So, you’ve heard about this amazing game called Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps you found out about it from watching Critical Role or Stranger Things. Maybe you were given the D&D Starter Set or Essentials Kit. Maybe you played years ago and want to get back into it.
This article is, as the title suggests, a guide to getting started with D&D.
What is it?
D&D is a tabletop roleplaying game: a hobby where you and your friends pretend to be fantasy characters who go on an adventure. Together, you tell stories about monsters, spells, treasure, and dark places. It’s fun!
One of you will be Dungeon Master (DM). It’s their job to invent exciting situations. The DM reacts to the players’ decisions. If the players play the heroes, the DM plays everyone else. Being a DM can be a bit more work, but it’s very rewarding, too.
You don’t ‘win’ D&D. You tell stories together and watch your characters grow and develop. You might play a single adventure (a ‘one-shot’), or you might play for several weeks, months – even years. When a story runs for more than a few sessions, like a series of a TV show, it’s usually called a campaign.
D&D can seem off putting to newcomers, with its funny-looking dice and its hardback rulebooks. But here’s a secret: you don’t need to spend very much at all to play D&D, and at its heart, it’s very simple. This is how it goes:
- The DM sets the scene.
- The players respond, describing what their characters do.
- The DM responds to the players.
And so on!
Dice are only used whenever there’s a chance of failure or randomness. Some stuff you can just do. You don’t need to roll anything to light a door, speak your mind, climb a staircase, or open an unlocked door. But some things aren’t automatic. There many ways you might try to get past a dragon – through stealth, clever words, or a well-aimed arrow to the heart – but you might not succeed.
Most of the time, we roll a single 20-sided die (called a d20). There are other dice, but they’re mostly used for damage. You learn to recognize them pretty quickly.
What do you need?
At its core, D&D is an inexpensive hobby (although you can sink a lot of money into it, like any hobby). The basic rules are free on the D&D website. Beyond these, you need only a set of dice, some rough paper, and a pencil. Some players like to play with miniatures and maps and so on, but you don’t actually need any of this stuff.
However, if you want a little more help and guidance, I highly recommend the D&D Starter Set. It contains character sheets, dice, the core rules, and one of the best adventures to be published in the last ten years, the Lost Mine of Phandelver. You can get it for less than £15/$20. There is also the Essentials Kit, pictured above, which is similarly priced and comes with some nice extras like a DM screen and a map, but I think the main adventure is a bit lacklustre. (Unlike the Starter Set, it also has rules for making your own characters.)
Finding a group
In some ways, this is one of the hardest aspects of getting started with D&D!
Ideally you want a group of four to seven people, including the DM. The game can get a bit tricky with bigger and smaller groups (although there are ways it can work). Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a group of friends who are just as excited to play as you are. But if you don’t, how do you get started?
One option it to approach friends and family who you think might be keen. I’m thinking of trying out this game called D&D. Are you interested? The worst that can happen is they politely decline, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who’s happy to give it a go!
If that doesn’t work, there are other options. If you shop at a local game store, try seeing if they run any events. Online, you can search Facebook for ‘Dungeons & Dragons [City]’ and you might strike lucky. There are similar groups on Reddit (r/lfg/) and Roll20, a platform for playing D&D online. Most of all, though, I highly recommend Meetup. The London D&D Meetup group is thriving, and if you pop along on Saturday, you might see me there!
(On the subject of Meetups, it’s worth thinking about where you’re going to play, too. In the UK, lots of D&D groups meet in pubs. Others use libraries, game stores, after-work office spaces, and, of course, their homes. I think I’ve DMed in almost all of these places, and while I like playing at home best, they all bring something different to the vibe.)
Your first game
Once you’ve got a group together, it’s time to play your first adventure! I actually have an entire post on this, where I go into a bit more detail: http://www.scrollforinitiative.com/2021/03/21/1st-level-adventures/ In brief: keep it simple, embrace the fantastical, be a fan of the players, and don’t overthink it. You’ve got this.
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