I was talking to my wife Jenn recently about my current campaign and how I wish I could break my players of the habit of relying too heavily on the dice.  The search for traps and secret doors are the most commonly used in our game, which works but I wish they’d try to interact with the terrain more.  Searching for secret doors with a die roll is only a 1-in-6 shot at success, while experimenting with the walls where you’ve correct deduced a secret door likely exists yields much better results.  But I digress, I didn’t want to talk about why I don’t like secret door and trap rolls, but rather her comments about my complaint.  The conversation when something like this:

Me: “I wish they’d stop always asking to roll for stuff and just interact with the world.”

Jenn: “You’re fighting years of trained behavior from other systems.”

Me: “True.  It’s just a shame the game progressed in a way that taught them that stupid behavior in the first place.”

Jenn: “This must be why you like to play with new players so much.  They never learned those bad habits.”

Huh, though it seems pretty obvious, I never put that together before.  My con games are always listed as open to any age and skill levels.  Even so, people often seem apologetic bringing someone along whose only played an RPG once in their life before, or never, or is rather young.  The fact is I love playing with people like that.  I love seeing new players learn the game before me.  They always come up with the best stuff.  Sometimes  it’s the same stuff old hands have learned to do after playing the game for years, but seeing them discover it for the first time is really entertaining.  And sometimes they come out with something out of left field that’s just brilliant.

I do seem to get a fair amount of kids at my con games.  I’ve wondered in the past if I should think about putting an age limit on my games, especially as I’m not always conscious of the age-appropriateness of my material (one con game featured rescuing a girl who had been taken in by the local madame, fortunately no small kids came to that one).  I suspect I get them because my game is one of few that is open to all ages though, and a lot of DMs exclude them simply because they don’t want to deal with children.  Perhaps when the content is bawdy like that it is appropriate to put an age limit on the game, but otherwise I think I’ll keep leaving things open.  A young player is more likely to be a new player, and I just love having new blood at the table.

Anyway, I have no brilliant conclusions to cap off with here.  I’ve always known I liked playing with new players, now I have a reason for it.  If you’re signed up for one of my games at a convention and considering bringing your friend or family member whose never played before, do it.  I can’t guarantee they’ll survive, but I do promise they’ll have a great time.

5 thoughts on “Noobs

  1. One thing I did to solve this very gripe in Neoclassical Geek Revival was to change the way “Detect Traps” works from an active to a passive skill.

    I got tired of “I search for traps! *roll roll roll*” every 10 feet. With no danger and no impetus for speedy movement why not always search for traps? What about others relegated to the “no trap searching” role because they believed that if someone else had a skill and they didn’t, it should be their job. Like climbing (another peeve) they just assumed they couldn’t. Worse if they didn’t make their roll they just kept doing it again until they made it (or worse you have to come with some BS reason why they couldn’t just spend longer to do a more thorough search).

    So Detect Traps is now an extra saving throw to detect a trap a split second before you set it off. No one ever needs to announce “I search for traps!” and everyone can search for them before setting one off.

    if you would like I can email you a PDF version of the book. Shoot me a line at liberinterdico from google’s mail service.

  2. I agree. Getting players who are new to RPGs is one of the greatest joys of refereeing in my experience. Like you say, not only do they not usually have bad habits, but they tend to come up with more out-of-the-box thinking.

    So far as breaking your players of rolling dice for secret doors and traps instead of roleplaying them, the way I solved that problem was just getting rid of that as an option. If my players are careful and describe actions that would probably discover a trap or secret door, they find it. You touched on that a bit, but I think that is a key to selling your players on roleplaying that out- they have a higher rate of success if they roleplay instead of rollplay.

  3. With no danger and no impetus for speedy movement why not always search for traps?

    No impetus for speedy movement? Are you not using wandering monsters? My players don’t suffer from this behavior as they’ve learned the hard way several times what extra delay in the dungeon can cause. A few well timed gelatinous cubes should break them of that.

    My problem is kind of the opposite — they’re missing out on stuff because they think of the roll as being conclusive. They might have a good idea of where a secret door is and then send a guy over there to “search for secret doors”. But that’s all he says: “I search for secret doors at the end of the tunnel.” OK, I’ll roll, but he’s only got a 17% chance of success here. If they feel really suspicious they may send as many as 3 characters, upping their chance of success all the way to 50%!

    I’d much rather hear “I look at the wall here, what is it made of? Does it appear to be newer construction than adjacent walls? I follow the groove the mortar, does it suggest any regular patterns? Is there a gap between the wall and floor or ceiling? I hold a lit torch near the edges, does it flicker as if from a breeze?”

    I’m not saying those specific methods are the right way about it, but that imagining what it’s like to be down there and how you might figure out where the door is if you were really there is a sure fire way to succeed. And as a side benefit, it really helps the immersion for everyone to hear this stuff spoken out loud.

  4. So far as breaking your players of rolling dice for secret doors and traps instead of roleplaying them, the way I solved that problem was just getting rid of that as an option. If my players are careful and describe actions that would probably discover a trap or secret door, they find it.

    That’s what I’m getting at, if my players describe their actions it will always succeed. I left the die roll in as well and I think at this point it’s probably too far into the campaign to try and take it out, plus it is technically by the book. I suppose I was hoping they’d just discover the other way was better and stop even trying the dice at all.

  5. I agree on having new players, I find that to be terrific and important. I’ve been in a fortunate position to introduce the game to older people (my age, not kids) who never played before, and they generally find it surprisingly delightful. Especially if maybe they brushed up against 3E a few times.

    Sometimes on ENWorld I would have irreconcilable differences in outlooks between what I’d seen happen with new players, and what seemed to me to be hardcore players’ unfounded assumptions about how new players would interact with the game. So I think as gamers and designers it’s super important to play with 1st-timers as much as possible. And listen to their concerns as clearly and sensitively as possible.

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