Dungeons & Dragons Online

My players aren’t trying to learn how to play their characters and I don’t know what to do.

To preface, I'm very new to both D&D, tabletop RPGs and DMing, so please forgive any novice mistakes. I'm currently about 10 sessions into my first game. Three of the players are equally brand new, while one has played once before.

Given the group's inexperience, I anticipated a lot of hand holding in the beginning, such as guiding them through combat and the like. Essentially, when we began, I had to spell out everything that could be done in order for them to consider doing it. Which was fine, since that's how people learn! But I expected that, once the players had a grasp of the fundamentals, they would be internally motivated to learn more about what their characters can do and I could focus largely on world/campaign building.

Around session 3, I started to explicitly say that they needed to review their character sheets, perhaps watch a stream as an example, and then feel free to come to me with questions because I would no longer be trying/failing to (in nicer words) play both their characters and DM. Frankly, doing both was too much and my DMing was really suffering, so it's not like I could maintain the status quo even if I had wanted to.

I don't blame anyone for not understanding something new to them. But once enough time has passed, there are certain things a player should know if they are putting any effort into learning it. I'm talking about things like what you can do for a bonus action, or why someone might want to check for traps, or that half-elves have advantage on charms. Plus, we are using D&D Beyond, which means most of these answers can be found on their character sheet.

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Half of my players are doing really well. They take it on themselves to know and use their abilities, weapons, spells, etc. They ask questions outside of sessions so as to not unnecessarily hold up the group mid-game. They take me up on my offers to chat about their characters' backstory and futures.

But the other half is entirely the opposite. They have no clue about anything their characters can do. It's a bit hard to articulate, but the issue is twofold here. For some things, the player simply has no idea an ability (or option, such as "hide") exists, even though all of this stuff is on their character sheet (this includes: Sneak Attack, Uncanny Dodge, Wild Shape, Fey Ancestry and more). For other things, like the druid's spells, they are seemingly confused about how to use them but do nothing (including looking at the resources I've sent them, searching on google, or even asking me) to understand it. Instead, they just don't use them.

Honestly, I feel caught off-balance. Both players have grown attached to their characters and neither want them to die. But If they continue on this road of using NONE of their advantages, that is absolutely going to happen (which I have told them)! I've brought it up multiple times that they must learn their own characters, I've pointed out resources, and I've offered MANY times to talk to anyone if they have questions or something they want to explore/discuss. Nearing the end of my rope, last session I even used an online game to literally quiz them on if they knew their character, and I'm hoping the resulting mild embarrassment will get them moving.

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Honestly, I'm getting a little frustrated here. DMing is pretty hard for me since I'm so new, and they can't even read over their own character sheet? Not to sound like a douche, but I'm building a world over here! I enjoy it, but it some takes effort – just like, I think, playing D&D.

Has anyone else had this problem? Am I doing something wrong? Is this just a different style of play that I need to learn how to work with? This should be fun for them, and I'm starting to feel like a teacher pleading with her students to do their homework. I don't want to be overbearing, but I also don't think their style of playing thus far will be fun – or sustainable – for much longer.

BTW, I've known both of the players for nearly a year. We're friends, although not extremely close ones. We're also all early twenties, so it's not like we're children.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

TLDR: Half of my players – from my perspective – take no initiative with their characters and I don't know what to do.

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