The GM Awakens – Teaching the Art of Roleplaying

This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.

This is part 4 in a series of articles devoted to helping old and new gamers alike bring their children and younger players to love RPG’s.

The first few articles in this series focused on getting younger players into RPG’s by simplifying character creation, jumping into early action, limiting daunting choices, and changing up the initiative system to eliminate competition.  This time I’ll be talking about another thing I should have done with my first time players.  There’s an easy trick a friend of mine taught me, and I have no idea why I didn’t listen. 

One of the newest elements for a person who has never played a roleplaying game is the fact the player can simply describe or do whatever he or she wants to do.  As I discussed in part 2 of this series, the amount of choices young players have is almost too daunting.  In many cases, they almost have to see how it’s done.

A Helping Hand

One of the more obvious issues at my table of new, young RPG players is the lack of RPG experience. My son plays in a group I have running full of seasoned gamers, and he does great. This is because he can hear what the other players are doing. The other PC’s can suggest things to him. He can read the vibe and listen to the conversation, deciding the best way to act. You’d never know he was a new player in that experienced group.

But the problem with any new player, especially younger new players to a RPG, is that they have likely never really seen one played.  (When I described what an RPG was to my son’s friends they looked at me like I was from Mars.  “So, it’s a board game, but with no board?  Just pieces of paper?”)  They don’t know how to narratively describe their actions or feelings of their character.  Usually heard at a table of new players, especially younger ones, are things like, “I shoot my blaster,” or, “I swing my sword,” or, “I open the door.”  But that’s not doing the game any justice or unlocking what we love about RPG’s.  They need to see how it’s done.

Just telling the PCs what they could do from the GM’s chair is fine, and can go a long way.  But here’s a couple things that can really show younger players just how to roleplay.

  • Invite an experienced friend to run a character with the new players. Have him be a leader for the party perhaps. Encourage your friend to be creative and not to simply swing his sword or fire his blasters. Have him show the younger PC’s the different things that can be done to solve situations. It shouldn’t take much to get their minds and imaginations going.  Have your friend go first in encounters, but not steal the spotlight.  Save the big stuff for the new, young players.
  • If you do not have the ability to invite an experienced player, insert an NPC, run by you the GM, to the party. You will of course be giving the PC’s advice and suggestions, just like any good GM would, but an NPC lets you roleplay those suggestions instead. Talk in character, altering your voice, teaching your young PCs that they can do so too. Use your position in the party to guide the PCs and keep them on the rails. Use him to break stalemates and issues when the PCs don’t know what to do next.  When your PCs are in a pub surrounded by bandits and aren’t sure what to do, your NPC hero jumps into action and gets things going.  You can also have more complicated investigations or plots if someone is there in the party to keep things moving.  While doing this, you’re also showing the young players how to roleplay.  They will start to mimic your NPC and do what they see him do.  Again, save the spotlight for the PCs, while at the same time taking the lead yourself.

I am thrilled and excited to be able to share my gaming hobby with my kids now. The idea that I’ve introduced other new players to this great hobby is fantastic. But in following my enthusiasm to teach my son’s friends how to roleplay, I forgot how boys will be boys. I forgot the things that make being that young age unique. I should have stopped and prepared more than just a great beginning adventure for them.

Of course, even if you follow all this advice, you may run into a younger person that simply isn’t ready for a game of this type. It takes specific critical thinking skills and abilities that some kids won’t have until later. It also takes patience and the ability to sit and focus for hours on an activity.  Many young people can’t do that yet.  This is normal and natural. Some kids genuinely suffer from ADHD and sitting at a table for hours doing any activity is a daunting prospect.  And hey, kids will be kids.  So if you have a player that you can’t invite back to the table regardless of what you try, understand that is completely normal.

No matter what the outcome, I have no regrets and will continue trying to recruit new players to RPGs.  After all, despite the craziness at my table, all the boys asked to come back and play again.  I just might have to take my own advice… and spike their sodas with Ritalin.

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time IT Manager living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.
Scott Alden

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