This last week, I DM'd the first session of a new 4e campaign and it was a blast. The players are two couples my wife & I are friends with from the non-profit we run here in Michigan and, of course, my wife. Of those two other couples, one person is an RPG vet whereas the other has never played. So, here we are with four veteran players, but only my wife and I had played 4e before, and two raw recruits. The character creation session was fun but, let's be frank, took forever since there were a lot of little things about 4e characters that take some explaining. I guess one of the big mistakes I made with character creation was doing it one player at a time (beyond some initial "hey folks, let's make decisions as a group" conversation that took up a lot of our time together).
Here's the skinny of our player & character break down:
Couple #1: Us
Me (AJ): Long-time DM (been DMing since the original Red Box)
My wife (Katie; has a thing for naming her PCs after Star Trek characters) plays Jadzeah, the group's deva wizard. Katie tends to be an in-your-face type of player, having previously always filled the Defender role; the Controller is something she's really looking forward to.
Couple #2: The Old Friend
Rad (whom I've known for about 11 years now) is a seasoned player and even -- gasp! -- a LARPer, but the good kind (the kind that mocks other LARPers and even himself). Rad is playing Kwill, the group's wilden paladin (with a really strange build that we'll talk about another time).
Ashley has never played a tabletop RPG before. So, of course, she's playing a Razorclaw Shifter barbarian. Man, do I love these new gamer ladies who like to throw lady-gamer stereotypes for a loop!
Couple #3: The New Friends
Ben is one of those guys who, once you meet, you wonder how the hell you didn't know this guy already. His geekery is just that amazing. Somehow, though, he's never EVER played D&D. Which means that he's playing a tiefling warlock (the Cthulhu fan in him pushed him towards Star Pact) just for the pure EEEEEEVIL of it.
Alissa and Ben had their first date at my wedding, which is awesome. Alissa is another seasoned RPG vet, which is even more awesome. She's decided to pull the short straw and play the group's leader, a halfling cleric of Sehanine.
The (Possible) Problem
Wednesday night, we had our first actual gaming session, and we really only got through one encounter (for those keeping track, it was a level 1 Easy encounter) which took 1.5 hours. Or so. As I see it, the reason for this was that every one of our players was new to some aspect of the game. Katie was unfamiliar with the wizard as a class (and somewhat the Controller as a role; she's played one in MMOs, but never tabletop). Rad & Alissa were unfamiliar with this edition of D&D, but had a pretty firm grasp of basic mechanics (if only Alissa could roll better...). Ben & Ashley actually did pretty well, but it took them awhile to choose what powers to use and what to do on any given round. It seemed like there was a strong amount of indecision at the table, and I resolved that I would figure out a way to get through it. I sent them home with their freshly-printed character sheets and power cards to get an idea of how their heroes do their job of hero-ing and we decided to reconvene on Sunday. In the meantime, I've been figuring out how to give these folks the right nudge other than saying "hey, why don't you use X power?" I had wanted the first session to play out as a tutorial for how to get the most out of their characters, but it ended up getting bogged down with power selection and explanation of some rules that I'd rather not have gotten into just yet. How do I make that happen?
The (Possible) Solution
I'm big on rewarding players for doing the things that I want them to, I'll admit it. I'm the carrot type of DM (rather than the stick sort). Whatever idea I came up with, I wanted it to reward the players for doing what their role or class is good at. And, in D&D, what better reward is there than XP? I had had the idea that I wanted the first super-short (three encounter) adventure these folks were running to have a video game-style tutorial feel. What's the simplest idea for rewarding a tutorial with XP? How do quests sound? Specifically, minor quests? How about one tailored to each of the PCs, highlighting his or her unique qualities that make him or her an awesome character?
Assumptions, Valuations & Implementation
Before I wrote down any ideas for these quests, I first decided a few things: (1) each quest would award XP only to the player who'd completed it (so the wizard wouldn't get XP for the paladin finishing up his paladin-ly quest); (2) each role should have quests that are distinct from the other roles' quests; (3) each quest should teach the player something important about how his class plays. My current plan is for, at the beginning of the next session, when I hand out a minor quest to the group, I'll also hand out a tutorial minor quest to each player. Once they complete that, they can turn it in for the XP award and will get another tutorial quest at the next session. This system creates a series of minigoals that the players can (but don't NEED to) accomplish and likely will accomplish in the course of play. I'm hoping that some of these tutorial quests will show off the unique synergies that I can forsee this party having. Finally, each quest will award that player (and that player only) an amount of xp equal to what their share of a level-appropriate minor quest would be (20 xp for a level one minor quest). These quests don't have to be completed in a single encounter; in fact, I plan on them taking at least two encounters to complete.
In our first session, it became obvious to me that there were a few things that needed to be pointed out about the different party roles. The paladin, for example, didn't get around to marking anything until his second turn. No good. As a result, Rad's first tutorial quest will be "Mark six different enemy creatures." Please note that this quest says "different enemy creatures;" no credit will be given for marking the same creature multiple times.
Katie's wizard was doing a pretty good job of controlling the enemies' movement, but I really want to show off how important this is for the controller role. Her first tutorial quest is "Force enemy creatures to move ten times (push, pull or slide)." Hopefully, this gets her thinking about how she can use her powers to synergize with the other PCs as far as enemy placement goes.
Alissa was already doing a good job of healing the group, but I thought that I'd make a point of how important that job is to the party. Thus, her first tutorial quest is "Heal a cumulative amount of hit points equal to or greater than 50." 'Nuff said. I thought about making this quest a little more complicated, "save an ally from dying" or something, but I didn't want to encourage sloppy healery, so there you have it. Her next tutorial quest will be tougher.
Since there are two strikers, I needed to have a different objective for each of them and have neither one be "do X amount of cumulative damage." That would be boring. Ben was getting a lot of mileage out of his Fate of the Void pact benefit, but since he was doing the "curse one, burn down" logic, I thought it might be wise to show him how stacking curses on multiple opponents could be to his advantage. His first tutorial quest is "Have two stacks of Fate of the Void at one time," which will force him to curse multiple opponents and move around the field a bit.
Ashley's quest is a little different. Her quest is "Deal Thunder damage to enemy creatures ten times." While this may sound terribly specific, she's a Thunderborn Wrath barbarian (from Primal Power), so every time she bloodies an enemy, she does Thunder damage to each enemy adjacent to her. With proper placement, she could conceivably knock this quest out really quickly.
There are a lot of potential synergies in this group, as I've already mentioned, that could make this idea work really nicely. The wizard could move opponents near to the barbarian for the Thunderborn Wrath extra damage or the paladin to take advantage of his Divine Sanction or both. The warlock could dance around the edges of this movement-contricted group to put up lots and lots of curses so he can stack multiple pact boons. And, of course, the cleric could drop her Beacon of Hope on top of all of them to make her healing go even further. My goal here is not just to teach the players how to play their own role & class, but also how to be a member of a team, each using his or her own strengths to take down the group's opponents.
A Final Word
This is a new idea. My players may love it. They might hate it. Either way, I'll find out tomorrow night. I'll let you know how it all went. In the mean time, if you have any thoughts, questions or ideas, please post a comment.