August 28, 2022 5 min read 6 Comments
Flash back to 2017: I was adamant about never playing anything but "official" D&D.
When I think back on why, I realize it's because I believed the current edition of D&D was the best TTRPG out there. There was no question in my mind. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
But I had no real evidence to back up that belief, as I would later come to learn. I had never even played another TTRPG besides the prior editions of D&D (I cringe to admit that)! I just assumed D&D's market dominance meant it must be "the best," and I'd be wasting my time elsewhere. Otherwise, why would D&D be the most popular system?
"You don't know what you don't know," as the saying goes.
In reality, I had fallen victim to the power of branding.
It's the same effect that causes people to buy the same brands over and over. We tend not to re-think decisions we've already made, such as our favorite brand of laundry detergent or role-playing game of choice, even when it might be a good idea once in a while. And we get protective of those decisions once we've made them since we're now financially invested (and even a bit emotionally invested, too).
When a longtime friend finally convinced me to give a new game system a try, it truly opened my eyes to what I had been missing. Better ways to handle gameplay elements that I had taken for granted as "boring" or "grindy," faster combat, more tension and danger, slick Game Mastering hacks, cutting out confusing rules, emphasis on different play styles... the list is endless.
It all made me a better gamer, taught me new Game Mastering and design skills, introduced me to amazing friends, and gave me fresh insights about this hobby I love.
If your players are anything like I was back in 2017, you're probably pulling your hair out trying to get them to dip their toes into a new game.
But as a Game Master holding that brand new copy of Shadowdark RPG, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Index Card RPG, or something else, it falls on you to make the case to your players.
So read on for the best methods I know for how to get a total brand die-hard (like 2017 me) to try a new RPG system — and enjoy it!
Here are the angles you can take to get your players to try a new system:
1. Offer to run a one-shot.
2. Address fallacies.
3. Use the power of social proof (the secret ingredient for D&D's dominance).
Let's break down the approach on each of these!
Angle 1 - Offer To Run A One-Shot
This one might be the most powerful. There are three key components to getting your players to say yes to your one-shot proposal:
1. Run the one-shot outside your current campaign so your players don't have to worry about changes to their already-existing comfort zone. Use pre-made characters and make sure to have all the necessary resources for the players in advance (don't make them buy new books)! Timing the one-shot to fall between major campaigns or arcs in your current game makes this angle even more effective.
2. Make sure your players know it's a single-time adventure. Low commitment makes it easier for them to agree. You can always offer to run another one-shot down the road that gradually builds on itself without scaring anyone off.
3. Explain that you'll help with the rules during play and the players won't have to do anything but jump right in. This is not the time to hand them a printout of new rules to learn.
Then, when the big day arrives, follow through and teach by example during gameplay. Treat it like a convention session where you have a group of brand new players. The goal is to have as much fun as possible in a short timeframe! You want to put this system's best foot forward, so give your prep some extra love and attention.
Angle 2 - Address Fallacies
You offer to run a one-shot, but your players aren't convinced. They might have a few illogical beliefs like I once did that you could address with a reassuring word.
The important part here is not to point your finger and screech, "FALLACY!" You want to win hearts and minds, not annoy them with smugness. This shouldn't feel like an argument, but rather like you're softly agreeing and then posing a new perspective.
Angle 3 - Use The Power of Social Proof
Social proof is a marketing word for when other people to say something is good, usually in the form of a review or endorsement!
Showing that other people love a game is a great way to ease hesitancy in players who might know very little about the system you're suggesting. You probably read reviews looking for endorsements before you bought the new game, right?
Massive social proof is one way 5E D&D maintains its dominance. When celebrities say they play a game, or huge live play channels utilize that game system, it's a powerful way to convince people the game (or any product) is worthwhile.
One great way to find social proof is in YouTube reviews. Some highly regarded channels for RPG system reviews are Questing Beast, Dave Thaumavore RPG Reviews, and Dungeon Craft.
These reviews tend to focus on the positive and exciting, as well as showcasing the beautiful books themselves.
Sharing these videos with your players is a great way to pique their interest while proving that lots of other people are also excited to try the system!
And there we have it. Three angles to get your group to try a new system!
Ease your players into it, and focus on having fun. If your group has a great time with a new system, that's the best way to start spinning out further one-shots that might even turn into a full-blown campaign.
Let me know if any of these work for you in the comments below, and whether you have any ideas to add that will help arm intrepid GMs leading their players into new TTRPG territory!
April 29, 2023
coming from Pathfinder i am used to a certain level of customization being built into the game, 5E even feels a little shallow to me at times. considering how new this game is and even the core rulebook hasn’t been released yet, how are characters made unique from one another or is it fully the players responsibility to build customization into the game for the developers via homebrewing? a friend suggested the system to me but I just feel like it is too lacking in content at this point. how would you address this quandary?
January 24, 2023
Just adding here, find something that parallels elements of your current game, and run that system.
For example, if you’re running “Waterdeep – Dragon Heist”, run a one-shot with “Blades in the Dark” where the players play an opposing faction for one session; using those rules.
Another great thing you can do is run a one-shot that explores elements or precursors to current events in your game. A good example of this is:
I’m running a grimdark Keep on the Borderlands. To explain events in this campaign, I ran two or three games of Warhammer 40K, and kept the results. Even added elements from this game into the world. This then tied back in with the reason some of the events were occurring “presently”, even though canonically those events occurred 5,000 years before the campaign.
Instead of Warhammer 40K, I could have easily used Mork Borg, Band of Blades, or the Rogue Trader system, which allows them to experience new mechanics, new approaches, and also see how these games can be run with any milieu as a backdrop.
October 28, 2022
Great post Kelsey! I was the same as you in 2017. I’ve also used your methods here to great success for running different ttrpg’s like ICRPG, Viking Death Squad, and this other incredible game called Shadowdark, you might’ve heard of it ;)
October 16, 2022
Carole, you are a true gem! Your lovely comments and messages lift my soul. A big hug to you!
October 15, 2022
Hi: I love your logic and how you think. The playtest on Oct 21 will rock their world! Your work is beyond excellent and exceeds anything anyone else out there can put on paper or digitally. Wish I could join the playtest, but alas, being ancient and with an ancient computer and without high speed internet, I can’t. I will advise my daughter, but I think she is already on the mailing list for your alerts and should see it herself, but just in case!
I tried to download the Shadowdark info from the Arcane Library website but because of ancient everything, I don’t even know what dropbox is! I’ll get Jayee to get it for me.
You don’t need good luck, you have good vision and tactics. They will love to Lighthouse. If they don’t, they aren’t true rpgers!
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April 29, 2023
@Matthew – The core book is out now in PDF form via the Kickstarter! :)
Shadowdark is an emergent character growth game, not a character tuning game, so it’s not going to have the level of nuance to character design that Pathfinder has. SD is explicitly designed so that players can’t plan their character builds apart from class selection.
Characters are unique via their ancestry, background, alignment, class, stat scores, weapon choices, language selection, spell selection… the list goes on. But the emphasis on this isn’t building your PC, but rather finding out who they are over the course of their adventures. Their uniqueness grows over time.
So for folks who really dig the tuning, optimizing, and class feature/rules interaction hunt within a game system are not going to find that in Shadowdark. Pathfinder would be more their speed, I’d say!