5E Requiring players to know their character

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Not to bury the lede: Is it okay as DM to put pressure on some players to know their character enough not to slow the game unnecessarily by delaying super-rapid advancement from the party.

One group I play with has been asking for me to run for them. Everyone is a lot of fun to game with and comes up with interesting characters that they roleplay well. Level of system mastery varies a lot at the table, and that's fine. Except in the case of two players who regularly need help with their characters. Ask them to make an ability / skill check and it takes a while. Working out to-hit bonus and bonus damage numbers every round, or sometimes every attack. Forgetting about class features for a whole combat, like the Ranger's Colossus Slayer. Learning about their spells. It slows down the game at the table. I've been playing with this group 1-2 years now, I don't see a lot of change.

I have a theory that this is exasperated by them using an app to create and level their characters, so they aren't involved in the details but just have them presented. But, in fairness, everyone's busy and they know that others are willing to share their expertice so they show up early and ask for advice and level right there. Learning from others is something I support, so that's a legitimate offsetting point.

Anyway, we've done Tier 1 several times as a group, and everyone is happy to either skip it or get past it in a hurry. I don't want to start the players who don't know the character mechanics well at 5th, I think that will make the problem worse. So I was planning on starting at 1st and just advancing quickly - leveling every session until 3rd, then almost as fast up to 5th. (This group has been exclusively milestone based levelling under the various DMs, levelling when the DM says so is part of our social contract.)

But I don't want to lose them by going to fast, so I was thinking of advancing as long as everyone seemed to have a good familiarity on the mechanics of their character. Not that they can't ask for help, but things like not needing to be reminded every time to add in Hunter's Mark bonus damage, or whatever. (This only would apply during the rapid advancement up to 5th, there would be no delays once it's at "normal" advancement pace.)

On reflection though, other players may see that as those players denying them their level up. And if over this much time the players who are slow seem to have indicated through their actions that the mechanics aren't their priority so this may be unfun for them on that side as well. But the goal is to speed up play at the table, which I think is a reasonable goal.

I would discuss this with the group before implementing it, only going through if everyone was for it.

What are your thoughts? Is this a reasonable thing to present to the group? Is it a jerk move I should just scrap?
 

sim-h

Explorer
My players are slow. One or two know their features very well - one or two don't. Also in any long campaign, sometimes there are subs who will slow things up as others give them advice, they read up on spells, etc.
It's a social thing for us tho. We don't really care how long it takes to level up, as long as people are enjoying themselves. As DM I sometimes feel a tinge of frustration. But then I just drink more beer :)
 

Larnievc

Explorer
I’d not take that direction.

I have a similar problem with a ranger who adds up her to hit bonus, saves or skill checks seemingly every bloody time (you can even see her lips move as she adds up).

It’s infuriating. But what is easy for some is hard for others- she finds it really easy to take offence (for example).

I jest.

What I found works best is to not helicopter parent her. If she says her 11th level hunter ranger does 6 points of damage with a +2 bow, colossus slayer and hunter’s mark up then that’s what she does.

That’s on her, not me (or you).

My solution is to not worry about it until it becomes a problem for the player: then let them fix the problem.
 

akr71

Explorer
Yes, I expect players to know their stuff. No I don't expect players to know every single spell, verbatim - I don't - but I do expect them to have a general understanding.

However, I have had a number of new players at my table, so me and the other experienced players are patient and I do assist with attack and damage rolls when necessary. Like the OP, I do think online character creators and managers 'keep the training wheels on' as it were. One of my players basically manages another player's character sheet updates for them, resulting - in my opinion - in the player not really understanding the game. The player in question frequently jumps right to damage dice after saying "I attack."
 

Ringtail

World Traveller
I think it depends on your group. Only you know what these players are like. While I think it is reasonable for a GM to expect their players to know their abilities, it comes down to the individuals on whether or not they will take that piece of advice well or not. Though I think if you say it nicely, you shouldn't have any problems.

It might not work though. I play in a group where every member (except 1) has been a GM. We rotate GM's every campaign and we're all great friends. Its a unicorn I know. We all have a relatively good system mastery then, except for the 1 player who hasn't GM'd. (We play 5e but try other games from time to time, not just D&D.) This player consistently to forgets to do anything other than their basic attack. If they are a spell caster they almost always use a cantrip instead of a spell-slot. If they are a fighter or martial class of some sort they always forget to add their attack modifier to a roll, or their ability modifier to damage. At first it was pretty annoying, but this player is just here for the story, not the mechanics. So we make sure they add their Attack and Damage modifiers and that's it. Nothin' much to be done.

As for starting at 5th level, I'd say just start at 5th level. I don't really think the problem is going to get any worse and it isn't going to get any better by working through those levels. If everyone is cool with it, game on.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I'm not too concerned with player skill, though I do think it's an important factor in the game. Players will have different skills and it's on them to work that out to their advantage.

Slowing down the game though? That's a big problem for me. We move fast, relative to other groups in my experience, and that's how I aim to keep it. If your player skill means that you slow down the game, it will be addressed and quickly at our table. Before it can be addressed, I would need to know what the issue actually is by talking to those players. Some people learn differently and I don't want to just assume they're lazy or stupid. Only once I have a grasp on the underlying problem can we put together a plan to address it.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
For some of my players I write and print up a "combat sheet" that basically takes the weapon / attack / damage section of the character sheet and blows it up to large font and all the weapons they may use, plus listing their "bonuses" they can add from various features / spells and such. That way they have one clean sheet in like 12 or 14 point type that says something like...

Longsword: +4, 1d8+6
Javelin: +3, 1d6+3
Dagger: +4, 1d4+4

Critical Hits: On any natural 19 or 20

Action Surge [___]: Take a second Action immediately. Refreshes after a short/long rest.

Having one completely separate sheet away from the character sheet that has everything needed for fighting printed out that they can reference to has helped speed them up. The character sheets are good if you want everything together in one single place and for people who can find what they need easily enough... but stuff like combat usually involves a lot of fiddly bits that it's hard to find or focus on in and amongst all the other stuff. Some people have a harder time reading it (especially if you need to use small print to fit it all on in that one middle section of the character sheet.
 
Not to bury the lede: Is it okay as DM to put pressure on some players to know their character enough not to slow the game unnecessarily by delaying super-rapid advancement from the party.

One group I play with has been asking for me to run for them. Everyone is a lot of fun to game with and comes up with interesting characters that they roleplay well. Level of system mastery varies a lot at the table, and that's fine. Except in the case of two players who regularly need help with their characters. Ask them to make an ability / skill check and it takes a while. Working out to-hit bonus and bonus damage numbers every round, or sometimes every attack. Forgetting about class features for a whole combat, like the Ranger's Colossus Slayer. Learning about their spells. It slows down the game at the table. I've been playing with this group 1-2 years now, I don't see a lot of change.

I have a theory that this is exasperated by them using an app to create and level their characters, so they aren't involved in the details but just have them presented. But, in fairness, everyone's busy and they know that others are willing to share their expertice so they show up early and ask for advice and level right there. Learning from others is something I support, so that's a legitimate offsetting point.

Anyway, we've done Tier 1 several times as a group, and everyone is happy to either skip it or get past it in a hurry. I don't want to start the players who don't know the character mechanics well at 5th, I think that will make the problem worse. So I was planning on starting at 1st and just advancing quickly - leveling every session until 3rd, then almost as fast up to 5th. (This group has been exclusively milestone based levelling under the various DMs, levelling when the DM says so is part of our social contract.)

But I don't want to lose them by going to fast, so I was thinking of advancing as long as everyone seemed to have a good familiarity on the mechanics of their character. Not that they can't ask for help, but things like not needing to be reminded every time to add in Hunter's Mark bonus damage, or whatever. (This only would apply during the rapid advancement up to 5th, there would be no delays once it's at "normal" advancement pace.)

On reflection though, other players may see that as those players denying them their level up. And if over this much time the players who are slow seem to have indicated through their actions that the mechanics aren't their priority so this may be unfun for them on that side as well. But the goal is to speed up play at the table, which I think is a reasonable goal.

I would discuss this with the group before implementing it, only going through if everyone was for it.

What are your thoughts? Is this a reasonable thing to present to the group? Is it a jerk move I should just scrap?
Are they accessing their character sheets using a phone app? For example, I've noticed that my players who prefer a digital character sheet and access it using a smartphone are slower on their turns than players using a tablet or a pen-and-paper sheet. I discussed this with one of my players and he says it has to do with how DnDBeyond's digital character sheet works on smartphone, where you'll click some part of the sheet (a spell, for example) and then wait for another dialogue box to come up, and then if you need to cross-reference something you need to close that dialogue box, open another, and then reopen the spell. Apparently tablet makes it play faster somehow.

This may come down to a question of usability. I've joked with many players about the "tax form" appearance of a D&D character sheet – because it is a pretty complex thing to come to terms with for someone who just want to play a game with their friends. It might be worth kicking off a chat with your slower players that's very non-confrontational, maybe beginning with, "So, how is that character sheet for you? Can it be hard to find what you're looking for on it?"
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
To me, it's my job as GM to keep the pace enjoyable and that maypy mean pushing now and again but mostly helping.
 

Maestrino

Explorer
Playing D&D should be fun. I highly suspect that a player made to feel like they're ruining everyone else's fun because they didn't study their character hard enough is probably a player that's not having fun.

Character sheet apps are a mixed bag. It's great because they automatically calculate proficiencies, saves, skill check bonuses, attack bonuses, etc. for you. They also (particularly D&D Beyond) are flipping BRILLIANT at spell management, special ability management, and wildshape management IF you have access on DDB to all the sourcebooks you need.

They can be a challenge - especially on the phone - because of limited screen size. If you go that route, encourage a tablet or laptop because it's easier to navigate. Otherwise, encourage pen and paper (or better - paper sheet inside a plastic sheet protector with a dry-erase marker) and go over it with them to make sure it's calculated correctly. Then for spells and such, make them a list or cards. For special conditions like hunter's mark, hex, etc., make cards they can turn over when those things are in play that show the bonus they need to add. (Also yes, help them do this stuff. Don't do it all FOR them, but at least show them what you mean and get them started.)
 
I get a lot of variance at my table. When people start playing, they get the idea from me and the more experienced players pretty quickly that they are expected to a). pay attention, b). have some idea what they want to do and c). know basic info like their own to hit bonus or AC without looking. It's harder for more complex characters which is why it's good to start at 1st which we do every time and advnce quickly at first. After about 5th it's usually every two sessions worth they get enough XP. to level up. When a new player is 1st, he might have two spells so maybe tell a newbie in character creation Your AC IS 14, You have 12 Hit points, your bonus is +5 with your spell attacks and your Save DC is 13. Those things will come up almost every turn so it helps to know them.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think the key might be to have that combat index card sort of thing, where it has their combat specific stuff, without any math!

Exclusively the final modifier numbers that add to a die roll or are a target number for an enemy, and that’s it.

I run a monthly game for kids at the library, and one of the things that slows us down is if I ask for a check, they go to the base number and try to do the math from scratch. And I have to remind them that their skill, attack, or spellcasting mod has a space that has the final number they add to the die roll, already calculated.

I genuinely might start doing the index card thing for them.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
I have the same problem but dont have the wherewithal to care enough to fix it. I dont know the 5E rules as well as I probably should, but then again we dont play enough that they stick in my head like they used to. Nowadays I have a tendency to ask what the player wants to do on their turn and if they know what to do mechanically to get it done great, if not I'll help them out a bit before I just adjudicate a solution to help them resolve their turn. In very rare cases if they take too long I skip their turn. At our table as long as what I decide is fair, somewhat logical and keeps the game moving everyones OK with that.
 

jsaving

Adventurer
A fair number of groups exist mainly for the social interaction and even groups that exist mainly for the comedy that sometimes ensues. In those settings, where players don't necessarily care very much about plot advancement, it isn't a big deal if one or two players consistently slow everyone else down.

However other groups exist mainly for the story-telling/plot-advancement element and become frustrated with players who can't or won't do the prep work that is necessary to keep the game moving forward.

The question in my mind is, which kind of game are you running and how much of the group has a problem with what your slow players are doing? If everyone is having a great time but you find yourself wishing your plotline would advance more quickly, then you might consider taking it upon yourself to create "cheat sheets" for your slower players that clearly show the die roll needed to succeed at their most common tasks. On the other hand if most of your players are frustrated and increasingly find themselves wishing your slower players would find a different campaign, then you might consider helping them do just that, as your repeated admonitions to "improve" haven't had the desired effect. Or if no one is actually bothered at all by your slower players and you just find their behavior odd, then you could instead embrace the oddity and just let things ride.

However it would be a big mistake in my view to publicly "shame" those players through slower level advancement. You simply need to decide whether or not those players are welcome around your gaming table and then proceed accordingly, treating everyone with respect all the while.
 

Nebulous

Adventurer
We had a player recently, the girlfriend of another new player. They were both brand new to the game, but the first girl in question, was, without a doubt, the worst roleplayer I've ever seen. Not only could she not grasp simple 1st level math, she didn't understand the very nature of a roleplaying game. Three sessions in and she backed out, thank goodness, as I was contemplating a way to remove her, and that was going to be problematic. She was obviously not having fun and that was taking away from MY fun.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Not to bury the lede: Is it okay as DM to put pressure on some players to know their character enough not to slow the game unnecessarily by delaying super-rapid advancement from the party.
Depending on what you mean by “pressure,” I would say yes, absolutely. I think it is perfectly reasonable for the DM to set the expectation for the players to understand their own characters and abilities well enough to run them without slowing down play. After all, the expectation is on the DM to know literally everything else about the game world and rules well enough to run the game at a reasonable pace, so I’d say it’s a relatively small ask. Obviously some affordance should be made for new players who are still learning the rules, but if you’ve been playing with these people for over a year? I think you are fully justified in expecting them to know what they’re doing by now.

I wouldn’t “apply pressure” to them in terms of in-game punishment though. Holding back their level until they know their characters well enough seems like asking for drama to me. Instead, I would recommend talking to these players, expressing that their lack of familiarity with their characters is harming the experience for the group. Set the expectation that they learn their characters well enough to run them quickly, and offer to help them. Ask them what they’re finding difficult and what kind of aid might be able to compensate. Maybe the character sheet layout is hard for them to navigate, maybe cheat sheets with only the most pertinent info about their spells and abilities might be useful, maybe they need someone to walk them through the character building process without the digital tools, maybe they need some extra practice outside the usual sessions. See what’s slowing them down and what you can do to help, and then hold them to the same standard you expect of your other players.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Personally, I find players that don't take the time to learn how to run their characters drive me bat-crap crazy. I understand and try to be patient with newer players, but I've played with veterans that just don't bother, which I feel is disrespectful to me and the rest of the players who do put the time into the game.

For some of my players I write and print up a "combat sheet" that basically takes the weapon / attack / damage section of the character sheet and blows it up to large font and all the weapons they may use, plus listing their "bonuses" they can add from various features / spells and such.
That's a pretty good idea. Another sheet for common non-combat spells would be useful too.

I have a similar problem with a ranger who adds up her to hit bonus, saves or skill checks seemingly every bloody time (you can even see her lips move as she adds up).
I knew a player who HAD to recalculate everything, every time because of his OCD. It was actually worse when he was a DM, because if he read boxed text, he'd have to restart if he made a mistake (I once kept count, and his worse incedecent was 83 times). You try to understand and be patient, but it can be super-frustrating..
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I’m quite familiar with players that don’t seem to learn how to play very well and don’t know much about what their characters can do. In my experience, you can’t easily change them and trying might damage your relationship.
If your game isn’t being absolutely broken by them, my suggestion is to learn to accept it and be patient.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Don't play 5e.

Seriously. While it's far simpler than 3.x or pathfinder (and 4e I think?), it's still a medium crunch game.

Look into Troika! instead. Or if you must stick to the D&d roots, maybe the GLOG.
 

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