One aspect of playing Dungeons & Dragons that can initially be off putting to new players is the use of miniatures. It makes the game feel like a very complex board game with thick rule books, and since most board games are competitive, gives the sense of being something new people could never win at.
Of course, miniatures serve a very different purpose in D&D, and one that most players find invaluable once they are familiar with the game. It gives a frame of reference during complex fights, allows players to see where they are in relation to everyone else, and gives DM’s a visual means by which to arbitrate events.
Personally, I use miniatures as often as I don’t. It depends on the group, how well they can visualize things, and how likely they are to argue a decision I make. Some people just like to haggle over an enemy target’s visibility.
The best time to use miniatures, though, is always when things are happening in tight spaces. Narrow hallways create a whole new dynamic, making it more difficult for players to move about, much less see what’s going on even as little as twenty feet away. Having a visual reference helps immensely in times like that.
Sometimes, all the player can do is shout something supportive to the ones near the action, though occasionally, this leads to some truly funny lines being delivered. Probably best to leave the inspiration to the Bards in times like these, guys.