With the holiday season already in full swing, from the magic of Octoberween and Cananksgiving to the upcoming gustatory marathon that is Amanksgiving and Wintereenmas, many folks are taking a break from work and visiting with family and friends. For many gamers, that means the long, dark, tea time of any ongoing campaign is fast approaching.
But where many of us see visiting home as a gap in the gaming experience, there’s a seasonal opportunity to not only keep the dice rolling through the cold winter nights, but to finally have the freedom to make a gazebo reference at the family dinner table without drawing blank stares. It’s a chance to expose your family to gaming and perhaps, perchance, help them understand a hobby that explains a lot of your more eccentric friends.
Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that ‘family’ in this context isn’t automatically referring to blood relatives, legal guardians or children you’re somehow allowed to be responsible for. ‘Family’ are the people you visit with during the holidays. They may be friends and gamers already, in which case, close this article and go roll up a turkey-themed one-shot already, you’re all set!
But if you spend the holidays with folks who are close to you but aren’t gamers, then let’s talk about how to change the latter without endangering the former.
Gaming with family brings in loads of challenges right off the bat. For one, instead of having to introduce a new system to veteran gamers or bring one new player into an existing group, you’re likely looking at introducing the very concept of tabletop games to an entire group at once.
Naturally, this is a case where simplicity in the system you choose is paramount. Now is not the time to fetch AD&D or GURPS out of the box. At the same time, the normal go-to games that get tossed about when talking about simple systems (mechanics like Fiasco or Dread) bring with them a healthy demand on the roleplay end, which may be even more daunting to new gamers than a ten-mile list of skills.
For brand new gamers, something as lightweight as Fate Accelerated is often much more appropriate. Fudge dice are also a handy introduction to how rolling works, and they feel enough like a board game that many family members may find it easy to pick up on from the start.
Even better is something like Simple Six from School Daze, which can be used for any type of game, and is as dirt simple as it comes. It also serves as a wonderful primer for more advanced systems with very similar concepts, like Cypher or AGE.
In any case, pre-gens are a must, not only so that you can handle the numbers involved in character creation, but so that you can give them idea fodder for their first character ever. If your family is familiar with Clue, liken it to the personalities of the pieces. In Clue, you aren’t simply “the purple guy,” you’re Professor Plum. Making a similar connection when you had them their copy of “Bodak the Barbarian” should help put roleplaying as a whole into context.
Now is definitely the time to go light on the rules in general, but try to be consistent. If you have time, draw up a simplified version of the system (if it can reduce down any further) and stay within the narrow lines you set yourself. New gamers aren’t going to be bored with old mechanics and gimmicks, because they don’t know them, so all the usual tactics to keep combat interesting should be left out in favor of straightforward hack and slash where possible.
While system is critical to bringing new gamers on board, it’s important to remember that so is the setting. While Tolkein-esque fantasy romps are second-nature to even non-gamer geeks, they may seem alien to your family members if they’re less familiar with the same stories. Instead, lean toward modern-era games with either a light supernatural element, a mystery thriller, or a slap-sticky romp – the last of which is particularly handy if you don’t expect your family to take the experience very seriously.
Some example game settings that work well with first-time gamers who may be non-geeks:
- Urban Supernatural: Normal people whose lives are thrown into upheaval by weird new dangers
Once Upon a Time, Walking Dead, Twilight [Don’t laugh, they’ve probably read it]
- High School Super Heroes: Super-powered teens just trying to pass AP Chem while saving the world
Sky High, Heroes, Teen Titans
- Mystery Thriller: A group trying to solve a murder in their midst while trapped in by the weather
Sherlock Holmes, CSI, Psyche
- Critters: Pets, woodland critters or toys who have to work together to protect their home
Toys, Over the Hedge, Bolt
Plan for a particularly short game – two hours with rules explanations, so likely 90 minutes of actual game. Quick, simple, just to give them a taste of the hobby and see how they feel about it. If they like it, you can try for a longer game or a more complex system next visit.
While it may seem like a lot of work for gamers you may not see that often, getting your family into gaming with you can turn once-dreaded holiday vacations into something to actually look forward to, while also helping you keep momentum in terms of gaming as a whole over the typical winter gap.