Hi everyone - my name is Steve and I’ve been playing D&D for approximately three years, both as a player and a “Dungeon Master” (kind of like the referee and storyteller of the game).
In recent years D&D has grown massively in popularity, thanks in no small part to TV shows such as Game of Thrones bringing the fantasy genre into the mainstream, as well as “live play” shows such as Critical Role on Youtube.
I was inspired to write this blog after I saw a post on my local Facebook community page asking the best way to try out D&D. With the growth of D&D in recent years, there are so many products and lots of information on the internet that it can be confusing to know where to start - so enter this blog post!
The truth is you can start playing D&D for free to try it out and see if you like it, before choosing to delve further into the hobby. There are five things you need to get started:
- A group of players
- A copy of the rules
- Some characters for the players
- Some dice
- An adventure to play through
Let’s go through each of these in turn.
1. A group of players
To play D&D, you need at least two people - one person taking on the role of the “Dungeon Master” (DM), the other taking on the role of an adventurer in the game. An optimum group size tends to be four to six people, but you can definitely start with just two people.
The job of the DM is to run the adventure - including playing the villains, describing scenes and adjudicating/ resolving actions. The role of the player is to describe what they want their adventurer to do in the scenes and stories that the DM describes.
This is all explained in the D&D rulebooks - and this is where Wizards of the Coast (the games company that owns D&D) has lowered the barrier to entry.
2. A copy of the rules
If you get hooked on D&D (spoiler alert: you will!), then you can eventually purchase books such as the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and the Monster Manual. But if you are just starting out, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) have made a copy of the Basic Rules available for free to download from their website.
This pdf download has everything you need to get started without having to spend any money. It details everything from character creation, equipment, magic spells, monsters, through to how to actually run and play the game.
3. Characters for the players
For someone just starting out, creating a character from scratch can be a little confusing, even following the guidance set out in the Basic Rules. This is where WotC have helped again by creating a whole bunch of pre-made adventurers for the players to get straight into the game - you can find them here.
My advice for a group trying out D&D for the first time would be to download level three characters - these characters are high enough level that they can do some interesting things, whilst not being so high level that they are too complex for first timers and not so low level that they are super squishy - a really good balance overall.
Assuming a group of four players and one DM, I would try to pick one each of the classic adventurer “archetypes” of D&D - a fighter, a cleric, a wizard and a rogue. That should enable a group to overcome most challenges any adventure can throw at them.
4. Dice, Dice, Dice!
A game of D&D generally follows this kind of play pattern - the DM describes a scene, the players describe what they want their characters to do in that scene, the DM will call for a “skill check” and players roll a 20-sided dice which will determine the success or failure of the action the characters are trying to take.
D&D uses seven different dice in total - four-sided, six-sided, eight-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, 20-sided and a percentile dice (used for determining a number between one and 100).
It is unlikely the average board gamer will have all of these lying around in other games, but fear not! If you are just starting out and don’t want to spend the money just yet, you can download dice apps on both Android and Apple, or even use Microsoft Excel/ Google Sheets with a random number generator formula. Of course this doesn’t beat the satisfaction of rolling real dice at the game table, but it is perfectly fine for starting out.
5. We’re going on an adventure!
So by now you’ve got a group of players together, you’ve read the rules, you’ve got some would-be heroes ready to adventure, and you’ve got some dice upon which their fate will be determined - all you need is an adventure for them to go on!
With the massive growth of D&D over the last few years there are more adventures available on the internet then you will probably ever actually be able to play through!
However, a great starting adventure is “The Delian Tomb” written by popular D&D Youtuber and DM Matt Colville. Matt describes how to play this adventure in two videos (here and here) on Youtube - you’ll also note how most of the advice I’ve written above replicates Matt’s advice.
Ok, I’m hooked! What next?
At this point, you’re ready to dip your toes into some of the paid products. I would start with the D&D Starter Set and the D&D Essentials Kit from your local game store! These products come with a campaign (a series of connected sessions/ adventures), dice, and player handouts like maps and magic items.
The D&D Starter Set contains a campaign called “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” which is brilliantly written, gets straight into the action, and covers lots of classic D&D monsters like goblins, orcs, giant spiders, and even a dragon. It also contains five pre-generated characters with connections and motivations related directly to the story. This is genuinely one of my favourite campaigns to run.
The D&D Essentials Kit is slightly different - the campaign, “The Dragon of Icespire Peak”, contains a series of quests on a village bulletin board. It is a little bit more “video gamey”, but for players who have grown up playing games like Skyrim or the Witcher, this might be an easier entry. The other good thing about the Essentials Kit is that it contains rules for “sidekicks”, which enables you to more smoothly run a game with only two players (the DM and one player).
Whilst both of these products contain dice, you can genuinely never have enough! So maybe buy an extra set or two for good measure.
And that is it! Have fun and roll some dice.