Introducing new players to D&D / 13th Age

So today I got to do something exciting. I got to introduce two young neighborhood boys to  RPG’s. These are two brothers, one 15, the other is 13.  They’ve had some interest in other gaming stuff, (Magic, Warhammer, etc), and I asked if they were interested at all D&D. They’d heard about it, and seen stuff at our FLGS, but didn’t really know much about it, but were interested. So we sat down tonight and dipped their toes in.

I had about an hour of prep time to figure out what I was going to do. Which system would I use? I was seriously considering 3 different options:

  • D&D Next
  • Pathfinder
  • 13th Age

I’ve been following the D&D Next playtest very closely, and have really wanted to give it a try. That system seemed the simplest, and probably would be the easiest to introduce. However, I’m not too keen on getting something started with brand new players, and then deal with the changes to the playtest packets and such. I didn’t want to be dealing with an extra layer of uncertainty from the whole “this is a playtest, so it’s kinda in flux right now” thing.

I’ve had quite a bit of experience with Pathfinder, and am very comfortable with it, and all the rules are readily available online through, which would be handy for them. However, there are a lot of fiddly bits with the system that can get really overwhelming really fast. And after having fallen for many new systems lately (Savage Worlds, Fate, D&D Next, 13th Age) there are just a ton of things that annoy me about the system. But it also has a ton of content support.  I could easily run one of their standard modules. Easy peasy.

I just pre-ordered 13th Age this last weekend, and have been devouring the rules from the PDF I got through their Bricks & Mortar program. I really like it! I love how it combines the best of 3.X and 4E, with a strong emphasis on epic narrative (an elements I’ve recently realized is a central desire in my gaming). It has a pretty light rule-set to get started with, not much heavier than D&D Next. And… I kinda wanted to drive around the shiny new RPG I just bought.

In the end, I decided to roll with 13th Age. However, I was uncomfortable introducing the icons and background/skills systems right off the bat. Icons require a ton of additional explanation before you can use them at all, and they really have more to do with world-building/character conceptualization, than learning the basics of the game. The backgrounds/skill system isn’t complicated at all, but it’s really open ended. I decided i can tackle both of those pieces later during character creation.

Here’s how I introduced them to it:

  • I printed off all the 13th Age pregens. Note that they are all level 2.
  • I grabbed a bunch of different character miniatures that I had, my dice bag, and a laminated battle map.
  • I started by explaining what an RPG is in a big-picture sense. The whole “cooperative storytelling where your characters are the heroes of a fantasy adventure novel” thing. They ate it up.
  • I also explained a very little bit about how there are a lot of flavors of D&D, mainly to make sense of the fact that they were about to see 13th Age on everything instead of D&D.
  • I explained the different classes, in a very basic way and tied them to the character models I had. I cannot overstate the impact of having the models handy. They kept picking them up in turn as we discussed the different class concepts,
  • I then explained the core d20 mechanic of “roll a d20, add some modifiers from your character sheet, and compare it to a target number set by me.”
  • I explained the big 6 ability scores, and how they defined their character.
  • I had them each pic a pregen that sounded interesting. The older boy picked the Half-Elf Fighter, and the younger boy picked the Dark-Elf Sorceror. We picked some models that worked for those.

We then played through super simple scenario. i told them they were breaking into an Orc fort to rescue a captive, I placed their models in a hallway drawn on the grid. I had them make Stealth checks, (simple Dex check) to introduce ability checks. They failed, and 2 Orcs came running around the corner, and we rolled initiative.

At this point I had to do some heavy controlling to keep the characters from overwhelming them. Even though the rules are quite simple and streamlined in 13th Age, even level 1 characters have a LOT of options. I actually got them to ignore the majority of their powers for round 1, and just focused on their basic or at-will powers. As each round passed, we explained how more of their options on their character sheets worked.

They LOVED it! We’re going to try to play weekly. They both wanted to stick with the classes they used, and made some different race choices. I’m going to mostly build their characters for them, and give them a handful of distinct choices they can make on some details. I think I’m going to use the sample adventure in the 13th Age book, Blood & Lightning. While we’re playing through that, I’ll probably look for some other content (Paizo probably…) that I can hijack and convert.

So that’s how I introduced two new players to D&D, err…. 13th Age today! Look for more updates later!



One response to “Introducing new players to D&D / 13th Age

  • redraggedfiend

    Thank you for not driving the pair headfirst into PF. It’s a fine system but it’s not the easiest system to wrangle for those completely unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs. I think you made the right choice and it’s always nice to see new, young blood take to the hobby. The children are our future and whatever…

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