Why I Game – Dungeons and Dragons: A Primer for Beginners

This year is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons. So, in celebration of that, and in light of the fact that D&D is releasing a new edition this year, I’m posting some stories I have of playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games.

 photo DampD5EStarterSet_zps8525a117.jpg
(Via Wizards of the Coast)

On Tuesday, Wizards of the Coast kicked off their months-long roll-out of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition with the release of the Starter Set. Now that it’s out, I’m sure there will be lots of people looking to put together a game for the first time. I’ve written previously about how to recruit players, but what if you just want to send somebody a link and give them everything they need to know about the game in one fell swoop? Wouldn’t that be easier?

Fortunately, when I first started recruiting players in Los Angeles, that’s exactly what I did – I would talk to somebody about the game and my experiences with it, and then if they expressed any interest I would send an email all about the game and how it worked in broad strokes. What follows is an expanded version of that original email – meant to target new players. If you have anybody you’d like to recruit to D&D, feel free to just copy-paste the text below (or just forward the link) and drop it into an email:

 photo KidPlayingaWizard_zpsde6ef539.jpg
(Via Wizards of the Coast)

Dungeons and Dragons: Why You Should Definitely Play This Awesome Game
An epic poem by Mike Christensen

I have fought dragons. I have slain giants. I have wielded magic, and witnessed the power of the gods. It’s pretty great.

Odds are, you’re reading this because you have expressed some sort of interest / curiosity in the game Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe you heard there was a new edition coming out in 2014 and wanted to learn more, maybe you saw one of those episodes of Community about the game, or maybe you just have some friends who talk about the game from time to time. But, for whatever reason, you’re reading this to learn more about the game – so here, for your convenience, is everything you need to know about Dungeons and Dragons.

 photo KidsPlayingviaFlickr_zpsf597bfd5.jpg
(Via Flickr)

You know how, back when you were a kid, you used to play make-believe games with your friends, and you’d all run around and pretend to shoot each other or hit each other with swords? Good times, right? Until some kid goes, “Oh, you missed me!” And another kid says, “No I didn’t! I have special bullets that never ever miss!” And the first kid goes, “Well, my bulletproof vest has a force-field that keeps bullets from hitting me!” And so on and so forth.

Well, in a way, Dungeons and Dragons is a lot like that, except with rules – if you want to pretend you have a special vest that keeps you from getting hit, you totally can, but it’d better be on your character sheet.

 photo DampDViaFlickr_zpsafc338d7.jpg
(Via Flickr)

Put simply, Dungeons and Dragons is a three-way fusion of board games, video games and make-believe.

How does it work?
You sit down with some friends. You can do this anywhere – around the kitchen table, in the a study room at school or a break room in the office, or even online over Skype – but this is a multi-player game. Each one of you will determine what kind of character you want to play. You’ll choose a race – such as human, elf or dwarf, among others – and a class. A class is sort of like your occupation – it’s what you do with your life. Are you a wizard? A holy cleric? A fighter? A thief? Once you answer these two simple questions – race and class – you have the foundation for your D&D character.

Together, you and your friends describe what your characters do next. Do you explore the tomb? Hunt dire boars in the brush? Barter with the local merchants? Extort the mayor before saving his town from a half-orc arsonist with magical artifacts at his disposal and a pension for leaving riddles? You can do any of that! The world is your oyster! (Note: Oyster Worlds sold separately.)

But one of your friends has a very different role…

 photo DungeonMasterviaFlickr_zps45c38569.jpg
(Via Flickr)

Who is that?
That, dear reader, is the DUNGEON MASTER. Or, more mercifully, the DM.

If Dungeons and Dragons were a video game which you and your friends are playing, the DM is the game itself. He is every character you meet (monsters, merchants, dragons, bartenders, politicians, hobos, etc.) and every environment you enter (the windswept tower, the dank cave, the urine-stained alehouse). When you tell him “I open the door,” he’s the one who tells you what you see – including, but not limited to, describing what sort of trap you triggered or enemy you released by opening the door. And anytime you do something, depending on the dice, he tells you whether or not it worked!


 photo UlfgarDice_zps8e934873.jpg

Here’s the deal – your character can do anything. Unlike a video game, there is nothing stopping a Dungeons and Dragons character from running up a wall, backflipping off the ceiling, swinging on the chandelier, and using your feet to fire arrows at the monsters below you. Nothing, that is, except for the dice, which determine whether you succeed at anything in the game.

If you want to do something, you roll a dice – usually the 20-sided dice. If you succeed, the DM describes what happens. (“The monsters go down in a hail of arrows!”) If you fail, the DM describes the agony of defeat. (“You run up the wall but you get your foot snagged on a torch, trip and tumble to the ground.”) The better you roll, the more successful you are!

So, You Just Fight Things? What Happens When You Win?
No, and you don’t – at least, not in the way you’re picturing. You can technically win or lose a D&D session, if you achieve your character’s goals. But, once again, this isn’t like a video game or a board game – you don’t just tick off achievements and earn points until you win the game. Together, your group and the DM describe what happens, through role-playing and dice-rolling, and you a collaborative story.

Just like a novel, the story ends whenever you decide it ends. Maybe you succeed at your task – find all of the magic talismans, rid the village of a pesky ogre, clean the king’s stables, etc. – and decide that the story is done, or maybe you decide to keep playing with these characters? You can tell as many stories as you would like – the only limit is your collective imagination.

Even if your character is brutally killed (cleaning the king’s stables is dangerous work, you know), that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Is he resurrected by his allies, or maybe by an NPC? Or perhaps you will simply roll up a new character, and rejoin the story as someone completely different? It’s totally up to you!

So, how do I get started?
The nice thing about that question is that, at this point, there are SO MANY OPTIONS. You can buy the books online, or buy a starter set (like the one on sale now) and play a pre-generated character. You can ask around and see if any of your friends play, or might be interested in getting started. You can look online for games in your area, or try to find a game you can actually play online.

 photo StarterSetDampDEncounters_zps3dcd07a3.jpg
(Via Wizards of the Coast)

And, in a terrific move, many game / hobby stores have started hosting new-player-friendly games every week. Dungeons and Dragons actually started an initiative, where game / hobby stores will host easy-to-play, introductory games every Wednesday, and these are games specifically designed to allow new players to come in and just start playing with no prior experience.

What have I gotten myself into?
Something pretty great.

 photo DungeonsandDragonsIDWJohnRogers_zpsfa201bf7.jpg
(Via IDW)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *