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4 easy steps to running a game for first-time players

Written by Expy - Published on March 19, 2009

Step 1: Make the players/characters care

This can be hard with new players.  If they make the character themselves chances are they’ll care a little more about them.  The players might care about the characters, but the characters have to care too.  I would suggest that your goal within the first 20 minutes of the game is to make the characters discover a place, meet an NPC, find an object that they will like and cherish.  Let them enjoy themselves for a bit, and then…

Step 2: Make the players/characters hurt

Take it away!  Burn down that village they liked.  Steal that object they found.  Kill that NPC! It’s over-simplistic, but it works.  Especially for a first game.

Step 3: Make the players/characters feel good

Now the the players and their characters will want to charge ahead into your adventure.  Let them be heroes.  Scare them, don’t kill them.  And reward them for taking daring actions and making daring decisions.

Step 4: Keep the game short

It’s their first game.  Aim for 2-ish hours of play, not counting character creation, or just a little more if you’re using pre-made characters

What do you think?

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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10 Responses to “4 easy steps to running a game for first-time players”
  1. Tom says:

    I’m just about to start up a game with 3 new players! Your timing was perfect, and this sounds like pretty good advice. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. Ameron says:

    If a new DM is trying to keep the players motivated, never underestimate the power of greed. Dangle the lure of magic in front of them and watch them do anything to get it. Better yet, give it to them and then take it away (as you’ve already mentioned above) and that will keep them hooked.

  3. jhupka says:

    That’s some great advice, and I do something completely opposite. I think your way is much better. After character creation, I usually ran a “sample” battle. I explain a long pre-amble to the battle – summarizing a portion of an adventure up to the point of the battle, then just throw them in swords-a-choppin. Since most of my players are really into the combat side, this is good to teach them the basic rules and most of the time that one encounter may take two-hours to run. But I like your way because it also helps them get into the role-playing aspect, as opposed to my rules-based intro.

  4. Yax says:

    @Tom: Yeah, let us know how it goes in the comments or send me an email. I’d love to know how your new game goes.

  5. Chris Waldrip says:

    The last campaign I ran I started with the players creating their characters, and writing up their history, in advance of the game.

    When we started I had them waking up, as captives, in rolling cages after the slaver caravan they were in was ambushed by orcs. The orcs were dead or gone, the slavers dead or gone, and only the players were alive (along with some dead captives). They freed themselves, equipped themselves with what gear they could find, collected some coins from the dead slavers, and fled before the remaining slavers or orcs returned, and made their way to the nearest settlement – a keep, on the borderlands… ;-)

  6. I’ve never played a tabletop game in my life but I listened to the D&D Podcast series with the Penny Arcade guys and I’m dying to play. I’ve got a group together and I’ve been reading every scrap of information I can get my hands on so this is an opportune find for me. I’ll keep these in mind. I have both the starter kit and the Keep on the Shadowfell module so my idea is to use the basic learn the ropes campaign in the starter kit to lead into the hunt for Irontooth. I dunno if it was planned or not but with a few minor story changes they flow very naturally into one another. Thanks for the tips! Wish me luck…

  7. Nicholas says:

    @Zackery T. Keys: Good luck! I hope you find some things here to help you.

    I love those PA podcasts, hopefully they will do another series after the current one ends!

  8. @Nicholas: Thanks! I’m hoping to chronicle the whole thing over on my blog.

    And yes the PA podcasts are awesome. I wonder who they’ll pull into the game next… they mentioned needing a rogue.

  9. Crystal EA says:

    I just started playing DnD a month after 4e came out. The very first time i played a character, i realized that i wouldn’t like being just a character, and i ended up taking the story right out from my DMs nose. I’ve gotten a better understaning as a DM, i just started my own campaign, and i have one of my friends as a character, and on in the first hour of roleplaying, his character became chaotic evil, and he killed his character because of it.

  10. jackmo says:

    what a simple and excellent formula, kudos

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