First time playtesting w/ brand new players

So I am running a playtest this evening, have been prepping for the last day. This is my first time DMing ever, and I will be playing with 4 players, only one of which has played before. I will be running Caves of Chaos, supplemented slightly by fluff from B2 (i.e. keep and wilderness map, may run a couple of the wilderness encounters). I have also supplemented with info from Sly Flourish on npc's and motives, I also randomized some npcs from donjon online randomization tools, just in case i need to have some interactions in the keep. I have definitely simplified so that the keep just has the basics, as they are all new players (pretty much) I don't forsee having to have too much fluff for rp purposes.

I am familiar with 3/3.5 as well as WFRP, so I feel like this playtest rule set is very simple compared. Fingers crossed for a fun session! We wil be rolling new characters tonight, and I'm thinking doing a quick combat or two before we start in with the story, just to kind of give everyone a feel for the rules and how a combat might go. As far as the story goes I have only really prepared some possible wilderness encounters, as well as some index cards with stat blocks for the goblin and kobold caves (which is where I plan to steer them so the first session isn't a TPK). I am mostly concerned with just throwing the party into situations that could snowball out of controll, I mostly want this to be an intro with a few combats and some fun NPC and PC interactions.


That said does anyone have any advice on bringing new players up to speed, any tips for running with first timers in this setting, any comments or general advice?
Thank you in advance! 
Sounds you're in for a fun time! Make sure you don't swarm them with too many critters, the kobold & goblin caves have rooms that has lot of them.
I'm planning on playing it by ear, I am going to see if it is necessary for those critters to react to their presence. If they roll through 7-9 kobolds with no problem, i'll throw a couple more at them. I am also thinking of chunking out the numbers a bit, i.e. having some out on patrol that may return later or populate additional areas/wilderness encounters, or just disregarding some of the numbers in the areas with big hordes. 
Coolio

Let us know how it went... 
Plaguescarred's advice is top priority, especially at low levels.    Make sure they know that it is ok to retreat or run if they feel overwhelmed.

Also, don't rule out the possibility of interacting with the different factions in the caves.   It mentions all of that in the adventure, but it doesn't really elaborate.    

If the players want to parlay...inimidate, bluff, persuade...roll with it.   It really opened up a lot of options and made our sessions much more interesting.

Most importantly....just have fun.


    

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

Think in 3D, and when you have to describe things more accurately, do not limit the description to sight. Talk about the odors and sounds, it greatly helps the immersionin the story. The quality of the air helps too.

At first, it feels forced, but after some time it comes naturally and you may even play with it.
For example, when you make quick positive descriptions, players become more confident and make mistakes when exploring. And the more you are adding details to a description, the more the players want to be aware of their surrounding, which is ideal to slow the pace of an exploration or the make the players feel stupid when they realise the NPC introduced soon after is harmless and didn't deserve to be treated with so much suspicion.

Description around the five senses is the more important DM tool for me. Even during combat, I find really constructive to stop the flow the time to sescribe the current situation in detail at some times.
It was useful in 4th edition with the long and technical combats, but it's even more important in DDN with the flash battles. It helps to not feel like these short combats were anecdotical.

I know very good DM who almost always limit their desriptions to sight, but they are often weaker in the exploration part of the game IMO.

If you think my english is bad, just wait until you see my spanish and my italian. Defiling languages is an art.

I'm planning on playing it by ear, I am going to see if it is necessary for those critters to react to their presence. If they roll through 7-9 kobolds with no problem, i'll throw a couple more at them. I am also thinking of chunking out the numbers a bit, i.e. having some out on patrol that may return later or populate additional areas/wilderness encounters, or just disregarding some of the numbers in the areas with big hordes. 




Sounds like you're prepared to be flexible, which is probably the most important thing.  When I started with all brand new players, I chose to retool Keep on the Shadowfell because I felt it had a good story to draw them in and keep them going... it worked out quite well. I'm interested in hearing how brand new players respond to the Caves of Chaos. Hope you have a blast!
EDIT: I will definitely put up a dm playtest report on the playtest forum, or perhaps here, will edit the original post with a link when I have time to type up a report.Cool, thanks for the help guys. From what I've been reading people elsewhere have discouraged rolling characters (suggesting using pre-gens), but my group is pretty adamant about wanting to make them their own. At least it will be a way for me to introduce stats etc. We have plenty of time to muss around and set up, thinking of running a combat with about 8 or 10 skeletons as an intro to combat.

Monsieur Mustache I will definitely try to embellish on the 5 senses. I like that the close proximity is packed with details about sound/living area descriptions, definitely going to hit on the surroundings to warn the party, i.e. tracks, smells, trash, noise from the dens (maybe a ritual, or a squabble). 


Rhenny thanks for the ideas, thinking of really pressing home that combat doesn't have to end when everyone is dead, perhaps parlay, surrender, prisoners? Maybe even a solo monster from one of the harder caves encountered alone and surrendering to give hints/warnings as to what lies deeper within.


SigmaOne, I am not sure as to how I want to tie everyone into the adventure, I am thinking of using SlyFlourish's PC relationships table in his supplement for caves of chaos here s3.amazonaws.com/slyflourish_content/cav... to let the pc's decide how they want to play with it. I'm not planning on adding this into a big campaign at first, we will likely be playing weekly if people show the interst. My thoughts are that they can choose their motives for coming to this somewhat wild land, perhaps assuming that some have been in the keep for a bit and gathered rumors, perhaps assuming that one or two just arrived. The general assumption is they have either come for employment or seeking wealth/fame (I know, cliche, but then again this is a game for some first-timers ). I'm thinking my first hook may be a kidnapped child of a travelling merchant, or perhaps something stolen from the inkeep to be located in the gobbo caves, or perhaps just to map it. Think I'll just roll a d6 and see which one it is. Does keep on Shadowfell have conversion docs for ddn? I was between CoC and Blingenstone, may've been easier just doing a homebrew now that I've been studying up.
Very basic first session, awesome. Rolling characters for four people (three of which have never played pnp games) took almost two hours ( 2 tablets and 1 laptop, much guidance). All are good friends of mine and surprised me by being able to read over rules while having a beer together. Much banter and go-between, but all good.

I had originally formulated some crap to draw them in but instead my playtesters all had minds of their own. I will write a full playtest for posterity. My players basically set themselves up for motivation+.

The characters are as follows:

Mountain Dwarf Cleric (LN) bg Artisan: brewer:
(only player with pnp experience, only experience being ddn playtest) high stat rolls, spells prepared (burning hands, bless, heal)

Mountain Dwarf Fighter (CN) bg guide:
decent stat rolls all told AC 17 +6 to hit at first level !?!?!?

Wood Elf Ranger (LN?) bg hunter:
decent rolls, low charisma (played it up as being a hunter/wilderness type), got a few 1shots first level vs kobolds and gobbos

Wood Elf Druid (CG) bg spy:
rolled poorly, allowed to take base suggested stats, cantrips (berries, the s spell)

I was pleasantly suprised while rolling characters, everyone was willing to rp, and were formulating their own stories before I had a chance to step in! The characters are stat appropriate but the exercise of this session was to teach the rules of combat, as well as to show what could be done when not in combat.

The dwarves had already known each other, having lived in this town for a while after the collapse of their supposed kingdom (on the PCs' own merit, this was the story they wanted to tell). One was an opportunist (the CN fighter) who offered guidance to other adventuring groups, offered tours and advice as to navigating the wilderness, but had little true experience with the caves, other than leading people to their assumed deaths. The Cleric (LN) has adhered to a standard of morals that no longer applied, thus his appearance as neutral in a culture that was not his own. Likely altruistic in a sense, but not perhaps versed in the vernacular of other societies. The Dwarf has run up quite a tab in the keep, as he is more often drinking than brewing, yet his charismatic approach is hard to deny. The Elf Ranger is a simple bounty hunter, he hides the burden of losing his wife and child to an unknown assailant, but has a lock of his/her hair as proof, and would stop at nothing to get his revenge. The last, a Wood Elf Druid, has no ties to the keep, she is likely a scout or spy for a druidic society from some unknown place due to her background. Oddly she chose a "good" alignment and has a low charisma score which she played as being a hermit with twigs twined in her hair. She hasn't spoken to other sentient or agreeable humanoids very often or in a long while.

Our Dwarves are assumed to be privvy to the keep, one having been a guide, one having run up a great tab at the Green Gem Tavern. They are going about business at the Tavern as usual, when they notice an Elf. He has been in and out of town countless times, but being Dwarves with a drinking habit they have not yet made his acquaintance (yet rumors pervade due to a charisma check with Torin the bartender, however he is not readily talking to the drunk dwarves about the caves). They notice him sitting within earshot of their revelry, mid conversation with the barkeep about the nearby caves. The barkeep goes to refill the Elf's glass and the two dwarves (succeeding on a spot check) notice that the Elf has had more luck with procuring information from the barkeep about said caves. He offers the Elf a map (players' map) of the ravine that the caves are located in, with a couple of tips (i.e. where to go first, what kind of denizens in the first two caves, a loose quests "This map is just of the ravine, I have sold countless of the like! I would be most interested in the contents of the caves within."). The Elf then leaves the Dwaves in tow, trying to weasel out the details of what he recieved from the bartender. *I had intedended this as a simple way to meet but my party rp'd it pretty well so I let them go with this while telling them this was supposed to be a simple coming together so we could introduce the hermit druid*. The dwarves fail in their drunken state to persuade the ranger to give them information, he chooses to keep the map to himself. He does agree however to go out in the morning to scout the area with these dwarves, as one has a reputation in town as a guide.

In comes the first encounter! The three travel near the mouth of the caves some time before noon, I chose to introduce the hermit druid here and have our first combat. I had the party roll a spot check and the dwarves both rolled well enough, ironically the elf had his nose buried in the map. They came to a slight clearing after trudging through thick woods and the dwarves noticed a female elf with twigs in her hair, hiding beind a tree and giving them a sign that all was not well ahead. She had been foraging in the woods and was currently hiding from a noisy troupe of koblods she had spotted. I had everyone roll initiative as the closest three of nine kobolds had noticed the adventurers' presence as well. The kobolds cried out to their six buddies and I rolled the same initiative for the pack.

(my combat analasys I was apprehensive at throwing nine monsters of any type at newbies for a tutorial combat, boy was I wrong. Berries won the day, taking down four of the nine, arrows from the ranger one, the rest pure great axe from the fighter. The fighter was healed once by the cleric, bless was in play from early combat almost throu til the end. I did use the bonus for kobolds, but maybe should've thrown in a dragonshield or something different for diversity?

The troupe of adventurers was glad to have won the day, the cleric rolling 19 plus whatever modifier charmed the woodland girl into fighting with them while their paths overlapped (after seeing her trounce the kobold force with some nassssty berries). The party took a rest seeing as the cleric had exhausted three spells. They set out again after nightfall with no random encounters. After the rest they moved towards the bottom of the ravine.

As of now it was just past dark, the party was asked for a spot check while moving into the ravine. The fighter and ranger both rocked it, and saw 2 goblins standing outside of the southern cave's mouth, rolling so well that they also saw the entrance to the northern cave a few clicks to the west. Both dwarves decided on their hatred for goblins and convinced the elves to go towards them. The goblins rolled a natural 1 to spot the party, so I gave the party a surprise round with advantage. I initially rolled 3d6 to see how many gobbos would back up this group, rolling 11 including the 2 at the door. The party posted up, only one attack (which downed one of the two guards, the surviving one wailing and calling his buddies) was rolled by the ranger in the surprise round, with mostly movement being taken by the others (who were far enough away that they needed to position themselves at the bottleneck of the cave entrance). After the surprise round the gobbos were 4th in order. After a spew(6? not including the initial 2) of goblins issued forth from the mouth of the cave and had several ineffective attacks vs the pcs, I decided I would add 3 hobgoblins. The effect was almost as desired, the cleric had to heal the druid, who sunk to 1 hp at the lowest, several hits were landed on the pcs but nothing serious (1 or 2 per) from the goblins. The hobgoblins were affected by faerie fire while the goblins managed their save, which made them relatively easy to take down, the hobbos still managed to take a chunk of the fighter's health.

Overally my party surprised me pleasantly, I was woefully over-prepared. Everyone had a great time (two good friends, and two good friends who are dating each other). I feel like the encounters I gave them were relatively easy but at one or two points the pcs felt threatened and needed to react. My rolling disclaimer (get it ?!) is that this is a group of new players, who managed to get some basics down, things like advantage and disadvantage were understandable, in addition to making attack rolls and showing monster saves vs spells ( no screen was used, I am also learning!). I feel like I can introduce some more complex combat issues and compositions next round. Overall everyone was pretty happy with the session, which is all I was looking for. The elements of the story my PCs came up with surprised me, so I let them run with it and gave them the encounters I prepared, while taking notes!
Think in 3D, and when you have to describe things more accurately, do not limit the description to sight. Talk about the odors and sounds, it greatly helps the immersionin the story. The quality of the air helps too.

At first, it feels forced, but after some time it comes naturally and you may even play with it.
For example, when you make quick positive descriptions, players become more confident and make mistakes when exploring. And the more you are adding details to a description, the more the players want to be aware of their surrounding, which is ideal to slow the pace of an exploration or the make the players feel stupid when they realise the NPC introduced soon after is harmless and didn't deserve to be treated with so much suspicion.

Description around the five senses is the more important DM tool for me. Even during combat, I find really constructive to stop the flow the time to sescribe the current situation in detail at some times.
It was useful in 4th edition with the long and technical combats, but it's even more important in DDN with the flash battles. It helps to not feel like these short combats were anecdotical.

I know very good DM who almost always limit their desriptions to sight, but they are often weaker in the exploration part of the game IMO.



Really good post and quality advice!
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