PAX East: running a "teach a new player D&D" game


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  1. #1
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    PAX East: running a "teach a new player D&D" game

    PAX East was here in Boston last weekend, and I had a fantastic time despite the crowding. My friend wanted to get into the seminar for learning 4e D&D, but there weren't enough judges, so I volunteered to run a game. It was one of my best experiences in the con. We had a balanced table of three men, three women, all in their 20s and 30s.

    Here's what I took away from it.

    - There is tremendous value in teaching someone 4e in a group with all new players. This was a little bit of a surprise to me, but there's no question. Not only was everyone comfortable asking questions without looking stupid, each new person's question would help everyone else.

    - Good habits get started early. Rolling all the dice together to speed up combat; talking about good general strategy when figuring out what power to use when; encouraging role playing within the party; the usefulness of focused fire and how to tactically move foes; having people describe what their powers look like, not just what's on the card; encouraging page 42 actions outside of the power cards; keeping people focused on the initiative order. I tried to hit each of these so they wouldn't be a surprise later.

    - Take the time to go through how powers are organized. This was a big deal. I walked through each line of a power, using examples. I also stopped later on and consulted on how a power might work, or what might be most useful at any given time. That made the rest of the game really easy.

    - Don't explain rules before you need to. Other than explaining the bits of the character sheet, using examples, don't tell the players rules until they come up in the game. It helps prevents information overload.

    - Take a bathroom break halfway through. There were a lot of relieved faces! Apparently a few folks hadn't wanted to be rude and excuse themselves.

    - Customized character sheets help tremendously. The starting sheets are great. Everything is figured in, and they made it easy to avoid confusion. The only trade off is that I needed to explain how attack bonuses were figured.

    - Play a little bit fast and loose with the rules if it means not being boring. The fighter asked "Does the +3 damage from power attack apply to my cleave damage?" I answered "I'm not sure, but I'm going to say yes. In a regular campaign I'd either look it up right now if it was a quick question or a game-breaker, or I'd make a temporary ruling and then check the actual rules after the game. I don't want to take the time right now, so I'll make a call and we'll run with that." The takeaway was "don't slow down the action for minor rules questions." That worked well.

    - Teaching new players means showing them a little bit behind the curtain. Our game included exchanges like "That was a really good bluff. Problem is, he rolled a natural 20 on his Insight check, but your characters don't know that. 'Come on in!' he cries out. You're pretty sure he totally believes you." Or "you have a couple choices of targets. I already explained how minions work. Going after the minion is good because they can gang up on you, and they're really fun to take down quickly, but the wizard's great at that. You could also go after this shaman guy, as he's already pretty hurt and you're better off taking down a single target instead of damaging a lot of people for a little bit of damage at once. That's what smart bad guys are going to do to you, too."

    - The beginner set's default starting adventure is, frankly, pretty damn boring. Standard dungeon delve format (which I do like!) with a paper-thin, boring framing story. No role playing with NPCs to make people care about the town they're saving. Predictable monsters with (and this is the true sin) no style. Your first dungeon crawl should never feel pedestrian. I ended up keeping the monster stats and customizing the look, feel and personalities of the monsters a bit to help grab their interest. It seemed to work.

    - New players need a chance to show off and learn their iconic skills. Have a trap or two in there for the rogues. Have some undead for the cleric. Give them the opportunity to see what makes their class's particular skill set shine.

    - New players need to be exposed to the iconic tropes. Ten foot poles, damn it. Pit traps. A trick or trap that makes them think out the (quick) solution. The opportunity to bluff the foe to gain an advantage. These are things that I think helps define the game for all new players, and any introductory experience should include them.

    Anyways, running this game was incredibly fun. I'd run more of these in a heartbeat. Anyone else run or play this at any point? What have you run into when teaching the game?
    Last edited by Piratecat; Monday, 29th March, 2010 at 07:16 PM.
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  • #2
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    That's awesome!

    That's one of the things I am taking away from the Robot Chicken D&D game as well - these various aspects related to teaching new players the game. It's made me really want to run a game for all new players (not just new to 4e, but new to D&D in general).

    - There is tremendous value in teaching someone 4e in a group with all new players. This was a little bit of a surprise to me, but there's no question. Not only was everyone comfortable asking questions without looking stupid, each new person's question would help everyone else.
    I also think there is great value in this for DM's who have been running the system since release as well - you end up going back over things that you have not looked at in a long time. I'm on my second 4e campaign now, and we have some new 4e players in it. Going back over things (as we have needed to for them) has made those of us familiar with the rules notice little things here and there we were doing wrong, or forgetting.

    - Don't explain rules before you need to. Other than explaining the bits of the character sheet, using examples, don't tell the players rules until they come up in the game. It helps prevents information overload.
    Yea, this is something I follow as well. When players were asking a lot of questions up front, I told them "hang on, let's just play because that will answer a number of these quickly... I could tell you now, but it won't really make sense and you will likely forget anyway" etc. Then, as things come up, we go over them. You get a lot at first, but with each game they become fewer and fewer until there are very few.

    - New players need to be exposed to the iconic tropes. Ten foot poles, damn it. Pit traps. A trick or trap that makes them think out the (quick) solution. The opportunity to bluff the foe to gain an advantage. These are things that I think helps define the game for all new players, and any introductory experience should include them.
    Yes, this. My campaigns (I'm on the second one now) have had new players in them (a few new to D&D and some just new to 4e) and that's one of the things I mentioned right away (particularly to those not new to D&D, but new to 4e)... you will be seeing some of the "old school" stuff revisited, which was exciting for them as well, as players who have experienced these things, though perhaps not in a long time. Those common tropes not just as far as items, but as far as iconic monsters etc - good stuff.



    I was telling a friend of mine that I really wanted to run a game (multiple games) for an entire group new to 4e (or even better, new to D&D in general). I really enjoy teaching the game to those new to it - it's like experiencing it again myself for the first time which is awesome

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    I ended up running most of our tables of D&D for Beginners at synDCon this past February. Honestly, it was a blast.

    One of the tables I ran was with mostly kids, 8, 9 & 10 year olds, and one adult. None of them had ever played before and that game was a blast.

    I had one table with all adults, with only one player that had played before.

    I totally agree that good habits start early. I spent a lot more time talking about the "imaginary" things rather than the "rules." If you can get new players to get into that mindset from the beginning they enjoy themselves much more.

    The adventure on the beginners set is just short of atrocious for a learning experience. So I went ahead and made stuff up on the fly. I took time to describe the Nentir Vale to the players, did a short description of the town and the helpless farmers that had hired them to discover why the goblins were attacking. I had them do some roleplaying in town before heading out to explore the wilderness. Then I ran them through an impromptu skill challenge to find the goblin's lair. The lair was hidden amongst the ruins of a destroyed dwarven city, which I used to let the dwarf do some investigation.

    When they found the goblins I convinced the rogue to attempt to sneak in and find out what was happening before going into combat. The rogue came back and reported to the party, and the combat was on.

    I simplified combat a lot, and had the goblins run when they go to bloodied, or when their leader broke ranks.

    All in all it was a great experience. So much so that 3 of the players, who had never played D&D and were only interested in video games joined our regular LFR gamedays.

    I find teaching newbies the game is one of the most enjoyable tasks as a DM.
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  • #4
    Sounds like fun! I wish I had more opportunities like this. All my 4E experience has been with DND vets so it was more about us teaching each other when it first came out. Actually we recently got a lapsed player in our group (2E) but he has picked up everything fast.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Piratecat View Post
    Play a little bit fast and loose with the rules if it means not being boring. The fighter asked "Does the +3 damage from power attack apply to my cleave damage?" I answered "I'm not sure, but I'm going to say yes. In a regular campaign I'd either look it up right now if it was a quick question or a game-breaker, or I'd make a temporary ruling and then check the actual rules after the game. I don't want to take the time right now, so I'll make a call and we'll run with that." The takeaway was "don't slow down the action for minor rules questions." That worked well.
    You gave me that advice almost two decades ago. Best gaming advice I've ever heard and I've taken it to heart. Well worth repeating.

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    At our monthly meetups, we always try to have a table set aside for new players. I get the reigns this time, and it's always my favorite game to DM. One of the benefits of an exceptions based rules system is that there aren't a lot of rules to explain.

    I can still remember when we were first running 4E games, explaining the rules to tables and tables of new players... it never got old.

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    WotC should print that out and include it with every beginning adventure. Great advice for anyone to take to heart.
    Most sorts of diversion in men, children and other animals, are in imitation of fighting.

    -Jonathan Swift

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eridanis View Post
    WotC should print that out and include it with every beginning adventure. Great advice for anyone to take to heart.
    I will be pointing out this thread to WotC as something that they should be paying attention to.

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    My wife was there and came home raving about how awesome the class was, although she wished there'd been more opportunities to roleplay (she identified this as a problem with the pre-written adventure, not with PC).

    I love that you got them thinking about playing beyond the power cards and peeking behind the curtain. At an LFR game last week our party subdued a dragon, which then tried to bargain for its life by saying it had more treasure hidden elsewhere. We were pretty sure it was lying but once I rolled a 1 on my insight check my paladin completely believed it and almost came to blows with the rest of the party to keep it alive (until the rogue shanked it while I was distracted). Good fun.
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    ø Ignore Obezyanchik
    Wow. Every time you write something like this I want to start tabletopping again. I sent it to my sister, who also longs to get back in-- she hasn't done any for a few years now and doesn't know where to find a new player group she'll like. (I should have introduced you to her this weekend but like you said, too distracted by Sexy Pikachu....)

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