On RPG Introduction Text

Introductions are hard to do. Believe me, I know. And I see bad ones all the time. Here are a few things to think about when crafting your introduction:

Tell me why I should care. Your introduction should sell me on the experience your game wants to provide. Make me promises. Get me all excited. Show me that you’re jazzed about this game you want me to play.

Use positive, enthusiastic language! I can’t tell you how often I read an intro that feels phoned in.

Keep it short. 1500 words is on the long end. If you’re writing more than that, you’re starting to write non-intro material.

Include a book overview. If your game has six chapters, tell me what I can expect out of them. “Chapter 1: Basics of the Game — here you’ll learn about your face; Chapter 2: Making a Character –” and so on. This isn’t a table of contents; it’s front-loading and setting content expectations.

Don’t compare to other games, and especially don’t shit on other games. Unless you’re working in an OGL world and need to say “If you’ve played other Fate games…”, avoid talking about other games. You’ll run into some people who would otherwise dig your game being turned off by you being judgmental about a game they like, as well as people who have no clue what you’re talking about and get a vibe that they’ll feel like that the entire time reading the game.

On a side note, if your game isn’t strong enough to stand on its own without comparing it to, say, D&D, your game isn’t ready to stand up to the greater community’s scrutiny.

Don’t explain how to play the game. You have the rest of the book to explain how the game works — basic concepts like “this is a player and these and scenes” can be right afterward, in a section like “Basics for playing this game”. Terminology can likewise be later. This section is explicitly about explaining the barest concept of the game.

Your introduction isn’t Chapter 1. It’s not a piece of substance that holds information relevant to playing the game. Again, that comes later.

When in doubt, record yourself pitching the game. Listening to yourself sell the game experience at a convention is a great way to figure out what you should be saying.

Understand your target audience. And if you think it’s just “all gamers,” you have already lost. Speak to them, but don’t speak exclusively to them or in a way that craps on your second-order audience.

On a final note, “What is roleplaying?” — I could take or leave that, but in general I don’t have an investment in those sections. Unless you have a marketing department that makes you able to reach out to people outside of the gaming hobby, you aren’t going to get people who haven’t played before completely out of nowhere. They’ll be introduced by someone who has familiarity with the culture and the hobby (and hopefully your game), and they’ll serve as the “what is roleplaying?” introduction. So don’t sweat that section.

There is one major exception, and that’s when you have a game whose target audience includes people who aren’t core roleplayers (notably making games useful for educators). In those cases, you have to explain some of the foundational stuff that we otherwise take for granted; however, the trick is just to say how your game works, not how the hobby works in general. Therein lies focus, and focus is a source of strength.

I wrote about this topic in action last year. If you want to see a before-and-after on an intro, read on.

– Ryan