Dungeons & Dragons 101: How To Get Started

Updated by Brittany Vincent

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) that allows players to go on a fantasy adventure with only dice, paper, and a dream. D&D has gone from niche hobby, to “satanic panic” scapegoat, to a worldwide sensation in the five decades since its creation. Despite its current popularity, though, a group playing a campaign of D&D would be almost indecipherable to the uninitiated! If you’re looking to venture into the world of D&D, start here to learn more about Dungeons & Dragons and what makes it so appealing to diverse groups of imaginative people.


Where Did Dungeons & Dragons Come From?

The original version of Dungeons & Dragons was created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The two were wargaming hobbyists who realized they could adapt a fantasy setting to a tabletop format. They worked out the initial ruleset, but could not find a publisher willing to back the project. Undeterred, the two were eventually able to get together enough money to start producing the game with a little help from a childhood buddy.

The first edition of the game rules came in a three-volume set of digest-sized books. It cost only $2,000 to produce the first run of 1,000 copies, and only $100 was budgeted for the (now legendary) artwork.

The three volumes were named:

Volume 1: Men & Magic

Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure

Volume 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventure

This early version of the game only had three classes, four races, and three alignments (not many by today’s standards). It also assumed that players owned and were familiar with another of Gygex's creations: a medieval wargame called Chainmail . While the basics were there, it wasn't the standalone product we know today.

In 1977, Dungeons & Dragons introduced the format that is still used. It completely reorganized the rules into three hardcover books. These “core rulebooks”—the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual—are the heart of D&D upon which all other supplements build.


What Do You Need To Play Dungeons & Dragons ?

Dungeons & Dragons requires only a few things :

Dice (one D4, D6, D8, D10, D12, and D20)

Rules (Player’s Handbook or abridged rules)

One Dungeon Master

One player (two or three for a starter group, ideally)

Paper (for character creation and keeping track of items, experiences, maps, etc.)

A campaign (either pre-made or custom)

You can spend thousands of dollars on D&D if you want. (Yes, really!) Painted figures, printed and digital supplements, and game tiles add up quickly. In its most basic form, though, D&D is practically free. You can get a free copy of the basic rules , which is enough to get you started, and there are many (many!) fan-made campaigns available online that provide years worth of content for free.


How Do You Play Dungeons & Dragons ?

Playing D&D requires imagination. The Dungeon Master (DM) weaves a story around your characters, and it's up to you to react to these situations. You're not supposed to just be yourself, though. Instead, this is a role-playing game. The fun comes from getting inside your character's head and trying to ascertain what they'd do in the situation.

Of course, like in real life, just because your character wants to do something doesn't mean they'll (er, you'll) be successful. That's where dice come into play. When attempting specific actions, you'll need to roll to see your odds of success.

For example, suppose you're confronted with someone speaking to you in a foreign language. In that case, you might have to roll to see how much of what they're saying you understand or if you understand them at all. However, in the end, it comes down to the whims of the Dungeon Master to determine any outcome.

In addition to controlling the pace of the stories, non-player characters, and enemy combatants, the DM judges all actions in the game. Because much of** D&D relies on your imagination **, only some things you can think of are covered in the rulebooks. When you get into a situation the rulebooks don't cover, the DM has to decide whether to allow you to continue, the mechanics behind it, and what you need to do to make your way through the challenge successfully.

D&D campaigns can take anywhere from a few hours to years to complete, and participating can be a big commitment. Before deciding whether D&D is right for you, realize that it takes a lot of time to become comfortable with the huge amount of information needed to play it. If you’re looking for an in-depth, gratifying experience that’s big on imagination, though, there are few better ways to get creative than with this beloved tabletop role-playing game.

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