Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Neo-Classical Is Better For New Players

On Thursday, I'll be running a six or seven person foray into my megadungeon. (Or perhaps another adventure. Not likely, but I haven't ruled it out.) I considered using 4e, because it's been on my mind a lot lately and I've pegged it as a good system for one-shots, due to its consistency. Ultimately, I decided that Swords & Wizardry would handle the group size better, and I've been looking for an opportunity to introduce this gang to neo-classical play for a while anyway.

Another consideration is that we're going to have a brand new player at the table. (The younger sister of the boyfriend of an old regular from my high school group.) I've already sworn off introducing new people to 3.5 D&D. Despite my occasional frustrations with it, I like the system, but I've been playing it on and off for nearly seven years now. I've read all the core books, cover to cover, multiple times.

New players don't have that experience, and trying to introduce them to the idea of roleplaying and actually play the game while also explaining the system to them is an exercise in frustration, even if they are interested in its intricacies. More often, they aren't. The last few times I've tried to run 3.5 with people, it's turned into tedious frustration. Boytoy had decided roleplaying "wasn't his thing" partly because of his lack of interest in dealing with that system, which I'd originally used to introduce him to gaming.

4e isn't quite as convoluted as its predecessor, but it's still a decision heavy, rules-mastery focused system. I'm comfortable running it (and, presumably, playing it) but a large part of that comfort is based on that same experience I have with 3.5, and such systems generally.

For new players, it's just too much hardware. They don't need all that stuff to "get" roleplaying, and if they're not interested in it, it just gets in the way. If I suspected she'd be a rules junky herself, and we were starting up a proper campaign, I might consider it. But for a one-shot, and a player I know basically nothing about? Much better to go with a system that gets out of the players way and puts the heavy lifting on me, rather than the book.


  1. I am on the same page, man...that's why Labyrinth Lord will be the game I next run for two new role-players (looks like this Saturday!).

    Good luck!

  2. Great post. My girlfriend recently got her toes wet in a Savage Worlds game; despite the relative simplicity of that system, she was bewildered by the options and open-ended nature of character generation as she had no referent for what various options might do for her.

    Mer's second system was Moldvay Basic D&D in my megadungeon. She grokked the game immediately and commented after how she was able to relax and concentrate on the game better because she didn't have to remember lists of powers, skills, etc.

    I can't imagine what would have happened if we were playing RoleMaster when she became a part of the group.

  3. I actually went and built a quick, easy little RPG specifically to "build a group" by introducing new players (and spouses of players) that fits somewhere between old HEROQUEST and OD&D in terms of "Complexity". I can teach people the rules, make characters and run an adventure in under an hour so its worked out pretty well for quick one shots.

    I see it the same way I see Video Games. I played "Super Mario" long before I played "Hearts of Iron", anyone else should probably walk the same path from simple to complicated (if they even like complicated things).

  4. Any game with a lot of character options is gong to be difficult for new players to get into. They just don't have a grasp of what these choices mean in the game yet. That's why simple class-based games are the best for newcomers. The class provides a complete character concept and associated abilities in a nice easy to understand package.

  5. Although my favourite game by any accounting remains Moldvay Basic / Labyrinth Lord, I feel that 4e works very well to introduce new players to D&D, and I've also had some excellent experiences with 3.x (although I admit that this had a lot to do with the GM knowing all the rules so I could help players get what they wanted from their characters).

  6. As an expansion on my last comment - one of the reasons I've found that many new players don't like neo-classical games is that many people new to dice-chucking have played a variety of CRPGs and MMORPGs over the years, and expect a more options from the rules and character creation system than is offered by B/X or LL.

  7. JB: Same to you! Hope that goes well.

    KenHR: Yeah, it's not the simplicity so much at is the *choices.* Once she gets more into things, she might be more interested in Savage Worlds, but Basic (and, indeed, the dungeon environment) is great for learning the ropes. (Not that Basic isn't an awesome game in it's own right as well.)

    Zzarchov: Neat. I'm not quite dedicated enough to build my own systems (yet) and S&W works well enough for my purposes, but that sounds pretty snazzy.

    Anonymous: Oh, yeah, classes rock. For a lot of reasons, but not least because you can read "bard" or "cleric" and a couple sentences of description and figure out whether you want to play it. And they're an easy way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the party, without knowing much about how the system functions.

    rpgcharacters: 4e wouldn't be bad by any means, since it breaks down most of the choices you have to make into manageable chunks. Particularly for someone with, as you say, a CRPG background. I have had a few successes with introducing people to RP via 3.5, and they were all people with extensive computer experience. They knew their way around the idea of a character build.

    On the other hand, boytoy is a computer gamer, and has played a few CRPGs (Oblivion and Mass Effect) but really appreciates having the computer automate things for him. In tabletop, extensive character building is too fiddly and tedious for him.

    But your point holds. While I chose a declarative title to get people's attention, even new players won't always dig neo-classical simplicity. Some people just like fiddling with things to much. But for those who aren't obviously system junkies (it's usually pretty obvious . . .) I prefer starting off with a low-choice system, and substituting a lot of roleplaying and MacGuyver-like shenanigans for the character build stuff.

  8. For something really simple, and still d20 based, have you looked at Microlite20 (aka M20)?

  9. d20 Microlite is a neat little system, but I like Fight On! better than most of the d20 stuff I've got, so I'd rather run old school.