What is Dungeons and Dragons and how do you play it?

This blog provides a guide to understanding and playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), an iconic tabletop role-playing game. It walks readers through the fundamental aspects of D&D, from understanding its premise and rules to creating a unique character, and provides insights into the gameplay mechanics, including role-play, exploration, combat, and the crucial role of dice. The post also explores the experience of embarking on an adventure, highlighting the rich storytelling aspect and cooperative nature of the game. This blog is a valuable read for both newcomers to D&D and seasoned players looking to refresh their knowledge.


7/20/20239 min read

What is Dungeons and Dragons and how do you play it?

Welcome to the world of fantasy, creativity, strategy, and epic storytelling! This is the captivating universe of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a realm of infinite possibilities that has captured the imaginations of players across the globe since its inception in 1974. Whether you're a seasoned gamer or a curious newcomer, there's always something to explore in D&D. But, let's start with the basics: what is Dungeons and Dragons and how do you play it?

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Players create characters to embark on imaginary adventures within a fantasy setting. A Dungeon Master (DM) guides the game, presenting the narrative, controlling non-player characters (NPCs), and setting the challenges for the player characters (PCs).

D&D is typically set in a medieval fantasy world, inspired by epic works of fiction such as J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian". However, the beauty of D&D is its flexibility – you can create and explore worlds ranging from classic high fantasy to cosmic horror, steampunk, or even your own unique settings.

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons

While the exact rules and gameplay can change depending on the specific version of D&D you're playing (as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, the latest version is the 5th Edition), the basics remain the same.

Step 1: Gather Your Group

D&D is a social game that's usually played with a group of people. Typically, you will need a minimum of two players—one Dungeon Master and one player character, but the game is best enjoyed with a larger group, usually of 3-5 player characters.

Step 2: Create Your Characters

Creating a character in Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most exciting and personalized aspects of the game. This is where you create the hero (or villain) you'll be playing throughout the game. Your character serves as your avatar within the game world, allowing you to interact with the D&D universe, face its challenges, and leave your mark on its history.

There are several elements involved in creating a character:

1. Choose a Race: The race of your character contributes to their identity and offers unique traits. Common race choices include elves, humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, half-orcs, and more. Each race has unique racial traits, such as dark vision, magical abilities, or bonus ability points, which can greatly impact your gameplay. Your chosen race will also impact how NPCs in the game world interact with you, as different races are viewed differently in various societies.

2. Select a Class: Your class represents your character's profession or calling, such as fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric, bard, ranger, etc. Your class determines your character's skills and abilities, as well as their combat style, and provides you with a basis for your backstory. It's crucial to choose a class that suits the play style you're interested in. Want to engage in melee combat? A fighter or barbarian might be a good choice. Interested in magic? Consider the wizard or sorcerer classes.

3. Decide on a Background: Your character's background provides a storyline for their life before the start of the game and can include aspects such as occupation, life experience, or important life events. It gives your character depth and can also provide additional skills and equipment. The Player's Handbook provides several predefined backgrounds like the Criminal, Noble, Sage, or Acolyte, but feel free to create your own with your DM's approval.

4. Determine Ability Scores: Ability scores represent your character's basic attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These scores are typically generated by rolling four six-sided dice (4d6) and adding the three highest numbers together. The resulting numbers are then assigned to each of the abilities based on what is most important for your chosen class and character concept.

5. Select Skills, Feats, and Spells: Based on your class and background, you'll have access to a number of skills, which represent areas of expertise. You might also have the opportunity to choose feats—special abilities that give your character unique strengths or capabilities. If you're playing a spellcasting class, you'll also need to choose which spells your character knows.

6. Equipment: Depending on your class and background, you'll start with specific equipment. This could include weapons, armor, adventuring gear, magical items, and gold or other currency.

7. Character Details: Finally, you'll add details like your character's name, alignment (moral and ethical compass), age, appearance, and personality traits. These elements are mostly for role-playing purposes and offer a way to flesh out your character as a distinct individual in the game world.

Remember, there are no "wrong" choices in character creation. D&D is a game of creativity and imagination, so feel free to experiment and create a character that excites you. The most important thing is that your character is someone you'll enjoy playing. After all, you might be spending a lot of time with them!

Step 3: Understanding the Gameplay

Understanding the Gameplay. The beauty of D&D lies in its intricate blend of storytelling and strategy, and gameplay typically revolves around three core components: Role-play, Exploration, and Combat.

1. Role-play: Role-play is at the heart of every D&D game. Here, you and your fellow players bring your characters to life through speech, decisions, and actions. Think of it as improv theatre; you're creating a collective narrative with your fellow players, each contributing to the unfolding story.

During role-play, you interact with NPCs (controlled by the Dungeon Master), investigate mysteries, plan strategies, debate moral dilemmas, or even engage in dramatic performances. The key to role-play is staying in character: how would your character react in a certain situation? What are their motivations? Keeping these aspects in mind can help create a more immersive and engaging experience for everyone involved.

2. Exploration: Exploration involves your characters traveling through and interacting with the world created by the Dungeon Master. This could mean navigating through a dense forest, exploring a bustling city, delving into dark dungeons, or traversing across continents.

During exploration, your characters might search for clues, investigate mysteries, find hidden treasures, disarm traps, or solve puzzles. The DM describes the environment, and you decide how to interact with it. Remember, in D&D, creativity is your greatest weapon. Approach problems from different angles and don't be afraid to think outside the box!

3. Combat: When diplomatic negotiations break down, or when ferocious beasts attack, you'll find yourself in combat. In D&D, combat is structured and occurs in rounds. During your turn in a round, you can move a certain distance and take an action, such as attacking an enemy, casting a spell, or using an item.

The success of most actions in combat is determined by rolling a 20-sided die (d20) and adding any relevant modifiers. For instance, if you're swinging a sword at an enemy, you'd roll a d20 and add your attack bonus. If your total is equal to or greater than the enemy's Armor Class (AC), you hit and can roll for damage.

Combat in D&D can be as simple or complex as your group wants it to be. It can involve strategic positioning, clever use of abilities, or even environmental factors.

Overall, the flow between role-play, exploration, and combat creates dynamic, engaging gameplay that keeps players invested. Remember, D&D is a cooperative game—your party's successes (and failures) are shared, and the true reward is the story that you create together.

Step 4: Rolling the Dice

Dice are the key to action and uncertainty in Dungeons & Dragons. They are what make the game unpredictable and exciting. Every time you attempt an action with an uncertain outcome, you'll roll a die (or several dice). The result of the roll, combined with any relevant bonuses or penalties, determines whether your character succeeds or fails.

Here are the most common uses of dice in D&D:

1. Ability Checks: Whenever you want your character to attempt a task with an uncertain outcome, you'll make an ability check. This involves rolling a 20-sided die (d20), adding any relevant ability modifiers, and comparing the total to a target number set by the Dungeon Master (usually called a Difficulty Class or DC). If your total meets or exceeds the DC, you succeed!

For instance, if your character tries to climb a slippery wall, the DM might call for a Strength (Athletics) check. If your character has a Strength modifier of +2 and is proficient in Athletics, giving them a proficiency bonus of +2, you would roll a d20 and add 4 to the roll.

2. Attack Rolls and Damage Rolls: In combat, when you want to hit an enemy, you make an attack roll. This is similar to an ability check—you roll a d20, add any relevant bonuses (usually your proficiency bonus and an ability modifier), and compare the total to the enemy's Armor Class (AC). If your total equals or exceeds the AC, you hit!

After a successful hit, you'll roll for damage. The dice you roll for this and the modifiers you add depend on the weapon or spell you're using. For example, if your character swings a longsword, you might roll a d8 and add your Strength modifier to determine how much damage you deal.

3. Saving Throws: When a character needs to resist an effect or spell, they often have to make a saving throw. Just like an ability check or an attack roll, a saving throw involves rolling a d20 and adding any relevant modifiers. The type of saving throw (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) depends on the nature of the threat. For example, to dodge a fireball, you'd make a Dexterity saving throw.

4. Hit Points and Healing: Characters' health in D&D is measured in hit points (HP). When you create your character, you'll roll a certain die to determine your HP, based on your class. For instance, if you're a tough fighter, you might roll a d10, whereas a fragile wizard would roll a d6.

If your character is injured, they lose hit points. If they're healed—either through magic, medicine, or rest—they regain hit points. Healing often involves dice rolls to determine the amount of HP restored.

5. Other Rolls: D&D uses many other dice for various purposes. For instance, a rogue's Sneak Attack ability lets them roll extra d6s for damage. Some powerful spells require the caster to roll d10s or d12s for their effects. And a wizard might roll a d4 to determine the duration of a spell.

Dice are a key element in D&D, injecting uncertainty, suspense, and fun into the game. They make outcomes unpredictable, ensuring that D&D is always full of surprises. As they say, the dice giveth, and the dice taketh away!

Step 5: Embarking on an Adventure

In Dungeons & Dragons, "embarking on an adventure" describes the process of entering the world the Dungeon Master (DM) has prepared and engaging in the story they've set up. The term "adventure" is a broad one, and can refer to a single session of play, a multi-session storyline, or even a sprawling, months-long campaign. Regardless of the length or complexity, all adventures share a few fundamental components:

1. Setting: The setting of an adventure is the world in which it takes place. This could be a pre-existing world like the Forgotten Realms, a popular setting in D&D, or a world entirely of the DM's creation. It could be a high-fantasy realm of magic and monsters, a grim dark-fantasy world, a plane-hopping cosmopolitan universe, or anything else the DM can imagine. The setting will influence the flavor of the adventure, the types of creatures and characters you encounter, and the overall atmosphere of the campaign.

2. Plot: The plot of an adventure is its overarching storyline. This could involve a quest to slay a dragon, the mission to retrieve a powerful artifact, a journey to rescue a kidnapped prince, or any number of other narratives. It's important to note that while the DM will provide a plot, how it unfolds is largely up to the players. Your decisions, actions, and sometimes even the roll of the dice will determine how the story evolves.

3. Encounters: An adventure is made up of numerous encounters—specific challenges that the party must overcome. These can be combat encounters with hostile creatures, social encounters that require diplomacy or deception, environmental encounters that call for navigation or survival skills, or even mystical encounters that involve puzzles or riddles. Each encounter is an opportunity for the party to use their skills, abilities, and creativity.

4. Rewards: Throughout an adventure, the party will earn rewards. These often come in the form of experience points (XP), which allow characters to level up and gain new abilities, but can also include gold, magical items, or even property or titles. The reward for an adventure might also be less tangible, such as information, alliances, or simply the satisfaction of a job well done.

5. The Role of the Dungeon Master: The DM serves as the guide, narrator, and referee of the adventure. They describe the world, control the non-player characters (NPCs), present challenges to the players, and interpret the rules. It's their job to keep the game balanced, fun, and engaging, and to adapt the adventure to the actions of the players.

6. The Role of the Players: The players, meanwhile, are the stars of the show. They make decisions for their characters, interact with the world the DM presents, and drive the story forward. Their choices, successes, and failures shape the direction and outcome of the adventure.

Embarking on an adventure in D&D is like diving into a book or a movie where you get to control the main characters. You'll face challenges, overcome obstacles, interact with a living world, and tell a story that is entirely unique to your group. It's an experience of collective storytelling that's unmatched by any other game.