The Crunch Of A Game: Simple Vs. Complex
When deciding on what role-playing game you want to introduce a new group of players to, there are a lot of things you have to consider. One of the foremost questions in your mind will likely be how complex of a game do you want to try and run. This is an important question to consider, especially with first-time players, as their first game will likely forever influence their thoughts on the hobby. As the saying goes, “you only have one chance at a first impression.”
By default, most Gamemasters will likely turn to simple, easy to understand games. Games that do not have a great deal of rules to them or games that have only a few core rules players need to be aware of. Older editions of Dungeons & Dragons make for prime examples of this sort of game, as do games like the MURPG, Star Wars: Saga Edition, and others. The advantage of games like these is that you are not as likely to intimidate new players. Complex games can have character sheets that are four pages long or longer. As much as I love and often credit Anima: Beyond Fantasy for being an incredible game, its character sheet is a mess of tables, statistics, calculations, and more that, to a new player, can look absolutely terrifying. Getting down to the basics of attributes, skills, abilities/feats, and gear is a pretty good place to start new players. The drawback to starting players off on simple games is that a lot of simple rules games leave a lot up to the players. Games like The Dresden Files RPG, BESM, Vampire: The Requiem, or GURPS leaves a lot of the game in the hands of the players by, at times literally, giving them a near infinite number of choices. GURPS, for example, gives you the rules to create anything you can imagine, and this has inspired another saying among my gaming groups; “when you can do anything, you cannot think of anything to do.” Simple games risk giving new players so much choice that they become scared, unsure of what to do or what is expected of them.
Then there are complex games like Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition and up, the previously mentioned Anima: Beyond Fantasy, and Shadowrun. These games are very complex with a plethora of rules that even experienced players like me and my game groups do not – or cannot – completely understand. Every few weeks, it seems, we come across a new rule or definition of a rule we were not aware of and have to go back and change how we have been doing things previously. For new players, as mentioned, this can be very intimidating, but do not let that dishearten you. Introducing players to a complex game is a great way of taking a lot of the burden off of their shoulders. Helping them design characters, understand the rules, and showing them how the game is played introduces them to the hobby in a much more connected way than just saying “what do you want to do?” With complex games, the rules cover a more wide range of options which, by its nature, give players more finite choices. Finite choices can be good for new players as it shows them a limited list of what they are able to do and then makes them select from that. Sure, you do not want to limit them too much, but a few limits can go a long way into making for a great introduction.
As should be obvious, I like introducing new players to complex games to start off with. Why? Because of hard-won knowledge that, despite thinking simpler games would be better for them, complex games have a way of giving more definition to characters. That definition helps new players learn what they are capable of doing, and can show them more of what they would like to be able to do. However, everyone and every game is different. Maybe your own group would be better suited to running a less complex game for their first time at the table, but that is for you to decide.
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