Introducing Tabletop RPGs to Reluctant Players

Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons have soared in popularity, but they can seem daunting to those unfamiliar. If you're an enthusiast hoping to introduce a reluctant friend to the joys of tabletop RPGs, here’s some advice for easing them into it.


Understand Their Hesitations

I don’t care who you are or how enthusiastic you are about playing, the first time you play a tabletop role-playing game is likely going to be kinda awkward. And a lot of people fear not knowing what to do or just looking like an idiot, which they don’t yet realize is part of the fun of games like this—just letting go.

Before diving in, it's important to understand why your friend might be hesitant. Are they intimidated by the rules? If they are, you might want to try a more rules friendly game than D&D. I will shamelessly pitch Lewd Dungeon Adventures here, as it is designed for beginners to tabletop RPGs, but if you are looking for something less adult-themed, there are a lot of options out there. When looking for a game to introduce a new player to, choosing something rules-lite in a genre they enjoy will likely produce better results than trying to coerce them into playing a rules-heavy game in a genre they don’t enjoy just because you’re familiar with it.

I know that everyone wants to get their friends to play Dungeons & Dragons, but if the person has never played a role-playing game before and doesn't enjoy fantasy, they will not even begin to understand why it can be fun playing in that world until they have an appreciation for role-playing games in general. There are a lot of great role-playing games that do not take place in a fantasy setting. Do they like horror? Introduce them to Call of Cthulhu. Would they like to be an outlaw in a gang? Blades in the Dark. Google and Reddit are your friends when it comes to researching systems in different genres.   


Set a Comfortable Scene

Plan your first game somewhere that the hesitant person or parties will be comfortable. For most first-time players, this will be somewhere quiet and intimate, like a person’s house, so they won’t feel nervous about people listening in while they attempt, for the first time, to get into character. A judgement-free zone, as you will. A relaxed atmosphere will help the new player feel at ease. Remember, snacks always help!


Use Introductory Adventures

I personally always recommend running a 1-shot for someone’s first time playing a tabletop roleplaying game. The reason for this is that it allows a new player to experience a whole adventure, feel the satisfaction of a conclusion, and not feel pressured to continue playing if they didn’t like the experience. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons, a lot of people will recommend that you start with The Lost Mines of Phandelver, which is D&D’s starter kit and introductory adventure. I am going to go against the grain and NOT recommend this one, and the reason why is this… Wait, if you’re a player and have never played it before, you will want to skip to the next paragraph, because this is going to contain spoilers. The reason I don’t recommend The Lost Mines of Phandelver as an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons is because the very first combat encounter has a high potential to wipe your entire party, and no one likes starting off a game where they instantly die or have to struggle, because it will make the rest of the game seem incredibly difficult or like it’s not much fun. If you’re a Dungeon Master that doesn’t mind fudging rolls, this might not be an issue for you or your party. But for those of us more by the book Dungeon Masters, this can lead to a miserable experience for a first-time party. What I recommend instead is picking up a one-shot from The Adventurers League that isn’t quite so combat-heavy right out of the gate. This is just my opinion, and if you disagree with it, by all means, start them on The Lost Mines of Phandelver, but just know that that early in the game, there’s no way to resurrect party members, so if one of your players suffers a permanent death, they will be rolling a new character unless you homebrew in some compassion and let them just res for nothing.

With that said, most systems have some type of introductory adventure designed to teach players how to play and Dungeons Masters how to run the game. If you’re not already familiar with the system, that’s always a good place to start. But if you are familiar with the system, and they do have one-shots available, I would go that route instead.


Simplify Character Creation

Character creation can be one of the most complex parts of getting into RPGs. Rolling your own character in Dungeons & Dragons takes about an hour if you’re not familiar with how to do it or using something like D&D Beyond. And I’ve played many a tabletop RPG where the first whole session was dedicated to rolling a character. Not everyone wants to sink an hour into rolling a character that might die, which is why I made sure that the character creation process in Lewd Dungeon Adventures can be done in 10 minutes or less. With that said, pre-generated characters are your friend when introducing a new player to any game. If they do not want to roll their own character, don’t make them. Even seeing what’s involved in the character creation process in some of these games can cause anxiety in a player thinking, well damn, if creating a character is this in-depth and has this many rules, then how miserable is this game going to be. Both Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu have pre-gen characters you can download. This also takes the guesswork out of where certain stats and equipment go, so players can have a visual of what they’re supposed to do to evolve their character without having to try to figure it out from scratch. And many pre-gen character sheets also include cheat sheets on the back to teach players how to run their character or some basic mechanics of the game. If the game you want to introduce your player to does not have pre-gen character sheets and your player does not seem too keen on the idea of creating their own character, I know you’re probably going to hate me for this, but offer to create a character for them. I know it might bother you that they are not fully embracing the game by creating their own character, but we are trying to get our foot in the door here. In the event that that character dies, hopefully the player will be invested enough that they’ll want to create their second character themselves because they are now used to everything involved in running a character.

And in case anyone wonders, yes, I have practiced what I am preaching. I used to play D&D with this one player, and when their character suffered a permadeath, they absolutely did not want to spend the time to roll their next character, so guess who did it for them. I was like, just tell me what you want to be, and I’ll do the rest. This made that person happy and want to keep playing, which in turn made everyone else happy. The moral of the story is that not everyone wants to spend an hour rolling and personalizing a character, and it can be especially daunting to a completely new player.

If they are overwhelmed by the idea of role-playing, one of the easiest things you can do is eliminate the overly detailed character backstory creation that a lot of games have and let them start out by just playing as themselves, with stats, of course. Removing the pressure of forcing someone to get into character when they’re not familiar with role-playing is a great way to ease them into it. If you are a Dungeon Master who loves the roleplay aspect of role-playing games, keep doing what you do. Players tend to feed off the energy of the Dungeon Master, and there’s a pretty good chance that your reluctant player will eventually start role-playing as well once they’re comfortable, building their character as they go.


Be Patient and Supportive

When playing a tabletop role-playing game the first time, it’s good to tell first-time players that the game is mainly about improvisation. They can take whatever action they want, and you will let them know whether or not that’s within the boundaries of the rules. Some games are stricter than others, but for the most part, the beauty of these types of games is that almost anything goes. While a new player is getting their footing, they may pause often, seem confused, or uncomfortable. It’s okay to make suggestions, but don’t rush them or try to force their path. The goal is to empower them to make their own choices in the game.

One of the first times I ever playing a tabletop role-playing game, specifically Call of Cthulhu, I hid in a room for three of my turns because I thought the action was magically going to come to me. I had never DMed or read a campaign book, and I had no idea how to play. One of the other players, who was very experienced, was understandably getting frustrated with me. But no one tried to force me out of that room, and I stayed there until I realized that nothing was going to happen and that the rest of the story was progressing without me. The moral of this story is that new players are going to make mistakes because they likely won’t understand how things work the first few times they play. But be patient with them, and they will eventually get it.


Highlight the Social Aspect

One of the best parts of RPGs is the social interaction. Emphasize the fun of getting together with friends and creating a story together. Make sure they understand that it's about the shared experience as much as the game itself. A good way to get people interested in playing it to talk about the unique experiences you've had and memories you've made while playing. This works even better if you can discuss it with someone else you've played with in front of the potential new player, creating a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the fun.


Ensure Everyone's Having Fun

As a tip for more experienced Dungeon Masters, if the new person you’re playing with seems disengaged, give them a scenario that is focused exclusively on their character. This could be introducing an NPC that, for whatever reason, will only talk to them, or creating a problem that only their character can solve. You want to give them a moment that will make them shine and make it seem like the group could not have possibly made it through without them, cementing their importance within the party. People like attention, and this should create an element of fun that will get them back into the game.


Debrief After the Session

After the session, talk about what happened during the game and what everyone enjoyed. This can help the new player process the experience and highlight the fun aspects of the game. It also opens the door to discuss any concerns they may have.


Offer Resources

If they express interest, offer resources for them to learn more at their own pace. This could be a beginner's guide to RPGs, online tutorials, or YouTube videos of people playing whatever system you’d like them to learn.


Be Prepared for Any Outcome

Remember that RPGs might not be for everyone, and that's okay. If your friend gives it a try but decides it's not their cup of tea, be understanding. The goal is to share something you love, not to force it on them.


In conclusion, introducing someone reluctant to tabletop RPGs requires patience and understanding. With the right approach, you can open up a world of creativity and camaraderie for your friend, and potentially gain a new player in your adventuring party.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.