Running with New Players

I’ve had the great fortune in my current game of having some players completely new to RPGs. It has been a great feeling getting new people exposed to D&D and roleplaying in general. At the same time, things can get a little rocky. Its easy to overwhelm a new player with rules, tactics, options and choices. If you are in the situation of having a new player fold into an established group of veterans however, this can be even more daunting to the new player. I try to do a few things to make it easier.

Get them plenty of tools to learn the game – I get a copy of the quickstart rules to new players well before game night. Sending them a link via email or handing out a hard copy is a huge help to new players allowing a chance to get some of the mechanics down beforehand. During the game consider giving them a cheat sheet, especially something covering the basics of combat.

I’ve also become a huge fan of power cards. There are a lot of resources on the web. I’m a big fan of one site in particular as I can save and upload pages of cards I’ve already made. I print the cards, slap them between two self laminar sheets, cut them out, and you have a helpful play aid for a new player. I found it really helps having something physical in their hands (aside from a character sheet) to describe potential actions their character has during combat. Plus bookkeeping is minimal, as they simply hand over encounter and daily cards to the DM once they use them.

Simplify character creation – You have to be prepared to really spend some time on character creation with them, especially with the release of PHB2. There are tons of options and likely a new player is going to get overwhelmed quickly. I found a great way to approach generating a character is describing the 4 roles (defender, leader, striker, and controller) and have the player decide what role would fit thematically. Then I would give give a general description of the classes and races. Don’t bog down in stat bonuses and ditch the concept of min-maxing builds from the start. Priority should be something they enjoy playing, not that their racial bonuses are ‘THE AWESOME’ for a particular class.

I also keep several pre-gen characters on hand. If a character wants to play a dwarf cleric and I don’t have one prepared, I grab some other pre-gen cleric, scratch out any obvious racial abilities, and have the player run with it for the first session. Letting the player get a session under his belt allows him to get a feel for the game, well before making any long-lasting decisions with his character. He can then go back, shuffle around the stats, skills, and powers to fit his character a bit better.

Have a flexible first level – 4ED already allows you to retrain a particular power or feat each level. I make it a house rule that players can completely reshuffle their powers, feats, and skills after the first level. I also don’t have the players pick any perks for a background until they reach 2nd level. Sometimes they need to get a better feel for how their character works in combat. Maybe that idea of having an intimidating meathead did not work out, and they rather be a little more diplomatic fighter. I also like holding off the background bonuses to give them some time to figure out who they are after having a few RP sessions.

In game mechanic terms, maybe they realize they need to pick up another skill. Character-wise, they might realize a different motivation for their character and want to utilize a background that fits that concept better. As much as initial concepts might sound good, you really get a better idea on a character by playing it. I like being accommodating initially to allow characters to work out any kinks.

Hold off on the epic storyline for the 1st adventure (or 2) – A solo adventure is a great way to start. It is even better if the new player can run though a short session with 1-2 other players. Having a smaller group will keep the new player more actively engaged. If you shuffle him into a large group and just run with the regular campaign, likely he is going to be lost in the crowd for a few sessions. That small group for a first session will really allow the player to focus on their abilities and powers, with just enough help to figure out how they mesh in a group for future game nights.

Also, if you already have a relatively high level group. Playing a 1st level character, with a few of the veteran party members handling pre-gens, is a great way to get the new player up to speed with how game mechanics work. They can learn basic tactics, skill checks, how healing surges work, and the types of actions they can use during their round, all without getting overwhelmed by running a high level character. Consider the session as a ‘flashback’ to when the player was a relatively inexperienced adventurer. This also screams for the DM to introduce villains and other NPCs that are notable to the current campaign, and given the new guy has gotten a few lumps with similar past experiences means he can mesh a little better with the existing group in the gaming present.

That is about it for now. What other tips would folks impart about getting new players comfortable playing D&D?

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