I talk a lot about people who aren’t comfortable with combat situations—since I am one, and since I’m currently in the process of running another one (and let me tell you: there’s nothing quite like having a hyperpowered character and next to no practice, while being surrounded by other players who Don’t Get how you Don’t Get It, to throw off the old confidence). But I’ve recently had a success with my current new player, that’s shown me one good way, in four parts, to get a newbie with a comparatively low-combat-efficacy build that first “I can do this” moment.
- Help them find an objective. I don’t just mean “win the battle”, mind, particularly if they aren’t the main powerhouse of the party. Look instead for something that plays to their skills, and doesn’t require keeping too many tricks straight—stay alive for a certain amount of time, annoy a given antagonist into incompetence, find out what’s powering this particular magic item… you get the idea. If you’ve got experts, they can handle actually bringing down the opponent. For instance, the first character I felt comfortable fighting with had a two-part battle plan: 1. Don’t let anyone score on my teammates with a ranged attack, and 2. if hitting the opponent, hit hard.
- Don’t put the pressure on immediately. While the experienced may love that life-or-death rush, the less experienced are trying to balance that with remembering how the base mechanics work with remembering how their specific mechanics work with trying to find something in the situation that hits their Cool buttons. Focus first on the ones that know what they’re doing; it gives your newbie a chance to get thoughts back in order, and lets the old hands demonstrate how it’s done.
- Make sure they know what their fallbacks are. To use a video game analogy, think about your average fighting game, and how a beginner will discover that the character they’re flailing around with has A Move—something that almost invariably works—and then spam that while trying to get used to everything else. If you can find A Move for the newbie’s RPG character, that gives them something to do when they can’t think of anything else—a simple attack action that usually does the job, a when-in-doubt defense, a useful buff, that sort of thing.
- No pressure, part 2—if you’ve got optional mechanics, let them stay optional, and serve as more a source of amusement than an “I’ve got to grab this”. This… okay, I’ll be honest, this is where I fall as a player a lot of the time; I overestimate the opponent, and decide that I absolutely need to cram together every Aspect worth tagging or stunt the snot out of everything or ensure I’m exploiting Laughter/Fears and combat conditions and all that, or… whatever the local equivalent is. Probably contributes to my own combat-avoidance as much as anything else.
Dealing with the discomfort caused by whatever the major mechanic is can make or break a player—moreso in RPG combat, given the all-or-nothing results they often have. If there’s something we can do about that, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.