Earlier this week Robert Schwalb posted his Mythical New Gamer article over on his blog. In the post he expresses his skepticism about the success of introductory or starter sets actually bringing new people into the hobby. With big-box bookstores struggling and those that do exist putting the sets in the sci-fi/fantasy sections they lose some of their visibility or become products for those that already have an interest in starting pen and paper gaming. He then boils it down to three different customers – those that want to switch game systems, are trying to complete their collection and those that want to get someone else in the hobby and using the intro product as a crutch to do so.
The article is a good read and well worth taking a look at. He has several interesting points – some I agree with and others not so much. I suspect this has a lot to do with how I got my start in gaming.
I was one of those that came pretty cold to the hobby back around 1981. When I was a kid I used to sell greeting cards as a bit of fund raiser once a year and like any of these fund raisers, the more you sold the more points you received to cash in on a reward. That particular year the reward catalog had the Moldvay D&D Basic Set as one of the offerings. As a young kid looking to spend some reward points that purple box cover with a green dragon rising up in some subterranean chamber called my name! I applied my points and waited for it to arrive.
A few weeks later it showed up at the house. I opened it up to find some booklets, weird looking dice and a crayon. HHmmm, did someone forget to pack the game board? And what’s this crayon for? Why aren’t these numbers colored in? Time to start reading! It took some time as a kid to make my way through the books, sort of learning the rules as the best I could. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize the cure light wounds spell was not talking about wounds caused by light.
See, I grew up in a very rural area. There weren’t a lot of people my age nearby, there certainly wasn’t an Internet, and the nearest game store was 45 minutes away. There wasn’t anyone to teach me this game or even someone to give me an overview of what a roleplaying game was. In fact it was probably another two or three years before I finally found someone in school that knew about and played D&D and that was only after we hit middle school where the satellite elementary schools were combined into one, the great mixing of the rural kids in our district.
But I stuck with it. I slowly read the rules and gained enough understanding to play with some resemblance of the game as it was supposed to be. Eventually I taught some of it to my younger brother and other times I played solo games. I fully credit the Moldvay D&D Basic Set as my start into these many years of RPG enjoyment.
This set was something that I as a kid picked up with no previous exposure to RPGs. I did not buy it at a boxed store and an evangelist of the game did not give it to me. But it opened the door for me to the world of RPGs.
I think that is why I like the intro and starter sets and believe they are needed to continue growing the gaming hobby. I was excited to see Paizo putting out the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Because I know there are not always game shops close or mentors available to help teach you the game in those early years.
Good introduction sets include everything I need to play the game in one purchase. This is important to someone new to the game who might not even know there are dice other than a 6-sided die much less that they are needed for the game. Anything that lowers the hurdle to the entry to the game is a good thing and another legitimate avenue to bring new people to the game. Introductory sets fill this need.
Getting the intro sets into potential new gamer’s hands can be a tricky issue given our niche hobby. But the answer isn’t to not make introductory sets, it is to figure out how to get them into new gamer’s hands.