The good people at Wizardry Foundry have been kind enough to give me a soapbox in this new column, and I plan to use it to discus my two favorite pastimes: Magic and Dungeons & Dragons.
Since this is my first column for this website, it's only appropriate to write about getting started. Specifically, how to get others started in hobbies you hold dear, especially when sometimes those activities have a steep learning curve. It's natural to feel frustration when teaching a game, so I've assembled a few tips for just such an occasion.
- Start simple(r)
This should go without saying, but for one on the inside it can be hard to tell. I have distinct memories of trying to teach a game to my parents and getting halfway through and realizing it was much more complicated than I remember.
In case of a game this often means playing a simpler version of the rules if one is available. But in case of a new format this usually means giving the new player a more straight forward decks, so that they can spend more time focusing on their plan and less on figuring out what they are even trying to be doing. With Dungeons and Dragons, this might mean providing character sheets for new players so they can jump right into a game.
Simpler games offer another advantage as well: when players don’t have to spend as much time agonizing over what they are trying to do, they can spend more time on other aspects of the game, or other strategies people are using. This helps them get to know the game as a whole rather than their particular avenue.
- Be critical, not coddling or cruel.
New players are going to make mistakes. That is a life fact. And you should point out or question your opponent's mistakes (at the time, or after the game) so that they can improve.
If you let a new player win or play in such a way that they have no choice to play correctly, they are likely going to resent it. Players want to win through guile, not pity. And in the long run, you are doing them a disservice by not encouraging them to think about their decisions.
If you are too critical or mocking in your victory, however, the player will come to associate the game with your mockery rather than the game itself. This also applies to showboating- it’s alright to win, but stomping new players often leads to the same resentment. You are their rival, but that doesn't mean you are their enemy. It's a tricky road to walk, and a critical one.
- Know your audience
Newer players come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be new to this game, but have played lots of games in general. Some will be new to gaming all together. Some might be bad at math, or love zombies. Always tailor your suggestions to a game that fits them.
This also goes for how quickly you move from game to game, or deck to deck (in the case of Magic). Some players will want to see everything the format has to offer, while others will want to play one match up until they really understand it before moving on. If possible, walk a middle line by limiting the shift in their style but changing yours.
- Learn to take "no" for an answer.
You love the game. You love the format. Not everyone does, and you need to accept that.
Don't push people into trying something they are not ready for. Don't try to keep a player in a game they have lost interest in. There is no faster way to burn out a player then by forcing them into a space where they don't want to be.
Every player is a person first, with as much right as you to choose what they should and should not play. Don’t take it personally.
In conclusion, I understand that teaching new players can be frustrating. They play slow, they play loose, and they just don't understand simple things like the stack, or what dice to roll. But if we want to play more games the first requirement is to have more players to play them. The best way to get more players it to properly encourage new players to keep playing.
Most of all, never forget: you were in their shoes once too.
Till next week, take care.
Author: Robert Trueblood