Pathfinder flavoured D&D for newbies

Yesterday I ran a game of D&D for four of my colleagues. They didn’t know that’s what they were there for. Such is the power of being the boss and having a training and development budget that encompasses team building events.

I had planned this a while back. There’s loads of good reasons to run an RPG for work purposes. It’s great for team dynamics, leadership ability, basic maths and English, problem solving, all sorts. Frankly, I just love playing D&D and fancied the idea of getting paid to do it.

My guinea pigs are all tech experts who work in telecoms. They can field strip a laptop blindfold. They also have to serve the public in my stores so they plenty of social skills too. Their predisposition to geek led me to think they’d enjoy it. I had no idea of their previous exposure to RPGs, and wanted to surprise them on the day. Turns out one, Adam, had about six Warcraft characters on the go. Brendan plays Eve Online and Magic in his spare time. Paul and Dan just love the tech, and it’s all about pulling apart hardware and software for them. When I told them we were going to play D&D it went down pretty well. No-one ran off screaming (I am the boss don’t forget, I wanted to stack the deck in my favour) and a couple of them said they’d dabbled back when they were kids.

I whipped out a brand new copy of the Pathfinder Beginners Box and tipped my dice out on the table. The dice had to be introduced, especially the d4. Didn’t seem to faze them though. The Box (PBB) has some fantastic character portfolios that do a brilliant job of guiding the noob through the character sheet. Given that this is Pathfinder it’s at the crunch heavy end of D&D play. Ten minutes later we were ready to rock. They picked PCs based on not much more than the portrait (Adam, the WoW vet, grabbed the elven rogue quick smart).

The adventure gets straight to the point. There’s a creature, nick named Black Fang, that is stealing and killing the local livestock. the mayor has put up a 1000gp reward for the adventurers who stop the slaughter. The story begins as the party arrive at the cave mouth. I asked the guys to introduce themselves to each other, which is a bit of a rude awakening to roleplaying for some. They were understandably tentative in comparison to seasoned gamers, but they got their point across. I had to ask a couple of facilitating questions, simple stuff like what are you wearing/armed with. They responded happily.

Some scouting led to some combat. I had a second table just to one side. I put the battle map and creature pawns on that so we had more room for our character sheets on our table. It was cool to stand round the map like something from a WW2 film, strategizing. It did take longer than I thought for them to decide what to do. I think this comes from not wanting to get it ‘wrong’. Actually, that feeling carried on for the next 30 minutes or so too. For example, whenever Paul’s turn came up in the initiative order he would pick up a d20 and simply roll it. This was learned behaviour from all the other games he’d played were you roll the dice to see what happens, like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. It took me slightly aback until I realised that I was in the minority at the table, I was the one who assumed you had to speak before you ‘did’ anything. The same was true of the character sheets. The guys were looking at their sheets to see what ‘moves’ they could attempt. The PBB has a handy ‘what you can do in a round’ section on every sheet, but it doesn’t point out that the only limit is your imagination. My players thought the list was complete. Why wouldn’t they?

Once I’d realised this, I simply called a time out and explained how the game could work, that you simply said what you were attempting, as if you were there in the situation, and my job was to tell them how the rules interacted with that, if at all. See, even typing that last sentence out makes it sound more complex than it is doesn’t it? So I decided it was time to lead by example. Cue the NPC, in this case a pair of goblin prisoners with strangely Mexican accents groveling for their lives. Sure, I hammed it up a bit, but nothing that would get me in trouble with HR. That made them smile, and they loosened up a bit, getting some inter party banter going on. What really worked was me using the goblins as catalysts, asking the characters questions and making suggestions that I didn’t want to do as a DM to the players so overtly. That seemed to crack open their inner gamer and we were off.

Soon enough we had played through 3 hours of classic dungeon. Yes, there was a dragon at the end. There were also traps, tricks, exploration, negotiation and bloody combat.

Did they enjoy it? Yes. Adam wanted to cut lunch short so we could get back to it. Paul and Dan laughed out loud at least a dozen times and they all genuinely thanked me for the experience. I don’t think I’ve made 4 new roleplayers, but that wasn’t exactly the point. I did have some fun with my colleagues, and we all now have a shared experience. Whatever their opinions were of gaming before, at least they’re now based in fact.

Lessons learned. Running games in that environment was no real problem at all. I’d pre-selected my players to some extent, but I’d be happy to widen the net next time. It helped that I had a captive audience! I would struggle to just put out an invite by e-mail or stick a poster up and get players. I felt I had to be a bit sneaky to get them in the room first, by which time it was too late.

The guys may have enjoyed themselves, but doesn’t mean they’ll be buying T-shirts anytime soon. Occasionally a couple of other staff would come through the room to get their lunch or their coats. It was noticeable that the voices got lower and we all shrunk in our seats a little. Having said that, it we had been having a regular meeting and someone had come through we would have probably paused for them then too.

The Pathfinder Beginners Box is a really nice intro set. It’s all laid out beautifully, and the kit is a joy to behold. I didn’t have to do loads of prep, it’s almost playable within 5 minutes of opening the box (assuming a basic knowledge of d20 games that is). On the other hand, the game without a seasoned DMs interpretation and help could become quite cold and functional. It’s the traditional ‘it’s nothing more than a board game’ jibe, but there’s some truth in that. The character sheets have all the mechanical workings out included on them, but none of the ‘try something cool’ advice which is tucked away in the GMs guide.

I missed the 4e rules set. Pathfinder has a couple of bits to it that make for a game that requires creativity and passion to make the most of it. 4e is more forgiving to the casual gamer and cool stuff can emerge from dice rolls as well as the players own behaviours.

Fantasy is a great backdrop. I didn’t have to explain anything about the setting at all. I said it was a bit medieval, except with magic, but to be honest I didn’t even need to say that much. The box cover is more than enough to get everyone on the same page.

Some of the stuff I first encountered in the 70s  is alive and well even today. One of the players wanted to call his PC ‘Bob’. I wasn’t having that thank you very much. The PCs wanted to loot everything, including broken clay jugs and a dead lizard. They split the party in the second chamber. They poked at traps to set them off, then they did it again. And again. They bickered over who got the magic items. I loved watching this stuff unfold. It’s the primal language of the gamer, even today.

All in all, good times, I would do it again. I will check in with the guys in a couple of days to see what they thought. If there’s feedback there, it will soon after be here!


1 Comment

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One response to “Pathfinder flavoured D&D for newbies

  1. Ha! I wish we had role-played like this in the team building exercises I’ve had to attend! Instead we played health-insurance-service related board games like a cross between trivial pursuit and monopoly. Half the people on our team at the time were also in our weekly gaming group so it would’ve been hilarious if the boss had broken out a D&D game instead!

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