So you want to play Dungeons and Dragons?

An Overview for the Curious & Uninformed.

I’ve been playing role playing games(RPGs) for as long as I can remember. Most of them have been of the digital variety like Final Fantasy or Baldurs Gate but here and there I’ve dabbled with various pen and paper RPGs like Call of Cthulu or Vampire: The Masquerade. These differ from their digital counterparts in that they are played in person with a few friends around a table and all the action takes place not on a screen but in your mind.

Despite being a huge nerd I didn’t play my first Dungeons and Dragons campaign until 2013. The DM(Dungeon Master) was the only person with any real experience. Two of us were familiar with the concepts and three of our players were brand new. Fast forward to a year later and I’ve taken my first turn at DMing and am now running two campaigns. My two groups each have a mix of players ranging from seasoned vets to complete n00bs. It’s been an incredible learning process and I wanted to pass on a few things that I thought would help those who are totally new to the concept of RPGs and D&D. Hopefully this helps your transition into this wondrous magical world go smoothly (or at least more smoothly) than if you were just dropped into a tavern with a bunch of funny looking dice and a piece of paper that looks more complicated than your taxes.

It’s all about creating a memorable experience. Photo by @adamsoandso

What are Role Playing Games?

Lets start off with the basics. Role playing games are, quite simply, games where you assume the role of a character of your own creation and make decisions based on what that character would do. This concept, though simple in appearance, is completely foreign to most people. In almost every mainstream game out there you are playing as yourself. The idea of creating a character can be extremely overwhelming for the uninitiated (and sometimes for the initiated). But think of it this way. Let’s say you sit down to play a game of monopoly. Normally you’d want to buy all the expensive properties, maybe a utility and a railroad or two but let’s assume that before the game you each decide to take on a persona. Your persona is the Railroad Tycoon. As the name implies your character is only interested in railroads so throughout the game all of your decisions are going to be based on acquiring railroads. Not too bad right? RPGs take that idea to a very granular level. How would that character react to worker strikes, to an altercation with business partners, how would it affect their personal relationships? This is the layer of depth that D&D and various other RPGs add to the mix.

But what can I do?

This is a common question that new players ask. The common answer is “Whatever you want!” Talk about overwhelming. Yeesh! But this is where your character becomes a huge help to you. A more accurate way of answering that question is “Whatever your character wants to do.” Everything you do in the game should be based on your characters motivations. How do you know what those are? Most games offer you a simple way to randomly generate a characters background. It’s as simple as rolling a few dice. Maybe you were kidnapped as a child and forced to work as a cook for some dwarf pirates or you were born a noble but wish to seek out adventure among the commoners. This is the main difference that RPGs offer over more traditional games.

But there are so many rules!

Forget about the rules. *Gasp* Yeah I said it. For your first few sessions focus on having fun and getting into your character. For the most part just say what you want your character to do and if there are rules to be obeyed or dice to roll your DM or GM(game master) will let you know.

Once you get into combat you’ll need to become more familiar with your systems particular rules and especially your characters abilities. Basic combat rules for most systems should fit on one piece of paper and your character sheet should have any abilities your character has access to. For instance a Barbarian can use their Rage abilities to get some bonuses when attacking or a Paladin might have the ability heal some of their fellow adventurers. That’s all gravy though. If you’re new to RPGs I recommend focusing on getting into your characters head and if something bad comes near you “Stick them with the pointy end.”

Bringing it Home

The point I’d like to get across if you’re new to roleplaying games is that you shouldn’t worry about numbers. All that will come in time. Make or pick a fun character, someone you feel comfortable playing. Get into it, think of things from their perspective. Don’t worry about what you think the rules might let you do and worry about what your character would do! A Fighter might barge his way through a conflict while a Bard or Wizard may take a more cautious approach. However if your Wizard was born in a bad part of town and has lead a hard life…see what I’m saying? Now get out there and have some adventures! Huzzah!