Everyone starts as a beginner. And in my own gaming group (we start Tyranny of Dragons this Saturday with 1st level characters and me as the DM… poor players) I got an interested fellow, still shapeable to my desires. But when thinking back when I was a beginner (when dinosaurs still owned that planet), I actually have to ask myself: Can I still deal with those soon-to-be-nerds, which don’t have the slightest idea what they’re getting into?
After some thought: Pretty much. But since not everyone is as arrogant as me, I might provide some hints to how to deal with beginners.
1.) If possible, share the rules beforehand: In D&D 5e you can actually just give the link to the Basic Rules and see if this works out. Even though the PHB will be much more interesting, but as long you’re not going to lent it or the new player decides to buy it without even trying the game, it’s only a glance at the actual player options. Which is intentional, since PHBs should sell. BUY IT! Erm… Back to topic: Some peoples can get a rulebook and figure out most by themselves, since games and systems in games aren’t as uncommon as they were ten years ago. If someone can build up a Diablo, WoW or Skyrim character, D&D 5e shouldn’t be much of a problem.
2.) If the beginner already knows what he wants, just assist: Some people just know what they want. Like ‘I want to play a knight, how do I do it?’ Just assist, give some hints and options, but hold yourself back to over-analyze or -talking it. Keep it simple and as direct as possible and don’t confuse with too much information. Ask some questions to decide, which option suits the best, leave every ‘If’s out of it.
3.) If the beginner don’t know what to play, take your time to talk to him/her: Gain a idea of the personality, some favorite movie characters, etc. If someone doesn’t know, talking hours about classes, races, etc. isn’t going to cut it, just go shallowly over the section and see, if something will stick. Maybe the idea of playing a Dragonborn seems intriguing, then talk about Dragonborns and see, if the player wants to play a more traditional one or a individual case. Or if someone wants to be a Legolas, ask what parts of Legolas are warranted and go for it.
4.) Assist character creation: 5e is much quicker than previous editions in making a character, but it doesn’t explain character creation by itself. Just take your time to go step-by-step and asks questions if needed, but don’t elaborate. Keep it as simple as possible.
5.) Don’t take over character creation and don’t let someone else do it: The first character is something special, help is needed, but just to present a finished character or worse, let someone else who isn’t as reserved as he/she should be bombard a beginner. First it takes forever, second the personal touch to the character is missing, third this might horrify your beginner.
6.) Explain only the absolutely core rules at the beginning: Like how ability modifiers work, that a d20 will be rolled at about every opportunity, go over the character sheet, explain what hit points are if needed, more to give a overview. Since today’s gaming culture is more advanced, you should be ready after 5 minutes.
7.) Explain most rules during play: It’s more effective to explain rules and stats when using them in actual play, especially combat or other more complex systems. It’s just that abstract sometimes, if you’re not used to it.
8.) You don’t need to actually explain role-play: It’s just quicker to start things as a DM and most beginners will catch on quickly. Doing is better than talking.
9.) Stay interested: After the first session, take your time to talk to your player, getting the first impressions and how to deal with problems or fears. Beginners often tends to think, that they’re holding back the more experienced ones, but actually they’re just feeling awkward doing that kind of activity for the first time, so just let the beginner think positively about the game day. And don’t be afraid of your other players, most are holding back their worst behavior when playing with a beginner.
10.) Keep supporting: Instead of overload your beginner after a session with further details and rules and whatever, just be prepared for questions, answer them, don’t build up pressure. The hobby is addictive enough by itself, if you keep asking ‘How was it?’ ‘When do you have time?’ and provide help like ‘Do you need a compendium for wizards?’ or ‘I found something, I’d like to show you’, etc. it just makes you unlikeable. Or would you like to be the target of someone like that?
Sadly it always backfires if you try to mold a beginner to your liking. If a great acting role-player, a smart tactical one or the biggest power-gamer is born is not up to the DM. Every player brings her/his own personality and instead of trying to force your own wishes on it, just try to bring it out to the game table.
And don’t forget, that beginners will most likely get a culture shock. Since a gaming table is a kinda strange place.