... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Limiting Newbies

I wanted to give examples of using limits to help new players get into the game, particularly since there's now an RPGnet thread on a similar topic.

So, you have a batch of players who are mostly new to role-playing or new to D&D specifically. Tossing a rulebook at them and telling them to make a character is a bad idea: they will have no idea which of the many options to pick. Some people think that the backgrounds I have been suggesting would likewise be confusing. However, here's how I'd handle class and backgrounds for a newbie campaign:
  • all the characters grew up in the starting town (15 years experience;)
  • initial choices given are three or four classes, only one of which is magical (because those include more choices;)
  • all characters are trained in a profession related in an obvious way to their class.
If I'm using my stripped-down classes, I'd say "your character can be almost anything, but let's keep it simple; you can be a fighter type, like a knight or mercenary, or a trickster type, like a thief or bounty hunter, or a wizard." That's three classes, two with two background choices, for a total of five choices.

The players just say which one they like; I'll say, "unless you want to be a different age, we can start you out at age 20, which means you've been a knight (thief, wizard...) for 5 years." Then, we start rolling stats and naming and equipping them. Characters are done.

If they have more than a passing familiarity with fantasy, they may already have a character concept that doesn't fit those simple choices. "I want to play a Beast Master, like in that movie!" "I want to be a bard, like Felimid Mac Fal in the Bard series."

They get what they want.

Maybe not everything they want, right now, but it's pretty easy for me to give them an appropriate background -- just use "beast master" or "bard" as a background, to indicate they have that kind of training -- and then find a class or hybrid/variant that will give them approximately what they want. I might ask a couple questions, like "do you just want to be more of warrior who can talk to beasts, or do you want to focus on beast speech and control?" or "do you want to be a magical bard, or a persuasive bard?"

Likewise, if the player brings up a fantasy race and says, "I want to be that," they get to be that, with the default background for that race. My point here is that if they already have an idea about what they want, but you only give them a few options, they will tell you exactly what they want, with no indecision whatsoever. If they don't know what they want, you've given them a very simple set of five choices. If that's still too hard a choice, tell them "you're a fighter". Either that will be fine, or they will immediately know that they want something else, and will tell you.

Now, once they've played with those simple choices, they may get a more elaborate idea. Maybe they'll say, "I want a warrior who can use spells." Then I'll ask, "do you want to be:
  • a wizard who can fight like a common mercenary; or,
  • a hero who dabbles in magic?"
The first noun in the choice they choose is their class; the rest of the phrase is their background. If they say, "something in between," I make them a hybrid magic-user/ mixed magic-user/fighter. They may also ask to make a character like an NPC they encountered, or may be interested in a fantasy race met during the adventure. It's sort of like the car salesman's trick of taking the wheel first for a test drive, then letting the customer drive back to the dealership; they'll tend to make the same choices you've already shown them, so it's an easy trip.

Only much later will newbie players want to see the full character creation rules so that they can look for possibilities they never thought of. And that can be done while they continue to play their existing character, at their leisure, preventing a stall in the game due to option paralysis.

In summary: the choice isn't between forbidding variation or risking indecisiveness. You can give a sharply limited number of character types to start and allow variation when players know exactly what they want.


  1. Excellent.

    Your summary nails my thoughts exactly. Limit options, not choice.

    I grew up on Avalon Hill Wargames which featured Programmed Instruction. Each scenario you learned a little more of the rules. The original BECMI was like this too first some dungeon, then wilderness, more class options, etc. I'm trying to organize my campaign along similar lines. This post is great outline on how to start that.

  2. As I mentioned in some of my other posts, I just found your blog recently and am enjoying it a great deal. I am finding new stuff here every time you post, especially when you link back to older entries. Such as when you linked back to spells and racial benefits. I thought I had read everything from your first post until now. Guess I missed some things. So, question; when are you going to put this all into a PDF labeled "Maximizing your Minimum" and release to us fans?!


  3. Heh, I eventually plan on assembling some of this stuff into PDFs. This blog is my "working out loud" journal. Not everything you've missed is all that great. You can find some old stuff in the Features links and other links in the sidebar of the blog, but I probably need to redo some tagging... the "dnd" tag is now practically useless.

  4. Something I've used for a one-shot with people unfamiliar with the system is random tables to tell them what the details are. They pick fighter, cleric, or mage; the tables tell them anything from paladin to crazy hermit.