The other day at work, I was mentioning to some co-workers about how I have a Dungeons & Dragons session that evening, and they mentioned that they had always been interested in that game, but it just seemed “too confusing” and had “too many rules.” I could tell that an offer for them to join the game would seem too big of a task, and too intimidating. So instead, I offered to run them a super short session, that I promised would not be too confusing.
This was that game.
I explained that the game essentially is based on three things.
- I, the Dungeon Master, explain the situation and environment to you.
- You describe how you want to react to what I’ve told you, whether that’s talk to someone, attack something, go somewhere, etc.
- For most things, I will ask you to roll a 20-sided dice. The higher you roll, the better the outcome.
- I interpret the number, and explain how the world around you reacts. This brings us back to step 1.
For this oversimplified game, I removed skills entirely, and for skill checks, only used the six attributes. So instead of a Stealth check, just use Dexterity, or instead of a History Check, just use Intelligence. This helped greatly reduce the amount of page space needed for the game. Also, I dropped the actual Attribute Score, and only cared about the Modifier, the actionable part of the score.
Next, we have combat. I explained how Armor Class works, and how you have to roll to hit, and roll a number higher than that Armor Class. If they hit though, we cut back on Hit Points. There’s no rolling for damage, and instead limited your health to “How many times can you get hit?”
This idea comes from Matt Colville’s simplified rules of followers, or “retainers,” where they have “Health Levels,” which is the same concept. How many times can you get hit before you go down? Because of this, every weapon does 1 damage, and a healing spell heals you 1 hp.
Next, now that I knew how the game was going to play, I wanted to find a simple way for the players to pick characters without going too far into race/class combos, or overwhelm them with options. Even if you stick to the core rulebook, there are 9 races, and 12 classes, over 100 possible combinations. I wanted a third of that. So I broke it down to 5 races, and 6 classes, for a total of 30 combinations.
The basic races are those you can find in The Lord of the Rings, with one more for flavor.
- Elf (Wood)
- Dwarf (Mountain)
- Halfling (Lightfoot)
- Half-Orc – You can choose another here, like Tiefling or Dragonborn. The idea is to show the more high fantasy options available.
Then I stuck with 6 classes that are easy to explain.
- Fighter (Strength Champion)
- Ranger (Hunter)
- Rogue (Thief)
- Cleric (Life Domain)
- Wizard (Evocation)
- Barbarian (Berserker) – Again, you can change this out for something like Bard or Paladin, just something with a bit more explaining.
With the one outsider in both race and class, you can choose either ones that always stuck out to you, or ones that you think a certain player might gravitate toward.
For these, I didn’t worry about explaining any of these. Instead, I sent them two sets of photos. The first were of each race, and the second of each class. These were artistic pieces I pulled from Google, so that the players could just choose whatever aesthetic speaks to them. They don’t know the difference, and it’s unlikely that whatever they pick will be wildly different from the vibe they get from the pictures. So just send them some photos, and tell them to pick one from each category.
Then, once everyone has picked an image from each category, I went to FastCharacter.com
You pick out the Race/Class Combo, Level 1, and it does all the rest. This is an amazing resource to create fully designed PCs. Of course, even though this gives you a full character sheet, I only used the name, Attribute Modifiers, and Armor Class. For the HP, I went with 4+Constitution Modifier.
With this, we had a working model of the game, and we were ready to play.
I wanted to keep the game simple, because I only had 30 minutes. These were coworkers, and they agreed to play during a lunch break. So I had to make this quick.
The setting was a tavern, as all new games start. It was a Friday Night at the Crying Monk Tavern, the place was packed. Music was playing, stories were being told, drinks were shared, food was eaten. Where are you?
This was the first, simplest, choice I gave the players. Where do they want to be in this scenario?
- Listening to the music
- Playing the music
- Telling stories
- Eating quietly
- Gathering rumors from the bartender
These were some ideas I had for them to choose from.
Then, after everyone came up with something, some very angry thugs burst into the room, demanding to know where a specific person was, “Tasha Culdronus” (a little joke for myself). This was the first chance for a skill check, Intelligence, to see if they know who Tasha is, and how rolls work.
Then, the thugs would find Tasha, and attempt to drag her out of the tavern, with her kicking and screaming for help. However, no one else would help out of fear of getting involved. This builds to the idea of why the Player Characters are heroes, because they are the only ones willing to do what needs to be done, to help others.
They fight off the bad guys, and Tasha asks them to escort her through the wilderness to the next town. This is the first quest received, and the players will (hopefully) want to know how the story continues.
If they ask, Tasha is the daughter of Duke Culdronus, who is an evil man, and she wants to find someone to help her stop him. It is something far above the party can handle, and so there is some powerful wizard in the next city who she wants to enlist. Not everything is for the party, but there are more interesting adventures they can go on as they become higher level.
Everyone really seemed to enjoy the game. We had a Human Cleric, an Elf Ranger, and a Dwarf Barbarian. They all found interesting things to do in the bar, they defended Tasha, while also questioning whether or not she was deserving of her help, as opposed to just accepting it at face value. They began to ask things that are D&D-based, naturally, like asking if they can tell if the thugs or Tasha were lying (Insight Check).
They like the game that they are now willing to commit to a full One Shot (4 hour session), and also others have heard about how much fun we had, and are also wanting to join. They said the game was fun, and while the rules are still a little confusing, it seems like that is a challenge that is worth it. To be honest, the rules are still confusing to me, and I’ve been running this game for years.