Many new gamers, or even casual “passerbys,” often ask, “How do you get into tabletop role-playing games?” After all, seeing those complicated character sheets, thick rule books, and a multitude of dice can be intimidating (let alone maps, figures, etc.).
You’ll find plenty of pages to advise how to get started, from choosing a simple system, to gamemasters (GMs) who specialize in introducing people to TTRPGs. There is no wrong answer to the question, and often the easiest way is dependent on those interested rather than any specific game or GMing technique.
Still, there is one route to learning TTRPGs that has grown in popularity over the last few years: Beginner Boxes. With the release of the Shadowrun: Sixth World Beginner Box, we now have numerous introductory kits.
This Tabletop Tuesday I want to talk about these boxes a bit, and why I think they’re not only a good idea for new (or potential) players, but also worth the price. Also, I’d like to delve a little bit into the history of TTRPGs and how the concept isn’t exactly new (even if the presentation is different).
One of the biggest complaints about Beginner Boxes that I’ve seen from long-time roleplayers is the cost. Your average box is priced almost the same as the core book, if not more, so the question remains, “Why pay more for a simplified or partial version of the game?”
The answer might be along the lines of, “the Beginner Box wasn’t made for you.” The whole point I made earlier was that those textbook-sized rulebooks could be intimidating or confusing to new players; price isn’t the issue so much as accessibility.
By boiling the rules down to a booklet, these beginner sets are much more approachable for the novice player or even GM. Even if you’re an experienced GM, having a Beginner’s Box can prove a boon when it comes time to draw interested people into TTRPGs.
Another thing to remember about Beginner Boxes is that they come with more than just simplified rules. They usually have pre-gen characters, an adventure, and any necessary maps or other accessories.
Even better, the characters and adventures are often purposefully written with new players in mind. The pre-gen roles often have simplified sheets with notes explaining each section, while the modules are designed around teaching the rules as they progress.
Let’s not forget that most of these boxes include dice, cards, or other accessories that can be carried over to the full game. A Fantasy Flight Games box costs $30, half of which is worth the dice alone; given a core book costs $60, then you’re getting a steal at a $15 introductory game, characters, and adventure.
I mentioned that, in the history of TTRPGs, the Beginners Box isn’t a new concept. Although they weren’t quite as elementary, many games had boxed sets to entice new players with basic rules, dice, and character sheets.
The original D&D Basic Set, published in 1977, included a revised edition of the core rules, dice, and an introductory module. In 1984, TSR would do the same with their Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set, and the ’90s and ’00s would see various “box sets” for different games.
One difference with these original sets is they were meant to be the complete game from the start. The rules used were the core books and anything after was purchased as an expansion.
Although this approach was smart, giving new players everything they needed, it was also a time when the rules fit in 50 pages (as opposed to the 500 of today).
Beginner Boxes also tend to be the purview of the big-name publishers, but smaller independent companies use the concept. You’ll find many pre-generated, introductory modules (characters included) handed out in 50-page pamphlets, especially at events like Free RPG Day.
The first of the modern sets, explicitly designed with novice players and non-gamers in mind, was probably the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginners Box published in 2011. Similar to the classic boxed sets, it presented core rules and sheets but also included pre-gen characters, an introductory module, maps, and dice.
The most well-known, and possibly best designed, box sets are for Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPGs. The character sheets are written with precise explanations, and the modules are purposefully designed to teach the rules of the game as they go along.
Since then, we’ve had boxes for D&D 5th Edition as well as Shadowrun, and I’m sure there are more in the works.
If you’re a seasoned GM with experienced players, the Beginner Boxes may not look like they’re worth it. After all, you know what to expect and how to use the core books to their full potential, so why spend money on partial, simplified rules?
For new players or even GMs, these introductory kits can be enticing, providing just enough (and in an accessible format) to get started. They have easy-to-read rulebooks, simple modules, and pre-generated characters, not to mention the dice and other accessories you’ll need.
Don’t frown upon the Beginner Boxes or their cost – they’re what we exactly need to bring new players into the fold. If you don’t like them, don’t buy them; if you know people on the fence about TTRPGs, however, or who just want to try it out?
They’re the perfect gateway product.