Have you watched Stranger Things on Netflix and thought “Man, those kids are playing Dungeons and Dragons. It looks like a blast!” Well it is. I’m going to give you some pointers on how to get started playing D&D.
While the kids of Stranger Things probably played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons or D&D 2nd edition, we’re going to get you set up with D&D 5th Edition. This is the current incarnation and it’s my favorite.
So first you’ll need the rules. There is a few ways to go about this. Also we are going to assume you’ll be the dungeon master for this group.
1. Player’s Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons)
So the Player’s Handbook or PHB for short, is the book most needed to play D&D. With it you can create characters, add items to your game, look up stats for spells, and all of the rules for all the nuances you can think of that an adventurer could run in to. This is what I recommend because it really does have everything.
2. Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set
This starter set is what I started with. It has the basic rules that I’ll talk about next and it also has a basic campaign. If you don’t want to create a world from scratch this is a great resource. The cheapest campaign you’ll find. I ran one session with this set and then I bought the PHB so I could add things like different weapons and help create more immersive characters. This also comes with a set of polyhedral dice, saves you a few more dollars.
3. Download the basic rules.
If you’re on an extreme budget you can download this PDF and print it out. That’s the bare minimum you need to start playing. You’ll have to come up with a campaign or world for your players to play in but this free option can get you in the door.
After the rules get dice. It’s best if each player has their own set but sharing is an option too.
Ok, you have the rules now let’s get you an adventure. Typically a campaign is played over several sessions. The characters will play through the sessions doing three main things; exploring, fighting, and role playing. Currently I’m running an investigation heavy game. It’s a challenge with all the role playing but it’s a blast and the clues will lead them to some big fights!
What I recommend for your first campaign is to pick up an official D&D campaign. There are several campaigns ready made for 5th edition. That means the math for encounters, the way it fights with the player’s characters and all the other bits and pieces fit very well together with the things in the PHB. Here are the ones I recommend.
- Princes of the Apocolypse
- Out of the Abyss
- Curse of Strahd
Honorable mention is Storm King’s Thunder, it’s getting favorable reviews but I haven’t looked into it.
Once you have a campaign picked out read through it and prepare for session 0. I and many other Dungeon Master’s like to do a character creation session, often called “session zero”. I recently used Brooklyn Indie Game’s Backstory cards. Talk about adding some depth to your characters! This was so easy and added some tension in the characters before first session. If you don’t do that ask each person a problem their character had to get over and give them some family members that live somewhere in the world.
Once characters are built and backstoried set the scene. How the adventurers met, where they are headed and let it flow in to a story that the PCs and the DM tell together. Encourage them to be creative, let them roll dice for weird things, the more abstract you let them be the more immersive the story will be.
Good luck in your campaign and don’t forget to kill the Demogorgon!
Well, you’ve got characters, you’ve got a story, and hopefully you have players too. You set them down and let them wander in your world but here are some tips.
If someone wants to do something and the outcome doesn’t actually matter. Like they are fishing for information but the NPC doesn’t have any or they want to intimidate the barkeep so the beers are cheaper. Just let them do it. Not everything needs to be rolled. Especially when a failure or success means very little changes in the story.
When your player’s characters have a chance of death, telegraph that it could happen. Like if they think going up against a particular baddy is nothing tell one of them “you remember a story of one of these creatures ripping a knight from limb to limb.” Surprise deaths are a way to get a player to leave your table and never come back.
Make handouts if you’re unsure if the story that day will be exciting or if you have fidgety players. I gave out scrolls with personalized secret messages for each character this last session. It was wildly interesting to see them all have a motive to move the story in different directions.
Here are some resources you can check out.
- DMs Guild, official store of digital content for D&D 5th edition.
- Drivethru RPG, digital store for many RPGs. Can find system agnostic items.
- The Tome Show, a podcast focused on discussing everything D&D.
- JUX Games Twitter, I’ll happily answer any questions you have about D&D.
P.S. If you haven’t watched Stranger Things, get on it! Get all your friends watching it and then send them this post.
Disclaimer: The Amazon links in this article generate a few pennies for me, the author, if used to purchase something. If you use them, I thank you.