Should I run a one-off D&D game for a party with (adult) non-players?
December 3, 2009 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Any suggestions for one-off D&D game for newbies?

I'm considering running a D&D game for an upcoming party I'm hosting. Guests and I are all in our mid-to-late 30s and most of us have never played D&D (though I played in my teens).

My question is, does anyone have a suggestion for a one-off D&D campaign that I can run at the party, which would be fun for people who've never played before? Something we could run start to finish in, say, two hours.

Note that this wouldn't be leading on ongoing campaign - this would just be a fun activity we haven't tried before, possibly to go on to other games for the next party.

I have some DM experience so I could do that, though I'd have to go out and buy the materials I'd need... it's been a long time since I had my old D&D manuals around.

BTW, I'm also interested to know if the answer is "don't do it" - i.e., if there just isn't an easy way to run a one-off quick D&D game for new players. I just thought that it might be an interesting game to try for people who've never had the chance to experience D&D.

P.S. I've already seen this and this question on AskMeFi and found them helpful for extra info, albeit for more advanced gamers.
posted by mark7570 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Did you catch this even more recent one?
posted by rokusan at 9:05 AM on December 3, 2009

For Dungeons & Dragons proper, you can download the Quick-start rules and example adventures for free.

I'd expect two hours to be a little optimistic for getting through, however.
posted by Drastic at 9:48 AM on December 3, 2009

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it is possible that you could have a lot of fun in 2 hours with D&D, with new players, one way or the other. It is a very versatile game - or can be depending on your DM skills.

On the other hand - and this is coming from somebody who relishes a hard line curmudgeon approach to the game (not everybody does) - I have a hard time imagining how most new players could get the proper experience when it is treated as a cocktail party gimmick. I would recommend, instead, you plan a specifically D&D night, where you have at least 4 hours with ideally a window of 1 or 2 hours after that. In general, getting new players up to speed and through even the most basic adventure takes that long anyway.

I have run games for new players under a variety of circumstances. I have prepared everything for everybody, character sheets etc.. and spent nights walking people through the rules and finishing small adventures. Now I realize my life is too short. You can make this decision for yourself of course, but now I say if your friends aren't interested enough in D&D to buy their own Player's Handbook and prepare their own characters, and meet you reciprocally as interested parties, play Apples to Apples or something. Or maybe a less involved RP game, one without elaborate rule systems that doesn't require as much time and preparation. I wish I could recommend such a game to you but all I know is D&D.

In answer to your question, you should check the thread rokusan linked too, and also be aware of the prepackaged modules, such as what Drastic links too, and especially all the ones available for purchase. If you are starting with 4e, there is no reason not to go ahead and use one of their adventures for l1 chars.
posted by flavor at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2009

My friends and I have been playing D&D 4th edition recently. I'm almost 30, as are my friends. I hadn't played since 2nd edition was popular, and a few of the people playing have never played. If you haven't played D&D in a while, or at all, running an adventure in a couple hours just isn't going to happen. We've played two (long) sessions so far, and really haven't progressed very far along in our DMs quest. That said, the Quick Start guide linked above is probably your best bet.
posted by chunking express at 11:00 AM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: You don't really specify what iteration of D&D you are going to be playing, but I've had terrible luck with one-shots using the latest few editions (3rd and 4th). Character generation simply takes too long and there seems to be a pretty persistent need for referencing the Player's Handbook almost constantly to look up powers/pick skills/etc. For really quick one off adventures, I really can't recommend going "old school" enough.

Luckily, many of the older rule sets have been "cloned" within the SRD. Various flavors are available for free download. Just pick your poison. These rulesets might be more familiar to what you played previously back in the seventies/eighties.

In most of these versions character generation only takes a few minutes. Just roll the stats, pick a character class and go. The longest part of the process is usually player's buying equipment. This can be streamlined as well by just creating "Fast Pack" lists (similar to what can be found in the back of B4 - The Lost City). For my one-shots, I usually give players a few rolls on my Random Impedimenta (self-link) chart, in addition to equipment purchased. Player's are suspicious of free stuff, and always try to find creative ways to use it in an adventure.

With "old school" rule sets, the lack of rules that define every aspect of what a character can and cannot do really inspires players to think "outside the character sheet" and I've found this leads to a double edged sword of a high fun factor and lots of DM arbitration. Word of advice: Say Yes or Roll The Dice.

Once you've picked a system, you'll need an adventure/dungeon. Unless you feel like busting out the graph paper and doodling something up, you can also rely on something from the internet. Rather recently, the old school community had a few contests for the creation of "One Page Dungeons" These dungeons really provide only the bare minimum of information, but are fully fledged otherwise. This leaves the level of description and improvisation firmly in the DM's hands. I've found the small size really conducive to a short (2-4 hour) game.

Other things needed: Lots of dice, some snacks, extra graph paper (for Mappers) and pencils. Monty Python quotes, "I attack the darkness" quips, and Mountain Dew, painted miniatures and battle mats are all optional. Above all, have fun and do what you can to insure the player's have fun too!
posted by ktrey at 11:02 AM on December 3, 2009

A low-level 4th edition campaign is about as simple as gets. Also the D&D character builder is free for levels 1-3 and will give you a character sheet with all of the abilities described right there, no books necessary. I'd suggest you make up some characters beforehand and just let your players choose which one they want to play.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:40 AM on December 3, 2009

I'm having a hard time seeing how people who have never played before would enjoy a 2-hour game. Gamers like fiddly bits, like dice and character sheets and special pencils and graph paper and minis. It's really not a game for two hours, not if you want to enjoy it. If the point is to play something D&D like, try Munchin Quest or one of its' ilk.
posted by fiercekitten at 11:43 AM on December 3, 2009

It also depends on how many people you will be having, more then 5 = slow and boring, especially for new players.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2009

Count me among the skeptics that this will work. You don't mention if the party is just the people playing or if this is supposed to be a side activity and the party will continue without the players... if people came to a party to drink and socialize, I dunno that they would be able to concentrate on the game with music and people chattering nearby.

And as others have said, two hours is a mighty slender time frame for novices. Premade characters is the way to go, with maybe two or three pre-generated ones for each player. Let them choose which ones they want and go from there -- if they are generating their own, I am sorry but you will likely not even be ready to start playing in the first hour.

For a dungeon crawl, you are going to need a place with maybe half a dozen rooms tops... the one-page dungeons that ktrey links to above are a good start; there are also a few free products available at E23, the Steve Jackson games website... here is one that might work.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:38 PM on December 3, 2009

Response by poster: These are outstanding responses, thanks! Especially appreciate the skepticism - you're right - I'm now rethinking whether I have the time & energy to devote to setting everything up beforehand (because getting it down to a 2-hour campaign would require quite a bit of prep).
posted by mark7570 at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2009

Does it have to be D&D? There are plenty of ways to run a 2-hour RP game, from rules-free to rules-heavy. How much time will your guests like/tolerate rules and mechanics? Are they going to want to "just play"? There's a whole spectrum of options from those dinner-theatre murder mysteries all the way to Advanced Squad Leader to choose from. Where does your group fall?
posted by bonehead at 1:21 PM on December 3, 2009

It depends on the audience and their familiarity with gaming, but I've had a lot of like with rules-light(er) systems like FUDGE. Some roll-playing for the gamists, but the descriptive (but still quantitative) scales are pretty easy to comprehend. The weaknesses of FUDGE (highly granular scale, poorly defined long-term advancement, things D&D handles well) aren't very apparent in a short one off game.
posted by bonehead at 1:24 PM on December 3, 2009

Do NOT use the current store-bought version of Dungeons and Dragons for this (fourth edition). It absolutely will not work for a table of mainly newbies. It's not even really worth playing in any situation. It is shit. Do not bother with it.

For a more sort of classic D&D experience, I suggest you get an earlier clone like Labyrinth Lord and a simple dungeon like Stonehell and just wing it.
  • Character creation is very fast, you'll have time to roll stats, and if you haven't rolled 3d6 for stats, you haven't really played D&D.
  • Think of some hook to get the party going (you can maybe do this as they make characters).
  • Make up some characters of your own first to throw at last-second joins or as replacements
  • Make sure the party hires henchman, give them fun personalities.
  • Don't be afraid to kill off characters, but also reward risk-taking.
Other not-even-remotely-D&D-ish games can be used but they might be difficult without people having a lot of RPG experience under their belts. In general you don't need them to go around the table and ask people.. "What do you do?"

You might instead consider a boardgame like Battlestar Galactica that can be fun with a group, or even going towards the party side like Werewolf where there is more acting and deception and bluffing. Of course the game option goes all the way down to games available at Target.
posted by fleacircus at 2:26 PM on December 3, 2009

I actually think 4th edition is a lot more straight forward than 2nd edition, which is what I used to play many many years ago. Even then, it isn't the most user friendly of games. I don't think it lends itself to 2 hours games.
posted by chunking express at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2009

Response by poster: No, doesn't have to be D&D... I just have good memories of that from ~25 years ago with friends and thought it would be retro/cheesy/funny/FUN to bring it back at this age.

I'll take a look at FUDGE etc. ... but definitely open to other RP games that involve a little bit of character creation, and a little bit of dice-rolling (y'know, to keep up the geek factor). Appreciate any ideas along those lines!
posted by mark7570 at 2:52 PM on December 3, 2009

"Don't do it."

Judging from the age range and the fact that they've never played D&D, I'm guessing that you have a group of people who have rarely if ever played RPG's at all. I'm one of those people, and I would find the whole thing boring at best, painful at worst.

It's not D&D itself, it's the whole idea of role playing. Most of the game happens in your imagination, and you have to be able to focus pretty seriously on an imaginary situation. An imaginary universe, in fact. I'm not really able to enjoy that, and based on the fact that you have a group of people who had plenty of chances to play D&D in high school but didn't, they might not enjoy it either.

There are tons of good party games that can be understood very quickly. Even a lightweight role-playing game (i.e. murder mystery dinner theatre) would be better than D&D.
posted by mmoncur at 12:37 AM on December 5, 2009

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