D&D 5E Should D&D be easier to learn? If so, how would you do it?


I was recently listening to a Podcast by Mastering Dungeons about the Playtest and they had a few interesting points. The one that got me thinking was in regards to new players and character creation. They pointed out the confusion of having a new player pick a Class, a Race, and then build a background (including choosing a Feat). They discussed the idea of choosing each as a feature of the first three levels.

Level 1 - make a simple background (2 skills, a language, and some starting equipment) along with your race, focusing on the narrative over mechanics.

Level 2 - pick a Class and ASI. This could look like a current Level 1 character.

Level 3 - pick a subclass and a Feat. You have a fully realized character, returning/advanced players start here.

At first I laughed the idea off it sounded so weird but upon reflection it makes it far easier to explain to new players. Keep the choices fewer for those first levels and let them grow into the rules (allowing swapping) of each until they hit level 4. It feels similar to level 0 characters of yesteryears and makes teaching the game simpler.

What are your thoughts? How have you streamlined character creation for new players? I am introducing a new group of young teens and an always interested in ideas.

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First - I never expect NEWBS to simply pick up any book of 300 F'ING pages of rules and just... LEARN IT by next week.
Second - Present to them SIMPLE rules. Rules that are readily understood and exercised by those new to the game - especially combat rules which they are going to deal with more than any other aspect of the game. Letting them know that there are MASSIVE amounts of rules to know - or at least be reasonably familiar with - but also teaching it to them, slowly, over time, letting them learn at their own pace, letting them READ the rules at their own pace at home (letting them know that more than strictly superficial involvement in the game means a HELLUVA lot of reading they'll be doing), letting them do it wrong without expecting them to face the same consequences as someone who's been actively playing for years, advising them of the many pitfalls faced by players yet permitting them to still make their own inevitable mistakes WITHOUT the same consequences as more experienced players, etc. There are A THOUSAND choices for players to make in any reasonably complex edition of D&D. Some choices you can skip over to start, some you can even ignore for a LONG time, others obviously need to be made right away and you will just have to GUIDE them through those choices as much as you can and as much as they need, or just say, "To get you started we're just going to make this choice for you, but it ultimately is something you would need to choose as a player. DETAILS about that we'll get to later. For now just go with it because we don't want to overwhelm you - even though the amount of stuff to learn can be overwhelming."

I do expect new players to LEARN all these many rules we play by, as long as their interest in continuing to learn holds up. They just don't have to learn it all at once. They'll similarly never have to take a written rules-knowledge test, nor have to MEMORIZE more than the bare essentials of rules, but I do expect them to continually increase their understanding and facility with the rules (shy of being children or having learning disabilities). Otherwise players need to ACTIVELY participate in the game and that means ultimately knowing the rules. I just don't hold them to the same expectations IMMEDIATELY as I would those who aren't still learning the game.

D&D doesn't necessarily need to be easier to learn - but the ways in which people new to the game go about learning it and having it taught to them can often be handled better. If nothing else, choose to use a SIMPLE edition of rules. Not a hacked-down set of more complex rules, but a set of rules that is genuinely SIMPLE. This is sure to mean a much older set of rules or even a retroclone of older rules. If you want newbs to just jump right into the deep waters of 5E you're setting them up to simply be overwhelmed and thus turned off of D&D entirely. EASE them into the game, but don't BABY them if it's unnecessary. They will learn by READING; they will learn by DOING; they will learn by observing YOU (that is both DM's and other players). Just teach them.


A two to three page guide on maintaining, and updating as you level, character sheets is sorely lacking. If a fresh noob, how everything interacts is not intuitive. Also the sheet is hot garbage for tracking day/rest limited abilities.

I think selecting spells to learn or prepare is pretty daunting. I pretty much offer 5 or 10 top picks from Treatmonk or Ozwick lists. While I hate steering Them to powergamer options, a condensed list of what is most useful in most situations and why short circuits a lot of analysis paralaysis. Not sure how WoTC would replicate that helpfulness other than like a menu, putting stars next to chef and/or customer favorites.

For character creation, I ask, what do you want to do? And then more pointed questions and then translate that into race/class/subclass options for them. The Young Adventurers Guides have some pretty simplistic choice trees on finding your class, something more complicated and dynamic not necessarily in the books, but also not gatekept on Beyond, freely available to give 20 flavor questions and produce a 1-10 level character plan would be cool.
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DMing is what needs to be easier to learn. A good DM makes learning much easier no matter the system.
I feel like the starter set(s) do a pretty decent job of teaching that there’s a lot of rules but half assing it is ok. The transition from a 30 page book to the 1k page 3 book set needs work. Honestly, this is where they could do something amazing with DMs guild.

Imagine if paying for say a subscription to unlock all rules, or a flat fee for cor rule books or whatever, but the site had two views, in the bottom right a link to open everything you’ve paid for if needed, but a main view only of everything you’ve to date needed and explored so the vastness was shielded from you. And an AI of sorts helping you to slowly unlock rules and options as they came up in your game or as players needed options at advancement. Would go a long way to allowing a DM to obliquely get through the books as in game stuff came up w/o overwhemilng with stuff they really don’t yet need to know, esp if playing official adventures.
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The cited proposal seems like serious overkill, but I am someone who teaches a lot of new players (often young children) the game and I have made a few moves to simplify things. For equipment I just have them start with the basic things central to their function (weapons, armor, wand, etc.), and give them 50 gold. The set background items and class equipment packs are nice character building tools for players who have plenty of time to sit with the book and pour over the list, but for a new player they add a solid 10 minutes of crossreferrencing the PHB to put a bunch of random items on your character sheet that probably won't actually matter. Obviously if a player wants to obsess over starting equipment that's fine, but I'd rather get them in the game.

I usually skip writing down "background feature" abilities. I have, when rolling up characters for young children, sometimes purposefully ommited more minor racial features (like Fey Ancestry) unlikely to come up in the first few sessions.

If I was designing the game I would cull or simplify a lot of racial or other first level features only applicable to certain narrow circumstances, because they just get forgotten by people without system mastery and make for one more thing to learn right at the outset. Flavorful "ribbon" features are awesome, but dumping them on someone rolling up a new character and starting a new campaign who, whether new to the game or not, has more important things on their mind, is a poor design choice. Save the minor ribbon abilities for levels 3+.

Anything that streamlines character creation reduces the time a new player is stuck trying to digest the PHB and gets them to actually playing, at which point they are learning by doing and learning things that are immediately applicable, which is generally much easier for humans than trying to learn a system abstractly from the book.
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