Introducing Dungeons & Dragons Through in-Store Play

One of my delights in life is introducing the game of Dungeons & Dragons to new players, who then discover that it’s something they want to play again. In this quest, my local gaming store has become integral to the process of acquiring new players.

We run D&D Adventurers League games at the store every Wednesday and Saturday evening. The games are a mixture of the shorter (2-4 hours) DDAL adventures and the longer hardcover adventures released by Wizards of the Coast. This allows us to offer a variety of experience for all types of players – and with varying schedules. All the games are D&D Adventurers League legal, so players can reuse their characters at other tables – and other stores and conventions if desired.

In recent days, I’ve noticed a larger influx of new players than normal; although we always tend to have people starting with us. It’s very pleasing.

The advantage we have in getting new players is that we play in a publicly-accessible location. All the gamers in Ballarat tend to know about Guf – a combination Internet-café and game store (trading card, board games and RPGs). And because we run D&D consistently, week after week, players know that they can reliably play games with us.

Having this consistency of playing times is tremendously important. A potential player might discover that we play D&D months before they join us, but because we always are there on Wednesdays and Saturdays, they don’t have to wonder when the next game will be. If you can achieve this, it’s a great advantage.

The other consideration is in offering games suitable for new players. This can be a struggle, and it’s especially a problem for a store that only has a handful of players. The solution of the 4E years was for the main program to primarily be for new players. Which was great for them, but much harder for everyone else to stay enthusiastic when they never got to experience higher-level play. The hardcover adventures are much better for keeping long-term players around, but they can be a struggle to integrate new players into.

These days, I accept that not every time is great for a new player, although they can still jump into an established game. We have enough players that we can run a low-level games at least once per night, providing new players with at least some opportunity to join in, even if not every time slot has a low-level game. Staggering the start of the hardcovers (so that new campaign begins every few weeks) and running a lot of level 1-4 DDAL adventures helps give new entry points for players. When the experienced players are willing to play a lower-level character for a week or two to help a new player in their first games, you have a good community.

The rules of D&D aren’t that hard to learn – at least, not from the player’s side – but the use of pregenerated character sheets makes it much easier for the new player to jump right in. I design my own (the Season 4 set are on the DMs Guild), and my chief target was the new player. Thus, the character sheets put the important information in front of the player, offer advice on how to play them, and try to be interesting whilst not too complicated. It’s a challenge to get them right, and one that I’ll continue to refine as we continue the program. The sheets have been very successful, however.

The other aspect of this is to have a table of helpful players and a helpful DM to make things welcoming to the new player. It doesn’t always work that way, but I’m pleased that – for the most part – the players are very welcoming to new players. Having an experienced DM or other player at the table to help with the rules (and lead by example) is good, but I was watching a table last night where only the Dungeon Master was experienced – all the others had been playing for 3 months or less, with one of them in their first session. But everyone helped each other, and they had a great game.

As the organiser, I do have to pay attention to table dynamics. When you have disruptive players, then you have a problem. If players don’t want to return due to one player’s behaviour, it behoves you to intervene. It’s not a task I enjoy, but it’s one that, if you want a healthy community, you must apply. You’re likely to handle these situations better than I do, but you shouldn’t ignore them.

So, to summarise, what I consider most conducive to introducing new players to D&D in a store environment:

  • Regular playing times, with tables suitable for new players
  • Running adventures suitable for new players (and adventures for more experienced players, to build the community)
  • Pre-generated characters, to aid them in their first sessions before they decide on the character they want to play
  • Having a tables of DM and players that are friendly and willing to answer the questions of the new player

The big advantage of playing in a store over playing at home is that you can build a community of players. Most of our players also play in home campaigns, but coming in at least once each week allows them to keep in touch with the greater local gaming community. This also helps work against the disintegration of home games: if players have to drop out, the rest of the players know people who could possibly replace them.

The choice of running D&D Adventurers League adventures (and the hardcovers with DDAL rules) was a deliberate one, so that players had consistency of play and a shared experience; another aspect of the game that can be very important.

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