The modern media has done every bit to re-popularize “Dungeons and Dragons”. Almost everyone has seen the game being played either on Stranger Things or The Big Bang Theory or some other show.
This iconic role-playing fantasy game is back in the limelight. So, it’s time to know how to play dungeons and dragons for beginners.
The owners of the game – Wizards of the Coast reported that 2017 was their prime sales year in history.
This was perhaps a result of people watching celebrity nerds like Felicia Day roleplaying in the game and putting it up on the internet.
If you have been intrigued by the constant mention of this game and are new to this world, we have good news. Read on!
So What is Dungeons and Dragons?
According to Wizards of the Coast themselves, Dungeons and Dragons was first played when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson decided to personalize their fantasy warfare games with individual heroes and exploits.
According to them, the core of D&D is storytelling. The players get involved in storytelling involving quests, battles, rescues and so on.
You can use your own imagination to enjoy Dungeons and Dragons or explore the world through the novels written by their fantasy authors.
What Do You Need to Start Playing Dungeons and Dragons?
The best thing about Dungeons and Dragons is you will only need a copy of the rulebook, a couple of dice, some pencils and paper, and your imagination.
To begin with, you can get the PDF file of the basic rules from Wizards of the Coast themselves.
This simple version of the rulebook tells you about the core features, the math of the game, as well as provides a character creation guide, and the information about monsters.
The next thing you will need is a set of dice. It is not the usual kind of dice we use for other board games.
Dungeons and Dragons uses weird-shaped dice which some players love to collect.
If you are one of such players, sites like Etsy provide unique hand-made ones. For others, a regular set of polyhedral dice works just fine.
Basic Dungeons and Dragons Terms You Should Know About
RPG = Role Playing Game
DM = Dungeon Master (narrator of the story in D&D)
PC = Player Character (these are the players besides the dungeon master)
NPC = Non-Player Character (these are characters in the game that aren’t controlled by the players. Ex: dragon or innkeeper, these are played by the dungeon master)
5e, 4e, etc = The edition of the rule book. Like 5e corresponds to the fifth edition. When buying a rulebook, we recommend you buy the 5th edition. It has the rule written down simply and in the most refined way.
D20, D12, D8, etc. = Refers to dice and the sides. D20, for instance, refers to a 2 sided die. The D20 is most often used for skill and ability checks. Similarly, other dices have different purposes. You’ll need them when you level up.
New to Dungeons and Dragons? Here’s How to Play
For beginners, the best way to start the game is with the starter set. The starter set comes with everything you need.
It includes an essentials rulebook, an introductory adventure, five character-sheets and a set of dice.
The kit now also includes a Stranger Things inspired adventure which takes you through Mike’s quest to fight the Demogorgon.
Step 1: Learning about Roleplaying and The Characters
Role-Playing games are really easy to understand when you follow experienced players.
The players just have to get a strong grasp of their storytelling abilities. You could watch episodes of D&D sessions on YouTube.
Speaking of roleplaying, the characters of D&D are a major aspect of this game.
Some players might want to create their own characters. But for a beginner, the existent character sheets are a great help. The sheets already have done the math for you.
As a beginner learns about the character points, motivations and relationships listed in the sheets and take inspiration.
When you are more experienced with the gameplay, you can surely create your own characters from scratch.
In fact, Wizards of the Coast will help you with this. The website D&D Beyond offers a character creator tool which will guide you through the process.
Step 2: Finding a Good Dungeon Master
The key to playing Dungeons and Dragons is having an adept dungeon master. A dungeon master is like a game master.
The reason a starter kit is perfect for beginners is that it teaches you how to be a good dungeon master.
Dungeons and Dragons mostly depend on the imagination of the players and how they build the story.
The starter set helps new players to prepare and know how to craft a story.
Step 3: Acquaintance with the Game Rules
New players can feel intimidated by the myriads of rules. But unlike other board games, you don’t need to know all the rules for Dungeons and Dragons at the first go.
Jeremy Crawford says that there’s no one way to play D&D. The rules just provide a framework. Knowing about 60% of the rules in the first go works fine.
The trick lies in knowing how to proceed when you don’t know all the rules.
Say you are the dungeon master and your friends are trying to go across a slippery surface. How to move across without being scathed?
D&D has rules for this situation. So simply refer to the rule book when you land in this situation (page 190 of the Player’s Handbook under “difficult terrains”).
If you do not know these rules, it is not absolutely essential to follow the rulebook.
Kimberly Hidalgo who runs the channel Girls, Guts, Glory on Youtube says you can just make something up and that becomes the rule. That’s the beauty of Dungeons and Dragons.
Step 4: Know About Ability & Skill Checks
You can go without knowing much from the rulebook if you know about how ability scores and skill checks work. These abilities and skills dictate how your character would attempt the challenges.
- In Dungeons and Dragons, each character is given 6 different characteristics that showcase its mental and physical ability. These features are strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, charisma, and constitution. The level of good or bad is denoted by numbers between 1 to 20. 1 being extremely bad and 20 being super good. So if a wizard has 6 wisdom, they will not realize when they are being conned.
- When you start playing Dungeons and Dragons, the first thing you do is assign scores to these six features for each character. This can be done using the dice, or by the help of the character builder feature, we spoke about. For beginners, the character sheets already have every score mentioned so you don’t have to do the hard work.
Step 5: Level Up Your Game with Ability Modifiers
These ability scores help decide whether your character succeeds or fails when they attempt something.
- For instance, your character, John – the barbarian has to enter a castle but has to break the door for that. The character’s ability score of strength will decide whether or not he will succeed. Say John has strength 18. From this score, you move to check the ability modifier.
- Ability modifiers might sound confusing, but they are not. Ability modifiers tell you what amount of help or hindrance your ability score would be in doing a task. So if your ability score is a 10, your ability modifier is 0 because you are neither skilled nor unskilled.
- John’s ability score is 18, so his ability modifier is +4. Plus 4 means he will get help from his ability. If John would have had a strength score of 5, his modifier would have been -3 which would have been a hindrance. The ability scores and ability modifiers are mentioned in a chart provided by the Wizards of the Coast.
Step 6: You Are Ready to Play the Final Sequence
The last bit includes the actual play sequence.
- The player rolls the 20 sided die. Then they add or subtract the modifier to whatever number they rolled. The player tells the final score to the dungeon master and then the dungeon master decides what would happen based on your skill check.
- So let’s say John rolls a 13 on his die and adds 4 to it. The resultant score is 17. The dungeon master decided that 17 is a good score for John to succeed in bashing down the door and so the character succeeds. This sums up the skill check and the game proceeds.
Sometimes the dungeon master decides that the character is skilled enough and they announce no skill check is required.
In that case, the game continues. This was a mere example of strength ability.
The game has many more skills to showcase – spellcasting, combat and so on. Your character will have loads of fun throughout the game trying to succeed in these quests.
Additional Tips for Beginners
- Beginners should play their first game as players. It is better if you avoid being a DM during your first game because DMs have a lot to handle. You should try out being a DM once you are familiar with the game.
- People tend to mix things up while playing D&D. Remember to separate the facts that you know and that your character knows. Do not let the things you know influence your character.
- Never get too attached to a single character you are playing. It is a game and characters die. The best thing is to roll up another character and get going.
- Always think creatively. The game is meant to be imaginative. Just because your character is a soldier doesn’t mean that you can only swing a sword. Listen carefully to how the DM describes the scene and maybe you will find other things in the setting to win the quest.
- Sometimes players are skeptical about D&D. Sometimes they are extremely superstitious, even about the dice they play with. So it is advisable that you carry your own set of dice.
You are now armed with the basic knowledge and are ready for your first Dragons and Dungeons battle.
Gather your friends and get started. Always remember, with more practice, you will master the game. Hopefully, you liked our guide to Dungeons and Dragons!