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New Player Information

This is a photograph of a pile of dramatically lit, hot pink, six-sided dice with a blue light reflecting off of them

This is a photograph of a pile of dramatically lit, hot pink, six-sided dice with a blue light reflecting off of them

 

Part of making an accessible game is welcoming players who have never had a chance to play a role-playing game before. This page is a collection information and advice to help new players get started.

 

What Is a Tabletop Role-Playing Game?

Tabletop role-playing is about creating an interesting story together. In a role-playing game the players each create and play one of the main characters in this story. The game master is the one who creates the world, the other characters, as well as the main challenges of the story (though players often contribute to these things as well). The players then work together to have their characters overcome these obstacles.

The gaming system is a set of rules that help facilitate the story telling process. Each system is connected to a particular genre of storytelling and it has rules that help shape the game for its genre. For example, Dungeons and Dragons is a high fantasy genre game and it has a lot of rules for how magic works. These rules create a framework in which the story can occur. Different gaming systems vary widely in their level of complexity. I will make an effort to match new players with gaming systems that are easier to use.

Each time a character attempts to do something significant in a role-playing game, dice are used to figure out whether or not the character was successful in their task. Characters do receive an advantage when they are doing things they are good at, but the size of this advantage and the exact way that the dice are used varies a lot from system to system. The reason why having dice decide a character’s success is so great for role-playing games is that the element of random chance adds an uncertainty to the game which keeps it exciting. Also, unexpected extreme success and failure can add a lot of interest to the story.

Each gaming system has a process for creating characters. This process is a way of defining what each character can do (what they are good at and bad at). It can also include creating a history for your character and figuring out relationships between the characters. The first session of our game will include going through this character creation process.

 

Common Terminology

Role-playing game (RPG): A broad category of games in which players take on the role of an imaginary character in a fictional setting. This category includes both computer games and in-person games.

Tabletop role-playing game (tabletop RPG): An in-person discussion-based form of role-playing game which uses a formal system of rules to decide the outcome of events. This type of game is frequently played by people who sit together around a table (thus the name). Nowadays, however, these games can also be played by groups online. Because the phrase “tabletop role-playing game” is long, people will frequently refer them as role-playing games (or RPGs) even when they are specifically talking about this type of role-playing game.

Player character (PC): This is a characters that a players is controlling. The player gets to decide what they do and how they act in the story.

Non-player character (NPC): This is any character in the story that is not a player characters. In most stories, the game master will control all of the non-player characters.

Game master (GM): This is the person creates the world, challenges, and non-player characters in the game. Do note that each gaming system has its own term for game master. For example, in the Dungeons and Dragons this role is called the Dungeon Master or DM, whereas other systems use titles like Storyteller, or Master of Ceremonies.

 

Creating a Character

The first part of each Unfamiliar Heroes game will be creating characters. Even so, it can be helpful for players to come to the first session with a few starting ideas to build on when they create their character. This can speed the character creation process up and make the final character more interesting. However, for new players in particular, it is helpful to not to get overly attached to a specific idea of what the character will be like. This is because the game system itself will have requirements for characters that are part of creating game play that matches the game’s genre. In addition, the gaming system will place limits on characters so that all players have equally powerful characters. This means that putting a character concept into the gaming system could require significant changes to the original concept.

Here is some general advice to think about when you come up with your character idea:

I suggest playing a character whose disabilities and oppressed identities you have experience or connection with. The farther away from your personal experience you get, the more research you will need to do as a player in order to portray that experience respectfully.

At the same time, it can be important to make sure your character is separate from yourself. This is because your character will be going through challenges and struggles. Sometimes they will fail at things or have conflicts with other characters. Having some separation between yourself and your character can make the process of facing these challenges more enjoyable. You can even give your character a few traits that are very different from you to help with this.

Character ideas can start in a lot of places. Here are some common sources of inspiration to think about:

  • They can start with an experience you want to explore or communicate. For example, I am creating a character based on the idea of having a hero who needs to spend a lot of time home in bed but who can still participate in an adventure.
  • Character ideas can begin as an idea for something you want your character to be able to do. For example, in a superhero game you might want to play a character with super speed.
  • Ideas for characters can also start with a personality trait. For example, as a person with high anxiety I often enjoy playing characters who are care-free, enthusiastic, and happy to try new things.
  • Favorite characters from books, TV, or film can also be good places to start. For example, I enjoy the character Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter and so I can design a character based on her core traits who is a knowledgeable bookworm that is a bit of a know-it-all but who is also strong and brave.
  • Another place to start is how you want your character to solve problems. Is knowledge their first recourse, or social skills, or do they prefer to respond to challenges physically? Do they tackle things directly in a bold manner or they more careful? For example, if you wanted to play a character who carefully solves problems in a physical way, you might decide that they are a thief who is good at sneaking around.
  • It can also be helpful to be aware of the kinds of characters the other players want to play and fill in any gaps in skills and abilities. The more diverse a set of skills the characters have, the more interesting ways they will have to solve problems. For example, if one person is playing an intellectual character, and the other person has a physically oriented character, then it could be good for you to play a socially oriented character.
  • If you have time to do a bit of research on the gaming system, that can be a great source of ideas. For example, the main thing that defines a character’s abilities in the Monsterhearts system is the kind of monster each character is. In Monsterearts that is called a “skin.” Examples of skins are The Vampire, The Werewolf, The Witch, and The Ghost.

Because tabletop role-playing games are cooperative, team-based games, it is helpful to design a character who is willing to work with others. As we set up the game in the first session there is a lot we can do to create connections betweens characters and to give them overlapping goals, but it is helpful if the characters are okay working in teams. This doesn’t mean that the characters have to be perfect team players, just that they are okay with cooperation. For example, a character who is so secretive that they never share any information they have with the other members of their team (or who is unwilling to work on a team in the first place) could cause problems for game play, whereas a secretive character who selectively shares information with other members of the team could be a lot of fun.

As you come up with ideas for your character, it is important to know that in role-playing games you can’t have a character that is good at everything. This is important for game play because it means that each character will have their own role in the group and their own moment to be in the spotlight. This is why it is often more fun to play a character who is really good at something and really bad at something than someone who is okay at everything (though it is possible to go too extreme with this and make a character that is bad at things that there is no logical reason for them tot be bad at).

Also, different games will have different amounts of power in them (this is called the power level of the game). In some games, characters will be very magical and powerful with lots of special abilities (a high power level game), but in others the characters will be only slightly more skilled than ordinary people (a low power level game). Because of this, the same character concept could end up producing a very different character based on the power level of the game they are in.

And finally, for people who enjoy humor and silliness, there are a lot of ways to bring this fun into a game:

  • You can have a character who regularly makes puns, or plays with rhymes and double entendres
  • Or maybe your character is a bit silly and they have a ridiculous catch phrase they used each time they do a particular activity
  • Interesting character traits like always having cold hands or having a strange hobby can also be fun (do keep in mind that traits like these might not come up in the story, especially if your character has a lot of them)
  • Many players like to do a special voice for their characters, which they use whenever their character is talking (don’t feel required to do this, though, not everyone enjoys it)

 

Game Playing Tips

#1) Don’t be afraid of failure

Role-playing games are about creating an interesting story together, and failure is an important part of creating a compelling story. When characters fail at things it doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve their goals, it just means that they have run into a complication or obstacle. Failure is important to role-playing games because it advances the plot. In fact, failure is a core part of the process of playing a role-playing game.

 

#2) Stay present when others have the spotlight

This is a team game, so the better you are able to stay present when others have the spotlight, the more fun the game will be for everyone. This is, of course, easier to say than do, especially for certain brains. If there is anything the group can do to help you with this, please speak up. We can slow down or repeat things if that will help you stay present with us.

 

#3) Build on what other people are doing

Sometimes characters jump into things even though it is a bad idea. That can make for a very interesting story. If another player has their character do something that doesn’t seem wise, accept what their character is doing and figure out how your character is going to respond. Some of the funnest (and funniest) moments in role-playing can be the wild situations that occur when all of the players embrace and react to an unwise, impulsive choice one character made.

 

#4) Don’t take character conflicts personally

The first time a character conflict arises in play it can be disorienting for new players and it can bring up a lot of feelings. People will often worry that the other player is mad at them, however there is a timeout system in the game for addressing any conflicts that come up between players, so character conflicts should be just that—conflicts that are only between the characters. This is why is so is important to remember that people aren’t their characters.

For some people navigating this type of situation is easy and for others it will be hard. If you need time to process a character conflict or could benefit from some reassurances from the other players, please call a timeout! In addition, do know that there are ways for people to play that can reduce the impact of this type of situation. One way to do this is for players to say what their characters are doing in third person and to use the other characters’ names in their dialogue to remind everyone that the characters are separate. For example, a player can tell the group, “My character says, ‘Wizard Alaia, I am really mad at you,’” instead of just saying, “I am really mad at you.” Please let the group know if you would benefit from us doing this.

Finally, if character conflict is a big problem for you, the group can make choices to reduce it and prevent it. If you know (or think it likely) that character conflict is going to be hard for you, let the group know ahead of time so that we can incorporate your needs into the game setup.

 

#5) If possible, know how you want your character to act ahead of time

It can help play be more fun if you have an idea for what your character is going to do before your turn starts. This can reduce pauses. However, don’t feel like you need to have everything figured out. An idea like, “My character is going to check for traps,” is great and it’s fine if you don’t know how to make that idea work with the gaming mechanics (the game master and other players can help with that). It is also fine if there are pauses sometimes. Frequently, if you are feeling lost, asking the game master to say a quick reminder of everything that is going on can help you figure out a course of action.

 

#6) If you have time, please learn a little bit about the role-playing system

Each role-playing system has a core rulebook you can skim to pick up some basics about how the game works, but for most people that is way too boring and confusing. A more fun way to learn about a role-playing system is to watch or listen to people playing it. Youtube is actually a good resource for this. If you search for the name of the gaming system, there will usually be multiple options for watching game play. There are also a lot of gaming themed podcasts out there. For entertainment value, my favorite is the One Shot Podcast (you do need to do a google search for “One Shot Podcast” and the name of the gaming system to find the episodes of interest). However, be warned that there will be significant ableism (as well as other forms of oppression) in most of the things you find and One Shot Podcast is no exception.

 

Resources

This list contains links to helpful articles with additional perspectives and game playing tips. Do note that there isn’t that much out there for new players. Because of this, none of these articles is entirely designed for new players and some of these articles contain moments of ableism or other forms of oppression.

 

Basic Tips:

(These articles may use a bit jargon, but overall they have useful advice for beginners.)

Geek and Sundry’s advice on how to be a great role-player: http://geekandsundry.com/how-to-be-the-best-dd-player-ever/

How To Be a Better Role-Player: http://www.nerdsourced.com/better-roleplayer-players-guide-building-flow/

Tabletop Roleplaying for the Shy and Cerebral: https://www.themarysue.com/tabletop-roleplaying-for-the-shy-and-cerebral/

Three Tips for Getting Into Character: https://mythcreants.com/blog/three-tips-for-getting-into-character/

 

Intermediate Level Tips:

(These tips are designed for for players who have some experience with role-playing.)

Acting With Clear Intent Improves Roleplaying (be aware that this article includes examples with depictions of violence): https://mythcreants.com/blog/acting-with-clear-intent-improves-roleplaying/

Making Memorable Player Characters in Minutes: https://mythcreants.com/blog/making-memorable-player-characters-in-minutes/

Six Tips for Players to Improve Their Story: https://mythcreants.com/blog/six-tips-for-players-to-improve-their-story/

Drawing Character Inspiration from Game Mechanics: https://mythcreants.com/blog/drawing-character-inspiration-from-game-mechanics/

 

Have a resource to share or know an important topic I left out? Please tell me in the comments below!

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