We Were All New D&D Players Once
  • We Were All New D&D Players Once


    As a dungeon master and co-owner of a tabletop game and comic book shop, I meet brand-new players virtually every time I'm behind the counter or the DM screen. D&Dís recent popularity explosion has brought in countless new players. They usually are feeling both excited and intimidated, and it's my job to maintain that excitement and add confidence too.




    I certainly understand the intimidation factor. Compared to a lot of other players, I'm relatively new myself. Until a year ago, I mostly stuck to the comics side of our shop because I never learned how to play D&D. My handful of attempts to play prior to that were frustrating and bewildering. I always had to play with groups of veteran players. I didnít know what was going on or what I was supposed to do because nothing was explained to me. None of the other players seemed to comprehend that there was a learning curve, so I had a terrible time. I thought the game just wasn't for me.

    Thanks to binge-watching Critical Role, I eventually got some context for how the game worked and how it could be fun. What a revelation! Iíve made up for lost time over the past year, and started to DM last fall. Now I run a table at D&D Adventurerís League every week, as well as a weekly game for kids ages 8-14. I've had a lot of opportunities to observe games with new players who were welcomed with varying degrees of success, and Iíve learned a few things.

    If you are a DM, a veteran player, or anyone else who deals with newbies -- particularly when you play with strangers at a game shop or convention -- here are some simple things to consider if you want them to have a good time. (If you don't want them to have a good time, go away, your fun is wrong.)

    Remember: You Were a Newbie Once Too
    Nothing kills a personís excitement about a group activity like having others in the group treat them like they already should be an expert. When youíve been playing for a long time, it becomes second nature to you, but itís easy to forget how complicated it is for someone who is unfamiliar with the game. There are so many rules, and a lot of strange terminology the average person isnít likely to know. None of us were born knowing which die was which, what initiative is, or how proficency works. And itís hard to look things up in the Playerís Handbook if you donít yet know what youíre searching for.

    Make an Insight Check
    Weíre not all proficient in Insight, but you can always try. Ideally, the DM will make the newbie feel comfortable before the game starts, and encourage them to ask questions as they arise. If youíre playing, be a friendly neighbor. Give them space to figure things out for themselves, but be willing to offer encouragement or assistance to your neighbor in a gentle and lighthearted way. My kid players can do it without making the new player feel bad, so I believe in you!

    Donít Split the Party
    When I finally started playing D&D on a regular basis, I was lucky enough to land with a group who made an effort to make me feel like I was part of the gang right away. I had a general sense of how the game worked from watching streaming games, but when I was actually at the table, I was still a little confused during the first few sessions.

    I always will be grateful to the DM because he was kind and helpful, and always encouraged other players to help each other as well. The people sitting next to me could point to things on my character sheet so I learned how to figure out what I was rolling, calculate damage, and so forth. They were supportive, let me feel included, and never made me feel like I was slowing the game down or being a bother. In fact, when I was finally able to find creative and effective ways to help the party, they were almost as excited as I was.

    Share the Loot
    Maybe youíre reading this and thinking, ďThis is common sense! Who isnít already doing this?Ē Good for you! But sadly, common sense is rarer than it should be. I have watched many people sigh and roll their eyes and make new players feel awkward, or just leave a new player flailing. Donít be that person. Give the newbie a chance to share the love of the hobby. With a kind attitude, you can set a good precedent and help build a positive D&D community around you.

    contributed by Annie Bulloch
    Comments 75 Comments
    1. Mad_Jack's Avatar
      Mad_Jack -
      Amen - without new players to bring into the fold, I wouldn't have anyone left to regale for hours with my boring old war stories about Back In My Day, lol...

      The one point I'd like to reiterate is the part about offering help but giving them the space to figure out things for themselves.

      I've seen a lot of newbies, especially women, who were turned off playing because one of the more experienced players jumped at the chance to explain Everything You Need To Know and then effectively hijacked the new player's experience by "helping" to the point of essentially just building and running a second character while the new player just sat there and watched...
    1. ad_hoc's Avatar
      ad_hoc -
      Good post.

      I will add:

      1. The game is simple.
      2. Treat the game as simple and new players will find it easy.
      3. Tell new players the game is simple.

      I take a hands off approach to most things player related. I tell them the things they need to choose and let them go through the book. The only input I have is if they pick something that in practice doesn't play out how they probably want it to. So I will warn them. I don't tell them about what actions they can do, I just ask them what they want to do.
    1. Xavian Starsider's Avatar
      Xavian Starsider -
      Good advice but is this a bigger problem than I am aware of? I have been playing since 99 and DMing nearly as long, and every campaign I have run has had at least one new player in it. I like having new players in the group.

      Is there an issue with new players being ostracized and made to feel unwelcome?
    1. Annie Bulloch's Avatar
      Annie Bulloch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Xavian Starsider View Post
      Good advice but is this a bigger problem than I am aware of? I have been playing since 99 and DMing nearly as long, and every campaign I have run has had at least one new player in it. I like having new players in the group.

      Is there an issue with new players being ostracized and made to feel unwelcome?
      There are so many new players right now, and Iíve seen and heard about a lot of different experiences they have had. Customers come in tell us. I do hear more negative stories from women about how they were received as new players, but it varies. It happens more at shops and cons where you play with strangers. My introduction wasnít great either, even though everyone meant well. And then some people are hostile or surly for no reason. Itís important not to let those people set the tone.

      I think it does new players a disservice to overemphasize the gameís simplicity because thereís really a lot to know. If you tell them itís so simple and they feel overwhelmed, thatís when they start feeling like maybe they just donít get it and this game isnít for them. I usually tell players that there are a lot of moving parts, but we will walk them through what they need to do and theyíll see how their part works with everything else. That takes some of the pressure off.
    1. Dancing Satyr's Avatar
      Dancing Satyr -
      I love new players they try harder and take notes. Especially the female players. They will fill a notebook and remind you of a gem they found in a Orc's coinsack 5 levels ago. Keeps you on point as a DM and reminds old players, myself included, to step up their games.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Good advice.

      One thing that I think helps is to encourage newbies to play a character that's not too complicated. For example, the Champion Fighter, Thief Rogue, or maybe the Tome Warlock are good choices. There's no concentration to worry about (except for the Warlock), fairly simple resource management, and mostly they're rolling attacks, damage, and making skill checks. Stay away from complicated character types like the Wizard, Sorcerer, or Monk right out the gate. These classes can be very effective, but they are more demanding of the player's knowledge of the system.

      A one shot training session with low level characters is a good thing rather than just hoping they can jump right into a game with existing, established characters.

      The other one is that some groups really fit a new player better than others. Four hardcore tactical genius power gamers is probably not the place to put a newbie, nor is the table where the first thing the DM says is "roll D20 for d--k length" (that happened to me... I'm no shrinking violet but it wasn't a good start).
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Annie Bulloch View Post
      I think it does new players a disservice to overemphasize the gameís simplicity because thereís really a lot to know. If you tell them itís so simple and they feel overwhelmed, thatís when they start feeling like maybe they just donít get it and this game isnít for them. I usually tell players that there are a lot of moving parts, but we will walk them through what they need to do and theyíll see how their part works with everything else. That takes some of the pressure off.
      Absolutely, this is effective communication and instruction.

      I teach statistics for a living, which is a notoriously fear-inducing subject. When introducing a topic I always say "it's going to be kind of overwhelming at the start, but we'll break things up as much as possible and build up." It's exactly the same. You don't want to start out by invalidating their experience, but instead validating them---"yes, it can be a bit overwhelming at first, many people feel that"---and then giving them the tools to develop competence---"however, we'll start out simply, so don't worry about making any mistakes at first".
    1. Annie Bulloch's Avatar
      Annie Bulloch -
      If a new player has their heart set on playing a particular class, Iím not going to stop them, but I do strongly suggest they start with something fairly simple and spell-light. Fighters and rogues are pretty easy, and rangers are a good compromise if you want a few little spells but mostly need to get familiar with the game mechanics. But I also have a kid in my youth game whoís been playing a wizard since last year, when she was 7!
    1. Fore Shame's Avatar
      Fore Shame -
      Some of us were new AD&D players once.
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      Speak for yourselves! I was born with a d20 in my little fist and my face behind a screen. (In 1974 no less!)
    1. Staffan's Avatar
      Staffan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Annie Bulloch View Post
      If a new player has their heart set on playing a particular class, Iím not going to stop them, but I do strongly suggest they start with something fairly simple and spell-light. Fighters and rogues are pretty easy, and rangers are a good compromise if you want a few little spells but mostly need to get familiar with the game mechanics. But I also have a kid in my youth game whoís been playing a wizard since last year, when she was 7!
      It's been a long, long time since I was a newbie, but I'm thinking the ranger's delayed spell access might actually be particularly useful as a teaching tool, at least if starting from first level.

      The paladin is similar, but I'm not sure which is easiest for a newbie: the once-and-done choices when picking their spells known you do with a ranger, or daily choices of a paladin. Plus, the paladin can also exchange the spells for smites, which creates additional conflict.
    1. ad_hoc's Avatar
      ad_hoc -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      Good advice.

      One thing that I think helps is to encourage newbies to play a character that's not too complicated. For example, the Champion Fighter, Thief Rogue, or maybe the Tome Warlock are good choices.
      I think the 2 worst classes for new players are the rogue and the warlock.

      I have had a lot of new players pick rogue over the years and they are by far the ones who have had the toughest time. I think the rogue is the worst for this in 5e. The rogue just doesn't get a lot of buttons. In order to fully realize them they need to be used creatively as environments and situations arise. New players often won't be thinking about how to do this and end up being frustrated that their character can't do much.

      Warlocks have a lot of moving parts. I think they are the only class where it is not hard to go wrong and make a bad or boring character. Invocations can give them a lot to work with, or not really add any new options/way to play the character. Their spells can be hard to figure out too. Every week there is a thread about how Warlocks' magic is weak. When they actually get the most number of high level spells per long rest. But only if the player actually uses the high level spells. If their spells are wasted on level 1 spells then the Warlock will feel underwhelming.

      So with a new player I recommend staying away from the rogue and the warlock. Monk is also not great for the same reasons as the rogue.

      Stay away from complicated character types like the Wizard, Sorcerer, or Monk right out the gate. These classes can be very effective, but they are more demanding of the player's knowledge of the system.
      I have found the opposite of this (except Monk). Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, etc. have clear direct buttons that can be pushed to have a fantastic and strong effect on the game.
    1. Annie Bulloch's Avatar
      Annie Bulloch -
      My first two characters were rogues! One I made myself for an ongoing campaign, and one was a pre-gen that I grabbed because I was joining a campaign in progress to get more experience. I asked what they needed, they said a rogue, so I played a thief. It worked out okay ó Iím still playing that first rogue (an arcane trickster, so I eventually got some spells in there) every other Friday. 😃
    1. Li Shenron's Avatar
      Li Shenron -
      Great thread!

      I add my 2cp with the following suggestions from my own XP:

      - use pregens PC for beginners!

      - avoid any rules explanation before you encounter a situation in the game where such rule is needed

      Quote Originally Posted by ad_hoc View Post
      I think the 2 worst classes for new players are the rogue and the warlock.

      I have had a lot of new players pick rogue over the years and they are by far the ones who have had the toughest time. I think the rogue is the worst for this in 5e. The rogue just doesn't get a lot of buttons. In order to fully realize them they need to be used creatively as environments and situations arise. New players often won't be thinking about how to do this and end up being frustrated that their character can't do
      I can't speak for the Warlock yet but definitely agree that Rogues aren't easy. Sneak attack requires some tactics to use as often as possible, and Cunning Action too.

      I wouldn't say Clerics and Druids are easy though, they have way too many low level spells, and I ve seen pretty much everey beginner paralized by the choice of what to prepare.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by ad_hoc View Post
      I think the 2 worst classes for new players are the rogue and the warlock.

      I have had a lot of new players pick rogue over the years and they are by far the ones who have had the toughest time. I think the rogue is the worst for this in 5e. The rogue just doesn't get a lot of buttons. In order to fully realize them they need to be used creatively as environments and situations arise. New players often won't be thinking about how to do this and end up being frustrated that their character can't do much.
      Interesting, my view of new players or new to 5E players is that things like resource management trip them up the most. The advantage of rogues is that they basically have no resource management. Once the player figures out the situation of what triggers sneak attack, they're pretty much good to go.


      Warlocks have a lot of moving parts. I think they are the only class where it is not hard to go wrong and make a bad or boring character.
      My presumption, not explicitly stated, was that the player was getting some build help and that wasn't necessarily thinking of this as the final character, just one to get started on. As to the larger issues with Warlock, that's another thread, as you say. Warlock is way too tied to rests. I don't disagree on that score which was why I had maybe in italics. My only reason to recommend them is that their core mechanic is mostly blasting foes with Eldritch Blast, which is an infinite resource.


      I have found the opposite of this (except Monk). Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, etc. have clear direct buttons that can be pushed to have a fantastic and strong effect on the game.
      On the flip side they have to deal with things like spell lists, which spells require concentration (I hates it concentration), or sorcery points. Spell selection can also be overwhelming. I'm not saying those can't work and in many respects they're better designed classes than the warlock so that helps.

      Ultimately, it's going to come down to fit of the player with the class. I have a friend who has played for years but just never seems to figure out the intricacies of a caster class.
    1. Annie Bulloch's Avatar
      Annie Bulloch -
      So many people are coming into the game now with at least some knowledge of how things work from watching streaming games (myself included) that itís hard to have any absolute rule that works for every player. And different people learn differently, so some things come easier than others depending on the person. But having a bunch of spells bogs new players down every time. Even when they have a spell list already set, itís tough at first.
    1. Xavian Starsider's Avatar
      Xavian Starsider -
      Well I feel really sorry for anyone who makes new players feel unwelcome,. especially female players. My preferred group always has at least one female player. I find that (often, not always) they bring a different dynamic to the table than their male counterparts. Many are more invested in the aspects of their characters that aren't numeric and many of the best roleplayers I've seen were women. Then again, maybe that's why the guys are afraid of them :P

      I know Lord of the Rings was a major inspiration for D&D but that doesn't mean our game needs to a.world of homoerotic undertones where women are rarely seen to exist. Let's take the good stuff from those books and leave those antique ideas in the past.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Annie Bulloch View Post
      So many people are coming into the game now with at least some knowledge of how things work from watching streaming games (myself included) that itís hard to have any absolute rule that works for every player. And different people learn differently, so some things come easier than others depending on the person. But having a bunch of spells bogs new players down every time. Even when they have a spell list already set, itís tough at first.
      Yes, that's one reason I would want a newbie to stay away from a caster at first. But a lot of this depends on level. If you're starting at level 1 with a pregen it's probably not so bad. Still, the fact that many casters have only a few fire-and-forget spells means that the player needs to choose their moment with a limited resources.
    1. ad_hoc's Avatar
      ad_hoc -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      Interesting, my view of new players or new to 5E players is that things like resource management trip them up the most. The advantage of rogues is that they basically have no resource management. Once the player figures out the situation of what triggers sneak attack, they're pretty much good to go.
      Sneak Attack is easy enough to figure out. It is the Cunning Action and Expertise where people have trouble. Best utilizing it, esp. on a Thief takes creatively interacting with your environment. They have tunnel vision, looking for buttons to push so they can keep up with the game. So Rogue players just end up attacking in combat and not doing much else in the game. Assassins do not play the way they are presented so players will be frustrated by that. Arcane Trickster is similarly complicated to the Thief to get the most out of it.

      My presumption, not explicitly stated, was that the player was getting some build help and that wasn't necessarily thinking of this as the final character, just one to get started on. As to the larger issues with Warlock, that's another thread, as you say. Warlock is way too tied to rests. I don't disagree on that score which was why I had maybe in italics. My only reason to recommend them is that their core mechanic is mostly blasting foes with Eldritch Blast, which is an infinite resource.
      Here's where we disagree on how to introduce a new player. I don't help with their "build". My attitude is that the game is simple and fun and tell them to pick what they want. Going through an optimization exercise with them is not a good way to introduce players to the game. And in general we like to player characters rather than builds at our table. Backgrounds, for example, are a very important part of character creation. Probably the part that takes the longest time for new players.

      I also disagree that Warlock's core mechanic is Eldritch Blast, but that is an entirely different conversation.

      On the flip side they have to deal with things like spell lists, which spells require concentration (I hates it concentration), or sorcery points. Spell selection can also be overwhelming. I'm not saying those can't work and in many respects they're better designed classes than the warlock so that helps.

      Ultimately, it's going to come down to fit of the player with the class. I have a friend who has played for years but just never seems to figure out the intricacies of a caster class.
      I think that comes down to a difference in our experience. I also allow a do over of spells up to level 3 if a player hates their choice so that probably helps. They usually ask me what spells they should take and my answer is "at least 1 attack cantrip and 1 attack spell and otherwise whatever looks fun to you".

      Managing concentration is a huge part of the Warlock. One thing that probably helps our table is that we use spell cards. If you have a concentration spell up you put the card in front of your character sheet. This creates a great reminder that it is active.
    1. Sunseeker's Avatar
      Sunseeker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Staffan View Post
      The paladin is similar, but I'm not sure which is easiest for a newbie: the once-and-done choices when picking their spells known you do with a ranger, or daily choices of a paladin. Plus, the paladin can also exchange the spells for smites, which creates additional conflict.
      Well, it's not like they must choose new spells. They can always say "I use the same list from yesterday."

      Last time I ran a paladin I actually ignored my spells entirely and just burned slots for smites. When other players asked me if I had spells that could help them, I told them no, because I didn't.
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