How to Explain DnD to Your Friends That Don’t Play.
Look everyone and their mother should be playing DnD at this point.
We also need to admit that DnD is Nerdy. It’s ‘dense’ nerdy. It’s not like comic books that have an easy entry point like the movies. We have one entry point, it’s called the players handbook and it’s several hundred pages.
DnD is a complicated game with so many nebulous rules that it is intimidating for people to get into the hobby. That said, there are some easy ways to bring up the subject with your friends, and make it less daunting for the uninitiated.
1. Drop the Jargon
“That’s the GM, this is your character sheet and this is the con score so roll a save.”
Oof. I’ve seen this happen at the table.
DnD and other TTRPGs (Table Top Role Playing Games) have a lot of jargon built into them; From GM to proficiency bonus. This is one of the huge barriers to entry for people trying to join. You start talking and they don’t want to have to ask you a million questions to understand what you’re talking about.
This is what makes people disengage with the hobby.
So, all we need to do is remove the jargon. There are two parts to that, but let’s tackle the first, explaining the game.
“DnD is a collaborative storytelling game where one person plays the narrator and supporting cast while everyone else plays a main character.”
That right there is my pitch, how I explain the game to people who’ve never played.
This description is great for several reasons.
- The only word they’re learning here is DnD. Everything else is basic English class.
- A lot of questions coming from this are “how” questions with simple answers, so people feel like they’re getting it.
- You can say that to your mom and it sounds educational!
When those “how” questions come up, the best thing to do is keep it simple. If a question would take more than 30 seconds to answer, give the highest level overview you can and then add “ there are game rules for that, we can worry about that while we play.”
2. Step one isn’t creating a character
I’ve personally made this mistake before.
Character creation in TTRPG’s is fun… the second time you do it. The first time you pick up a new game it’s intimidating, you feel like you’re doing something wrong at every turn. Why does that number go here? Why is there so much math? Is that a good spell?
Step one isn’t making a character. It’s playing. Guest appearances and throwaway one shots are by far the best way to introduce someone to the game.
If you can, get a vague idea from them about what they think is cool in a character. A big beefy bicep brawler? A wizened wily wizard? The possibilities are endless but they don’t need to learn about endless today.
An easy way to do this is to ask: Swords, Bow or Magic? Which translates to “Fighter, Ranger or Cleric” as their one time character.
Make them a cheat sheet for this character along with the character sheet. A cheat sheet in this case is just a sticky note that has health, ac, their attack(with the numbers all added up) and some of the things they are carrying.
Then you have them playing at the table during their one-shot. Which brings us to our first playing tip.
3. Assign them a non-GM buddy
This one can be hard if you’re one person trying to get multiple other people into the game, but nothing is better for a player learning than an experienced buddy. The buddy is someone they can ask questions without feeling like they are interrupting.
The GM is busy, even someone brand new can tell that. If the GM is in the middle of something your new player might feel bad asking a question, which is the last thing we want. We want people to ask questions.
Having a non-GM buddy will allow us to slowly introduce the jargon of DnD, because they have a translator on hand. If the GM asks for an attack roll and the new player has the wide eyes of terror, their non-GM buddy can step in and explain what it exactly means, making it easy to keep the game snappy and fun.
Partnering up also helps avoid the new player feeling like they are slowing the game down. Their Non-GM buddy can make sure their turns take no longer than anyone else’s. That said, don’t play for them. Let the new player figure out what they want to do, and if it’s not suicidal, lend a helping hand explaining how to get to the result THEY want. You can’t expect a new player to play optimally and you can’t get bothered if they don’t.
4. Talk About the Game
Talking about the game is one of the most important parts of playing DnD and it’s definitely one of the most important parts of introducing someone to DnD.
Post game chatter is when we get to ask them how they enjoyed the game: What did they get? What was confusing? What do they want to do again?
The best part?
Now we can explain things.
Once someone has played a session we have examples they can relate to. We can pull from our experiences at the table and get to really discussing DnD. We can find out if they enjoyed playing a fighter, if they thought your Wizard was really cool, or if they don’t know why someone did something.
And if they enjoyed the session? You’re not going to be able to stop them from talking about it anyway.
5. Play Again
The last step that you repeat forever. Play with your new friend in the hobby. Embrace them as part of your party and go on adventures. Enter the dungeons, slay the dragons, and do it together.