Special 2nd Anniversary Post: Getting your Players to Play Indie RPGs

Stargazer and I have been good online buddies for quite some time and I’ve seen this blog grow from the moment it joined the RPGbloggers network to it’s current authoritative status.  Yet, as much as I talk to our good friend, I wasn’t quite sure what to discuss here.

Then it struck me, he loves Indie RPGs and I’ve recently developed quite a taste for them. I have been spending the last few months playing such titles as Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard and 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars so I thought I could share some tips on better preparing yourself to convince your players to try new, non-mainstream RPGs (or Indie RPGs, if  you prefer that label ).

Open your player’s minds.

The first step is the hardest, you need to test your playing group (or any subset of it) to ascertain that they are open minded enough to try new games.  Humans are creatures of habit and one’s  RPG can become like a security blanket. It’s important that you work at these resistances to wear them down and open the minds of your players to recent, exceedingly well designed small-press games.  Point out reviews and actual play reports on the web, discuss shared misgivings about the current game you are playing (they all have some) and ask open ended questions about what each player seeks in their personal role playing experience.

Read the Game

Most Indie games have pushed the boundaries of what RPG rule sets can do so. Thus, you need to properly immerse yourself in the books so you at least get a good idea of what the game is about both in terms of setting (the fluff) and the actual rules of the game (the crunch). For example, Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel thrives on a very involved character creation process based on life paths and beliefs.  It also possess a very developed and versatile conflict system that covers anything from chases, combats and arguments.

While reading the game, try to picture each of your players and  how the game could cater to their motivations.  In other words, what will the game do to keep each of your players eager to stay at the table?  If you can’t, I strongly suggest that you either get to know your players better or switch to a new Indie Game that better fits your group.

Play the Game with an Adept

Once you’ve done a full read-through, try to find yourself a local (or online)  adept of the game that will either demonstrate the game to you, or allow you to discuss it freely before play.  Conventions are perfect for that, as are the online forums of the game’s publisher. If the game has no forum, there’s still a good chances that there are threads about it on sites like The Forge, Story Games and Indie Press Revolution where such adepts can be found.

The best experienc though,  is to PLAY the game before you teach it to others.  I was lucky enough to see Luke Crane demo Burning Wheel at a local con last year and he then  ran my friends and I through his “The Sword” scenario at Pax East.  Such experiences are priceless and you should seek local respected GMs that can do the same for you.

At this point, if the game excites you and you really want to share this with your friends, start telling them about it and share your feelings about the game and promise to tell them more soon.

Read the Game, Again

Once you’ve wrapped your mind about what makes your game tick , re-read the rules.  The perspective brought by playing or discussing it will help you get a solid grip on the game and will make you a competent change agent when you try to convince your players to give it a try.

Enthusiastically Sell the Game

Now that you feel more confident with the game system and its implied setting, its time to rev up your enthusiasm and tell others more about the game.  Share what you find most awesome about it and how you think each player would like it.  This is your one chance to sway your group and get them to want to try the game.  Put all chances on your side tough.  If you think that some players won’t go for the new game, call the old game off for a few weeks (maybe you DO need a break from Dragon Slaying and Dungeon Crawling) and gather a smaller or different group for a one- shot or a mini-campaign.

Regardless of the approach, you HAVE to be very enthusiastic about the game.  You need to sell the game to your players and make them want to try it.  So break out your Diplomacy/Bluff/Deceive skill and roll!

Test the Game, Simply

Before you get your whole gang around the table, start simple.  There’s no other way around it.  When I first tackled Mouse Guard, I invited a friend over,  picked 2 PCs  and we played out a simple sword duel.  We had enough trouble getting a firm grasp on the more complex conflict mechanic that we didn’t need a more complicated scenario setup.  It turned out fine and we actually ended up with the seeds of a whole campaign from the outcome of that duel.

Oh and we had a lot of fun!

Play the Game

Now you are ready for the 1st game.  Gather up the players that wanted to try the new game.  You may need to cajole the skeptics into at least trying once (but keep away anyone that might sabotage the game if they are THAT conservative about their game of choice).   I strongly suggest going with the game’s sample mission as they usually show what makes the game shine.  Introduce the game and the mechanics as they are needed, don’t front load the experience.  Almost all RPGs have played can start within 10 minutes of intro.  Go for that…

Really, Keep it Simple

I can’t stress this one enough.  Don’t over explain things when teaching a new RPG, especially when the game has elements that may be alien to new players.  Your players are likely going through a hard enough time learning new rules and new design paradigms, it’s NOT the time to drown them with details about combos and special powers and so on.

This last thing can be quite hard to do if you have gotten overly enthusiastic about the new game.  Reel it in, if played right, your players will become hooked to the game and they may discover all the cool things themselves.

Therein lies the secret of your success: Ease them in the new experience and let THEM discover what’s so cool about the new game.

Best of luck.  Believe me, it works, I’ve got most of my crew clamoring to play a whole Mouse Guard campaign now.

Happy 2nd Anniversary Stargazer!  Here’s to many more.