As Dungeons and Dragons has been growing in popularity over the last few years, there are a load of new players like you. Here are the top six tips I have for players just starting to play the world’s best tabletop RPG:
1. The D20
The D20, or twenty-sided die, is the one die you need more than any of the others. If you are asked to “roll” for anything, assume that it is this die you need.
Most of the time, the other dice are used for damage or boosts and are usually indicated in your weapon damage or spell info.
2. Have Fun WITH Each Other
Dungeons and Dragons is a game intended to be played as a group of adventurers. The point is to have fun. Don’t hog the attention from the other players, don’t be a rules nazi, and don’t do stuff just to irritate other players. If you think a call by the DM was wrong, by all means, tell them, but don’t be a jerk and, if the DM still chooses to go with their initial decision or come to a new one, don’t berate them. If you want to be a DM, go be a DM.
Generally, try to make sure that the table is conflict free, that all the conflict is only in the plot of the game. The caveat to this is that the player who plays the character your character wants to irritate should be in on the joke; if they’re not okay with it, avoid causing needless annoyance. If your character’s flaw is that they are a kleptomaniac, have them steal from people and places not associated with players around the table.
3. Don’t Be Distracted/Distracting
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a player is on their phone or tablet. And I’m not talking about “Oh, my mom called and it’s important.” (At which you should still excuse yourself from the table.) I’m talking about the people who are on Twitter or Instagram or whatever and seemingly looking for distractions or non-stop texting their friend(s)/girlfriend or boyfriend.
The Dungeon Master put in a lot of work (at least I do), so it’s really upsetting when you’re barely paying attention. Your fellow players need you to be involved and likely are also putting in effort into making their character interesting and valuable. All of that is mostly ignored by you if you’re busy taking selfies with that oh-so-perfect filter. It’s even worse when you find that “dank meme” that you just have to share — at which point you’re now taking multiple people out of the group. If you’re bored and your character is present in the scene, have your character do something. Listen. React.
If you’re not present, be patient and enjoy the story, but there is at least some room for why you might be taking a brain-break. Just make sure that you’re not so far gone that you can’t jump back in.
4. Bring Your Materials
Ideally, every player will have their character sheet(s), a set of dice, a player’s handbook (not as needed for every player, but it’s great if multiple people have a copy to look up information), a pen/pencil, and a notebook log of some kind.
If you’re absolutely new, definitely make sure you have a pen/pencil, your character sheet (I usually print off some for my players if they can’t) and make sure dice are available if you don’t have your own. These are the three absolute must haves to play.
If you’re playing in a campaign (and decide that you want to keep playing), it’s good to keep a log of what happens during sessions — especially when names of important people or places are mentioned. (This doesn’t have to be a physical notebook, but that’s what I prefer as a player).
If you find that you enjoy D&D and want to keep playing, I highly recommend buying a Player’s Handbook.
What might you need besides? If you’ve already got these basics covered, there are other materials which have come out geared for players as much as for DMs. Xanithar’s Guide is immensely helpful and, from what I can tell before it drops, Tasha’s Cauldron will be as well. Also, if your group is playing with miniatures (small figures which represent the characters during combat and besides), you may be interested in purchasing one for yourself or creating one from a service like Hero Forge.
5. You Really Can Do Anything (Within Reason)
From what I can tell, the instinct of most first time players is “I don’t know what I can do, so I won’t do anything.” It’s not bad for your character to hang back and watch while you’re learning the ropes as a player, but don’t be afraid to ask the DM what you can do so that you can contribute to the game. Most times, you have to figure out what rolls to make, and you might have some limitations based on your class (a level 1 fighter isn’t going to be able to throw a fireball in most situations), but, really, you can do whatever you might think to do.
6. Never Split the Party
This is some more veteran knowledge, but generally, if you split the party in a dungeon situation, it’s almost inevitable that each group will find itself in trouble which would be easy to deal with as the full group and hard to deal with when the group is halved. While it might sound like a good idea initially, since you can cover more ground, it can end in disaster.
6. Play to the Strengths of the Team
Even more veteran knowledge would be to know how the team works, the goal of the team, and then try to make sure that each needed part of the team is covered.
First and foremost, this means that you have to know how your own character works, which means that you likely need that Player’s Handbook. A major part of understanding how your character fits into a group is understanding how your character is designed to fit into a group.
Are you meant to be on the frontlines as a barbarian, cleric, fighter, ranger, or paladin? Build your character accordingly and make sure your character is ready to act when combat comes up.
While old school knowledge would say to have A dedicated healer, I’d recommend that anyone who can cast spells would have at least one healing spell to get people up on their feet again.
Something which has evolved in the latest books (since Eberron, my favorite setting), is Group Patrons — the overarching reason the adventuring party exists. The specialist groups, not just the adventuring groups, give fascinating reasons for your party to be together and can provide some direction as to which parts need to be taken. Even if you’re not picking up Eberron, the Group Patron idea is coming out to D&D proper in Tasha’s this month.
Go forth! Slay monsters, make friends, and become the heroes we need around the table!