Dear DovahQueen – Keeping New Players

Note: Ignore Ryan’s face attached to this post. Loren wrote today’s Dear DovahQueen, as usual, but couldn’t post it. 

Dear DovahQueen: How do I keep new players interested in the game? I’ve had a few players that I introduced to the game and they don’t seem to stick around all that long. What can I do to keep my players?—Plants Are People Too


Dear Plants: Anyone who’s played tabletop RPGs for a while knows that they’re the greatest things since sliced bread. And while we’re 100% correct, this kinda makes it confusing when we show someone how amazing it is to make a character and throw dice and they *aren’t* way too hype about it. I’ve introduced my fair share of new players into the game, and sometimes people have fun, but simply decide that they’re more interested in other things. There’s always going to be those people who just aren’t drawn to it the same way you and I are, and we’re just gonna have to acknowledge that we can’t win over everyone. Instead, we’ll look at some ways to improve retention for those other would-be gamers.

For starters, new players are really going to struggle to make the same quality of character that a veteran is going to. Whether it be from a gameplay viability standpoint or a concept design, they’re likely not very practiced at writing and developing characters for a roleplaying game. Let me recommend that you kind of pull back a bit on the character creation process; one of the best, and most unique, things about the game is the ability to truly make any character your imagination can cook up. While this is certainly a feature rather than a flaw, to a new player it can be downright overwhelming. Now, I’m not gonna recommend you tell them, “Here’s your lvl 1 Fighter. Enjoy.” Instead of showing them the entire breadth of options open to them, close the book and ask them “who” they want to play. Let them start with small concepts. New players might not know what a Warlock does, but they do know what slinging dark magic looks like. If they can tell you, “I wanna play a dark sorcerer with a seedy past and a love for singing,” then you should be able to start working them towards their class and options. This whole process should help them pilot a character that they feel more involved in. On top of that, ask them small details to help flesh out what makes it an interesting character. Do they have family, friends, hobbies, or fears? Are there any particular things of interest that people know them for? Little details go a long way to making a character feel lived in.

I hate to ask, but how confident are you in the quality of the story? Adventure planning for a GM can be *very* difficult. Even seasoned GMs can struggle greatly with engaging story writing. Consider how involved each of your players is in the story. Are they only swinging swords at problems and dodging traps? Or are they so deep in the plot that they don’t remember the last time they saw combat? Make sure that you find the right balance between the threat of a grisly demise and the court of intrigue. If you’re just really not sure that you’re capable of a masterpiece to keep them fiending for more, don’t be shy about cracking open a premade adventure from the publisher. These tend to be developed by people who’ve spent decades behind the GM screen and know a thing or seven about dynamic plots points. Plus, these are almost always paced exceptionally better than a homebrew game due to the source of the rules and adventure often being the same people.

Lastly, consider the little things that you can add to your game night to push it just a little bit farther. How much music do you all play? Is everyone bringing snacks of some kind? Are you taking a break every X hours? Can you work props into the game? When you’re trying to recruit a new player to the cult…I mean community, remember that you’re not just selling them on the game, but on the atmosphere as well. I honestly believe that these games are less than 50% actually about the game and are instead far more about the fun times with other humans. Tabletops are basically the introvert’s version of a party so you gotta make sure that the music, food, location, and company are great if you really wanna impress your guests.

Guide them into the character that they come up with, make sure that you’re bringing you’re A-game with the story, and don’t neglect the little details that take place outside of the imagination. You can’t win over everyone who throws a dice for the first time, and that’s ok. The most important thing, above all else, is that you, and everyone else at the table, has fun.




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Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting: