My friend Rob Schwalb talked on His Blog about beginner’s boxes for RPGs, and how people got into gaming. My answer would look stupidly long as comment, and I have my own blog, so…
I got into RPGs because I stayed with my aunt and uncle for a summer when I was 11, my uncle had bought the 1ed DMG, and the ideas in it sounded awesome. So with no PHB, no MM, and no other experience, he and I forged together the bare minimum of some kind of RPG, and played several times. I was hooked.
Then, I almost lost gaming. The summer ended, I went home, and no one my age was playing RPGs in Norman, Oklahoma. My parents had no interest in the game, I couldn’t find a store that carried it, and I had no idea how to move forward. I slid sideways into miniatures gaming, and that was nearly that.
However, my mother noticed that my interest in RPGs lasted longer than my interest in many things had, so she looked around for a product to help me. And introductory box would have been perfect. Instead she got Tunnels and Trolls, because she found a friend of her who mentioned they had solo adventures. I played those endlessly. That Christmas, my entire family knew if it wasn’t T&T-related, I didn’t want it.
As I changed schools I got in with a bigger and older crowd of kids. I started going to science-fiction conventions (also due to my mother’s influence — there’s a reason I call her the Empress of the Geeks). I was exposed to more games, and more gamers. And, even then, gaming almost lost me.
The problem was not a lack of players… it was a lack of GMs. New gamers (especially young kids – who are the ones you want to hook early if my 30-years of buying RPG materials is any guide) don’t really know what a GM is supposed to do, or how to do it, or how to tell if it’s done well. I ended up GMing several friends through T&T solo adventures, acting as the referee for groups of Dungeons & Dragons characters stomping through solo Tunnels and Trolls adventures. We all had fun, and it severed as a starting point. Then I found Dragon magazine, and it had the rest of the clues and hints I needed to more firmly understand what I was doing.
But a good starter box would have been great. If my mother had found such a thing when she went looking for a way to get me RPG games to play, that would have been a huge help. And if the rules had been a little different and simpler than those of the end game, surely that would have been no more difficult a transition from T&T to AD&D? Indeed, maybe we should teach our players the rules change – that might help prevent the next round of edition wars!
As long as beginner boxes do as much GM hand-holding as player-hand holding, I’m a fan of them. I think there likely are people who have seen tabletop RPGs, think they look fun, and want to get into them, but don’t know how. A box that says Start Here is a huge help for the ones in the margins. Also, if it includes maps, dice, things to use as figures for heroes and monsters alike, it helps early players have enough to get hooked before making them spend yet more money. (And if it gets you coverage on CNN’s web site, that’s got to be a good thing, right?)