When it comes to role-playing games, there is no question that Dungeons and Dragons is the gold standard. For decades, D&D has entertained generations who enjoy the chance to delve into a fantasy world of magic and monsters. Although the roots of this game can be traced back to 1967, the first official edition of Dungeons and Dragons was published in 1974. It quickly became a gaming sensation and for forty years D&D has been the holy grail of role-playing games.

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons

The best way to begin playing Dungeons and Dragons is with an experienced Dungeon Master (DM) guiding the game. The DM is responsible for the overall direction of the storyline and the specific challenges faced by players. The DM not only makes sure everyone is following the rules, but sometimes even decides what rules players will have to abide by. The role of Dungeon Master requires a solid understanding of the Players Handbook and the Monster Manual. There are also, of course, How To Play Dungeons and Dragons books you can buy as well.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides an in-depth explanation of all the rules of D&D. But a good DM is more than just an enforcer of rules. The DM is the one who must keep the story moving and weave a fantastical adventure for all of the players sitting at the table. There really is no substitute for an experienced Dungeon Master.

Character sheet and die used in Dungeons and Dragons. Image CC by CC BY-ND 2.0, by Judit Klein, via Flikr

Creating A Dungeons and Dragons Character Sheet

Assuming you are not the Dungeon Master, you are a Player Character (PC). Creating a character can be a little intimidating at first. To begin crafting your new persona, all you need is the Player Handbook and a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet. There are various races and classes in Dungeons and Dragons. Each has their own traits and skills. Similarly, each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Do you want to be a fierce fighter? Or do you see yourself more as a powerful healer? Will a sword be your weapon of choice? Or would you rather use magic to take on your enemies?

In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, there are nine races players can choose from:

A twenty-sided die sits on a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet. Image CC 2.0, by janet galore, via Wikimedia Commons

There are also a dozen classes that players can choose for the characters they are creating:

The first step in creating a character is to decide what race and class you want to be. Once you have made this decision, you go to the Players Handbook and can start filling out your character sheet, which can be downloaded here. Filling out a character sheet for the first time can be very intimidating. Step-by-step instructions are available online. There are also some really great videos that are specific to the different classes.

There are also handbooks, and dice for playing, available online. We’ll get to those a little bit later.

Dungeons and Dragons dice on top of a character sheet. Image CC by CC 2.0, by James Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Much of your character sheet is based on your own preferences and those of your Dungeon Master. However, this may still be more than a true beginner is ready to take on. Another option is to use a pre-generated character. In other words, a character whose stats have already been completed for you and is ready to play.

Rules of Dungeons and Dragons

The golden rule of Dungeons and Dragons is simple: Listen to your Dungeon Master. The DM is the one responsible for making sure all players know the rules and making sure they follow them. Although the rules of D&D take up far more space than we have room to explore here in full, it is the DM that needs to have a good working knowledge of these regulations. All a beginning player character needs to know at the start of their first game is the basic pattern the game will follow as the adventure unfolds. This pattern only really consists of three steps that repeat.

  1. The DM describes the environment.
    • You walk into a room with a locked door to the left and a staircase to the right.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
    • We try to break down the door.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’
    actions.

    • You succeed in breaking down the door. You find an angry monster on the other side that attacks.

The golden rule of Dungeons and Dragons is simple: Listen to your Dungeon Master.

The DM is the one responsible for making sure all players know the rules and making sure they follow them. Although the rules of D&D take up far more space than we have room to explore here in full, it is the DM that needs to have a good working knowledge of these regulations. All a beginning player character needs to know at the start of their first game is the basic pattern the game will follow as the adventure unfolds. This pattern only really consists of three steps that repeat.

  1. The DM describes the environment.
    • You walk into a room with a locked door to the left and a staircase to the right.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
    • We try to break down the door.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’
    actions.

    • You succeed in breaking down the door. You find an angry monster on the other side that attacks.

To be certain, this is an extremely simplified explanation of the rules involved in Dungeons and Dragons. There is much more information in the Player Handbook. Even though much of the same information can be found online, it really is an essential resource for playing Dungeons and Dragons. Still, this little bit of knowledge is enough to start your D&D adventures if you have an experienced Dungeon master.

“You are not entering this world in the usual manner, for you are setting forth to be a Dungeon Master. Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D adventure. You however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to the all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow.”
― Gary Gygax

Dungeons and Dragons board game. Image CC by A-SA 3.0 Unported, by Philip Mitchell, via Wikimedia Commons

At the very least, the Dungeon Master will need to have a good handle on the Player Handbook, the Monster Manual (pictured below), and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. With enough research and a willingness to learn together, it is possible for a group of beginners to figure things out as they go. After all, every experienced player was once a newb. If you don’t have the benefit of an experienced DM, reading these guides will be absolutely vital.

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