I’ve introduced dozens of people to D&D over the years. There’s sometimes articles and posts about ‘how to choose classes for new players’ and the like, but I think they approach new players the wrong way, with too much information and and too many options.
So this is how I, personally, introduce new players to D&D.
- May have no idea what D&D is or how it works
- May have no idea what they want
- May want something that’s too much for new players
- May not have the time or inclination to read a lot
- May not understand fantasy tropes and cliches
Keep the options simple and few
“Do you want to be a warrior and hit things, a sneaky rogue who stabs things, or do you want to dabble in magic?”
My first round of offers is always Fighter (Champion), Rogue (Thief), Cleric, and Wizard. The sheer number of choices otherwise is overwhelming. If they ask about other options or playstyles, that’s when I start suggesting other classes. Eg: if they say they want to be a ninja, then I might tell them that Rogue would fit, or maybe Monk.
If you’re short on books, keeping it to the Basic Rules allows you to print off class entries for each player.
Be upfront about complexity
“FYI, magic is more complex.”
A lot of players say, “Yeah! I want magic!” But magic in D&D comes with reading and paperwork. I make this clear, ASAP. I’ve had players who I’ve pushed towards Fighter or Rogue, and later they’ve understood the reason and thanked me.
Roll for stats
“Roll four of these dice. Write down the sum of the top three. Do this six times.”
I know a lot of people hate rolling for stats, but I think it’s fantastic for new players because it gets dice in their hands early. It lets them do something that they can easily understand, and emphasises how important dice are to the game.
Walk them through it
“Okay, put your Dexterity bonus there, yup.”
I hold their hand, I answer questions, provide advice. D&D is complex, yo. If this is someone’s first RPG I don’t let them make a character without assistance.
Don’t explain things until it’s needed
“That box is your Proficiency. Just write +2 for now, I’ll explain later, but it basically says how good you are at doing stuff.”
D&D is huge. It’s overwhelming to explain everything on a character sheet upfront. So I postpone explanation until it’s needed. For example, I don’t explain how to roll an Ability Check during character creation – I explain that when it comes up during play.
Provide quick answer to spell choices and similar
“Cure Wounds is good, yeah. And Bless.”
Spell selection is hard, even if you know what you’re doing. New players don’t have the context to make informed decisions, so I guide them towards good choices. I try to provide short lists of options that won’t screw them over: for example, I might suggest a Wizard take either Thunderwave or Burning Hands: they’re similar but allows them some input from even a new player.
Guide players towards options which suit them
“Actually, you’d probably have more fun with a Sorcerer than a Wizard”
Some players fit certain playstyles. I’ve got a friend who’s played nothing but Fighters, every edition 1st-5th, and she’s super-happy with that. Sometimes I can predict someone’s playstyle before they start, and can suggest classes for them. Eg: if someone really enjoys complexity and unravelling rules, I’ll suggest a full caster like Wizard or Cleric.
Gently push people towards a balanced party
“Guys, no more Jedi. We’ve already got half the party as Jedi.”
5E is reasonably well class-balanced and you could easily run a full party of a single class, but it makes life harder. I recently played in a party where we had zero melee characters, which made it very difficult for both us and the DM.
Use pregens or make their characters if needed
“If you want, I can make your character for you”
5E D&D is relatively straightforward, but particularly for short intro games pregens are great. For more complex systems, it can be really hard to make a decent character. I recently ran a Star Wars: Saga Edition game where I created/levelled about half of the ~12-person party. We had a lot of people enthusiastic to play but the amount of reading and paperwork to make a serviceable character is crazy.
Make sure characters have names before you start
“You can’t use your own name”
Make a big deal of this, because it means the character gets an identity. I’ve given up on trying to enforce too much creativity, some people suck at it. After telling players they couldn’t name characters after themselves, I had one player who tried to name the character after the desk phone on the table.
And finally, actually start the game
“We can sort out the rest later. Let’s get started”
Once people start finishing their characters, get a move on. Waiting for everyone to finish picking spells will have people bored in no time. Try to have time in the first session to at least do something.
You don’t have to have anything too fancy for the first session, but try to have some quick action as early as possible so people can start rolling dice and experiencing their character. Don’t get bogged down in plot.
Ways I’ve started a new campaign with fresh players:
- You’re outside a tavern. IT’S ON FIRE!
- You’re in a market. SUDDENLY ZOMBIES!
- You’re in a private audience with the king. AN ASSASSIN KILLS HIM!
Bonus: the old-school approach
“Here’s your Fighter”
Yes, we’ve done that to people. 🙂