So we started up Village of Hommlet and this time around we had two new players. One had not played since the early days of 3rd edition, and the other had never played. Although both jumped right in with both feet to have fun, many of the mechanics slowed down game play.
So how do we deal with new players? I think there are three keys:
- Player Aids
D&D is filled with jargon. We use terms and phrases not heard anywhere else, or at least not heard anywhere else in the way we use them. Remember THAC0 from first edition? It was shorthand for the number required “To Hit Armor Class Zero”. HP was hit points, etc. This has not slowed down. In 5th edition, phrases like “Action”, “Bonus Action” and “Reaction” are sometimes confusing for seasoned players!
It’s always good to tell new players – “If you don’t understand something, that’s on us, not you. Just ask.” This may make some early sessions a bit slower but the payoff is there for the long run.
Also, make sure to suggest more efficient ways of doing movement, combat, etc. It doesn’t mean running the character for them, just letting them know their options. I try to do it in a way that gives the player a choice: “The barbarian can swing to hit. If you do, and crit or kill the fellow, your feat gives you a bonus action that lets you swing at the next monsters well. Or, you can Rage, using up your bonus action, and roll to hit. If you hit you do extra damage and any attacks against you might see their damage reduced. Or you can try something else.” As you can see, the advice I give isn’t specific, nor does it cover every contingency, but it’s designed to get the player thinking.
Finally, be willing to make the mistakes they make not really cause suffering to them or the rest of the party. Just jumping in, they want to have fun and be a good member of the group. Say the new player decides to attack the high level villain everyone else is willing to let get away (for now). Instead of killing the player for their impudence, maybe have the villain just punches the player and says something like “No one lays a hand on Skull Face the Mighty! I shall remember you the next time we meet!” Its still villain-esque, but now the player doesn’t get punished for not really understanding the game and role-playing.
Finally, don’t be afraid to open the Monster Manual and show new players pictures of what they are facing. One of our players did not know what a bugbear was. I mean, look at that name! The picture helped a lot!
We have made a number of minor player aids to help the new players in the group. For combat, I took some blank printable business cards and wrote on the back of four of them “MOVE”, “ACTION”, “BONUS ACTION”, and “REACTION”. In combat, they put all four face-up. As they use each one of these in a combat round, they flip them face down. These got used a lot early on, and now are used less and less.
One of the players is running a monk and those characters get some wacky extra attacks, even at first level. As such, I wrote those out on an index card SEPARATE from the player sheet. It did not seem like much at first, but it really sped up combat and made sure the player could keep up.
Another one of my friends used his 3D printer to print out a dice tray where each sided die gets its own place to sit. This sped up combat so much we could not believe it! Don’t have a 3D printer? Just use a sheet of cardboard, draw lines on it, and label them!
This is key. Make sure to ask the player what THEY want to do. In combat, everyone gets a turn, so it’s less likely to be an issue. But in dungeon exploration or social settings, sometimes new players get lost in the shuffle. I put a note on my side of the DM screen “Ask what they want to do” to remind me to get their views as well. After our second session, I no longer needed the note because the players knew to jump in.
Even so, when it comes to party discussions, never forget to make sure the new players are speaking up. Recently the party got a pile of loot including a magic shield. The monk said nothing during the treasure split up, but later said, “Why could my monk not get the shield?” We explained monks don’t really use shields and the player was okay with that. It would have been better to ask how the monk felt the treasure should have been split up during the division of goods.
Also, if a new player comes up with something on their own, don’t be afraid to go with it, at least a little ways. Make them feel like their idea was meaningful. The player running the barbarian recently ended his movement 10 feet from the ghoul. He said (in a very Conan sort of way) “I’m just going to throw my battleaxe at it!” Now, technically, that attack would probably be made a disadvantage, as an improvised weapon, but instead I just allowed it to be rolled and then gave him a slightly smaller die for damage. Is it exactly in the rules? No! Was it the player having fun and being creative? Yes! I think we can all agree fun beats technically correct any day of the week.
What has your experience been dealing with new players? What are some of your ideas? Let us know in the comments!
As always, good gaming!
About the Author
Jeff Dobberpuhl started playing D&D in 1977. He worked on a number of role playing books for Fantasy Flight Games And was the lead designer on Horizon Redline. He also, with Monte Cook, won an Ennie for Arcana Unearthed Spell Treasury. Jeff also authored and edited numerous modules forth RPGA. Currently he is working on his Facebook webcomic Badd’s Science.