Show a man how to teach, and he’ll teach once; teach a man how to teach, and he’ll become a teacher of teaching things.

The following scenario is the one I occasionally use to give a person a taste of the experience of a roleplaying game, specifically D&D, in five minutes or less. As with the previous article, the goal of this exercise is not to have the person know how to play D&D, it’s to have them hooked on the concept, and provide them with a basic understanding that from now on can use them as a comparison to other types of entertainment.

A few principals to remember as you go through the scenario:

  • “Sure,” and ask a question.
  • Use the rules (to give them power) but don’t overuse them (so as not to overburden with information)
  • Describe in a vivid way (to give them the feeling they can try anything) and encourage the player to decide things for themselves, especially regarding to their character (to give them the feeling of participating in the story, so they’ll get that that this is a collaborative effort, not just a GM-centric thing).
  • Keep it interesting, keep it tense.

Setting the Scene

First, go into “GM Mode” – talking with enthusiasm, shifting between tones of voice, using hand movements. You’re not only playing, you’re performing.

“You’re an elf of the northern tribes. Excellent archer, one of the best scouts and hunters of your tribe. How do people call you? Come up with whatever Elvish name you’d like.”

Go ahead with whatever they say, and tell them it fits, no worries. Then ask for clarifications and give some suggestions that hint at some future potential or cool adventures.

If, for example, they say “Shoosh!” go with “Sure, and do all people in your tribe have single-vowel names? Maybe you gain more vowels the more accomplished you are? What’s your older sibling’s name?”

If they say “Wolf Spirit!” Say something like “Sure, why that name? Maybe the Great Wolf is said to watch over you? Oooh, maybe you have a wolf that you’ve raised since it was a cub?”

“Three days ago, under the cover of darkness, someone – someTHING – broke into your tribe’s camp. These tall, thick creatures, monstrous in appearance, kidnapped several of your tribespeople! For the past three days you’ve been tracking them, following their trail in an effort to find the missing people and return them to safety. The trail has led you further and further south, beyond the lands you’re familiar with. You’ve left the snow and lakes behind, entering an immense, wild pine forest.

The tracks lead to a small hill surrounded by trees, on its top what seems like the ruins of some ancient structure. Broken stairs descend through an opening in the hill’s side, the trail continuing down, to the cave under the hill. You descend carefully into the darkness, arrow nooked in your bow, whispering a plea for protection from the spirits.”

The exact details are not important; what is important is to always mention the long-term goal, to keep the motivation in mind (following the tracks) and always mention the short-term goal, to keep them focused on their next actions (going down the stairs).

Getting Ready For Action

The introduction now ends, time to move into the action. Maybe change your sitting position, lean forward, or take a moment, to make it clear that it’s time to pay attention.

At the bottom of the stairs you reach a large room, almost a hall, two-stories tall, the high ceiling supported by several thick columns. The walls look broken, shattered, but once they were covered with plaster, with symbols etched into the stone. The floor is covered with loose earth, dead roots, and rubbish. The hall is very dark, except for the few rays of sunlight coming from the top of the stairs, behind you… and a small fire, on the other side of the hall.

From here, you can see what seems like three creatures, shorter than elves, their faces stretched into snouts, like a lizard’s. They’re laying around the flickering light as if it was a campfire, and they seem to be sleeping. In the wall beyond them there’s a large bronze door… but the creatures set their camp right next to it, and probably on purpose. The tracks lead further inside

What do you want to do?

Any question they have about the place, I answer honestly but add a detail or two to keep some sense of mystery.

“What’s on the walls?” It seems to be drawings of historical events, but so little remains, it’s hard to tell what events. You find yourself wondering who were the people who built this place, and what happened to them…

“Do I feel like they’re guarding the door?” Pretty much, but they seem to be pretty lousy guards, having fallen asleep. Maybe one of them is faking it… Or maybe they really are that lazy.

“Do I recognise the creatures?” No, you’ve never seen anything like them. They snore weirdly with their lizard-like snout. They’re short and lean, and their equipment seems rusted and torn. What a shameful sight! In your tribe, kids are punished for letting their gear fall into disrepair. [If, like me, you can’t stop yourself from occasionally saying “kobold”, it’s better to just say “You’ve heard of them, they’re called kobolds”, so you can safely say it.]

If the player asks about themselves, I reflect the question back at them, and we have a short discussion.

“Do I have a cape?” Sure, what does it look like? And why?

“Can I use magic?” Sure, you’re an elf, all elves know a spell or two, which spell did you learn?

“Can I really call the spirits? You said I’m saying a word of protection.” You sure can, what words do you know? Which spirits come to your aid?

Action Time

If the player now seems frozen, having too much freedom of choice, offer 3-4 options, one of them extreme, to show them that they can try anything. You can maybe try to sneak up behind the creatures, or maybe attack them by surprise before they attack you (they’re cruel creatures, serving the kidnappers!). You can maybe toss an ice fruit into the fire, to make it explode in a thunderous blast – sure, you have some of those, they’re special fruits your tribespeople collect from the tundra. Or maybe you can shout out in a loud voice to wake up the creatures, and tell them you’re a messenger of the god of the forest, demanding that they clear the path!

They’ll tell you what they’ve decided to do. Now it’s time to introduce the rules: Explain that whenever a player is trying to do something that is interesting or dangerous, they roll a die.

First, explain the basic principle: We look at your Attributes, six numbers that define your potential in six aspects of your character. Here’s your character sheet; let’s focus on this part (Attributes) first, we’ll get to the rest later.

Say you want to sneak around? Cool. Are you good at that? Have you always been sneaking around, are you renown in your tribe for your agile movements? Yeah? Awesome, that means you’ve got a high Dexterity bonus, +3.

Now we roll a die, to represent luck and fate, and add your Ability bonus. We then try to pass a number signifying the difficulty of the thing you’re trying to do. For example, you’re trying to sneak around, and because the lizard creatures are asleep, it’ll be quite easy – you only need to pass a 5. If you’re trying to shoot at them from afar, then because they’re small, and lying on the ground, the difficulty rating is quite high, it’s 15.

I don’t yet explain advantage or disadvantage, movement, Inspiration, or initiative. Each of these might be introduced, if I see that the player is excited to learn more and get challenged in new ways. For now, the first roll should be super straight-forward.

The Next Step

Whatever the result is, make sure it leads to an interesting development. If it’s a failure, fail forward in a way that’s either amusing or reveals new information. If they succeed, roll with the success and escalate the situation.

Have they failed to sneak around? One of the kobolds wakes up, smacks its lips and looks around sleepily. The player now has the opportunity to attack by surprise, or maybe to sneak again despite the awakened kobold (DC is now higher), or whatever.

Did they shoot and miss? They hit something loud and one of the kobolds wakes up! But it can’t see them, they’re in the darkness and it’s in the light (Never mind now that kobolds “are supposed to have” darkvision).

You should try to bring the player to a situation so that they’ll have a conversation with one of the kobolds, because it reveals a whole new facet of the game: Acting and portraying a character. So whatever the consequences of their action, try to make sure that at least one of the kobolds notices the player and survives the encounter, and wants to talk, at least for a moment.

You should portray the kobolds in a funny voice, even if they’re only talking between themselves. By talking funny and doing face, you’re making it clear to the player that you’re willing to make a clown out of yourself, thus allowing the player to feel a lot more comfortable doing the same.

Whether they manage to defeat one or more of the kobolds (maybe some of them escape, or surrender – make it interesting), or whether they manage to completely avoid them, give them some prize. Maybe they find a small, intriguing item in one of the kobolds’ bags, or hanging on the door like a lucky charm. It should be either something that looks unnatural or magical, like a blue potion bottle, or something that has an obvious yet unknown use, like a silver key.

What Happens After the Door?

I usually put an obvious clue that one of the player’s closest friends was dragged through here. The feather of Alhof, your old friend, was in the kobold’s satchel!

I then provide a mysterious clue as to what might be coming next. As you open the door, the corridor splits. To the right, there’s an ancient stone door with an unknown writing on it and an unnatural cold seems to be emanating from its surface. To the left, you can see torchlight and the voices of more of the reptile creatures – who seem to be arguing over something?

And then I STOP. What happens now? What will be this character’s fate? Will she find her friends, and what adventures will she go through under the hill? To discover these answers, you must play!

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