Two of my players had extensive experience with the 3.5 rules. I think they hadn't played this edition in some time, but everything was just review. My other two players were almost completely new to the game, having played only one or two previous sessions combined. In the week leading up to the game, one of the latter players (call him "Sam") discussed with me his character options. Sam was inspired to play a flashing, darting swordsman, but also was curious about playing a cleric. Sam had never before played a spellcaster of any stripe. He asked me my opinion, and I suggested he play both. My thinking was that while playing two characters is a little more work than playing only one, the fact that one was a fighter meant that there wouldn't be too much more to track than had Sam only played the cleric.
It didn't quite work out that way. While I thought Sam did an excellent job running both characters during the game, his comments after the session ended showed that he had to spend so much attention making sure he played the characters effectively that he didn't have any time to just enjoy the game. He remarked that he needed frequently to refer to his character sheets, to the point where he basically had his head buried in stats for the majority of each encounter.
I was so intent on making sure that everyone had something to do to entertain them, that I gave Sam too much. So here are the takeaways:
- When introducing a new player to a system, just give them one character.
Players are going to have enough to handle learning the basic mechanics of a new game or new edition of a familiar game without also having to juggle multiple characters at once. Even if players are able to pull it off, and are able to run the characters effectively in and out of combat, there is a strong chance that this won’t be done with the ease and comfort that allows one to enjoy the experience.
- Lean toward giving your new player a class he/she knows.
It’s a good idea to give new players a character class with which they are familiar. This will allow the player to concentrate more on learning the rules of the new system, rather than being bogged down by the intricacies of an unfamiliar class. The player will also be able to compare and contrast how the familiar class plays in the two systems, and will have a better foundation to both understand and evaluate the new rules.
If the new player instantly comprehends the nuances of the game, you can always let him introduce another character later for him to run, in addition to the initial PC. But some players are loath to abandon a character once they’ve invested the time to roll him up and play him a bit, even if it’s something of a burden. It’s hard to judge how much new material a particular player can comfortably handle, but it’s better to build slowly on a firm foundation than rush to finish a shaky building.