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After listening to and enjoying some "actual play" podcasts I'm about to try DnD with my wife and children. None of us have played before, so after some research I've decided to go with the official DnD 5e starter set.

Due to a slight misunderstanding I thought that the set was fine for four players including the DM, it seems that actually it's meant for a party of four or five plus the DM.

Given that the party will only be three strong, none of them have played before, and two of them are children I would expect them to not be hugely effective to begin with.

As DM I'm planning to help as much as I can with the rules and hints about what they can do (initially they won't have read all the rules). But I'm concerned that as a small party they might struggle.

The kids have decided that they like the wizard and rogue and my wife is happy to play any of the remaining characters. From my research I've suggested the cleric for her so that they have someone with high AC and good healing.

As I haven't played before either I'm looking for suggestions on what else I can do to get things off to a good start. Obviously I can do things like reduce the number of enemies in fights, but I assume that there are a lot of other tricks that I'm not aware of to help in this kind of situation.

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Four things you can do besides tweak encounter difficulty

  1. Emphasize exploration and social interactions during the first few sessions. Make combat a bit more rare (ignore the 6-8 encounters per adventure day guidance in the Basic Rules, you are playing with beginners). Some of the encounters don't need combat. Coaching/nudging non combat solutions to some of the encounters with NPCs can make for some fun play.
  2. Equip each character with a free healing potion from an NPC before starting out. (That's more or less an insurance policy).
  3. Call for die rolls only when you have to.
    Combat calls for quite a few die rolls, and some ability checks in the published adventure need to be rolled, like picking the locks on locked chests.
  4. Err in favor of the players.

    That's how I started my kids out about 20 years ago with Basic D&D (25th anniversary edition/big box). My wife only played a few sessions (oddly enough, also a cleric) but she also got a benefit from that approach.

Focus on "How to Play"

  1. DM describes situation
  2. Players tell you what they intend to do Have them tell you, {and then, if there's something on the character sheet that is a good fit, coach them to and through it}.
  3. DM narrates the outcome

For tweaking the combat encounters: use the free Basic Rules (starting on Page 165) from WoTC to adjust encounters to Medium/Easy range at first.

Chapter 7 "Help" with Ability Checks

The linked rules paragraph is entitled "Working Together."
For ability checks: encourage the players to narrate a help action when one of the other two attempts an ability check. This does two things.

  1. It encourages team work as a mind set,

  2. it also offers advantage to an ability check which increases chances of success (roll 2d20, pick the better score)

    More successes more often, especially with kids, is a good way to sustain engagement. This I've found to be a bonus even with experienced players for this edition. Get them to play as a team; the Help action rewards teamwork mechanically.

I would suggest getting a close friend or relative to play the Fighter, but you note in a comment that there isn't such a player available. If that changes, I'd still recommend it.

Option if it becomes available: "Phone a Friend"

Why? The Action economy in this edition of the game starts to get a little wonky when there are fewer PCs. When in doubt, default to one less monster/NPC, since the players as a team are getting 25% fewer actions or choices, when combat comes in the situation where there are 3 rather than 4 PCs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, our first session went well, we did a lot of of option 1, and got to the end of the first combat. I cut out one of the 4 attackers and overall it worked well. Having the "How to Play" steps to hand helped, as did printing out an extra copy of each of their character sheets. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Mar 16 at 8:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dan glad to hear you enjoyed it, best wishes going forward. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 16 at 13:02

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