How to play Dungeons & Dragons: Getting started as a player

Doing it by the Handbook.
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There’s a reason why ‘it’s like D&D’ has become the universal way to describe any roleplaying experience. It’s pretty much the only thing you can say when trying to explain why you’re not available to Skype your parents that Wednesday evening, and if you don’t say it, then lord help you when that call starts ringing through in the middle of a session. Dungeons & Dragons really is the Regina George of the tabletop RPG world; it’s incredibly popular, obscenely polished and extremely intimidating to approach.

It’s also undeniably effective at immersing its players in possibly the most richly detailed fantasy-world in roleplaying history, and has remained a staple of the tabletop community since its inception over 45 years ago. Now that’s impressive. It’s no small wonder that you want to start playing it, but despite being enough of a cultural touchstone that The Big Bang Theory bothered to make an entire episode on it (even if that episode was insultingly shallow), you might have absolutely no clue how to begin.

Worry not, as Dicebreaker is curating a comprehensive series of guides to playing D&D. This first part will make the introductions, helping you to approach the tabletop RPG with your interests in mind.

What do you want from playing D&D?

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The first and most important thing to establish is what you actually want out of playing D&D.

There are many different ways to approach the tabletop RPG, but they should always be driven by your desire to experience the game in the way you want to. There’s absolutely no point in playing D&D if you’re just going through the motions, after all, that’s a heck of a lot of effort just to simply hang out with a bunch of people and not enjoy yourself. We have to do that all the time in real life anyway.

A good place to start is to think about what you like about board games (if you play board games at all); is it the mechanics of a game that draw you in? Do you like to hash out the most efficient paths to success? Are strategies and win conditions what you seek? Or, are you someone that looks for a good story to tell to your friends? Do you get attached to the characters you and your friends play?

So how does this particular Rorschach test translate into D&D? See, most D&D players typically fall into two general camps; they’re either in it for the tactical monster-slaying and cool new gear, or they’re in it for storytelling moments and character interactions. Obviously, people aren’t quite simple enough as to split into two such disparate groups, especially when it comes to something as varied as tabletop gaming. However, figuring out whether you connect more with one approach or the other, will give you a better idea of how you want to actually play D&D.

Explore the world

Investigating the world of D&D can give you more of a clue as to which approach is going to work best for you. Having over four solid decades to establish your world and its lore is bound to give those curious enough to investigate plenty to tear into.

D&D has an absolutely enormous selection of media, beyond simply what’s available to read through online (the official D&D website has an entire section dedicated to lore), including novels (some written by famed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore), comics, video games and even board games such as Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, Dragonfire and Assault of the Giants.

Dipping your toe in any one of these will give you a taste of what D&D has to offer beyond just a comprehensive roleplaying system.

Watch others play it first

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Of course, you can always choose to dive into the game’s many, many options for character building and development, either by flicking through the Player’s Handbook, perusing sites like D&D Beyond and Reddit forums, or having a gander at what other players are creating and playing.

There’s also a ton of video content available for aspiring D&D players (including our own), whether you’re looking for guides on maximising the potential of your character, or just want to watch people play the game. Actual-play podcasts are currently taking over the medium, and D&D is most certainly covered in this regard, with podcasts like The Adventure Zone and Critical Role garnering hordes of fans.

Don’t be afraid to go pre-gen

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One option to consider, especially if you’re initially overwhelmed by the character creation process presented in the Player’s Handbook, is to play using a pre-generated character sheet.

Not only does this give you the chance to cut to the chase and play a session of D&D without any number-crunching required, but they’re also a good way of testing out different character builds before committing to anything.

Comprehensive character sheets are available to download from the D&D website, and even include separate sheets for each level. Grab one of those and it’s a done job.

There’s certainly a veritable bevy of D&D content out there ready to consume, which should get you hungry for diving into the real thing. For example, we have guides on how to create a character just waiting for you, so get consuming!

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Alex Meehan

Staff Writer

Alex’s journey to Dicebreaker began with writing insightful video game coverage for outlets such as Kotaku, Waypoint and PC Gamer. Her unique approach to analysing pop culture and knack for witty storytelling finally secured her a forever home producing news, features and reviews with the Dicebreaker team. She’s also obsessed with playing Vampire: The Masquerade, and won’t stop talking about it.

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