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!
I would later come to learn I was suffering from near-sightedness. I had hardly tried any other TTRPGs besides some short-lived dabbling into non-fantasy indie games when I was younger. I just assumed D&D's market dominance meant it must be the best game out there, and I'd be wasting my time elsewhere.
But is McDonalds the best hamburger you can get just because it's the most globally known burger chain?
"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 tortilla chips. Sometimes we even get protective of those decisions once we've made them since we're now financially invested (and even a bit emotionally invested, too)! People can hold a certain amount of their identity in the brands they love.
So 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, 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.
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 misconceptions.
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 Misconceptions
You offer to run a one-shot, but your players aren't convinced. They might have a few TTRPG misconceptions like I once did.
The important part here is to be kind and to really seek to understand what your friends are thinking. You want to win them over, not annoy them, so don't go on the attack. This shouldn't feel like an argument, but rather like you're softly agreeing and then posing a new perspective.
Sunk Cost Fallacy: "I've already invested lots of time and money in learning our current system. I don't want to get pulled into another one."
Address it: "It can be overwhelming to dive into a new system full force! But I'm only asking for a light sampler with this. All you'll have to do is show up for one session, just like today. I'll show you the ropes as we play — it's an easy game to pick up and run with."
Bandwagon Fallacy: "D&D 5E is the most popular system, so it must be the best. Why would we play anything else?"
Address it: "D&D is a really popular game. But popularity is just that — name brand recognition. It doesn't mean it's also 'the best' across the board. This other system could be better at certain things, like fast gameplay or fun combat mechanics. As they say, you don't know what you don't know!"
False Dilemma Fallacy: "I don't want to get into a totally new game and forget about our current campaign!"
Address it: "Right! I don't either. I'm not saying we need to choose between our current campaign and a new one — I just want to try a new system on the side. If we like it, maybe we'll play again. If we really like it, then we can go from there. But I'm just planning on a one-shot for us."
Angle 3 - Use The Power of Social Proof
Social proof is "marketing speak" 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 before you bought this new game you want to run, 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 it's worthwhile.
These reviews focus on the positive and exciting elements of a game, 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!