Dungeons and Dragons can be a complicated game, and it can take several play sessions for players learn all the rules. If you happen to be running a game for a group of first-time players, you can end up with a lot of confused, frustrated people, unless you’re prepared. Here’s a few tips to help you teach a group of first-time players how to play the game.
Don’t Let Them Read The Book
Some gamers suggest that reading the Player’s Handbook is a great way to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons. Unfortunately, in a small group with limited resources, there may be only one or two copies of the Player’s Handbook floating around, so not everyone will get a chance to read. Worse, the sheer amount of content in the Player’s Handbook can easily overwhelm many new players. Your goal for a first session is to familiarize the players with the basic mechanics of gameplay and, more importantly, the tabletop roleplaying dynamic – worry about the detailed rules later on, once they’re more at ease with the basics.
Premade Characters Are Your Friend
Don’t bog first-time players down with the process of creating a new character from scratch. Have a set of basic characters ready to go, and let them pick the class they’d like to play. Try to stick to a low to moderate power level – in my experience, 3rd level to 5th level works well for D&D 3.5. It provides enough abilities to let players get a taste of what each class can do, but not so many abilities that they’re overwhelmed. For other editions, use a comparable power level.
Use A Simple Adventure
Start with a simple adventure that doesn’t take a lot of time to run and has relatively simple objective – investigate the goblin camp, for example. I like to use a dungeon crawl, since it provides plenty of instances to explain the mechanics of the game, including concepts like combat, dungeon exploration, loot management, and more. Add a few social scenes to the mix, and you can easily introduce the players to all of the major concepts of the game in one session.
First-time players who aren’t familiar with the group focus necessary to run a good game will probably need a little bit of supervision. They’ll wander off to the next room to watch something on TV, fiddle with their cell phone or laptop, or rummage around in the kitchen. Try to keep them focused by asking, before the game even begins, that everyone put away their cellphones and other electronics, and specify a break time to get food or drinks. Turn off the TV or music, and you’ll be able to keep everyone focused on you and your explanations.
Take Your Time and Explain Things Thoroughly
It’s easy to forget that your players don’t know everything about the game. You’ll probably find yourself repeating mechanics more than once, and players may not grasp a concept the first time. Don’t get discouraged if they seem to be having a little trouble – sometimes it can take several repeated explanations before something “clicks.” If some players seem to be picking up a concept earlier than others, recruit those players to help you explain it to the rest of the group. Try explaining things with visual aids – this can be as simple as pointing to the location on the character sheet when you ask the players to roll Initiative.
Make It Fun!
Your number one goal is to make sure everyone has a good time. If players don’t have a blast their first session, they probably won’t develop the interest to really want to pursue the game for a longer campaign. Try to make sure everyone gets some “screen time” and don’t let any one player dominate the scene. If the rules get in the way of the fun, chuck the rules out the window and make something up. You can always clarify the rules later on.
Some of the best campaigns I’ve run started with groups where only one or two of the players had any experience with the game, and sometimes none at all. New players are often inquisitive and interested in exploring their options in the game, and they come into it without the prejudices and egos that a lot of experienced players develop. As long as you take the time to teach them the rules carefully, they can be some of the best players you’ll find.