We were all new players at some point. For some of us, that was in the 80’s, (before I was even born), and for some of us, it was significantly more recent.
Me personally, I started playing in 2015, my first experience being Pathfinder. I switched to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition shortly thereafter, and has been my system of choice ever since. I’ve DM’ed for both new and experienced players, and been a new player and DM within recent memory. Therefore, let’s get into it! For the record, these tips are generally aimed at an experienced DM playing with new players, but I’m sure they can be adapted to groups where everyone is new with relative ease.
1 – One – Én – Uno – Ein – Un – Yksi
Alright, I think I ran out of languages I know how to say “One” in. The reason for this is quite simply, it’s just so damn critical, and if not followed, can permanently scare a new player away from returning to a TTRPG table. And that thing is PATIENCE.
It’s really very simple, and not hard. A new player will, most likely, not know every single rule by heart. Hell, I’ve been DM’ing weekly for over a year, and I still have to look up exactly what each status condition does, or look up the exact rules for surprise rules. And DnD is very much a game that generally encourages learning-by-doing, despite the mass amount of reading material. So can you really expect a new player to remember exactly what constitutes an opportunity attack, and what doesn’t? Some may say yes, but I’m pretty confident in saying you couldn’t do that either when you first started out.
So give your new players some leeway. I know that drawn out combat due to thinking-time can get incredibly frustrating at times, I think that too. But until they have a solid amount of sessions under their belt, give them some leeway.
Have your players read the rules?
Bluntly speaking, the rules of Dungeons & Dragons can be daunting. Even the basic rulebooks that come with the various starter sets clock in at 32 pages, which for some us is nothing, but for others, is more than they read in a year. And that’s ok! Thankfully, we live in a digital age where there are plenty of other ways to learn the rules! One of the most common ones, and one that I often recommend to new players, is to watch Handbooker Helper! It’s a tutorial series created by the cast of the popular web series Critical Role. This also has the added benefit of some people having been introduced to Dungeons & Dragons through Critical Role, and thus they suddenly have relatable characters explaining the rules to them.
Some people may not like Critical Role, and that’s fine! There are plenty of other resources out there, both in video format but also in written format! But Handbooker Helper is what I personally recommend.
However, familiarising oneself with the rules is only the first step. Dungeons & Dragons is, for many, very much a learning-by-doing thing. As mentioned, despite DM’ing several times a week for over a year, I still can’t always remember what the difference between “Grappled” and “Restrained” is. But it’ll come, last time I encountered it I didn’t actually have to look it up! So it’ll come, and that applies to your players as well. I defer back to the previous point – Have patience.
Online vs Offline
While always a relevant point, it seems to be especially more relevant in these times, with the pandemic raging across the world and all that.
The online vs offline debate is very individual. Personally, I prefer online play, due to the absolutely ridiculous amount of customisation and simulation possible through Virtual Tabletop software, and I personally don’t feel it subtracts from the immersion. Sitting in front of a PC also allows me to keep much better track of my material as DM, than if I was sitting at a table, having to navigate with a tablet or papers. However, I do realise I’m probably in the minority here, and that’s totally fine! Offline play definitely has it’s advantages, and I’d never forego it completely, especially when playing with good friends! It just adds a different social dynamic.
But when it comes to new players, given the choice, I would probably recommend offline play. And that’s for essentially one reason – When playing online, it’s very easy for new or shy players to accidentally be forgotten. When playing in person, you can often see, through body language, when someone is uneasy or trying to say something, and you can quickly pull them in. When playing online, you often lose this opportunity, and especially new players, who may be shy about roleplaying, can get “lost” in the more confident or experienced players. Generally, if I were to sum up, offline play has an advantage when it comes to roleplaying and player interaction, whereas online play has the advantage when it comes to representation of the actual game mechanics. Then it’s up to you as DM to decide which you feel your new players would need the most support with.