Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is what you get if a video game isn’t restricted by a set of pre-planned inputs. While there are set roles for characters to take so that the game’s mechanics actually work, it’s not a hard and fast rule as long as your table plans around it. You can probably see why it’s so appealing.
In the realm of D&D, games can stretch on for hours for a single session and even years for an entire campaign. Pretty overwhelming, right? But don’t worry, here’s how to play D&D 5th Edition (the current edition before One D&D) if you’re an absolute beginner to tabletop roleplaying games.
How to find a Dungeons & Dragons group
The hardest part of Dungeons & Dragons is finding a group to play with in the first place. Unlike your typical video game, D&D requires other players who are committed to seeing a plot through from start to finish—and showing up for game sessions. Here are some tips on how to find a group in person or online.
Get other beginners to play Dungeons & Dragons with you
After years of being an eternal dungeon master, I find that there’s no shortage of people who want to play and that they’re always held back by not having a dungeon master.
If you’re new to D&D, the official D&D Starter Set and D&D Essential Kit is an excellent entry point. It provides you with a set of dice, pre-made characters, a basic rulebook, and a game that guides players from Level 1 to Level 5. Its simplicity makes it accessible to everyone, and it’s incredibly affordable.
If you have friends who are interested in forming a beginner D&D group, this set is the perfect starting point. While it won’t magically summon a group, sharing the prospect of easy entry into the world of D&D with your friends can be surprisingly effective.
If a campaign is too much to commit to, start with a one-shot.
Go to your local game store
Local game stores or board game cafés are prime spots to discover offline D&D groups. These establishments often host regular D&D nights and are known for being welcoming to beginners. They employ staff who are well-equipped to teach newcomers and typically offer materials for sale or loan.
If you’re uncertain about which local game stores (sometimes referred to as LGS) offer D&D games, Wizards of the Coast provides a search tool to help you find them. You can also explore Warhorn for local games and events.
Attend a D&D convention
Conventions serve as fantastic platforms for both new players and longtime D&D enthusiasts to find groups. While conventions may require an investment of time and money, they offer an organized way to immerse yourself in the game over a short period. Additionally, the people you meet at conventions can lead to new groups that continue to play together, whether online or offline.
Check online groups geared towards D&D players
Before you groan about Facebook being a dead platform, Facebook groups remain an incredibly effective way to look for people with shared interests.
Websites like Facebook and Reddit, as well as messaging apps like Discord, are excellent resources for discovering D&D groups, both online and offline. You can start by searching for “D&D” along with your location to locate groups on social platforms. If this doesn’t yield results, consider broader searches, such as seeking general D&D groups on Facebook, where you can engage with potential group members.
Join a game via Roll20.net
Roll20.net serves as a comprehensive online platform for playing D&D and other roleplaying games. It features a robust search function that allows players to find suitable games easily. When searching for a game, you can select “Join a Game,” specify your criteria, and browse available options.
How many people do you need to play Dungeons & Dragons?
Technically, as long as you have one player and one dungeon master to run the game, you can play Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s not exactly ideal since you’re not getting all the fun, goofy interactions you would otherwise get if you were playing in a group.
That said, playing with a large number of people can be daunting for a new dungeon master because of all the stats and rolls they’d have to keep track of. If you’re playing D&D for the first time, we recommend having anywhere from 3-5 players and, naturally, one dungeon master.
How many dice do you need for Dungeons & Dragons?
The essential collection of seven polyhedral dice is the basic requirement, encompassing dice with four, six, eight, twelve, and twenty sides, along with two ten-sided dice (one numbered from 1 to 10, and the other from 00 to 90).
In certain cases, you may consider acquiring additional dice for handling damage rolls, depending on your chosen character class.
But why does D&D need so many dice?
- D4 (Four-sided Die): Typically used for lower damage attacks.
- D6 (Six-sided Die): This is a familiar die used extensively both in and outside of D&D. In D&D, it’s used to generate a player character’s ability score by rolling four of them and discarding the lowest number. It’s also used for calculating damage in certain spells.
- D8 (Eight-sided Die): Primarily used for determining weapon and spell damage, among other purposes.
- D10 (Ten-sided Die): Used for a variety of spells, and, as previously mentioned, two of them are employed to generate a number between 1-100.
- D12 (Twelve-sided Die): Sees fewer rolls compared to other dice types and is distinct from the D20.
- D20 (Twenty-sided Die): Arguably the most crucial die in D&D, often associated with saving throws, attack rolls, skill checks, and ability checks. In fact, the entire D&D system is known as the “d20 system.”
How to make a Dungeons & Dragons character
Now that you’ve got your D&D group and dice let’s move on to making your D&D character. First, you’ll need a character sheet, which you can get for free on D&D Beyond or anywhere online, really. Second, you’ll need a copy of the Player’s Handbook. Once you have those two, it’s time to go step by step toward building your first D&D character.
1. Choose Your Class
- Your character’s class shapes their playstyle and abilities.
- Classes affect how your character interacts in and out of combat.
- Decide based on desired spells, weapons, feats, or personal character background.
2. Choose Your Race/Species
- Race/species offer unique traits that impact your character (i.e., what languages they know)
- Recent changes mean no stat advantages/disadvantages, but other features matter.
- Consider appearance, social aspects, and personal preferences.
3. Calculate Your Ability Scores
- Ability scores (e.g., strength, intelligence) are essential character stats.
- Two methods: roll dice or assign preset scores.
- Determine your modifiers for ability checks.
4. Calculate Your Hit Points
- Hit points represent your character’s health.
- Calculate it by adding your constitution modifier to your class’s hit die maximum.
- Expect to gain more hit points as you level up.
5. Calculate Your Armor Class (AC)
- AC determines the difficulty for enemies to hit your character.
- It combines armor and dexterity modifiers.
- Balance protection and mobility according to your character’s needs.
6. Choose Your Feats
- Feats grant unique abilities and improve your character.
- Some come automatically with your class; others require decisions.
- Align feats with your character’s theme and playstyle.
7. Choose Your Skills
- Skills represent your character’s talents.
- Proficiency in skills improves your chances of success.
- Class and race choices often grant skill proficiencies.
8. Figure Out Your Proficiency Modifier
- Proficiency modifiers vary with skill proficiency.
- Proficiency adds a +2 bonus to your checks, along with the ability modifier.
- Skills make your character versatile outside of combat.
9. Choose Your Spells
- Spellcasting classes (e.g., wizard, cleric) need spells in their arsenal.
- Select spells based on class, subclass, and personal preferences.
- Spells can be combat-oriented or utility-focused.
10. Choose Your Equipment
- Your character’s gear depends on their class, race, and preferences.
- Equipment may affect combat style and role within the party.
- Consider your character’s background and campaign-starting wealth.
How to start a Dungeons Dragons campaign for beginner dungeon masters
Being a first-time dungeon master can be incredibly daunting for newcomers to D&D. Constructing an entire world, populating it with intriguing characters, and crafting a captivating narrative that reacts to your players’ choices—additionally, keeping track of the multitude of necessary rules—can feel like an overwhelming task, especially for those new to the hobby.
However, the process of learning to be a dungeon master doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it may initially seem. Here are some tips on how to get started:
Pick a campaign module
Here’s a selection of five excellent introductory adventures that are easy for new D&D dungeon masters to run:
- Lost Mine of Phandelver: This adventure, part of the D&D Starter Set, is perfect for beginners. It takes players to Phandalin on a quest and provides a structured start, making it ideal for newbies. It offers a mix of dungeon crawling and roleplaying.
- Waterdeep: Dragon Heist: While somewhat guided, Dragon Heist offers players more freedom to explore and shape the story. It introduces the idea that not all encounters need to end in combat, encouraging interaction with high-level characters in Waterdeep.
- Sunless Citadel: Suited for both new players and Dungeon Masters (GMs), this adventure teaches GMs how to run it while guiding players on surviving the challenges. It provides a rich narrative with thematic coherence.
- Dragon of Icespire Peak: Found in the D&D Essentials Kit, it includes an updated character creation section, facilitating character customization and decision-making. This adventure prioritizes player enjoyment throughout.
- Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh: Remastered for 5th Edition, this adventure offers a wide array of activities, characters, and town events, providing a sandbox-style experience with an intriguing multipart story. It’s highly recommended for its well-crafted design.
Learn the rules of Dungeons & Dragons and then forget them
There is nothing more boring or groan-inducing than a player or dungeon master who insists on checking the rules for every little thing. If you have to stop the fun to look up a rule, you’re ruining the fun for somebody at your table. Your job is to keep the ball rolling. Get a rough feel of the rules and make things up on the fly if you need to. It is your table; you can absolutely decide what rules apply as long as you’re consistent about it later.
Prepare your session notes
- Decide your plot hooks: After you set a game schedule, jot down a list of potential ideas and storylines. Next, choose one or more ideas, considering whether your party can handle them within the session’s timeframe. Figure out what your party needs to accomplish in this session so that the session makes sense in the greater plot of the campaign.
- Create NPC profiles: Based on your session’s story, make a list of NPCs your players might encounter. Include their names, appearances, quirks to differentiate them, and any basic information. For combat-related NPCs, prepare character sheets if necessary or have basic stats ready for contested checks or saving throws.
- Make handouts, maps, or images: Decide if you’ll use handouts, maps, or images to enhance the session, catering to different player preferences. Providing visual or tactile elements can make the game more immersive. Collect images for scenes or characters they might encounter to aid descriptions and player memory. There are apps to help you with this.
- Prepare combat encounters: If combat is part of your session, ensure you have all the required information. Have the map, tokens, and a basic understanding of monsters’ abilities. Familiarize yourself with players’ capabilities to balance the challenge. If not, consider potential confrontations and be somewhat prepared for combat initiation.
Where to buy Dungeons & Dragons books
You can get Dungeons & Dragons books from your local bookstore or online. Modules for 5th Edition are also available in digital format via D&D Beyond. If you’re trying to figure out which one to get, check out our ranking of the best D&D modules.