This is our game: How do you teach 4E to new players?

Every month our group of contributors circulates a point about running a D&D game, or some other RPG-centric problem to address. We all stew and think about it for a while, then write up a response. At the end of the month we compile our responses for your reading pleasure.

This month’s question is: How do you teach 4E to new players?

Geek Ken – I try to keep things as general as possible and avoid going over a lot of rules. One thing I do immediately bring up is the core mechanic. Roll a D20, add or subtract to that roll, compare it to another number (DC, AC, Reflex, etc.). If you roll equal to or better you succeed and something happens (roll for damage, you open the lock, jump across the pit, etc.). One thing I love about 4E is how much of the game is based on this one simple mechanic for resolving actions.

I try to use very general terms and get a feel for what type of character the player wants to helm. Do you see yourself casting spells? If so, do you see yourself blasting away at guys (sorcerer/warlock)? Or do you see yourself hindering monsters and creating barriers of flame (wizard)? The concepts of striker, controller, defender, and leader go a long way to explaining how a character would act in a fight. I also put my hand in the ability scores and try to get a feel what they envision in their character? Are they average in everything but a few abilities? How strong are they? How smart? Would you be willing to be a little clueless if you could be super strong (take a WIS 8 for a STR of 18)?

With that I just get them playing. A key thing I found about explaining board games is have a few dummy turns to get the feel for the game. Same with RPGs, just get them in and start playing. Take time to explain the options as things come up. Explain why they failed a check to climb a wall. Offer some tips on what powers they should use in an attack. After a session or two, they will get things down and will be rolling with the best of them.

DreadGazebo – I too try and keep things as basic and un-intimidating as possible, I tend to be long winded at times so I just shut up and get the game rolling. I mention the core mechanic only by saying “In this game a d20 (as I point to the proper die) is your bread and butter, 90% of everything you do revolves around that die” and leave it at that. As things progress after the first  few times a player must make a check or attack roll they start latching on and eventually beat me to the punch with a “So i just roll this one and then add my athletics bonus?” If I’m feeling spry I’ll even print their power cards out on heavy card stock and then cut them and slip them into color coded collectible card sleeves for their powers/items.

Another bit of advice I give to first time players is not to focus too much on what class/race they pick, as first characters more often than not end up being a testing ground more than anything. I tend to point the in in the direction of PHB 1 or 2 and avoid classes like the Swordmage or anything from PHB3 to avoid over complication. I’ve had players sit for an hour or two creating characters in the past with analysis paralysis and it’s caused game delay, premature assumptions, and overall confusion so I just craft characters for them nowadays.

Generally I do ask what archetype they prefer, but often I know the person well enough to craft something they like for them without needing to ask. I don’t put too much work into creating someone’s first character because of the above mentioned circumstances, however in the event that after a few sessions someone really likes the character and wants to keep playing it I allow them to make it more personalized by going in and tweaking the character. Sometimes they want to make the same race/class but want to actually rebuild it themselves from scratch and I think that’s great, and also a great way to get them more experience with the game.

Basically what it boils down to is don’t focus on the crunchy bits at first, get them involved, get them into the game and let the fun begin. Go easy on them the first few sessions, if their luck with rolling dice is terrible (beginners un-luck) it can result in let down. Getting really pumped up about something only to meet with failure time and time again is no fun, if they miss that attack roll or skill check by 3-5 they don’t need to know just give it to them. There will be plenty of time for all failure and critical fumbles *after* they are hooked on the game. Make the experience as personalized and engrossing for them as you can without neglecting other players too much and let the good times roll! ( <–Puns fully intended )

Thadeous: How I teach new players really depends on the situation in which they are being taught. What I mean by this is are they a new player in a group of players who know the game or is the whole group new to the game? I’ll have to tackle both in order to fully answer this question.

New players in an experienced group: When a player is new to the game while the rest of  his/her group it’s hard to simplify the game too much as it might make for a very boring few sessions for everyone else. Because I’m not willing to hold the rest of the group back I am very cautious not to throw the player into the deep end. I make sure to discuss character creation with them and help them decided on a race, class, and some powers. I don’t want to go to far and build the character for them but I do try help them understand how the character might be useful in both role play and combat encounters. I like first time players to play a class or role the group already has. I like it this way because who ever is playing the same role/class can help the new player understand their character’s abilities and powers with out me having to stop the game over and over again.

New players in a new group: With a whole group of new players I have run them through the same adventure that the guys over at Penny arcade went through on their first time with the guys at WotC. I give them Pre-made characters and explain the rules as they play. I stick to character classes from the Players Hand Book 1. I do this because most of the original classes have a much simpler mechanic, and they only need to go to 1 book for the information about their characters. I don’t set a time limit and I don’t rush the players. If every player at the table is new they will all learn something during every players turn. So I make sure to go slow and explain everything that’s going on. After the second session I make the new players build their own characters using the character builder. I help them by answering questions and giving suggestions but for the most part I let them do it by them selves. Creating a character is much more fun when you actually understand how the game is played.

For every new player I burn the Penny Arcade podcast games on to a CD. I give the players the CDs after their first game so they have some idea of what’s going on at the table if they choose to listen. I hate to sound like I’m leaning on the Penny Arcade guys but it’s actually how I learned to play while I was looking for my first group and I learned a metric shit ton from that podcast. I also print out a few copies of Geekken’s Action Pyramid. I think it can be one of the best learning aids for new players. I also make my entire collection of books available to new players so they won’t feel the pressure to have to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff right away.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.


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Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.
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