On A Neophyte and an Analysis of Their First Game

How does a totally new player view Dungeons and Dragons?

It was pretty cool. We are using OSRIC as a base with the guidelines posted yesterday. The long time player is play-testing the Alchemist.

The new player is playing a fighter. It's her first character.

Character creation involved rolling the dice, picking a race, a class, writing down saves, going shopping, rolling a secondary skill (Teamster), and picking one special ability. I had sheets with prepared kits of equipment, so one just had to be selected. The only real equipment choices were "armor" and "weapon". We used the big list of 3.5 feats to pick the special ability, and she picked "combat intuition" after reading for about four minutes.

It took maybe 20 minutes of actual work and it was her first time creating a character.

She said later "Gosh, this is fun, but I would hate to have to go to all the work of creating a character again."

!? This seems important!

As soon as she started I had her rolling dice. I narrowed the process down to seven simple choices**, only one of which was complicated in any way. This was still too long and complicated a process for her.

There's a quality of engaging in meeting someone and spending time with them, when you discover who they are instead of who you thought them to be.

My new player is very impulsive.

She was surprised there were so many "pieces". When I asked what she meant, she talked about the hex-map (one that looks like this) that was being explored and the small piece of plastic used to represent the party. I cover the map so that only where they can see is revealed. Also, the Battle Graph boards.

She mentioned at first the hex-map looked like random lines - she wasn't expecting it to be so small. Then when she saw that it was actually a small town and coast-line and such she said it was a "Map that is hazy - like in WoW". I asked her if she played WoW.

"Yeah, but only once or twice".

After, we talked about the battle graph boards. I explained that they were in a house, and therefore mapping wasn't the challenge. But in a dungeon, I won't be drawing the environment for them.  In a maze, I would draw the environment, but would erase anything not currently visible. The hex-map is covered and interesting to encourage exploration. Different areas have differing requirements.

She was glad she had a character sheet to keep track of her information. It was surprising that she had one - I suppose she thought she was going to have to keep track of everything on notebook paper. She also was curious where my character was. 'Was I going to have a character?' 'Why wasn't I rolling one up?'

Clearly the framework of the activity was obscure. She said "I didn't know how to talk". I was explicit about process:  I explained when in combat or around NPC's assume that you are unable to talk out of character, unless you have psychic or magical communication or actually separate yourself out to have a private conversation*. However, from context and the behavior of other players she quickly picked up the method of interacting with them. It came very naturally.

She felt very bad that she was laughing at the NPC's. I am a bit of a bounder and have no problem hamming it up for the players. I explained that she was supposed to laugh, and not feel terrible for doing so. She often had to look away.

She described the experience like reading. She said it was "like listening to a book." This is critically interesting and important, because if her paradigm in problem solving is 'what would happen in a book? What's next? What would happen in the 'plot'?' then it is key that you know what kind of book you are in

Clearly modern games are super-heroic fantasy. In my game if you charge 12 evil-doers, you will probably be cut down by bow-fire.

I explained that my game was picaresque, and then gave examples of that type of adventure.

This is just a game for close friends and family.  I'm either related to everyone involved or have known them for over a decade. They are all people I socialize with outside of gaming. She had concerns about cooperation. "What if everyone wants to do a different thing?" We started this week with two players. My brother is joining us next week, and another close friend will be leaving her husband at home with their son for the duration of the game and joining us the week after that. I explained that the game is fundamentally cooperative, and that each person will mitigate the tendencies of each other person, forming a party.

She is having difficulty conceptualizing what the game will play like with 4 entire people. I also informed her that it is perfectly ok to do risky, impulsive, or ballsy things. Sometimes it works out (Subuaru, my FLAILSNAILS pc got some stinky rags that protect as well as plate-mail!), and sometimes it doesn't.

She wanted to know what I was rolling for? Why did I call for rolls? How did I create my map? Where did my NPC's come from? She basically asked me to delineate my process as a Dungeon Master. I hesitated to answer her questions and put her off because being a new player fades so quickly and the taste is so sweet that I would be doing her a disservice by elucidating her too quickly.

It is run in the new style and one secret door and one secret compartment were found. The items they found were a ring of [REDACTED] and a suit of plate mail [REDACTED]. Convenient that she ended up with both of those, though the remaining loot is well suited for other classes. They missed one thing in the rooms they explored. I fully expected them to miss the hidden brick in the chimney, but it was found fairly easily.

I plan on recording next weeks session for analysis regarding this play style. The opportunity for engaging in play with a total neophyte player is interesting and provides a much needed grounding for the experience of play of an outsider. 

* Why do I have the rule that table talk is 'in character'? Because it explicitly improves game-play. Games are fundamentally about interesting choices. This means that the choice to speak has real consequences and therefore is an interesting choice. If it doesn't have real consequences then their isn't any reason that is stopping them from talking in character anyway and it becomes a moot point.  

**The seven choices were 1. Switch any two stats? 2. Pick race, human, elf, dwarf, gnome? 3. Pick class, Fighting-man, Sage, Expert? 4. Pick a weapon that doesn't matter because using class based weapon damage? 5. Pick a suit of armor? 6. Pick an equipment kit? and 7. Pick one special ability?


  1. Replies
    1. It was intentional, no?

    2. At every step in my design process for these rules, I asked myself "Would a person who was my friend from off the street want to do this and think it was cool?"

      Because frankly, If I had started with point buy and made her pick skills and feats, or even had more than four races or five classes, she might have walked.

  2. It's always interesting to see how someone completely new to any kind of non-computer-based RPG reacts to the realities of our peculiar hobby. In some ways, it tells us more than the comments of the most experienced dungeon crawler.

    I have to say, the fact that this player was able to get through character creation in DnD 3.5 in ~20 minutes says a great deal about your skills as a DM. I've seen this process take multiple hours and send some prospective players (my finance included) fleeing for the hills. To often, a DM or would-be-game designer tries for some huge amount of complexity and forgets the fact that someone who hasn't been long-ago indoctrinated into this cult of RP can't easily keep track of several dozen feat/skill/optimization choices.

    I look forward to seeing how this player and this campaign evolves.

  3. Just to be clear, as I said above, and in the article.

    I am not running pathfinder. I am not running 3.5.

    I am playing with OSRIC as a base (that's 1st edition) using these as house rules.

    I think the confusion stems from 'abilities' which can be anything the player wants them to be. The 3.5 feat index is a good place for inspiration.

  4. Pretty interesting. I got into the hobby a year ago and had the experience of starting out with 4th Edition with everyone being complete newbies. I then had to teach more newbies that joined the game later. As you mentioned with knowing the game you're in, I also had players not realize the type of story world they were in. One player got it would be cool to turn into a werewolf at an awkward time -- it didn't end well...

    Overall, it was an interesting experience. I still consider myself a newbie.

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