You find yourself in a room that is 5m by 5m. It is empty, except for the people there with you, also waking up, and the long bench against one side of the room that supports 4 bundles of gear, including weapons. The room itself is made out of smooth stone tiles, off-white against the light coming from the ceiling. You see a door, it is solid and heavy. Next to the door is a hook, with a similarly heavy key hanging from it.
You find that you have no recollection of what brought you here. You don’t know who the other people are, although when you see each other you feel a sense of knowing that you SHOULD know who they are. It is on the tip of your tongue, but it doesn’t seem to want to leave.
A piece of paper falls from your pocket. When you look at it, it has a name. When you read it outloud, you know it to be your name. How could you have ever forgotten your own name? And as those familiar strangers stir, you wonder…
What do you do next? Open the door? Question those in the room with you? Grab the nearest weapon and start swinging?
In the world of Dungeons and Dragons, all that, and so much more, is possible. All that really limits you is your imagination. And some rules, guidelines, and mechanics to get you going.
First things first, what is Dungeons and Dragons? It is a tabletop roleplaying game, where a group of people all create characters to play as. A Game Master will control enemies, allies, and create the world and setting for the players, as well as guide the players through a story. But the players aren’t just witnessing a story, they are experiencing and changing it. Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D for short, is a collaborative experience. The experience might be a slapstick comedy, an epic heroic tale, or a truly tragic story of heartbreak and betrayal. That’s up to you.
Now, there is a lot to this game, but it’s a lot easier to get started than you would think. So here is Zahra’s Very Brief Intro to D&D!
First up, you and your group will want to decide on a setting. Maybe you’re going to be pirates on the high seas, or exploring ancient ruins at the top of mountains. Knowing where you’ll be playing is a good start. This is mostly up to your game master, but like I said, this is a collaboration.
Next, building a character! Ideally, you and your group will want to have a balanced party, with at least one healer, one tank, and at least one for dealing damage. You can be extremely flexible with this, there are so many classes to work with.
Tank types can be barbarians and paladins, spellcasters tend to be clerics, druids, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. Damage dealers may be fights, monks, and rangers. Choosing your class depends on what kind of character you want to build. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.
On top of classes, you’ll have to decide on a race to play. Humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs are probably the most recognisable ones, but you can also play as halflings, goblins, drow, tieflings, cat people, bird people, and so much more. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and can compliment and round out your character.
Finally, you can build the rest of your character, which starts to involve dice. Depending on your decisions, and the numbers you roll, you can build your stats. The main ones are your hitpoints, which is your health, and your strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. These numbers will grant you modifiers that you will apply to your rolls during gameplay.
You will also select weapons, spells, and equipment, best suited to your character and gameplay style.
You’ve created your character, given them a name. Maybe they’re a tiefling bard, or a halfling cleric. It’s almost time to play, but first, a quick overview of the mechanics that’ll you’ll encounter as you play.
I mentioned stats. Your stats, class, race, and background will influence what skills you have. I’m not just talking about attacks and spells. You can get skills such as animal handling, deception, medicine, performance, stealth, survival, and so much more. You can also be bad at some of these skills. After all, if you’re in full plate armour, stealth isn’t really going to be your forte.
Spells and attacks are pretty self explanatory. Depending on your character, you will have a range of spells and attacks you can use. For magic users, your strength will be with spells. For others, you’ll be using weapons. You can get skills in both areas, but you’ll generally focus on one or the other.
Spell users, do be aware that you can only use a limited number of spells in battle. Some spells will have special requirements, like requiring you to concentrate for a minute, or you’ll need materials, like precious stones, or even skulls. So don’t just start launching fireballs everywhere.
Now, outside of combat you’ll be wandering around, exploring the world your game master has put you in. You might need to break out of prison, solve a murder, or find a rare book. You’ll talk to characters and your party, and this is your opportunity to roleplay, acting out as your characters. Are you the lone wolf type who doesn’t want to be part of a party? Are you trying to find your lost family, and you need your party to help you? Are you just tagging along to beat up baddies? It’s up to you, and don’t be afraid to act it out.
Uh oh, you’ve run into a group of goblins who have been robbing travellers! It’s time to roll for initiative. This will determine the order in which everyone will act. The goblins are also establishing their initiative order. The higher the number, the sooner you act. And when it’s time to act, you have a few things you can do.
Your turn will generally have three things you can do. You can move, how far you can move depends on your speed, you can perform an action, which might be an attack, casting a spell, or using an item. And then you’ll have a bonus action, which can sometimes be another attack, but is usually your opportunity to do something minor. Maybe yell an insult. Whatever you do, you’ll need to use your stats and abilities to see if you succeed or not. The higher the roll, the better… usually.
Each turn lasts 6 seconds, but you’ll have more time than that to make your decision. Not that much time though, other people are waiting their turns and you need to keep the game moving.
Thankfully, with the help of your party members, and some health potions, you have defeated the goblins, although one managed to run away. That probably won’t be a problem later. But you got some experience and some loot, and a cool story for later.
Actually playing is fairly straightforward, once you’ve got your character all set up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, like ‘can I try to swing on these vines to get across the ravine?’. There is usually a way to try to pull off what you want to do, but do keep your character abilities in mind. Vine swinging is usually easier for a ranger than it is for a paladin.
So, how do you get started?
You’ll want to find a group of people, at least 4, but you don’t want to have more than 6 people, not to start with at least. One person needs to be the game master, but don’t worry, we’ll be doing an intro to being a game master later. It’s not as intimidating as you’d think. You can find tonnes of adventures already written up, with story, characters and enemies, maps and dungeons, and any relevant information, online. Some for free, some for a small cost. Or you can even buy one of the official campaigns, such as Curse of Strahd.
Having the Player’s Handbook will contain all the information you need to build a character and play them effectively, but you can use online character creators to build your character. The D&D 5th Edition community wiki will also have all the information you need on weapons, armour, classes, races, backgrounds, spells, and so much more. Once you build your character, it’s a great reference.