Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TTRPGS) have become a pretty big deal in recent years, especially Dungeons and Dragons. The rise of fantasy movies, books and TV shows, positive depictions in the media and ‘actual play’ shows such as Oxventure, Questing Time and Critical Role have increased interest in the game, but how does one actually get into it?
First thing to realise is that there is more than just one roleplaying game out there. Dungeons and Dragons is the biggest, most popular TTRPG in the world, but they are simpler (and much more complex) games out there. But we’re going to just focus on D&D in this article. The other thing to realise is that that TTRPGs are different from board games or video games. This may seem obvious, but getting into TTRPGs usually requires a different approach than normal games, and it helps to realise this early on.
The basics are that you will need some friends, some paper, some dice and some rules. You may have friends who play D&D and be dismayed to discover that their groups are full. Don’t panic, that’s normal. People who play D&D tend to do so regularly and are telling an ongoing story every session. It can be tricky to work a new character into the middle of the story. So you’ll be looking either to start a new group yourself, or find one starting out.
Don’t worry if this takes a while.
Most of the players get to create a single character, which they’ll control for the game. In D&D this usually something that you’d find in a fantasy movie; a dashing, bow-wielding elf, or a spell-slinging gnome. Maybe a very lucky halfling or musically talented dwarf. They are wilder options characters in D&D and the game (now in it’s fifth edition) has become pretty flexible with this; if you want to play a character inspired by your favourite show or book, you pretty much can.
One of you will need to be the referee, and this is where it can get tricky. Whereas most players get to be one character, someone else has to be ‘literally everyone else in the world’. Also known as the Dungeon Master, this player adjudicates the game rules, sets the scene and runs the game. The Dungeon Master is also playing the game, just in a different way to everyone else. This can be daunting for those new to the hobby and groups are available. Take your time, read the rules (the basics can be found here) and relax. Ultimately this just a slightly more complicated (and rewarding) way of playing let’s pretend with friends. Luckily there’s tonnes of help out there to get your started.
If you’re a younger gamer, then you may be able to get someone to run a game for your via The Scouts, as playing D&D will earn you your Entertainer badge. Alternately, check via your Friendly Local Games Store (FLGS), as games can run regularly there. Wizards of the Coast run regular campaigns and player events and games conventions run regularly all year long, both in person and online.
They are plenty of resources for playing at home, including online D&D service DnDBeyond. This digital service will take you through the basic steps of creating a character and has all the basic rules up for free. You can pick up more digital packs (with more books for the game) via the service and download them to your phone if needed. It’s a powerful tool for playing the game. It also has a find a game service. (As always, be careful when talking to new people online.)
Don’t worry about having to create a story from scratch; the official books provide plenty of resources for the busy or inexperienced gamer. We recommend the following adventure books:
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos – Adventures at a magical university/college. Mixes all the tropes of Young Adult fantasy with the high fantasy of Dungeons and Dragons.
Candlekeep Mysteries – A collection of short, one-off adventures for various levels. Useful for figuring out how it’s done.
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight – Magical Carnival adventures with faerie beings and spooky clowns. It’s an excellent mix of nostalgia and modern weirdness, and, famously, low on combat (if you want it to be)
IceWind Dale – Rime of the Frost Maiden – Frozen horror at the edge of the world. It’s a much meatier scenario than the others and there’s a steep learning curve at about level 7, but it is excellently written and can be quite epic.
You’ll also probably want dice. As always, Wizards of the Coast do some lovely sets that are connected to their adventures; The Witchlight Carnival Dice are a great spooky orange and comes with maps and setting cards for the Witchlight campaign. Beholder’s Gaze will do you a 7-dice set of a randomly chose design for about £5, and their range is excellent. Dakota Irish and DnDice are also excellent dice dealers. Expect to pay a lot more for dice made out of metal, resin or precious stones, and always purchase from a reputable source.
As for dice storage, you may be tempted by a fancy box or bag. We’ve recently discovered Worry Monsters, which are plush toys with zipper mouths. They aren’t intended to be used as dice pouches, but it’s excellent fun to make them throw up dice. You could also get a T-Shirt with the word DICE on it, if you really wanted. It won't help you play the game, but it is fun.
The short version of all this? Want to play D&D? Excellent; dive in and have fun. Now is probably the best time to learn to play, and it can be very rewarding. Stay safe and Onwards Adventurer!