How long do new players get before they're expected to know the rules?


What it says on the tin. On the one hand, you want a welcoming environment where new players can settle in and learn. On the other, it's not unreasonable to expect a bit of effort.

So here's the question: Where do you guys draw the line between, “Learn to play!” and, “Dude, can I have a second to learn the game?” When does the burden shift from GMs needing to be patient to players needing to crack open a rule book?

Comic for illustrative purposes.


I have players that struggle to find the appropriate dice after years of playing. I make them cheat sheets and it's still a chore sometimes.


Goblin Queen
When teaching a new player, I start them out with a set of pregenerated 1st level characters based on familiar fantasy archetypes, which they can choose from and fill in the descriptive details. I will then run them through a one-shot adventure to teach them how to play. After that, if they want to keep playing they can make a new character of their own, and at that point I expect them to know their own abilities. It’s not like it’s a terribly difficult game to learn.


Possibly soon. Possibly never. Some people can figure out rules easily, and then go well beyond that to optimizations and homebrewing their own rules. Some people have a hard time adding up the numbers on multiple dice, or adding a skill value to a d20 roll. Yes, I know both of these types.

With respect to the comic, it depends on whether she's lazy and not even trying, or if she's genuinely just kinda slow. Or a little of both. The line would depend on what it seems she's actually capable of. If remembering what she can do is actually a bit hard for her, then the line should never be brought up. If she puts in the effort to improve, even just a little at a time, then there's no particular limit. But if she demonstrates that she is entirely capable, but doesn't want to help, or put in the effort to make the game easier for the table as a whole, then I'd say the line has been crossed.

Jd Smith1

A couple sessions, more if they have never gamed before, to master the non-spell combat system. (inexperienced players do not run spellcasters at my table) and the general outline of the setting.

But you have to show progress. If you can't be bothered to do a little reading between sessions, you're not what we're looking for.

Gaming with us is a privilege awarded only to the most worthy. Many apply, but only a few are chosen, because the secret to good gaming, IME, is making sure that the players and GM are compatible in expectations and inclinations. The hobby is certainly open to all, but individual tables, to be successful, need careful matching of personalities.


As long as the player can describe what he or she wants to do and hopes to accomplish by doing it, that's good enough for me.
Yup. This is my take. I had a player in my longest-running (decade+) campaign who never bought any of the books and hadn't a clue about how the mechanics of her character worked. But, she had a clear vision of her character, was a great roleplayer, and was happy to abide by whatever mechanical effects I imposed based on her descriptions. She was awesome and nobody at the table would have wanted her to leave. My only caveat here is that I expect turns in combat and other tense situations to move quickly. I expect everyone to have default, go-to moves that they take if they can't figure something else out. If you're deep in the rules reading about a dozen possible spells, I'm going to make a call and move on.

If I hypothetically had a player who didn't know the rules and also didn't seem to be having a good time or was actively distracting the other players, then I would politely invite them to find another hobby (or at least another group to distract). But, that would be because they were subtracting from the group experience, not because they didn't know the rules.


I’m going to go even further and say it depends on the group. In a group of long-time role players (such as my regular groups) a new player would probably get about six months (for us that’s about 12 sessions) to get at least the basics down of attack rolls, damage rolls, saving throws, the most core mechanics, with more time to get familiar with fiddly bits like races, feats, class abilitie, spells, etc. Hell, I’ve been playing for years and still get that stuff wrong. However, I would stress the importance of writing down those basic bits, to condense it into a simple dice + adds formula for the saves, attacks, damage, etc that they are always using.

We have fun, but we’re pretty serious about our game, and if someone is obviously actively not putting effort into the most low-hanging fruit such as how their most “go-to” actions work, then we would cut them less slack than someone who is obviously trying hard and actively contributes to the story and the fun.

On the other hand, if the group was a group founded to find new players, or meant to encourage the hobby as a whole, then the patience level should be by rights much higher.
The comic provided (whatever authorial intent) isn't really about not knowing core rules, it's about a mage (it seems wizard) not knowing what her available spells do, being overwhelmed by all of it, and perhaps being indecisive.

Analysis paralysis is the curse of playing any spellcaster with a large number of spell options. I do "know the rules" of what my wizard character's spells do and I have spent plenty of time stuck trying to process which of the 20-odd spells from my wizard toolbox I could possibly make work to my party's best advantage in a given situation. Often as not none is quite the perfect tool for the job and I have to figure out which can best be made to work under the circumstances, and whether it justifies the resources. Naturally I've never been so flustered as to be unable to just attack with a basic attack spell when my turn finally came up, but up until that moment comes you can sure as hell bet I'm thinking about whether the better solution is actually, somehow, to cast Conjure Pony.

Which is all to say that not only should players have all they time it takes for them to know the rules, but also that often when they seem to not "know the rules" that is not the real problem.

Khelon Testudo

Cleric of Stronmaus
Played as written, casters need to spend more time to work out their spells. Clerics especially, since they've got the entire spell list to their level to choose from each time. If the DM says, "You spend a peaceful night, and then reach your destination around midday," the casters are going to be scrambling. I've been playing 5e since it came out; but I still panic when the team forget I need to work out my spell list.


Goblin Queen
Well a player only really needs to know the rules necessary to run one's character. I imagine knowing the attack roll, save roll, and skill check roll will get through the majority of situations in D&D.
That’s about where I’m at. Like, know what to do when I say “make an [ability] check/save” or “make an attack roll,” know what die to roll when you hit with your weapon of choice, and know your spells do if you have any, and you’re pretty much golden.

Jd Smith1

That’s about where I’m at. Like, know what to do when I say “make an [ability] check/save” or “make an attack roll,” know what die to roll when you hit with your weapon of choice, and know your spells do if you have any, and you’re pretty much golden.
True. I'll throw in one more standard to meet: know enough about the setting to understand what the party is doing.