Archive for the ‘for the noob’ Category


90 Minute D&D

September 2, 2012

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.

Creating Characters

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.


Strong Fighter
Attack +4
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

Fast Fighter
Attack +4
Hitpoints 8
Armor Class 16

– Once per game, take a second turn
– Cleave- everytime you drop an enemy with melee, take an extra attack

Attack: +0
Hitpoints: 6
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

Attack: +2
Hitpoints: +6
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.

Attack: +2
Hitpoints: +6
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.


Verbally Explaining Rules

December 18, 2011

I’ve gotten to play a lot of boardgames in the last 2 weeks, and yesterday a couple of friends commented I did a good job explaining the rules to a new player – that said, everyone did a great job of teaching as we played, which I find is crucial for speeding the learning curve.

1. Explain the win conditions/general point of play

I start here, because it tells people what they’re TRYING to do, and makes all the rules I give after that, have context.

2. Explain the general rules that constitute the majority of gameplay and a basic strategy around them

I start general, because, again, we’re laying out context – it’s like having folders to store documents in- the folder lets you categorize what the specific rules are, and assists people in retaining the ideas.

I also give a general strategy, because any game that’s a good strategy game can’t be mastered by a quick explanation, plus it gives the new player context to see what other players are doing and why, and learn from that as well. Without that context, the actions appear opaque.

3. Go only into the specifics as immediately pertain to the new players just before, or just as it comes up in play

Save the weird, exception based stuff for last, and only as it’s immediately important or very likely to be immediately important.

Sure, it’s probably great to know that this one thing has this one exception that could be important- but odds are good a new player won’t be able to remember it, or really figure out the reason it’s important. Get them up on the basics first, and the things they’re immediately dealing with.

4. Have everyone explain motivations or highlight choices for the first part of play

“I’m choosing this because it’s good for this and that.” “I’m spending my Bonus Points to get extra dice.” etc. This helps again, give the player context and to model off of what everyone else is doing.

5. Lay out options for new players during play, and point out some strengths/weaknesses to each

Whenever it comes around to the new player’s chance to take action, be sure to list out some viable choices and what makes any of them good choices or why a few are bad choices.

Notice that this is different than simply going, “YOU SHOULD DO THIS”. You may encounter places where there is only one good option, and if that’s the case, point out why that is, and why the other ones aren’t good. (A good game shouldn’t have too many of these points in play…)

The Pitfalls to Avoid

The two big pitfalls I see happen a lot are either trying to explain the rules by the order of procedure OR by getting caught up in explaining EVERY option, instead of what’s immediate and most important.

And the reason is this:

Whatever you first tell players, is most likely to stick. The more material you explain, the less they remember.

So if you start off with explaining 20 minutes of how to set things up, or a whole lot of options but not an overall context- by the time you get around to those important things (assuming you do…) it’s all a blur at that point.

Example: Burning Wheel 101

Burning Wheel 101

Many times I will put together a “quicksheet” – a simple 1-2 page document that highlights the basic rules and procedures for a given roleplaying game. It’s not intended as a full teaching document, as much as something the players can read before the game, AND something the players can reference during the game.  (ETA: Fun enough, it looks like folks were looking at these issues back in 1975, with OD&D character sheets!)

And, as we play, and I highlight options or make suggestions, I point back to the sheet as a process of getting players to see that the core information is right there, and they can and should access it regularly.

“Hey, you could get 2 extra dice if you FORK in your Maps-Wise and Orienteering skills on your sheet.” *points to FORKs section on the sheet*

Making a quicksheet also helps you learn how to phrase things and figure out which aspects are most important in explaining how a given game works. Then, when you come around to teaching new people- you just follow the sheet as a list of talking points.


Motivation Mechanics

November 5, 2010

One thing I read a bit in the “Roleplaying Rewards” thread from was people complaining that motivation mechanics made their roleplaying stiff and robot-like.

So, let’s look at what should be happening when you play games with motivation mechanics.

1. You come up with a concept you’re excited about

“I’m going to play a noblewoman who is trying to rescue her brother who has been captured, and wants to win the heart of the 4th Prince!” Maybe you just came up with the idea whole cloth, maybe the game has some kind of lifepath mechanics, maybe you used some tool as a springboard for ideas.

So far, no different than any traditional RPG.

2. You create your character mechanically, including putting in appropriate Motivation mechanics as needed.

If it were Burning Wheel, you assign Beliefs, Shadow of Yesterday, Keys, Riddle of Steel, Spiritual Attributes, Artesia, Bindings, etc. etc.

These should reflect the things you were excited about your character from step 1.

3. Play your character as you envisioned in step 1. The Motivation mechanics and rules of the game give you rewards for doing so.

So… basically, you do what you were going to do even without the mechanics… and then the rules support you.

Don’t throw out your roleplaying skills you normally use just because there’s a mechanic attached to it. And if you’re not interested in the things you’ve put as your motivations? Revise them. You should tie them to the things you’re interested about.

“If it’s not that much different in HOW I play a character what do Motivation mechanics DO, then?”

First off, players who pursue their motivations get more power over the game (either by some kind of spendable story point or by character advancement) – the people who contribute the best get to better direct things.

Second, the players who aren’t so good at it? They’re seeing directly what behaviors to model and copy that constitutes good play.

Third, most importantly and most subtly, this is how you, as a group, reshape and customize your own play standards. You don’t just get a point for “talking romantic at the Prince”, you get the points/dice/whatever when you do it in such a way that your group recognizes it as “good roleplaying” by whatever definition you guys actually hold.

As above, the unskilled players see what good play looks like, but skilled players then start picking up more discrete aspects. You form an aesthetic for your group, that y’all are into, and it brings everyone on the same page.

Of course, all of this depends on Step 1 above. If you’re making characters you’re not invested in, if you’re assigning motivation mechanics for things you don’t care about, you’re not going to suddenly care about them.

If you don’t roleplay your character the way you think they should act, appropriate to the situation and the game, you’re not going to enjoy your character.

Yes, this means sometimes you’ll go against those motivations you laid out (“I love the Prince, but I’m not going to do this thing he’s asking”), which is great- it starts showing where the lines are, what you won’t cross, or, how much you DO feel about something. Which, is pretty much what most stories are about – how far will you go, what do you really feel, what kind of person are you really?, etc.

When you pick motivations in those things, you’re waving a flag, “I want my story to revolve around these things!”. If you’re asking for stories you don’t want, or playing a character you don’t like, it’s not the mechanics that are the problem…


Extended Character Concept Generator

July 6, 2009

Some folks might remember when I did the “1 Sentence Character Concept generator”. Well, here’s an evolution of it, usable for any game, but inspired by HeroQuest’s character generation process.

You’ll also notice it sets up a Conflict web around the PC – a mix of friends, allies, rivals, obligations, etc. A great way to build characters and situation.

You could either fill out the whole thing, or, just do the first sentence and fill out one or two of the other sentences- filling in more as play develops.

Extended Character Concept Generator

A (personality trait) (profession/role) trying to (goal) despite her (flaw).

She wants to become (profession/positive trait), achieve (social status), overcome/move beyond (past trouble, mistake, tragedy). She believes in (ideal or personal credo) and can’t stand people who (believe other credo/behave in a certain way). People know her as (reputation) and expect that she will (achieve/fail/become something).

She is a part of (social group), is expected to obey (authority figure), assisted by (friend/group of friends), is opposed by (rival group).

She wants to earn respect/love of (NPC), see (NPC2/rival group) get their just desserts for (dirty deed), help (NPC3) deal with (problem/flaw), fulfill (promise made) for (NPC4), and protect (NPC5) from (personal flaw, danger, other NPC or group).


When to roll dice?

June 17, 2009

I haven’t had a chance to do more than the most cursory scan of the HeroQuest 2 preview PDF, but the little sword-flowchart on page 16 of the pdf (looks like page 70 of the book)?

Looks like it’s exactly what you’d want to crib for playing with 4E’s skill challenges.

And possibly most traditional games with the option between single roll and multiple roll extended tests.

To be certain, these techniques have been around as long as gaming, but for the most part, it ends up being something you have to learn through practice rather than getting the low down from the start. I think back to both Vincent’s “Say yes or roll the dice” and Jared’s “If this is a situation where failure (or success) would not be fun, why would you roll the dice?”

It seems silly, but this advice has to be consistently given, so I’d say having stuff like that flowchart has a use.