Archive for August, 2015


I sit down with James Haeck, Topher Kohan, and John Fischer to talk about the recently announced Dungeons and Dragons movie. This podcast was recorded on August 18, 2015.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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I had the honor to be on a recent episode of the DM’s Block Podcast.

The hosts of this podcast, Chris and Mitch, really know their stuff. If you like our discussion about the horrors of the underdark, you should go back and listen to their other podcasts and subscribe to their feed. If you REALLY like them, go leave them a killer review on iTunes.

Also, we reference two World Builder Blog posts during the podcast and they’re linked below!

The Underdark

Down with the Sickness

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I was on a recent episode of The Tome Show! Jeff Greiner and I reviewed R.A. Salvatore‘s Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf. After we review the latest Drizzt tale, we interview the author himself. What an honor! Check it out now!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Pacing is important to every story and the collaborative tale of your tabletop RPG is no different. The ebb and flow of your narrative keeps players engaged and on the edge of their seats, wondering what’s going to happen next. While pacing is bound to change over one-shots and long campaigns alike, the last thing you want at the table is your game’s story coming to a screeching halt.

Yet our games come to sudden stops every session. Did you just build up a big boss fight with an amazing villain monologue and terrifying description only to have a ten-minute pause right before the battle so you could read stat blocks and/or draw terrain on a battle mat? Have your players ever thrown you a curve ball that destroyed your plans so thoroughly you needed a few minutes to figure out where your now rail-less story train is headed? Have you shown up to a game without doing any prep for your players and simply struggled as you tried to figure out what happens next? Fear not! There’s a simple way to keep the narrative going while you prepare for the next steps of your campaign – asking questions.

Whenever I find myself needing a few minutes to prepare the next phase of my story, I ask my players specific questions that keep the game going. The answer to these questions require a player tell stories or have a discussion with each other. This keeps players immersed in the game, gives the world context, helps the PCs learn more about one another, and reveals new plot threads. The best part about these questions is that all you need to do is ask one and the players are off and running with a new scene while you take your time to set things up.

Sometimes the PCs spend days, weeks, and even months traveling together without so much as a few random encounters crossing their path. They hang out together in taverns, at feasts, and at parties. They spend the night in dungeons. In the real world the PCs would tell each other many stories and have many discussions, but because it’s not monster fighting, NPC interacting, or cave diving, we often gloss over or skip these conversations. Asking them to have these conversations during real-world downtime might mean the conversations aren’t always happening in chronological order with other events, but it does mean the players stay immersed in the story of your game while you prep. Besides flashbacks are a storytelling convention. Once you establish that the conversations inspired by these questions are just that, the pace of your game won’t suffer.

Don’t forget to award great stories, role-playing moments, and quick thinking with Inspiration. That extra reward always encourages players to give it their all.

How Do You Know…?

One of my favorite questions to ask a PC before a battle, “How do you know the villain you’re about to battle?” While I draw out lines on a battle mat or drag jpegs into Roll20, one player tells the others how his or her character once interacted with the villain. Maybe the dwarf fighter once crossed blades with the orc lord in the caves of his far away mountain home. Maybe the halfling rogue stole a diamond from the hoard of the dragon circling above. If the villain already has a place in the PC’s backstory, that’s perfect, but if not, it’s ok to put players on the spot and ask them to make something up. They do it to you all the time. The player will entertain the others and answer their questions while you do your thing and prepare the battle. The best part is that this new story will make the encounter you’re about to play out even more significant to the narrative.

What’s Your Backstory?

Almost every PC has a backstory and in Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition every character comes with a built-in background. If you need some time to prep, why not pick a detail out of a character’s backstory and ask them to tell the others about it? Be sure to keep these questions on the vague side so players can give as much or as little detail in their answers. Rather than, “Tell us about Rathebone’s secret affair with the king’s wife,” you might say, “Tell us about Rathebone’s lover.” The latter allows Rathebone to talk about his ladyfriend without revealing her identity. If the player chooses to drop a bomb, all the better. That’s going to make your game way more interesting. The player’s answer might buy you some prep time and give you some great new ideas to help move the plot forward.

What Were You Doing When…?

Sometimes us DMs speed through travel or downtime with a quick montage because we have a lot of story and action to cover in a session. If you find yourself needing time to prep something and want to keep your players engaged, simply ask them, “What was your character doing on the way here?” or, “Hey back in town you had ten days of downtime. What did you do during that time?” You can have the players go around the table and describe their PCs’ recent actions. Even the most mundane of descriptions (“I hung out at the local tavern and hit on all the half-orc dudes”) can inspire and interesting conversation amongst players or a new story thread (“Now an over-protective orc mama is after you.”) When you ask players to flashback and describe actions during travel or downtime, keep it their most recent experiences. Asking them what they did during a montage 10 sessions ago is going to defeat the purpose as they try to remember where there story was.

What About When THIS Happened…?

Of course not every question you ask needs to lead to story. One question in particular can lead characters into great discussions amongst themselves, thus buying you time to prepare. Some groups, like my own, can have something they want to discuss, but they forget to follow up on the issue because the rest of the game gets in the way. For instance, an NPC from a particular character’s background says something cryptic to that PC about their shared past. The other PCs might want to follow-up with some questions, but then a new interaction or encounter begins that distracts them from asking. Those questions would probably come up later at the tavern or on the road of adventure during the scenes we speed through or skip entirely. This isn’t just true for cryptic NPCs. PCs could have a moral debate about an issue like killing goblin children or looting an active temple. One character may need some kind of intervention from the other PCs (“Thog, you really need to bathe!”) The party can use this time to debrief and review a particularly important quest or battle that went awry. Odds are there’s a conversation that would be pressing to the characters in the game world the players aren’t having because they’re distracted by the need to keep pushing forward. When your game comes to a stop, go ahead and prompt them to have those conversations and buy you some time.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, Gamer to Gamer, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


Rudy Basso and I sit down with game designer Kenneth Hite at Gen Con. Ken is the lead designer of Night’s Black Agents, Trail of Cthulhu, and many, many other games. He’s done work at Wizards of the Coast, Pelgrane Press, and many other amazing companies. He has an ENnie award-winning column, Ken Writes About Stuff, and podcast with Robin D. LawsKen and Robin Talk About Stuff. His latest work, The Dracula Dossier, is an amazing adventure for Night’s Black Agents no one should miss. This podcast was recorded on August 2, 2015.


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Bonus Action, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Last Thursday I on this blog I showed off my optional rules for critical failures. Along with that post came a critical miss effects table, currently available on the Free Game Resources section of this site. A few people said I should do a critical hits effects table for my next post and who am I to deny the people what they want?

I should say this – critical hit effects are not for everyone. There’s already something pretty cool in the rules as written that happens when a natural 20 is rolled on an attack. It’s fast and easy to use. Rolling on a table for every critical hit takes a little more time. These rules aren’t for every group, but if you want to make critical hits more powerful or more randomized in their effectiveness, then give the rules below a shot.

I Kinda Already Made a Critical Hit Effects Table

If you want a brutal critical hit effects table with devastating, lasting effects, consider using the rules for lingering injuries on pages 272 and 273 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. If you want an expanded list of injuries and less chance of losing an eye, check out the expanded lingering injuries table I created.

New Critical Hit Effects Table

Of course, not every table needs the effects of their critical hits to be so lingering. The results on the table are a little more fast-acting and it also means that the DM and players don’t have to track injuries.

You can use the critical hit effects table in two ways. You can roll on the table below in addition to the normal effects of a critical hit or you can roll on the table below and use the effect you roll instead of the normal effects of the critical hit. If you are doing the former, consider only having players and legendary creatures roll for critical hit effects to speed up play and to not have a single lucky attack from a random goblin mean the end of a PC (though some DMs might like that random chance).

Critical Hit Effects
d100 Effect
1 – 4 The target is pushed back 5 feet.
5 – 8 The target is pushed back 10 feet.
9 – 11 The target is pushed back 15 feet.
12 – 15 The target falls prone.
16 – 19 The target is pushed back 5 feet and falls prone.
20 – 22 The target is pushed back 10 feet and falls prone.
23 – 25 The target is pushed back 15 feet and falls prone.
26 – 28 The target drops whatever it is holding.
29 – 31 The target’s drops whatever it is holding and any nonmagical objects it drops break.
32 – 34 A random item carried by the target (determined by the DM) drops out of the target’s belt pouch, backpack, or other carrying equipment.
34 – 35 A random nonmagical item carried by the target (determined by the DM) drops out of the target’s belt pouch, backpack, or other carrying equipment and breaks.
36 – 37 The target’s armor or natural armor is damaged and it takes a -1 penalty to AC. This penalty lasts until the target’s armor is repaired (for worn armor) or it is magically healed (for natural armor).
38 – 40 Your staggering blow causes the target to be blinded until the end of your next turn.
41 – 44 Your staggering blow causes the target to be deafened until the end of your next turn.
45 – 47 You hit the target so hard it is frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
48 – 50 Your staggering blow causes the target to be incapacitated until the end of your next turn.
51 – 53 Your staggering blow makes the target nauseous and it is poisoned until the end of your next turn.
54 – 55 Your staggering blow causes the target to be stunned until the end of your next turn.
56 – 59 Your inspiring attack allows you grant an ally who can see you an attack against the target as a reaction.
60 – 62 Your inspiring attack allows you grant an ally who can see you and the target an attack against the target as a reaction.
63 – 65 Your inspiring attack allows any allies within reach of the target to make a melee attack against the target as a reaction.
66 – 69 The target has disadvantage on saving throws until the end of your next turn.
70 – 73 The target has disadvantage on attack rolls until the end of your next turn.
74 – 77 Roll all of the attack’s damage dice three times and add them together.
78 – 80 Use the maximum damage amount of all dice instead of rolling for this attack’s damage.
81 – 84 The target cannot make opportunity attacks until the end of its next turn.
85 – 87 The target take an action on its next turn.
88 – 91 You can make a follow-up attack against the target as a bonus action.
92 – 93 If your attack was made with a spell or magic weapon, a shockwave is released from your attack. Creatures within 10 feet of the target (including the target and you) must succeed a DC 15 Strength saving or fall prone.
94 – 95 If your attack was made with a spell or magic weapon, a shock wave is released from your attack. Creatures within 10 feet of the target (including the target and you) must succeed a DC 15 Strength saving or fall prone.
96 – 97 If your attack was made with a spell or magic weapon, some of the magic goes awry in your favor. The target is charmed by you until the end of your next turn.
98 – 99 If your attack was made with a spell or magic weapon, some of the magic goes awry in your favor. The magic holds the target in place and it is restrained until the end of your next turn.
100 If your attack was made with a spell or magic weapon, some of the magic goes awry in your favor. You become invisible until the end of your next turn. This effect ends early if you make an attack or cast a spell.

PDF

Just like with the critical failures, these rules for critical hits are available as a PDF. Use the link below to grab it now.

Critical Hit Effects

This document will live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site so if you ever need it again, go there to find it alongside magic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesbackgroundsspellsadventures, and more.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Rudy Basso, Vegas Lancaster, Joe Lastowski, and Round Table newbie Chris Bridges! We talk about the upcoming Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and the latest Unearthed Arcana article, “Modern Magic.” This podcast was recorded on August 6, 2015.


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, Bonus Action, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

In this episode Sam Dillon and I take you through the process of leveling up a character in fifth edition D&D.

Sam’s Blog

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Critical failures are controversial. For many the automatic result of rolling a 1 and failing an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw is enough of a punishment. I can’t blame people who feel that way. I don’t use critical failures at my own table for that very reason. Still there are tables who find failing hard (that’s failing with major consequences as opposed to just failing with the normal ones) fun and interesting. That got me thinking about what critical failures would look like at my table. What would be fun and interesting for me and make some sense based on the rules we already have?

Behold! My rules and reasonings for critical failures below. Remember that if you use these rules, 5% of the time your players will be suffering extra for simply being unlucky.

Optional Rule: Critical Failures on Ability Checks

In general if a creature rolls a natural 1 on an ability check, they just fail. However if failure of that ability check means it takes damage (like falling while climbing) the creature takes double the damage dice, just like when an attack roll is a critical hit. If they are using tools to complete the task (such as picking a lock) the tool breaks.

Optional Rule: Critical Failures on Saving Throws

If a creature rolls a natural 1 on a saving throw and as a result takes damage, the creature suffers double the damage dice, just like when an attack roll is a critical hit.

Note: Be really careful with this rule. It can result in instant death for being unlucky.

Optional Rule: Critical Failures on Attack Rolls

When a creature rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll, the attack misses as normal and you can choose to roll for an extra miss effect on the table below. Not all results on the table resolve by taking damage and the harshest and most bizarre results only have a 1% chance of occurring. Read over the chart and if there are any results you feel are unfair or need to be changed, you can just reroll and ignore any results you don’t like or put in some of your own.

Critical Failure Attack Effects
d100 Critical miss effect
1 – 3 You drop your weapon or spellcasting focus and it sticks in the ground or a wall. You must use a bonus action to retrieve it.
4 – 6 You drop your weapon or spellcasting focus and it gets stuck deep into the ground or a wall. You must use an action to retrieve it.
7 You drop your weapon or spellcasting focus and it gets stuck very deep in the ground or a wall. You must make a successful DC 15 Strength check as an action to retrieve it.
8 You drop your weapons or spellcasting focus and if it is nonmagical it breaks.
9 – 12 A random nonmagical item (determined by the DM) falls from from your backpack or belt pouch.
13 – 14 A random magical item (determined by the DM) falls from from your backpack or belt pouch.
15 – 16 A random nonmagical item (determined by the DM) falls from from your backpack or belt pouch and breaks.
17 A random consumable magical item (determined by the DM) falls from your back or belt pouch and breaks.
18 – 20 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction and it lands 5 feet away.
21 – 22 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction and it lands 10 feet away.
23 – 24 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction and it lands 15 feet away.
25 – 26 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction, it lands 15 feet away, and it sticks in the ground or a wall. You must use a bonus action to retrieve it.
27 – 28 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction, it lands 15 feet away, and it gets stuck deep into the ground or a wall. You must use an action to retrieve it.
29 You hurl your weapon or spellcasting focus in a random direction, it lands 15 feet away, and it gets stuck very deep in the ground or a wall. You must make a successful DC 15 Strength check as an action to retrieve it.
30 – 31 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your closest ally to the intended target.
32 – 34 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your ally closest to you.
35 – 37 Your attack hits you.
38 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your closest ally to the intended target. This attack counts as a critical hit against the new target.
39 If it is able to do so, your attack hits your ally closest to you. This attack counts as a critical hit against the new target.
40 Your attack hits you. This attack against you is a critical hit.
41 – 42 The miss creates an atmospheric disturbance (such as dust or smoke clouds) right in front of your face and you get this in your eyes. You are blinded until the end on your next turn.
43 – 44 The missed attack connects solidly with an object in front of you and makes a very loud noise. You are deafened until the end of your next turn
45 – 46 You marvel at how poorly you missed. You are incapacitated until the end of your next turn.
47 – 48 In the process of executing your attack you hit yourself in the stomach rather hard. You are poisoned until the end of your next turn.
49 – 51 In the process of executing your attack you trip and fall prone.
52 – 53 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 5 feet and fall prone.
54 – 55 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 10 feet and fall prone.
56 – 57 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 15 feet and fall prone.
58 – 59 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 5 feet and fall prone.
60 – 61 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 10 feet and fall prone.
62 – 63 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 15 feet and fall prone.
64 – 65 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 15 feet and fall prone.
66 – 67 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 5 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
68 – 69 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 10 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
70 – 71 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move forward 15 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
72 – 73 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 5 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
74 – 75 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 10 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
76 – 77 In the process of executing your attack you trip and move back 15 feet and fall prone and drop your weapon in the space where you made the attack.
78 – 79 In the process of executing your attack you launch yourself hard into the ground. You take 1d4 blugeoning damage and are prone.
80 – 81 In the process of executing your attack you launch yourself very hard into the ground. You take 1d8 blugeoning damage and are prone.
82 – 83 In the process of executing your attack you launch yourself as hard as you can into the ground. You take 1d12 blugeoning damage and are prone.
84 – 85 In the process of executing your attack you become restrained in your clothes and armor and must use an action to untangle yourself.
86 – 88 Your attack is so wild it takes a moment for you to recover. You have disadvantage on your next attack made before the end of your next turn.
89 – 90 Your attack is very wild and you need more than a moment to recover. You have disadvantage on all attacks you make before the end of your next turn.
91 – 92 You chip your weapon or arcane focus. You take a -1 penalty to attack rolls until you get it repaired.
93 – 95 Your attack is wild and allows any enemy in melee range an opening. As a reaction enemies may make an opportunity attack against you.
96 – 97 Your attack is very wild and allows any enemy in melee range an opening. As a reaction enemies may make an opportunity attack against you with advantage.
98 If your attack is made with magic weapon or spell, your miss rends a spot where the barrier between planes is weak and accidentally summons an angry minor elemental (CR 1 or lower). This demon’s turn takes place immediately after yours and it is hostile toward you.
99 If your attack is made with magic weapon or spell, your miss rends a spot where the barrier between planes is weak and accidentally summons an angry minor devil (CR 1 or lower). This demon’s turn takes place immediately after yours and it is hostile toward you.
100 If your attack is made with magic weapon or spell, your miss rends a spot where the barrier between planes is weak and accidentally summons an angry minor demon (CR 1 or lower). This demon’s turn takes place immediately after yours and it is hostile toward you.

PDF

Want these rules in a free PDF? Ok! It’s in the link below.

Critical Failures

This document will live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site so if you ever need it again, go there to find it alongside magic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesbackgroundsspellsadventures, and more.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I recently played one of the most fun sessions of Dungeons and Dragons in my tabletop gaming history. It was with adult coworkers aged 25 – 35 who were almost entirely new to the game. After me the player with the most amount of tabletop role-playing game experience had last picked up dice and a character sheet when he was 14. It was everyone else’s first time.

I was a tad nervous running a new game for adults because I was worried they’d find D&D too childish or nerdy or worse… boring. I have certainly had a fair share of new players at my table, but I’ve never a whole table full of newbies. My usual tactic of letting the other players shepherd the new one along doesn’t work when everyone is getting their first taste of fifth edition D&D nectar. Still these friends had come to me because they wanted to learn how to play. I know it can only help the hobby if I spread the good word, but only if they had a blast. If they don’t have a good time with the game, I’ve just turned off six potential tabletop gamers.

I’ve already told you I had a great time and so did the players. We began talking about our next session before the first was even done. What did I do that made the game so successful? Here’s a few things I did and tips from me if you’ve got the chance to introduce new players to the game.

IMG_0724

Behold! That’s me and some eager new players.

Use Pregens

I know part of the fun of D&D is getting to make a character, but that process can be intimidating for new players. Calculating AC, hit points, attack bonuses, and ability scores is only fun if you understand what those things mean. Yes, there are a lot of fun story choices made during character creation (like class, race, and background), but a lot of those same choices are made when your players pick a pregenerated character. It’s a little more limited since you pick all three at once, but that won’t make a huge difference to totally new players. If they’re anything like the group I played with, they don’t really understand the differences between a halfling rogue with the criminal background and a drow rogue with the sailor background yet. A lot of the fun details, like character names and the specifics of personalities, are still up to the players when they choose a pregen.

When you use pregens your players aren’t bogged down in the rules and you’re sure everything they need is on the sheet in front of them. They won’t leave something off by accident and have every ability spelled out so they don’t need to keep flipping through the one copy of the Player’s Handbook you own. It also means you can get into actually playing a lot more quickly.

You can find a bunch of ready-to-go pregens on the D&D website.

Start at Level 1

I know. Characters are squishy at level 1 in fifth edition D&D. If that bothers your players, don’t be afraid to fudge the numbers or nerf some damage in order to keep them alive… or don’t be afraid to show them that PCs can die if you think they can handle it. If you’re using pregens, they can always just grab a new one and don’t feel invested since they didn’t spend an hour making a fighter. This may not be as big of an issue as it seems. I fudged nothing and all PCs lived through the adventure.

Starting at level 1 means you’re starting with very simple characters and that’s good. Even fifth edition D&D has more rules than most people who have only ever played mainstream board games are used to. The spellcasters only have a few spells to track, the warriors don’t have a bunch of abilities and feats, and the tricksters only have a couple of tricks. The concept of tracking hit points, hit dice, spells, abilities, bonuses, saves, attacks, inspiration, movement, reactions, actions, and bonus actions is already more than most new players can handle. You don’t need to complicate by starting them at a higher level and giving them more options.

Use the Starter Set

If you have it, use the D&D Starter Set. It’s only $20, cheaper on Amazon, and even if you’re an experienced dungeon master, this adventure was crafted for beginner players. It introduces them to simple concepts in combat, interaction, and exploration which get gradually more complicated and sophisticated as the adventure goes on. If you’ve got the time and the desire, go ahead and write your own, but why do something that’s already been done for you? In addition it’s got a quickstart rulebook you can give the players since they’ll probably come without so much as a pencil because it’s their first time. As a bonus the adventure inside is one of the best ever published for fifth edition in my opinion.

Before The Game…

Before you start playing, it can be difficult to know what to tell the players and what to teach them along the way. You don’t want to have two hours of explaining rules before someone gets to talk about their character, but you also don’t want players going in blind. Here’s what I explained.

Go over the dice

The first thing I did was explain which die corresponded to which symbols on their character sheets. Most of them had only ever seen a six-sided die before so it helped them make sense of everything in front of them when I told them what a d4 was and what a d20 was. Then I told them to look on their sheets to see if they could find the dice they’d be using most often.

Overview of What Their Characters Can Do

After explaining the dice, I went around the table and gave each character an idea of what their strengths and weaknesses were. I kept it simple and didn’t get into the mechanics. I’d say, “As a wizard you can cast spells with flashy effects like rays of fire and mind-bending enchantments, but you should stay away from hand-to-hand combat” or, “As a ranger, you’re good at fighting from a distance with a bow and arrow, an excellent tracker, and a friend to animals and plants.” This gave the players a basic idea of what their options were and what they might ask to do at the table.

Go over attributes and skills

Attributes, the backbone of D&D, had to be explained. I did it simply. “The higher the number you have in these, the better you are at tasks associated with that attribute. 16 or 17 is the highest any of you can see right now, which is exceptional. 10 is average.” Then I explained what each attribute meant, which was more or less self-explanatory, though I did have to breakdown the difference between Intelligence and Wisdom. After that I explained that modifiers were applied to dice rolls and that in some cases they might get an extra boost if to that roll if the task they were trying to accomplish was associated with a skill they were proficient in. Then I gave them an example of how checks work by asking the rogue to roll a Dexterity (Stealth) check and having the cleric make a Wisdom (Perception) check to try to find him.

Get to the rest as it comes up

Then get to playing. Odds are you’ve already spent a half-hour, like I did, explaining all of this to your players. Trust me, you’ll cover it all as it comes up. More on that later.

Introduce Themselves

Now that you’ve talked for a while, let the players introduce their PCs to get them involved in the game. I had my players announce their character’s name, class, race, and give one interesting fact about their PC that could be anything they wanted to say. They had a blast doing this and it helped give them the idea that their characters could say and do anything they wanted them to.

Explain Everything Out Loud

As the game began, I told my players what to roll, why they had to roll, and how the mechanics worked, when they wanted to do things which required a check. “I want to move silently into the bushes and hide,” and, “What can I see down the road by the dead horse?” were some of the first questions I got. I told them what to roll, why, and then explained what was happening. “You need to roll a Dexterity (Stealth) check because if someone tries to find you, that’s the number their Wisdom (Perception) check has to beat,” and, “Ok… make a Wisdom (Perception) check to see if there’s anything next to the horse. This skill allows you to see, hear, and smell the world around you, so if anything or anyone is hidden up there and you get a good roll, you’re sure to find it.”

I made sure I spoke loud enough for the whole group to hear whenever I did this. Sure, the paladin is the only person making an attack right now, but if I explain the basics to him, then the ranger already knows some of the basics on his turn. For attacks I said, “Ok, so you have +5 to hit with your longsword. Roll a d20 and add five to the result. See how you have an Armor Class? Well so does the goblin you’re attacking and you need to match or get a number greater than his Armor Class to hit him. Then you’ll roll for damage which takes away from his hit points. He’s trying to do the same thing when he attacks you.” By taking the time to explain (and re-explain) concepts like this as they were happening, it helped the players remember in the future what they needed to do.

Let Them See the Math

As I was explaining I told my new players monster hit points, armor class, skill difficulty checks, and save DCs. I told them they wouldn’t always know these numbers, but for the purposes of learning I gave them a peek behind the screen. It really drives home that an attack roll is compared to AC when they know what number they’re trying to beat. The importance of hit points is made clear when a goblin dies after taking 6 damage. By the end of the night they understood a DC 10 save was pretty easy and a DC 15 was something to hold their breaths over.

Ask for descriptions

To encourage my players to get in the spirit of D&D and bring them out of their shells I gave plenty of descriptions and used over-the-top voices so they’d feel ok doing the same. I then encouraged them to also give me descriptions of killing blows, skill checks, and anything else I could think of. I liberally awarded inspiration for even pretty good descriptions so that they’d have more of a reason to immerse themselves in the game and their characters. They loved it! All that extra inspiration helped those 1st level PCs survive.

Conclusion

Like I said, everyone had a good time and we’re set to play again soon. Things went so well another 8 people in the office want to play as well… Any good DMs out there willing to take on some n00bs?

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