The D20 Experience: What is D&D Anyway?

Ok so I already changed the name of my D&D column, big deal. I think this one sounds much better. After writing last weeks post and doing some reflecting, I realized I may have made a mistake. On this site, I talk a lot about D&D and some of the various D&D products but I failed to realize that some people may not understand what D&D is. Even worse, through all kinds of stereotypes out there, they may have a completely incorrect idea of what the game actually is.

Today, I set out to rectify that mistake. This post shall be my "Beginner's Guide to D&D," if you will. I aim to explain what the game is, some basics on how it is played, and what you can do if you are interested in playing. I think the best way to do this is FAQ style, which shall begin after the break.

What is D&D?

D&D stands for "Dungeons and Dragons", a pen and paper role playing game (RPG) currently produced by Wizards of the Coast (the same people that produce Magic The Gathering). It was created in the 70s by the late Gary Gygax.

What is a Pen and Paper RPG?

"Pen and paper" is just a term used to distinguish RPGs like D&D from those that you can play on your computer. In a pen and paper game, you and some friends gather around a table and play with sheets (of paper) that detail what all the things your particular character can do

FYI - though the term does include the word "pen", I HIGHLY suggest you use a pencil when you play this game. You will be writing and erasing things very much.

So how many people do I need to play D&D?

Technically, you can play with as little as 2 people. As far as the most people that can play, I've played games with up to 11-12 people. Be warned, at those numbers, games quickly devolve into tangents and side conversations. Ideally, 3-6 players is the best number to work around.

Alright, how do I play D&D?

One person in the group is called a "Dungeon Master" or DM for short. Before you play, he has planned out an adventure for you, either entirely of his own design or bought/downloaded a pre-made adventure from a website or a gaming store. This person acts as the storyteller and the referee; setting the scene for the other players and facilitating how they interact in this made up world. The other players each play a unique hero in this world. Some adventures have pre-made characters as well but in most D&D games you create a custom hero using several fantasy races (like human, elf, dwarf, etc) and a class that describes what type of character you play (such as a warrior, a cleric, a wizard or even a thief).

Performing actions in the game (specifically when you are fighting something) typically require to roll a 20 sided dice to see if you succeed/hit. You roll the dice, add any special bonuses your character has (maybe you are an expert swordsman, so it's easier for you to hit), and the DM tells you if you have succeeded or not.

How do I win? How does the DM win?

In D&D there really is no "winning". You role play your character through different encounters and adventures. The game is more about creating an entertaining story than winning. The DM will create obstacles and monsters to challenge you, but if all the other characters get killed he doesn't "win". It just means its time to move to new characters and a new story - or maybe the dead characters continue their adventure in another way (resurrected by a obscure cult? A new journey through the afterlife?)

What do I need to play D&D?

You need other players, for starters. You'll need a sets of different sided dice, which you can usually buy as a pack for a couple of bucks at a comic or gaming shop. Ideally, each person should have their own, but if you are getting started then a couple of sets you can pass around will work. All of the detailed rules on how to play are listed in a book called the "Players Handbook". If you have experienced players in your group, it is not needed but if you are new I recommend picking it up and reading it. It contains everything you need to know to play the game, create a character, etc.

The person who is the DM needs to be very familiar with the rules of the game, and should probably have the other two "core rulebooks" - the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Monster Manual. These books will have information on how to create adventures and combat encounters. Some people also use miniatures and some sort of map or tiles to lay out the land and help everyone visualize things, but these are not required either.

Where can I find people to play D&D with?

If you don't currently have any friends that play D&D, the best thing to do is to find a local gaming or comic shop and see if they run any games. Typically they will have folks that are ready and willing to teach new players how to play. I've also heard of people that use sites like to organize D&D groups. Lastly, it might be kind of rough but you can always purchase the three core rulebooks I mentioned above and try and start your own crew! There are plenty of resources online to explain out all of the details, and feel free to email me ( if you have any questions that don't get answered.

Are you ready to play yet? Have any questions that I didn't answer? Comment below or email me at the address above and ill fill in any gaps I've left.