GTM #201 - Tricks of the Game Trade - Tip #8
by Jon Leitheusser

In the previous few months, we’ve provided tips on starting a new game, including how to get your friends together, finding a meeting place, preparing yourself as a player or game master, and even talked about the monsters and adventures you can use to keep your games fresh and interesting.

This time around, we’re going to talk about taking a slightly different approach to starting a new game; hooking your friends on a new game by using familiar settings that might interest them!

~ Pop Culture to the Rescue! ~

If you’ve tried to sell your friends on trying to play a roleplaying game (RPG) and they haven’t been willing to try, it may be because they’re intimidated by the fact that they don’t know the rules or anything about the setting. Most experienced gamers have a pretty good idea of what a “generic” fantasy setting is like, but new players don’t have the same concepts in their heads.

You may be able to overcome their reticence by approaching them with a game that uses a setting they already know or are fans of. There are numerous RPGs out there based on books, TV shows, and movies. For example, in this month’s GTM there are three different games or supplements based on well-known properties that you could use to entice potential players into a new game. They include:

  • Star Wars
  • Doctor Who
  • Sherlock Holmes

Here’s a bit about each of them that you can arm yourself with when you approach your players.

~ Star Wars ~

Star Wars has been one of the most popular gaming settings for decades. Different games have been produced by a number of different gaming companies over the years. The current publisher is Fantasy Flight Games and they’ve published a handful of settings. One of the most interesting is the Star Wars: Edge of Empire RPG. The easy way to sell this game to your players is to tell them they get to play characters like Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Edge of Empire is all about the rogues and smugglers that populate the outer edges of the Star Wars universe, hence the name. Players in this game live on the fringes and survive by their wits. It’s a perfect place for scoundrels to make names for themselves—scoundrels like your players! If you have a bunch of friends who know and love Star Wars (and really, who doesn’t), then this is a perfect game with which to entice your friends.

Almost everyone knows the Star Wars universe, so approaching your friends with this game should be an easy sell. There’s room for all sorts of adventure in this setting and the book provides a ton of inspiration for characters, encounters, and adventures. Plus, unlike most games, Edge of Empire uses a system that allows the game master to interpret the dice in a way that makes the game more interesting and challenging than a simple yes or no regarding success or failure.

If a fantasy game doesn’t sound interesting to you or your players, definitely check out the different Star Wars games available.

~ Doctor Who ~

Another excellent option that’s become very popular in the last decade or so, is Doctor Who. Since it’s relaunch, it’s been excellent and attracted a huge following of new viewers. When it comes to gaming, Doctor Who is great, because it offers options for adventures throughout time! The book offered this month, Doctor Who: Paternoster Investigations is all about adventures in the Victorian Age.

For anyone familiar with Doctor Who, the Victorian time period was a favorite destination of the Doctor and his companions and the same will likely be true of the heroes of your players. Using the core rulebook of the Doctor Who game and this book, you can get information on the Victorian Age (assuming you’re not a scholar of that time period), so you can come up with adventures for your players—but in addition, you can read up on Victorian London, traits appropriate to the time period, information about aliens present in the time period, and pretty much anything else you might want to know about the era as it relates to the Doctor Who series.

As with most licensed games, books like this are designed to give you everything you need to familiarize yourself with the setting and help you come up with adventures and adversaries for your players. This is, by the way, one of the big benefits of a licensed game; it gives you a lot of information about the setting the series is based on so you don’t have to guess at the game statistics of characters, but it also gives you everything you need to run a game in that setting.

For players who eschew combat for clever roleplaying and problem solving, this game is an excellent option.

~ Sherlock Holmes ~

One of the most beloved characters of the last couple of centuries is Sherlock Holmes. This famous detective is featured in Baker Street: Roleplaying in the World of Sherlock Holmes. This is another game that shifts its focus from combat and “adventuring” to roleplaying and detective work. Baker Street is also centered on the streets of Victorian London, but instead of aliens and science-fiction, this game focuses on criminals and mysteries. If you’re not overly familiar with role-playing games, that shift in focus may seem minor, but it’s really not. Often in RPGs, the game system is designed around the central conceit of the game, so Star Wars focuses on action whereas Doctor Who and Baker Street are focused on problem-solving. That means the game system supports the idea that the players approach challenges differently in the game. For the right group of players, this can make the difference between an average game and a fantastically fun game.

~ Find the Right Game ~

It’s important when starting a new game to feel out your potential players to see what sort of game they would like to play. Most games are very much centered around action and adventure, but your players may prefer to play something a bit more cerebral and there are games out there, like Baker Street or Doctor Who, that cater to those desires. On the other hand, you may have players who are interested in gaming, but want to play in a setting with which they’re familiar. In that case, something like Star Wars is perfect!

When you’re selecting a game to play, remember that just because you understand the setting and the rules, that doesn’t mean your players will. Take their preferences into account and find a game they have a good chance of being interested in. It may not be the game you planned on running for them, but if everyone at the table enjoys it, then it’s the right game for that group!

~ Take it to the Tabletop ~

Once you have the right game for your friends, familiarize yourself with the rules, help them write up characters and get the game started. Most role-playing games include an adventure in the core rulebook to give you an example of the sorts of things that are appropriate for the game you’re playing. If the game you’re playing doesn’t include an adventure, there is likely a game master’s screen or adventure supplement with an adventure in it. These “starter” adventures are highly recommended because they give you and the players a good idea of what to expect from the game.

As always, another great place to draw inspiration from for a licensed game is the original source material. So, when running a Star Wars game, re-watch the movies, read through some of the novels, or watch some of the animated shows. You should be able to find all sorts of ideas for nights of fun to run for your friends that way. And the big bonus of drawing inspiration from the source material is that you know your ideas will match with your players’ expectations, which is a big bonus!

Jon Leitheusser is a writer, editor, and game developer. He published the Dork Tower comic book, was the HeroClix game designer for years, was a content designer for Champions Online and Neverwinter, has been the Mutants & Masterminds game developer for Green Ronin since 2008, and freelances for a number of different companies. He cut his gaming teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and still games twice a week with his friends online or in person. He’s attended about 30 Gen Cons and he lives in Renton, Washington with his wife and a mean cat.