Two weeks ago I ran my intro game for the second time down at the local game store. Unfortunately then the following week and then some was so chaotic I never had a chance to sit down and write about it. Hopefully I can remember some stuff, here we go:
What Went Well
- Characters – I ditched character generation and just handed out characters. I did get to give an intro spiel about the options and had a wide variety of characters. I also made the characters slightly higher level (2500 xp), which made the trade-offs of multiclass characters more apparent, as they were generally lower level in at least one of the two classes. Plus pure magic-users had a bit more to choose from.
- Hour Glass – I took BJ’s suggestion from last time and got myself a real hour glass. As the game was scheduled for 4 hours I intended to flip it 3 times, and put post-its on it with numbers I could tear off each time I flipped it. I then proceeded to forget all about it for the first half hour of introductory stuff. This actually worked out extremely well, as I then only flipped the glass twice, and at the end still had my desired half-hour of debrief. And the glass did exactly what it was intended to do. It both made me highly conscious of the pacing, and imparted some sense of urgency to the group. At one point a younger player went wide eyed when he asked what happened when the sand ran out and I said “the game ends.” I may well use this in other convention games in the future, intro or otherwise.
- Group Diversity – Again I got a fairly diverse group of players, especially on the ranges of gaming experience and this time age. I had two young men (late teen or early 20’s) who were clearly game-store flies and would play anything someone would run. They knew D&D, but were mostly new-school players so learning old school was something new for them. I had a young teenage couple who had never played any kind of roleplaying game ever. And I had a small family (mom, dad, and young son) – mom and dad had done some roleplaying back in the 90’s but nothing since, and were introducing it to their son. Dad was actually a huge help in the game as a counter-point to the two more experienced players. When they fell into analysis paralysis he had no problems kicking the group into action in a productive way.
- Lure for Other Games – At one point the complete neophyte players asked something along the lines of “when/how can we play more”. One of the experienced players immediately chimed in with info on other regular games that run at the store (and in fact he had mentioned to me before we started playing that a game he was running at the store was trying to attract more players). This felt like a very practical example of exactly what I was hoping my game might do – provide that stepping stone for new people to get involved in the hobby. More reflection on this later.
What Went Not-So-Well
- Fluctuating Party Size – Outside the formality of a convention schedule, I think the players felt more at ease coming and going. To their credit every player that couldn’t stay the full time cleared it with me first, and I made a point of being accommodating. Mom had to leave in the middle and caught the beginning and end of the game, while the teenage couple had to leave after about 3 hours. So there was a chunk of time where we were down to just 4 players. Ultimately it worked out fine, but I could see how this could become more disruptive at similar venues.
- Analysis Paralysis – As mentioned earlier, my two more experienced players fell into an odd pattern of overly analyzing many things. I tried my best to push them forward – at one point spinning up a random encounter on the fly to inject a little action and perhaps show them the cost of standing around over-analyzing for too long. I also had one player on my side who was helpful in keeping the group moving. I want to make sure the game imparts the sense that players can do whatever they want, but my new players I think did defer a bit to the confidence my analytical experienced players were showing. In retrospect, perhaps the right thing to do would be to step outside the narrative of the game for a moment after the fight and point out that I’m also an active player in the game, and that the world does not stop evolving just because the players want to stop and chat for a while.
The big question I was left with is, what next? The players wanted to know this as well. Do I run the same thing at regular intervals at this location? Do I translate it into a full campaign with that group? Do I just move on? I asked the store owner about this and she said that if I ran stuff with any regularity at the shop, I should expect a certain core of players to always show up, plus a fluctuating number of extras at any given session. She was very helpful on the side of offering logistic/mechanical advice and referred to the common “living campaign” style of games run at stores these days. My fear is that this would ultimately reduce the effectiveness of my game as an introduction for complete newbies.
If I have a core of regulars, I worry that as they get used to my style and start forming a rapport with me and each other, the overall game may become less inviting to new people, who may start to feel like they are intruding on such a well established group. I think in pretty much all activities newbies find comfort in being surrounded by other newbies. Possibly I might be able to combat that by bringing the regulars into it as active participants in my goal of teaching new players, but I think that’s a bit of a gamble given what I saw of the shop regulars who would likely be the ones I’d have to train to do this. Also, mechanically, my regulars will go up in level, and then what? At some point giving newbies characters at an equivalent level may become overwhelming.
I do also want to bring this game to more locations. I think it would run well at larger conventions where there’s likely to be some number of attendees that got dragged along with friends or sucked in purely out of curiosity that might be actively scanning the event listings for an intro game. I think TotalCon is a good target for this. I also like the idea of running it somewhere like PAX East, where the focus is not tabletop but there is tabletop present. I still want to find some opportunity to do this in town as well. I really need to make contact with my local librarians.
Finding more events to run it is the easy part though. I think there’s value in finding some way to repeat this at my local game store. Beyond just continuing to engage the local community, I think I may be able to draw more people into the hobby if I can form some kind of reputation as the local intro game. I imagining some friend of a local gamer expressing interest and being told “oh, there’s a guy that runs intro D&D games on the first weekend of the month at this store, you should go to that.” I just have to figure out how to keep it fun for the regulars without spoiling it for the newbies.