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Sunday, July 10, 2016

How to Play Dungeons & Dragons

Hello and welcome to Power Score RPG. I write about D&D. Today I am going to take a stab at explaining how Dungeons & Dragons is played.

I'm going to give you a brief explanation of how the game works, and then I am going to ramble on forever about non-essential details. Here we go:

How Do You Play Dungeons & Dragons?

You'll need a total of at least two people to play. One person runs the game. That person is the "Dungeon Master." Everyone else is a player who runs a character. Players create their own characters before the game starts.

Once you all sit down at the table, the DM tells you where you are and you tell the DM what you do. Some things require rolls using weird dice, mostly a twenty-sided die.

Say you start in a bar. If you go up to the bartender and talk to them, there's no roll required. You tell the DM what you say and the DM tells you the bartender's response. If you try to attack the bartender, you roll to see if you hit. If you try to intimidate or trick the bartender, you'll probably have to make a skill roll.

That's it. Usually there is some kind of overarching story, like a TV series or a movie. But unlike TV and movies, nobody knows how it all will end. Anything can happen. That's the fun of the game. Together you're creating an epic story that you are the star of.

People usually play for two to six hours per session.

Stuff You Need to Play 

One of the great things about D&D is that you don't have to spend any money at all if you don't want to. Usually people buy dice, but you can use a dice rolling app if you like.

Free Stuff

D&D Basic Rules Online
D&D Player's Rules .pdf
D&D DM Rules .pdf  
Character Sheets
Dice Roller 
Death House - A haunted house adventure for beginning characters. They might take this down someday soon, so get it while you can!

Official Products

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set: Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set (D&D Boxed Game) - This is your best bet if you want to try the game. It has everything you need, including dice.
Player's Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons)
Dungeon Master's Guide (D&D Core Rulebook)
SmartDealsPro 5 x 7-Die Series 5 Colors Symphony Dungeons and Dragons DND RPG MTG Table Games Dice with Free Pouches

Why Do People Play D&D?

Whenever I tell someone in "the real world" that I play Dungeons & Dragons, they have the same reaction. They furrow their brow and ask, "How do you play that game?" I give a brief explanation and then I tell them some goofy stories of things that have happened in my games.

Once I tell them a story that includes wacky player hijinks like making out with a dragon or winning a pirate ship race by throwing crew overboard, they say: "You can do that in the game?"

I then inform them that you can do anything you want in D&D.

At this point, the vast majority of people have the same reaction. Their eyes light up and they want to try it.

The Real Reason: A lot of people say that they play the game because they like to kill monsters and collect treasure. Others say that they like to play because they live vicariously through their character.

I have had the good fortune to run games of D&D for hundreds of people. I have learned that most people want one thing above all: A group of close friends to laugh with. Nights spent creating in-jokes and stumbling into crazy moments in the game. That's D&D!

This is the 5th edition Player's Handbook
Fifth Edition: There are different versions of D&D. Fifth edition is the current one, and it is very popular. The other editions are very different! If you buy stuff, make sure you know what edition you are getting.

Once you understand 5e, you'll have no problem taking older products and converting them to the rules you use.

D&D Lingo

Let's go over some common phrases you'll hear in D&D.

Adventure: A pre-written scenario that you can buy. Right now the big adventure is Curse of Strahd, a horror adventure. 

Attack Roll: When you want to stab/punch/shoot somebody, you roll a d20. You'll add certain bonuses. The higher you roll, the better chance that you hit.

Armor Class: The number that people have to roll to hit someone else

Campaign: A campaign is the ongoing series of adventures you're playing in. The Walking Dead is a campaign. Fear the Walking Dead is a separate campaign. They exist on the same campaign world, but they are each a separate campaign.

Character: That's the person you make. Your 'avatar' in the game.

Class: This is what your character does. You could be a warrior, a wizard, a thief, all kinds of stuff.

d20: "d20" is short for twenty-sided die. A "d8" is an eight-sided die, a "d10" is a ten-sider, etc.

Dungeon Master: The person who runs the game. They are like the director of the movie that you're starring in. They run the monsters, the citizens, the world.

Encounter: This is what you call a scene or battle in the game. If you get trapped in a room filling with water, that's an encounter. Infiltrating the dinner party of a noble to try to steal their magic gem, that's also an encounter. 

Hit Points: Your "life meter." Once you drop to zero hit points, you are unconscious and dying.

Initiative: When a battle starts, everybody rolls a twenty-sided die. Whoever rolls highest goes first. The DM writes these numbers down, because you are going to cycle through this order until the battle is complete. 

Modifier: Bonuses to your rolls. Most of the time in D&D, you'll get to add a +2 or a +5 to certain rolls, depending on what your character is good at.

Player: That's you. Unless you want to be a DM.

Race: You get to choose the race of your character. You can be a dwarf, a dragonborn, a human, all sorts of things.

Saving Throw: Special rolls made to survive things. If a dragon breathes fire on you, you will make a saving throw. You roll a d20. If you roll high enough, you might dodge the breath or take half damage from it.

Session: A session is when you sit down and play D&D with your friends for a few hours. A string of sessions that connect the same story is a campaign.

Things to Know

The Main Rule: Most of Dungeons & Dragons boils down to this: Roll a 20-sided die. If you roll high, you succeed at what you are trying to do.

Modifiers: Keep in mind that when I talk about dice-rolling, you are usually going to have a bonus to the roll. As an example, if you are strong, you might add a +2 or +4 to certain rolls. If your character is charismatic, when you try to lie or sweet-talk someone, you'll get a +4 or whatever as well.

Doing Stuff: It might feel a little weird when you first start. A lot of things don't need to be rolled for - the DM just tells you the outcome. If you go to a tavern and look around, the DM might tell you what the bartender looks like, the drinks on the menu and the other people who are in the tavern.

The Rules Don't Matter: The DM has final say. DMs are allowed to "break rules" as they see fit. These are things you should talk over before you start to play, to make sure you are all on the same page. You should agree on the style of game you want to play.

You Don't Have to Do a Voice: You don't have to do funny voices or talk in character. In fact, most people don't. When you want your character to say something, you can just say, "My character says that we should pants the ogre," or whatever. I do voices because I like it, but I don't care if players do it or not.

You Don't Play Through Every Second: The DM is like a director of a movie. If your character is traveling and it is going to take 6 hours in the game, then the DM will just say, "You travel for six hours and arrive at your destination," and you move on. It's like a movie. We cut to the good stuff.

Dying: Once you have 0 hit points, you are unconscious or dying. You'll be making special rolls each round. Once you fail three of those rolls, you're dead for good. Some DMs run games that are lethal, others not so much. This is another thing to talk to your DM about before you start playing.

The Game Is Not The DM vs. Players: The DM isn't your enemy. They are supposed to be an impartial referee between you and the bad guys. I've seen a lot more DMs "cheat" to keep characters alive than anything else. We are secretly rooting for you.

D&D is Not a Video Game: Sometimes you will run into monsters that you have no chance of defeating. There are times that you have to run away. The game doesn't necessarily end when you kill the big bad guy. There might not even be a big bad guy.

There is no Way to "Win" D&D: The DM might have a goal in mind for you. Usually it's some variation of the story where there is some evil menace threatening your kingdom/continent/world and it's up to your band of unlikely heroes to stop it. But even if you succeed at that goal, the game doesn't necessarily end. People get attached to their characters and don't want to stop.

I always say that you win D&D when you have an awesome session or a good time with your friends.

Campaign Settings

There are piles of pre-made worlds and adventures out there for Dungeon Masters to use, if they like. Keep in mind that a lot of these books are from older editions, so they have different rules. People still use them for the material. Old rules are easy to convert to 5th edition rules.

Here are some of the big ones:

Greyhawk: The original campaign world, created by Gary Gygax himself. Many of the names of spells and items in the game are named after actual characters in his campaigns (Heward's Handy Haversack, Tenser's Floating Disc, etc.). Apparently there are some ownership rights issues with this setting so we haven't seen many adventures set in Greyhawk in recent years.

Forgotten Realms: This setting has tons and tons of novels and supplements devoted to it. This is where Drizz't and Elminster live. The Realms is also where most 5th edition adventures are set in. The Realms is so big that there are actually other settings within the setting: Al Qadim, Kara Tur and Maztica.

Eberron: This is a fantasy world with a certain style. There are dragonmarks that give you special powers, warforged (magic suits of armor with souls - sort of like D&D robots), elemental airships and undead powered by positive energy instead of negative energy.

Spelljammer: In this campaign setting, you can take magic ships and fly into space. You can actually fly to Greyhawk, the Realms, or wherever.

Planescape: This setting is all about adventuring in the planes. It describes Sigil, the city at the center of the multiverse. The heroes can use the portals in Sigil to travel just about anywhere, including Hell and Limbo.

Ravenloft: This is the 'horror' setting of D&D. It changes from edition to edition, but usually Ravenloft is a "demiplane of dread," a place where the heroes get trapped in. In 5th edition, "Barovia" is the demiplane of dread and it is detailed in the adventure Curse of Strahd.

Putting a Group Together

I am guessing some of you are interested in D&D because you watched Critical Role or Dice, Camera, Action. Be aware that not every D&D game is like those shows.

You need to pick your players very carefully. I am sad to say that I have seen many people stop playing D&D due to one obnoxious person. I think this is changing thanks to the influx of new players, but you still need to be wary.

You want people who are considerate of others, reliable enough to show up on time each week, mature enough to handle in-game defeat and can accept a DM that sometimes will rule against them.

Phones need to be off, too. You need people willing to devote their attention to the game for a few hours.

What Makes for a Good Player?

Some people might say that a good player is someone who makes a character that does a lot of damage. Others might say that a good player is someone who always has a solution to whatever problem is put in front of them. Many might say a good player is someone who knows every rule in the Player's Handbook.

Here's my definition of a good player:
  • Pays attention.
  • Has a character with a distinct personality.
  • Remembers what happened the week before.
  • Is easy to get along with and pleasant to be around.
So, You Want to be a Dungeon Master

There is a saying about being a DM: "Many are called, few are chosen." Being a DM is hard!

It requires "homework." The DM has to commit to working on the game in between playing sessions. We're talking hours of work. As a DM, you can not show up to the game unprepared. If you do, your session is going to suck and your players aren't going to want to play again.

I should make this caveat: Some DMs always fly by the seat of their pants and do just fine. Most don't.

It takes a certain type of person to be a DM. Here's the deal:
  • You have to be creative.
  • You have to be dedicated and responsible.
  • You have to be assertive.
  • You have to be able to manage a group of people.
  • You have to be able to be fair-minded.
  • You have to be on your toes.
Do it! Don't let any of that scare you off. You can do it. If you have a group of people who are all new to the game, that's a perfect time for you to learn how to be a dungeon master.

While you are learning the ropes, those new players will go through the "golden time." The first eight sessions or so will be looked back on extremely fondly and during that time you can do no wrong.

What's Great About D&D

D&D is a healthy way for people to get together and have fun. You're not doing drugs. You're not getting into trouble with the law. You are spending practically no money at all. You are not sitting passively watching a movie.

You're with like-minded people creating a story that you are the star of and nobody knows how it ends. D&D is really fun! I hope you enjoy it, too.


Adventurers League - If you want to try playing in a game store, go here.
How to Make a D&D Character
Beginners Guide to D&D 


Koga305 said...

Hey, this is awesome! Explaining D&D is really difficult and I am very impressed with the effort you put into it here. I really enjoy this blog's style of explaining things in general and it's awesome to see it applied to this topic.

Michael English said...

Ditto what Koga305 says. I also explain the tabletop roleplaying experience like a story with each player writing what their character thinks and does in the book together with the DM filling in the world around them.

Sean said...

Koga 305: Thanks! I really liked writing this one. I kept catching myself using terms a new player wouldn't know.

Michael English: Thank you! Yeah, the mechanics are confusing, but I think if you tell people the basic idea of how it works, they get it quick. I think that most people have played a game like final fantasy, so they are already familiar with a lot of D&D concepts!