What to Know if You Want to Start Playing ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

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I would not be surprised if Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves recruits new players to the game the way Stranger Things and Critical Role did, which is really awesome for the game. I have a lot of friends who play in one group or another, but I also know a number of people who have always wanted to get started but are just overwhelmed by how to get started. I’m one of those people who gets excited about new people joining this hobby. After all, I run two groups for elementary school-aged kids (and a few of their parents), and my players all tend to be very new to the hobby when they arrive at my table. So for those of you wondering how to get started or what you should know when getting started, I have a few pointers for you. Also, please let me welcome you to our hobby, I would apologize in advance if it turns into the secondary hobby of RPG book collecting, miniature painting, or dice collecting, but I have all of those hobbies and zero regrets.

How to Find a Group

I always feel like the best way to get started is, if you know someone who plays or runs a group, see if they have room for another player. A friend is more likely to know you and your personality, which can help sort out if you’ll be a good match for their group up front. Many gaming stores also have times that groups meet and play in their shops. Getting to know and support your local gaming store is also a pretty great idea for someone getting into the hobby. Mine has given great recommendations and some really good miniature painting advice. A source that’s gained popularity since I started is online. As technology is making it easier to run games online, you don’t have to be constrained by where you live. Many D&D-related groups online offer regular posts where people looking for groups or players can advertise.

Questions to Ask

You found a group with a free seat, but will they be a good match? It’s more important than you may realize. This is a cooperative game and, like many hobbies, the people you participate with tend to become your friends. It’s also the sort of hobby where there are many ways to play and run things. Things you should ask include:

  1. Is there a fee? While most Dungeon Masters (DMs) do not charge their friends when they’re running a game in their home, sometimes stores or groups online may have fees per session.
  2. What guidelines do you have for a character in your campaign? Some players get so excited to create characters they don’t always consider how their character fits into a specific setting or game. Working with a DM to create a character that meshes well will probably make the experience much more fun for you. There also may be rules about how you generate your stats and what type of characters you can or cannot create. Some DMs also may want highly detailed backstories, while others may just want a couple of sentences regarding who your character is.
  3. Does this DM lean combat-heavy, RP-heavy, or a mix? Any of the three is a legitimate way to run a game, however, some players are going to enjoy certain styles of gameplay more. If you care more about building a story and shenanigans, you might struggle with something more combat-heavy. If trying to “play” a character is harder for you, you may prefer combat-heavy. A lot of games also have a mix of both aspects.  
  4. Does the DM or the player have any deal breakers? Some DMs may use a consent checklist to get a feel for topics or situations that are a big nope for players. An example of one I have seen is this. If you aren’t offered that sort of list, but there’s something you know you would not be okay with (excessive gore, romantic overtures from other characters), you may want to check in you your DM about that. If the DM is running a horror campaign and you are particularly squeamish with the genre, you may not be a good match. Similarly, if you want to be wooed by non-player characters and a DM is not up for that, you may need to decide if you are okay with that being off the table or if you want another group. 

Things to Know for the Table

  1. You do not need to put up with toxic behavior or a DM that worries more about upsetting a toxic player than the players on the receiving end of toxic behavior. The saying in many groups I am a part of is “No RP is better than bad RP.” Groups tend to become friends with each other, which is awesome, but that also means bad behavior at a table left unchecked can start blowing up friendships too. I recently wrote about what behaviors I don’t allow at my table, so you may wish to look over that to get a feel for some things that can create problems and why they create those problems.
  2. Every DM is a little different. Think back to how many teachers or coaches you’ve probably had in your life. No two teachers were probably exactly alike and just because one did some things differently than another, doesn’t necessarily make one teacher “bad.” Odds are there are similar traits in your favorite teachers, but even those teachers had differences. A DM you follow on YouTube or that is part of another group may do things differently than your DM, and that’s okay. Unless the DM is truly making you miserable, learn to be okay with those differences. DMing is a job that takes a lot of work in the moment and even more off the table (just like teaching).
  3. Shows like Critical Role are awesome but understand not every group or DM will perfectly match. There’s a term for this called “The Mercer Effect,” named for Critical Role‘s DM Matt Mercer, and you can read about it and Matt’s reaction here. The general idea is that Mercer is a professional voice actor with over twenty years of being a DM and very few people can boast a similar skill set. Of those that can, very few will be lucky enough to have a group of players made up entirely of professional actors the way he does. Critical Role can give you a great idea of what a session can be like, but keep in mind most DMs are not Matt Mercer, and most player groups are not entirely made of professional actors. Also worth noting, not every group has access to a ton of highly detailed minis and terrain. Some of us are building those collections but the time and money to acquire/make those are not insignificant.

Hopefully, this had given you all a bit of info on how to get started in the hobby. Welcome, and enjoy!

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