Teachin’ the Newb

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.  Hectic workdays are making it hard for me to think about what I want to post here.  But I’m going to just drop something in here and see how it goes.

This past Sunday, I had my first unofficial session of D&D.  Basically, my best friend came over to discuss things – he’s very eager to get the game going, I believe – and to help me teach the basics of the game to my girlfriend.  She’s a total newb.

I should qualify that statement.  No one in our planned group has ever played 4E, but half have played previous editions of D&D.  Almost everyone who will be playing has had some experience with computer RPGs or computer MMORPGs.  There is some basic “game mentality” present in just about everyone who is going to be at the table.  Except for my girlfriend, Hilary.

Hilary has not had the background in games that the rest of us have.  She’s played some casual computer games like Peggle and Bookworm, but nothing serious gamers would consider “advanced”.  She doesn’t read fantasy very often, nor sci-fi.  She does like action/adventure, sci-fi, and kung-fu movies – but isn’t the type to daydream about being the main characters.  She doesn’t play card games or board games or hopscotch.  And most importantly, she’s never tried to balance pretending to be an elf with managing mathematics while socializing with friends.

Since I want this experience to be fun for her, teaching her how to play without boring her is a bit of a challenge.

Here’s what we did with our first session:  my friend and I sat down in the kitchen/dining room and talked amongst ourselves for a little while.  We did this to get the “deep nerd” conversations out of the way while she was sitting in the next room over, surfing the internet.  After we had gotten the geek out of our system, we called her in.  She and I had printed up a character sheet for her the night before – I mostly made her character for her – so I decided to start by explaining all the intimidating numbers first.  To make them less intimidating, you see?

We started at the top of the character sheet with the basics.  Character name, level, class, race, etc.  She will be playing a female human cleric.  She had picked the basics previously, but I just filled in height/weight/age and such based on racial averages.  Of course, she decided that I had made her “fat”.  I think she was joking…

WotC has done a pretty good job with their official character sheets (those utilized by the Character Builder software).  Most of the numerics are subscripted with the formula that was used to obtain them.  This made the whole process a lot easier, I think.  After explaining what her Attribute scores were and how we got them and why, we went through each block of related statistics systematically.  It also helped to explain where the modifiers were coming from and why (+1 to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will come from her virtue of being human, for example).  She showed some curiosity about the Feats section and asked why I had chosen what I had chosen (because we hadn’t done much character background stuff yet, I had chosen a couple of feats based on character optimization, rather than role-playing).

Then we got to powers.  I thought it might be easier to show her what they were going to do in-game, so we laid out a battlemat, plopped a couple guitar picks (our “minis”) down, and broke out the dice.  Of course, explaining this requires explaining “actions”, so we gave the run-down.  Each player can do three actions per turn – one standard, one move, and one minor (and these can be traded down, but never up).  Movement is easiest to explain, so we got that one out of the way – in any given turn, a character can move up to her Speed in squares on the battlemat (basically).  Standard and minor are trickier.  Minor is little fiddly things that you can do – drink a potion, draw a weapon, stuff like that.  Minor is usually stuff that is not attacking the enemy.  Standard is more important stuff – using your attack powers, defending or healing a comrade.  She seemed to get all of this, or was practicing her nodding, so we decided to start rolling.

We explained each of her powers to her, and how attack rolls determined a hit/miss based on the defensive score of the attackee (just like the defensive scores on her character sheet).  Then I explained what each unique power did to the enemy and/or her allies, since she’s a cleric.  She made a few rolls of the twenty, scored a few hits, helped out a fictional comrade, and moved around a little.  I think she got it, but I don’t know if it’s fun yet.

We’re going to go over all this again during our first session (about a week and a half from now), with everyone else at the table.  Our first session is going to be making/printing characters, inventing character backgrounds, and then taking everybody through a combat encounter in which most of the learning will occur.  I think having this small session helped me understand how I want to explain this stuff to everybody else.  And I hope it helped Hilary to grasp the basics, which will give her more time for fun at the table.

Anybody out there ever have to give lessons of this sort?  How did you handle it?

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