D&D 101: Absolute Beginners Guide to Dungeons and Dragons

dnd 101

Dungeons and Dragons has had a resurgence in popularity over the last couple of years, due in part to pop-culture references such as Stranger Things, but also the massive popularity of YouTube channels like Critical Role.

What exactly is Dungeons & Dragons? How do you get started?

Let’s take a look with this quick dnd 101 guide!

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons and Dragons starter set

Dungeons and Dragons D&D Essentials Kit and monster manual

Dungeons and Dragons (often referred to as D&D), is a roleplaying game that has been played and loved by people of all ages since the early 1970s, and has its foundations in tabletop wargames from even before then.

It is certainly not the only game of this type, but it is the standard to which all roleplaying games are measured.

The game is lead by one of your party, nominated to be the Dungeon Master. The DM is the rule keeper, and players take the role of characters who adventure through the scenario as your Dungeon Master guides you.

As well as combat, players will interact with imaginary “non-player characters”, controlled by the DM.

What do you need to play D&D?

While miniature figurines, buildings and terrain are often associated with these games, they are not absolutely necessary to the enjoyment, and in fact, some people prefer to run their games entirely in “the theatre of the mind”.

Another aspect of the game you might be familiar with is the use of special dice, most notably the 20-sided dice, or “D20”, to decide the outcome of events.

Rolling dice is fun, and people get addicted to collecting sets of them, but if you don’t have any dice then an app, or even Google, will help you out.

Roll a D20 with Google

Roll a D20 with Google

A game of D&D 5E (fifth edition, the most recent version of the rules) can be played with just a DM and one player, but there are even apps that allow you to play D&D solo. If you find it difficult to get a group together all in once place, there are online services such as Roll20 that allow your group to play virtually, or find groups to join.

As well as some friends and a way to roll dice, you need the rules of course!

Fortunately, the basic Dungeons and Dragons rules are available as a free PDF download. There are also starter sets available for anyone wanting to dive in to more depth.

My, that is a lot of rules!

Games of D&D can be run as strictly or as casually as your group prefers. My own games of D&D are guided by whatever makes the game the most fun at the time. Lots of book flipping and rule interpretation arguments bog the game down, so I tend to bias towards keeping things light and swift over “strictly correct”.

You might be able to tell from the map I created for my group, I tend to keep my tongue firmly in my cheek when I DM.

D&D Map

My campaign in the realm of west-canuckistan

What should I do next?

To get a feel for how a D&D game plays out, check out Critical Role and Acquisitions Incorporated by the folks behind Penny Arcade.

If there is interest, I will follow up with more tips for how a new group can get started with this and other games in future articles.


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Chris has been a geek for as long as he can remember, certainly since 1984 when his family got a Vic-20 microcomputer, he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons, Ghostbusters was released, and he was obsessed with the Secret Wars Marvel comic series.

You can follow more of his geekery at Geekahol and maker stuff at Maker Hacks.

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