Over the past decade, we’ve seen a massive boom in Dungeons & Dragons‘ popularity, with a lot of new faces looking to buy their first set of polyhedral dice and roll up their first-ever characters. But with so much history, it can be difficult to know where to begin with the game.
Thankfully, getting into Dungeons & Dragons in 2022 couldn’t be easier, even if you’ve never played a game before. Whether you’ve been listening to actual play series like Critical Role non-stop, want to form your own Stranger Things-inspired Hellfire Club or have been meaning to pull a game together for ages, there are plenty of ways that you can get your first D&D game started.
Everything you need to know about playing Dungeons & Dragons
What is Dungeons & Dragons?
Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game where an infinite number of players can create their own fantasy characters and embark on a narrative adventure. All games require at least one player and a “Dungeon Master” who controls the narrative.
Characters each have unique expertise in particular skills and weapons. They also have individual stats to help them on their adventure. These include stats pertaining to strength, dexterity, wisdom, charisma and so on.
Dungeon Masters, known as DMs, take players on adventures by telling stories. These can be official Dungeons & Dragons stories, “homebrew” stories created on your own or a mix of both. Most stories will contain the following elements: a central goal or mystery, a number of enemies, discoverable items and places to explore.
Dungeons & Dragons gameplay is based on a system where characters fight creatures, discover items and visit new locations to gain XP. When characters level up, they gain increased damage and overall strength.
Much of the action is determined by dice rolls, which determine the success or failure of a party goal. For example, if the Dungeon Master presents a challenge like climbing a wall, a player must pass a “check” against one of their main stats. This involves rolling dice with the aim of exceeding or equalling the tested stat. If players fail, there’s the potential they may lose health or die. Winning a check will let players proceed to the next step in the story.
Sometimes, Dungeons & Dragons will use a map (physical or digital, if you have access to a laptop or tablet) to better understand the terrain players are travelling. This is up to the party of players and not necessary for gameplay.
If you want to get started with Dungeons & Dragons, there are a few things you’ll need.
How do you play Dungeons & Dragons?
To get started with Dungeons & Dragons, the best thing to do is learn the basics of playing the game. There are plenty of tutorials online, including this very handy explainer from Don’t Stop Thinking on YouTube.
Practically, the best way to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons is to play a game. It’s a very “learning by doing” experience. The best resource you can buy for D&D is a copy of the Player’s Handbook. This guide is an essential reference for both Dungeon Masters and players alike and features explanations for the game’s core rules, along with everything you need to create a character.
However, if you’re struggling to get a group together, or you want to learn outside of your dedicated game, the recent wave of Dungeons & Dragons actual play podcasts are great resources. These will clue you into how narratives play out and what players can actually do (which is practically anything, really).
The most popular and informative Dungeons & Dragons shows include the ever-popular Critical Role as well as podcasts like The Adventure Zone. There’s also a bunch of content creators delivering awesome Dungeons & Dragons shows on a regular basis, so have a look around for some options.
Critical Role has produced Dungeons & Dragons adventures for several years, and their shows are extremely entertaining. Between laughs, you might just pick up a few tips for your own adventure.
Critical Role has a bunch of fantastic adventures to start with but their second campaign, The Mighty Nein, comes highly recommended.
Once you understand the basic gameplay, it’s time to start setting up your own game.
Setting up your first game of D&D
The first thing you’ll need is a plot and characters. The DM will also need to be familiar with major branching points and battles of the campaign so they can create a more involving and imaginative experience for everyone.
There are a lot of adventures available for free online if you just want to dip your toes in, but Wizards of the Coast also has larger official campaign books available. If you want help picking the easiest adventures to start off with, there are a lot of helpful lists online. You can check out Kotaku Australia’s list of must-play adventures here.
If you’re playing with a first-time DM who is learning alongside their players, Wizards of the Coast have also created Dungeons & Dragons starter sets that are designed for new groups. The Essentials Kit is a boxed set that includes everything you need to run a D&D game – a rulebook, a set of dice and pre-rolled characters. This set also features a fairly meaty adventure that’ll help ease everyone into learning the basic rules while playing the game.
While using pre-rolled characters is an option, it’s a lot more fun when people create their own. For this, you’ll need a character sheet for every player in the game. These can be created for free online, or you can print out a paper copy and build out your character yourself.
Follow this guide to make sure you’re sticking to the rules when building out your character’s stats and items.
Once you have your chosen story and character sheets, you’re ready to initiate your adventure. You may not understand every rule the first time you play, but that’s just fine. As long as you’re having fun, your Dungeons & Dragons adventure can go any way you like.
A short list of essential gear to play Dungeons & Dragons
Before you start your first game, it’s handy to familiarise yourself with a few of the game’s core rules. It’s also helpful to have the core Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks on hand so you can litigate any potential queries, such as “I want to hurl the halfling like a shot-put into the tower’s second story window, what would we need to roll for that?”
As we said before, the Player’s Handbook is an absolute must-have, and it’s handy to have more than one at the table to share around. Your spellcasters will inevitably hog a copy so they can quickly reference the massive amount of spells contained within. Apart from the Player’s Handbook, there are a few other rulebooks and supplementary materials you should consider picking up.
Player’s Handbook: Includes all of the basic rules you need to know, along with the base character races and classes.
Dungeon Master’s Guide: A guide that’ll help you improve your skills as a DM and answer trickier player questions.
Monster’s Manual: An encyclopedia of all the nasty beasties you’ll face.
Dungeon Master’s Screen: A quick rule guide and protective screen that’ll keep your DM notes hidden.
Essentials Kit: A starter adventure designed to teach new DMs and players the game’s basic mechanics.
Also? Buy yourself a set of dice. You can never have too many dice at the table.
How to find people to join your D&D adventure
Dungeons & Dragons players are a very passionate bunch, and it should be fairly easy to gather people to go on your first adventure. It’ll be a much smoother ride if you have an experienced Dungeon Master or long-running player on the team, but even if you don’t it can be great fun working out your journey together.
If you don’t have a group to play with, here are a few ways to find some adventurers.
Social media: Dungeons & Dragons can be played together online just as well as it can in real life. If you’re looking for a group, it’s easy enough to set up a Skype chat and get playing. Twitter can be very useful for this, as can Facebook groups.
Visit your local board game shop: Many board game shops hold board game nights where people can gather and play the latest games together. D&D is a common staple of these nights, and you might be lucky enough to find a group who’s willing to teach you here. D&D fans are extremely welcoming to new players, and you might just find a group that can help ease you in.
Join a Discord: There’s a bunch of great D&D discords around, but many pop-culture-themed Discords will also have a channel for Dungeons & Dragons. Kotaku Australia’s does! Feel free to pop into one of these channels and introduce yourself. There are many groups online who’d be happy to have you.
With these tips, you should be well on your way to start playing your first Dungeons & Dragons adventure. If more experienced players have any further tips, we’d love to see them in the comments below!
This article has been updated since its original publication.