. It’s also a litmus test: If the queer content bothers you, then I probably don’t want to play games with you. But, YMMV on that.

  4. First actual larp. Maybe Sea Dracula or even Ghost Court. Something easy with minimal mechanics, where we bring the lessons from the previous RPGs. Ghost Court is great in part because it is so quick; you can practice and try different things lots of times in a session. This game gives practice, which is going to be important for what is to come.

  5. Strange Gravity by Jay Treat. This is my favorite game, and might be the hardest game. I adore it, especially as various facilitator components are spread out among the players. There is no hierarchy, and there is clear differentiation of authority.

At that point, we can do the emotional deep end. Games about women at war in WW2. Tribunal. Little Prayer. Loop back to Fiasco and everything else, and revisit those as larpers, which is a real different experience.


Yeah, from what I’m hearing, Fiasco in a Box is a much more user-friendly game!


That was my experience when I ran it at Nerdly. It hit most of the same notes I want from Fiasco, and setup was tremendously quicker.

And really “Fiasco in a box” is almost a misnomer. This is “Fiasco as two decks of cards”, which means it’s a super easy onramp for board gamers.


This is an old horse I beat occasionally so please forgive me for being contrary. My answer is to drag out a pile of games I love, with no thought as to how “easy” or “hard” they are to grasp, or what “important skills” they might teach, pitch them all enthusiastically, and invite my new friends to choose the one they are most interested in. Maybe, in the situation you have outlined, we make it explicit that we’ll play over five sessions. Maybe everybody gets their own week to be the boss and pick a game - one we’ve played that they like, or a new one. Maybe give yourself a week as well to play something really weird and surprising.

There is no game that is too complicated, or opaque, or unedifying to enthusiastic players of any age. You will all learn a lot playing together, and while I adore Archipelago, you can incorporate a lot of the game’s innovations regarding social interaction into GURPS if that’s what your friends are into. If they are playing a game that excites and intrigues them, that’s way more important than anything a specific game has to teach. And if you are only offering things you love, that will shine through and chances are they will love it, too.

I guess my main point is that games are not that different - despite the vast amount of time we spend thinking about how they are different - and that a functional game group is built on interpersonal communication and trust and a shared sense of what’s good. Five sessions of play is a lot! You will get to know each other and be friends at the end of that, or at least know who wants to keep playing. I reject the distinction between “novice” and “expert”, because brand new players are often the best players.


Like @Jmstar, I reject the “novice/expert” divide. Sometimes new players are the best players, and many “veterans” are not much fun to play with.

However, if I was introducing a new player to this hobby, I’d want to give them a wide experience of roleplaying. It’s pretty difficult to narrow it down to five games, but I can give it a try. The goal would be to introduce the player to both a wide range of creative aims (“why are we playing this game?”) and technical tools (“how are we playing this game?”).

Ultimately, as Jason says, getting excited about the game’s premise is most important, so I would want to follow the players’ interests until we find a place where they intersect with my own. However, if I had to assemble a “playlist”, it would be something like this. I’ve recently introduced a handful of non-gamers to a variety of games, and we followed almost this exact progression (except that we also played Fiasco, as well as a homebrew game of mine that’s most closely related to The Shadow of Yesterday). It worked really well!

  1. I almost always start with a pure storytelling game. I don’t have a favourite among well-known games, but my own game “Musette” (which was a prototype for Muse, which is a similar game but more involved and doesn’t play out as fast - still, would work well for this) is something I’ve used with great success. It’s fun and reliable and works really well with “newbies”.

Free narration and crafting a story together step-by-step is something people intuitively understand, and the game’s Secret Goals and clear victory condition make it very approachable. It moves quickly and requires very little rules knowledge or mastery.

  1. To introduce the idea of differing creative roles, I’d bring out one of Vincent Baker’s “prompt”-based games. Probably Murderous Ghosts, although something like The King is Dead could work, too. There are clear steps, and the idea of playing the game from the perspective of a character is introduced.

  2. Next, I think going to the roots of the hobby is absolutely vital. OSR-style D&D (perhaps the Moldvay edition of Basic D&D, it is one of the most streamlined and clear “early” versions of the game) introduces the players to the concept of the GM/players divide, while maintaining a clear sense of how you play “well”, which is tracked with XP, and allows the players to experiment to figure that out in play. (Something like Maze Rats, Knave, or Into the Odd could work as alternatives to B/X D&D; very similar gameplay, as far as I’m concerned.)

  3. After that, I’d want to show the development of more “modern”, GMed RPGs: games with strong, driven characters and powerful themes. I would probably bring in Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts. I have “starter kits” for both games which make it really easy to get going. Dogs in the Vineyard is another favourite of mine for this “slot”. (As alternates, many “classic” indie RPGs could be a good bet, like Sorcerer, My Life with Master, or Grey Ranks, but I’m not sure those would be as effective in one session.)

  4. Depending on what the players were most interested in so far, you could then have room to branch out, starting a real exploration of what’s out there. Here are some options I would consider:

If the players like detailed mechanics with real “teeth”, throw in a game which gives them a lot to work with in that sense. Perhaps Burning Wheel or D&D 4th Edition. Perhaps they’d have interest in miniatures gaming or wargaming, as well; we’d have to discuss this “final session” and settle on a preferred option.

If the players enjoy freeform, collaborative story creation, then Fiasco, Archipelago, or Imagine. (Dog Eat Dog, Witch: the Road to Lindisfarne, or Nerves of Steel are other strong contenders.)

If the players were exciting by the idea of inhabiting a character and really “seeing the world through their eyes”, I’d introduce them to the idea of two other branches of this hobby:

a) A game with a really strong GM presence and very few rules, aimed at an “immersive experience”, kind of like the idealized RPG experience of 25 years ago. The specific rules don’t matter; the core of the experience is living the game and exploring its world purely through the eyes of a character: basically freeform roleplaying with an all-powerful GM role.

b) The idea of moving closer to physical presence and acting: the LARP or Jeepform scene. There are lots of games here, and each is very specific, but maybe something like Red Carnations on a Black Grave could work here.

  1. What is a Roleplaying Game? - A simple, explanatory, 1-page roleplaying exercise to sell them on exploring roleplaying further and get them to show up for game night.
  2. The Quiet Year - Rules explanation is a breeze, low cognitive burden, highly-structured, practice making things up and sharing them out loud to build confidence, contempt mechanism gets people thinking about how their words/contributions impact others in-/out-of-game, lack of player characters lowers stakes and reduces risk of performance anxiety, spatial/narrative/artistic/social/etc elements to appeal to many different kinds of people, finite time commitment, intro to world building and shared imagined space. (Alternate: Microscope)
  3. Lady Blackbird - Pregenerated characters, loosely structured plot, 1/2 page of mechanics, free, touchstone for discussion with other gamers (Alternate: Fall of Magic)
  4. Dungeon World - Close enough to that “D&D experience” they’ve always heard about, playbooks provide an archetype to flesh out, free/available. (Alternate: Marvel Heroic)
  5. Fate Accelerated - Cheap, streamlined rules, a rules system independent of setting, lots of supplemental settings let you tailor setting/genre/themes to player interest. (Alternate: The Black Hack)
  6. Fiasco - Popular, readily available, challenge any reliance on GM to lead play, lots of playsets to choose from. (Alternate: Shock: Social Science Fiction)
  7. Archipelago - Lots of freedom, adaptable, free/available. (Alternate: Dream Askew//Dream Apart)

Overall, my approach would be to go from more structured games to less structured games, keep costs low/availability high, include one or two “system” games so they’d feel confident jumping into any other game from that system/family, include one or two games that are generic enough to retheme if they envision worlds they’d like to play in, include one or two games with obvious ways to make and share their own content/hacks.


Oh, that’s a good list. I’m surprised at myself for not including The Quiet Year and Fall of Magic on my own list, as well as possibly Lady Blackbird. Some excellent introductory games with very different methods and approaches!


I thought about this for a long time. Instead of focusing on different rule sets, I would focus on a combination of system and table practices to demonstrate very different ways of engaging with a game. Instead of a ladder from beginner to expert, these are like pointing out the corners of a map of roleplaying possibilities (with lots of games I like in between.

The King is Dead: Tons of support for setting interesting scenes, resolution systems that are highly specialized to different interactions and stakes (having a disagreement with a friend is not resolved in the same way as a sword fight). [GMless with highly structured scenes and resolution]

Downfall: Show a take on world-building that is more about aesthetic and theme than genre emulation. Share characters across players. [GMless with highly freeform scenes and resolution]

Masks: This is a great PbtA to show off how a GM’ed game can follow a dramatic arc without railroading the players into a predetermined plot. The tug of war of conditions is a good engine for drama, and the “Moment of Truth” moves create mini-finales. The GM hard-frames scenes, introducing situations and NPCs that challenge the PCs’ labels and see how they characters develop over time. If possible, they can even dedicate each session to focusing on the drama of a particular character. [GMed with GM-driven scene-setting and campaign direction]

Blades in the Dark: Spend a lot of time in the first session looking at the claims sheet and faction relationships. These are the map of the crew’s potential path up the ladder. Be upfront about how you are going to run scores: they can either get work from a boss (dangerous tasks they boss doesn’t want to do) or come up with their own scores based on the claims sheet and faction map. This is the ideal set-up for fishbowl play, where the drama comes from groups with conflicting agendas in a constrained environment. [GMed with shared scene-setting and campaign direction]

Torchbearer: Introduce the game with a map full of dungeons. They can travel anywhere on the map, following travel rules, and explore. You won’t nudge or offer hooks except when the system tells you to (the leaving town roll). This is a great system for a player-driven sandbox. [GMed with highly structured scene-setting and player-driven campaign direction]


I should note, I don’t mean to claim that this is how these games always work at the table (you could have a GM railroad/rollercoaster Blades in the Dark, etc). I would want to introduce these games with a specific format I think they do well, and leverage that to show dramatically different styles of playing RPGs.

(I would consider Follow in lieu of Downfall, since I have more experience with it, but the shared character feature seems worth including in a primer like this).


With low/no improv experience, we can’t assume the players will be comfortable with authorship; but we can also not assume the players will be familiar with the trad GM/player dynamic either. I’ve had new players at both extremes.

So I think you have to pick RPGs that foster one and ignore the other. I think it’s easier to ignore the problem of “unfamiliar with the trad GM/player dynamic” than the problem of “uncomfortable with improv / authorship.” So you want games that…

  • Don’t require strong improv skills / authorship to function (e.g. not Fiasco). They can ask players to improvise, but if the players are hesitant to improvise or bad at improv, the game still needs to function and be fun, or it will turn them off.
  • Teach improv skills and authorship. Comedy, exploration, and whimsy (EDIT: and less dark heroic fantasy where you fight monsters) games are much more comfortable space than drama and horror for this. If the authorship feels like it’s really important, it will also feel like you can get it wrong – and that’s a lot of pressure on a player who’s not there yet. If it has explicit instruction on improv and authorship for players, like Fate or Donjon does, that’s a big bonus!
  • Resemble most other RPGs that you want to play with this person. This is a big deal! If you want to play Monsterhearts and Dream Askew with someone, don’t teach them on D&D or Fall of Magic or Honey Heist. But since it’s so personal, your best bet is to scan this thread and find games that meet the first two criteria for everyone, and satisfy the third one for you. :slight_smile: If you WANT to play games with the person that involve the trad GM/player relationship, you SHOULD also pick games with that dynamic, like The Black Hack or D&D.
  • If the game is popular enough to have popular actual plays, that’s a bonus. To that end, D&D, Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Blades in the Dark, Honey Heist, etc. are pretty good choices. You tell them, “I’m going to run Monster of the Week. Here’s a cool podcast of the McElroys of MBMBAM fame playing this game. If you want to listen to it before we play, it’ll really help you get into it.”
  • It should have a genre that the prospective players are familiar with and eager to get into. This obviously depends on the players, but more popular genres are better, overall. It’s not the biggest criteria, hence why I put it last.

Monster of the Week really does seem like a good choice, since it fits all my criteria. Dungeon World and Scum and Villainy (themed to fit their favorite Big Name Space Opera genre – Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, or Star Wars) are also likely good choices. Honey Heist and Fate, too. There’s five right there.


Zombie Cinema is such a great game! The highly structured format is easy to understand, meshes well with the genre, and adds to the fun and suspense. It also has all the affordances of a board game, if you need a stealthy introduction to roleplaying. Pretty sure the English language version is the only version.


1 Alone in the Ancient City (Takuma Okada; 2018)

… making vivid spaces and reacting to them.

2 ECH0 (Kai Poh/Elisha Rusli; 2019)

… exploring both scenery and emotions, drawing a map.

3 The Gardens of Ynn (Emmy Allen; 2018)

… exploring more freely, making decisions, interacting with the Gardens “as if [they] were a place that exists.”

4 Bluebeard’s Bride (Whitney “Strix” Beltrán/Marissa Kelly/Sarah Richardson; 2017)

… interpreting spaces, playing from unique, unreliable perspectives, dealing with the ebb and flow of tensions and control between them.

5 Dream Askew (Avery Alder, Benjamin Rosenbaum; 2019)

… building a setting, playing characters without ropes, interacting with a place and its various elements, with and inbetween characters.


5 games? Moldvay did it in just two! You got Basic, and you got Expert! What more do you want?!


My mostly-trad take:

  1. Microscope. Goals: Joint imagining of fictional setting, beginning to get into character’s mindset (but at a remove)
  2. Beyond the Wall. Goals: teamwork, shared envisioning of environment, tactical engagement, training improvisation and building off of each other’s stories
  3. Traveller. Goals: open-ended problem-solving, Social interactions and utilizing environment.
  4. Call of Cthulhu (Harlem Unbound). Goals: Continued lateral thinking for problem-solving, emphasis on engaging with setting and society, effective treatment of horror in game format.
  5. Paranoia. Goals: Refocusing on fast play, continuing to hone out-of-the-box solutions, cooperation in unusual circumstances, humor.