The Gamer Agenda – Bringing Non-Gamers to the Gaming Table

My good friend Sam (short for Samantha) doesn’t game. We’ve tried to get her to game for years, but she’s always been very resistant to the idea. Her husband games with us, and we met her through my husband, who certainly games. She teases us a little about being geeks, and we tease her a little about her inevitable slide into geekdom with us.

Recently, something funny has happened. Sam has finally agreed to try gaming with us. She bought her own dice, and we’ve been discussing what she might want to play as a character,

How did we get her to this point? Well, it’s been some work, but let me tell you my strategy for getting someone into the game.

Choose Your Target Wisely

When I was a kid, I tried to convince my Mom to play D&D with us. I cajoled her, bribed her, badgered her…she just wasn’t interested. I’d try to explain the rules to her, and she would lose interest way too quickly. After a while, I determined that my Mom just wasn’t going to be interested in D&D.

Over the years, I’ve learned to sift good targets from bad. Some people just aren’t going to enjoy RPGs no matter how badly you want them to. Others just need the right RPG to spark their interest. People who tried before and didn’t like them are worth a shot, for example. It may be that the game they were playing, or the people they were playing with, didn’t serve to help them get interested.

Sam was a good target. She’d never played before, so she didn’t have a negative opinion of gaming other than her own thoughts on the subject. She loves most things that’re geeky, and her husband likes to play, so it’s something that’s theoretically relevant to her interests. Although she kept saying that she wasn’t interested, she kept being curious about what was happening in the game. That’s usually a dead giveaway.

Use Logic

Although Sam professes a lack of interest in RPGs, she loves board-games, and she’s played a number of games that really skirt the edge. I noticed this when we were playing Betrayal at the House on the Hill. She would be joking, but she’d say something like, “Can’t I use the rope to tie up the stunned monster?” or “Could I try and push the zombie down the stairs?”

I would grin and say, “You could if we were playing D&D.”

Also, I noticed she would read the little details on the character cards. “Sorry,” she’d say. “My character is afraid of bugs. I’m not coming in that room.” She was role-playing in a non-traditionally RP game. I pointed this out to her, and I think that got her thinking about playing.

Start Off Small

The ultimate offer in tabletop gaming is, “Come try a game. We can make it a short one, and, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to keep playing.” I always encourage people to at least try it. If they don’t enjoy it, then I leave them alone. But, just like your Mom used to say when you were balking at trying a new food, “How do you know you don’t like it, if you’ve never tried it?”

When they do agree to play, don’t overwhelm them. Most people, when they think of these games, assume that, by agreeing to play D&D, they’re in for hours per game, and months or years of gaming. Reassure them that this isn’t so with some really short one shot experiences. Even if you hand them a pre-generated character and run a single encounter, you’re still getting them to try playing.

My nephew, who is kind of a jock and who can be a little “too cool for the room”, agreed to try the game. I wrote a 3 encounter scenario, where each encounter had an obvious way forward. When the first encounter was over, he frowned. “We didn’t find the big bad guy?”

I shook my head. “No, but there’s a door leading out of the room.”

“Well,” he said, “we need to keep going. We’ve got to get that guy, or we won’t get paid.”

We ended up playing for about 4 hours, at his instigation, because he didn’t like the idea of not getting the big bad guy, and because he was having fun. But if he’d said at the end of the first encounter, “Okay, I’m done,” I wouldn’t have fussed. He would’ve tried the game and made a decision. As it is, he’s played with us a couple of other times since then. He doesn’t love it, but he likes it.

Choose Your Ammo with Care

If the prospective player you’re working on gives you an opportunity to have them play a game, don’t squander the opportunity. Try and figure out something they’ll enjoy and play a game that revolves around that idea, or that relates to something they really love.

Sam really likes zombie movies. You can bet I’m planning on having a zombie attack during the game of D&D she plays with us. If I was trying to convince a Star Wars fanatic to try an RPG, I’d probably start with the Star Wars Saga Edition. A superhero fan might get DC Adventures or Mutants and Masterminds. Someone who likes Lord of the Rings might get The One Ring RPG, or a D&D game with orc attacks.

With the monster scaling rules of D&D, you can move any monster up or down to where you need it. Does your prospective player think your beholder t-shirt is awesome? Make sure to include a beholder in the scenario you’re running, even if it’s just a gauth. Does the player love dragons? Work one into the scenario…or if they love unicorns, maybe a unicorn gives them their quest. There’s always a way to tie in something they love. And by tying in something they feel strongly about, you can help link the game to that thing in their minds.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Stop

I’m fully prepared for the possibility that Sam will play the game and then say, “It’s okay, but I don’t have any interest in playing again.” While I don’t think that will happen, I know it could.

If it does, I’ll smile and say, “Hey, at least you tried it. Now you know what it’s about.” And that will be that. I won’t keep digging at her, because I know D&D isn’t for everyone…like my Mom.

If I keep pushing, it’ll just alienate her further from the game. If I leave it alone, it might be that down the road, she’ll express an interest in trying again. And I’d rather have her decide that on her own than have me badger her about it.

In Conclusion

Sam was the most die-hard non-gamer I know, and she’s agreed to try gaming. If she hadn’t been into things like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and so on, I probably wouldn’t have wanted her to try the game, but I think she’s going to really enjoy it when we play. I’ll write a scenario that won’t take all night, and I’ll give her the option of stopping after each encounter…while continuing to dangle the possibility of a big ending if she does finish. I’ll definitely be using things I know she likes (e.g. zombies) when we play, to reinforce to her that D&D is a fun game. I’m confident that this will lead to Sam liking the game, and, if she doesn’t, it’s no big deal.

Your Turn

Do you think my plan is doomed to failure? Do you have a tried and true strategy for getting people to try RPGs? Do you have a funny story about how you started playing reluctantly? Let us all know.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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