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The “non”gamer hurdle

January 27, 2008

So I ‘ve been playtesting The Emperor’s Heart with a bunch of folks who have never played roleplaying games before.   It’s unfair to call them “non-gamers”, because they play videogames, cards, or boardgames, rather, it’s easy to say that they’re just non-roleplayers.

Well, why is that?

It’s not because “rpgs have story” is a big jump- these folks are writers, folks in theater, people who have no problem either “getting into a character’s head” or looking at the larger concerns of plot, pacing, tension, conflict, climax, etc.

It’s not because of geek factor-they’re all into stuff like comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. and can tell me detailed accounts of book or tv series.

Between talking to them, and then looking at what games I think I could introduce to them, I get it.  Every mainstream, big name game still has fat wargame aspects all over it.   There’s a certain mentality necessary for wargames- for balancing points, for figuring odds, parsing through crunchy rules and figuring what’s most advantageous.  And it’s definitely more layered than most videogames, boardgames, or card games ever get.

It’s easy to see in games where you track position and range, but it’s also there in games where you build your character with a “deck” of powers.  It’s there where you keep track of actions and initiative.  It’s there where you have a list of weapons and armor to choose from.  It’s there where there’s a fat list of types of characters or splats to pick.

That mentality?  It’s not a big thing in the larger population.

I’m looking at Star Wars Saga Edition.  My friends love Star Wars, and arguably, it’s probably the easiest license to pull people into roleplaying with, because literally generations love the movies, comics, books, videogames, etc.

And I’m looking at Attacks of Opportunity.

When people think of Star Wars, they think of light saber fights, epic battles, and dogfights in space.  They don’t at all think about positioning, power lists, equipment stats, etc. as what it means to be a Jedi.  My friends will think of character, of plot, of geek things, but they will not want to think about attribute modifiers, squares of movement, or any of that.

And I get why many people either fudge, fiat, or freeform their way past all of those rules.  If all roleplaying rules are synonymous with “wargame” for you, naturally rules are useless if you don’t want to wargame or apply wargame logic to whatever game you’re really trying to play.

And it makes me a little sad.  As cool as the Star Wars Saga rules are, all they would do is turn my friends off from gaming, so instead I’m looking at a bunch of games that none of my friends would pick up and think, “Hey, I could do Star Wars with this!”, and will be using one of those instead.

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