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Next week I will run a session for the first time, and I am looking for advice with which edition to run. I am currently considering 3.5e, 4e or the newest playtest packet of 5e (this seems best to me). I am not a native English speaker (I am from Argentina).

I'm looking to run a more roleplay driven session, for newcomers to roleplay, I never run a session before so rule-wise I chose 5e, it looks simpler but I think 4e is more likely for a role-play session.

I polled my group and they opted for D&D because is the most popular pen-and-paper around here, also I only played D&D so that's why we go for it.

The system should encourage heavy roleplay, and I will be running it with newcomers to pen-and-paper RPGs.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I think your best bet is using the New D&D 5e Starter Set when it comes out July 3rd/15th.

There is one key feature of D&D Next which is missing in the Playtest rules and these are the heavy emphasis on Bonds, Traits, Flaws and Ideals. The New Character sheet puts these RP feature right up front with Combat features, giving them equal "page space".

Also, the game is very simple, and easy to run. The new Starter set is specifically designed for what you want to do. It has a 32 page easy to read rule book, and a 64 page module with about 16-60 hours of gameplay in it.

Here is a video put out by WoTC regardings the content of the Box set. It is an hour long but does a really good job of explaining what the adventure is like and why it's good for a new group of players to learn RPGs and D&D in particular.

More explicitly, each of the pre-generated characters come with plot hooks and background information that is related to the adventure. This is to help players understand what and why their characters might want to do in the adventure setting. They also give advice on how to make new characters that are connected to the campaign that you will be creating.

The new role playing heavy features of D&D 5e sound like exactly what you are looking for, although they are missing from the official playtest rules. My own group has used these features, and greatly enjoy it.

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DnD4 really punishes the Roleplay by numbers approach.

If you expect your players to express their roleplaying talents by building Fighters with high Intelligence and Charisma instead of Strength do not play DnD4. In other editions it is merely not optimal, in DnD4 it is crippling.
The same goes for feats. If your players avoid Expertise feats because they are boring, do not play DnD4.

If you think giving out magic items is not your obligation, but your right as a DM, do not play DnD4.

DnD4 is the best if you want to play artfully coreographied fights connected by some cutscenes. See also: Hong-kong action movies.

If the roleplaying only affects the character's behavior, but not its creation, you are fine. If not, pick any other edition.

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The hurdles for people new to roleplaying

Roleplaying has a few things that are rather unique that take time for non-roleplayers to pick up. A lot of your early play is them learning to navigate these ideas:

  • There is no set of moves, if you can imagine a plausible action, it can happen

  • Players can and should ask for more information/clarification during play about anything they see/encounter

  • Gameplay is not tied to a board, set of cards, or other physical object

  • Character motivations can be a primary driver of what to do in play

  • How to speak in character, how to shift between in character/out of character talk at the table, etc.

You'll notice that these are system agnostic—it doesn't matter what edition of D&D or which roleplaying game you're dealing with, these are all concerns. I list these for a simple reason—they're actually a lot to take in, so if you stack too much other complicated stuff on top of it, it just makes the experience that much more confusing for new players.

D&D specific hurdles

D&D in all of its editions doesn't do a lot to particularly support, or work against roleplaying—it really comes down to what you want to focus on in play. So it's worth noting at least in that regard, there's only two measures by which you can decide which edition works best/worst for you: complexity (for the reasons outlined above) and lethality.

I bring up lethality because even though you have a roleplay-heavy plan, the fact is when you do have violence, if the game has high lethality, the players don't have a lot of margin for error and learning before they lose their characters to death. That becomes even more frustrating if they've invested a lot into the character's personality and background.

With all that in mind, I'd say consider either one of the Basic D&Ds from the 80s or a free D&D clone / "Old School Renaissance" game (like Swords and Wizardry White Box, for example, for the simplicity of the rules, but start the characters off at something like 4th or 5th level to give them some hitpoint buffer from getting instantly wiped when combat rolls out. Hand out some basic equipment kits and don't make players have to do a lot of equipment choosing and you're good to go.

Play a bit, and after the players get comfortable with how basics of roleplaying work, move up to whatever D&D rules best fit your group's desires and they can better navigate the rules complexity without having to do that while figuring out roleplaying itself.

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13th Age

It's not D&D, but it's similar enough that you shouldn't have a problem picking it up if you've played D20 before.

Pros

  • It has some mechanical features to draw people into the world, and to provide plot hooks.
  • Classes are intended to have mix-and-match features, so you can make strange concepts work. (Though with GM oversight)
  • Escalation mechanic means combat doesn't drag on.
  • Gets rid of the skill system, replacing it with Backgrounds, which are freeform.
  • Mook rules make for good, heroic, horde-slaying.

Cons

  • Currently a somewhat limited palette of abilities, monsters and other pieces, to work with.
  • Designed to be house-ruled to get the most out of it.
  • Character generation is very much a group activity. (Could be a pro, depending on group)
  • Still D20, so the rules emphasis is on combat.

I've run it with a mix of players, from experienced to completely new, before successfully. That said I've taught a lot of games, but this had fewer "gotchas" than some.

The game is set up to support players creating interesting characters and telling stories with them, at least in comparison to other D20 fare I've tried. To do this, however, it may need some GM/player cooperation in selecting various abilities from other classes. I played with a rather new GM who ran it at a convention, and it went smoothly (apart from players messing with the plot!).

One possible problem, but one that would also be an issue with the games you mentioned, is that it has lists of abilities with their own specific rules, which could cause issues where English is not your first language.

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Please address how you've gamed with new players, preferably in a non-english setting, and how this has focused on RP. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 25 at 10:23

In my roleplaying career I have encountered and run a wide variety of games, from things as light as Capes and Lady Blackbird, to middle-of-the-road games such as Dungeon World, World of Darkness (both universes), and the various flavors of FATE, to more mechanically crunchy games such as every edition since AD&D including the Next playtest and many of the d20 offshoots. And although I have never run a D&D campaign for new players, I have extensive experience running other games for new players (including a stint spent running a new game for a new set of players nearly every week), many - but not all - of which focused primarily on roleplaying which provides me with a great deal of insight into what does and does not help in such situations.

Not 3.5: As new players, learning the math can often interfere with actually playing the game. It is very easy to get bogged down in crunching the numbers which tends to block the flow of play.

Not 4e: 4e is a great game for new players in the sense that it is easy to learn the rules. The problem, in my experience, is that people new to heavy roleplaying benefit significantly from having roleplaying-oriented rules to latch onto. D&D 4th Edition does not have these. While you can always deviate from the prescribed path as a GM, by the RAW essentially everything in 4e was either a combat encounter or a skill challenge. The latter can lead to creative thinking (How do I apply my highest skills to this situations?) but left much to be desired in terms of encouraging player narrative.

Not Next: So, if the fact that it isn't out yet, (including the starter set; which may or may not be representative of the following products) isn't a good enough reason, my admittedly limited experience suggests that it plays very much like 4e. Other folks have more recent experience with it, so I would certainly take their input into account but I would also take it with a grain of salt until the final product is on store shelves.

What do I recommend?

While I can recommend various games that will feel like D&D (Dungeon World tops my list at the moment), I can't recommend any of the actual D&D games for new players to try a heavy roleplaying campaign for the first time. 4e will be fairly easy to learn, making it good for new players but in my experience it doesn't provide the sort of mechanical support to roleplaying choices that an introduction to roleplaying (over rollplaying) needs. On the other hand, while 3.5 provides an almost infinite list of options for customizing your character to support your roleplay choices the fact that many of these choices aren't available until higher levels coupled with the frequency of new numerical bonuses and penalties makes it not particular suited to new players. Based on my experiences, it is my belief that if you insist on sticking with D&D this is the choice you will have to make:

Good for new players (4e) OR Good for roleplaying (3.5) OR Next when it finally comes out (decidedly incomplete information available until sometime after August)

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Point of order. The designer intent with 5e is to "try again" the intent of 3e: redesign AD&D to be streamlined and consistent. Superficial resemblances to 4e are in there because 4e had some good ideas that can be kept, but 5e isn't a development off the 4e base. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 24 at 22:59

First edition. The other editions you mention are all very heavily encumbered with mechanics and "balancing" which make roleplaying a secondary consideration compared to "optimizing" the mechanical build of the character.

First edition is still in print and also available second-hand, and players can get on with playing their characters with very little required knowledge of even the combat rules (spellcasters need a little bit more but not much more). My own experience is that complete newcomers can play AD&D without more than a glance at even the players' book once character generation is done, and that takes about 15 minutes for the first character.

Everything that is wrong with 1e can be fixed by taking away rules; later editions made the mistake of adding more. And the more rules there are, the less room there is for roleplaying. 5e is no exception and continues the trend of trying to simulate roleplaying with rules and mechanics like traits and flaws and other fluff that any competent player is capable of working out themselves. 5e is MASSIVELY more complicated for DM and player alike than AD&D.

At the end of the day, you can't write rules to force people play their roles and it's foolish to try. It's much better to give them a loose framework that they can fill in themselves. That's the "Old School" and it's still the best school.

There are also many retroclones out there that you can try without splashing out the ridiculous amount of cash WotC are charging for their latest ruleset.

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+1 for recommending from experience, −1 for another tiresomely unnecessary edition-warring rant, net zero. If you think 1e can only compete if you tear down the alternatives, you're actually undermining the argument that 1e can stand on its own merits. (I speak as a big fan of 1e, so no need to presume I'm motivated by partisan feeling.) You would do first edition far more justice, and make it sound much more appealing, by selling it positively without trying to knock down the competition to make it stand taller. (Actually, maybe I am partisan and want 1e to be better represented...) –  SevenSidedDie Aug 25 at 18:06

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