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In our game, we have 5 players - two are completely new to roleplaying, and one is new to the system we're playing (Pathfinder).

At the moment, the GM grants the new players no leeway - if the player does something that isn't allowed or will result in their injury etc etc, they just let it happen to the player's detriment.

Some of the new players don't know what they can 'do' in game, and as they don't get any guidance, just end up doing little more than rolling to attack when it's their turn...

What is the best way for the GM to handle new players, introducing them to the rules and preserving them (for the most part) without shutting out new players and leaving them with no options?

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Consider the [system-agnostic] tag if you want answers that aren't speific to any system. If you do want d20-specific answers (like ones that take into account round-robin initiative), consider the [d20] tag. Even with more general tags you can specify by editing the question itself to say that you're playing Pathfinder so Pathfinder-specific answers are good, but you do want general answers too. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 26 '11 at 19:40
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7 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Have players describe what they're doing, then figure out how to model it with game mechanics. If that requires some metagaming to describe why something works the way it does in the scope of the rules, so be it. It might be worth a few "dry run" or "open" encounters so new players can get the hang of how the game flows, what rules come into play, and what makes sense in the game's reality. Use an intro encounter to show all the numbers and where they come from before starting the actual game.

Experienced players can definitely help explain how the numbers work. Some tables have a kind of mentoring program where new players work with a more experienced player until they can keep their heads above water. It's a game, it's supposed to be fun for everyone at the table.

I usually give all players a rough idea of success chance when they're contemplating doing something they've never tried before. They player's inexperience doesn't reflect the character's knowledge of the challenges they've already faced, so the players need some sort of difficulty scale to work with or NPCs will start wondering if the Great Hero Thag has gone daft. Character-driven clues really help in this regard. Anything that makes sense in the character's history would work like, "back on your father's farm you used to shoot doves off the fence at about that far, and you hit once every 10 shots or so." So in one statement you've fleshed out the character's backstory a little and indicated that he'll need a 19 to hit.

Once the new players get the hang of the basics of the system they'll figure out new tricks quickly. Otherwise they'll just stare dumbly at the pile of numbers on their character sheets and hurt themselves trying to do heroic things until they get bored and wander away.

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I like the flavor aspect of what you're getting at with your arrow example. How would you best articulate that for trying to attack something that say has a deflection bonus which makes it silly hard to hit (for example)? –  Cthos Apr 26 '11 at 18:47
    
Excellent call on the open encounters idea. Lay the mechanics bear for everyone to see for a session and just help players figure out how the game works. If time allows this can be done in private or with just a couple of people so that the players can get a feel for how the game works before they enter the full table. –  wax eagle Apr 26 '11 at 18:53
    
@Cthos: If they've never seen a deflection bonus before, they'll need some hints that everything isn't as it seems. Sure, they'll guess that they have a better than average chance to hit, but if they start missing with 15s they'll need something like "It knocks the arrow aside" or "the arrow suddenly changes course when it gets close." –  T.W.Wombat Apr 26 '11 at 18:56
    
@Wombat - Only reason I was asking about deflection in particular is players don't have a tendency to know that there's a deflection bonus until they try to hit. It's not visible, and no one is going to spend 3 rounds using Detect Magic to figure out that there's an Alteration (I think) effect surrounding that innocent-looking farmer. –  Cthos Apr 26 '11 at 19:18
    
I wish I could +1 this twice for the third paragraph. –  Problematic Mar 27 '13 at 1:29
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This can be a tricky situation for GMs to handle. Firstly, I need to point out that (bolded for effect) Welcoming new players is the task of both the GM and the more experienced players.

I'm actually running a Pathfinder game right now, and we do have 1 player new to Roleplaying, though the rest of the group is pretty experienced.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I definitely think that the GM should be granting leeway for several sessions, especially for those that are totally new to Roleplaying. If they make a mistake which is going to be painful (forgetting to shift so as to not provoke attacks), I think that they should be allowed to take their action back and just shift. Try to do it in character if possible ("Mage! Be careful, your casting that close to an enemy leaves you open to attack!").

This concept can expand to further information in game outside of combat: "Excuse me, my Paladin friend! Aren't you an experienced historian? What can you tell us about this ancient fortress?" At which point the GM can step in, have the player roll, and tell them what they know.

I agree with Akhier that this should only take a few sessions for the basics, but things like how the heck poisons work can take even experienced players awhile to get the hang of, so there will always be some kind of leeway at the table. (What do you mean an Alchemist's bombs don't hit diagonals? OR do they? thumbs through book).

That said, after a couple of sessions, if the poor Wizard is still forgetting to shift back, or to cast defensively, making them eat an opportunity attack and lose the spell might be the only way for them to learn it's a bad idea.

Ultimately, it is the job of everyone at the table to make the new players feel welcome, and everyone needs to be on board with helping out if it is really going to work.

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Very important point to make, and it bears repeating. If you're at the game table, it's your job to make everyone feel welcome. After all, having fun is the point of the game, ennit? –  T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 18:43
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When several members of our group (myself included) were getting introduced to the old WoD (back before it was the 'old' WoD) our GM gave us all a free Virtue called 'Common Sense'.

Basically, he treated us like we weren't noobs, but we could use Common Sense to roll back an action once per session, typically when we did something that a more experienced player would have facepalmed over.

It didn't work for all of us, but it worked well enough for me.

Something similar could work in this case.

What you DON'T want to happen is have an experienced player telling them what to do - I've seen it happen all too often. It almost inevitably ends up with the experienced player doing almost everything for the noob, except rolling the dice. The noob doesn't learn much, and the experienced player ends up playing 2 characters (even worse when they're powergamers, too).

What I've always done when I wanted to learn a new system is create a basic, kick-down-the-door character - the barbarian, the fighter, the rifleman, or the flying brick (depending on genre) who had relatively few and simple options in combat, could be reasonable expected not to know all the niceties in social situations, and watched everyone else play.

If you've got only one or two inexperienced players, this could work - they get to be a boon to the party AND learn by example.

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The scenario you mention with the experienced player telling them what to do is what I see a lot of. I agree that trying to guide new players into a 'kick-down-the-door' character makes a lot of sense - I'll try to sway the GM into letting players do that. –  Mikaveli Apr 26 '11 at 21:56
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Hm. I tend to think that there's something wrong if they can't think of anything to do in combat but "roll to hit." My experience with newer players is that they haven't been corrupted by game systems yet into thinking only a small set of actions is possible, and instead think of things they would actually try to do. Sure, some amount of that will result in opportunity attacks or whatnot, but I wouldn't be so quick to channelize new people into "here are the only six things you can do in a round" mentality. Maybe they'll try a disarm without being told there are disarm rules. Maybe they'll try throwing a melee weapon. Maybe they'll try any number of fun things, most of which aren't impossible in Pathfinder, at worst they pull an AoO or have a to hit penalty attached, so they'll learn if something is "optimal" (and incidentally learn whether they care about being optimal or not).

I agree with Wombat on just having them describe what they want to do, and then translate that into rules. I suspect from your description they are being required to parse the rules and give the citation of what they want to do themselves, which is IMO bad for both new and experienced players!

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It's not really that they can't think of anything else to do - it's more that they get their fingers burnt after one too many rounds of taking attacks of opportunity or being told "you can't do that" etc etc. –  Mikaveli Apr 27 '11 at 8:10
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@Mikaveli What actually counts as "you can't do that," though? Besides making up a new spell off the cuff or something, I can't think of many combat type actions that are not possible (require skill checks yes, have big penalties if you don't have feats yes...) Seems to me like your GM just kinda sucks in general and the older players are just used to it. –  mxyzplk Apr 27 '11 at 13:20
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Individual initiative. When the GM is taking the action of Frank the Experienced Fighter, have Wendy the n00b Wizard tell [an experienced player] what her action will be. Let them hash out WHAT she wants to do (I cast fireball on X square), WHY she wants to do it (I'm centering the fireball on the orc attacking the fighter), and then in discussion the experienced player can say, "Are you aware that the fireball has a burst of X squares in diameter?". Assuming that the experienced player only asks questions or answers a question directly from the n00b player, it's a great learning resource for the person learning the rules. Over time, it should lessen to no help.

But most importantly, the experienced player can only ask question(s), answer a direct question from the newbie, or say "sounds good". It also handicaps the experienced player, since he is spending most of his time helping the n00bs with their actions, that he still gets the same 30 seconds (or 2 minutes) to declare and resolve his action. As the new players rely on the experienced player less, the overall skill of EVERYONE improves together, since the experienced guy gets more time to think his actions out.

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The two players who are completely new to role playing are the ones you should probably handle with kid gloves. For the one who is new to the system, give them a session to get acclimated and read the materials and then the gloves should come off.

However, for the new players, first and foremost the first few sessions should be about making sure they understand the concepts going on and that they have an understanding of what they can do and are expected to do.

Encourage them to be creative, if they want to try something off the wall let them do it. But if it is something that will end in certain death, or even significant injury then you probably want to warn them that this is a pretty dangerous exercise and if they don't have certain skills it could be fatal. However, don't discourage them from playing their role, whether its their character or their role in the group. If they are playing a meat shield let them get in the face of someone, even if its more powerful and will knock them to pieces.

Most importantly make sure that they have fun. If they aren't having fun (and its a game that should be fun) then you probably should make some changes to they feel more at home and can enjoy the experience.

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If you want to keep the new players some leeway to start is required but if they truly want to play the game this should only be for a few sessions before they get it. Liberal use of hints and asking "Do you really want to do that?" in a melodramatic voice can also be of help. While take-backs should be discouraged if you let them get far enough that they really need one its more on you at that point. Also if they try to do something that will right out kill them you should tell them so.

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