Old World, New Players

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.

Game On!

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6 thoughts on “Old World, New Players

  1. I think this is really the best strategy. Personally I think it might have been even better to start much farther away from the last campaign; every part of your world has a rich history to discover that will be new to whoever your players are.

    It definitely makes a difference when one player is “in the know” and the others are in the cold. I often find my characters talking about world history to other PCs. I remember at the beginning of a campaign where another of your friends, JD, was there. The campaign you designed was equally new to both of us, but I knew a lot of things about the fae and how to deal with them from your previous campaigns, and I used it. He mentioned afterward that he was a little blown away because he would never have thought to deal with the situation in the way I did. That made me think that I had an unfair advantage that might have even drawn him away from the game, even though it was reasonable for that particular character to have known what to do.

    I think your self-identified “true problem” is the only real flaw you have as a DM. You are sometimes overly eager to reveal things to the players. Your game abounds with oracles, seers, fortune tellers, and wise men who are quite willing to spill their guts to the PCs. Often, this kind of NPC-driven exposition substitutes for PC-driven investigation and discovery. The only thing I would change about your game is that I would prefer to have to work for these gems of knowledge a little harder. A game with fewer secrets can be more satisfying if each one is hard-fought to discover.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a player, I’ve always felt intimidated by Runequest. The people I play with love it and know it backwards. I’ve never felt that I could compete with their knowledge of the world.

    I don’t feel the same way about L5R and other Bushido games. Even though the rules of the world are very strict, and people can die for a relatively small breech of protocol, I didn’t feel intimidated. Only one of the players really knew much about how the world worked, or maybe the GM wasn’t too strict. Either way, I wasn’t alone in my ignorance.

    It is a long, long, long time since I GMed anyone who had never played before. That would be a real challenge.

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  3. Even though I have never ran a game of my own, I fully understand your problem with being to eager to reveal secrets and history of rilmorn to new players. You have been building this world layer upon layer for a very long time and you have a right to be proud of it.
    But I think that instead of being flustered about having to keep your worlds secrets to yourself and take things at a slower pace due to having a newbie in the game. Take a step back and take in this newbies responses and actions to what they have encountered so far like a sponge.
    Older players that you have gamed with over a long period of time have “oohed and ahhed” all that they are really going to. They have asked questions and presented their own ideas to things they have encountered in rilmorn in the past and you have all grown accustomed to the world now.
    But a true newbie has the potential to be a fountain of new ideas and information for you to use to expand rilmorn or deepen the worlds history even more. Give them time to uncover things at their own pace while you quietly “use them” to spark and fuel your own creative engine.
    That way you both can truly benefit from starting this gaming relationship together.

    Just a thought. 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ultimately D&D is storytelling. The exciting unknown to be challenged and discovered each evening. Rilmorn is your polylogy, and each campaign adds another book to the series. That is what I enjoyed in your games, the story. And like any good story, it just takes time to tell it well.

    Liked by 1 person

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