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This week's article is by game designer Chris Dupuis, and chronicles the trials and tribulations of running a lunchtime game at work.
I tend to be an introvert. I find it tough to think on my feet, and I like to overprepare before I go to a meeting where I'm presenting an idea. So, while DMing a campaign has been a dream of mine, I knew it was going to be a challenge. With the release of the fifth edition rules, I decided to kick off a lunchtime game of D&D and stretch my boundaries. Hopefully this article series will help others in similar situations break out of their comfort zones and become better DMs.
Step 1: Find a Group
Before I could start to become a good DM, I needed to find a group that's ready to play. This was easy enough, since there are plenty of D&D fans in the office.
However, I didn't want to just run a game for my friends in R&D. I wanted to challenge myself by playing with gamers I don't interact with on a daily basis. I reached out to plenty of others, explaining basically what I said above. I found many folks in a similar situation: they wanted to learn or play D&D, and this was as good an opportunity as any.
Once I collected a group of seven interested players (having extra players allows us to cover absences in busy weeks), it was time to create our characters.
Step 2: Assist with Character Creation
Character creation can be one of the most rewarding parts of playing D&D, but it can also scare new players off. There are lots of choices to make, not to mention calculations. Since some of my players were new to fifth edition, I scheduled character creation as our first lunchtime meeting. That way, no one felt pressured to build their character ahead of time (although some did), and I could answer any questions they had as they went through the process.
I put together a simple script for explaining character creation to new players that you can use, modifying as needed. Just look for the shaded text throughout the article.
To start with, here's how I laid out the basics of the game.
At the core of D&D, we're all creating a story together. You'll tell me what you want to do, and I'll ask you for a die roll. You'll add a modifier to that roll to see how successful you are. The modifier is determined by the decisions you'll make during character creation, so we won't have to do much math at the table. We can instead focus on the story while we play.
I then provided a basic explanation of the ability scores (taking inspiration from the "Ability Score Summary" table in chapter 1 of the Player's Handbook) as I wrote them on the board. I want players to understand why I'm asking for a specific roll, and perhaps even be able to suggest a different roll down the line.
As you choose your class and race, it's important to understand how they interact with the six ability scores.
Your race gives you bonuses to certain ability scores, and your class tells you which ability scores you should focus on. Understanding the relationship between ability scores, class, and race will not only help you to make a more well-rounded character, but also help you understand the basics of D&D.
I then explained how the modifiers to the final ability scores work:
10 is average, so there is no modifier. At each even number before and after 10, the modifier goes up or down by 1. So the modifier for 8 is –1, while the modifier for 12 is +1.
Finally, we distributed the standard array using an example of a lightfoot halfling bard, which many of the players are creating—we've got a band of roving entertainers!
I sent the players off with a homework assignment of picking a background. When we reconvened for a second lunchtime session that week, we went over equipment, backgrounds, and filling in the rest of their character sheet. All of the players now had a basic understanding of D&D, and a completed character.
About the Author
The Lunchbox DM is Chris Dupuis, a board game designer at Wizards with RPG dreams. He's played in plenty of D&D games, but he's only run a few one-shot adventures as a Dungeon Master. You can find him on twitter as Gameguruchris.