Friday, October 2, 2009

Dragonlance for Newbies

As I've mentioned, I don't have a gaming group at the moment. I have vague designs to run my conversion of DL1 for a group of new players at some point in the future -- unsuspecting friends who may be interested in checking out D&D. And by "new players" I mean new to D&D, new to roleplaying, the whole shebang.

I think Dragonlance is a great setting for new players for several reasons. It's a fairly standard fantasy setting with light medieval shading and a general tone of modernity as far as attitudes and social mores go, so there's nothing too strange or foreign for newcomers to grasp. The setting deliberately divorces itself from some elements commonly used in fantasy that are straight out of Tolkien, namely hobbits and orcs. This can help keep the setting distinct in the minds of new players.

Because DL1 is designed for level 7 characters, there is a bit of a hurdle to overcome in the form of the learning curve involved with new players. At 1st level, characters have a small suite of options available, but at 7th level, their options have already greatly increased. However, I think a patient DM with a willingness to explain how things work and take it a bit easy on the PCs while they figure things out can ease this problem somewhat. Some of the earlier tactical encounters in DL1 were designed with this in mind as "training encounters". It's only in some of the later encounters that some extra twists are added.

So how do new players, who know nothing about D&D or Dragonlance, come up with characters? This is obviously where pregenerated heroes earn their pagecount. On the other hand, you can't throw down a gigantic wad of eight character sheets and expect new players to make heads or tails of them.

To help my (hypothetical) group with this, I created a short document, Dragonlance Character Options, that could be sent to the players in advance of the first game session. It gives a brief overview of each hero using next to no game terms. Each hero's personality, combat style, and role in the group is described using plain descriptive language. The blurbs are short enough to not overwhelm new players, and, of course, the fantastic Larry Elmore pen and ink portraits of the heroes (originally published in DL5 Dragons of Mystery) are included (because, let's face it, people are going to judge a book by it's cover -- or in the case, judge a hero by their getup).

In my last post, I wrote about some groups wanting to "play the novels" and some groups wanting to just "play the modules". With new players who know nothing about Dragonlance, you get what is (in my opinion) the best of both worlds: the players can react to situations in the adventure with absolutely no preconceived notion of what "should" happen, and you can also let them use the pregenerated heroes with all the various plot hooks and dramatic setups that come with them. Furthermore, fresh players have no idea how each character's story arc played out in the novels. As each subsequent adventure is played, the players will come up with their own stories and goals for these characters and feel no constraints based on what happened in the novels. No "Well, I don't want to play Sturm, he dies in DL8..."

And that's why I think Dragonlance is great for newbies.


  1. I really like what you've done here- it should give them a good overview of the characters. Still, characters at 7th level in 4E have a lot of options, and require a good amount of teamwork to be really effective- it is going to be really difficult for new players to figure out.

    I'm not sure the best way to overcome this. The training encounters you talk about are one good way and an important part, because it lets them get their feet wet with their own PCs, but you might also want to consider sending out a 4E primer document ahead of time (there is a good one floating around that WotC gave out before their initial 4E demos, and I'm sure there are more than a few user-created ones out there), and maybe a sample combat description to really let them see how it should work.

  2. Absolutely true, and good advice re: the 4E quickstart rules. I think would be an invaluable document to have in the player's hands and around the table.