Something Old, Something New – integrating less experienced players with more experienced ones
Hullo, gentle readers. In a recent call out for ideas, I got the following suggestion from my buddy DantePD of Twitter. “Advice on running a group that’s a mix of experienced players and first timers?” This is a super timely suggestion, as this weekend I will be playing (yes, as a player) in a friend’s new campaign, and one of our players is brand new to D&D.
Firstly, I want to say that I love introducing new players to D&D. Part of the fun of D&D is exploration, mystery, and the discovery of the new. If you don’t know that zombies don’t necessarily stay dead when you kill them, the moment of shock when they pop back up is fantastic. Even little monsters like kobolds and goblins can be exciting to encounter the first time you see them. You don’t know what they can do, and finding out can be a treat…even if it kills your character.
As the DM, you have a lot to do in a campaign. Helping a new player is an excellent task to delegate to a more experienced player, especially one that you feel has a good grasp of the rules and who can help instill good gamer habits in your new player. Ask one of your more experienced players to be a “Buddy” to the new player. Tirk, if you’re reading this, I volunteer to be Bob’s Buddy.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t an invitation to the Buddy to play two characters. For the first few sessions, the Buddy might give advice on what to do, but, ideally, the Buddy should ask, “Well, what do you want to do?” and then help the new player understand how to handle that within the game’s rules. I have had players who want to give advice and offer the benefit of their experience and tactical brilliance, but you have to remind them that, if they want to direct the whole party in combat, they can just play a computer game or find a one-on-one campaign.
As DM, I also encourage you to be gentle at first, but eventually to take off the training wheels. For example, in earlier editions of the game, making a ranged attack or casting a spell while adjacent to a foe invited an attack of opportunity. At first, I would remind my players of that. I knew that many of them did not have the time to sit down and read the rulebook in full, and so I didn’t fault them for remembering D&D’s occasionally byzantine rule system. After a while, though, I wouldn’t remind them, and I would just have the monster make the attack. They got pretty good at remembering after that happening.
I always think it’s a good idea to solicit feedback from your players after a session, but I think it’s even more valuable to get the feedback from the new player. Did they have a good time? Was there anything that was confusing? Do they have any questions? You don’t have to answer all of their questions, but you can at least let them know that it’s something they’re not supposed to know yet. I’ve noticed that new players don’t always get that the more experienced players don’t know or understand everything about the mysteries of the game, so it’s okay to let them know that the questions they have are something no one understands yet. “Yes, it did seem odd that the orcish ships were sailing the flags of Summerlund, since Summerlings and orcs have been dire enemies for centuries. Perhaps when you speak with Lord Khristos in the next session, you can ask him about it.”
If you’re playing with multiple new players, but have some experienced players as well, I recommend physically splitting them up. If you can ask experienced players and new players to sit so that they’re more physically integrated, that can help avoid an “us vs. them” feel. It also gives the new folks someone more experienced to lean over and ask questions to during the session.
Taking the time to make your new players feel welcome and to help them feel supported will go a long way towards bringing them back session after session. Remember, we were all new players once; treat them the way you’d want to be treated.