So you want to play Dungeons & Dragons, do you?
Perhaps you caught an episode (or a whole campaign) or Critical Role, or maybe The Adventure Zone, and thought “Hey! This actually seems really fun!” And you’re right – it is!
I find Dungeons & Dragons has a lot to offer for everyone, even the non-gamer. So for whatever the reason you have decided to indulge in D&D, rest assured I believe you will enjoy your adventures to come and the whole community is happy to have you join us!
You want to play…but what now? How do you accomplish playing?
Finding Dungeons & Dragons games used to be next to impossible (at least for myself growing up in a rural area). Even in the city, it used to seem like a difficult task and perhaps still is in some circumstances. My first advice would be to seek out your Local Gaming Store (LGS, for future reference). Even the smaller towns likely have one these days within travel distance of most tabletop RPG players. Not only will this store house (or be able to order) the books and materials you need to play Dungeons & Dragons, they will likely have a way to connect you with D&D players.
A lot of stores run tabletop gaming nights, and if they don’t some have “Community Boards” where DMs and players alike will post in search of other players to game at their tables.
If this is not the case, and you have no current friends playing the game, how do you go about finding one without starting your own (which can be a daunting task for a first-time player)? This has been made incredibly easy nowadays. My preferred method of finding a group is twitter. A simple tweet of “Hey, I’m looking for a #DnD game. I’m a first-time player but want to try it out,” followed by appropriate hashtags of #Tabletop #RPG are generally successful at garnering a few opportunities. If this is not the case (or you dislike the social platform), next is to move onto two particular platforms. One is Roll20.net and the other is Fantasy Grounds which is found on Steam.
Both Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds are like tabletop simulators where you can create and view maps and tokens to play on as you play a D&D or other tabletop game with other players via text or voice chat. Roll20 especially has a fantastic system in place that appears sort of like a forum for finding open games or perhaps posting about searching for an open game. This has proved to be a prosperous way to find a game.
Now that you’ve got a game and it’s all scheduled…what next? Do you simply show up and start to play?
Not quite. There is “prep” work to do before even sitting at the table to play the game. Some LGS will have “Character Creation” or introductory evenings, but if that is not available to you, I’m here to help you accomplish all of your prep work before your first game.
Yes, you need materials to play the game. Unfortunately, at first, it can seem a bit expensive. I’d be lying if I said it gets any cheaper…but I promise it’s worth it.
- The Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition (PHB)
- A set of seven polyhedral dice (most local game stores sell them and if not I recommend Tabletop Loot or Dark Elf Dice online)
- Print 5th Edition character sheets which can be found here
That’s all you need, in theory, but here are some recommended extra materials I believe will make your first time playing D&D simpler.
- Cheat Sheets by r-n-w found here can be of great use. It will help you understand the actions you can take on your turn as well as many other key points of gameplay
- Custom character sheets I could see as being useful so that your class-related skills are more easily available (Found Here)
- A miniature to represent the character you’ve chosen to play (if participating in in-person play that requires one)
- 5th Edition Spellbook app. It’s a free download. GET IT! Even if you’re an experienced character, it’s amazingly quick and easy to use if you ever need a reference for spells. As a newer player, this will prove incredibly useful.
- If you don’t want to use an app, check out Spellbook Cards if you’ll be playing a spell-oriented class
- The Dungeon Master’s Guide (5th Edition)
- Volo’s Guide to Monsters
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
These extra books listed at the end are quite expensive on their own and absolutely not necessary whatsoever – especially for your first time playing. The reason I do recommend them is that they give you much greater options in character creation. The Dungeon Master’s Guide will also be good, light reading material to help get your head around all the aspects of the game.
Understand the basic rules of play. To do this, please take a read through the first few chapters of the PHB. I know it’s dry reading, but please do it. This helps introduce you to the game and how it’s played.
As well, here is basically how a game of D&D will go:
- Adventurers are called to action/an adventure/a job/quest
- You, with the assistance of a party, work together to complete this task
- This is done by role-playing. You speak as though you are the character you’ve created and you make your actions this way. Sometimes a map and a miniature are used to help illustrate the physical journey (and combat sequences) that your character endure
- Combat happens. This is done in a turn-based way via a roll called “Initiative”. The PHB does well to explain this, but basically, you roll a 20-sided die and add your character’s Dexterity modifier (and any extra modifiers from feats) to determine your order in the initiative. There are MANY things you can do during combat turns, the best I can say is to become familiar with these via the PHB, or more easily, with the r-n-w Cheat Sheets listed above
Character creation. The most important step to playing. This will also help you to understand the way that the game is played. To begin character creation, you do not have to read through every single race and class (unless you want to because eventually, it’ll be good to have that knowledge!), but simply choose what speaks to you most. For myself, the first character I had ever made was a Halfling Rogue. It is still my go-to character and such an overplayed staple, but I love playing it.
So, first you choose your race, then your class. Volo’s Guide to Monsters gives you a lot of interesting racial additions which can be lots of fun – especially for role-playing opportunities! This can be a really tough, and long, decision as there are so many options. Usually, however, a certain class tends to speak to every player.
Once you’ve chosen that, choose your character’s background – this should be aligned not only with their class but also their personality/what makes them who they are. What kind of character are you creating? The bold and emblazoned Paladin or a shy, but sleek, Ranger? Or a neurotic Rogue? A forgetful monk? A friendly Cleric? An evil, conniving Sorcerer? If you’re stumped, using the PHB’s “Bonds, Traits, and Flaws” will really assist in creating the bare bones of your character.
Once the class, race, background, bonds, traits, and flaws have been chosen for your character, you now need to fill in all the necessary information regarding who they are and what they can do. Now it’s crunch time. As a new player, please, read all sections regarding your race and class thoroughly. The necessary information to keep on hand (on your character sheet) is everything that affects your actions (adds pluses, minuses, etc.). Convey that all onto paper. Now you can determine your ability scores.
There are many ways to do this, the PHB recommends Point Buy or Standard Array. Others enjoy rolling for them. First, ask the Dungeon Master of the table you will be playing at which you should do as many tables have a pre-determined way they prefer it to be done. If you’re unsure, especially for the first time playing, standard array is always a good option to choose. Determine your ability scores that are relevant to your class. Each class will use different ability scores more than others – it’s important to know which are more important to your class. These are all outlined in the classes descriptions in the PHB. Don’t forget to also determine what ability modifier scores you have after your ability scores are allocated. This is all also described in the PHB.
After your ability scores are determined – you’re almost there! Promise!
Time for skills. Once again, this is determined by class and background. Many backgrounds will also give you the choice of certain skills. For this, you add your proficiency bonus as well as any ability modifier that is tied to that skill. (Tip: Your proficiency bonus is always +2 at level one). Make sure to also determine your Passive Perception. This is likely at the bottom of your skill list. Passive Perception is calculated by your Wisdom ability score modifier + 10 + 2 (your current proficiency bonus).
Using your class and background descriptions, you should have a number of gold and items at your disposal. Including those items are weapons and armor. Go to the description of the weapons and armor you are given so that they can be input properly. It is important to know that for attack rolls, ranged weapons add your dexterity modifier to the roll. Melee weapons add your strength modifier, and finesse can add either one but not both. You also use your skill modifiers added to the damage rolled. Don’t forget that, as laid out in the PHB, you add your proficiency bonus as well to any weapons that you are proficient with as determined by your class.
Character description. This is pretty straightforward. On your second page for your character sheet will be some spots to mark in. To determine the acceptable sizes for your race, refer back to your race pages in the PHB. Then, choose how tall/short and how heavy/light your character is. The rest is up to you and your character creation.
Following this, I always like to make a background story. I base it on a combination with my character’s traits, bonds, and flaws as well as their class and race. This is where true imagination comes to play. You can create any sort of backstory for your character. I recommend at least writing a few paragraphs on who they are, where they come from, their goals in life, and what they’ve achieved to date. This will help you get into the head of your character more, and if you’re looking for more tips on that I recommend you to check out a past article here.
Lastly, and least importantly, you need to determine how much weight you’re carrying with your current items and how much your character can carry. Your carrying capacity is your strength score (the larger number) multiplied by 15. The result is in lbs. Every item, weapon, and ammo have their weights outlined within the PHB equipment section. Some tables will render all of this step entirely unnecessary (I always do, unless doing a survival campaign).
Additionally, if you’re playing in Adventurer’s League (this is considered “official” D&D play), you may choose a faction to align yourself with. For more information on factions, please read this.
Otherwise, you should be all prepped and ready to play your first game of D&D. All I can say is to have fun! I cannot stress this enough. It’s the most important part of the game. Be open and communicate with your fellow players and especially your DM if you are struggling, having difficulties understanding play, or an issue at your table. It’s a fun, inclusive game that can be life-changing if you let it.
As this was a quick, general overview of the basics of beginning to play D&D, you may leave any questions you have below (or contact me) and I will gladly answer them for you.
* Player’s Handbook’s can also be found via downloadable PDF versions, if you’re strapped for cash but still want to play. You can also purchase a kit called the “Starter Set” for D&D 5e which includes all the physical material you need to begin your journey for only $20USD. Thank you to @spaceseeker19 and @HansCTweets for this reminder.