In my previous post I opined that the World of Darkness core rulebook was a sign of White Wolf giving up on the idea of their products being people’s entry point into the hobby. I’ve been thinking more about that and come to more general conclusions.
Examples of play and “What is roleplaying?” sections in tabletop RPGs are, I think, important. If you include them, do a good job on them, and don’t bury them (like The World of Darkness does with its explanation of roleplaying) then in a way that’s a declaration of your aspirations: you are intending to include enough in your core rulebook not just the tools for playing the game, but the tools for understanding it.
In principle, beginners can be introduced to tabletop RPGs via any game if they have a referee with prior experience willing to run a game for them; yes, some games are very complex, but a) beginners are inexperienced but not necessarily stupid and b) in my view a good referee will offer to take on more of the burden of operating the game system if they realise a player is overwhelmed. But that means it isn’t really the game or publisher in question which is bringing new people into the hobby – it’s novices being initiated into the hobby by old hands, like it’s some oral tradition. The only really sensible metric by which you can judge a game’s approachability for complete beginners is whether it is viable for new people to pick up your core rules, read them, and then run a game for a group of fellow first-timers. It doesn’t have to be a brilliant, scintillating game – it doesn’t even need to apply most or any of the rules properly – but at the very least it should be a game which we’d recognise as resembling the general format of the RPG in question. (So, for instance, if the beginners ended up with a Fiasco game where one player doesn’t make a player character and takes the primary responsibility for establishing the scenario, or a Dungeons & Dragons game where everyone communally creates one character and shares the duties of setting the scenario in an egalitarian fashion, you can say that that group has failed to understand the basic, fundamental model the game is based on – and if numerous beginners find they have that problem, then you can accuse the game of failing to properly communicate its core premises in a way that inexperienced readers will understand.)
In this respect, the “What is roleplaying?” section and example of play, where present, is crucial. I’d actually say the example of play is, in some respects, even more important – a novice can fairly quickly get the idea of “what is roleplaying?”, but may have little clue as to “how is roleplaying?”, and a good example of play is a really good way to convey that. The World of Darkness talks a lot about how White Wolf would like the roleplaying hobby to be, and promotes their “Storytelling” style as the epitome of good taste in gaming, but doesn’t offer a single example of play to demonstrate what they are talking about. And come to think of it, it’s the lack of an example of play even more than a botched “What is roleplaying?” section which really makes me think White Wolf gave up on the idea that they had any role in recruiting new people into the hobby.
I am toying with the idea of glancing over the books on my shelves and doing mini-reviews of each of their “what is roleplaying?” sections and examples of play. Would people be interested in reading such a project?