Once more, from the top

So, remember the game I mentioned trimming back in my last post? When I started writing that, it was meant to be a short campaign designed to introduce new players to DnD. I didn’t actually have an end in mind yet, but I was going to try to make all the adventures have good closure to themselves – this was before I realized that my games don’t actually need to peter out. I usually make very detailed primers, but I put together a short one for this that was mostly an intro to DnD. I’ve extracted that portion (it refers to the campaign generally still) and I am going to step through why I made the decisions I did. None of this has been used yet, so I don’t know how it’ll go, but I am interested in your feedback, dear readers. So here we go.

So what’s all this about?

Good question! Welcome to DnD. If this works out according to plan, most of you haven’t been here before. A lot of tabletop roleplaying books have a section called “What is roleplaying?” – I won’t include one. I think you can figure that part out.

So my goal with this is to provide a casual, easy introduction to tabletop RPGs. I personally tend to gritty, complicated, historical games with a lot of intrigue. That’s not a good introduction though. Your first time playing DnD is supposed to be casting spells, killing goblins, and unlikely things fitting in 10×10 rooms. You’re busy remembering which die to roll when, I don’t want you to also consider the social ramifications of what your character is doing in a mostly realistic 18th century western society. What’s happening in the background this time is simple. The adventures will seem cliche or formulaic to an experienced player, and perhaps also to an avid reader. I’ve blatantly stolen the premise for the game from a book (any guesses?) so you don’t need to read a whole chapter on the trade history of two nations I needed to understand in order for my premise to make sense to me. I’m not going to change anything about magic, or religion, whatever you see in the Player’s Handbook is appropriate for this game. (What’s in the Player’s Handbook is actually appropriate to an old setting called Greyhawk that doesn’t get a lot of independent publishing anymore. So we’ll be dropping some people and places into Greyhawk it doesn’t normally have, but I don’t think the people down there will mind.)

So don’t get me wrong, I love custom settings. I think this would actually be my first time not using a setting that’s at least been heavily modified. I elected to keep everything as-is this time for two reasons. The first is I was trying to cut down on my prep time. Less writing, less explaining, more playing. Remember this is all about that lack of time/bandwidth problem a lot of us have. The other is something I’ve never personally had a problem with, but seems to be difficult for a lot of people on reddit. That is the separation of mechanics and flavor from any given roleplaying book. I wanted the new players, while they’re learning the game, to be able to read the books and not ask me “can I have this?” or “is this still true in your game?” and for them to have the confidence to say “but the book says…” – I don’t want to instill an idea of the infallible DM and lead to them not picking up on any mistakes I may make. At the same time, however, I don’t want to train them to argue with their DM a lot. What’s your experience with treading that line, DMs?

DnD can be fun for a lot of reasons, but it’s hard to find what’s fun for a new group as a whole, so let’s lay down some ground rules so this doesn’t get not-fun for anyone. First, I already established that you’ve known each other for a while, so no in-fighting. We’re all friends here, and we can have a polite conversation, and so can our characters. And to help prevent in-fighting, you’re all generally good people, or at least, not Evil. One of the more fluffy mechanics of DnD is Alignment. It’s two spectrums are Chaos – Law (this makes more sense if you think of Law as Order IMHO) and Evil – Good. I’m ok with any Alignment combination that doesn’t include any big “E”s. Also, you’re all from the same society, so I can say all at once that you’re egalitarian with respect to species, race, sex, and gender.

Can you tell that these are issues I have? I have developed a reputation among the people I first started playing with for running very open-ended games, and letting my players push the limits a lot. This has led to a lot of arguments, PCs killing each other, and general unbalance in the happiness level around the table when I’ve mixed new and old groups of gaming friends. So I’m very aware of this, but I think laying down ground rules from the start is generally a good idea. Expectations are important, for one, and if anyone’s fun is taking away from the fun of someone else, that’s a problem. I think these are generally good ground rules for beginning players in particular. Like I said in the beginning of the primer, I like to do a lot of complex historical games. Those can get tense, particularly around that egalitarian point. Unless you’re really familiar with the comfort level of your group with particular societal issues, I recommend staying away from them. I’ve had very interesting, compelling theological arguments at the table between Catholic and Protestant characters in an 18th century game, at the same time I’ve had high levels of uncomfortableness surrounding different opinions on slavery in a 19th century game. So consider your audience. If you’re not completely sure, play it safe. And remember you’re saying no to make sure everyone has fun, not to kill a particular someone’s fun. Stepping back into a more typical fantasy game, it can be hard to say no, especially to beginning players. But they’re going to ask for things that you know are going to go badly. They’re going to say “and I hate Elves, because…” and you’re going to have to say “no,” because they’re going to get in an argument with the Elf in the party and it’s going to be uncomfortable for everyone. Maybe in the advanced course they can hate all the Elves they want, but not right now.

I’m about to drop a big, testy, word for tabletop gamers because we’re about to leave the metagame portion of this short, casual primer. Different groups have different definitions of what “metagaming” is. Basically, it’s what’s outside of the game, or outside of your character’s head. For example, you may know very well that Jabberwocks are weak to pudding magic (intentionally making things up here) but if your character, Ethel the Mighty, had never heard of a Jabberwock until it tried to bite her head off, she doesn’t know she should be using her delicious +1 pudding packs and not her Vorpal (see what I did there?) Greatsword. This might not sound like a complicated concept yet, but what happens when Wakefield the Slayer and Ethel the Mighty have both been fighting the Jabberwock for a while now, and Sister Doris needs to decide who to heal in the midst of combat? Luckily, I’m nice about that particular scenario. But if you’re planning battle tactics five rounds in advance, remember the monsters can hear you too.

I think that’s pretty straightforward, right? Sure. What is Metagaming deserves a whole post. We’ll leave that for another time.

Hey, did we buy enough rations?

You’re probably wondering – what should I do to prepare? Should I bring anything? Are there weird rules of etiquette I should know?

So far as preparation goes, that’s up to you. All the rules (For DnD 3.5’s d20 system – which we will be using.) are actually publically available under the Open Game License or OGL. You’re welcome to poke around here if you’d like: http://www.d20srd.org/ That’s what’s called a “System Reference Document” – it features all the mechanical rules, but not the setting details about Greyhawk. This is because it’s the mechanics that are OGL.

You should probably bring some pencils and paper. If you own dice, bring them.

If you have an idea of what you’re getting into you might be noticing something missing from those last two lines – a character. A lot of experienced players are asked to generate their characters before coming to the first session, this saves a lot of game time. It’s pretty normal for your first game to consist just of character creation, but that’s not my point right now. I want you to play. So, I’m going to do something I’ve never tried before. I’m going to generate one of each core class. You will choose a class when play starts. I will give you one of the characters I made. If, after the first session, you like that character, you may keep it. If not, I will help you generate your own.

This is the big untested part of my time-saving ideas here. I may nix the whole thing. I figured, like I said,  with inexperienced players character creation can take up the whole first session, and I want them to actually get to play since it’s hard to schedule the time. At the same time, though, character creation is fun. I was going to use scaled attributes for these so nobody can pick the “best” character, I may just have them use those to save the dice-rolling time, but maybe not that even. I have played with pre-generated characters a couple times, and still had fun. It was actually how I learned, too. Now that it’s looking more like I’ll have half experienced half inexperienced, I’m undecided on if I still think this is a good idea.

So, on to etiquette. It’s not really different from most other times you engage in a group activity in someone else’s home. Be polite, wait your turn, don’t touch my dice. Α lot of players are protective of their dice. I don’t expect you all to bring dice since I’m trying to target new players, but don’t just grab and roll. If you need dice ask to borrow some, and you’ll be given a set or someone will say you can use theirs, or use the dice in this tin, etc. Food and drink are often a normal part of the gaming ritual, it’s appreciated if you bring something to share. If it’s around a meal time we’ll talk about the plan.

Well, yeah. Do you share dice?

2 thoughts on “Once more, from the top

  1. When I joined my group, they were between campaigns and they all knew that I was new to 4e, so we ran a “one shot” that had been release by Wizards of the Coast to introduce players to 4e and to Athas (the Dark Sun world) across a couple weeks. The one-shot had pre-made first level characters and a simple combat challenges. I actually liked my pre-made character enough, a Half-Giant Barbarian named Kuori (“Like where rocks are made!”), that I asked my DM to help me recreate her at appropriate level for the first full campaign I ran with the group. The one-shot wasn’t the greatest tool for learning the nuances of the game (penalties for targets who are prone, what combat advantage means, extra damage for charging or sneak attacks, etc.), but it was a fairly good introduction to the world and the new edition of the game. My group has since run the “Playtest” for D&D Next (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/dndnext.aspx) and it’s very much the same thing — pre-made characters and a straightforward setting.

    It sounds very much to me like what you’re designing is a Playtest for 3.5 and it’s possible that such a thing already exists. Unfortunately, it looks like all of the resources that are on the Wizards of the Coast website for learning how to play (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Feature.aspx?x=new/learntoplay) are for 4e, but I’m sure with a little digging, you could find what they released for 3.5 and modify it for your situation. Just a thought that might help cut down the up-front work for you. =)

    • This comment answered my question to your previous comment. How were the D&D Next materials? I had signed up for the emails and ignored them until one day I went hey I should download that stuff and it had been closed the day before. Woe was me, etc.

      My first game was an introductory thing too. They published for 3.0 nice glossy character sheets of the characters in the core book and a really short dungeon crawl. We played that then rolled up our own characters for a home-brewed game.

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