I received a tweet this week from a reader asking advice for an entire group of new D&D gamers. The question gave me pause because I started out as “the new guy” in a group of experienced gamers, and I think that’s how most new D&D players start out. While I suspect it’s not common for an entire group of players to be new D&D players, what follows is advice that I came up with. I’m sure I didn’t hit everything, so feel free to chime in with your own advice.
Start with the Red Box
The Red Box is a product specifically developed by Wizards of the Coast to introduce new players to the game. It comes with everything you need to play, right out of the box. This is probably the easiest way to get into playing D&D when there’s no one around to teach you. You can get the Red Box from the D&D Adventures section of our store.
Try and find a local group to play with
As I mentioned earlier, many, if not most, D&D players were introduced to the game by veteran gamers. Finding a local group to play with, even if it’s only for a few sessions, will give you a better understanding of the game, and how it’s played. Unfortunately, there persists a sense among many Dungeons & Dragons groups that they’re the only ones playing in their local area. However, with the ubiquitous internet, it’s difficult to say that with any conviction anymore. There are just too many avenues to find other players.
- Warhorn: Many local groups use this site for their gameday and convention registration. Search through the events listed to see if anything is local to you.
- Yahoo! groups: Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) is probably the largest D&D shared campaign in the world. The Yahoo! group LivingFR is the largest Yahoo! group serving this D&D community. Even if you don’t want to play LFR, there’s a good chance someone on that forum can at least point you in the direction of a local group.
- Wizards forums: Check out the Wizards of the Coast forums for local groups. Unfortunately, there’s no “find a local group” page, but I’m willing to bet, if you ask around, someone can help out. You can also try the ENWorld forums.
- Encounters at your local game store: Is there a Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) near you? See if they’re running D&D Encounters, or if they have a bulletin board where people have their D&D game advertised. (There’s a box to type in your zip code on the linked page to do a search for local Encounters games)
- Others may chime in with ways to contact other local D&D gamers.
You don’t necessarily have to join another local group; you could attend a convention, gameday, or ask a local veteran to run a few sessions for you until you feel comfortable with the game. This has several advantages – not only will you be learning the game faster and from someone experienced, but you’ll be benefiting the gaming community as a whole because you, even as a newbie, will bring something unique to the gaming table.
Have the right books
Every player should have the Player’s Handbook (PHB). Technically, that’s the only book a player needs. The Dungeon Master (DM) should also have a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Rules Compendium, and The Monster Vault. You could also buy these books as a group.
Understand the Rules – but not all of them
You don’t need to understand every nuance of the game, and you don’t need to create an optimal character right away. I’d say there are only a few things you need to know to get started:
- How to read powers
- Where to find things on your character sheet
- How actions are resolved in combat (Roll a d20 versus one of an enemy’s defense scores, and if you meet or exceed that number, roll damage)
- The difference between minor, move, and standard actions, and which you can do on your turn
- The difference between at-will, encounter, and daily powers
- Status effects, aka “Conditions” (just bookmark this one in your PHB, you don’t need to memorize them)
Use published adventures to start
Instead of trying to design locations and adventures as you’re trying to figure out how the game works, get your hands on a pre-made adventure. With an adventure already made for you, you won’t have to worry about mapping a town, balancing encounters, or making skill challenges. Instead, you will be able to focus on other aspects of the game, such as learning how combat works, and how the game works outside of combat. You can either purchase a published adventure from Wizards of the coast, or find a free one online. The D&D Adventures section of our store has a selection of adventures published by Wizards of the Coast; I’d recommend either Keep on the Shadowfell or Dungeon Delve. Keep on the Shadowfell is a place to start a campaign. Dungeon Delve is a series of self-contained dungeons that won’t become a campaign, but are a good way to practice the game before you start a full-fledged campaign.
Take turns as DM
The game is very different on the “Other side of the screen” (i.e., as the DM). Learning how to run a game will benefit you when you’re a player as well. Even if you have one person who is the “regular” DM, taking a turn once in a while is a great way to up your game.
Finally, Rule Zero: Have fun!
D&D is a game. It’s supposed to be fun! If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. Figure out what that is, and fix it!
I will leave you with one last piece of advice:
At its core, D&D is a cooperative team game. Unfortunately, even veteran gamers forget this sometimes. One of the easiest ways to reinforce this concept on yourself is to follow this simple rule: In every situation, find a way to make someone else’s character shine before you worry about how to make your character shine. Do that, and you’ll be 90% of the way to being a great player!