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Comprehensive Beginner’s Introduction to D&D

20 Minute Read
Dec 10 2020
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Welcome to the comprehensive beginner’s guide to Dungeons & Dragons!

beginners guide and tips to dungeon and dragons

D&D is basically a roleplaying game. You’ve probably seen it all over the place, from shows like Stranger Things to the 80’s panic that it was somehow a nefarious cult of “Dungeon Masters and their thralls performing dark rituals.”

As metal as that sounds, D&D is not a cult, but it’s also not just a game. Over the years, D&D has evolved into a huge community of content creators, artists, roleplaying enthusiasts, and people that just love playing the game.

This guide is all about figuring out where you fall into that community. Maybe your friends invited you to their weekly campaign, or maybe you’re just curious to see what all the hype is about.

Whether you’re completely new to the world of Dungeons & Dragons, or you’ve played your first game and can’t wait to dive into more, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll take a look at all the different ways people get involved with D&D, and hopefully find something you love along the way. Now let’s get ready to roll!

Table of Contents

The best way to get started is to ask yourself, “What do I like?” or “What do I want to do?”

Everyone arrives at D&D with different interests, finding something that grabs your attention is the best way to get deeper into the community.

If you just want to get started playing, you can check out a list of resources and guides to get ready for your first game. If you already like D&D, but want to try playing it online with friends or strangers, this guide will help you follow in the footsteps of thousands of people playing D&D online at any given moment.

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Maybe you’re not quite ready to play, but you want to dip your toes in. Watch a game or check out some of the art, perhaps. Just follow your interests from the list below!

Watch and listen to famous voice actors and comedians playing D&D with podcasts, livestreams, and YouTube channels, or check out all the people creating really cool art and costumes and comics by following the creative list. Think of this guide like a ‘choose your own adventure’ path!

 

What are you looking for, traveler?

I’m here to play the game!

  1. Resources and Rules

  2. Guides

  3. Books and Manuals

Show me how to play D&D online.

  1. Virtual Tabletops

  2. Discord Servers

  3. Online Communities

Can I watch a few games first?

  1. D&D on Twitch (and YouTube)

  2. Podcasts for Play

  3. Podcasts for Lore & More

I love art and creative outlets.

  1. Art and Artists

  2. Comics

  3. Costumes and Cosplay

What about video games? (And board games too!)

  1. D&D Video Games

  2. Tabletop and Board Games

 

how to get started playing dnd guide

I’m here to play the game!

Resources, Guides, and Books

Jumping straight into your first or second game is one of the best ways to learn about D&D! Fortunately, there’s a whole world of resources out there to help you get your footing and learn the ins and outs of the game.

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Everyone comes to the table with a different experience level, but even some of the most experienced players like to have a reference on hand. As you set out on your first adventure, you can turn to all kinds of online guides, resources that teach you the rules and lore of the D&D universe, and even physical books with all kinds of useful information and cool art.

From the official D&D Player’s Handbook to a massive community of players and pros putting together wikis, you can browse some of the best resources available for beginners and everyone else below:

Resources & Rules

When you’re just getting started, you’ll want to learn the basic rules of D&D. You can find the Basic Rules of D&D all over the internet for free, but the nice thing is that players have spent years putting together wikis and websites that make understanding the rules super simple! These websites can help you find and understand the rules you need right when you need them, here are a few of our favorites:

  • D20srd This is a barebones, ultra-fast wiki that has everything you need for 5th Edition (5e) D&D. It’s been around since before 5th Edition, and while it’s fairly simple, it’s got everything from character creation info and spell lists to monsters and magic items.
  • D&D Beyond D&D Beyond is the premiere Digital Toolset for Dungeons & Dragons. They partner with Wizards of the Coast to not only bring you digital rules, but they also run D&D Videos featuring the designers and popular figures in the community. They’re a great place to learn more about D&D as a whole.
  • Roll20 Compendium Roll20 is one of the most popular online tabletop platforms. It’s designed to give you the experience of playing D&D in your own home, but online. With maps and tools that can help you run and play D&D with folks from, Roll20 also has a great rules wiki that slots right whenever you’re playing.

Guides

One of the best ways to learn D&D is to have friends or someone else teach you. Fortunately, there are tons of guides and communities online dedicated to teaching people all about the game. There are whole channels devoted to playing the game, exploring decades worth of lore and stories, and just generally talking about D&D and how they enjoy it. Most of these guides and channels are also updated frequently with any new rules, news, or information about the game!

  • Critical Role’s Handbooker Helper This is a comprehensive guide for complete beginners from Critical Role, one of the biggest D&D channels out there. In the Handbooker Helper series, award-winning voice actors will teach you all about getting started with a really straightforward set of short videos on how to get started with D&D. Who better to learn from than people that play the game professionally?
  • A Crap Guide to D&D This is a great series if you want a funny, slightly sarcastic take on a lot of the basic elements of D&D — accompanied by some sweet animation (and occasional music). It’s also great if you’re incredibly indecisive, as it gives you a breakdown of every class in the game — also accompanied by sweet animation.
  • Dael Kingsmill’s D&D Nerd Stuff There are tons of streamlined guides, but if you want to get a feel for running a game of D&D, Dael Kingsmill’s guides take a look at how to make your games better. It covers a huge range of topics, like translating real-life mythology into game lore or terms, and creating or playing better villains and sidekicks. There’s a lot to love in this guide.
  • PoC Gamer’s Lore Diver There is a lot of lore in D&D. If you don’t know the Forgotten Realms from a Portable Hole, PoC Gamer’s Lore Diver series will take you through some of D&D’s most memorable moments and help you understand what exactly everyone means when they talk about Yuan-Ti.
  • D&D Beyond’s Video Series D&D Beyond goes, well, beyond just being a massive D&D resource. They also curate tons of videos that cover different aspects of playing the game, from the absolute beginning for new players all the way up to super detailed videos for veteran players looking to deep dive into D&D.

Books

If you like a more hands-on approach to learning about D&D, you can always start with one of the many books. There are all kinds of options out there, from starter kits that come with a few of the absolute basic essentials for starting or playing a campaign, to specialized guidebooks that offer the rules for specific adventures.

  • D&D Essentials Kit This is your best bet for an easy game-in-a-box setup that anyone can play. It offers quickstart rules and all the basic accessories that you need, which makes it one of the quickest ways to actually start playing a game if you want to dive right in. Get the box, grab a couple of friends, and start crawling through those dungeons.
  • The D&D Core Rule Books If you’re playing D&D in person, or just enjoy the feel of a book in your hand, you should start with a copy of the core rulebooks. For new players, the Player’s Handbook is your go-to option for character creation and basic rules! The Core trio, however, is the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual — so if you want to try your hand at running a game later on, you’ll need the DM Guide and Monster Manual! If you want ‘em digitally, you can find them at D&D Beyond and Roll20.
  • The Young Adventurer’s Guides These are some of the best books you can find for getting into the lore and introducing aspects of the game in an entertaining way. Each book takes readers through a unique aspect of the game, like monsters or spells, with an illustrated and narrative take on each element. They’re aimed at younger readers, but their illustrations and solid information are easy to enjoy at any age.
  • Consent in Gaming This free pdf has everything you need to tackle safety tools when playing games, including tips for talking about sensitive subject matter and guidelines for setting boundaries with the people you’re playing with. Safety tools like this and the Tabletop Roleplaying Games Safety Toolkit are all about making sure everyone is comfortable and cool when playing.

 

play dnd online guide

Show me how to play D&D online

Virtual Tabletops, Discord, and Online Communities

Playing D&D online is one of the most popular ways to enjoy a game these days. Millions of people play D&D online across multiple platforms, including virtual tabletops to roleplay focused discord servers. With dozens of video chat options, online dice rollers, and digital toolsets, playing a game with friends across the country (or during a pandemic) is fun and easy.

There are a lot of different ways to play online, so we’ve included a few of the most popular platforms and tools to help you get started. As an added bonus, many of these virtual tools are entirely free, so they’re a great way to experience D&D before you invest in the full experience.

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Virtual Tabletops

Virtual tabletops offer a wide range of functions, from just being a place to make notes and roll dice, to full-on map creation and music modules. Apps like Roll20 or Astral have made playing D&D super fun and easy because of how easy they are to learn and use. Roll20 alone has more than five million users, 53% of which play D&D! It’s the single biggest game on their platform. As a comparison, the next biggest game after D&D only accounts for about 10% of their total playerbase.

So what makes virtual tabletops so appealing? They’re essentially one-stop digital platforms for everything you need in the game. Rules, virtual dice, maps, spell lists. These programs basically consolidate all the rules and calculations and background stuff so you can focus on playing the game.

  • Roll20 Roll20 is one of the biggest virtual tabletop platforms out there. With more than five million users and millions of hours of gameplay logged, this platform accommodates a variety of game systems. D&D is by far the most popular, and as such, has a ton of supported accessories to make playing a game easier, including a digital version of every major D&D edition and most of the adventure paths.
  • Astral Astral is a sleek, modern virtual tabletop. It’s a newer one on the scene, and where Roll20 goes deep, this one goes broad, offering support for many indie games. If you’re looking for something a little more user friendly, try Astral.
  • Tabletop Simulator If you want to play just about any tabletop game, Tabletop Simulator offers an incredibly diverse set of options. This popular toolset allows you to recreate Dungeons & Dragons, RPGs, and all kinds of other tabletop games. That includes stuff like board games, games that focus on miniatures, and a bunch of other stuff. Definitely a program worth checking out for players or DMs that like to customize their experience.

Discord Servers

Discord servers are fast becoming one of the main social hubs for D&D communities. If you want to hang out online and talk rules, play games, or dive into the D&D social scene, Discord is the place to be.

With voice and text chat options, Discord is one of the best places to find and play games with friends or new people. Of course, you’ll want to look for specific Discord servers! Discord itself is just an online chat feature (think Skype but more useful), but people can create and host dedicated servers where groups can join and meet for all kinds of specific games, events, or interests.

If you’re trying to get into D&D on your own, this is a fantastic place to start — many of these communities are either very welcoming to new players or have dedicated resource collections for people just starting out! Here are a few of the biggest and best Discord servers for D&D out there.

  • D&D Discord This is the official D&D Discord Server. Here you can get caught up on official news, talk rules, and game ideas with thousands of active users at any given time. If you’re looking to join a game, this is a great place to start.
  • Discord & Dragons With over 26,000 members, Discord & Dragons is one of the biggest D&D communities around. It’s a solid place to find a game or meet new people, but it’s also a bit overwhelming for brand new players. While most of the community is pretty welcoming towards new players, this option does have a pretty high volume of experienced players that already know how to play!
  • Crit or Quit This is a new player friendly server with thousands of active users, which means it’s a great place to join if you’re looking for a place to learn D&D. You can find games, ask questions, and meet other people starting games or just setting out on their first D&D adventure.

Online Communities

D&D has been around for a while, of course, so there’s a pretty strong presence just about anywhere you look online. Twitter and TikTok have all kinds of D&D content and communities. Whether you’re looking for meme and art pages, to funny D&D skits, you can probably find it on just about any of the major social media sites or apps.

It’s also a pretty big haven for celebs and big figures in the D&D and gaming community. You can follow official D&D accounts or fan accounts, and it’ll be pretty easy to keep up with the news, social trends, and cool D&D stuff that people are getting up to around the world.

  • Twitter There are a few thriving D&D communities on Twitter. You can connect with creators and streamers like Critical Role or B. Dave Walters, or Tanya DePass. Or find artists like Rachel Denton, who bring the world of D&D to life on the page. Or find designers answering questions and making their own content — just search for #dnd.
  • TikTok There’s a whole D&D community on TikTok, and it’s one of the more innovative places. If you want to see what kinds of creative things people are getting up to, learn cool tricks for worldbuilding, or listen to a surprising number of short D&D related songs, D&D TikTok is the tag for you.

 

where to watch people play dnd guide

 

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Can I watch a few games first?

Livestreams and D&D Podcasts

D&D is a lot of fun to watch and listen to, so fun in fact that there are massive livestreams, YouTube channels, and tons of podcasts dedicated specifically to people playing D&D. Sometimes it’s famous voice actors and celebrities, sometimes it’s just a bunch of brothers and their dad cracking jokes and having a good time. There are massive followings on Twitch and other platforms where people come to hang out and watch or listen to people playing D&D, and one of the reasons it’s so popular is the variety.

Not unlike YouTube personalities that get tons of interest across all kinds of topics, D&D has developed a whole streaming and broadcasting subculture with just as many ways to enjoy it! Some groups are funny and have a laugh based on the absurdity of some things in D&D, while others get really invested in the lore, sounding more like a fantasy adventure playing out right in front of you.

If any of that sounds like your thing, start with some of the biggest D&D channels around! We’ve collected a few of our favorites here.

Watch People Playing D&D

Odds are that if you’ve wandered into the world of Dungeons & Dragons, you might have started off because of a popular podcast or livestream. Over the last five years, the total hours that people have streamed D&D has doubled each year, with viewers tuning in for 20 million hours of D&D in total — and that’s just on Twitch!

Livestreams are an excellent way to tune in and connect with fans of the game. It’s also one of the biggest diversifying influences on D&D over the last few years. Today, nearly 40% of players identify as women, with the game’s appeal growing into broader ranges for age, sexuality, and all kinds of other demographics.

As fans of D&D, it’s exciting to see the landscape and players grow and evolve to include more and more people from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences. A lot of these livestreams and ways to watch D&D reflect that diversity, so there’s something for everyone here.

  • Critical Role It doesn’t get bigger than Critical Role. Starting back in 2015, this game features a cast of talented voice actors who play D&D together. They bring their talents to the table, as well, playing characters with full-on performances and in-depth interactions. The community itself is massive and diverse, even going so far as to support the biggest Film/Television Kickstarter of all time. If you’re on the fence about watching or even playing D&D, give Critical Role a try — it’s worth at least one listen or watch to see what all the excitement is about.
  • Rivals of Waterdeep Rivals of Waterdeep has a more casual feel and airs on the official D&D Twitch channel. With a pretty diverse group of players, the channel offers another way to enjoy D&D — but don’t be fooled by that casual air. These players get into their characters and offer a slow burn drama throughout the game. Come for the fun, stay for the drama.
  • Relics & Rarities Relics & Rarities is an occasional show that’s built around shorter campaigns and guest celebrities! While it’s not live at the moment, when it is on, you can watch Deborah Ann Woll host games centered around mysterious objects, as people like Kevin Smith, Matthew Lillard, and others come together to play exciting, self-contained adventures.

Listen to People Playing D&D

Most of the shows we’ve listed also put out a podcast version, but if you’re interested in queuing something up for a long drive or just like to listen along in the background, there are tons of great dedicated D&D podcasts available.

If you want to listen to people actually play D&D, you’ll want to look for something called ‘actual play podcasts’. You can find stuff like the McElroy brothers (and their dad) of My Brother, My Brother, and Me, telling stories and having a good time through D&D campaigns.

  • The Adventure Zone Part of the McElroy Family entertainment studios. The Adventure Zone started off as a special episode of My Brother, My Brother, and Me, and quickly became one of the biggest D&D Podcasts out there right now. It spiraled from a game of D&D to a media phenomenon with bestselling graphic novels and a thriving fan community.
  • Dimension 20 Another lighthearted D&D Romp, Dimension 20 features “comedians, improvisers, and all assortments of goofs” playing D&D. Each season takes place in a new world with different characters, and many a familiar face (or voice, since this is a podcast).
  • The Broadswords An all-women and non-binary D&D podcast, the Broadswords have been providing thrilling adventure focusing on role play, narrative, and diversity at the gaming table.
  • Not Another D&D Podcast This is, in fact, another D&D podcast. But this time it features folks from College Humor, NADDPOD, and follows a group of unlikely adventurers trying to right the wrongs caused by a party of legendary heroes. DM Brian Murphy is joined by Emily Axford, Jake Hurwitz, and Caldwell Tanner.

Podcasts About D&D

If you’re more interested in what’s going on around D&D, there are tons of podcasts that actually talk about D&D instead of simply letting you listen in on someone playing. Sometimes these podcasts shine a spotlight on the community or talk about the history of D&D and how it’s evolving as a unique social experience and hobby.

  • Dragon Talk This is the Official D&D Podcast, and it covers a lot of ground. Each episode features a different special guest from around the D&D Community. You can find writers and creators like Noelle Stevenson of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power fame, or Jim Zub, who writes the comics and young adventurer’s guides featured elsewhere in this post, as well as recurring segments like Lore You Should Know. It’s a little bit of everything D&D.
  • The Behold Her Podcast This Podcast shines a spotlight on women in gaming, featuring different designers who have helped push the industry forward. If you want to learn about new games, designing, and everything on the other side of gaming, this is the podcast for you.

 

dnd art, comic and cosplay guide

I love art and creative outlets!

Art, Comics, and Costumes

Dungeons & Dragons has an aesthetic all its own. With beautiful art and an engaged community built-in, an artist can find a ready-made audience by dipping their toes into the waters of D&D. You can find examples of people drawing fan art, or creating costumes and characters that fans recognize. There are tons of ways to blend D&D with a creative hobby of your choice.

Art and Artistry

Art is a great way to get inspired by the visuals and connect with talented artists out there who will draw characters on commission. Or if you’re an artist yourself, drawing D&D can be a great way to get your work seen–just look at Critical Role’s Fan Art community as an example of how fast artwork can spread.

  • Art & Arcana: A Visual History of D&D This is the definitive D&D Art Book. It captures D&D’s look and feel over the last forty-odd years, with beautiful pieces by folks like Todd Lockwood and Elmore Leonard; this is a great jumping-off point for anyone looking to get a feel for the visuals of D&D.
  • Critical Role’s Fan Art Gallery One of the biggest reasons Critical Role has reached such enduring popularity is its community. They showcase a ton of talented artists each week, as fans (or Critters as they’re called) show off their interpretations of characters and memorable moments from the show.
  • The Official D&D Subreddit This is your one-stop shop to find all things D&D. It’s primarily a place to collect art of people’s characters, plus a ton of Critical Role Fan Art, but this is a great community hub to start learning more about the game from actual people, as well as to see a ton of inspiring artwork.

D&D Comics

If you look at D&D comics, you’ll find a ton of thrilling adventures, many of which are inspired by the podcasts and livestreamed shows mentioned above. It’s like an ouroboros of fantasy adventure media, but the upshot is, you get great stories whatever your preferred format.

There are also a lot of comic creators that draw and design original ideas inspired by D&D in general! It’s one of the best ways to explore the many faces of D&D with a pretty easy access point thanks to the visual and often entertaining aspect of comics. You’ll also find a pretty big comic community for D&D posting fantasy, D&D, and other assorted aesthetics all over Instagram.

  • Critical Role’s Vox Machina: Origins This is an illustrated telling of the origins of Critical Role’s first big campaign. If you want to get to know the world of Matt Mercer’s Exandria and give yourself a firsthand look at some of these fan-favorite characters, the NYT Best-Selling Vox Machina Origins series is a great place to start reading some of D&D’s best stories.
  • The Adventure Zone Another NYT Best-Selling graphic novel, this time it’s an adaptation of the first season of the popular McElroy-fueled D&D podcast: The Adventure Zone. Come and take a look at the illustrated stylings of yet another D&D podcast, though this one is a wildly different take on D&D. Once you’ve listened to the podcast, dive deeper into the Adventure Zone.
  • IDW’s D&D Comics Of course, there’s always the original D&D comics. These are published by IDW and feature a diverse cast of characters exploring a rich fantasy world and getting up to the same kind of action and adventure that you can have in D&D. These storylines often tie into whatever the latest D&D release is too, for a little extra exploration.

Costumes

If you’re into the crafty side of things, it’s worth checking out the costuming and cosplay scene in D&D. It’s not just the polyester DM outfit you’ll find hanging in the isles of Spirit Halloween — a lot of talented artists pour hours into creating unique, realistic costumes based on famous D&D characters, or even characters from campaigns they’re playing themselves.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out how cool some handmade costumes can be, definitely give some of these artists a look, or explore some of the art resources we included above. You can find people making, wearing, modeling, and bringing to life everything from armor, dresses, capes, fantasy outfits, and more.

  • Ginny Di A cosplayer who found her following after cosplaying as one of the characters on Critical Role, Ginny Di is probably best known for cosplaying the blue-skinned, pie-loving Jester Lavorre in several different scenarios and moods. You can also find her original characters, each with their own fantasy vibe.
  • SIMILARLY, Sarah D Sarah D found a following through interpreting a popular D&D playthrough character; this time, it’s The Adventure Zone. Sarah is known for cosplaying as the character Kravitz, a bounty hunter for a D&D deity of death.
  • Geisha Vi Geisha Vi primarily explores her own characters. Geisha Vi is an avid gamer who has an extensive gaming background and got her to start making costumes for characters that she played. She has a knack for diving deep into dramatic moments featuring dynamic characters.

dnd games guide

D&D Video Games and Board Games

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to get some D&D experience without actually gathering around a table (real or virtual). Over the years, there have been many popular D&D video games that show off D&D’s fantasy worlds while allowing players to try out the rules. Or you can try D&D-like board games, which approximate the experience–condensed into a single short session of play.

Video Games

  • Baldur’s Gate 3 Newly released from Larian studios, Baldur’s Gate 3 captures the modern D&D experience with hours and hours of quests, thrilling fights against fearsome monsters, and thousands of lines of dialogue representing the unique situations players often find themselves in. If you want to play D&D, this is a great option.
  • Planescape Torment If you’re looking for a classic example of D&D, it doesn’t get much better than Planescape Torment. Though it’s based on an earlier edition of the rules, its influence can still be felt in all kinds of video games to this day. Strange locations, a story full of twists and turns, and a magical talking skull. What more do you want?
  • Dragon Age It’s not “D&D,” not exactly. But if you want to get a good approximation of what D&D is like–going on quests, fighting monsters, making friends, influencing people and, more importantly, creating a character you can call your own. The Dragon Age series delivers one of the best experiences for that out there right now.

Board Games

  • D&D Adventure Board Games These can be a great first step into the exciting world of D&D. The Adventure System board games follow the plots of D&D adventures and are often released around the same time. So you can get a sampler platter of what each adventure is like in a single game you can play in an afternoon with your friends.
  • Lords of Waterdeep Lords of Waterdeep (sound familiar?) is another iconic D&D board game, but it’s cut from a vastly different cloth. In this game, you become a powerful lord ruling over a city of intrigue. You’ll recruit agents and adventurers to accomplish things on your behalf so that you can lead the city to glory. This is hours of fun all in a single box.
  • Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate This is a D&D themed version of Betrayal at House on the Hill. In this game, you’ll explore a city with your friends–but beware, one of you is secretly a traitor. This game will introduce you to the city of Baldur’s Gate and give you a playful way to mess with your friends while learning about D&D.

 

Enjoying D&D is all about what you bring to the table — from actually playing the game to soaking up all the great lore, art, and community-driven content that comes out of the D&D universe. If you’re just taking your first steps into D&D, we hope this guide has given you tons of new ways to access the fantasy world that’s brought so much excitement and joy to everyone that plays it today.

One of the most exciting things about Dungeons & Dragons is that it’s quickly become a game for everyone. With new communities popping up and a huge increase in diversity amongst the playerbase, D&D has built a place where anyone from any background can come to the table and delve into some great roleplay and amazing communities.

If you found something that sparked your interest, or want to stay tuned in to all kinds of D&D and tabletop gaming news, Bell of Lost Souls is where we report on the latest game news, community updates, and everything else D&D.

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