Getting Started with Dungeons and Dragons


WARNING, CONTAINS: swearing, weird religious stuff, abject geekery

So you’ve heard stories of groups of people dressed up as wizards and goblins, sitting around a poorly-lit table, engaging in eldritch and highly suspicious gameplay. Maybe you’ve heard about people in US prisons being banned from playing Dungeons and Dragons (or, as it’s sometimes called, D&D – or even DnD for those of us In The Know) on the grounds that it was making them cooperate too much, and you might even have read that roleplaying games have turned people into evil wizards in real life*. If you’re a fan of The IT Crowd you have probably seen the following footage and thought it was highly exaggerated and implausible:

Haha, yeah, nah. It’s almost exactly like that. Except, depending on your friends, there’ll probably be less business suits and more off-colour jokes.

Sounds awesome? That’s because it is. This game is a legend, a classic, that gets updated every so often to keep it relevant and fun. It’s currently in the 5th version of the official rule set, the original version of the game having been released in 1974. By paying the outlay for a set of rules, a bitching array of multi-sided dice, and a few pencils and paper (plus some crushed velvet or velour for that mid-1990’s decorating vibe, if you’re into that) you basically get unlimited hours of opportunities to bond with your mates, overcoming shared hardships like being cockblocked by Hobgoblins or rescuing a handsome dragon from a rampaging evil princess.

Pictured: Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, the epitome of fantasy/goth fashion circa my adolescence.

How To Play

The idea is, one person (the Storyteller, or Dungeon Master, depending on how much you regret spending money on tickets to see Fifty Shades of Grey) acts as the narrator, and everyone else controls a character in the story. Being a successful Dungeon Master means doing a bunch of preparation – designing monsters for your players to fight, allies for them to befriend, dragons to rescue, etc., as well as trying to guess how your friends’ characters are going to react to the situations you put them in. There are pre-made “non-player characters” or NPCs – your monsters and so on – included in most of the rulebooks for you to use if you want. Being a good player involves thinking about the character you’re playing and how they’d respond to the situations the Dungeon Master and your teammates are throwing at you. It also means working as a team with the other players to advance the story and achieve your goals together.

To start a game of Dungeons and Dragons, you’ll need:

The rules (Wizards of the Coast, who make the game, even have a Starter Set online!)

Some dice (one set per player, including the DM, is optimal – but don’t be afraid to share)

Friends and/or family

TIME. You’re gonna need a few hours to get everyone to make characters, assuming you’re not using pre-made characters. It can be complex. Then you’re going to need a few hours in a row, on a regular basis, to have games “sessions” – those can last from three to six hours (or longer if you want, I’m not here to judge). People usually take longer than you’d expect to accomplish tasks you set out for them in DnD, so try to budget a bit of extra time in just in case.

If you’re the kind of person who learns better by reading comics, you might benefit from delving deeep into the nigh-unfathomable archives of DM of the Rings, Darths and Droids and Order of the Stickeach of which explores the culture and mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons in a different way. These stories present different styles of Dungeon Mastery (or Storytelling) as well as different group dynamics, none of which are optimal, but they’re good for a laugh.

A Gateway Game 

Just like marijuana, jazz music and the waltz, Dungeons and Dragons has frequently been accused of leading the youth astray – and while it may not be causing people to summon Lucifer and His minions to our mortal plane, new players should exercise caution, because there are a metric shitload of ways to adapt the rules to different stories and settings. There are also many other roleplaying rules structures, which might suit your group’s playing style better, and many of you will be tempted to start LARPing. This is natural and OK as long as everyone involved gives informed consent.

Anyway, now that you have some idea of what you’re getting into, go out and enjoy yourselves. I’m going to bed.

*They don’t actually, but if it’s fun it must be endangering your immortal soul, right?

Further reading and references: 

Wizards of the Coast: Forty Years of Dungeons and Dragons

Creating a D&D Character

Tips on Running a D&D Campaign

More Tips on Running a D&D Campaign


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