Tuesday, May 17, 2011

DM Tips: Combating Newbie Disease

Do you remember what it was like during your first roleplaying game? You could do ANYTHING. The world was your burrito and damn the consequences! And then you look up and see your Dungeon Master, red faced and fuming. Maybe you later found him crying in the bathroom, flushing his notes down the toilet. In any case, there is a reason from this and no, there is nothing wrong with him. It's you. You are suffering from none other than Newbie Disease.
Newbie Disease can be diagnosed if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

1) Killing of, and stealing from, innocents no matter what your character alignment is:

When you are first introduced to roleplaying games, the consequences of the real world are gone. The same thing occurs while playing video games. No one is actually being hurt, so why bother with normal moral decisions? If there is someone in your way, why not cut them down?

The problem with this train of thought is that the players are not treating the game as an actual reality, forgetting that the roleplaying aspect of a role-playing game is what separates a game like Dungeons and Dragons from the Warhammer 40K miniature game. The roleplaying is why we have more than just combat stats, after all.
Bah! I can stab innocents using Charisma in 4E!
So what can we do to cure this problem? We can...
  • ...encourage the player to create at least a rudimentary background for the character. Use it to your advantage to create non-combat encounters that deal with the character's past.
  • ...have whatever police force that exists in your world give escalating warnings and, if need be, imprison the character. Actions have consequences, but don't create a scenario that will rip the fun from the game.
2) Taking an extreme passive stance in the game

For one reason or another, this player sits on the sidelines, only reacting when entirely needed. Maybe they are shy, bored, or truly only there for the socializing with friends.

Cures are dependent on the source, so if the player is...
  • ...shy, have them appointed as the face of the group. This puts them in a decisive leadership position, creating situations that reinforce the need for interaction in a roleplaying game.
  • ...bored, figure out what interests them. If they like killing things, have a monstrous amount of goblins appear to raid the town. If they like intrigue, add in a political sub-plot to the game. It is your job, as the DM, to entertain. Bored players are not entertained.
  • ...only there to socialize, create more situations where the players can interact with each other or with NPCs. The more interaction, the more socializing they do. Just be sure this particular player doesn't also get bored as it may lead to many tangents involving the latest cracked.com article (just linking to that site got me stuck on it for about an hour).
3) Creating situations contrary to the story, including your character's goals

If I may explain, this problem is a little more than killing-of/stealing-from innocents. For example, your game takes place in the city but they attempt to go to the desert. Or perhaps your story calls for the players to go from A to B to C and eventually to Z so that way your players can properly level up, but they decide to skip all that and go straight for Z. This symptom can also be apparent in experience roleplayers, but we are looking at it from the lack of experience angle rather than the douchebag-player angle.
I could totally take on Vader right now.

Your player's lack of experience in roleplaying may lead to problems down the road. The same reason he kills without mercy even though he is Lawful Good may be the same reason he thinks he is immortal in the game and decides to take on the Level 30 Ancient Dragon right from the start.

If your player...
  • ...has a hard time grasping the concept of level progression, stress to them outside of the game that they need to buff up before taking on the BBEG.
  • ...tends to act contrary to his character goals, remind him outside of the game that his Lawful Good Paladin would not allow the undead King to continue his reign of terror on the innocent, no matter how many sexy concubine succubi he promises.

4) Caring little for the game outside of controlling your character, including the character mechanics

This is another symptom that can be found in more experienced players, but due to other reasons of a more jerky nature. However, I believe this behavior can be altered from the very beginning. If you can catch it while the player is still new, they may have a chance before it becomes a continuing behavior.

It is important for the player to understand that playing is more than just showing up and rolling dice. At the very least, they should understand the mathematical formulas for ALL they are capable of doing. At the most, they can be the secondary source of rules knowledge, the DM's right hand man and favorite player (usually).

There can be only one cure: treat them as the plant to your gardener. They are a delicate flower, hoping to one day bloom with beautiful petals of gaming wonder instead of sprouting into a filthy weed of uninterest. You must tend to them with each game. Show them how each mechanic functions. Teach them why the game works as it does.
Who's a pretty roleplayer? YOU'RE a pretty roleplayer!

5) Not grasping the concept of character motivation versus game goals

When one roleplays, one puts on the persona of another individual, usually one far unlike their own. This persona has different motivations, feelings, opinions, and goals. The character's goal is not "Gain XP". It is more akin to "Gain Fortune So I May Retire" or "Raise a Family" or even "Remove All Evil From the World". The two are vastly different, though not mutually exclusive.

A player can easily achieve his goals while working with the character's goals. The quest for fortune can be reached with the pursuit of experience points. The quest to "Remove All Evil" is practically the same. However, defeating the BBEG is not always the main concern of the character, even if the player is aware of the main problem and the character is not.

Cures for this problem include:
  • Keeping the player in check with character vs. player knowledge
  • Bring up opportunity for the player to raise his character's personal goals over the game's goals
  • Fill the game with hooks that will peak the character's AND player's interest
If you continue to have problems with your newbie players, seek a professional roleplaying physician. OR, kick them in the can.

Special thanks to the following Tweeters for their input: @symatt, @LeStew, @DarkPatu, @DrNathanJPanke, @GeekyLyndsay, @nimbuschick, and @gamewriterMike

1 comment:

  1. One time in a game, Kyle had an epic battle planned. Sam's character was unconscious. Anna's had been thrown into a pillar and run away. So Zach and I combined our martial arts roll and wrapped the baddie up in a rug and beat him to death.

    Kyle was so sad.