How do you play D&D?
So you’ve watched a few Twitch streams or heard about D&D from somewhere. And now you want to start playing? This article will explain how to play DND 5e. For the aspiring Dungeon Master, we’ll go over the materials you’ll need, where to find players, and how to find or create your first adventure.
For the player just joining his first campaign, we’ll discuss how to create a character and how to play D&D 5e effectively. This article will explain everything you need to get started playing Dungeons and Dragons right away.
Before you begin, there are a few materials you’ll need to gather to play D&D.
DND can be played without any rules. In this case, the DMs just makes up what happens based on the player’s decisions. But most campaigns find that the game is more fun if you use some version of the official rules.
The easiest way to get a copy of the basic rules is to download them from the official Wizards of The Coast (WoTC) website. There is no charge for the basic rules.
If you play a few adventures and find that you want more options for classes & feats, you may want to buy the Player’s Handbook. Or if you’re the DM and want more tips for how to create adventures, as well as more monsters to put in those adventures, you may want to consider purchasing the Dungeon Master’s Guidebook and Monster Manual.
Paper and pen (or other ways to record info)
D&D requires you to record a lot of information: your character's hit points, skill bonuses, gold, equipment, and other stats all need to be available at a moment’s notice. The easiest way to keep track of this is through plain old pen and paper.
Character sheets can be downloaded from the official WoTC website and printed out. Or you can make your own by just writing this information on notebook paper.
If you’d rather use a laptop, tablet, or smartphone to record information, that can work as well.
Dice (or some way to generate random numbers)
If you’ve never played a role-playing game in the past, you’re probably used to dice that have six sides. But in D&D, you’ll be using dice with many different sides.
A 20-sided die or “D20” is the most important one to get. You’ll use it for attacks, skill checks, ability checks, saving throws, and many other things that happen in the game. You’ll also need a pair of ten-sided dice to roll percentages, along with a D4, D6, D8, and D12 for damage rolls.
When the players are talking to non-player characters (NPCs) or exploring, all of the gameplay can be handled through role-playing. But when a fight breaks out, it can be hard to keep track of the locations of each character. For this reason, most campaigns use at least some maps in their adventures.
Some great free maps can be found on Wizards’ website. Or you can use map-making software like Mipui or Hextml to make your own. Another option is to draw maps by hand using graph paper. In this case, each square on the graph paper or a certain number of squares can represent sq. feet in the game.
Pawns, icons, or miniatures
If you’re using maps, you’ll need some way to represent characters. Some D&D players use inexpensive Pathfinder pawns for this purpose. Others like to be a little fancier. They purchase painted miniatures instead.
Yet another option is to just tear off pieces of paper and write “rogue,” “priest,” “ooze monster,” etc. on them. As long as it works for distinguishing one character from another, you can handle this problem anyway you choose.
That’s all of the materials you’ll need to get started playing D&D.
Finding players or a campaign
If you want to be the DM, you’ll need to find players. And if you’re a player, you’ll need to find a DM and more players. We've made an extensive blog post on How to Find a Dungeons and Dragons Group here.
Finding or creating adventures
Dungeon Masters always need new adventures to keep their players happy. Here is a list of some free ones from the official D&D site:
- Shadows Over The Moonsea
- Outlaws of The Iron Route
- Hoard of The Dragon Queen
- Out of The Abyss
- Winter’s Splendor
You can also create your own adventures by taking your favorite fantasy novel, TV show episode, movie, or game and reworking it into an interactive adventure.
If you’re just joining a campaign, you’re going to need to create a character. And if you’re the DM, you may sometimes want to use the player-character creation rules to make NPCs. The basic D&D 5e rules explain how to create a character in detail. But here is a step-by-step summary:
- Choose a race: If you’re using the basic rules, you can be a Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, or Human. If you have the Player’s Handbook, you also have the option to play a Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, or Tiefling
- Choose a class: You can be a cleric, fighter, rogue or wizard in the basic rules - or these plus barbarian, bard, druid, monk, paladin, ranger, sorcerer, and warlock in the Player’s Handbook
- Determine your abilities: Roll four twenty-sided dice (4D20). Throw away the lowest roll. Repeat this five times - giving you six scores in total. Assign each of these six scores to one of your six abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom
That’s it. The rules go into more detail about how to create a character, but these are the essential steps.
Over the course of a play session, there are essentially three types of gameplay you’ll be engaged in: social interaction, exploration, and combat. If you’re a player, you’ll handle each of these types of play for your character. If you’re the DM, you’ll handle them for the NPCs and monsters, as well as serve as a kind of “referee” to determine whether the players succeed or fail at these encounters.
Here is how to handle each type of gameplay.
If you encounter a friendly NPC, you may need to successfully interact with it in order to progress in the adventure. In this case, you should roleplay your character’s dialogue.
Based on your dialogue, the DM may decide that you are trying to persuade the NPC to do something he normally wouldn’t do. If so, he will require you to make a Persuasion check. He will decide the difficulty of this check based on the NPC’s personality and what you are trying to get him to do.
If he decides you are trying to intimidate the NPC instead, he will ask you to make an Intimidation check. And if he decides that you are trying to lie to the NPC, he will ask you to make a Deception check to see if the NPC believes you.
Depending on how the NPC reacts, you can then try another approach. Maybe you try to intimidate the NPC but he laughs at you. You then change tactics and seek to persuade him of something instead. But maybe he is distrustful of you because you tried (and failed) to intimidate him earlier, so the difficulty increases.
Play continues like this until you either succeed or fail. If you succeed, you move to the next step in the story. If you fail, you may have to find some other way of progressing.
There will also be some social interactions that do not require rolls. For example, you may have to roleplay the process of accepting a quest or asking for information from someone who trusts you and is open to communicating. In this case, you may automatically succeed as long as the dialogue you choose is reasonable for the situation.
If you are looking for a particular place or trying to track a foe, you may need to explore. The DM will ask you what you are trying to do. Maybe you are looking in the bushes or studying the sand for footprints. Or maybe you are trying to sneak past the guards so they don’t see you.
Depending on what you say your character is doing, the DM may ask you to make a Perception, Survival, or Sneak check. Or you may need to make a Religion or History check should you encounter ancient ruins or religious artifacts. If you succeed at these rolls, clues may be revealed that will get you closer to your goals. If you fail, you may need to try different strategies than the ones you are using.
As you progress in an adventure, you will inevitably run into monsters or other foes that will want to stop you in your tracks or kill you. Some of these foes you may be able to avoid. But many of them you will have no choice but to fight.
When combat begins, each character will roll a single D20 and apply his Dexterity modifier to the roll. This is called initiative. The highest rolling character goes first, followed by the second-highest, etc.
On your turn, you can move up to the maximum number of feet based on your character’s speed, plus take one action. Some abilities will allow you to take an extra action, called a bonus action. There are also some activities that do not require the use of an action, such as yelling a short sentence to an ally, opening a door, or drawing a sword.
When you make an attack, you’ll roll a D20 and apply whatever modifiers your character has for that particular attack. If the attack roll is higher than your foe’s Armor Class, it will succeed. In this case, you will roll for damage based on the damage dice of the weapon, spell, or ability you are using. If the attack roll fails, you will miss the target and do no damage.
Combat is the most complex aspect of Dungeons and Dragons. And to succeed at it, you will need to read up on the rules and think creatively about how your character’s abilities can be used to maximize your chances.
Because of the new 5th Edition rules and the rising popularity of D&D Twitch streams, Dungeons and Dragons is more popular now than it has been in decades. But if you are new to the D&D scene, it might not be obvious how to get started playing.
This article has explored how to play DND 5e. We’ve gone over materials needed, where to find players, how to create characters, and some of the basic rules.
There are many variations of the D&D rules. And there are many settings in which D&D adventures can take place. But this information should at least be enough to get you started on your first adventure.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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