Updated: Nov 7
Excited by the prospect of playing D&D, but no idea where to start? Then you’re in the right place!
In this blog, you’ll learn everything you’ll need to prepare for your first session! So sit back, relax, and get ready to go from zero to hero.
What is D&D?
First up, let’s cover the basics - what is D&D, why do millions around the world love it, and what should you expect from the game?
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop roleplaying game. Like other “TTRPGs” (and there are many!), playing D&D means getting together with friends and family and having an engaging, shared storytelling experience. It’s an amazing way to socialize and make friends, improve your problem solving, and express your creativity, and people of all ages can play and have fun together!
Typically, D&D is played in a group of around 3-7 people, but solo play is possible too.
One member of a group will take the role of a Dungeon Master (DM). They’ll describe the game environment, events that happen, control everything in the game other than player characters, including monsters and villains, and be the ultimate authority on the rules. As a DM, you can expect a sometimes challenging but incredibly rewarding experience, where you'll learn how to entertain and engage others, and harness your creativity in new and exciting ways!
The other members of the group will control player characters. Each will take control of (usually) a single character in the game. They’ll create their character, choosing from a wide variety of classes and races, and tell their story throughout the game as the adventure unfolds. As a player, you can expect to explore a shared game world with a party of other players, complete quests, engage with monsters and villains, connect deeply with your character, learn more about them, and even learn more about yourself in the process!
D&D games can be played in person or online, and usually run between 2 and 6 hours per session, depending on the group. Games can be one-offs with just a single session, a handful of games linked in a short campaign, or a long campaign that could have many sessions and last for years!
What do I need to know?
All right, I get that D&D sounds great, but what do I need to know to begin?
To get started with D&D, there are some basic rules that you ought to know. If you have a friendly, patient DM (and many are!), they’ll help you ease into the game, but even so it’s a good idea to have a basic grasp of the rules.
Some of the basic rules you ought to learn include:
What makes up a character and how to make a character (if you want, you can skip this at first by using a pre-generated character)
Skills and how to use them
How combat works and what options characters have in combat
Dice and dice rolls
You can learn all of this and more from the D&D Player’s Handbook, which is (in my opinion) the most important book for a new player. You can also learn them in the D&D Starter Set, D&D Essentials Kit, or in the free Basic Rules that you can find online.
If you prefer to watch than read, you can get an overview of many of these concepts in my DnD: Zero to Hero videos.
As a new player, you’ll probably have lots of questions while you're playing! I’ve prepared a series of free printable reference cards that cover the basic rules so you can remind yourself of them easily during your games. You can access them from my Resources page.
How do I find a group?
So you’ve got the basics down, but how do you find a group of fellow adventurers to play with?
D&D is an amazing social game, and if you have friends or family that play, or you think may be interested, they may be a good place to begin building a party! One player will have to play the Dungeon Master, though, so if you choose to just play with friends and family, you’ll need to make sure one player has a good enough grasp of the rules to be the DM. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, and it’s a fantastic experience, but it helps to understand the rules to a decent level before running your first session.
Many local game stores run D&D events that you could join. Even if they don’t, you may find notices in the store about games people are running that they’ve put up in the store notice board.
Finally, most DnD creators have a looking for group section on their Discord server (including me!). You can either look for games that others have advertised, or put up a listing yourself. Generally, the person that posts a listing will play the Dungeon Master in a game, but it doesn’t have to be.
How do I create a D&D character?
You’ve found a group of like-minded adventurers, but who are you going to be – a Bard, a Rogue, a Wizard?
Between all of the races, classes, backgrounds, and subclasses available, there are lots of options for making characters in D&D, and you may find this overwhelming at first. If you want to skip character creation for your first game, you may want to ask your Dungeon Master if any pre-generated characters are available for you to play.
If you want to make your own character instead, you’ll need to understand the sections of the basic rules about character attributes and how to make a character.
If you want your games to be simpler to begin, you may want to choose a class that doesn’t have access to spells to begin your adventure – the Fighter class is probably the simplest of all, and the Barbarian, Monk and Rogue classes also don’t have access to spells.
The Dungeon Master in a game may limit certain options for characters, for example the use of certain races, because they don’t make sense in the game they’re running. So before you make a character, you should discuss which options are available with your DM.
Even with just the basic options for characters available in the D&D Player’s Handbook, there are 12 classes and 9 races (some with multiple subraces) available, so I recommend that you come up with a character concept and go from there. You may like the idea of a certain race or class, or choose to create a character using a fictional character such as Gandalf, Gimli or Geralt as inspiration.
This can reduce the number of choices you have to make so it's easier to decide how to build your character. Using Gimli as an example, it seems obvious that we’ll be creating a Dwarf Fighter, likely with the “Soldier” background, and we’ll choose to use a Greataxe.
Online tools like D&D Beyond can make it much easier to create a character, but they often limit the options you can select from when building a character unless you purchase digital source books, and the number of characters you can have saved at once unless you pay a monthly subscription.
If you prefer having a physical representation of your character’s abilities, you’ll need a character sheet (you can a fillable PDF of the official D&D character sheet here) or journal. If you want to bring some magic to your games, you could use my Character Journal, which lets you create custom journals for your characters on your home printer, makes it easy to understand your character’s abilities and what they do, and will remain as a permanent memento of your character’s journey long after their adventure has ended.
What do I need for my first game?
You’ve got a group and a character ready – that’s everything, right?
When you have a group to play with and a character to play (with a filled character sheet or journal), you’re pretty much set to go, but…
D&D is famous for its dice, right!?
If you’re going to play games in person around a table, you’ll need a set of dice. There are 7 main types of dice in D&D, each one called D followed by the number of sides on the die. This includes a D4, D6, D8, D10, D12, D20, and D100 (which is a bit different). Check out my video for a quick overview. You can get physical dice in the DnD Essentials Kit or Starter Set, from your local gaming store, or from the many dice creators in the hobby. There are some really beautiful dice out there, so you can shop around and find your perfect set.
If you play around a table and the game will include maps, you can use a miniature to represent your character if you want. You can buy miniatures from your local gaming store or online. Alternatively, you can use other objects to represent your character – lego characters seem to be a pretty popular one, and I like using crystals!
Rather than playing around a table, many games are run online using a “virtual tabletop” (VTT) such as Roll20 or Foundry. If you'll play using a VTT, you'll still need access to dice, but you can use virtual dice rather than physical ones if you want. Some VTTs are capable of integrating results from rolling virtual dice into game mechanics, which can make it easier to play or run a game as a DM. Many players like the way rolling dice feels and prefer to roll in person, though.
If you're going to use a VTT to play, you may also need to make a token to represent your character. You can do this easily using free online tools such as Roll Advantage or VTT Token Maker – you’ll just need an image of your character to create a token.
Token for Brunhilde the Barbarian (character art: dalim.ink)
What should I expect in my first game?
Right, you have everything, but now it’s 5 minutes until your session and you have no idea what to expect! Don’t worry, it’s simple…
Before beginning the game proper, many groups have what’s known as a “session zero”. This is a lot more common for games that are expected to go on for a while and may occur immediately before the game begins rather than being in a separate session.
The session zero is an opportunity for everyone to meet up, discuss the setting for the game and how it will be run, the characters players may play, and expectations for the game.
The Dungeon Master may invite the group to discuss their expectations for the game and if there are any themes that anyone finds uncomfortable or would rather avoid entirely. If this doesn’t happen and there are themes you’re uncomfortable with, you may want to discuss this with your DM privately. The DM may also try to get to know the players and their preferences by asking questions like the ones in my D&D Player Preferences Questionnaire (which is free to use) - this can help the DM in crafting the best game for everyone.
When the game actually begins, it’s time for the story to unfold! The DM will describe the situation everyone’s characters are in, and invite players, including yourself, to describe how they react to it. This is a common theme in the game, and how D&D works in general.
For example, you may begin the adventure in a tavern and be asked by your DM to describe your characters to begin the session. After introductions, the DM may describe what happens as a villager runs into the tavern shouting “We’re under attack!”. At this point, your DM may invite you to say how you respond to this situation. Ideally, the DM should leave this entirely up to your imagination. Do you ask the villager for more information, run past them to see what the commotion is about, or ignore them and order a drink from the bar?
When necessary, the DM asks the players to roll a die to determine if their character was successful in doing what they wanted to do, and describes the effect. The DM also rolls dice to determine the effect of actions that other actors such as monsters or villains take.
Following from the example above, let’s say your character decided to ignore the villager and order a drink from the bar, well maybe the bar staff are a little preoccupied with the potential threat, and say they won’t serve you a drink. If you won’t take no for an answer and want to sweet-talk the bar staff to get you that drink, your DM would likely ask you to make a skill check using the Persuasion skill. If you roll well, you may get that drink. If not, you may need to rethink your plans.
Where can I find out more about D&D?
Wanting to learn more? There’s a whole world to explore!
There are lots of creators that create D&D content on social media platforms, some of which focuses on learning how to play or interesting character builds (including myself – you can find my links here).
Great, I’m hyped, where can I find more cool D&D stuff?
I’m not kidding, there really is a whole world to explore!
Wizards of the Coast® (WotC), the company that owns the D&D brand, produce a handful of great new products every year, mainly focusing on new race and character options, and adventure paths. The D&D creator community produce countless new products every year, including similar products to what WotC typically produce, and tons of other stuff, including minis, maps, clothing, and even D&D towels and themed food!
If you’re looking for cool D&D stuff, here are my recommendations:
I’m a proud member of the Tabletop Creator Hub, a global community of indie TTRPG creators – as a collective, we produce pretty much everything you could imagine!
If you have kids or teach kids, I couldn’t recommend TTRPGkids more – Steph is making a huge impact in supporting sharing the joy of TTRPGs with kids worldwide (TTRPGkids is more focused on TTRPGs in general than D&D in particular)