So one of my co-workers has never played D&D before. It’s actually something that bugs him, and he’s been hinting (okay, directly talking) about how much he wants to actually play. What could possibly be the solution?
Yeah. I caved.
It’s actually kind of important that a content-monkey for a fantasy themed video game have some experience with fantasy roleplay, I think. It’s a good place to get some firsthand experience with how preexisting story conceits explode and fly in all directions when they hit player desires. Plus, good roleplay enhances your ear for dialogue. It can draw some self-awareness to those turns of phrase you might use with every character, for instance, even when they don’t make sense. So I decided he needed to play, and I asked around to see if there were other people who had never played D&D before but wanted to try.
I got three more of them. Four newbies, all of whom are familiar with varying forms of video games, and one veteran player (my producer Craig, who gets to ride herd, but couldn’t make it to character creation last week). The setup will be a two- or three-session game, starting tomorrow. I honestly cannot remember the last time I ran a game with more newbies than veterans in the group. It might have been elementary school.
Already character creation has been interesting. We took it over a couple of lunch breaks last week, wherein I fired up the character builder in a meeting room (yes, I’m running 4e for neophytes, and anyone who has a problem with that… is probably not reading this blog, anyhow).
Let’s Gamble! The first bit of fun came when the first guy was making his character — he already knew he wanted to try a dwarf rogue — and it came time to generate and assign stats. I presented the array, point buy and dice-rolling option. They all wanted to go for the dice-rolling, though with negotiation: “I’ll do it if everyone else does it.” “Yeah, we all have to be all in.” They looked at it with some trepidation, but ultimately they decided to give it a shot. And the poor dwarf rogue wound up with some substandard stats. To make matters worse, the two next guys to step up to bat got really good stats.
Factions Form: The next interesting thing was that they figured out the bilingual nature of D&D PCs could supply natural factions within a party. The human fighter’s player decided on Dwarven for a second language, based on the idea that dwarves made the kind of armor he liked. He and the dwarf rogue immediately decided that Dwarven could be their secret language, that the elf ranger wouldn’t understand — and then when the fourth player decided on an “elf” wizard, then the “We Speak Elven and You Don’t” faction formed as a counter.
Choosing Race and Class: The biggest advantage of D&D’s race-and-class system is that it provides premade archetypes. This isn’t bad for newcomers who don’t already have a bunch of solid ideas. I found it neat that the players chose their characters for different reasons.
- The ranger’s player is the enthusiast who really wanted to play D&D, and he’d been leafing through books and falling in love with the elf with two swords concept. He knew what he wanted to do from the get-go.
- The rogue’s player apparently settled on “dwarf rogue interested in treasure” as a basic concept he could handle. (And yes, he’s already eyeing the pocketbook of the wizard who has a lot of starting gold left over from not buying armor and weapons more elaborate than clothes and a stick.)
- The fighter’s player has a lot of videogame RPG experience, and he’s fond of tanks. A human fighter wound up being the same archetype he related to several times over already.
- The wizard’s player took wizard for gameplay reasons: he liked the sound of the controller role, but he also wanted to be the scholarly guy. For race, though, he took changeling, one raised among elves: specifically, he thought that would add a lot of roleplay value.
Themes and Backgrounds: These options actually wound up being kinda popular.
- The ranger’s player wanted “killer with a conscience” as his archetype, and liked military/woodland sentinel options.
- The rogue’s player decided that being down and out had its appeal, so he went with an impoverished background.
- Conversely, the fighter’s player saw “Noble” and jumped on that: he soon developed the concept of kind of a meathead, encouraged to go out and adventure instead of hanging around as a less-than-qualified candidate for succession.
- The wizard’s player extracted elements that allowed him to grow up raised as an elf among elves. A mysterious secret, and not even his ranger friend could tell (though it seems they’ll start the game trusting one another.)
What really got me was the fact that although I’m a long-term veteran of a fairly New School approach to D&D, these guys were mixing up the concepts of roleplay and backstory with some very old-school concepts: the love of rolling randomly, the pairing off as particular allies, the burgeoning rivalries, the joking about messing with each other (stealing the wizard’s gold, or shapechanging into a female elf to seduce the ranger as a lark).
Tomorrow I stay late after work. I’m going to get to see how Bruais, Perseus, Nasio and Jome actually start handling once they have a world to explore and NPCs to interact with. I’ll also get to see just who Craig comes up with, and how his (almost certainly lawful good) cleric interacts with these two micro-factions.
Oh yeah, and I get to have monsters start trying to kill these guys dead.
Looking forward to it.