For a game that’s stereotypically played by socially awkward nerds in a basement, learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) can be intimidating. I know that when I first got interested in D&D, I was fortunate to learn a bit about it from pop culture (Netflix’s Stranger Things, of course) and some podcasts – these helped me get a sense of the basic rules and how to play. I was definitely too intimidated to ask anyone I knew… come to think of it, I didn’t even know anyone who played D&D at the time I became interested!
You might be at an even earlier step: you know that D&D is a thing, but maybe have no idea how to get started, find a group to play with, or how to play at all.
Without diving too deep into those rules and game mechanics – as there are lots of great websites that cover those topics –, I wanted to kick off my brand new D&D blog by sharing the steps you need to take to start playing Dungeons & Dragons in the first place.
These aren’t about rolling for this and calculating hit points for that; instead, it’s a simple breakdown of the steps you’ll need to take before your first session if you want to begin playing Dungeons & Dragons. Ready to cover the basics, and then dive deeper as you learn to play? Let’s begin.
Step 1: Gather (or Find) a Group of Players
One of the most important aspects of Dungeons & Dragons is the group of people you play with. You’ll need at least two other people to play with, but ideally, you’ll want to have between three and six players, plus a Dungeon Master (DM) who runs the game.
Finding a group of players can be as easy as asking your friends or family members if they’re interested in playing. You can also join online communities or local gaming groups to find players who are looking to start a new campaign.
I was pretty lucky: my cat sitter noticed I had the D&D Essentials Kit sitting on my dining room table, and asked me if I played. When I told her I was brand new to the D&D community, she invited me to play with her and her friends – and they’ve been my campaign-mates ever since!
Step 2: Get the Necessary Materials
To start playing Dungeons & Dragons, it helps a lot to have the core sourcebooks. The Player’s Handbook (PHB) is the most important one, as it contains all the rules and guidelines for creating characters and playing the game. However, you can learn to play without the PHB, especially if one of your campaign-mates is willing to help you learn.
You may also want to get the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) and the Monster Manual (MM) to learn more about how D&D works as a whole – but these are not essential if you’re just learning how to play. These books can be purchased from your local game store, online retailers (think Amazon), or as digital downloads from D&D Beyond.
Beyond that, you have a choice: you can play digitally (for free on D&D Beyond) or physically. If you decide to play physically, you’ll also need a set of polyhedral dice, pencils and notepaper, and character sheets. Personally, I play with a combination of digital and physical tools – I love rolling dice and take some notes by hand, but I use digital character sheets.
Step 3: Create Your Character
One of the most exciting parts of Dungeons & Dragons is creating your character. Using the rules in the PHB, create a character that you’ll play throughout the game; for your first D&D campaign, your DM can help you with this process.
Choose your race, class, and background, and give your character a name and a personality. It’s important to create a character that you’ll enjoy playing, but also one that fits within the story and world that your DM has created.
Step 4: Learn the Rules
Before you start playing, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules in the PHB, particularly those that relate to your character. Pay attention to combat rules, skill checks, and ability scores.
You don’t need to memorize every rule, but you should have a good understanding of how the game works. Your DM or fellow players can help explain any rules that you’re unsure of, and as you play, you’ll become more familiar with the rules and mechanics of the game.
Step 5: Create a Story
Dungeons & Dragons is a game of storytelling, and creating a story is an essential part of the game. Work with your DM to create a story for your character that you’ll explore in the game. Your DM may have a pre-made campaign that they can run, or you can create a custom story together.
The story should have a clear goal or objective, such as defeating a villain or completing a quest. It’s important to create a world and characters that are interesting and engaging for your players.
Step 6: Start Playing
Once you have your group, your characters, and your story, it’s time to start playing!
After you schedule your first (and future) session, your DM will guide you through the game, describing the world and the characters you encounter, and you’ll make choices that determine the outcome of the story. You’ll use your character’s abilities and skills to overcome challenges, defeat enemies, and complete quests.
Dungeons & Dragons is a game of teamwork, so it’s important to work together with your fellow players to achieve the goals you all agree to – or your own goals selfishly if that’s part of your character.
Step 7: Keep Learning
Dungeons & Dragons is a complex game, and there’s always more to learn. As you play, pay attention to the rules, ask questions, and learn from your mistakes. You can also continue to read the sourcebooks and other resources to deepen your understanding of the game. Online communities, such as forums and social media groups, can also be an excellent resource for learning more about Dungeons & Dragons.
Another way to continue learning is to try different play styles or character races and classes. Each race and class has its own unique abilities and play style, so trying out different combinations of race and classes can help you understand the game from different perspectives. You can also experiment with different character builds, choosing different skills and abilities to create a character that’s tailored to your play style.
In addition to learning about the game mechanics, you can also improve your role-playing skills by practicing your character’s personality and motivations. This is something I’m always working at personally – it’s hard work to put on a voice and really get into my character.
Finally, as you become more experienced with Dungeons & Dragons, you may want to try your hand at being a DM. Running a game can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. As a DM, you get to create your own world and story and guide your players through it. You’ll need to learn more about the rules and mechanics of the game, as well as develop your storytelling and improvisation skills. However, being a DM can be a great way to deepen your understanding of Dungeons & Dragons and share your love of the game with others.
And with that, you’re off to the races – or should I say… roll for initiative! Have any questions about how to start playing Dungeons & Dragons? Let me know in the comments and we’ll learn together!