The obvious answer here is D&D, it has always been D&D in whatever edition is published at the time. Why? Because that’s the game a new player is most likely to find. It’s the game that has the most groups running. It’s likely to be the game a friend plays. And if not, a complete stranger can walk into any Friendly Local Gaming Store and sign up for a game. Until very recently I co-ordinated Adventurers’ League at my local store and every Saturday, we had five to eight tables of people playing D&D. It is “great” because it is big. But it’s not the game I have introduced new players to RPGs with.
When my kids got their introduction it was with Fate Accelerated Edition. They were arguing over a story they were inventing around a Lego town they were building, and it was getting to the “trashing the town” stage of anger. So I explained that “grown ups” setting such arguments in let’s pretend with a robust set of rules and some dice.
I was running a “Great War veterans vs Body Snatching Aliens” campaign in Fate at the time, so I explained Fate dice to the kids, and very soon, Lily’s Princess Leia was working with Tom’s Cowboy in an Ape MechSuit to rob a train. family fun for all. But Fate isn’t a great introductory game either. It uses a lot of words to explain simple concepts. It works with kids, who aren’t going to bother reading stuff, but grown ups?
No, what grown ups need is Alien. The RPG that I helped write. (I love saying that). Seriously, it’s a great introduction because even people who have not seen Alien have a “folk-memory” idea of what it’s about. And people who are nervous about “acting” a character are helped with the character’s agenda. That agenda also helps players expecting with the concept of “winning” a game get used to the idea of a game where you win only by having fun, in a setting where pretty much everyone not played by Sigourney Weaver loses.
I am not blowing this trumpet theoretically. This comes from practical experience, and from anecdotal evidence. Alien has attracted a lot of fans who had no previous experience with RPGs and even encouraged sone of them to start running games before ever playing in them. The simplicity of the system helps in that regard – as far as Year Zero Engines go, this is one of the simplest. (Not the very simplest, Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood are simpler still.) So it’s a lot easier to learn to run Alien that it would be to learn D&D.
Players like the simplicity too. Throw a bunch of dice to see of you get a six, if not don’t you can though them again adding a stress die to your pool. Watch out for ones on the stress dice. That’s all the rules in a nutshell. The push mechanism is fun – possibly the most fun of any Year Zero Engine game – and feels so right for the story. Try harder and get better, more likely to succeed, until you panic.
I have recently introduced three neophytes to tabletop roleplaying with this game, and they all loved the experience.