Ask Fandible: How to Introduce Gaming to My Wife

We got a great question on our Contact Us page this week, and instead of writing out an unwieldy comment, it was decided we should tackle it in a full-on blog post.

From HoneyBear:

Looking for a tabletop roleplaying game to break my wife and some of her friends into roleplaying, give them an introduction. So a simple system with a strong dramatic/cinematic flair any ideas? I was thinking fiasco? which might be too dark? Also maybe Hollow Earth or Spirit of the Century/Fate? The character creation seems… involved?

First, a welcome to your wife and her friends to the world of roleplaying! I hope they have a blast and help swell the ranks of women gamers. It can be an intimidating world to break into, and I appreciate your question HoneyBear because it lets me address two favorite topics: women in gaming and my favorite games!

Because I could go on forever about either one of these topics, I’m going to limit myself first to the games you mention.

Fiasco

The most story-driven of the games you mentioned, Fandible has had a blast playing Fiasco together and at conventions. One part party game, one part RPG, it removes the artifice of a die deciding the outcome of your actions. Instead it becomes a communal storytelling experience as the group decides whether your scene should end positively or negatively for your character. Because it’s GM-less, it also means the most experienced player is in the middle of the action with the new players and can easily lead by example, rather than being stuck behind a GM screen.

Only you know whether Fiasco is too dark for your group. In my experience the stories end up so crazy it’s more black comedy than anything else. There’s also a huge variety of playsets that can help guide you toward the type of story experience you want to tell – a story set in Salem 1692 is likely to be far darker than the “teen romantic comedy” of Those Summer Nights. No matter the playset, Fiasco is a game that requires strong roleplaying skills from the start, exactly because there are no dice or GMs to give you challenges to overcome. If your group is already strongly imaginative or has a background in theater or improv, this is easily overcome, and some complete newbies will come out of their shells naturally as they get into the fun.

Pulp-Style: Hollow Earth Expedition and Spirit of the Century

Games don’t get much more cinematic than pulp-style RPGs. These games often draw explicitly from the pulp adventure serials of the 1930s and seek to emulate the broad action style of the genre. You named two of the leading games in the genre, the near and dear to me Hollow Earth Expedition, and Spirit of the Century (sorry, no superlative for you).

I can’t recommend HEX highly enough for new players (or any players! I want everyone on this bandwagon with me). I love the simple resolution system (your pool comes from the number of attribute+skill points you have, and is based on a simple succeed/fail method rather than hitting a random target number or calculating percentages). The point-based character creation system has only a small number of points to allocate, so you aren’t intimidated by trying to manage 100+ arbitrary points at a time, and the style point economy no only allows players to put their own mark on the story, but allows the GM to explicitly reward and encourage good behavior at the table.

Also (and here’s where I talk about women in gaming!), the art is great and the whole book presents women adventurers as equal to the men on the journey. It’s a refreshing departure from slavishly emulating old pulp stories where women were damsels in distress, if they appeared at all.

Spirit of the Century, on the other hand, is the first game to use the Fate system, and it really shows when compared to later Fate games. This one really does have a surprisingly long character creation process, and the system overall is one I’ve never found to be intuitive (The pyramid-style allocation of skills took me far too long to wrap my head around when we first picked up Fate via Dresden Files). And, more women in gaming real talk, it annoys me to no end that women NPC’s are few and far between in the book and several archetypes or stunts are needlessly and explicitly gendered (and far more often in favor of men than women). With a massive number of aspects, it can be intimidating for even seasoned role players to make up so much of their character without mechanical guidance, and a nightmare for a GM to remember even a fraction of them for compels (the primary way of gaining Fate’s version of style points).

Fate

But I don’t want to scare you off Fate entirely! Both the Dresden Files and Atomic Robo (coming this summer!) have been great for Fandible. And while I personally haven’t played it yet, Fate Accelerated Edition sounds like it has really streamlined the Fate experience for both GMs and players. It’s also a generic system that you can put in any setting. New players might prefer to play a game in a setting they know like the back of their hand, and with a little prep work by the GM, Fate Accelerated could be used to emulate any number of books, TV shows, or movies your wife and her friends enjoy.

I’ll continue this topic next week, with some input from the rest of Fandible, with additional suggestions that didn’t come up in HoneyBear’s initial question. But first let’s open the floor to the Fandible community. What game would you recommend for a group like HoneyBear’s?


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About the Author
A city girl with midwestern roots, Angela has been on the internet for far too long. A geek of many stripes, when Angela isn't pretending to be a different person every weekend she can be found reading, writing (that novel will come out some day!), or preparing for her eventual life as a crazy cat woman. Angela also blogs about gaming at the blog Gaming as Women http:///www.gamingaswomen.com

8 comments on “Ask Fandible: How to Introduce Gaming to My Wife

  1. Warren says:

    I second Fate Accelerated as a good streamlined game. I also recently had a lot of fun with Durance (although that will go dark).

    More important than the system is making the game setting or theme tailored to the first time players. HoneyBear, is your wife interested in any remotely geeky stories? (Sci-fi, fantasy, teen-vampire/werewolf/syrin love triangles) Something that’s already an interest is where you’ll catch her/them.

    My wife’s first RPG was DND 3.5, but she is into the kinds of stories that DND tends to cover and she’s been hooked for 10 years now. System’s important, but setting and player group trumps all.

  2. HoneyBear says:

    Thanks so much for your perspective Angela! It’s all great advice. The one part party game was what attracted me to Fiasco, and I didn’t realize the breadth of playsets, so I’m definitely gonna take a closer look at that. I’m thinking of setting the hook with Fiasco, and if that goes well reeling them in the with Hollow Earth and ubiquity. I picked up the Fate Accelerated to give it glance.
    Thanks Warren, I know my wife would not be a fan of fantasy, Dragons and sorcerors are just not her cup of tea. I’ve been getting her into geek TV, and she seems to gravitate towards the more Earthbound, modern day sci-fi. Hmm, I don’t suppose there’s a Downton Abby-esque playset?

  3. Barsha Da Barsha says:

    Unhallowed Metropolis is very Downton Abby, honestly. Maybe get her listening to some of us so she knows if she is interested in the setting. The only problem with Unhallowed is the system is a tad more difficult to handle. However, it’s -very- Downton Abby. Byron is based off a few scenes from that series.

    But, as I said, it’s a tad difficult. You could try Victorian Vampire the Masquerade (2nd edition). Cute book, easy rules, and you get to eat people!

  4. Angela says:

    I went digging, HoneyBear, and some people are saying the Transatlantic playset is Downton Abbey-esque! It cites Titanic as an inspiration, and is free here: http://www.bullypulpitgames.com/downloads/

    Also, I want to play with your wife now! Sounds like her tastes closely align with my own. Boo fantasy, yay modern sci-fi!

    Also, Fun Angela Fact ™: Victorian-Age Vampire was the very very very first game I tried to GM. We don’t speak of that awkward experience (waaaay pre-Fandible!)

  5. Warren says:

    Transatlantic looks like a really good choice – no fantastical / sci-fi elements to muddy the waters and a simple system.

    From what you’ve said, that one sounds like the way to go, but this has been rattling around in my head, so here’s another thing that bubbled up:

    This might be a little out of the box, but as a way to introduce the RP with as few mechanics as possible, what about the basics of Dread? Some questionaires and a (familiar) Jenga tower.

    Depending on the setting, maybe the tower falling doesn’t mean death, but ‘social death’.

  6. Syren says:

    I love Dread conceptually as the use of a Jenga tower to set horror pacing is probably one of the most brilliant non-standard role playing moves I have yet seen. I personally would recommend it as a nice lesson in pacing entirely and story driven games.

    It is not so great for teaching the more common roleplaying atmosphere that is the crunchy diceplex. While I’m no minmaxer for a game like Vampire and many others there is usually a line you have to draw between being an interesting character thematically and a useful character systematically.

    I don’t particularly have a good game to suggest for that but usually with a good team, and the hooks of roleplaying already sunk it is just something you learn on the mountain of ripped character sheets.

  7. Peripheral says:

    If you want to lighten Fiasco up a bit, the Fiasco Companion has milder tilt and aftermath tables you can swap in. When I pitched it to some non-roleplayers, I picked out a few promising playsets and let them choose between the darker and lighter tables. We ended up with a light-hearted teen stoner comedy. Fiasco does need some improv buy-in, but it doesn’t have to be dark or even black comedy unless you want it to be.

  8. Angela says:

    Peripheral – I was Googling frantically to confirm that about the Fiasco Companion and totally failed, so I kept it out. But yes, I want to try a Fiasco game with the milder tilt/aftermath tables! Not because I’m opposed to black comedy, but I really like that idea of a teen stoner comedy using Fiasco.

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