What's your ideal "RPG curriculum"?

Hey everyone! This is my first post but I've been lurking for a while, so if you're reading this, you've probably contributed in some way to my love of RPGs. Thanks!

Now, say that you have a group of four intelligent, attentive, charismatic and enthusiastic people who are interested in roleplaying games and have asked you to run a campaign for them. These people have consumed a lot of appropriate media and have some experience playing video game RPGs, but their only exposure to the hobby has been through pop culture.

What game(s)/system(s) do you choose for this group in order to:

a) ease them into role-playing, while also getting them engaged and excited about the hobby

b) instill in them whatever you think are the most important skills and habits to best aid/shape them in their development as a "good roleplayer", whatever that means to you

c) whatever else you think is important! :]

Feel free to just throw out your preferred teaching system, but I'm also interested in discussion regarding a hypothetical multi-game "program" to create THE PERFECT ROLEPLAYER!!! What do you wish you got to play earlier and why? Thanks!


(While I would like to keep this as a general topic of discussion, I would also appreciate suggestions for my new non-hypothetical group. They're interested in high-magic high fantasy and I would like them to learn to play unsafe and to take responsibility for influencing the narrative. I'm a little tired of the D&D class tropes and Vancian Magic but I would like some sort of decent advancement system to appease their level-up syndrome [lateral advancement is fine, but I know that new players often appreciate something tangible]. I'm currently leaning towards The Shadow of Tomorrow/Solar System or Fellowship. Thanks for any suggestions)


  • A lot depends on the age and preferences of the group. For the longest time my intro-to-roleplaying game was West End Games' Star Wars. However, this began to decline in effectiveness around 2004 or so, as newer players were likely to think of Star Wars as "the cartoon movies, right?"
  • edited June 2016
    Kinda depends on the GM! I introduced one guy to roleplaying through complete freeform and it was great, but that's because I have a lot of experience practicing and modeling efficient verbal fiction-communication.

    For the sake of your thought experiment, I'll suppose a neutral GM, as opposed to a real person who's good at some things and bad at others.

    Just like colleges tend to start with survey courses and then allow students to hone in on what interests them, I think I'd offer a variety to new gamers and see what they liked. Here's a crunchy system which rewards rules mastery! Here's some emo near-LARP freeform! Here's a one-shot arc with endgame rules! Here's a sprawling sandbox! Challenge! Death! Simulation! Method acting! Genre emulation! Gonzo fantasy nonsense! What do you wish to pursue?

    Of course, this wouldn't produce anything close to "the perfect roleplayer". It'd just produce informed entrants pursuing specialties.

    I guess the closest I can come to imagining a "perfect roleplayer" (other than someone who's spent a million hours mastering every game and playstyle out there one by one) is someone who's extremely skilled in communicating imagined stuff, and thus able to communicate whatever must be communicated at any given point in any given game. I'd train this skill by lots of demos and practice and repetition of relevant best practices. I can't think of a single game or system that would help this process other than as an example of a given point.

    That's my thoughtful answer.

    My less thoughtful answer:
    Freeform w/ no GM, freeform w/ GM, Puppetland, Lady Blackbird, Montsegur 1244, Sign in Stranger, Old School Hack.
  • edited June 2016
    I think the 'ultimate roleplayer', for me, would consist of three things (as a foundation):

    1. A good ability to communicate with others.

    This includes both the ability to express yourself and also the ability to notice when others are quiet or when they need to speak, and facilitating that. Listening skills, in short. Being aware when to speak and when to keep quiet, and how to help others do the same.

    Likewise, being able to clearly express your interests and draw out other peoples'.

    2. The ability to "share" the toys of roleplaying.

    Knowing when to step into the spotlight, when to step back, and how to draw good play out of others. Being able to support another player when they need support (such as playing a villain when another player wants to be a hero, and being prepared to lose to them) and being able to challenge them when the situation demands it.

    I believe that this may be the hardest thing about roleplaying games: our natural instinct is generally either to sit and listen (passively), or step in and take control of the entire process (like a railroading GM). For functional roleplaying/story gaming, a person needs to learn to occupy the middle space: to make contributions to play which always demand response from others - ideas which are incomplete, and require another to "fill in" the gaps. That's where the game is born.

    3. A broad knowledge of different games, different people, and the understanding of how to adapt to each.

    A great player, in my opinion, is capable of understanding what a given game is about and then playing to that as well as possible, instead of trying to play every game the same way.

    That player doesn't try to "immerse in their character" in an intensive rules-heavy game which demands mastery of the rules, and knows to ignore the rules when they don't contribute to what the group is trying to do (like a group which "hardly ever rolls the dice").

    Someone with a wide range of experience and the understanding that each game is its own beast* is my ideal player, and one of the things I look for in people I want to play with.

    *: "Each game" could mean "each ruleset", "each group", or even "each session" or any other context. You almost certainly should play differently in a convention game with strangers than you would in a long-term home campaign with your older sister, for example.


    There are other factors which enhance the experience: the ability to master rules quickly, a great knowledge of genre fiction, good acting skills, excellent "creative skills", good vocal mimicry, art skills (painting minis, drawing maps, making costumes), excellent descriptive skills/language ability, the social savvy to organize groups, reliability (do you show up when you said you would), etc, etc,.

    In my opinion, none of those are as fundamental. I'd happily play with a group of people with zero experience with, say, "fantasy fiction", no acting skills, and no ability to remember rules, so long as they met the three above criteria.

    As for choice of game, I don't think it matters so much as a variety of experience. Given your situation, I think your interest in The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System is a *fantastic* choice.
  • It really depends on the group and what they're into genre-wise. People who want to play super heroes don't always want to play swords & sorcery and neither may be interested in hardcore sci-fi.

    With that being said there is one game I've used more than others, and have developed a custom campaign for exactly this situation in: Shadowrun. However, I use it mostly because of what I've already got prepared for it, not because of anything that it is.

    Specifically I developed a campaign where the players play themselves...their actual selves, whisked from our current world and deposited into the SR universe. I wrote a novella introduction, in the middle of which are a series of chapters where the players are being trained to cope with their new reality in a series of VR simulations which are the actual sessions at the table. Each session is tightly focused on a different aspect of the rules (melee & hand to hand combat, firearms, deal-making, investigation, magic, matrix, etc). This then leads into a broader campaign containing many of the iconic campaign elements from the canon timeline.

    Now I did this because a group I was introducing to roleplaying chose that genre, and I knew SR was a highly complex game (rules-wise) for newbies. However it had numerous benefits such as bridging the gap between self and character, breaking game rules down into manageable chunks, allowing for failures without serious ongoing impacts, introducing them to one of the richest/fullest backstories of any game ever made (imo), instilling in them terms and slang in a fun way, use of miniatures, tactical/strategic concepts, character building, teamwork, focus on story (especially without specific story game mechanics) while highlighting the difference between narrative and active gaming, demonstrating how single sessions build to a larger campaign, etc.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that you can make any system work for doing what you ask.

    If I was going to go all multi-game I'd definitely want to use something from each major genre (fantasy, superhero, sci-fi, space opera, post-apocalyptic, horror/gothic, etc), as well as something from each major category of game mechanics (dice pools, class system, skills based, lifepath, chart reference, cards, etc).

    I would be highly TEMPTED to string it all together under some sort of single storyline/narrative umbrella...connected with a TARDIS, time travel, world hopping via Spelljammer, reality shifting with a crazy wizard, etc.
  • That sounds exciting!
  • For the B category, I think Hillfolk / DramaSystem is probably up there, it taught us alot. Another thing I love is the D&D module B4 The Lost City.

    Some games that have both A and B qualities includes games that are powered by the Apocalypse (Apocalypse World) and the D&D Starter Set.

    One of my goto games for the A category has been Fiasco. And it's great still, always like playing it.

    So, curriculum:
    D&D Starter Set w B4 The Lost City added in somewhere outside Phandalin.
    More Fiasco, more D&D
    Repeat until perfect

    About OSH… I think it's a fun and simpler game system but the reason I'm recommending Lost Mine of Phandelver and The Lost City is just that -- the modules. Open ended, chaotic, non-linear
    It's something to behold!
  • Oh, and a book? Unframed. Read Vincent Baker's chapter and Robin Laws' chapter because those are new and great. The others are very similar to each other so read one of them :p as an introduction to classic impro stuff. Or just go read Impro.
  • I developed a campaign where the players play themselves...their actual selves, whisked from our current world and deposited into the SR universe.
    Yeah, I've done "start by playing your actual self in your actual home; now everything changes!" a few times. It does seem intro-friendly. Good call!
    I wrote a novella introduction, in the middle of which are a series of chapters where the players are being trained to cope with their new reality in a series of VR simulations which are the actual sessions at the table. Each session is tightly focused on a different aspect of the rules (melee & hand to hand combat, firearms, deal-making, investigation, magic, matrix, etc).
    Holy shit. This is brilliant. Now I want someone to do this for me every time I start a campaign with a new system.
  • edited June 2016
    I prefer any kind of gamer that is open. Open to try new playstyles, new ideas, and - most importantly - open to listen to the other participants.

    Also, someone who can be engaged or engage others.


    To train them in that, I would play InSpectres or This is Pulp with them but do the standard introduction that I developed through the book Impro. Then I would introduce them into different genres: immersive intrigue and campaign play through Svart av kval, vit av lust (Black of Despair, White of Lust), horror through Don't Rest Your Head (was going with Cthulhu Dark at first, but that game doesn't really help with the horror), A Thousand Years Under the Sun for collaborative world building, The Murder of Mr. Crow for collaborative scenario making, and Imagine for immersive fiction.
  • Right, Cthulhu Dark is like some other games (D&D included) that it really depends on the module. Cthulhu Dark does have some extra horror in the mechanics, how you lose your agency and start destroying Mythos stuff.
  • I've actually been in this situation more than once, and I keep the commitment low, no more complicated than a one-off dinner party, and bring and pitch three games I really love and am into at the moment. The complexity or themes aren't really relevant, because people are smart and I can communicate my enthusiasm and that's usually contagious. Once they've chosen one I just model what I think of as good behavior and people catch on fast.

    If this happened again tomorrow my games du jour would be Fiasco, Fall of Magic, and Sagas of the Icelanders, but pitching games you personally love right now is the important part.
  • Yeah, bringing your own enthusiasm into the mix, that's good. I like LMoP and Lost City because the early part is so good. You don't have to finish the campaign
  • edited June 2016
    My real start with RPGs came in the form of a schoolteacher who, when I was still very young, would read out Choose Your Own Adventure Books to the class, and then we'd vote on which option to take when it came to a decision point. If it ended in disaster, he'd let us go back to the previous entry and try again with the other choice(s).

    Once you've got that down, it's pretty easy to start talking to someone about how a very basic, traditional/classic/mainstream RPG works, and how it differs from a CYOA book, at least on the character player end of things.

    That's where I'd start.

    The other important thing to me would be to encourage GM-like behavior, and make it easy to transition to that kind of thinking. GMing seems to intimidate lots of gamers.

    While it probably is not for starting gamers to digest on their own, I'd trot out Mythic GM Emulator and have 2-3 strong, easily understood concepts to choose from for a one-time, one-session, on-the-fly adventure. I'd probably hack it a lot, or at least simplify the ore resolution chart, leaving most of it intact ( especially the scene inspiration mechanics and the idea that "difficulty" is essentially a group decision). It's good for getting all players into the habit of doing GM type stuff, without always putting a particular person in the hot seat.

    After that, you can simply start seeing where interests are in the individuals. If you've got people who really are just about their characters, getting into their heads, and maybe being a bit about success in action-adventure, I'd go with something fairly traditional. If you've got someone who really seems to always be there with plot and world details, and good vision of that, I'd go traditional, but try to find a game that matches well with what they like and help them through GMing a session, acting as rules-monger and2-i-C.

    If they seem pretty much just into being their characters, and doing it up big, but aren't as concerned with success or failure so much as finding out where things go, I'd go traditional with an inclination to WoD stuff or similar, or some of the early narrative games where there's big character choice on moral dilemmas.

    If they seem to be split on creativity between world stuff and character stuff, but also seem to share those spotlights well, I'd encourage looking at more distributed GMing/GM-less/GM-ful systems.

    In the end though, as a "curriculum", part of the teaching needs to be focused on being both a good group player and bringing other people into play and sharing the spotlight. Some of it needs to show GMing as something anyone can do and the joy in it. IME, it's easy to make someone into a character-player, but harder to convince people to GM, so there needs to be work on that front as well.
  • I'd say the perfect roleplayer is the one who has never roleplayed before, and the best system whatever you have mastery and are in love with.

    Besides that, well, I'd say that the more techniques you show them, the less amount of mechanics you teach and least amount of blocking you put to their input, the better.
    When you start playing techniques are the most important part to learn, or otherwise you won't get an idea of how the game actually goes. Mechanics tell you nothing about that. In fact most mechanics will distract you from learning how the game is actually played. Also, getting blocked is somewhat stressful. With too much mechanics and blocking the player will feel like they have to pilot a plane where everytime they push the wrong button or pull the wrong lever an alarm goes off. I've got better reactions just telling them "this way is up, this down, fly casual and look, there's an interesting place! how do you think it would look when we land there?"

    Which takes me to the next point: whenever you ask any input from them, try open-ended questions or specific things. Don't try to get them tell a full story from the start, that's just too much pressure. Instead you can ask them for details that look somewhat unimportant and then help them extract a story from those details. Asking them for this small input is quite important if you want them to feel more invested in the game and lose the fear to GMing, as well as get them more interested in reference material of any kind. They will soon start to notice the details in it and use them in the game.
  • edited June 2016
    Ooh, yeah, Cthulhu Dark is a great call to represent that space between pure freeform and significant rules. It has, like, one mechanic, which is super easy to remember and understand and use, and actually matters in play.
  • I wonder if incorporating some "zoomed out" / "GMful" play would be useful early on for a new gamer. Might be helpful in combating any sense that "playing one character is the way to play" and in grokking / empathizing with GMs in future GMed play. Microscope and Kingdom come to mind. Maybe Quiet Year? Fall of Magic? I haven't played those two, so I'm just guessing. Also the Pitch Session in PtA is gold if you want to mix collaborative prep with character play.
  • I wonder if incorporating some "zoomed out" / "GMful" play would be useful early on for a new gamer. Might be helpful in combating any sense that "playing one character is the way to play" and in grokking / empathizing with GMs in future GMed play.
    I think it would help, and in any case, very new players seem to want to do some GM style stuff anyway, almost instinctively.

  • That's because the easiest way to adapt we have is to copy behaviors, so naturally new players try to copy the GM behavior and go straight into authorial mode. It's not so easy for everyone, some players think they have to come up with quality material in the spot and shy away, while others are up to the challenge or inspired and might end up overdoing, depending on the game. That's where usually the GM intervenes by simplifying things for shy players and guiding/blocking the extrovert ones.

    However if you try brainstorming all together the setting creation part at the start of the game by using simple questions to inspire players and taking note of whatever the extrovert ones say, you get some interesting side-effects:

    -It's a pressure-free instance of the game where players get the chance to module the amount of input and learn it's a conversation where everybody is supposed to talk at some point, with the GM working as a moderator.
    -If they all get at least some part of their input validated it's easier for them to further invest in the fiction and get enthusiast about it.
    -Everyone gets on the same page on what's the game about, what expectations everyone has about the theme, genre and atmosphere, as well as what's the setting's background.
    -Having already invested in the setting and inspired by it, they will be ready to make characters that totally fit that setting and make a more cohesive group.
    -It doesn't have to mean everything is set in stone, the GM can still surprise them and reveal different real facts behind what their characters knew from rumours and stories. Whenever setting creation is done I warn the group that all this is what their characters know and may not be necessarily the complete truth.
    -The workload of the GM is reduced while the quality and variety of the material may even get increased from her usual output, since you have more heads working on the same thing. All the GM needs to do then is edit a bit, connect the dots and can later add as much as she wants.

    Some important requirements to make this work:
    -The GM should use short precise questions, otherwise things may get out of hand quickly.
    -The brainstorming shouldn't take too long. Personally I use eight questions and most of the time I don't even ask them all; I stop when we get a clear premise and an inmediate objective since that's usually enough to start playing.
    -The GM should give everyone the same amount of spotlight and use at least one or two of their inputs.
    -If somebody is trying to push too much, it's time for blocking a bit and move the spotlight to another player, or ask the group what they think about what the first player said.
    -Using some dice rolls to decide things is great thing at this part if the game's conflict resolution is based on dice, it's a good way to introduce this main mechanic without still giving toomuch info about it.
    -The GM should be mentally ready to play unsafe and impro a lot, as well as prepping nothing but modular bits that can get used anywhere or discarded without ruining the game experience.
    -The GM would need to follow the players and keep the game moving on when they doubt, instead or trying to lead them to places, people ans scenes she has prepped.
    -The GM should be totally open-minded about players personal tastes, since these are the ones that will built the world. If she's got a strong sense of what she wants from the game she will end up editing too much. It can still work if the GM puts some clear limits before brainstorming, though.
  • edited June 2016
    Again, those are some great methods. If you don't mind, I'd like to quote your last post and use it to start another thread to help me figure out something. I've been puttering around with for ages.

    Here it is:
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