New people come into the hobby every day and you need to know how to teach new players about D&D. After indoctrinating my wife and dozens if not near 100 new players I have a few tips for you.
Teaching new players about D&D is best done by not overwhelming them and slowly introducing new mechanics/ideas.
When you teach new players there are two different instances. The 1st is when you have an entirely new group. The second is when you have 1 newer player joining your group.
A new player joining
The first instance of when you teach new players about D&D is when a new player joins a veteran group. Everyone else, or most other people, have already played D&D and know what they are in store for. This new player, however, has no idea what they are doing.
For most players, you will want to ask them what they want to play. If they are confused ask them which archetypes they like better and move on from there. Here is my cheat sheet of questions.
- Do you want to primarily hit things with weapons or use spells?
- Do you want to do both?
- What do you like more with weapons ranged or melee/What do you like more with spells, controlling/killing enemies or healing/buffing your allies?
After I get an answer to these 3 questions I am able to guide the player towards a class that they want to play.
If you have that player make their character take time to do so out of game. It will be a process and the player might get overwhelmed. This is normal since making a new character for a new system is a tall task in any game.
The easier way is to give that new player a pre-made character from you or somewhere else, but that player will have no idea what is going on.
If you are in a hurry do the 2nd method because it is much faster and doesn’t have nearly as many drawbacks. The reason why there are not many drawbacks is because the player will only need to do 1 thing.
Tell the dungeon master what they want to do.
If you can get a new player to understand that all they need to do is tell the dungeon master what to do and the dungeon master will do the heavy lifting, that player’s life will be much easier. They will be able to just focus on what they need to do and not worry about learning an entire system of mechanics.
The goal is to not overwhelm the new player, so try to only give them what they need to know at the moment.
You can do anything
When you teach new players about D&D most people try to explain that you can do anything in D&D. It is a great selling point, but when a player who has never experienced this much freedom in a game is told they can do anything, they don’t know where to start.
You do not want to give a new player the option to do anything. If they are in a group of new players or just a new player with an experienced group that new player should not be told that they can do anything. Narrow down the options until they are able to something that you did not suggest.
A great way of doing this is by making that player focus on a situation but not be given answers to choose from. For example, the dungeon masters asks ‘The farmer looks at you as his eyes light up. He seems to recognize you and calls Jim (even though that isn’t the player’s name). What do you do?
Instead of just asking what the player wants to do the dungeon master frames the question into something specific. The new player is dealing with a situation that doesn’ have an obvious answer, but it is 1 specific situation. You do not have a new player enter a bar and ask ‘what do you do?’ They have no idea and will wander around until they are given directions.
Always narrow down the field of focus for new players. Don’t let them get overwhelmed by the possibilities that are at their fingertips. Make them focus on 1 thing and start to get creative here.
‘What do you do’ is better than ‘you can do anything.’
Many new players are worried that they will screw up or not know what to do. This is where you teach new players about D&D and what they need to do. Nothing. they need to do nothing except respond.
You can tell the new players that their responsibilities lie in not intentionally screwing over another player. As long as a player doesn’t try to kill a PC or steal from the party they should be fine. Nothing in life ever works out perfectly and that is kind of how it works in D&D. Everyone screws up, but that is what makes the game entertaining.
If you phrase it like that then they won’t have to worry about anything at first and will just have fun playing the game. After the second session try to get the new players to learn about their character sheets. Since they are not completely new it is best to understand who they are playing. That way they can do more cool things.
As long as you phrase it in a positive way most new players will learn their characters quickly. They might, in fact, be better than some veteran players at understanding their characters and abilities.
I wrote an article on consequences and how to use them in D&D here, but I highly suggest that you be a bit lenient on newer players. After a few sessions have passed then you might want to use consequences a bit more to enhance your game, but be nice for the first few sessions.
It is obvious that when you teach new players about D&D they should not be high level. You do not want to have a new player who is interested in magic play a level 13 wizard and instantly jump into combat.
It might be obvious to not start a new player at a high level, but the amount of combat is not obvious. Less is better than more for new players.
New players should be given easy encounters at first and you should be light on the combat if possible.
D&D is 2 separate games. The roleplaying part of the game, and the combat section of the game.
Most of the time players will spend their first few sessions learning about the world, trying to understand the concept of being able to do anything (even in just 1 situation). They will not be trying to figure out combat. If your game is very combat heavy then you should have them just stick to combat for the first game, but combat isn’t the biggest strength of D&D for most people. Being creative and able to do anything is the biggest strength.
This strength is best found in roleplay which is why I suggest choosing roleplay over combat if possible for your new players. Get them to understand the roleplaying part of the game.
If you try to split the game inbetween combat and roleplay the new player has to learn two different games and will quickly become overwhelmed or confused. They will not understand 1 part of the system as well as they could have and end up walking away stating that D&D is confusing. For most people who think D&D is confusing, this is why. They have done both parts of the game in 1 session.
In addition to this, when you have a new player engage in their first combat make it straightforward. New players don’t even understand how to properly roll a di and add up the correct number. Focus on that first and get their creative juices going about how to improve for next time.
Do not give them a boss fight or a creature that has complexities to it. If you are in the middle of an adventure have a random beast appear as a random encounter. This may take a little bit of time but it will help the new player understand combat. In addition to this, veteran players will be bored in these fights which can be a benefit.
Dungeon masters cannot be the only ones to teach new players about D&D. This game does not just involve the dungeon master. There are other players and they can help the new player out.
If you give your players a relatively straightforward and boring situation, players will naturally want to help the new player. This is a way that you can use veteran players to help new players learn, but there are other ways.
A veteran player might be really good at the game and quick with their decisions. They understand the system and are able to do multiple things at once. These players ideal for helping out newer players.
Before the game starts the dungeon master can ask this player if they are alright helping the new player. If this player accepts the task they will be much more helpful than the dungeon master. The dungeon master is trying to listen to everyone and continue the plot. A player is just a player who has more free time and can focus more on the new player’s needs.
While this may seem like a great idea there is one thing to watch out for.
The veteran player being overbearing.
If the veteran player is telling the new player what is best, what they should do, or is just pushy then don’t have the veteran player assist the new player. The new player is being pushed around and doesn’t feel like they have any agency. This is one of the worst things that can happen in D&D so it needs to stop asap.
The veteran player might not know that they are overbearing. They might just want to help and get a little excited about teaching a new person the game.
If your veteran player is too overbearing have them only answer the new player’s questions. This way the new player still gets to experiment and learn the game with a safety net, but not be pushed to make a decision that they deep down don’t want. Sleep might be more optimal than a magic missile, but it deals damage and is so cool!
Handle these situations with care, but veteran players can be a great help to teach new players about D&D. But what about if you have a group of new people?
A great way to teach new players about D&D is by doing a one-shot. One-shots can be scrapped if the players do not like their characters and continued if the game turned out well.
One-shots also let the players feel like anything they do isn’t going to permanently screw over the group. Most of the time new players are scared of doing something that will make others hate them. It is hard to convince them that they won’t make others hate them, but with one-shots, it doesn’t matter.
With characters being erased after this one mission they can screw up all they want and not feel bad. This is the perfect training ground for new players, and I would highly suggest running one-shots if you have a group of new players or just a lot of newer players.
If you are interested in how to run a one-shot, we have an article dedicated to it here.
If you are running a group that has primarily or all new players then you should consider your first campaign adventure seriously.
What to run with a new group
When you run an entirely new group you cannot do anything too complex in the first few missions. Players need to get their footing and understand how the game works. Dungeon masters need to create simple first adventures.
While many people suggest running an easy adventure for newer players I don’t think it is necessary. Adventures, or modules, are great for newer dungeon masters but will not have a great effect on newer players.
What you need to do is make your first few adventures simple. Simple adventures can be cliche’. Go kill rats if you need to, but make it interesting. Make a rat king who is bigger and wearing some human clothing like underwear and a sock crown.
Cliche’s don’t have to be bad. They can be a great start for many adventures.
One thing that is great to add in campaigns is a bit of humor for new players. If the overall situation is completely rediculous new players will be more relaxed and have more fun. This is only if you can naturally make adventures a bit funny, but you don’t need to try to force it.
Just make the first few adventures lighthearted without too much difficulty and then you can run whatever you want. The players will be able to handle what you throw at them after their first successful adventure.
When you teach new players about D&D you don’t want to overwhelm them. Ask ‘what do you do?’ instead of telling them ‘you can do anything.’
If you make your players understand 1 part of the game and don’t overwhelm them it will make their experience much less confusing. Take things in steps. Don’t deliever everything to the players right away. Let them figure out 1 piece of the puzzle before moving on.
You have other players at the table. Veteran players can help teach new players about D&D. It doesn’t just have to be the dungeon master. Make sure that the veteran players are not overbearing and it will go well.
Lastly, if you are running a new group of wide-eyed new players run a one-shot or an easy adventure. Give the players a taste of victory and don’t make things too complex. They are still trying to figure out how the game works let alone their characters.
I hope that these tips have helped you teach new players about D&D. I learned some of these tips the hard way, and I hope that my experience will help you not make the same mistakes I have done.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!