The First Rule of Starting an RPG

An RPG doesn’t need to start with every little detail worked out. It helps, but it’s not necessary. I’ve seen games with rules for half-built characters, and games where the characters were talking IC and nobody’s sheet was even remotely finished. There are games where you can get away delegating figuring out what brought the group to a point to the players, or just not bother explaining more than the minimum as long as it’s clear enough what’s going on now. But there is one thing that every RPG needs when kicking off.

The players need to know what they’re doing, or at the very least, how “what they’re doing” works.

Now, in most tabletop games, this isn’t necessarily too big a problem (unless you’re the newbie in a crowd of experienced people and they’re waiting for you to make mistakes before telling you how to fix them). It’s more likely to be a problem online, particularly in play-by-posts where you can’t always ask what the heck is going on.

But all games have their quirks, and if only half of the people know what the quirks are, there will be issues. Nobody’s explained the hand-sign for OOC to the newcomer? Someone doesn’t know what the colored text in the chat window means? There’s a random page with a vague explanation and a couple bits of text, one of which has nothing to do with anything, and only one person has been told the significance of the font (while another only knows what font it is from having semi-recognized it and gone to look it up so the offending text could be asked about)? Someone really needs to tell them.

Similarly, a beginning, or operating within a scene, can be a bit awkward. If you’re not setting the scene for everyone else, TELL THEM, so they know what sorts of places it’s reasonable for them to occupy. If there are parts of your scene-setting that are to be left up to their discretion, it’s best to make sure they know what to do about those little details that haven’t been confirmed but haven’t been expressly denied, either.

So, some tips.

If it’s online and text-based, have rules posted somewhere, particularly for what can be done with characters (in particular, if there are character types that are just plain unreasonable; this most helps the kinds of people who want to make sure their concepts aren’t too absurd), how to get them in, and what to do with them starting out. If it’s face to face, make sure the expectations are clear. Starting date/time doesn’t hurt, either.

Ensure that the necessary information get to everyone. Contact between GM and everyone else is vital. (Contact between players is equally useful but not always necessary.) If only one player has any idea what’s going on, that’s probably a bad thing.

When considering what procedures and rules to include, erring on the side of minimalism is not necessarily a good thing. Yes, one doesn’t need to carefully rule out every potential case—but on the other hand, the one thing you don’t specify will invariably be the one that trips someone up within the first scene or two. If in doubt, write down everything that could be even remotely relevant (including setting-specific stuff, particularly if your players range in understanding from good to rusty to not actually familiar with this setting but one of the other players insisted).

After all, knowing is half the battle.

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