I want to introduce some new games to my group. But when I broach the topic like, "Howdja like to play Dogs in the Vineyard?" they balk – not at the prospect of trying something new, but at the prospect of committing a big chunk of time to a total unknown.
So, we're going to try "gaming tapas" – We're gonna set a short, limited number of sessions to try out some new games so people can get an idea of what a given game is like, and whether they'd like to come back to that game for a longer campaign.
My question, as GM, is – what's my ideal number of sessions to try a game out? The more sessions you have, the better idea you really get about the game. The fewer you have, the more games you can taste before settling in on one. What's the best balance?
I'm thinking 6. Apocalypse World at some point mentions that you haven't really started playing until you're six sessions in, and I figured independently that we needed 1 session for character creation, and at least 4 to play. Burning Wheel suggests 4 or 5 separate "teaching" sessions (tests, versus, range and cover, fight!, etc.,), so there's barely enough time in 6 sessions (including chargen) to try all of that. But that means (with weekly sessions) that trying out 4 new games (BW, AW, DitV, Leverage) will take six months!
Anyone have any direct experience with this problem? Does anyone have any concrete information on questions like the following:
Do "short circuit" techniques like If after the third session, three people want to abandon it, we move on to the next game at the next session. work? Or do they just cut down good games before the group has acclimated to them?
Would I be better off spending a session on character creation, to give my group a sense of what's possible in a given system, or handing out pregens, to avoid wasting a whole session on creating characters?
Specifically, this question is not only about the games that I've mentioned here – it's about techniques for testing the waters with any new game for a group. I have listed games that I intend to try in the sort-term, however, answers should focus more on the concept and less on individual scenarios or adventures for any one particular game.
Every session offers a chance for veto. Demonstrate central mechanics first, supporting mechanics (like character gen) second.
While it's nice, in theory, to say "We'll try this for 6 sessions" it is quite clear, to me, within one session of playing a game if I'm comfortable with the game or not. Just about a year ago, I did a number of games in "uncampaign" format, where there was a weekly meeting to try a different game as often as we felt like. Games the group didn't like didn't last beyond one session because it was obvious that the mechanics didn't mesh well with group expectations.
The trick is to keep things simple. The first session is to explore and demonstrate the core mechanic of the system. The central mode of conflict should be made ovious in the first session. If characters are sufficiently complex that they take non-trivial amounts of time to generate, they should be presented beforehand.
In running professional demos of the RPG I helped write, we had to communicate the central concept in a five minute combat. A four hour game was enough for a whirlwind tour of all the major mechanics and the length of time most convention games are budgeted for.
My advice: Run one game as a pre-gen demo game, and allow players to create characters during the second game of the system demonstration. Allow anyone to veto for any reason, and have a debrief after to see what went wrong for people. People are, of course, allowed to make persuasive cases and explain the difference interpretations of rules in the debrief, but it will bcome quite clear if everyone is willing to try a second session.