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How To Play D&D For The First Time

Where to start with Dungeons & Dragons? As I mentioned in a previous post, I love playing Dungeons & Dragons, as well as other tabletop role-playing games, and encourage everyone to give it a try. If you're 100% new to the hobby, here's the best overview I can do in under a thousand words.

The core of the game is the dungeon master, the person who sets up the scenarios and arbitrates other players’ actions. There are one or more other players, with three to five being ideal. Each game session tells a sequential part of an ongoing story, referred to as a campaign.

Finding a campaign to play in can be harder than actually playing, but that shouldn’t discourage you. If you’re fortunate enough to know someone who is interested in being the dungeon master, and a few other friends who’d also like to play, you’re basically set. If you’re having trouble with that, there are plenty of other options, such as joining the official Adventurer’s League, looking for gaming groups online, or (shameless plug) contacting me. Once that’s out of the way, pick up a set of seven polyhedral dice and a pencil. 

You’ll need to create a character. If this is your first time, get some help. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when there are so many choices to make whose repercussions you shouldn’t be expected to understand yet. Remember that there are no wrong choices here. Most dungeon masters will either help everyone make characters at the start of the first session, or make themselves available for assistance ahead of time. 

Your first priority in making your character should be to decide on a rough idea of what kind of person you want to decide to be. Something that can be summed up in a short phrase like “badass princess who won’t take crap from anyone,” “naive peasant who gains magical powers,” “suave rogue with a heart of gold,” or something not from Star Wars. Don’t focus on the details or write up an extensive backstory; you’ll have hours and hours of gameplay to work that out. 

Making a character is actually much more complicated than playing the game. Most of the game consists of the dungeon master telling the players the situation that their players find themselves in, and the players tell them how they would like to respond. The dungeon master tells the players how their actions have affected the situation, and they respond again in a cycle until the session reaches its natural conclusion. 

I don't know what this picture is all about, but it was free from Wix. Thanks Wix!

Please notice that you don’t need to know much about the rules of the game to engage in this cycle. You just need to pay attention to what the dungeon master is describing, and then decide how the character you’re playing would react. This is where it’s helpful to have a good idea of what kind of person your character is ahead of time. Again though, you can fill in the details of your character as you go. If your dungeon master describes a pit full of snakes, you may decide that your character is deathly afraid of snakes. They could have always been that way, it just didn’t come up until this moment in the game.

There are only a couple thing you need to know about the actual rules of the game. First is the basic way of resolving actions, the twenty-sided die roll. This is how dungeon masters commonly determine the outcome of your character’s actions when there’s a chance they may succeed and a chance they may fail. You roll a twenty-sided die (referred to as a d20) and add a number or two. If you get equal to or higher than a particular number, you succeed at your action. If not, you fail. Either way, the dungeon master will tell you what happens as a result.

The other important thing to know about is the special abilities your character possesses. Characters can do the same sorts of things most people can do: talk, look, run, search, climb, etc. Some will be better or worse at these things, as shown on the character sheet, but everyone can do mundane activities like that. Your character also probably has a few special abilities that are important to know about though. If you are playing a level one barbarian, it is important to remember that you can “rage,” and that this temporarily makes you stronger and tougher. It speeds the game up if you are familiar with how this affects the mechanics of the game, but you can always refer to your character sheet or Player’s Handbook if necessary. Don’t hold yourself to the standard of remembering every detail of every rule, but remember the basics of what your character can do above and beyond the ordinary.

Above all, the most important thing is to have fun and help everyone else at the table have fun as well. Anyone who has played games online has probably run into people with bad attitudes who can ruin the experience of others. Regrettably, this can happen in Dungeons & Dragons as well, but with far lower frequency, especially if you’re playing with people you know and trust. Remember that the game is not a competition and that it’s more fun if everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight.

If you have any particular questions, please leave a comment below, or reach out to me via email or social media. I’d like to do anything I can to give you a chance to experience this as well.

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