|The Care and Feeding of Newbies
Well, it’s summertime again, and despite the ravening hordes of mosquitoes, the blistering heat, and the stewing humidity… it’s time to play some Amtgard. So you strut over to the park and yell “DITCH!!”… and 5 people join you. And after that, the champion yells “Battlegame!”… and 8 of you line up.
You remember those 4 on 4 games, don’t you, with 3 spell casters per team and one really frustrated ditch monkey on each side who can’t make it through the hail of iceballs? What gives? I thought this was supposed to be a large group? Well, members come and go, my friend, but don’t despair. You just need to fix that downward spiral.
You need to get yourself some newbies.
Newbies. Brand new players. You can call them what you want, but ultimately they’re the lifeblood of the game. Everyone starts out as one, and your group needs a constant supply of them. But its tricky to find them sometimes. Wal-Mart and Home Depot may sell everything else we need to play the game, but you won’t find a new player hanging around with a price tag on them. (Unless he’s a real klutz with a pricing gun of course, but I haven’t worked retail in years!) FINDING NEWBIES
The single most common way to attract new players is to play in a public location. People driving by or walking past will stare at all us weirdoes smacking each other with sticks. Invariably, some of them will say “coooooool!” and walk on over. The better garb and the more fighting you have going on, the more people you will attract.
Another reliable way to attract new players is by word of mouth. If one person plays Amtgard, he or she is bound to tell their friends and try to get them to come out as well. People always like a game better when they can play with people they know well. Of course, if the original player stops coming out for a while, their friends may all disappear too.
Both of these methods work well for a larger group. Good garb, lots of fighting, and a large population to attract friends with are pretty stable methods… but what about a smaller group? How does a Shire of 20 or less attract new members efficiently?
This is where advertising becomes the best strategy. Post ads in places you know combat LARPers are likely to go. Colleges and gaming stores are best, as are high schools once you have permission to post an ad there. Got a paintball store or field nearby? Put a flyer there and remember to mention thrown weapons and archery! Have an SCA chapter nearby? Perhaps their 14-17 year olds want to fight too!
Doing a demo for a local school or fair is another good way to attract a member or two. And with parents present, remember to talk about things like safety, low cost, and the fact that Amtgard is a good alternative for their kid to get exercise and hang out with a peer group that will keep them away from drugs, alcohol, and gangs. (DARE… to hit people with foam!) TRAINING NEWBIES
Now that you have a crop of fledgling stick flurbs, you have to teach them how we do things. Before anything else happens… start by explaining safety to them. Tell them about the rules of bodily contact, about headshots, and about what makes a safe weapon and a safe player. Remind them that it’s not the strength of the blow that counts. Remind them that kneepads, cups, sport bras, and safety eyeglasses are good and handy things.
Only then do you explain the rules of combat. Begin with the basic hits, blocks, and wounds. Spar with them slowly and carefully, and never let them fight another newbie until they’ve both practiced for a while against more experienced fighters. Try to keep them to the basic weapons (long sword, short sword, throwing weapons) for the first week or so. There’s plenty of time to specialize later, and they need to know the basics before they start coring people with a polearm.
So let them get comfortable and ditch for a little while. Once they’re ready for a break, and once they’ve seen all the various weapon types in action, it’s time to explain the classes to them. Just explain the fighting classes. Lightly skim over the casters and leave magic for next week. It’s too easy to baffle new players with explanations of “1/Life”, “weapon spell point costs”, and the like. It’s best to let them get the concept of armor and shields and weapon damage down first. They’ll move in to magic when they’re ready, and that’s a different amount of time for everyone. INSPIRING NEWBIES
This is the part that many people overlook, and it is the difference between someone coming out for a few weeks, and someone who is an Amtgarder for life. Simply put, you HAVE TO make their first few weeks at your park be the most fun that you possibly can. Show them a good time and they’ll be regulars, show them a hard time and they’ll leave.
You have to make them feel good about themselves. A new fighter on the field likely doesn’t know any moves and makes basic mistakes. Point them out without insulting them. When they land a blow on someone, congratulate them and tell them they’re getting the hang of it. When they slough a shot, remind them about the wound rules again. If they keep doing it, let them know that it’s going to give them a bad rep.
And take any blow they land on you, even if it’s pretty wimpy. The fastest way to get a newbie to never ever come back is by ultimately and totally beating their ass into the dirt on the ditching field. If they feel they can’t cope, or that they just have no chance, (or worse, you humiliate them or talk smack to them) they will leave and you’ll never see them again. For groups with a lot of good ditch monkeys, this may mean switching out weapon combos so you’re at a disadvantage. Let the newbie flight Florentine or sword and board while the most experienced fighters go single short sword (the shorter the better). The newbie will see they’ve got a lot to learn, and they’ll realize that with good equipment, it’s possible to compete.
Or, they’ll try and backstab during a ditch. Don’t yell at them for it. Don’t even bitch or shoot them a dirty look. Backstabbing is normal, it lets people who have no chance in a head to head fight feel like they can make a difference, like they can touch you at all. They’ll grow out of it when they can hold their own, or they’ll become a good assassin, but if you give them too much grief, they’ll just leave.
The newbie may also soon take up annoying habits like throwing Entangle balls or even role-playing. (Oh heaven forbid we allow role-playing! The horror! =) Don’t discourage them. They’re trying to feel good about what they’re doing in Amtgard. They want to compete, they want a little attention or pride. This is very important, so get someone in the group who is good at these things to give them guidance.
Keep these things in mind, and you just might have a larger crop of new members who stick around for longer. And in a few months… they’re not so new anymore, and they’ll be bringing their friends along. After all, the teenage kid you sign the waiver for today just might be your King in a few years.
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