I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’ve been running D&D in the same game world since 1980. I’m proud of my maps (Thank you, John Hesselberg and Thom Thetford). I’m proud of the history that has gone into making Rillmorn what it is today, both the stuff my Players did in-game and what I did in building background. I am proud of it all, even the parts where it didn’t work or where I acted poorly, but that is a whole lot of stuff and me Players can get overwhelmed with it. It becomes even harder when you have established players alongside newbies. How does one do it? How does a Game Master share the depth and grandeur of his or her world and not scare new Players away?
Are my new Players already gamers or are they true Babes in the Gaming Woods? If they are already gamers and they have played my favorite game system before, then I start small. (This is based on the idea of starting a new campaign, not bringing new Players into an existing and ongoing game.) I don’t drop them into Spellguard with all of its complex politics and vast number of detailed NPCs. I start them off in a small town on the edge of “The Action.” I give them the very basics about Rilmorn and go from there. In my most recent campaign Duvamil (it is based around the riverside town of Duvamil), I started my PCs into a few decades old village founded by gnomish refugees from Terah, another world. They have seen the big map of the area and have been told that Rillmorn has 2 suns, 3 moons, 9 day weeks, 26 hour days, and 38 day months. They know Bazarene the Moving City (effectively an aircraft carrier on a hovercraft) and the Walking Wood (a nomadic tree city of forest giants) cross paths in Duvamil. That’s it. Everything else, they are leaning as we play.
Christina, my wife, knows a bit more about the area, since her dragonborn ranger Surana was with E3 when they explored the Tower of Spells. What she knows will be used more as legends than anything else, since the previous campaign’s actions should have little to no effect on the current game. Nicki, my daughter, has played a bit in Rillmorn, but not enough to have deep knowledge of the world. Finally, JR, Nicki’s friend, has never played in one of my games before, but has played a little bit of D&D 3.5. So, everything I drop into this game can be brand new information to the Players, as well as, the PCs.
If I had true newbies, I’d have to decide if I was going to hand them the Player’s Handbook or the Player’s D&D Basic Rules that I downloaded off the web. I’d most likely go with the web download. It has 4 basic options and 4 basic classes, the essence, if you will, of D&D. However, his review says 5E is really a good fit for new players. Also, if I had true newbies, I would put them in a more traditional D&D setting…maybe something like the Keep on the Borderlands.
My true problem is that I have so much that I want to reveal to my Players: the secrets and history of the Tower of Spells, the various hidden cities and enclaves about Duvamil, and all of the stuff that I swiped from Monte Cook and other 3E sources and seeded around this area of Rilmorn. Alas, I can’t; not yet. Some of this may be revealed in game play, but I don’t know yet if it will. I have to focus my creative energies on building solid plots and interesting NPCs that advance the stories for these PCs. What has gone before is the bedrock on which I can build, but unless the Players and PCs dig, I may be the only one to ever know it and that is okay. Maybe it will come up in a later campaign.
TL:DR New Players in an Old World? Start small and keep your focus and maybe there will be time enough later for all the big stuff.