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Hello, I'm assembling a DnD/Pathfinder group, and all the players are new to tabletop rpg. All they know is rpg is about storytelling, dice rolling [ and macabre rituals <- just kidding, ;) ]

The thing is, I, as DM, find the D20 combat system pretty rich/interesting. I'm reading it all again, long time no play. Reading about the combat rules (flanking, line-of-sight, combat action/moves), it seems all a bit complex, without counting the combination of all of that together with class abilities, feats, spells and the multitude of options in the characters' creation and evolution.

The players are not into reading or maxing a character; from one point of view, this is a good thing, so we can focus on the role-playing. On the other side, they won't know all the options available, whether in the character creation and evolution or in the combat itself. So either we'd be playing a subset of the game, I would have to tell them all the options available, which I think might be kind of boring and could ruin the atmosphere.

Short question

How can you introduce the game mechanics to new players, without telling them to read the books, or being a cumbersome boring DM, telling them what to do in the middle of the session? It could be some adaption to the mechanics, a method for introducing rules step-by-step. Or we could even try another system (a opened reference would be most appropriate). So, have you ever been in a similar situation and how to solve it?

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You could start just explaining the core system: "To do something that isn't trivially easy, roll a d20 add your bonuses (if any) and subtract the penalty (if any). It will succeed if your result exceeds the number representing the activity's difficulty, also known as Difficulty Class or DC." Everything else is merely where bonuses and penalties come from, as well as how DC's are determined? –  Undreren Dec 6 '12 at 11:35
Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/7517/… –  mxyzplk Dec 6 '12 at 12:28
When you start your campaign, use only the core rules and start all player characters at level 1. This will dramatically reduce the options available to players, meaning that they have less to learn. You can introduce more complexity as the game goes on. (I know that this may seem obvious, and I used to think so, too, but I've met a disturbingly large number of inexperienced gamers who assume that starting at a high level makes things easier.) –  GMJoe Dec 7 '12 at 3:40
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6 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

What I have, personally, done in this kind of situation is take a close look at their character sheets, what can they do, what are they good at, and write an 'easy mode' adventure where they get a chance to use each of their abilities.

Once they come to a point and don't instinctively realize what they're supposed to do, gently ask the relevant player if they can do anything about the situation. Beyond that, don't forget to include basics regarding your GMing style.

For example, if you use a lot of traps, start with a few light and relatively harmless traps. Enough to wake them up to the idea that not everything that can harm them can be seen, should help them get them used to searching.

You can also show off some tactics that can be useful for anyone by making the monsters use it. Aid another mid-fight, flanking, readying actions, et cetera. Make sure to let the players know that those are things anyone can do.

It's fine to be a bit railroady during such a tutorial adventure, especially with newer players, but don't forget to include the roleplaying parts as well.

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+ 1 for the 'easy mode' aka tutorial adventure ! –  eklam Dec 6 '12 at 12:57
+1 for tutorial, gradual exposure. Worked well for me too, and I gave you props in my answer for it :) –  LitheOhm Dec 6 '12 at 20:09
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A great way to introduce your players to D&D's mechanics is to just let them roleplay at first. As players, it will be their job to work out what they want to do - as Dungeon Master, it will be your job to shoulder the burden of figuring out how they'll do it mechanically. When you do this, show them how it's done and get them to make the rolls. They'll pick things up, and you'll be able to steadily remove the training wheels and give your players the amount of mechanical burden they should have.

The best way to see how this works is to see someone else doing it. Go listen to a couple of episodes of Penny Arcade Podcasts, season one. This is a 4th Edition game run by a couple of guys from Wizards of the Coast R&D. The players are Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade, and Scott Kurtz from PvP. Scott has never played D&D before. Jerry and Mike have, but they've never played 4e, since this was before 4e was even released. Watch one or two episodes of that, and you'll understand how you can show players new to the game the mechanics. There's not much I can say here that you won't learn better from listening to this D&D game.

In the beginning, your players might not be aware of everything they're capable of, and won't always make the best choices. This is fine. They're learning - they'll make more masterful choices once they've begun to master the system. For now, their first adventure should be forgiving enough - just make sure they're having fun and learning, and remember you can make suggestions.

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The real problem with this approach is that they have an hard time figuring what's effective. I started my first D&D combat by bashing through a door and tumbling. End of turn. Luckily the enemies were pretty coward and flee and we had to chase them through the whole ship. –  Zachiel Dec 6 '12 at 17:07
+1 this can work for groups that have gaming experience. However, one group I tried that with sort of got spoiled and didn't want to take on the mechanics later -_- –  LitheOhm Dec 6 '12 at 20:10
@Zachiel: If you bash a door and tumble IRL you make yourself open to attack, and you're bound to scare the schnitzel out of a lot of people. All in all I say "well played". –  Yianes the Sneak Dec 7 '12 at 15:01
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Play a short adventure sequence, a là what Draupadi is saying. When I was introducing my brother and his girlfriend to 3.5 - totally new system/style for them - I made a dungeon where they would encounter more rules the further they went in. First room was a simple combat, then there was terrain, then there was cover, etc. One doesn't need to cover every rule of course, but definitely the more important/prominent ones.

There's also the advice my friend gives for the complicated gaming systems (feats, skills can be a lot for a new gamer to keep track of at first):

"I want to play a human fighter."

Memorize this phrase. It's the simplest character in 3.5 at least, and when I played PF it seemed a simple mechanic there too. Since the PC will have less to keep track of with skills and spells, they'll have more focus with which to learn other things. Also, since they get to play with feats (an already broad mechanic) they get to figure out how characters work without overwhelming themselves.

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I've been in a situation similar to this once. It was myself and a bunch of friends, with only me having any experience, starting a Pathfinder group.

Generally, if someone wanted to do something, they'd ask me how that works. I'd tell them, then we'd move on. That worked well, until we came across something I didn't know how to do. When that happened, the rule was, 'If you want to do something, you have to look up how."

I realized, as we played, that this was actually the better system. It made sure that everyone involved knew the rules, without making learning them homework. One player took to the idea readily, and actually now knows more about the specifics of the game than I do (in most cases, anyway), while the only person who doesn't do this generally only uses the 'charge and smash' play style. Everyone has fun, and plays their characters as they see fit.

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You know how in video games they have (nowadays) the usual pattern of taking you by the hand with tutorials. Sometimes those tutorials are really subtle (Crysis 2 when you have to nod to show you're alive). You can take this concept and plug it somehow in your campaign.

You can take the players in themed tutorials based on their skills. For the fighters and melee combatants, take them into practice rounds with a mentor using wood swords. Call for grapple checks, teach how to flank and make it sounds like a real practice. "Hit harder soldier!!" (use Power attack feat). "Now let's see if you can cut this scarecrow in half" (rules for damaging objects).

Same for the spellcasters and the healers. This is also a great way of plugin some story and roleplay moments like: This is Adrien Solenharzt, your mentor. Before he let you have your real sword he wants to know if you learned something from him. The wizards could have tests and knowledge exams. Cast spell and have them distracted by balancing wooden spheres and have them make concentration checks. Same for the rogues, have them feint, sneak attack in a nice shadowy arena with prisoners or guards paid to get knocked unconscious.

In one game session you can cover most (if not all) of the combat actions described in the Core. What you didn't cover could be explained in time, no pressure. Pathfinder/3.5 is a big game and not all characters will care about all the rules for combat. The Wizard for instance don't really care about two weapon fighting rules.

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+1 for Tutorial Mode. Most commonly, char gen for a new system takes just shy of a game session anyway so I can lay down a common situation (usually a quick fight) to give them the basics. –  CatLord Dec 11 '12 at 19:41
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Best bet: a reference sheet that makes their most common options clear. You may even want to customize each person's based upon their feats.

As a flat minimum...

  • How to roll initiative
  • On your turn
    • move options
    • action options
  • How to make an attack
  • how to resolve cast spells
  • how to trigger AOO's.
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I'd modify this suggestion to make sure it includes actual rolls for the individual characters. i.e. a fighter will have a reference that says "Attacking somebody: to hit: roll d20 and add 5. to damage: roll d8 and add 3." That kind of thing. –  Jacob Proffitt Dec 7 '12 at 5:43
@JacobProffitt I wouldn't - because then it becomes vital to have the right sheet for the given player, and it may as well become an extended character sheet. Further, doing so disincentivizes learning the game. –  aramis Dec 7 '12 at 6:35
It gives a good starting point and since those numbers change relatively quickly at beginning levels (not least when/if you pick up a new weapon), it's disposable. I'd resist updating or extending it so they learn the system, but as a starting point, it can help immensely by cutting down (by extending) the learning curve. Small bites rather than big gulps that are harder to swallow all at once. –  Jacob Proffitt Dec 7 '12 at 16:26
@JacobProffitt I am NOT going to add it, and will delete it if you do. Submit it as a different answer, but stop arguing with me about it. I don't see your suggestion as being of any value at all. Others might, but you'd to them and I a better service by not trying to change my mind - which has been long since made up on the matter because 29+ years of teaching systems to new players has shown me that it's a VERY bad idea to put the actual rolls on the reference sheets. Especially in D&D and derivatives, where the numbers can wind up changing every session for the first 3+. –  aramis Dec 8 '12 at 2:55
I'm sorry. I was unclear. I'm not asking you to modify your answer, merely stating what I'd have done if I'd put it together before you had. My comment is such a slight variation on your own that I don't believe it merits the effort. And I'd never dream of editing your answer to include something you clearly object to. My 31+ years experience of teaching systems to new players simply differs from your own. No big deal. –  Jacob Proffitt Dec 8 '12 at 6:43
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