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RPT Newsletter #1,206 | d6 Tips For a Player's First Session

As a player, what stresses you most leading up to / during game sessions?

  • Rules. I always feel I don't know enough.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Rules. No, I like being right about rules, actually.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Arbitration. I find GM rulings often unfair.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Other. I will describe below.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters

Stephan Hornick

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Staff member
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d6 Tips For a Player's First Session

From JohnnFour | Published June 22, 2022

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1,206

Brief Word From Johnn​

A mid-week newsletter issue as I catch up on a few things. Today, I'd like to help brand new players. I get often emails from new players who download my Ultimate Character Questionnaire and recently realized I don't have many tips for them. So today's advice has two goals:
  • Help new players have more fun in their first few sessions
  • Give GMs a potential resource to send new players to help them help us have more fun at games (feel free to point them to the online version, if you feel the advice is of value)
Let's see how it goes!

(Also, any tips you have along these lines would be much appreciated. It's been awhile since my very first game. :) Just hit reply. Thank you!)

WoA Zoom Chat Sat
Wizards of Adventure, it's the last Saturday of the month in a few days, which means it's time to talk GMing!

Here's the Zoom link, time, and future schedule. Let us help you polish any rough encounters you're worried about, level up your stories or 5 Room Dungeons, provide tips for any campaign issues, and assist with any other GMing frictions you're facing.

I hope to see you there!

Also, April's Zoom recording is up for Wizards in case you missed last month's call. We demo'd building a 5 Room Dungeon plotline from scratch using ideas from the live chat. We also talked about, amongst other things, how to make encounters harder and how to make them easier.

You can download or stream the recording, download the audio version, and read a copy of the text chat and call transcript.

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Section Divider

d6 Tips For a Player's First Session
By Johnn Four

Doing something new is scary. Add in strangers, characters, someone called a game master, roleplaying, and weird dice, and stress levels rise.

To help give you more confidence going into your first few games as a player, here are a few specific things you can do ahead of time. Following these tips will help you and the whole gaming group have more fun next session.

1. Learn a Few Specific Rules
Figuring out a few specific rules ahead of time will help save you embarrassment and in-game delays, and give you confidence so you enjoy gameplay more and not fret. It'll also impress your game master (GM), haha.

First, find out what game system you're playing and the edition or version if any. For example:
Then search to see if the rules are available online. Many game companies publish their rules for free to encourage people to play their games more. For example, the links above take you to legal, free versions of the rules you can bookmark and reference 24/7.

I also encourage you to support our awesome hobby by purchasing rulebooks if it's within your budget and level of interest. You can get some excellent deals here, where I buy a lot of my stuff.

Armed with the rules now, study your character's rules. That's your primary focus at this point. Learn what your character can do. For example, if your Player Character (PC) can cast spells, read up on the spell descriptions. If your PC has weapons, check out the weapon descriptions. If your PC has special abilities, read each one.

During games you'll be asked to make decisions about what actions your character takes. Those actions are often governed and resolved through the rules. So the better you know your character's rules framework, the better you'll be able to think the game and decide with more confidence what actions you want your PC to take.

If you have time, check out the combat rules, skill rules, and social interaction rules, if they exist for your game. I wouldn't worry too much about those for your first game session as it's expected that the GM will show you what to do there when the time comes.

You might also create a couple characters so you can get an even deeper rules understanding via practice. Look for the character creation rules and follow the steps. You might be able to help advise other players with their characters from this exercise!

2. Create Cheat Sheets
You'll encounter rules, game standards, and group quirks regularly that you'll want to reference so you don't forget. Or, you'll encounter these things once in a while, and you'll want a reference because you've forgotten.

Create for yourself a Source of Truth and make all the notes you want. Perhaps a doc, Notion, Post-It Notes, my app Campaign Logger, or pen and paper. With everything in one place, it will be much easier to find stuff.

Things you might create cheat sheets and notes on:
  • Names of your fellow players and their characters.
  • Rules specific to your character ("What's that spell do again?).
  • Rules, hacks, and tips for areas of gameplay you find confusing ("How do I make an attack with my bare hands?").
  • Game location address, players' food allergies and preferences, player emails or phone #s, and any other session logistic details to help you show up on time, meet group food contribution requests, and so on.
  • Your character's goals, personality, and mannerisms, plus the party's goals, because we can forget these details between sessions.

3. Stay Engaged
Tabletop RPGs (TTRPG) are a team sport. If one teammate isn't paying attention and doesn't fully participate, it drags the whole game session down. In games, you can only control yourself and your character. The GM takes care of the world stuff, and other players take care of their PCs. And each person is responsible for taking care of themselves. :)

That makes focusing and engaging much easier for you. However, in my experience, staying tuned into anything for long burns energy and takes practice to build up that muscle. And many folks have ADHD as another obstacle to contend with.

In addition, the game is played one turn at a time for most times. That means the GM will ask you what your character is doing, you tell them, and they help figure out what happens next. So, you'll go through regular periods of inactivity where the GM switches the spotlight to other players.

When idle, the trap is to be social and talk to others, get bored, or get frustrated. The GM needs to hear players, so when it's not your turn the social convention is to be quiet and watch the game unfold. Boredom and frustration from lack of activity can then creep in.

The good news is this is all solvable. So here are some ideas on what you can do to help stick with the game and stay engaged, even during its inevitable slow periods:
  • Put your cell phone on silent and out of sight. Check it during breaks.
  • Learn and memorize everyone's real name and character name.
  • Write a campaign diary of people, places, things, and events encountered for the whole group to reference — very handy!
  • Draw stuff that's happening in the game or the other characters.
  • Study rules that you struggled with recently.
  • Ask questions of the GM when you can't picture things well yet, or to get clarity to help you make informed character decisions.
  • Ask players if you can read their character sheets so you can learn what other characters can do. You can put this thinking to work to help create better team tactics and solve team puzzles.
  • Compliment fellow players when they make smart moves.
  • After the game, provide feedback to your GM about what parts of the session you enjoyed most and least, and what could help you enjoy the game more. Ask them the same.
  • Help keep the game area — probably someone's home — tidy.
  • Request a personal break. It costs me a lot of energy to be in social environments. A five minute break where I leave the table and get fresh air helps recharge us introverts.
As you gain more experience as player, there are even more things you can do to help each game session be a success. The list above though is a fantastic start.

4. Be Flexible
This one is a bit fuzzy, so I apologize. But please understand our awesome hobby is very subjective. Every GM has their own preferences and way of running a game. Each player has their own world views, experience, and mannerisms. And each gaming group develops its own social contract either at campaign start or over time through gameplay.

Therefore, your expectations might be different and unmet. Other players might upset you. The GM might piss you off. This is all part of the usual process of group formation. If you can bend with the wind, hold back on personal judgments, and make an effort to get to know your fellow tablemates, things will smooth out over time.

GMs are often the de facto leaders of a group. They organize sessions, set the pace and tone, and adjudicate the rules and character actions. They also put 10x the work into games than players, as they create the world, campaign, people, places, and so on that you get to interact with.

So please do let your GM know between games if you're struggling with any aspect of the game. They want to help you have fun. And they want to have fun themselves by avoiding conflicts and knowing their players are enjoying themselves. Open communication helps smooth the wrinkles.

5. Failure Is Great
In TTRPGs, you'll fail a lot. The dice might betray you at the worst time. Fellow players might make unwise decisions. You might make unwise decisions.

You will enjoy the game less if you hold back, avoid risks, and treat your character like delicate china. Instead, as the saying goes, drive your character like a stolen car. Push your character's limits. Attempt to do cool stuff. Take creative risks.

As mentioned, it's a team sport, so avoid taking actions that will result in other players failing or not having fun. If in doubt, feel free to announce your intended action and check with your fellow players on if they see any problems before a final declaration to the GM.

This doesn't mean always playing safe, however. Instead, whenever your character fails, understand:
  • It's not your failure personally.
  • Without failure there'd be no challenge and our stories would suck.
  • You've got a team for support.
I've seen terrible gameplay result from players afraid to have their characters fail. For example, some players will pummel the GM with question after question trying to micromanage every situation to reduce any chance of failure. This just slows the game down and puts the GM on the spot for intricate details probably not relevant.

Another example is players who get frustrated when they can't have their own way. That's like expecting everyone to kowtow to you when playing Monopoly so you win every time. That's not fun.

Stephan Hornick

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6. Plan Your Next Move
The game drags when you are surprised every time it's your turn. :) Typically, GMs will go around the table or have you "roll for initiative" so they can cycle through every player's spotlight time fairly.

If you can spend some moments thinking what your character's next action will be before it's your turn, that would be a huge help.

Note that you will often have questions or need more information to help you decide your next action. That is 100% ok. Try asking another player quietly, and then have any remaining questions ready for when the GM announces it's your turn.

Thank You For Playing!
YOU are an essential ingredient to everyone's fun. We game masters would be nowhere and without game if it weren't for you showing up to each session.

If you can adopt a flexible, helpful, and participative mindset when playing your first few games, you will be welcomed with open arms and smiling faces every session. Personal leadership is infectious. Leading yourself, to serve as an example even if you are the new person, will help you get the most out of every game and our amazing hobby.

I hope these tips help. If you have any questions about how to play a TTRPG, especially if you are embarrassed or don't want to ask in public, my inbox is always open to you for a private conversation: johnn@roleplayingtips.com

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
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Thank you, Johnn! That was nice.
Some copper pieces from my side on this:

First of all, in my experience new players have hardly any interest in preparing ahead of time. They wouldn't if it was a board game, so they don't expect it to be necessary for "this other type of game". They expect a one shot of "an hour or so".
Thus, I as a GM prepare a lot ahead of time to introduce them into the hobby, set expectations right and don't want to build up stress with read-ups or intense learning pre-session.
In contrast, I will tell them beforehand what I expect it to be like when they play, what I like about it, what the world and the characters are like, and what I would expect from them.

Thus, in contrast to Johnn, I would focus most on the setting of the game and table manners and expectations, not so much on the rules upfront.
Some new players actually want to read-up on rules before the first session, so I will provide them with the basic rules. But usually, I will announce that I will help with any rules during the game.

The first session for a player is a special session for all players. I will have not so many or detailed rules, I will focus on the basic stuff to not complicate things for these new players and expect the others to follow that agenda. I will focus more often and longer on the new player and expect the other players to assist out-game and lead in-game and have these players have their "moments".

Also, I will try to make the plot line simple, easy to grasp, tropes more common and in line to their expectations, monsters standard (so, e.g. elves, orcs and bears, not skeleton slimes or tarasks. And I will make many more breaks for attention span control and cliffhangers before breaks.

After a first session, I would ask them how they felt with it, if they had fun, and most importantly, if they want to continue, and if they do, whether they want to continue with this genre and/or character.

If they do want to continue (I did good!), I will help them by providing more specific rules, rule books, cheat sheets, and give hints on what to do during the session based on what I feel was great or where their behavior lacked.

A point where I think very differently to Johnn is maybe that I do expect all players to imagine what happens even during times in which their characters are not concerned. I do not want players to look up rules or be distracted otherwise. I want to engage ALL players during scenes, even if not all characters are involved. The story goes on. As an example, you wouldn't do housework or other during watching a series or movie only because your main character is not in the current scene, right?

This said, thank you Johnn! I think it was necessary to create something like the above.

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
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I added a poll. Have fun!

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Create Cheat Sheets of Page Numbers
From RPT GM Jacob

I have found it very helpful to write game rulebook page numbers in my notes or character sheets. Next to a skill on the character sheet I will write the page number of the area in the rulebook that describes what the skill does. The same for spells. I also note the page numbers for the rules of spell casting, weapons, and attack roll matrixes.

As a GM I will assign players sitting next to the new player the task of mentoring them in finding information on the character sheet and helping point out what dice to roll when called for a check, etc. Doing this for the first 3 or 4 sessions helps the new player not stress out with unfamiliar games and rules and it helps them connect to at least 2 players at the table.


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RE: Cheat Sheet of Page Numbers:

I have been using my tablet a lot for rules references - and PDFs have a huge drawback on tablets - they are huge and hard to navigate to specific pages.

One tactic which is working pretty well for me is to break down the PDF into chapter chunks.

Using Linux, there are a number of PDF management tools like pdftk, poppler-utils, the mighty ghostscript, and so many more.

I have a small script tool I wrote that lets me name a PDF to break down, the start and end pdf page number, and the output PDF.

I go through the PDF when I download it from DTRPG and make a table of contents by PDF number.

Then I use the script to slice the huge PDF into chunks in a folder called BREAKDOWN/

For example, the core rulebook for the Free League ALIEN RPG (2019) came out like this:

The Free League BLADE RUNNER (2022) came out like this:

Now, when I want to reference something - can jump right to the section and maybe have to scrub a few pages back and forth from where-ever I was last *in that section* since most PDF readers remember the last page opened.

And if I have no clue - I can check the INDEX or TOC and see the page number and know basically which PDF (chapter) to dig in.

These chunks are much smaller than the whole huge game PDF so its much faster to open each one and jump around.

It also seems easier for the tablet to cache them that way and get to rendering the specific pages much more quickly because there's so much less data to wade through.
Last edited:

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
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Wow. Just wow.
People are different.
I would find that so difficult. I hate to look for rules. I would just take the whole pdf and use the search function. That works great. Everytime. I instantly jump to the place I was looking for. And it is usually highlighted.
In Foundry, all skills and powers and spells have short references. Automatically. I click and the pdf opens at the correct place. It just takes 2 seconds to refresh my memory during a game.
And I can also put such specific references (e.g. BTA4) into journals to have a quick and easy cheat sheet for rules, automatic rolls, stats, descriptions and whatnot.
Having to open different pdfs to look for an information manually would kill me. Looking at about 500 source books (in pdf) in SRE5 e.g. would be even more of a hussle if I sliced each pdf into several chapters.
If I need a chapter view, it can easily be created within a pdf with links to the chapters in adobe and foxit products.

Just saying, a) in case you didn‘t know how, b) whatever works with your style - people ARE different after all.