Tips for Engaging New Players in DND and Roleplaying

New players hesitate. It's really just a given. Even seasoned players can sometimes find themselves freezing up when presented with a new group. But it doesn't have to feel like a train wreck. Here are a few tips for getting players engaged, whether you're running a one-off storytelling RP or a long running 5e campaign.

  • Give them time to think. Things that are fast and automatic for experienced players take some time for new players. Instead of putting them on the spot ("What's your character's name?") let them prepare ("Everyone come with a character's name and a short bio prepared.") When asking them direct questions, don't just override them if they take too long; wait for a response. It feels like this should go without saying, but often a DM will only wait a few seconds, and then go off with their own idea for the character -- they think they're doing the player a favor, when really they may be derailing them.
  • Always give a prompt. When you're working with a group you know well, you can generally trust them to take it in a direction. Possibly not the direction you want, but a direction. When working with new players, you may need to be more specific. Try open-ended prompts: "What do you do?" "What do you think?" "Do you examine anything?" 
  • Reward and punish in equal measure. The DM's role often becomes unnecessarily antagonistic. When new players roll well, they should feel great and epic. When new players roll poorly, they should fail in unexpected and brutal ways. The key is to remain entertaining rather than simply punishing for the sake of punishment. New players often cannot advocate for their own character.
  • Try to engage equally. Pay attention to who is engaging the most. If a new player has been quiet for a while, but wants to get involved, toss something in specific to them. A spider falls on them from above. An NPC begins to favor them. They notice something out of the corner of their eye.
  • Keep the groups small. Even experienced players hate large groups. It takes too long to get anything done, very little actual roleplay happens, and there's a lot of waiting. When introducing new players, keep your group size between three to five.
  • Explain what you're doing and why. There are a thousand little things that can slide right past players. I've seen new players go ten sessions without understanding their armor class, not because they didn't care, but because no one bothered explaining it. As you're taking actions, describe them outloud (insofar as you can do so without spoiling anything).
  • Consider using an "X" card. If you're integrating people of different backgrounds, an "X" card is a simple tool to incorporate. If players feel uncomfortable by a situation, they tap the X card -- this is a veto power that is not questioned. The story then moves in a different direction. 

Having a negative experience with DND can create a lasting impact. Players who have a horrible first session are likely to never come back to the hobby again. And that means that you have a huge responsibility, but also a huge opportunity. Taking a little time to help new players can lead to making some lasting relationships and, with time, even some new DMs.