Introducing friends to D&D: Need help!

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Hello everyone,
I'm planing to introduce a group of friends to D&D but I could really use some help in order to get started.

First of all a little bit about myself..
I used to play a lot of D&D with my friends roughly 13-14 years ago, unfortunately I've only had a chance to play once since we stopped.

The group of friends I'm planing to introduce are all fantasy buffs and no strangers to video and boardgames.
Only one of them tried D&D in the past, but to my knowledge it wasn't well organized and he never tried it since.

A general issue for all of us is the fact that we are all in our 30s and we don't have quite as much spare time as we would like..
Perhaps this is more of an issue for me, as I'll have to try to be a DM for the first time and I need a lot of time to prepare a nice adventure!

Here's where I was hoping to get some input:


  • Things to keep in mind when playing with strangers to role playing games?

  • A recommendation to a nice introductory pre-written adventure?

  • How much should I make my players study before the game, ie, should I have them read the various handbooks?

  • Any other recommendations that could make this a pleasant first experience with D&D for my friends?


Oh and by the way, these are the various 4th Edition books I've got access to:



  • Player's handbook 1, 2 & 3

  • Dungeon master's guide

  • Monster manual



Hope to hear from you with some nice recommendations soon!
Things to keep in mind:

What is the tone you want to set for the game?
Most of this is about talking to your players.  Do they want a traditional LotR style fantasy romp?  Do they want magic-tech (Eberron)?  Are they looking for something dark and gritty?  Do they want their heroes to be heroes and their villians to be villians or are they hunting for a gray area?  Do they want a game about politics in a giant metropolis (Like Sharn or the City of Doors) or do they want an epic tale of survival in a barren wasteland (Dark Sun).

Another thing to talk about is the limits of taboos.  I realized just recently that during a nightmare scenario I was running that I based it around something that made the players at my table very uncomfortable (child abuse) and took it one measure too far.  Your players are older so you can tackle some of the big issues if you want to, or you can avoid them.  If one person at the table would want to leave the table if **** entered into the story you should know that from the get-go.

How structured do they want the story?
Do the players want to control the story and tell their pieces of the epic tale, or do they want to turn off their brains and enjoy the story you make for them?  These forums would have you believe the latter is something that should never happen, but it can be liberating to just go with the flow of the DM's story.  I don't run those kind of games myself (generally), but I haven't mind playing in them before.  Again, talking to your players is pretty key.  The players should still be able to have a good bit of agency and, if they find they really want to do XYZ, should have those choices left open.

How "serious" do they want to play?
Are you all going to be setting mood-lighting, kicking the kids out of the basement and turning off your phones for 6 hours to delve deep into the minds of the characters where everyone at table adopts a different persona and voice for the duration of the game?

Are you going to be gathered in a living room with a 60' TV and play throughout the day with a football game on in the background and treating DnD like something to do in the background of hanging out with your friends?

Again, talk to your players and see what level of "in character" you are going to expect from your players.  I tell my players in my saturday group that during session they need to be paying attention to the table (important note: That doesn't mean paying attention to me as much as doing things in game) for the whole time.  If they have to take a phonecall they need to leave the room.  My old thursday group, on the other hand, had players who were on their cellphones and the conversation around the table drifted around DND but was often talking about other games, things going on from the week, etc etc.  One way isn't "right" and the other is "wrong" but you should make sure your players and you are on the same page.

Recommendation on adventures:

Livingforgottenrealms has a ton of adventures to look through.  They are free, each module contains everything you need to run the game, and they are divided into sets so if you like an adventure you can play something similar to it by just looking in the same series.  The little kobold adventure in the DMG can work as a start point if you want something very simple. 

Study:

Part of that will be covered in the "seriousness" question.  Personally I would say if they don't have a lot of time it would behoove them to use their efforts to learn some of the basics of combat and how the rules kinda work.  Actually reading the whole handbook isn't really needed.  You can also have a little quiz for your players at the start of the game for easy rules of combat (where a lot of the study rules questions would come from) and award +2 tokens to players who get the right answer.  Always reward those who answer right, but don't punish people who answer wrong or forgot.

Simple questions like: What does it mean when you are "slowed"?  What does "Insight" do? 
 
After the players have a rough idea of what works for the game have them read one of the handbooks (Class Handbooks, not the Players Handbook) in character optimization forums for their class only.  If someone is playing a rogue, show them how to get to the rogue guide in Char Op.  They don't have to read it all at once, but they should know where the resource is if they choose to use it.

Other recommendations:

Keep talking to your players and let them know that this is their game just as much as it is yours.  I always set aside about 15 minutes at the end of every session to ask my players what they did and didn't like about the game.  Make sure to create a comfortable environment that detaches your persona from the persona of the DM.  That way they can say "It wasn't cool that we couldn't choose to go do X but instead had to do Y" without feeling like they are stepping on your toes.

Materials to help you start out can make life much smoother.  Also getting your players to share some of the burden of DMing at the start can help.  This can mean that someone else might DM for a game or two, or it might mean that you always DM but they help you keep track of things.  If you find that keeping track of Hit Points for your monster drastically slows down the story, or is a pain in the butt for you, let a player handle it (Just have them count up instead of down).  Have your players keep track of initiative, or use little notecards to show the initiative on the table for everyone.

Some suggested materials:

Slyflourish updated damage cheat sheet:
slyflourish.com/master_dm_sheet.pdf

A semi-experienced DM can run a campaign off of just that sheet and having it around is always handy.  For new DMs the skill numbers are likely what will get used the most often.

Chessex Game Mat. Either get a vynil map with 1' grid you can roll up or use a piece of plexiglass with a grid on it.  YOu will need one.

Monster Vault 1 or Monster Vault 2.  These box sets contain a ton of tokens for you to use.  4e is, in no small part, a grid based combat mini-game.  If you have miniatures to use have your players use them, and have your monsters be tokens.  It makes life on our side of the screen much easier.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
First of all, thank you so much for taking your time to give me such a nice reply.

Things to keep in mind:

What is the tone you want to set for the game?
Most of this is about talking to your players.  Do they want a traditional LotR style fantasy romp?  Do they want magic-tech (Eberron)?  Are they looking for something dark and gritty?  Do they want their heroes to be heroes and their villians to be villians or are they hunting for a gray area?  Do they want a game about politics in a giant metropolis (Like Sharn or the City of Doors) or do they want an epic tale of survival in a barren wasteland (Dark Sun).

Another thing to talk about is the limits of taboos.  I realized just recently that during a nightmare scenario I was running that I based it around something that made the players at my table very uncomfortable (child abuse) and took it one measure too far.  Your players are older so you can tackle some of the big issues if you want to, or you can avoid them.  If one person at the table would want to leave the table if **** entered into the story you should know that from the get-go.



We've been playing some HeroQuest, Warhammer quest and similar together so I was thinking that a pretty straight forward dungeon crawl could be a nice start, that way they will feel reasonably familiar with what's going on.
As for the setting I'd like to avoid going to "high fantasy", keeping everything rather simple and toned down.


How structured do they want the story?
Do the players want to control the story and tell their pieces of the epic tale, or do they want to turn off their brains and enjoy the story you make for them?  These forums would have you believe the latter is something that should never happen, but it can be liberating to just go with the flow of the DM's story.  I don't run those kind of games myself (generally), but I haven't mind playing in them before.  Again, talking to your players is pretty key.  The players should still be able to have a good bit of agency and, if they find they really want to do XYZ, should have those choices left open.



I'll have to wing it here really, I'm hoping that they will actively participate in the storytelling.
I'm going to have to figure out some nice way to make it feel rewarding for them to always be interracting throughout the adventure.


How "serious" do they want to play?
Are you all going to be setting mood-lighting, kicking the kids out of the basement and turning off your phones for 6 hours to delve deep into the minds of the characters where everyone at table adopts a different persona and voice for the duration of the game?

Are you going to be gathered in a living room with a 60' TV and play throughout the day with a football game on in the background and treating DnD like something to do in the background of hanging out with your friends?

Again, talk to your players and see what level of "in character" you are going to expect from your players.  I tell my players in my saturday group that during session they need to be paying attention to the table (important note: That doesn't mean paying attention to me as much as doing things in game) for the whole time.  If they have to take a phonecall they need to leave the room.  My old thursday group, on the other hand, had players who were on their cellphones and the conversation around the table drifted around DND but was often talking about other games, things going on from the week, etc etc.  One way isn't "right" and the other is "wrong" but you should make sure your players and you are on the same page.



For starters I will go real easy on the actual "acting", I'm not sure how comfortable they would feel doing this.
There will however be a reasonably serious approach to the game, little distractions etc.
My initial idea was to tell everyone that there's no need to go all out with the acting but that I want everyone to have nice, strong and most importantly consistent character traits throughout the adventure.
Ie, if one of my friends is playing an extremely impulsive barbarian, I want him to be extremely impulsive and not acting whatever way my friend would've had he been in that situation.


Recommendation on adventures:

Livingforgottenrealms has a ton of adventures to look through.  They are free, each module contains everything you need to run the game, and they are divided into sets so if you like an adventure you can play something similar to it by just looking in the same series.  The little kobold adventure in the DMG can work as a start point if you want something very simple.



I'll have to check them out, I did download one adventure of this site called "Keep on the Shadowfell" which looks quite nice, have you ever played it? Also have you got any particular adventure on Livingforgottenrealms which you'd like to recommend?


Study:

Part of that will be covered in the "seriousness" question.  Personally I would say if they don't have a lot of time it would behoove them to use their efforts to learn some of the basics of combat and how the rules kinda work.  Actually reading the whole handbook isn't really needed.  You can also have a little quiz for your players at the start of the game for easy rules of combat (where a lot of the study rules questions would come from) and award +2 tokens to players who get the right answer.  Always reward those who answer right, but don't punish people who answer wrong or forgot.

Simple questions like: What does it mean when you are "slowed"?  What does "Insight" do? 
 
After the players have a rough idea of what works for the game have them read one of the handbooks (Class Handbooks, not the Players Handbook) in character optimization forums for their class only.  If someone is playing a rogue, show them how to get to the rogue guide in Char Op.  They don't have to read it all at once, but they should know where the resource is if they choose to use it.



Sounds like a great idea, I would love it if everyone had a basic concept of what's going on.
Especially considering the amount of stuff I'll have to study myself as I'm completely new to 4E, I've hardly even opened the books yet.


Other recommendations:

Keep talking to your players and let them know that this is their game just as much as it is yours.  I always set aside about 15 minutes at the end of every session to ask my players what they did and didn't like about the game.  Make sure to create a comfortable environment that detaches your persona from the persona of the DM.  That way they can say "It wasn't cool that we couldn't choose to go do X but instead had to do Y" without feeling like they are stepping on your toes.

Materials to help you start out can make life much smoother.  Also getting your players to share some of the burden of DMing at the start can help.  This can mean that someone else might DM for a game or two, or it might mean that you always DM but they help you keep track of things.  If you find that keeping track of Hit Points for your monster drastically slows down the story, or is a pain in the butt for you, let a player handle it (Just have them count up instead of down).  Have your players keep track of initiative, or use little notecards to show the initiative on the table for everyone.



Yeah I was planing on doing something similar.
I think it's extra important to do a little post mortem considering that these players are all new, to make sure we figure out what parts of the game the enjoy best.

With the amount of stuff I'll have to try to remember the first couple of times it sure would be nice if someone would give me a hand.


Some suggested materials:

Slyflourish updated damage cheat sheet:
slyflourish.com/master_dm_sheet.pdf

A semi-experienced DM can run a campaign off of just that sheet and having it around is always handy.  For new DMs the skill numbers are likely what will get used the most often.

Chessex Game Mat. Either get a vynil map with 1' grid you can roll up or use a piece of plexiglass with a grid on it.  YOu will need one.

Monster Vault 1 or Monster Vault 2.  These box sets contain a ton of tokens for you to use.  4e is, in no small part, a grid based combat mini-game.  If you have miniatures to use have your players use them, and have your monsters be tokens.  It makes life on our side of the screen much easier.



I was actually looking at the Chessex game mat and some other one from GaleForce 9 which I'm considering to purchase.
Additionally I have loads of tiles, terrain pieces & miniatures from my HeroQuest & Warhammer quest games.


We've been playing some HeroQuest, Warhammer quest and similar together so I was thinking that a pretty straight forward dungeon crawl could be a nice start, that way they will feel reasonably familiar with what's going on.
As for the setting I'd like to avoid going to "high fantasy", keeping everything rather simple and toned down.



One of the things I wanted to really drive home with my responses were to make sure what you want to avoid and what your players want to avoid is the same thing. Being on the same page, even if it gives away parts of the plot / gives the players too much information, is more important for group cohesion unless you have a group of guys that will go with anything.

Also, Dungeon Crawls are pretty darned fun in 4e.



I'll have to wing it here really, I'm hoping that they will actively participate in the storytelling.
I'm going to have to figure out some nice way to make it feel rewarding for them to always be interracting throughout the adventure.



There are lots of ways to go about this.  I use Player Reward Cards (see my profile and notes) to reward players who do something at table that is awesome enough to stop everyone playing DnD and start them laughing.  I also give out reroll tokens for things players do to participate in the story telling and make everyone more immersed in what is going on.

Things that get rerolls can include:
Players writing their backgrounds
Players making a tactical decision that has great RP value but low tactical value
Players writing up a story about some place they wish to visit (giving you a town to build from for instance)
Players writing backstories for cool NPCs to include in your world or adventure.



For starters I will go real easy on the actual "acting", I'm not sure how comfortable they would feel doing this.
There will however be a reasonably serious approach to the game, little distractions etc.
My initial idea was to tell everyone that there's no need to go all out with the acting but that I want everyone to have nice, strong and most importantly consistent character traits throughout the adventure.
Ie, if one of my friends is playing an extremely impulsive barbarian, I want him to be extremely impulsive and not acting whatever way my friend would've had he been in that situation.

 

Again, just make sure everyone is on the same page.  I had one player who, after I explained I wanted something very similar, was quite upset when I talked to him about spending the entire session on his Iphone.



I'll have to check them out, I did download one adventure of this site called "Keep on the Shadowfell" which looks quite nice, have you ever played it? Also have you got any particular adventure on Livingforgottenrealms which you'd like to recommend?



I run mostly paragon level LFR so it is hard for me to come down with a good solid recommendation for what to do as a starter adventure.  I did, however, modify a SPEC (Rising Darkness I believe) and had a blast with it.  It can show you how you can turn a skill challenge into a story of its own and has some typical DnD tropes in it for fun.  It also has an encounter that is half skill challenge half fighting (which I have found to be a good baseline for a tough encounter).  I also really like CALI although I think most of those are paragon.


Sounds like a great idea, I would love it if everyone had a basic concept of what's going on.
Especially considering the amount of stuff I'll have to study myself as I'm completely new to 4E, I've hardly even opened the books yet.

 

Feel free to have your players come with questions of their own.  One of the key things to being a good DM is that you have to have a certain level of DM Fiat at table, but should be willing to change things moving forward.  Make it clear to your players that you will generally rule in their favor, but your ruling at table stands.  If they have a question about it they can ask after game but your ruling stands.  If it comes out that you made the wrong ruling just make sure the player knows that you will do it another way in the future or, in some cases, talk to your players and see if you like the rule as is or want to change it to something you feel makes more sense.  I do that with a lot of things (Death Saving Throws being a big one in my games as well as multiple applications of status effects and breaking objects)




Yeah I was planing on doing something similar.
I think it's extra important to do a little post mortem considering that these players are all new, to make sure we figure out what parts of the game the enjoy best.

With the amount of stuff I'll have to try to remember the first couple of times it sure would be nice if someone would give me a hand.

 

One thing I didn't mention, but it can be really helpful, is give jobs to players who are the least involved.  So if you have a guy spending the whole time on his iphone, make him in charge of calling out whose turn it is on initiative and make sure he gets into the habit of reminding who is on deck that their turn is coming.



I was actually looking at the Chessex game mat and some other one from GaleForce 9 which I'm considering to purchase.
Additionally I have loads of tiles, terrain pieces & miniatures from my HeroQuest & Warhammer quest games.



The thing about tiles and terrain is that if you don't have the space or time to know exactly what the players are going to do (And that often leads to a bad case of the railroads) then it is really hard to prepare everything in advance.  The great part about having the Chessex map is that with a couple of wet-erase markers you can take the fight anywhere with basically no setup time.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
The sample adventure in the back of the DMG is a pretty fun and short dungeon crawl.  I was in a position very similar to yours when I started my current campaign and it was an easy foray into 4e.  

Also, I didn't even bother having my PCs read the PHB before getting started.  I made up some character sheets, got everybody together and started with them on the road to Fallcrest.  When they got to the gates of the city, a dwarven guard wanted to know who they were, why they wanted to get in, etc.  This lead to our very first skill check, and got them used to the idea that you roll a d20 first whenever a roll is required.  I think it's easy to learn the rules by playing the game, and it isn't near as daunting, so that's what we did.  I also told them that if they enjoyed it and wanted to keep playing, we could make changes to their character/change charactes whenever they felt like it.  Fast forward a couple of months and we've got one new player, lost a player, and everybody is having a great time.  They're very casual gamers, but they've learned the mechanics nicely, added backstory to their PC, and have even dropped in their own plot hooks. 
I started DM'ing a 4E group a few weeks ago, playing every Sunday. I have experience in AD&D 2E from years ago, and kept up with the PC games (Baldur's Gate, Temple of Elemental Evil, etc.), but my four primary players and I jumped in with no 4E experience at all. The first two sessions were rocky (the first was a failed attempt at character creation, and the second was mostly character creation, leading to "Okay, let's just @%#$ing play"). We're currently up to our final Red Box encounter, and as I type this, I'm finishing up the encounters for my own homebrewed campaign. We found that you don't need to read a lot before starting. You can pretty much read the books and different online resources when you need to fill in this or that space on your character sheet, then check the books for each situation you encounter (difference between a blast and a burst, appropriate DC for a skill check, what the hell does "1[W]" mean, etc.), and as the DM books tell me, I can make things up on the fly when I need to. Contrary to what the books say, though, I'm liable to change a rule if I A) realize that I did the wrong thing, or B) decide that I like my / our way better. I do, of course, run it past the players before the game begins, and if they disagree with me, we discuss it before I make my decision.

If I'm going to give any advice, though, it's an echo of what's been said here already: your say is final. I have two older brothers who were playing more AD&D back in the day than I was, one in particular who was an exceptional DM, and they both gave me that same advice. If a player wants to do something that simply doesn't fit the world you've created, don't allow it. Explain why you're not allowing it, though, and make sure that they understand. However, if they want to break the rules and have a good reason behind it, definitely consider it. I like everything that Matyr said, and I've written some of it down in my "Dungeon Master Nails' Book of Notes!" for possible house rules (I seriously dig the Player Reward Cards and Reroll Token idea). However, my campaign world just has a basic back story and idea behind it, being built up as we go along, so I want my players to participate in the world-building as well. Not everyone is into that, since they'd rather read a little during the week and save D&D for Sunday, but I have two in particular who actively question me, ask my advice, and throw ideas at me, so as long as you can get one or two to do that, you'll be set. At the moment, I have a starting point (the village of Ren), a few encounter / skill challenge options for the characters once they arrive there, some RP opportunities, and some NPCs who will basically provide directions for the party to go in. Some railroading is involved, I admit, but I don't need them going in directions that I haven't prepared for when I'm not 100% comfortable running a game that I have prepared for.


Another good thing to have, similar to what Matyr suggested, is a designated 'rules lawyer'. In my group, he's also a dedicated and active player, but he's the first one to look up a rule when it's needed, or offer a correction if I'm wrong (thankfully, he's also the type to accept my ruling as-is). I always look at him first when I don't know what to do, and the others have made that a habit as well. I also contact him when I can't remember something that happened at the last session. As a DM you simply cannot be expected to know everything right away. I remember Chris Perkins saying "DM'ing a game is only slightly harder than breathing." However, it's still your job to put some effort into learning, more so than the players, because you won't always be playing with friends, and a good DM eventually knows at least half of everything there is to know...eventually.


Once you're more comfortable DM'ing, I strongly suggest doing what most DMs do and start your own homebrewed game. That doesn't mean writing up every single detail in the world. It simply means that your world is a combination of original material and pre-published adventures that you've either tweaked to your liking or tweaked slightly to fit your campaign. I wanted to use my original campaign world from the get-go, but that proved impossible due to having no idea how the mechanics and more intricate details really worked. You can pretty much draw from influences that you have, such as music, movies, tv shows, books, etc., or go full-original with a world that perhaps no one has ever imagined. Dude, Dungeons & Dragons is your world. It's your sandbox, playground, whatever you want to call it. I've taken the liberty of naming some places and such after deceased loved ones and heroes as a minor form of tribute to them (Mike Scaccia of Ministry just passed away, so I named a body of water 'Lake Scaccia'), as well as naming things after songs that I love. You can even throw in movie references for comedic value. You can do whatever you please, so long as your players will enjoy it.


In the end, all that I can do is second what Matyr and rednblack said, but I hope that simply seconding that advice helps you out. I just love to see new people getting interested in D&D. I really wish you the best, dude. You're playing the greatest game known to mankind.

Oh yeah! Food! It is more important than you think. Be sure to either cook for them, suggest that one of them cook for everyone, or pool money for pizza or some other delivery. Snacks are a great thing to have as well. I host my games at a friend's house, and she and I sort of take turns providing dinner. Chili, spaghetti, or gumbo are awesome for sessions because you can make a lot without breaking the bank. We also all take turns bringing Mountain Dew and other such things. Caffiene is a must. Trust me, no one cares about D&D anymore once they're tired and hungry.
There's a lot of good advice here, not just for your situation but really for all of us.

I'd add to it that you and your group both need to be prepared

* People have preconceptions, it's iimportant to talk to them before you begin to ensure you're all on the same page and that you discover any concerns or issues - I know that sounds somewhat paranoid but trust me, it's not - even if you know them very well it really is critical to set the right expectations and understand their expectations. Be prepared to be flexible, if they feel strongly that something should be different it may well be better to roll with it and keep the game going. A good DM will develop a feel for where rules can be bent or altered and how - there's a lot to learn on both sides of the screen.

* Know your players
There are many different kinds of players, Knights of The Dinner Table is a comic based entirley on the exploration of these types.
It's well worth learning how to challenge and involve each of the different kinds of players, begin simply with identifying them. I tend to feel it's like playing cards, looking for 'tells' and strategising scenarios for your group to navigate while 'reading' them as you go.

* Make sure you know the material.
They're going to be looking to you for answers to all of their questions and doubts, you need to answer absolutely and confidently even to the point of being able to settle opposing points of view - remember, they'll have certain ideas about how things "should" work without necessarily being familiar with the game setting or mechanics (of whatever game or generation of game you choose to use). 

* Challenge them, but let them win.
No, really... they'll almost certainly want to metaphorically stretch their legs and experiment, they'll probably make mistakes or make what seem to you to be silly choices. You can always ramp up the level of consequence as time goes on and they become both more familiar and competent, but especially when you're starting out you need to have your priorities straight - if things start getting wobbly, take a little time to help them back on track. A sense of accomplishment will make the whole thing much more enjoyable and likely to occur again.

* Keep it simple. 
This doesn't necessarily mean you must use low level characters or overly simple plots, those sorts of things really depend on the ground work you do before starting the game. It's imperative however that in early games, the choices players can make in all kinds of encounters are clear, that their goals and motivations are clear and that the goal/s they're trying to accomplish are clear.

Exactly how much you require them to study again depends on the ground work you do with them, you need to know their tollerance for reading rules and other 'dry text', it may well overwhelm them.
I personally recommend going very light with the rules at first, prioritise the roleplaying aspects in all situations and only head to the rules & character sheets for reference and combat, where absolutes are essential.
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