Dungeons & Dragons Online

Lessons from Running for a Completely New Party as an Experienced DM

Just couldn't help but share an eye-opening experience. It might be useful for DMs who will soon run for friends who have never tried it out, but idk. This is really just for me to speak to the darkness lmao

Some background: I've been a dm for a while now and I've run for three groups previously: the first one was after another friend of mine finished running his game and I wanted to try DMing, so we were new, but we had already played before. The second was a West March with majority veteran players. The third was with a group of strangers online, all experienced players.

I've moved to a different state since then and made some new friends, and they were excited to try DnD after I first mentioned it to them. Thing is, none of them had even the slightest clue what playing the game is like. There was no veteran to guide them along, just me with a group of 6 completely fresh players. So even after the first session, I learned so many lessons about the behavior of new players that I never considered before.

  1. Most of them use a far more "gamey" language when playing. Ex) "I will use Investigation on xyz" instead of "I will investigate xyz."
  2. They often forget the resources they have access to. Ex) Wizard player always forgets cantrips exist lol, and they forgot there was a priest in town when they came back licking their wounds after a bad fight
  3. They sometimes have a hard time contextualizing their actions in character. Ex) Lawful good character tries to hang a kobold prisoner over a bear trap to try and get it to talk. I often find myself asking "is that what (character) would do?" or if one of them wants to do something stupid, "do you guys let (character) do that?" and even them just thinking about it seems to be enough
  4. They have absolutely 0 metaknowledge. This means that information and setting expectations is SUPER important. Learned this the hard way when they found a secret room at the end of a dungeon with closed coffins, definitely a boss room, but they (already super hurt and out of spells) didn't think about that nor did they consider that undead even exist in DnD so when the undead boss inevitably rose from the coffin, they were beaten up pretty badly.
  5. This also means that they don't follow typical DnD customs, such as Identifying magic items, using Detect Magic, making health potions, etc. So I had to do a lot of work introducing Identify in the context of what was going on.
  6. At the same time, them having no metaknowledge can be taken advantage of. I know they'll freak out when they encounter counterspell for the first time, and I can go into great detail about how the wizard starts to cast a spell but he notices that the enemy wizard immediately casts a short spell right after him, and his spell sizzles into nothing. They won't know about psionics or fireballs or displacer beasts or burrowing ankhegs. Use this as a great opportunity for setting a good scene.
  7. Don't try to throw too many monkey wrenches. The players catch on to patterns pretty quick, so they'll be paranoid if the first dungeon they ever come across has 15 traps in the first floor, or when the first 3 chests they ever open are mimics, or if the first 3 magic items they get are cursed (not that I did this, just some extreme examples). Mimics and cursed items are meant to be exceptions, not the rule. So it's much better to let the players get familiarized with stuff they encounter before screwing them (although they did get super greedy for coin when I finally did use a mimic on them, result was hilarious).
  8. Be careful not to overwhelm players in combat. With experienced players or in later levels, it is normal to spice up combat with legendary actions, lair actions, dynamic terrain, gritty tactics, aerial combat, spells, psionics, etc. but with fresh out of the boat players, they'll just get overwhelmed.
  9. Besides, I think that when players first start, they just want to be heroes that kill monsters and save the world. Who wouldn't want to do that? There's no need for super challenging life-or-death scenarios for every combat or mind-boggling moral dilemmas for every possible decision.
  10. It may get frustrating at times when they aren't thinking tactically in combat like experienced players are or when they forget an NPC's name or when they forget their class abilities or when they don't know how to roleplay, but at the end of the day, they're having fun, and honestly it's a blast getting them into the game.
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