So you want to play Dungeons & Dragons? Maybe you got some dice as a gift, or your friends are looking to start a game. Maybe you’re curious after hearing so much about it. Either way, you’ve clicked on this page, so let’s dive right in.
Allow me to be your guide for this vast and immersive role-playing game with my nearly half decade of experience.
What to expect when adventuring?
Dungeons & Dragons, or “D&D” is the quintessential role-playing game, or RPG, with endless possibilities. The best way I can describe it, taking a page from Dan Harmon’s comedy D&D show, Harmon Quest, is that it’s an analog video game. Instead of computers and display monitors, you have pencils, papers, dice and your imagination.
But unlike video games, D&D gives much more freedom of choices, dialogue options and consequences to explore with strangers or friends. Aside from a game, it’s a great way to explore ideas, narratives, experiences or characters you’ve always wanted to see. The setting can be any time, any place or in different franchises besides the medieval fantasy genre. If there’s a series or franchise you enjoy, odds are you might find a game for it.
If that sounds like something you’d like to do, it’s time to look to the next segment of our guide.
Your equipment to aid in your journey
Since you’ve made it this far, you’ll need a quick set of important items to begin your adventure in D&D. Aside from this handy guide, I greatly suggest visiting www.dnd.wizards.com which is the extensive rules and guide lines for Dungeons & Dragons.
- Starterset for the latest edition for Dungeons & Dragons
- This is the best I can give you for a guide of the many rules and guidelines of the game more than I could ever do. It comes with an adventure book to help you get started, a rule book, sets of pre-generated characters and six dice for the game. You can purchase it on Amazon or on the official Dungeons & Dragons website. Even after almost five years of playing I still need to look at the handbook to remember the rules. The rules and guidelines for D&D are pretty extensive, but once you get the basics, you’ll have a much easier time creating a universe that you’ve always wanted. But also remember there are other role-playing tabletop games that aren’t D&D. You can also find the basic rules for D&D here.
- Paper/Character Sheets
- You’ll need regular paper but you’ll also need to print out a character sheet for every player. This will be easier for your party than just writing down your notes and abilities on some loose-leaf paper. The best place to get free PDFs of standard D&D character sheets is through the D&D website. If paper’s not your thing, you can just have online versions or download a phone app like “Fifth Edition Character Sheet” for Apple or Android.
- Pencils, just a bunch of pencils
- You’ll need to write and erase stuff on your gaming and character sheets, so always have a pencil handy. No one will have pencils when they come over so just make sure there’s always pencils somewhere (For people to use and then inevitably lose or steal).
- Your dice are your most important part of playing D&D. Think of it as your controller for the game: if you don’t have it, you can’t make any actions. You can order your dice online, borrow some from a friend or go to a game shop nearby. Your dice are categorized by the number of sides it has. The dice are known in different names starting with a “d” and then the number of sides it has. You’ll need a d20, d12, two d10s (once for single digits another for double digits), d8, d6(the popular cubed dice) and d4. At least one of each is needed for the game and should be kept in a velvet pouch or box. It’s always nice to personalize your dice, so think about getting dice with certain colors or designs.
- Miniatures (Optional)
- If you will have a large dungeon or lots of combat involved in your game, it’s important to have visual aides handy to help everyone understand where everything is. First let me say you don’t need these to technically play. If you want to use just small tokens to represent your character that works too. A piece of paper, toys, whatever works for you. Official miniatures are small figures of many races and species of creatures and people in the D&D world that represent enemies, allies, players and obstacles. If you would want to buy the actual miniature figures, it helps personalize the game. But only if you are really invested. You can buy them online or in a nearby gaming shop, but if you have a player looking to get a custom figure, I’d suggest www.heroforge.com. Otherwise, just find a figure that resembles your character the best and buy it, these things are usually pretty cheap. If you’re leading the game and just starting out, I’d suggest buying a pack of miniatures since you’ll be sending out multiple enemies for your players to fight.
- Battle Grid Mats (Optional)
- These go hand-in-hand with miniatures. Battle grid mats are an easy way to have a more tangible adventure and easier combat. You can use them to draw the floor layout of a dungeon or other building for players to navigate around. Again, this is optional only if you know this something you’re invested in. As a substitute, just use regular sheets of paper. Grid mats can also be found online or in the same tabletop/hobby shops I’ve mentioned before. If you do choose to get the battle grid mat, be sure it’s a wet erase marker mat and use wet erase markers. Please, for the love of God. DO. NOT. USE. PERMANENT. MARKER. It will never come out and if it’s not your mat you will have a very upset friend.
The dungeon master and the player
The two roles in this game are the dungeon master (or game master if it’s not specifically D&D) and the player. The relationship between these roles is very important and needs a lot of communication. So I’ll divide this into two different advice portions for each role.
The Dungeon Master
Your role is the most important; without you, there is no game to have. You hold all the cards and all the possibilities, you are a God and the players are just living in your universe. Before you start anything else, you need to build the world your players will exist in.
In D&D, you can make whatever country or village you want, with a population, size and all the way do to the flora and fauna of the land. Like I said before, this can be anywhere or anytime in this world or another. If you like comics, find a superhero RPG tabletop game and if you like sci-fi, find that, but at this time we’ll stick to medieval fantasy.
If this is your first time being a dungeon master, or “DM,” in this kind of tabletop game, I’d highly recommend doing a mock session to test how you do things, possibly a campaign that needs a session or two to complete, or as my friends and I call it, a “one-off campaign.”
A campaign is a story arc for players to go through as their characters; beginning middle and end with a boss battle and a goal achieved. You can either use campaigns already created in the books or make your own expansive world and nations. If you’re new to DMing, please try to follow a pre-made campaign. A pre-made campaign can also be altered if you’d like something a little more tailor-made. But if your ambition gets the better of you, go ahead and make your own campaign, which I again suggest to last one or two sessions as a “one-off.”
In a campaign, you need to set a goal, set obstacles, give players ways to overcome those obstacles and reach that goal. You’ll be surprised how difficult it can be for players to go in a straight line when you begin. And try not to stress if you don’t get to where you wanted by the end of the session. Remember that everyone is trying to have fun their own way and do your best to keep them on a moderately generous leash.
Establish a set of non-playable characters, or “NPCs” to give your players a quest or just to interact with them, fight them, marry them, anything! These can span from bystanders, travelers and villagers to story-important characters and villains.
Always know that they might bypass all of your obstacles so you’ll need to make sure they have other possibilities. Being a DM is kind of like being a game developer, you need to make sure there are other options for the player to create the illusion of choice and make the world seem bigger. There will most likely be paths you’ve spent days creating and drafting to include in your campaign that they will never take and that’s just the reality of the game. But always remember that it’s all to make sure you aren’t caught off guard and the game won’t lose momentum.
Being In Charge
You must be patient with your players and be willing to keep an open mind for their ideas. But you also have to be the moderator of the session, making sure everyone gets a say and that you meet your goal at the end of the day. If you’re “DMing” for the first time, be prepared and straightforward with your adventure. If a player is trying to get too rowdy (like hurting innocent people), let them. Just be sure to show them their actions have consequences. This can be in the form of towns turning against your players or that no one in the village will trust your party.
Lastly, I’m sure there will be a line of your friends wanting to join, but I say stick to no more than four players per campaign. At most five if you have to. It can get pretty complicated your first time around micromanaging so many players at once. If things get too complicated, try having people go around in a circle to tell you their next action.
As a player, your role has fewer responsibilities but much more possibilities. You first need to create your character. Use your role as a player to get into your character.
Creating a character is a fun way to explore what and how you want to play. On your character sheet, you will have ability scores for six abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Get a random number generator or your 20-sided die (d20) and figure out which scores you want to put in each ability.
My advice here is to avoid being a jack-of-all-trades character. Your character should have flawed personalities and skills and be a specialist in someway. Your character shouldn’t be strong but also intelligent, dexterous and wise. Remember, your character is a part of a team, be the best at what you can do. Your teammates will make up for what you lack.
You can chose from many races and there is no wrong answer. However, there are benefits depending on each of the races that add to your skills and abilities. It might also help in how your character is treated in the game. A human village may be more respectable to a dwarf than an Orc or Elf.
Playing as your character
Acting in character for your D&D campaign is like acting in an improv group. When starting out, it’s important to explore who your character is. What is your character’s name? Where did they come from? What do they want? Why are they going on this adventure? These questions may be things you have spent a lot of time creating but won’t be able to share in-game. So just know that’s more for you to understand your character and not everyone else. Should the time arise, go crazy about spilling out your troubled past.
You can also set an alignment for your character. There are nine alignments in D&D. They aren’t strict characteristics, but they help keep your character’s personality stay consistent. The combinations include Good, Neutral and Evil mixing with lawful, neutral and chaotic. I can make a separate article about this but look up what you can about alignments whenever you have time.
Don’t go in with a plan for your character to be a certain way or to do certain things. Sure, you have that goal set, but it’s unpredictable how you’ll get there. The game does its best to imitate life. And such as life, you can’t control how things turn out. Sooner or later, your dice will betray you. Make one bad roll and your plan to be a cool bad-ass flies out the window as an Orc bashes your skull as you trip into an ambush. Don’t forget to give your DM a chance to collect themselves and wait your turn to speak, they need as much time as they can for that.
Depend on your community
If you’ve read all of this and feel just a smidgen intimidated, you should also know that you have a huge support group. If you live near a city or suburban town, odds are there are some game shops accepting new players. You can get started getting in certain online communities like the Adventures League that will give you everywhere to start making the step towards playing in or creating a campaign for you and your friends. You can also visit many forums about D&D like on Reddit with r/DnD. Maybe find a group to play with online if you have trouble with playing in person for whatever reason, be it social anxiety or distance.
Other last-minute tips
Now you’ll be ready to live out your wildest fantasies limited only by your imaginations. Always consult the handbook of course, but this should keep you together as you start playing.
But here are some other tips and tricks I wish I knew when I first started playing.
- Find the time to play. Time is valuable and if you know you can’t commit to a weekly/monthly time, don’t try it. I’d say an average session lasts maybe three to four hours.
- Watch a few D&D games before you play. Even if you read all the books, you won’t know how people play it normally and what are the best actions and ideas are in the game. You should sit in on a session with friends you know who play or listen to the many podcasts and shows of live D&D games. My personal favorites are Harmon Quest on VRV and The Adventure Zone podcast. Also try Critical Roll on Youtube.
- Have a group of good friends. Strangers are fine, but have maybe one person who you’re familiar with. It’s not needed, but it makes the game a lot more fun. But who knows, you might make new friends with these strangers.
- You can find online D&D sessions to join. If you don’t feel like playing in-person, you can look into playing online. My best option is to visit Roll20.net and online website to help give virtual tabletop gaming with digital tools to use. You can also do online D&D using the group communication app Discord. It’s also great to use discord to communicate with your group if you play in-person either way. I even use it myself.
- Role-playing doesn’t give you a license to be a douche. You are a functioning adult in a fantasy world so try not to screw over your party because it’s “what your character would do.” If they didn’t want to be murdered by the first party they joined with on missions, they’d probably be well-behaved for self-preservation.
- Try to have at least one expert in the game to help you build your character and do combat. It really helps to have someone who knows a lot about the game. Even just having them nearby to give advice on the fly can be very helpful.
- If you have a problem with your fellow player for something they did in-game, talk about it. Have a discussion with them and then an in-game discussion between your characters. This makes the interaction between your characters feel more organic. You can avoid any unnecessary drama in your campaign group. Remember, some players are just really into playing their characters, who might be terrible people. But that doesn’t mean the player is a terrible person…usually.
- Always expect to start late. This is a hangout scene and sometimes you won’t be able to start on time. Don’t take it personally, just roll with the punches.
- Be prepared to fail. But keep taking chances, when you win, you win hard.
- Teamwork makes the dream work. I can’t tell you how important this is when you play. Try stuff like throwing one character at an enemy or combining different abilities and spells together. Remember when Iron Man used his repulsor beam on Captain America’s shield in The Avengers movies? You can pull some crazy stuff like that in this game, granted your DM is willing to indulge you.
- Take big risks sometimes. One time I played a gunslinger and instead of shooting this big plant monster, I just threw my bag of gunpowder into its maw and shot it, creating a huge explosion! This is a game where you can do almost anything, don’t limit yourself through just casting spells and swinging swords. Make a chandelier fall on a monster. Temporarily banish a demon that was meant as a huge boss and run like hell. Or just try to romance an Orc war chief. You can literally do just about anything.
- Think about your other players. If you’re the troublemaker in the group, maybe check if people are enjoying your character’s antics.
- Unless you are experienced in D&D, don’t let your first character have an evil alignment. You may want to be this bad-ass anti-hero, but it’s not going to work out because it’s a hard line to tow being evil and working with a team of goody-goodies. Just be true neutral or chaotic neutral and you can do whatever you want with a heart of gold.
- Keep track of your money and items. There have been campaigns I started and finished without using a powerful item I forgot I had. Same goes for spells and special abilities. Just review your inventory of items and spells every once in a while.
- Diversify your characters. I’ve been a cleric, a rouge, a fighter, a barbarian and a wizard. Make sure you do something different every time once you figure out what you’re good at.
With this guide, you should be able to jump into a world you wish you were in sooner. If this guide was helpful, let me know in the comments. Tell me what you thought of my guide and the campaigns you’ve led using this guide. Happy adventuring!