How to Introduce a New Player to D&D

How to Introduce a New Player to D&D

Oh…you want to play D&D? Awesome! You’ve played before right? No? No problem! 

Just pick up a copy of the D&D Player’s Handbook, read it, make a character, and you can join my game group next week. We’re starting at level 3, go ahead and use the point-buy system in the book – unless you want to wait and roll stats at the table – and you’re gonna need dice, probably at least 12 sets, and…

You get the picture.

That introduction to D&D can be great for some, but probably overwhelming to a majority of new players. We want people to get excited, but we don’t want to throw everything at them all at once. 

To avoid this, let’s go over a few tips to introduce a brand new player to the hobby.

What is a roleplaying game?

I think it’s important to start with the underlying key to everything: explain what a tabletop roleplaying game is. Here’s a quick overview of RPGs that you could leverage to help explain things to your new players.

In short, a roleplaying game is a game in which the players assume the role of a character, and act out their character’s choices during the game. There are a ton of varieties of RPGs. 

There are Live Action Role Playing or LARP where the players actually play out their characters in real-word environments dressing as their characters and using safety weapons and effects. It’s a cool way to roleplay, but it’s not D&D.

There are also Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO RPGs) like World of Warcraft. This is where players use an avatar character that explores a fantasy world and interacts with other players and non-player characters online. Again, this is another cool way to roleplay, but it’s also not D&D.

Then there are tabletop RPGs. Tabletop is where it all started, and yes – this is D&D. All you really need is some pencils and paper, a set of dice, a ruleset, and your imagination. But these days, even tabletop RPGs like D&D take advantage of modern devices like laptops and iPads and applications like dndbeyond.

But the main thing to convey to your new player is that D&D may have similarities to the other games, but that’s because it’s the game by which all of the others took their inspiration.

In D&D, there is a Dungeon Master, or DM, who is sort of the lead narrator of the story and referee of the rules. The rest of the people are the players. They engage in the game by making decisions about what their characters say and do, or attempt to do, and roll dice to help the DM determine the results.

Really, in its simplest form, D&D is make believe with some dice – and a little bit of math. Explaining this to a new player may be a great introduction into RPGs and D&D, but you’ll also need to explain a little bit about how the game is played.

D&D’s Three Pillars of Adventure

It’s been said that there are three pillars of adventure in D&D: exploration, social interaction, and combat.

1. Exploration

The first pillar of adventure in D&D is exploration. The Player’s Handbook defines it as “both the adventurers’ movement through the world and their interaction with objects and situations that require their attention.”

And while that’s true, it’s also open to the widest interpretation of the three pillars. So let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • Following tracks in the woods to find the bad guys
  • Searching a room for secret doors
  • Traveling across the desert to another town?

As long as the PCs are interacting with the environment in some way, it could be considered Exploration. It’s sort of the catch-all category for all of the things in the game that aren’t specifically contained in the other pillars.

2. Social Interaction

Social Interaction is a little easier to define, since it occurs any time the players talk with a non-player-character (or anything else for that matter). 

  • Negotiating prices with a shopkeeper
  • Talking to the bad guys (even when the PCs know they will probably fight them anyway)
  • The PCs just stepped into a dragon’s lair, and try to talk their way out of it

In my opinion, social interaction can be one of the most rewarding parts of D&D, because it often creates the best opportunity for role-playing. 

When a player is speaking as their character (either literally or by just announcing what your character says), you are really expressing the thoughts of the person they created.

Ok, let’s armor up and move to the final pillar.

3. Combat

Combat is arguably the part of the game most players are excited about. I mean, swinging swords, charging into a battle mounted on a dire wolf, or throwing amazing spells towards your enemies is undeniably fun.

In my opinion, it’s the easiest pillar to conceptually explain to new players, but it’s also the one with the most structured rules.

Think about it. There are hit points and armor class. Attack rolls and savings throws. Spell effects and conditions. Not to mention that the order in which players take their turn will change. Every. Encounter.

So it’s the most exciting part for a bunch of people, but it’s also the part that turns them off from the game if it seems too complicated. We want to have players immersed in the story, having fun playing their characters, and attempting to do all of the cool stuff they imagine.

With that being the case, I believe it’s important to explain what the three pillars of D&D adventure are to new players, but not overwhelm them with rules right at the start.

Don’t worry about the rules.

As a DM, the best thing you can do to bring a new player into the game is to not overwhelm them with rules. But it’s also important to remember that there are a wide variety of personality types. 

Some players may even be so excited that they eagerly go buy a Player’s Handbook and read it cover-to-cover as soon as they can. That’s awesome! It’s great that they are ready to jump in.

Others may not even think about it much until right before game time. That’s no problem either. As a DM, you can use your Session Zero to help with players at both ends of the spectrum. So I have just three things I want new players to focus on.

First, I want all players to understand this basic table rule: have fun and be respectful of everyone at the table.

Second, they need to be engaged with the game for everyone to have a good time. 

Third, learn this basic game mechanic:

  1. Listen to what’s going on.
  2. Explain what you’d like to do.
  3. Sometimes, I’ll ask you to roll a d20 and (add something).
  4. I’ll narrate the results.

By the way, it’s my job as DM to figure out what they need to add to a roll while they are learning. 

I’ll ask them to “Roll a d20 and add your Perception modifier.”

Or, “Roll a d20 and add your spell attack modifier.”

I’ll even tell them where to look on their character sheet to find the information. As time goes on, they’ll start picking it up on their own. But if they can do these three things – have fun and be respectful, stay engaged with the game, learn the basic game mechanic – the game is going to go great. They should try to remember something new about the rules each time we play, but shouldn’t feel pressured to memorize everything.

If they are playing a wizard, they should know more about playing their wizard character as we progress, but they shouldn’t expect to know what a Druid’s wild shape is – it’s not really important for their character. 

If things go well, using this format allows players to learn about the character they are playing, and the rules around that player. I also provide the characters with a version of the “what can I do on my turn?” cards that were included in the D&D Essentials Kit. You can use it straight from this kit, or customize it based on your table’s needs.

Pregenerated Character vs. Character Creation

This can be a highly debated topic among experienced DMs: Should you start off a new player with a pre generated character, or let them roll up their own?

There is really no one right answer to this. In fact, even Wizards of the Coast provides a couple of options. The D&D Starter Set includes several pregenerated characters that go along with the included Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure module. 

The D&D Essentials Kit that I mentioned earlier, however, provides you with basic character creation rules.

So even the publisher of D&D provides both options. But let’s review some of the benefits of either choice.

Pregen Characters:

  • It’s faster and easier to jump right in. They may not know if they are in it for the long-haul, so this gives them a taste of what the game is like.
  • There’s no need to go through an in-depth character creation process.
  • It also minimizes the amount of rules the new player has contact with from the start.

Character Creation:

  • They can fully realize a character they have in mind.
  • Rules important to that character’s race, background, and class can be introduced during character creation.
  • Their connection to the game and the party is embedded from the start.

Since I only cover benefits, you may be able to tell that I actually like both methods, and I even take a hybrid approach to get the best of both worlds. 

Once you’ve had a session zero, and figured out the type of character that the new player would like to have for the game, you can hold a 1:1 or small group mini scenario with a similar pregen. This allows the player to get a feel for the way the mechanics work with a “throwaway character” – although they may end up liking the pregen and playing it anyway.

It’s important to note that the hybrid approach is usually best when you know you’re going to have a multi-session campaign. With a one-shot, you can really go either way, but I might lean towards a pregen approach to keep it simple.

Mentor Players

Sometimes, a new player enters the group because they are friends with one of the other people at the table. If that person is an experienced player, it offers a great opportunity for them to step up as a mentor player.

In my experience, most friendly players are very open to doing this. They should neer be put on the spot and forced to do it, but if they offer, it’s a great way to help new people start their D&D journey.

But there should be a couple of boundaries on this:

  1. They should never play the character for the other person. What I mean here is that everyone should feel as if they have control over their own character. They shouldn’t feel as if the mentor is “taking over” for them.
  2. It should never feel like a burden for the mentor either. They aren’t a 2nd DM – they are just providing a little help and guidance to a friend along the way.

As a side note, there can even be a roleplaying advantage to this mentor relationship. The characters could be siblings, or old childhood friends, or served in the same army – whatever works for the campaign. It shouldn’t be a relationship of power imbalance, but it could be a close relationship that helps associate their working together as both characters and players.

In the end, remove as many barriers to entry as possible and make it about the fun. If they like learning everything all at once – that’s cool too. Just don’t make it a requirement. 

Try to have them focus less on rules and preparation and more on everyone having a great time.