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Dungeons and Dragons: What you should know before starting

Dungeons and Dragons Tasha witch artwork

Dungeons and Dragons has enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity over recent years, propelling tabletop RPGs from a niche hobby to an enormous industry.

DnD is one of the most influential IPs across all of pop culture. It hasn’t just inspired loads of adaptations, but the iconic TTRPG has recolored the entire fantasy genre to the point where many of its conventions have become standardized. Though there’s only an occasional Dungeons and Dragons movie or video game, the franchise’s fingerprints can be seen across every storytelling medium.

The game has a long history and a dedicated fanbase, things that might be intimidating to approach for newcomers. Here are some of the key details on the game and how to start getting in on the action.

Dnd 4e

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop RPG published by Wizards of the Coast which was first released in 1974. There have been several iterations of DnD in the decades since which have added new rules and gameplay mechanics. The game has long been established as the most popular tabletop RPG and when the larger board game world experienced a boom in the 2010s, it retained that spot comfortably.

Though there are many competitors and alternatives to Dungeons and Dragons, the game has become largely synonymous with tabletop RPGs. An industry unto itself has grown around it, spawning an enormous network of content creators on Twitch and manufacturers of licensed and unlicensed merchandise. The appetite for DnD content has been high, spawning the top-earning Twitch channel Critical Role, a feature film, and many other works both big and small.

When did DnD come out?

Dungeons and Dragons was originally released in 1974 with its first sourcebook. Since then, several other editions have been published with the game currently running on its fifth edition. 2014’s Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is the most recent version of the game.

Alongside the primary player handbook, publisher Wizards of the Coast releases a great deal of other official materials for the popular TTRPG. A new DnD sourcebook is released on an almost annual basis, with new modules and campaign settings also being added regularly. There is also plenty of other fan-made content available, which gives players access to an overwhelming amount of content.

What is the goal of Dungeons and Dragons?

The ultimate goal of Dungeons and Dragons varies based on the campaign. Different groups of players create their own stories or follow pre-made adventures created by Wizards of the Coast, referred to as modules. The purpose of these campaigns can vary wildly, with some groups opting for lighthearted fun while others move in the direction of preventing an apocalyptic event.

In the popular Curse of Strahd campaign module, players are transported to a pocket dimension controlled by the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich and need to escape. The Wild Beyond the Witchlight has players break up a coven that is destroying the Feywild, the realm of fairies. There are many other campaigns out there that are both official and unofficial, letting parties tackle problems both big and small. 

Is it hard to play DnD?

Dungeons and Dragons has a learning curve, but isn’t too difficult to play. There are a number of stats to keep track of and the glossary of terms can be daunting at first glance, but once players wrap their head around a handful of game mechanics they’ll be able to play without issue.

Players who have kicked the tires on Dungeons and Dragons and still find it to be unwieldy can look for alternatives. There are other a number of DnD competitors that are designed to be easier, with various themes and perks that may make them more appealing for players. Dungeon World, Call of Cthulu, and Fiasco are among the many options out there for players wanting a simpler TTRPG experience.

How do I build a character in Dungeons and Dragons?

Players build a character in Dungeons and Dragons by filling out a character sheet, which can be done in several ways depending on the game.

Character creation in Dungeons and Dragons involves a character sheet that details everything there is to know about a character from a mechanical and narrative perspective. Old-school folks will do these sheets by hand, but thankfully, there’s a plethora of options for newbies to build their character.

The most popular and mainstream character builder is the official DnD Character Creation Tool from the official DNDBeyond website. This creator offers six free character slots and access to a few rulebooks. There are enough tools and information provided for a new player to create a character on their own.

Dnd Chronicles Of Mystara

For those looking for more customizability, MorePurpleMoreBetter is a fan-made character sheet that outstrips the DnD Beyond character sheet. Players can even adjust the character sheet to look more thematically appropriate. It’s also printable as a PDF for those real-life meetups where a screen isn’t viable.

What is the best DnD class for beginners?

The Paladin is the best class to play as a beginner to DnD.

The way Dungeons and Dragons 5e is built means that every class is easily accessible. That being said, paladins are one of the best classes for giving new players an understanding of the basics of combat, magic, and role-playing. The reason for this is that paladins are reliable martial fighters with a small assortment of spells.

Paladins

That means they know a little bit of everything. Their high charisma stat also means it’s easier for newbies to roleplay in social situations. Their spells are also straightforward, and if a player doesn’t want to bother with them, they can just use the slots as Smites for more potent attacks. Paladins can fulfill a number of roles both in and out of combat as well, so newbies have more freedom in how they tackle the game.

How long does a Dungeons and Dragons game last?

A Dungeons and Dragons game can ultimately last anywhere from a few hours to decades, depending on how long players wish to keep going. Groups of players will typically block out a few hours at a time to chip away at their campaign.

There are “one-shots” that are designed to be completed in a few hours but most campaigns last much longer. On the flipside, the longest campaign in Dungeons and Dragons history has been going for over 40 years.

Players can ultimately make a DnD game last as long as they want. If players pick up a one-shot and decide to keep going, they can start up another campaign using the same characters they created for the one-shot. 

How much does it cost to start DnD?

Players can technically get started on Dungeons and Dragons for free, depending on their gaming situation

Ultimately, the only things players need to get started on DnD are a player’s handbook, dice, a pencil, and some paper. A hardcover copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook has a list price of $50 but can be purchased on sale or used for much less. The digital version costs $30 when purchased through the official store.

Dice can be had cheaply as well. A seven-piece dice set can be purchased for under $10. And of course, players can ultimately share books and dice among themselves while playing.

There are plenty of options to make a Dungeons and Dragons session more glamorous. There are loads of DnD accessories including miniatures, dice boxes, dice rollers, playing mats, and more. None of these are needed to get started though, and players can have an enjoyable experience without spending much money.

Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition starter kit with Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master's Guide, and DM screen.

Is Dungeons and Dragons an expensive hobby?

Dungeons and Dragons can be enjoyed without spending much money

A player only needs a set of dice and a player’s handbook in order to play. Dungeon masters can get by with a Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. A party is also well-served by having a play mat for drawing out dungeons and other locales. Players can ultimately share these during a session, making things even cheaper.

Dungeons and Dragons becomes expensive when players start to pick up more glamorous accessories. Miniatures and set pieces can run into the hundreds of dollars, but are also completely unnecessary for enjoying the core experience. Though DnD fans with huge wallets can always find something to buy, the game itself doesn’t carry a large price tag.

What are DnD alignments?

DnD alignments are a scatter plot of characters based on their relationship to an established order and their morality.

DnD characters can be lawful, neutral, or chaotic. This establishes how principled a character is. Lawful characters will adhere to a strict set of rules imposed on them by an order, society, or even themselves. Neutral characters will do whatever is practical at any given time, bending the rules if needed and adhering to them otherwise. Chaotic characters value independence and freedom from structured life and will act on instinct alone.

Alongside this, characters in DnD are also either good, neutral, or evil. Good characters will always act in service of others and are selfless in the face of adversity. Neutral characters are flexible, doing whatever needs to be done according to their personal beliefs. Evil characters are defined by their selfishness, as they will sacrifice everything in pursuit of their nefarious goals.  Whatever combination a player goes for, just remember that these are merely guidelines. Much like in real life, characters can change depending on what happens to them.

Marvel Comics Alignment Chart
An alignment chart of Marvel Comics characters

Each character fits into one of these categories from both of these spectrums. This results in a player character being anything from lawful good to chaotic evil. Creating alignment charts based on various TV shows, films, and video games has become a popular internet pastime.

What is the current DnD edition?

The current edition of Dungeons and Dragons is Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. 5e was released in 2014 and is arguably the most popular version of the game to date, helping the industry-leading TTRPG reach greater levels of mainstream visibility than it ever has before.

Dnd 5e Cover

DnD 5e has also added an expansion on an almost annual basis since 2016, with supplements including Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and Monsters of the Multiverse. 2023’s Book of Many Things will likely be the final major release for the edition, as Wizards of the Coast looks to sunset DnD 5e.

DnD One, the next edition of the franchise, is set to replace 5e. No exact release date has been confirmed, but it is targeted for release in 2024.

baldur's gate 3 key art

What’s the best Dungeons and Dragons video game?

The current best Dungeons and Dragons video game is Baldur’s Gate 3, based on review aggregators. Although the entire franchise is highly regarded, Baldur’s Gate 3 garnered overwhelming praise and was heralded for maintaining the feel of Dungeons and Dragons while still innovating certain elements to account for being a video game.

The ruleset that Baldur’s Gate 3 follows is basically the same as 5e, but there are several changes made to it that make it more accessible and fun. For example, there are no longer minimum stat requirements for multiclassing, giving players a lot more flexibility in how they tackle the game. It also has a sprawling storyline and enormous, something that has seen the game garner review scores that place it among the best games of this generation. That makes Baldur’s Gate 3 the best Dungeons and Dragons video game on the market today.

Are there DnD movies?

There have been several films based on Dungeons and Dragons, with Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves being the most notable

The original DnD movie trilogy that started in 2000 was heavily panned by critics and tabletop fans alike and has mostly been forgotten over time. In contrast, Honor Among Thieves was praised for its accuracy to the source material, star-studded cast, and detailed adaptation of the world of Faerun.

What are the biggest DnD Twitch channels and streamers?

The biggest Dungeons and Dragons channel on Twitch is Critical Role. Initially imagined by creator Matthew Mercer as a birthday present for friend Liam O’Brien, the web series quickly turned into a phenomenon. The program was a pioneer in the Dungeons and Dragons space, showcasing talented voice actors as players. 

The combination of experienced performers and high production values drew millions of eyes to the campaign. They were so successful in fact that they even received an animated show of their own, The Legend of Vox Machina. Critical Role is so large it actually stood as the top-earning Twitch channel based on leaked internal reports from the platform.

Besides Critical Role, there are also other successful DnD shows such as Dimension 20 and High Rollers. Dimension 20 is composed of current and former CollegeHumor personalities and has shorter adventures with a more comedic slant. High Rollers is the most relatable show of the bunch for most players, as the Yogscast members aren’t professional actors. The game is no less passionate, though.

Dnd Cartoon

Are there DnD TV shows or cartoons?

The enduring TTRPG series has a cartoon series adaptation simply entitled “Dungeons & Dragons” which launched in 1983 and was primarily geared toward children. There are a number of other animated series based on the game that have aired, however.

Critical Role’s animated adaptation, The Legend of Vox Machina, scrubbed free all traces of the Dungeons and Dragons IP for copyright reasons. it’s still an accurate representation of how some of the wildest campaigns can go with a mix of both hijinx and world-ending calamity.

An official DND cartoon spinoff set in the same timeframe as Honor Among Thieves is reportedly being produced by Paramount. The show is being headed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, a filmmaker primarily known for comedies such as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Central Intelligence. There is no release date for the new DND animated series as of this writing.

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2. His work has previously been featured by Bleacher Report and The Washington Post, and he was an Assistant Editor at WIN.gg. You can follow him on Twitter / X at @srondina.

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