Charming Beginners




Welcome to 2018. A new year is upon us, and I’ve set a goal for myself: I’d like to introduce as many people as possible to Dungeons and Dragons. Whether they’re people who attend my gym, or friends of friends, I’m dedicated to spreading knowledge about the world’s best pastime: D&D.

We all know D&D is thriving. With the advent of online play, people are able to play whenever they’d like, with whomever they’d like, and they’re far more likely to hear about it. People are no longer required to sit down and play at a table (although many still do) and can either spectate, play, or create adventures online.

As a consequence, it’s easier to expose people to D&D. However, I often hear a question asked: How do I introduce someone to Dungeons and Dragons?

Today, I’d like to clearly answer this question.

Over the years, I have developed three methods to charm new players: the slow burn, into the fire, and a modest mix.

The Slow Burn

I’ll start with a somewhat strange approach I’ve utilized multiple times throughout my D&D career. Let’s say someone desperately wants to play D&D, but they’re too afraid to leap into the action, they’d rather just watch. So, that’s what you allow them to do. You set up the table (or video hang out) as normal, and give them a front row seat to the game. Fully immerse them in the story, look at them while you speak, and show them the essence of D&D. If you use this approach, be sure to recap the events surrounding the campaign or adventure before you begin so they’re not lost.

As an addendum, if you know you’ll have a first-time spectator before you plan the session out, try to include all the core elements of D&D. Start the session with an epic fight scene, designed to show off the unlimited possibilities of combat. Sprinkle in a roleplaying encounter with a flamboyant nonplayer character who entertains both the players and their characters. Toss in a dungeon, and allow them to see the party plan their expedition and eventual delve. This approach will give a new player an overview of what makes a D&D game, without them feeling like they need to contribute much their first time being at the table.

I call this method ‘the slow burn’ because you’re steadily luring potential players into the glory that is D&D. Plenty of people have asked me to do this for them and it’s worked. Sometimes, new players aren’t comfortable playing D&D before viewing how your group plays the game in the flesh. Instead, they’d prefer to witness the sheer awesomeness of D&D firsthand. It should be noted that if they ask to join mid-session, I’d allow them to do so in the form of a nonplayer character or creature. They’re hooked, and you should have no issue helping them create a character for the next time your group plays.

Into the Fire

Onto the next approach, called ‘into the fire.’ The most common method of teaching new people D&D is completely immersing them in the game immediately. This is for people who don’t need to know what they’re getting into, for people who are ready to try anything. 

Before actually playing with a new player, I talk with them beforehand, and ask them two questions:
  1. Would they like to make their own character, or do they prefer a premade character?
  2. Would they like to try a one-off adventure, start a new campaign, or join a pre-existing campaign? 
It is important to be flexible with the character question. Some people love to create their own characters, which is my go-to for new players, but I’ve encountered people who prefer to play premade characters. Creating a character is a daunting task, and could be something this person has never done before. D&D players sometimes forget that what we do is inherently weird, and that’s perfectly fine! If they would prefer to use a premade, provide them with one. Else, dive into the character creation process with them, and create an interesting character using the Player’s Handbook and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. With those two books in their hands, they’re bound to have a fantastic time building their own character.

Once you’ve helped them pick or create a character, you need to figure out how you’ll actually begin to play.

Though some new players are perfectly fine with jumping into an ongoing campaign, I’d recommend that they get their start with something completely new. This can be in the form of a brand new campaign, where you plan out a short story and allow it to grow naturally from the character’s actions and your new and grand ideas, or you can take my preferred route and run a oneshot for the new player.

Oneshots are adventures that span a single session. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, but how the characters traverse this path is variable. This is the ideal method to introduce a new player to D&D. Let them make their own character or give them a pregenerated one, and then thrust them into an adventure! Introduce them to all the pillars of our beloved game, but don’t drag out the session. Keep it short, about four hours, and hook them. Make them say, “That was AWESOME! When can we play next?” Even end it on a cliffhanger, which, if their reaction to playing was positive (as it should be), allows you to continue adventuring with their first character.

Here are a few examples of oneshot adventures:
  1. The party is hired to protect a mouthy merchant who is suspected to be the target of a dragonborn assassin. The merchant is leaving the city soon, by boat, and time is running out for the assassin. He will strike soon.
  2. The party is trapped in an ancient, abandoned dwarven stronghold. There is only one way out and only one person knows the way.
  3. Hauntingly eerie noises have been rising from the temple’s catacombs after the death of their long-time high priest. Knowing what must lie below and stricken with grief, the temple’s acolytes hire the party to investigate and deal with the disturbance. 

A Modest Mix

A model I’ve convinced quite a few people to try is a mixture of the two above methods. Usually, the person comes to the D&D session, and instead of simply spectating or leaping into the action, I have them play a specific NPC or monster that interacts with the party in an interesting way. I give them enough to play with: a name, an agenda, and interesting items. This isn’t my preferred method, but I’ve found it’s a modest mix of the two above pieces of advice.

In Summary

D&D is thriving. However, we can achieve even greater heights if we continue to introduce new people to this wonderful game. Though the task can seem daunting at times, I’ve found that the discussed methods work well and should provide anyone unsure about how to show their friends, coworkers, or peers D&D with a solid framework of how to do so. Again, the three methods:
  1. The Slow Burn. This is for someone who’s shy and unwilling to leap into the fray. Allow them to spectate a session live, and show them all the core aspects of the game.
  2. Into the Fire. My favorite approach. Help the new player create or choose a character, and then run a oneshot adventure for them. This need not be long, but try to show them how amazing D&D can be.
  3. A Modest Mix. Mix the two above methods. Have the new player take control of a nonplayer character for a session, or play a monster during a combat. Give them a role that’s not set in stone and integral to the campaign. This gives them a taste of what D&D without having a stake in the game.
I hope this helps you spread Dungeons and Dragons far and wide this year, and for years to come!

As my favorite dungeon master used to say:

Until the next encounter,

-RJ Compton

*Credit to Wizards of the Coast for all of the artwork.

Comments

  1. Nice work! I recently started a blog as well. Though, its fallen behind because I'm working and running games. I'll follow you for certain. Keep it up!

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    1. Thanks. I'll be sure to check out your work as well. The more D&D writers the better!

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  2. I would love if someone would use the Slow Burn approach with me, I’ve been keen to start playing DnD for a long time now, but unfortunately there is no one I know that plays..

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    1. Have you tried to play online via Google Hangouts / Skype / Roll20? Check out gaming communities on Facebook and Reddit as well, lots of folks looking from groups out there. As long as my classes don't become too overwhelming, I'd be up for running a oneshot for you and a few others as well :)

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  3. Not yet, no. I have social anxiety that is more severe in virtual situations (phone calls, video calls, etc.) than real life situations (though it’s still quite bad at times). I’ll definitely keep up with this column though and maybe it can help me get into things a bit more. Like a very slow burn!

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  4. Im a lot like Kurisutin I am really wanting to learn about D&D it is something that has always been floating around in my brain. Scary part of it is it wasn't until now that i truly have the time and the need to get involved. Its Scary because I'm 42 years of age. And i don't know jack about how the game works. Now i know there are a bunch of Informative Vids on youtube and i have been taking them in. But I'm just concerned that once i kind of have a understanding of the game. I wont be accepted into any games one because i am a new player or two because i am considered "Old" (or both). I am kind of more interested in the Online version of the community. Only because I've done searches and there are'nt really any groups that are going that are a close drive for me. Any ways I guess I am asking you all as community. If you were in my Shoes what would you do? What would be your steps to getting started being New & Older like i am?

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    1. If you have a Facebook account, join the Absolute Tabletop or Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Facebook groups, and explain your situation - you'll have tons of people that want to play with you. Else, go to https://www.reddit.com/r/lfg/ and make a post, or respond to a post already up.

      Most people play over Google Hangouts, Skype, or some online tabletop like Roll20 or Fantasy Battlegrounds.

      Being older and new is no reason to start playing, my friend. Our community is far more accepting than many others out there, and that's a wonderful fact. Good luck, and I hope I see you in the comments on Friday!

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