In the forgotten realm of Azaron, the demon lord Zarthiel has amassed an army poised to lay siege across the Nine Realms and plunge the world into eternal darkness in the War of Dimensions. Only one small set of heroes, united by fate, can work to turn the tide of the war and save the universe.
This is one of an infinite series of different storylines you and your friends can play through in Dungeons and Dragons, the quintessential dice-based role-playing game that’s inspired thousands of players since its inception in 1973. But how do you play?
Well, we possess the fabled beginner’s guide to playing D&D that will help get you started on your adventure! So grab your sword and let’s go!
Player Roles and Personal Gear
There are two different types of players in D&D: the dungeon master (DM for short) and the adventuring party (any player who isn’t the DM). The role of the DM is to craft the world, characters, and scenarios that the player characters will navigate through during their journey. A DM should know the rules of the game inside and out and is in charge of playing and rolling for every non-player character (or NPC) in the game.
The adventuring party is the other players who create unique characters to explore the DM’s world with. They must react to whatever situation the DM throws at them and work together to find solutions.
To play D&D, you’ll need a pencil and paper to craft character sheets and write down any notes or calculations you’ll want to keep during the game. You’ll also need a full set of dice, primarily a D20 (or 20-sided die) to determine the outcome of primary actions. You’ll also need a D12, D8, D6, and D4 to roll for other skills.
If you don’t have these dice, you can buy beautiful playsets through vendors like Easy Roller Dice Co. that contain all the different kinds of dice you’ll need to play D&D.
A Quick DM Guide
One of the best rules to keep in mind while playing as a DM is that there’s no such thing as playing D&D “the wrong way”. As long as every player is having fun, bending the rules around to accommodate player actions or introduce new elements is fine. Feeling like you have to adhere to every rule in the game will drag your game down and make it feel more like a chore than something fun.
As a DM, you want to guide the players towards an objective without forcing them there. The perfect balance is making a journey that challenges and pushes players to the limit, but that they will pull through in the end. If you’re having difficulty creating encounters that hit that balance, you can always use pre-existing modules.
Modules are D&D campaigns written by professionals, giving you a set of characters and fights to use without having to brainstorm them yourself. Using these modules and injecting them with personal flair is a great way to dip your toes into the waters of being a DM. There are also tons of resources like the Dungeon Master’s Guide by Wizards of the Coast that can help you hone your craft.
The first thing non-DM players will want to do is create a character sheet (you can download free templates online). This will help you determine personal factors of your character. These range from their name to what their life was like before the events of the game started.
Once that’s under control, it’s time to get your stat pool. You do this by rolling a D6 4 times, removing the lowest roll, and adding the highest three rolls together. You then do this until you have 6 different sums, which you can then allocate into your stats.
If you don’t want to leave this up to chance, you can also ask your DM if you can create your character through the Point Buy method. This replaces the dice rolls with 27 points, which you can distribute across your 6 stats as you see fit (each stat starts at a baseline of 8 before adding on here). However, you’ll have to use more than 1 point to boost certain stats once they reach a certain level.
For example, it requires 1 point to turn your Strength stat from an 8 to a 9, but it then takes 2 points to boost that stat from a 9 to a 10. This continues up until you reach the 14 into 15 change, which costs 9 points rather than 8.
The six stats you’ll distribute these points into are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Strength covers the physical might of your character, showing how well they can lift heavy objects or punch someone. Dexterity looks at the speed and agility of your character, showing how acrobatic they are or how fast they can perform an action.
Constitution tends to refer to a character’s bulk, showing how many hits they can take before they die. Intelligence looks at how book-smart your character is, while Wisdom applies more to the street smarts of your character. Finally, Charisma determines how personable and well-spoken your character is.
Races and Classes
After that, it’s time to look at what fantasy race you want your character to be. Dwarves, elves, orcs, dragonborns…almost any fantasy race you can think of, D&D covers.
Each race has bonuses and drawbacks in certain stats and skills, meaning you’ll want to pick a race that boosts your playstyle. For example, humans are jack-of-all-trades, with a bonus that lets them buff two of their base ability scores (the six stats we mentioned earlier) with an extra point right off the bat. Elves move faster and have better affinity with magic, but can’t take as many hits as a sturdier dwarf could.
Once you’ve picked a race, you’ll want to choose a character class. Ranging from the sword-swinging rage of the barbarian to the quiet stealth of the rogue, these classes help narrow down what things your character knows how to do well and what their role will be within the party.
Try to pick a class that’s different from those others in the party take, as too many characters of one class leave the party vulnerable to that class’s weakness with no reliable counters. For instance, a party full of wizards will do well at ranged combat but have few answers for enemies who get in their faces.
After picking your class, you’ll want to clean up the last few parts of your characters. You’ll want to pick out what skills (like intimidation, survival, stealth, etc.) your character is proficient in, as they’ll get a bonus when rolling for these skills. You can also determine feats for your character (tasks they completed in their backstory that grant them stat bonuses and other perks) and the starting equipment/gold they have.
How to Handle the Roleplaying When Playing D&D
When navigating through the world your DM created, you’ll run into all sorts of colorful characters and situations you’ll need to interact with to progress. When this happens, you’ll want to respond to these events as you think your character would, allowing you to show off some acting skills!
Many actions you’ll encounter during roleplaying rely on a D20 roll. For example, if you want to lie to a guard and tell him you didn’t steal from a merchant (when in fact, you robbed him blind 5 minutes ago), you would have to roll a D20 and add to it any bonuses you get from your Charisma score and proficiency you have with the Deception skill.
The DM will then weigh your score against the stats of the guard and the circumstances of the situation and tell you whether or not your lie was successful. After all, telling the guard you didn’t steal anything while spotted fleeing the scene isn’t going to work as well then if you managed to blend in with the crowd and got picked out at random.
You should also keep in mind that rolling a 20 with a D20 is a critical success, meaning any action you took is near-guaranteed to happen perfectly. Rolling a 1 is a critical failure, which means your actions fail spectacularly (usually in a way that inflicts additional grievance on your or your party).
Time to Battle
That said, there are times that you can’t talk your way out of conflict and you’re going to have to start kicking some butts. When this happens, the DM will tell everyone to roll for initiative. You roll a D20, add your initiative bonus, and report the score to your DM.
Turn order in the fight goes from highest to lowest initiative score, though you can boost these odds by catching the enemy unaware. After that, you’ll have a move action (you can move X feet across the board in a single turn based on the movement speed of your character) and a main action (the one you use to cast a spell or attack an enemy). You also get a free action, which you can use to shout advice to your comrades or perform a quick movement like unsheathing a second weapon.
If your HP gets knocked to zero during the fight, you enter a state of unconsciousness. From there, you have to roll a D20 once per turn, trying to score above 10 every time. Getting a 10 or higher nets you a death save, while lower than 10 is a failure. 3 saves give your character 1 HP back and puts them back in the fight, while 3 failures mean your character is dead for good.
The Adventure Goes On
So, now that you have this guide to the basic rules of playing D&D, you’re ready to get out there and start your quest to save the world! And if you’re looking for more fun tabletop roleplaying games to get invested in, make sure to check out the other articles on our blog!