A work acquaintance asked if I played D&D, since he was interested in checking it out. Much like I used The One Hour Burning Wheel Game, I figured I should pare down the experience to give the simplest, quickest fun as an introduction. I had my coworker, his partner, and my two gaming regulars, only one of whom was at all really into D&D.
The First Hurdle
The more I end up playing and introducing new gamers to roleplaying, the more I see D&D is just not a great intro game, beyond name recognition. The basic “interface” of roleplaying, though simple, is really unlike any other kind of boardgame or cardgame – players have to become comfortable with 3 things that are unique to roleplaying:
- There is no list of moves to choose from – you can describe anything you want to do within the expectations of the genre and you do it.
- You can and should ask questions to define what is going on- there is no board or cards to refer to the game state, it sits in your head and your ability to get necessary information is critical
- You should say things in character, you should have characters interact like acting or writing a story
That’s a lot right there- stacking on stats, modifiers, attack, armor class, hitpoints, speed, encumbrance, etc. etc. is even more.
I looked at the simplest versions of D&D I have – Red Box D&D, and the 5E playtest. The former was less complex, but had the problems of high lethality and little for casters to do, and the latter was a bit more complex than what I wanted knowing I had to usher 4 players through the process, only one of whom would be proficient in it.
So, I cut things down.
It’s not just that you can make a pregen, because new players still have to learn what a character sheet is, or how stats work. In many games asking a completely new player “What’s your Armor Class?” turns into a thing where they’re trying to navigate their character sheet (and also, trying to remember if this abstract question is answered on the sheet or something they’re supposed to keep in their head, or what), instead of them engaging with play in a meaningful way.
So, I dropped attributes, modifiers and cut characters down the most basic stats:
Hitpoints, Attack Bonus, Armor Class. Players pick a Class with preset stats, and a Race that modifies it.
Hit Points 8
Armor Class 18
- Once per game, ignore all damage from a single hit (stolen from Stars Without Number)
- Protect your friends: friends who stay next to you get +2 AC in combat
Armor Class 16
- Once per game, take a second turn
- Cleave- everytime you drop an enemy with melee, take an extra attack
Armor Class: 12
- Magic Missle – auto hits for 1D6+1. You can cast twice a game
- Sleep – Put 2D6 monsters to sleep in a 30′ circle, once per game
Armor Class: 17
- Make Light – cast a light spell anytime all the time
- Cure Wounds – Heal 1D6 hit points. You can cast twice a game.
Armor Class: 16
- Sneak Attack +4 to hit and double damage
Humans: +1 damage to attack rolls
Dwarves: +4 Hitpoints
Elves: +1 Armor Class
Halflings: 3 rerolls per game
Playing the Game
Everything besides combat? Skills, Saving Throws, Attribute checks? Roll a D20, and beat a 10 to succeed. If your character class makes you particularly good at that thing (Strong Fighter doing something involving might and toughness, Thief being sneaky, etc.) roll 2D20 and keep the higher one.
Combat? For initiative roll a D6 for each side and the winning side goes first, in whatever order they feel like. Attacks are modified +2 if an advantage, +4 if a big advantage, -2, -4 for disadvantage accordingly. Hits do a D6 damage.
How it played out
I ran the group through 2 encounters. One against some goblins on a bridge and the second against a giant serpent in some ruins. The players worked well together and had a great time. My coworker had a couple of fun moves, but his partner who was playing a thief pulled off tons of slick stunts which gave the group +2 or +4 bonuses in the fight. None of the PCs were killed, though 3 of the 4 got seriously hurt at one point.
The only thing I feel I would do differently in the future is give the monsters lower Armor Class ratings to avoid whiff factor. By the very end, the combat lasted about 3 rounds longer than it should have from the players rolling poorly, and I think giving monsters lower ACs would have been just fine.
Party wise, we had: an Elven Strong Fighter, an Elven Fast Fighter, a Dwarven Cleric, and a Dwarven Thief. (Clearly I need to see if the wizard is balanced or what, but it was solid with what I had).
At some point in the future, I should probably put this together with the quickie adventure and have it ready for the next time I introduce new folks to D&D.
After the game, we pointed out to the new folks that D&D is also many different games, and that even the most basic version is much more complicated than what they played – showing the Red Box character sheet drew some comment about the complexity of it, which made me all the more glad to have done my pared down version instead.
Overall, it was a big success, but I’m continuing to learn more and more about how to get roleplaying experiences down to digestible, understandable chunks for non-gamers.