The last time I ran a game of D&D there was a lot of tension between new players (both to the group, and D&D) and old players. It stemmed partly from oldbies not wanting their ball taken away, but also because I didn't want to be too harsh to the newbies.

I'm guessing this is fairly common theme when introducing new players to a group. I'm not to worried about the integration from a social aspect, as that can be resolved out of the game. I'm specifically asking how to handle new players making mistakes, and not killing them for it, and treating everyone equally. Should I even treat them differently?

This is the example of play that broke the group last time. I'd advised a new player that as a barbarian they should be engaging the enemy (a dire weasel), however it got an Attack of Opportunity and I rolled enough 20s to instakill the character. I didn't fudge the dice, for fear of upsetting the more experienced players who don't get that treatment. The player whose character died lost interest in RPGs altogether, and never returned.

How can I treat old and new players fairly, without upsetting anyone?


6 Answers 6



If you have a mixed group of experienced and green players, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by engaging the veterans to help the newbies. Let them suggest stuff and guide their apprentices, and even throw in some game-tangible bonuses like mentoring XP. And if a mentor happens to screw up and put his apprentice in a tight spot, he will probably do a lot to help them out as well, and you as the GM will have more sympathy from all players if you have to intercede and fudge stuff to keep the newbie in the game.

"Get out of trouble" tokens

Another suggestion, which can be used together with the one above, or as a standalone mechanism is; you can use some kind of "Get out of trouble" tokens, and give a couple of them at the beginning of the game, only to the green players. State that these tokens will allow the player to undo their disastrous actions, but they will never ever get refreshed, so they better learn from the experience. The veteran players will be more understanding if you make this a part of your rules, rather than fudging stuff from the top of your head.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Pathfinder has an optional Hero Points system for just this sort of situation, as does Shadowrun, Earthdawn, and a plethora of other systems. The "Save your bacon" mechanic, as it were. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Dec 19, 2011 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually I used a combination of both. I encourage the experienced players to mentor the newer ones, and if a newer player has made a bone headed move, I turn it into "Now that your character has thought it through in a day dream, s/he decides to do something different." If it's just a misunderstanding of the rules, i redesign the action for the new player, trying to keep the intent the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – SteveED
    May 4, 2012 at 2:25

Actually, in the specific case you describe, I would classify this under the question "When is it okay to kill a PC?", to which I would answer, only when the player has made a choice that they could reasonably know might result in them dying. In your example this appears not to be the case on at least one, maybe two counts.

Firstly, as the GM you advised him to attack the dire weasel, and therefore essentially made the choice for him.

Secondly, you say you "rolled enough 20s", suggesting that this was a pretty darn lucky roll for you. As a new player, he probably didn't even realise he could be killed by the result of attempting to attack that enemy.

The first point is the main one here for me, especially with your question in mind. In order to be treating people differently you have to work out how you're treating them. If your rule is that you don't kill a player for making a choice that you advised them to make, then you're almost certainly treating everyone the same in that respect, because you shouldn't be advising more experienced players.


Have a formal system of training wheels.

In my game all new characters, including those played by oldbies, start at level one. Every session they play in where their character level is below the party average, they gain a whole bonus level at the end of the night.

Not only does this introduce their powers and abilities at least slightly gradually, but it provides an estimated "measure" of how up-to-speed they are on playing that character. A player who's first night is in a lvl 5 game is going to be 1/5 as sure of themselves, 1/5 as capable of playing tactically, and about 1/5 as likely to be singled out by a monster.

After a month (assuming weekly sessions,) the player should now have a shiny new caught-up character with a much smoother learning curve, and can now be treated as any other. Oldbies have less room to complain, as they can look forward to the same "grace period" if they ever decide to change to a completely new class.


Newbies are newbies, they make mistakes and there’s no point in punishing them for it when they’re just starting out. If your older players don’t understand this… then you might consider talking to them. It’s a game, and it’s meant for everyone’s enjoyment. If it’s a really bad screwup, pull the punch, let them know what happened (ie, how they screwed up and what they should have done instead), but let their character live. But this also has to be kept within reason. If you’ve got a newbie that been in 5+ sessions and they’re still screwing up… this might not be their game.

  • Never let your players see your rolls: This is a widespread, non-written rule of thumb for new and experienced GM's alike. It is not stating that as a GM you should be a d!ck - it is there to allow GM's to regulate the rolls depending on the situation, for cases just like yours. If that enemy who took a swing at one of the new players scored a critical hit, change it to a normal hit, or indeed, a critical miss. Whether they like it or not, the old players will have to accept it when you say, you can't look at my rolls anymore - first of all because it should be this way from the start, second of all because they should understand that new players need some help, especially if they're new to rpg's, and last but not least, because this helps advancing the story (If you really want that NPC to call the player's bluff everytime - which is acceptable, sometimes you want some NPC's to seem powerful to give a sense of awe, but a bigger sense of achievement when they are defeated as well - you should be able to disregard the rolls and decide what happens). If they don't understand that I am terribly sorry to say I will agree with Sardathrion's comment.
  • Create circumstances the old players can't argue with: Less enemies focus on the new players, give the new players good gear from the beggining (but not too good, so that the old players complain, just useful gear that makes them better at what they do) and give certain enemies debuffs when they attack the new players but without telling your players you gave them those debuffs (you will have to do this on the fly)

    Example: if a scorpion attacks a new player, apart from botching your roll on purpose, you can say the scorpions' venom is not as potent as the rest, cause it's young/injured/weak. If the old players make you explain how he got less/did not get damage-over-time, and you have to bring up the excuse I mentioned, make the 'tweak' permanent. This should be fairly obvious, the scorpion's venom isn't going to be less potent just for the new players - but only make it permanent if the old players are onto you ;)

  • In the end, you are the GM: The players should never question your decisions - Even if that dragon that attacked you missed his Attack of Opportunity against a new player because he had a heart attack; The players do not have the freedom or right to say something you said does not happen cause they don't like it. If they are experienced players, they will know that.

    But be careful of how you use this last bullet point - don't let it go to your head, and use your power as a GM only as a last resort. Try to resolve every dispute with diplomacy and tact, and make it believable.

Should all else fail, make all the encounters easier. Scale them down to new-player-level, so that nothing is too punishing, neither combat nor skill checks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 I really dislike fudging rolls. I feel it breaks trust. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2011 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @valadil I didn't say/mean you should always regulate the dice. Only when you need to, to keep players in the game (I don't like killing characters) and in case you have planned a massive dramatic conversation or skill check that you need to develop in a certain way to create hype and drama (I'm not talking about everyday combat) \$\endgroup\$
    – OddCore
    Dec 19, 2011 at 16:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is doing it wrong. If you roll a dice, the result stands. If you don't want to accept a result, adjust it before rolling, i.e. rolling a lower dice for damage, avoiding "save or die" in the first place, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Jan 2, 2012 at 14:03

If by fairly you mean the same way you treated the existing players when they were new to your campaign, then you should not have to do anything!

As mentioned countless times, newbies will make mistakes. The "older" players/characters can either look out for them and cooperate as a group, or they can be jerks and let the newby die. I tend to let the party work itself out... i know its something you have to deal with as a GM, but i tend to set my expectations in the direction of the party. The biggest battle i have is usually the older characters have this cliche old-timers attitude of "we've been through so much together and no one was there for us". OF course, that often happens to new characters of older players too. But i believe you need to let the party watch out for each other - that their job, not yours (but clearly explain this to them!). If the older players are behaving counter to the party's interest... point it out! You should focus on the story and encounters... thats my advice.


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