Get a Non-Gamer to Roll Some d20’s!

So the holiday season is about to be upon us, and the sheer amount of new gaming schwag we may potentially acquire can be quite daunting. It’s a shame we won’t be able to share all our new gaming joy with certain folks in our lives because they don’t game. Or, perhaps we can.

We all have them in one form or another, be it parents, siblings, significant others, co workers, classmates, even our best friends who don’t game. For most gamers, we love to spread our passion for what we do and attempt to get others to game right alongside us. But for some this is a difficult task, a lot of things can cause a person to be a non-gamer, even if they aren’t necessarily ‘against’ gaming. Getting someone who doesn’t game, to start gaming is all about the approach, the content, and most importantly their enjoyment.

Disinterest can come from a lot of sources: assumptions based on gaming stereotypes or gamers themselves, stigma attached to a game or those who play it, personal beliefs, time involved, cost, or even the fear of becoming one of those who are so consumed with gaming that they become disconnected with the outside world.

This lack of interest can also stretch into complete disdain at times, such as girls who have (ex?)boyfriends who are more into their character than their relationship, or would rather spend time with his online buddies than take her out on a date. This can even travel outside romantic relationships and into platonic ones – you know like that buddy you have who’d rather stay inside raiding some WoW dungeon or participating in his 4th D&D campaign of the week instead of going out to grab a few beers?

Being that I’ve seen all of these things first hand, I know us gamers can get a bad rap, but what I’m saying is we don’t have to. More importantly if we want to bring new people into this hobby we have to de-mystify it and take away the intimidating factors that keep some from ever considering the joys of gaming.

Rather than drone on anecdotally and expect you to decrypt my own personal life lessons as a gamer, I’d like to touch on the three basic principles that I find critical to helping convert people over into the realm that is gaming.

1.) The Approach – it’s all about how you ‘market’ the game to your potential gamer inductee, make the game sound like something they’d enjoy based on common-ground ideas and all of a sudden pretending to be an elf seems much more acceptable than previously.

  • Explain the premise of the game – break down the game into a simple idea that you could sum up in one sentence. “Explore a fantasy world without limits alongside your friends solving mysteries and slaying monsters” or simply “Kill monsters and take their loot, you w rite the rules” whatever you think would appeal to them the most.
  • Use introductory elements – Ravenloft, Munchkin, Magic: The Gathering (simple decks), and many other games can provide great play examples of elements found in RPG’s. If they don’t want to dive head first into D&D then this is a great road to travel down as it is unintimidating for most and play sessions are rather quick.
  • Reference other games – using the wild assumption that everyone has played some game or another during their lifetime, take whatever knowledge you have and reference it back to the game for them in terms that they comprehend. Whether it’s RISK, Chess, World of Warcraft or Candyland you should be able to find a connection that hits home with them.

2.) The Content – presentation and first impressions are critical for most people, the last thing you want to do is give them something that doesn’t feel enjoyable. Also throwing too much content at them too quickly can be a game ender for sure.

  • Customize, Personalize & Hand Craft – everything about the game should pertain to their personal tastes. If they aren’t heavy hearted fantasy shoot for a medieval style setting that’s jovial and fun, if they aren’t into fantasy at all look to games like Gamma World or whatever might fit their liking. Take their own personality into account, if they are a bit egotistical perhaps make their character a council member or reviled war hero. The whole idea is to play into what makes them love things not just games, maybe their favorite movie, book, or TV show has some great elements to steal.
  • Hand Craft a Character – don’t just sit them down in front of the character builder or plop a book in front of them and let them wander aimlessly. Sit them down and ask them what kind of person they’d like to portray in the game, what kind of things they’d like to be able to do and go from there. Fill in the blanks for them, while asking questions along the way. Also try not to introduce them to any added mechanics, just build a simple character and worry about intricacies later.
  • Ease them into the game – Don’t plan an all night session or throw them in with a bunch of gaming veterans, or even other players for that matter. Better yet make a single, short, solo, example play session for them to participate in. Go all out on personalization and custom tailoring to make the play experience truly enjoyable and memorable for them. Make them feel like they truly influence things based on their actions, spice it up a bit and use all the DM magic you can muster. Provide examples of what play would be like with others but stay focused on their experience.

3.) The Fun Factor – the focus here is on getting a non-gamer to game right, so don’t bog them down with rule specifics unless you think it’s something they could get into. If you opt to not run a solo session for them, make sure the rest of your group is capable of behaving themselves making exceptions for ignoring rules and setting their own play experiences aside for the sake of new blood.

  • Mini sessions are mega – think D&D encounters when it comes to crafting up their custom adventure, keep it short and to the point but be sure to include a gamut of play opportunities that are more than just combat, unless of course you think that’s what they’d enjoy. This short but enjoyable session will hopefully leave them wanting more!
  • Go easy on the rules – rules can be crushing to a new player – now don’t get me wrong, yesrules are important, yes they provide structure to our game and yes they were made to be broken and in this case even ignored at times. If your new player wants to stand up after being knocked prone and charge his opponent flailing wildly in response getting smacked down, don’t burst their bubble by telling them that’s more than their allotted move/minor/standard actions. Hoping there is another play session after this one, wait until later games to go more into the crunchy bits. Don’t let them go crazy so much that as you introduce rules as time goes on they don’t say “hey wait a minute, last time you let me…” but you get the idea.
  • All show is no show – Unless it’s in the players’ interests try and keep what’s under the hood of the game to a minimal. Transparency is a huge thing, don’t give outverbose explanations for everything on their character sheet, or even attempt to explain how a skill challenge works. Just sit next to them and point things out as they come up, use a highlighter on the sheet as they do. Explain the core mechanic of the game and the rest will fall into place.

As with everything stated here, all of these guidelines have exceptions and precision tweaking that will be required, and almost everything stated above could have included “Unless you think they’d be into that” disclaimers.

The key idea here is Personalization, not polarization. Often people get so wrapped up in what they love about gaming that when trying to get others into it, they completely forget to make a compelling argument or really make something seem fun or special those they’re trying to convince. RPG’s have so many facets and avenues for people of all walks of life to enjoy, and I believe can truly be played by anyone.

I hope this read may grant some of you a little +2 circumstance bonus to your next diplomacy check when trying to convince that certain someone to get their game on! The holidays are just a good a time as any to gather round, roll some dice, and have some laughs. Cheers!


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Jerry resides in the placid cornfields of Indiana with his Wife and 2 goblinoid minions. His geek credentials sport a Masters in Video Gameology and Computer Geekery. His obsession with D&D started by spending an inconceivable number of hours playing Baldurs Gate and the rest is history. Outside of the gaming world he's an IT Professional & Social Media guy, budding writer, gaming advocate and wannabe designer. You can visit him over at www.dreadgazebo.net or follow him on twitter (@DreadGazeebo)


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About DreadGazebo

Jerry resides in the placid cornfields of Indiana with his Wife and 2 goblinoid minions. His geek credentials sport a Masters in Video Gameology and Computer Geekery. His obsession with D&D started by spending an inconceivable number of hours playing Baldurs Gate and the rest is history. Outside of the gaming world he's an IT Professional & Social Media guy, budding writer, gaming advocate and wannabe designer. You can visit him over at www.dreadgazebo.net or follow him on twitter (@DreadGazeebo)
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3 Responses

  1. Nice write-up! I think this is great advice, and I hope to use it to convert many non-gamers to the beauty of gaming.

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