If you read my previous article, you will see it talked about getting people interested in trying RPGs... this is only the first step.
Let me lay out a few ideas on how to make sure the first session grabs their attention and makes them want to come back for more!
The Tavern is your friend
The first thing to remember is that your players are probably going to be brand new to roleplaying.
The first hour or so of the game should be spent getting them comfortable with actually taking actions as their characters. It's actually a good idea to begin them in that most stereotypical of settings; a tavern. For them, it won't be a cliché. It will get them starting a bit of social interaction, getting them used to speaking in character and also, with the addition of some haggling/bar brawling, you can showcase the system a bit and get them used to making test rolls and so on.
Have a few characters on hand to for them to interact with, the trick here is to get them to think about who their character is and how they react to things. If you manage to get them talking amongst themselves that is even better! You can even prompt that by asking "How do you all know each other?”
The one danger with starting them in the tavern is ensuring that they don't go completely off the rails and they start murdering people in the tavern and robbing everyone... you might find it difficult to run an actual game; that said, they may well have a blast!
Set your Hook
The first place your session can go off the rails is when you lay out your adventure hook because, if your new players do not bite, everything you have planned will be for nothing.
The adventure hook is usually the thing that gets them moving on within the adventure that you planned. This is once again where having new player(s) will help you, as they will not know all of the old clichés. It is absolutely fine to have them approached by a shadowy figure in the tavern because they will never have experienced that before. One thing that you should ensure though is that, whatever your hook is, you need to tailor it to your player party. If the player party is determined to be honourable knights then luring them with money may not work, similarly, if they have more material wishes, asking them to save an orphanage out of the goodness of their hearts is not going to work. It is worthwhile asking the players what motivates them to adventure when you start the session and then tailor the hook to their answers. If in doubt, vast stacks of gold almost always
It is worthwhile asking the players what motivates them to adventure when you start the session and then tailor the hook to their answers. If in doubt, vast stacks of gold almost always
If in doubt, vast stacks of gold almost always seem's to work!
Don't be afraid to explain
Your players are new, they may not know exactly how their characters work, but if you took my previous advice they will be playing pre-generated characters that YOU know very well.
Don't be afraid to explain things about their characters but don't take over playing them!
For D&D 5E, I find making sure the magic users have access to the spell cards is a great help, but also make sure that you are explaining how they help a given situation! New players may not, for example, understand why the Bane spell is so useful, or that they can take a second action by spending an action surge, or that being in point blank range is such a good idea etc etc etc. Explain their choices but don't tell them what to do, and definitely don't catch them in "gotchas" such as revealing spells will harm their friends after they have committed to them. There may be a fair amount of back-tracking on actions; remember they are learning.
Keep the adventure simple but interesting.
While in the future, you may want to build a world of complex factions, vying for supremacy where no one is really the good or bad choice, I wouldn't suggest it for the first game with new players.
The best bet is to make your opponents obviously bad, that way the players will be invested in beating them, and feel like heroes when they finally do. What I wouldn't do is make the adventure too easy, as this will make the victory feel a little hollow. At the same time, no one likes losing, so there is a bit of a balancing act to be made.
If in doubt, hand out!
Handouts are a good way to get new players immersed in the world you are creating, especially if the handout relates to a puzzle that they have to solve.
Having something physical to hold and examine allows the players to feel more like their character, increasing their immersion in the game. Even a simple handout of a treasure map or clue you have made to seem old or damaged will help, the old tea stain and bake in the oven trick can work wonders for players who have never held a handout before. They get to interact with something their character is interacting with, and that draws them into their character a little more.
And In Conclusion; THE FINALE
The most important part of any first session is to make sure it builds to a satisfying finale, the players either meet and (hopefully) defeat the big bad, or seize the treasure, or save the village.
Don’t tie everything up; leave them a few things that they want to follow up, mostly so you have game seeds for the next session and the players have a reason to want to come back.
The aim here is that by the end of the first session they will feel like their characters are heroes and that they have achieved something, and they want to know what is going to happen next!
If you pull it all off, you should look forward to more sessions with your newly minted avid role-players.
- Richard C