Behind the Screen: Introducing new players…

2007 October 25
by Dante

This week we have received some positive feedback relating to Stupid Ranger’s Orientation series, so I decided to provide a few helpful hints on introducing new players for the Dungeon Master’s side of the equation.

Don’t make them feel stupid

In most areas of the Nerd Pantheon, new people are made to feel inadequate. It is basically a power trip from those who maximize their involvement in a subculture, and special care must be taken not to alienate people who are making their first foray into our azure waters. Oftentimes, new people to roleplaying are work acquaintences, friends, significant others, or relatives and none of these people will respond well to being made fun of.

Before you start in with cries of “DUH!” and “that’s obvious” I would have you stop and do some self-examination. I can distinctly remember a group of my own friends berating someone that screwed up Star Trek with Star Wars, to the point where they ended up saying “you guys are too intense for me” and left.

In this same vein, expect to have to explain the basic rules many times, including identifying what a d20 is, and which is a d8 and a d10, and various other commonplace elements of our hobby. This should be done with extreme patience, with special care not to sound exasperated if they don’t get it right quick enough to suit you. Being new at something that you want to get into SUCKS, and support is a nice thing to have.

Give them some things to do they can handle

When bringing a brand new player on board, it is good to give them some simple tasks to do that will let them cut their teeth with the gaming system, roleplaying, and basic system elements that they will be expected to handle.

My all time favorite multi-user dungeon (MUD) Gemstone IV has a system that indoctrinates new players by having guided assistance in simple tasks like moving around the town, purchasing gear, interacting with NPCs, and fighting simple creatures (in their case, it was rats). These concepts can be creatively applied as an episode in the plot that can draw the new player into the group, while having them play out some mundane activities to get them used to living in the world that you have created.

Have them interact with an NPC and be sent on an errand to purchase some supplies, and jump them with a Rodent Of Unusual Size and walk them through the combat. They’ll get the jitters out of the way and feel awesome about themselves for having beaten something, and then meet them up with the rest of the party. This is merely an example, any focused attention on getting them comfortable using the rules is crucial.

Give them a partner

This may go along with the previous point, but you should be sure to provide the new player a partner, both in-game and out of game. The in-game partner should take the form of an NPC and will be there to bail out the character should that ROUS get a particularly nasty bite in (this shouldn’t be required, but we’ll cover that later), or help the player to navigate around the town and find the appropriate location where they need to be.

The out of game partner should be there to help them with game mechanics, such as where on their character sheet to find armor class, attack bonus, skill checks, etc. They should be willing to help them determine what to add to their Spot check, and what to do when something unexpected happens. This will make them feel like they’re not all by themselves, which is a powerful thing in the early stages of gaming.

Finally, cut them a break

This is a special message to all you elitist DMs out there: don’t be an asshole. If you pride yourself on running a realistic campaign where conscripts die readily and its every man for themselves and you intend to apply these rules to everyone that plays, chances are very good that you are an asshole and you should not be allowed around brand new players. If you enjoy having NPCs swoop in in the last second and squash the bad thing to death every time, please see the previous statement.

We’re looking for a positive psychological experience out of their first encounters, do what you can to make that happen. It is of *utmost* importance that new players have fun in their first game session. I don’t have real scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m willing to wager that 90% of new players won’t come back for session #2 if they didn’t have one shining moment of feeling as if they did something awesome the first gaming session.

Use your option as a DM to fudge rolls such that the ROUS doesn’t crit them to death their first time. If it does happen to get them into low hit points, all of a sudden it had a blood disease and the next strike will render it unconscious. These players know nothing of our ways, they don’t know that most creatures have X hit points and one shot couldn’t possibly have killed it, they’ll just feel like they squashed that scary rat and life will be good for them.

These recommendations work for seasoned players too

Nothing is preventing you from applying some of these concepts with your seasoned players as well. You may not need to explain mechanics to the players that are longer in tooth, but you should still strive to give them that satisfying moment in every session.

I know there are some other seasoned vet DMs out there… how do you handle brand new players? Any recommendations that I didn’t cover?

2 Responses leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    October 25, 2007

    I have been given the special mission of showing D&D 3.x to 3 new players.

    See here.

  2. Nia permalink
    October 29, 2007


    Might I, with attribution and a link, use a portion of this entry in our club newsletter? I’ve been looking for good articles on “how to be a better player” and this is great!

    Jae Walker
    President, CARP (

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