Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring Break D&D (or Lack Thereof), and the Virtues of New Players

I must admit, I'm a pretty bad college student, socially speaking.  Don't drink, don't party, not involved in any student organizations...  that kind of thing.  One of my favorite sins against expectation, though, is that I quite like staying at school over spring break, as I'm doing right now.  It's quiet, inexpensive, and I can both sleep and get a lot of work done, if I can find the motivation.  It's a good time for taxes, haircuts, and doctor's appointments, too.

But, because everyone else is gone, there is no gaming.  This troubles me, because given the amount of free time available, there could be lots of gaming.

So I think next spring break (and perhaps next Thanksgiving break, if I feel like giving it a trial run), I'm going to see if I can gather a group of newbies and run a couple sessions.  And hey, if it goes well, might even get another group out of it.  But I want to target people who have never played before, in particular.  There are a couple reasons for this:
  • New players are entertaining - the rules don't yet constrain their thoughts, as 3.x / 4e do with many of their players.  As a result, in my experience new players often try wacky things, some of which are actually good ideas ("I poke the hole in the floor with my spear..."), and some of which are not.  In turn, dealing with these creative ideas can make one a better GM by breaking one away from rules-as-written GMing.
  • New players are less likely to powergame - min-maxing is a learned tendency, I find.  The one new player I've met who was a hardcore powergamer from the start was an experienced WoW player; his first reaction upon exposure to the 3.5 chargen rules was to find and read the old WotC CharOp forums.  That, however, is the exception; most new players try lots of suboptimal things, and I find that endearing (and certainly easier to manage than a fully powergamed 3.x party).
  • New players are the future - There's been much to-do about the death of the tabletop RPG industry.  Theories vary, but many blame video games for a reduction in incoming players.  Me, I think Wizards and 4e had a strong hand in it, by fracturing the base and killing the OGL (though in truth, I should also thank them for making playing other systems more common and killing the OGL product glut)...  but in any case, new players are good for the hobby and the industry.
At this point, you might be saying "Well then John, why haven't you gathered a group of newbies already, if they're so awesome?"  I know I'm thinking it, myself, but there are a couple of reasons.  My Operating Systems partner would be greatly wroth with me if I tried to GM a game this semester, I think.  I also have unfinished business with Fjolkir the Beardless, which must be concluded with the current group.

Finally, there's something safe and familiar about playing with the usual suspects.  I can rely on Drew to cause trouble, Matt to fireball it, Jared to act as the voice of morality (usually) and to pay attention to clues and setting elements, Alex to act as the voice of optimism, and Tim to use illusions.  They're good friends, and I am loathe to abandon them...  but I must wander.  My time at college is running out, and I fear I will not get as good a chance to gather new players again.  We are also too many - DM+5 is hard at mid-levels with 3.x, while DM+4 or even +3 works much better.  As a result, I think that after this semester, I will take the plunge and go in search of newbies.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree that newbies can be very refreshing and a nice break from the rules-focused gamer-types. In fact, the real danger there is that the other experienced players give the newbies the idea that they are playing "wrong" or suboptimally. I guess what I'm saying here is that certain of your stalwarts may be better at playing with newbies than others.

    Also, get girls. Girls are good and totally change the dynamic at the table.

    Lastly, don't fret about your 'wasted' free time. Even when we're thinking, plotting, and writing about gaming, we are in a sense gaming. There are times when I seem to enjoy the preparation/creative element more than the actual gameplay.

    1. That's certainly true; I was really thinking 'going native' and recruiting a newbie-only group. Veterans (though 'stalwarts' is also an excellent term) tend to dominate the table in my experience.

      Agreed. I think I've only gamed with girls... thrice, but it's always interesting.

      And yeah, I've been doing a bit of worldbuilding and plot-seeding, so it's not wasted by any means. Next step is to start hex-mapping... should be fun.

  2. Illusions are great. They're like the M. Night Shyamalan of D&D. Though of course, they have just as much potential to be terrible.

    1. The OSR has had some very interesting arguments about illusionism historically, generally under the search term "Quantum Ogre". For a somewhat related, but quite good take, I recommend The Mule Abides.