A bolt of crackling eldritch energy rips through the air separating you from the rest of the group. You tumble into the freshly open grave, a product of an hours work and a fresh blister. Looking up, the undead mage you unearthed sneers down, more than happy to see you stay in his resting place.
Incidents like this abound in the imaginative uber-nerd pastime turned clique de jour of Dungeons and; Dragons. Perhaps you’ve stumbled on it in the wild. More likely, you’ve seen one of the many exciting live casts popularizing this 45-year-old game.
Whatever your reason, you want to know how to play D&D so you can get in on the good times.
We’ve got you covered. I’ve been running the game since 2nd edition and know it like the back of my THAC0 chart (which no longer exists).
How to Play D&D in Two Steps
All you need to play Dungeons and Dragons is a dungeon master (DM) and an imagination.
That’s maybe overly simplistic for a guide, so we’ll expand on these two elements.
And Slightly More Steps
If you don’t know someone that already has experience running the game, you will need to go through a longer journey to your destination.
To learn to run the game you need to get your hands on some of the official materials from current publisher Wizards of the Coast (WotC). The company, based out of Washington (that being the coast they are wizards of) updates the game periodically.
The current set being produced and used in those aforementioned live cast sessions is 5th Edition. We’ll refer to that throughout the rest of the guide.
The only book you really need to play is the Player’s Handbook. The Dungeon Master’s Guide contains extra materials to help you understand the process of world-building and rules governing
The Player’s Handbook contains the actual rules for the day-to-day of both being a player and running the game. WotC makes it easy to get going by offering various Dungeons and Dragons starter sets. Currently, they have Stranger Things tie-in getting a lot of buzz.
Once you’ve acquired these two books and read through their several hundred pages, you are good to go!
Or, read the next section for the SparkNotes on getting going.
Playing (A Role)
The purpose of the game is to assume a role and explore a world. That world may be one out of the box (or books) or something the DM makes themselves.
You make decisions based on the setup given to you by the DM and then roll dice to determine the outcome of the encounter. A game can be as simple as a single scene or multiple sessions.
Multiple sessions (often run weekly) comprise a standard D&D campaign. WotC produces published campaigns and adventures that build an ongoing storyline.
To aid you in this endeavor is the D&D character sheet. This holds all the mechanical notes for your character like their stats, hit points, and equipment. It also holds information about who this fictional avatar is.
The best DMs use the rules as a guideline, not a club. The idea of the game is to have fun and enjoy a cooperative story. Getting bogged down in exactly how the rules work and let the dice fall where they lay isn’t the best for new players.
Playing a character is both the challenge and the reward of the experience. The game empowers you to play a character as close to yourself, or as far from yourself as you want.
Many players find it easier to get into the game when they play something familiar that aligns with their own values and skills.
The rules help keep your character balanced with other players, but your unique character brings something to the game.
The players have a somewhat adversarial relationship with the machinations and minions of the DM. The game is played in the world created and against the will and idea of the person running it. It is not played actually against the DM.
Nobody has fun when the game is played to ‘win’. The game is about fun and operates towards that goal when everyone plays in the same spirit.
While the game can be played with a DM and a single player, parties are much more common. Parties range between two and six people. Six gets to be a bit much and many find four to be the sweet spot.
When the players work together and play off each other, it makes things more interesting.
It isn’t all talk and imagination. As the game has advanced over the last half-century, so to have the props.
These days 3D printed landscapes, miniature figurines, and even digital version of the game exist. All of these bring a more video game or cinematic feel to enhance the escapism.
Getting your hands on a solid set of RPG dice is usually the first place to start, even before buying any books. RPG dice come in sets built for D&D. These expand on the dice you may be used to.
A standard set includes:
The two 1d10 come in either different colors or one will have 10-00 instead of 1-0. This lets you make percentile rolls (rolls from 0-100) for determining some chances.
Online programs like Roll20 and Tabletop Simulator provide virtual tables that enable players to get together from anywhere. For those of us with spouses and kids, its a great way to stay in touch and spend an evening together.
The best way to learn how to play D&D is to get in a game or two. WotC runs an Adventure Leauge through game stores across the country and abroad. These set weekly adventures are free to play and offer various prizes to boot.
Kids are welcome too! If you have some childers in the 10+ range you can become the leader of your family team. It doesn’t hurt to have the kids always looking for a way to score extra exp and rerolls through extra chores, either.