This is something I should have talked about right at the beginning, and happily we’re close enough to the beginning that I don’t feel terrible about it. Starting a game. It might be as simple as getting people together, finding a game, and going, but I want to take the time to consider a series of actions that can make your fledgling game a lot more fun for everyone.
Step 1: Players
Find a group of people, four including yourself is usually a recommended minimum, though lower numbers can certainly work. Then talk with them about the kind of game you all want to play. Talk about setting, themes, roles, and the things that all of you are interested in doing. Maybe some of you want a fantasy adventure game, and others want a cyberpunk intrigue game, and it’s important to take those interests into account. The goal here is to determine who’s playing and to try and paint a picture of what the game everyone wants is like. The other major consideration here is the style of game people want to pursue, whether that’s linear, semilinear, or sandbox. That’s going to affect how certain responsibilities are assigned in the next step, and can create an additional one, that of managing the narrative structure of the game.
Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear picture, of course. People don’t always know what they want, in which case I advise getting at what they don’t want as a way of finding out what they’re interested in. But sometimes, especially with someone who’s new to roleplaying entirely, they don’t know the kinds of things that they could want. Their interests are still accessible though, it just takes a bit of work. Talk with them about if it were a cook or a movie, the kinds of things they’d want to see in it, and the kinds of things they’d want to see their character, the protagonist, involved in. When I get a player who’s brand new to D&D, I like to get them to imagine a badass fantasy hero, and then think about the kinds of things that hero might want to do. Stay general, you’re just trying to get a feel for the game.
Step 2: Responsibilities
Once you’ve got players and an idea that people are enthusiastic about, it’s necessary to assign responsibilities. Most game systems will do this for you, in terms of requiring a GM to do a lot of these things, but there are some that the system never assigns. The major responsibilities are:
- Rule Calls: There needs to be the final authority on rule disputes, if only to keep the game moving. You can put this in the hands of a single player, hold a vote, or develop a policy of randomness and resolve rule disputes with the roll of a die. Consult the book after the session and if nothing contradicts the ruling, that’s your ruling.
- Setting: Someone needs to be responsible for the nitty-gritty of the setting. This could be the colour of the walls in the inn and the bits of dungeon dressing, but could extend to events in the political climate, great enemies rising up, and that sort of thing. Anything where the players are interrogating their environment, as well as the kinds of environment which seek to interrogate the players. It’s a big job, usually falling to the GM, but the design of the setting could be distributed out over everyone, and that might give players more of a stake in events and locales, knowing that their work is in there.
- Interaction: Sooner or later people will talk with NPCs, and someone needs to be responsible for making that interaction meaningful, by taking setting information and bringing it to life. Talking in funny voices, gestures and mannerisms, that sort of thing. This also usually falls to the GM, but could just as easily fall to a player with diverse and theatrical interests.
- Logistics: This is a real world job, and might be the toughest. Someone has to figure out when the group is getting together, where they’re getting together, and try to make sure that everyone’s in the same room at the same time.
- Narrative: In a linear or semi-linear game, there’s going to be a narrative structure, and someone needs to be responsible for it. Usually this is the same person who’s responsible for the setting, but it’s perfectly conceivable that one person could design the locales and another could fill them with stories. This responsibility could also be set out in a sandbox game, with one or more players informing interesting plots and story arcs into the setting, creating an opportunity for characters to pursue them, in which case the narrative responsibility is governing the interaction of those arcs.
Step 3: Ruleset and Setting
Well, now you’ve got a picture of the game you want to play, and you’ve got people who are willing to be responsible for various aspects of it. Now is the time to pick the game system and setting that best fits with those ideas. Other considerations are ease of use and general familiarity with a system (though don’t let lack of familiarity keep you from trying new ones!). Do you want action heavy fantasy adventure with an emphasis on tactical mini combat? 4th edition D&D is probably your game of choice. Courtly intrigue in a sandbox style setting? Check out Burning Wheel. Open-ended swords and sorcery? Give Savage Worlds a look. High fantasy? 3.5 edition D&D. Science fiction dystopian comedy? Dust off those Paranoia books. There’s a system and setting for just about everything, and it can take a bit to find a best fit. What books people own is definitely going to be something to take into account, but the point is to work to find a best fit, even if that means doing a bit of genre-bending.
So now you’ve got players with responsibilities, rules, and a setting. It’s time to get started. I advise having a session or two to just sit and make characters. Doing this collaboratively can lead to characters with more investment in each other and the setting. Then find a starting point, whether that’s the starting adventure for a linear game, or a starting place for a sandbox game, and go!
I hope this is helpful, in terms of providing some kind of structured idea on how to get a game together. I lay this out in a step by step manner, but realistically, some steps might precede others. For instance, if all the players are particularly enthusiastic about a specific ruleset or setting, then Step 3 could be taken care of in Step 1, and that’s fine. What other steps do you suggest? How do you get games going, and how could I make this more helpful for other people?