I arrive at the game store. Sporting a shiny new Player’s Handbook in my arms and a set of dice from the Starter Kit in my pocket, I ignore my humming nerves, enter, and observe.
This establishment had advertised something called “D&D Encounters” on Wednesday nights. I had done my research, and learned that “Encounters” is something promoted by the creators of DnD in order to make it more accessible to new players and to those without time to dedicate to a full campaign. It is, as I understand it, a one-shot game every week, for level one characters. This sounded perfect for me. I had no desire to commit to a campaign I would not be able to maintain, and I especially did not want to saddle a Dungeon Master with a brand new player against his/her expectations. Just to be sure, I had emailed the establishment to confirm this meetup was for newbies and people with limited availability. I was told that there were Wednesday night games that had open slots available, and that people pop in and out all of the time. It wasn’t exactly what I was asking, but it was close. I was told to arrive early so I could meet the DM and roll up a character if need be. I was terrified, but I need external interaction so badly right now. I have always ALWAYS wanted to try tabletop RPGs. I had to jump in somewhere, and this sounded promising. So I had decided to go, had my mom watch the kids, and wound up here.
Several tables are occupied by people playing games, but unfortunately none feature a sign stating, “Dungeons and Dragons Noobs over Here!” I take an eternity in front of the cold case, taking deep breaths and selecting a fruity soda. As I pay, I ask the bartender about the “Encounters” group for newcomers. She sees this listed on their chart, but doesn’t know which group it is. She asks a man I figure is the owner. He points toward the back room and says he’s pretty sure those tables have room for new players. Neither DM has arrived. He tells me to pick a table and see how it goes.
Ummm, okay. That’s not my worst nightmare or anything. I have flashbacks to finding a seat in the school cafeteria. I almost run away.
The current clues do not bode well. My fear had been that I would show up and find myself in the middle of someone’s campaign, that a DM would have to try to teach me how to play while running an ongoing game. It now seems like this was exactly what I am about to do.
I peek into the back room. Seated at one table are a couple of kids who tell me that they will be playing an original game one of them has made up. They say the other table will be playing DnD. They don’t exactly invite me to play with them, but hint that new players are always welcome. I, however, know that I won’t be able to attend regular Wednesday game sessions, so I don’t want to impose on their game for just one evening. Plus I am still hoping the DnD table will be single shot games I can play once a month. Besides, these kids are all a good two decades younger than me and sport multicolored hair. Obviously that iss the cool kids’ table. I have never belonged at the cool kids’ table.
I sit at the other table, the one that will be playing DnD and is occupied by a guy closer to my own age. At first I hope his is the GM and I introduce myself. He tells me the GM hasn’t arrived yet and we chat about general nonsense. A couple of other guys show up, all of us as awkward as one would expect, and finally the GM gets there as well. He welcomes me as a new player and seems nice enough.
He asks if I have a character. I do!. I built one on an online generator, and admittedly don’t know what a bunch of the attributes mean. He looks over my character. Apparently it is all wrong. My stats don’t match up with my personality traits, etc.
Also, my character is a level one.
I need to be a level three.
Because they are in the middle of an ongoing campaign.
At this point I know I probably won’t be able to play with these guys regularly – unless we can make my character hibernate at regular intervals. Like Brigadoon. I am otherwise engaged three Wednesdays a month. My dreams of joining a one-shot game once a month to learn the ropes are pretty much dashed all to hell at this point. I have made it this far, however, so I may as well finish out the evening.
There is no time to roll up a new character for me, as the GM was a bit late to begin with. He doctors my character up to a level 3 and corrects some of the things that were wrong with her. He asks some questions, and gives the deep sigh when I don’t know the answers. The other players are extremely patient, counting out their dice and looking up things in their books. I apologize for taking up the time, but they all respond with a general, “Hey, we were all new at some point” thing which is super nice.
Finally my character is less atrocious and the game starts. Immediately the GM turns to me and says, “I can’t keep poofing players in and out of the game whenever someone new shows up, so you’ll have to wait while I figure out a way to work you in to the story.” Okay, fine. I completely understand. I didn’t mean to intrude on an ongoing game, but here I am and I am aware that makes things more difficult for the GM. I am certainly not trying to trash him here, because I do know I put him in a bad spot.
It does feel a bit less welcome-y though. Especially when two of the guys next to me point out that they are in a forest and I’m a rogue thief, so it would make sense for me to kind of appear out of the woods.
“I’m not doing that.” the GM replies.
The group is in a forest, having just rested. They are immediately attacked by some sort of fire monster whose name I didn’t catch. It takes me a bit to realize that the little cardboard circles on the table represent the fire monsters. It doesn’t matter, however, because I’m not in play. I watch the game play, and the guy next to me whispers, “I’m sure he’ll get you in the game soon.” I reply, “It’s okay. It’s helpful just to watch what’s happening.” I can tell he’s annoyed on my behalf, though, which helps to diminish my own annoyance.
During the battle, a couple of other guys show up — first timers who are friends of one of the other guys. Now the GM has to deal with three of us. They borrow characters from their friend, so they don’t need to develop anything.
The GM winds up more or less “poofing” us all into the game. “You are drawn to the sounds of the battle.”
During the battles I learn the difference between “open to new/beginning players,” and “geared towards beginning players.” While everyone is friendly and patient with me, the game moves so quickly I can’t keep track. We are still under attack by a swarm of . . . those fire related monsters. I can’t tell who is rolling to attack and who is rolling some sort of reaction. When it is my turn, the GM hands me additional dice and tells me what to roll and adds up the numbers, and I spend the next couple of turns scouring my character sheet to find out where all of those numbers came from. (After my second turn at battle, I find that I have been doing a ‘sneak attack,’ which is why I’ve been needing to roll a second d6. I still have no idea, however, why I had the sneak attack, or when it applied.)
What I had hoped for – what I still hope to find – is a DM who will narrate the game the way I do for the kids. “The monster is attacking that player and the roll comes up with this number which is a hit, so I will roll this and the damage done is that.” Yes, I am saying I need to be treated like a child.
That is not what is happening here. It feels like dice are rolling and damage is happening and I have no idea what is going on or whose turn it is. I roll when I am told to roll, and attack when my name comes up. I don’t feel like I’m learning how to play. I am just perpetually confused. And stressed. Every turn I get, I try to figure out quickly what I’m to do, but the GM just keeps pressing dice into my hand like they don’t have time to sit and wait for me to catch up. (It is only later at home that I realize the other players all had to take a few minutes to check their sheets or their spell cards or whatever during their turns. It is only me who is being rushed. Even the other two new guys are given time.)
The battle ends, one of the characters heals us all, we are dealt experience points. Our group decides to press on instead of resting, and we are attacked by . . . some sort of water creature. We are still in the forest.
During these battles, I do realize quickly that having your numbers leveled up is not the same as actually playing a character until she levels up organically. Everyone else has developed spells and armor and abilities, while my character is pretty basically equipped. I have a dagger and a shortsword, and some light armor. I deliberately have no magic, because I knew I’d be struggling to keep up and didn’t want to complicate things further.
This is how every round of battle goes:
Other Player – throws up a wall of fire or some such. Damages all of the monsters on the north end.
Another Player – blows a gale force wind knocking back all of the monsters 20 feet.
Me – walks up to the closest monster and pokes it with my dagger.
It gets a bit embarrassing and futile feeling before too long.
I think the DM may be skipping me, but I can’t tell for sure and I don’t really care.
By the end of the game, I know that this particular group is not mine. I have learned quite a bit, however, and would say I had a good time. I believe I will find my group eventually, I just don’t click with the dynamics of this one.
I learned that there are SO MANY kinds of dice. Some people come to the table with boxes full of of a kaleidoscope of dice. Others bring out only one or two sets of fancy and obviously expensive dice.
I learned that you need more than one set of dice to play.
I learned that a d8 and a d10 look remarkably similar to each other.
I learned that I should use pregenerated characters until I know what I’m doing.
I learned that it takes about 20 seconds, in a room of the right people, for a heated discussion about Firefly to begin.
I learned that if you (I) roll a one during an attack, you miss the target and wind up shooting your own paladin with your arrow. I also learned the Paladin will not get mad about it.
I learned that a new player (or at least me) should either find a group of friends who play and join them, or find an event that is geared specifically to new players so the GM can plan on teaching while playing.
I learned that maybe next time I should give the cool kids’ table a try.