Ramping up a first-time player to join a D&D campaign already in progress presents some real challenges. But with the help of my other players, I learned how to make the process not only easy but fun.

I’m a longtime player and DM who has gamed for ages with the same stable group. As such, when I was asked to add a totally-new-to-D&D player to a fifth edition campaign already twenty-two weeks and 4 levels into its story, I had no idea how to proceed. The new player had a lot to offer the team, but also had so much to learn. I saw four challenges that needed to be overcome:

  • Help the New Guy (a.k.a. “Yugwen”) overcome his never-played-D&D learning curve.
  • Help develop a character that would be enjoyable to play.
  • Get Yugwen up to speed on the campaign story so far.
  • Do all of the above in a way that helped the new player and the existing players get to know each other.

The third challenge proved the easiest to solve, as I maintain an online adventure log of each of our gaming sessions. By recapping the plot action, tracking who did what, and logging XP earned and treasures gained (or lost), the adventure log let Yugwen see what the other characters had been doing for the previous twenty-two weeks, while also providing insights into their play styles and player personalities.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

To address the other challenges, I scheduled a “character raising” session for the team. Inspired by the notion of an old-fashioned barn raising, wherein the members of an agricultural community would gather to build a new barn in just a few days, the idea was to shorten Yugwen’s learning curve by helping him build his character as a team effort.

Our character-raising session began with a round of introductions and “D&D/RPG bios,” with everyone sharing how we’d gotten started with D&D, how much or little we’d played, and some favorite moments from past adventures. This gave Yugwen a better understanding of our experiences with D&D and revealed things about him, such as his extensive experience with online RPG play.

Now more familiar with each other, I next asked the team: “Is there an obvious fit between a race and class that Yugwen would like to play and any imbalances that need to be addressed in the adventuring party’s capabilities?” The immediate answer from the team was, “We need more magic!” From Yugwen, the response was, “I want to cast spells.”

Problem solved? Almost.

The team needed magic and Yugwen was keen to play a spellcaster. But what kind of magic wielder would Yugwen most enjoy playing—a wizard, a sorcerer, or a warlock? He wasn’t sure. Additionally, the play style of each class is quite different. How could Yugwen know what character he’d enjoy playing the most?

With a little help from his new D&D friends, of course.

SHARED EXPERIENCE

The team began explaining some of the differences in how it felt to play each class of magic wielder. Questions were raised for Yugwen to consider. “Do you think you’d enjoy having a large array of spells to choose from but having to select just a few spells to cast each day? Or would you prefer your magic be innate to your being but limited in overall scope?” From Yugwen’s interest in playing a fast, fluid style of magic user, it quickly became clear that sorcerer was the right class fit. 

Human was Yugwen’s preference for character race, so the members of the group next turned our attention to backgrounds. The team explained how backgrounds flesh out the statistical and personal aspects of a character, then provided insights about which background might best suit a mysterious sorcerer. When Yugwen chose the hermit background to support his character’s hidden past, we next moved on to tips for optimizing his equipment and skill selections, and for providing colorful descriptive information about the character and his history.

After an hour of working together, the group successfully laid down a really solid first-level character foundation. We then helped layer on additional details for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th levels, ending up with a profile that fit both Yugwen’s desired play style and the group’s need for improved 4th-level magic. And, as a huge added benefit, we’d spent time getting to know each other even before the dice started to fly.

About the Author

Justin Donie is a senior infrastructure analyst/technical producer on the Wizards digital team, supporting a wide range of new product and feature introduction projects. Justin worked on the new D&D website project and hosts two weekly D&D lunch sessions for Wizards employees.