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What Is D&D & How to Play?

What is D&D?

To put it simply, D&D is where a bunch of people sit down and tell a story. 

See, D&D (aka Dungeons and Dragons) is a tabletop RPG (Role Playing Game). For those that do not know what a tabletop RPG is, it’s basically an interactive story where one person (the dungeon master) describes a scenario. Then, you (the player) say what you would like to do. After stating what you would like to do, you roll dice to see how well you performed your action. That’s it. This is the base in which every tabletop RPG.

Detailed Explanation To “What Is D&D?”

Of course, it’s more complex than that. Otherwise, you would not be reading articles like mine wondering. That said, as long as you understand the above then you really understand the bare bones of D&D. 

D&D was founded in 1974 when the founder, Gary Gygax, released the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. From there the game became a hit with a current 5 editions of the game released over the years and over 13.7 million players worldwide. So, remember there are over 13.7 million people out there who asked, “What is D&D” before you. Don’t worry about being a novice; we all were (and yes that includes me).

The detailed explanation to D&D is that a group of roughly 4-5 people meet up and tell a story with the Dungeon Master explaining situations to the group and the players interacting with the scenarios. All the while, both players and Dungeon Masters follow the rules defining the limitations to characters and the world. (Think of them as natural laws such as gravity. Characters are bound to rules just as we are bound to gravity. From there dice and character stats determine how well you perform the actions you spoke of trying to accomplish. For example, trying to slay a dragon? Roll for it and see how much damage you do. 

Another way of thinking about it is to think of it as an improv class. Where the Dungeon Master is the teacher and the people playing the game are improv students having to constantly say “yes and…” whenever their teacher (aka Dungeon Master) gives them a prompt.

How To Play? 

Of course, while that might tell you what D&D is, there are quite a few steps to running and playing the game. As such, this section will help in understanding what three concepts are for setting up a game. 

1. The First Thing You Need To Know Is The Rules.

Just like any game, there are rules for playing. D&D is no different and has done it’s best to simplify it over the years. So much so, that the creators of the game, Wizard of the Coast, published the core to the game on their website. Which, you can view here for free. 

If you took a look at the core, then this might seem daunting to a new player. But do not worry there are plenty of guides and videos to help you in learning how to play. I suggest watching the handbooker helper if you have any questions on certain mechanics as they are great for explanations. 

However, for right now there are three general rules you need to know to play the game. 

(1) The Dungeon Master needs to create (or buy) a story that players can interact with. 

(2) Players need to create a character that can interact with the story the Dungeon Master tells.

(3) Everyone is here to have fun. There is no winning in the game. Every action continues the story.

If you keep these general rules in mind, then even if you do not know specific rules you will be playing D&D.

2. Secondly, D&D Cannot Be Played Alone.

To those that are just beginning, D&D can be terrifying. The reason being, it requires a minimum of two people to play, with a preference of 4 to 5 people… That is a lot of people who want to play D&D. In fact, when I began it was just me who wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons. So do not worry, you are not alone. In reality, there are thousands of us who want to play and can be found in many ways. This will be gone over in more detail in the “Where can I play at?” section of this article. That said, let me provide one right now. Go to my about page where my personal number and email will be. I will help you with any questions you might have over D&D or places to play at. 

Now with that said, let’s go over why you can’t play D&D alone. D&D is a story, and just like other stories, it needs the main characters to develop the story. Have you ever heard of a book with no characters? The reason being, any good storyteller (aka dungeon master) needs players to interact with his world. This is why the players are a must for dungeons and dragons. So, if you are interested in playing, find a group looking for someone else to play or ask your friends and family maybe they are interested too but never saw a chance to play.

3. Third, Products Are There To Enhance Not Limit 

When I first began D&D I was quite intimidated in the number of things “needed” to play. Everywhere you look there’s the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master Rulebook, Dice, Game Map, and more recommended to play the game. Let me let you in on a little secret. You do not need to buy anything to play D&D. I’ll probably get in trouble from a lot of people for saying that, but it is true. The only thing you need to play the game is a group of friends and the free set of core rules mentioned above. 

Then why does everyone say to get them? Because they can make the game more fun. With each new book, new ideas are shared to help Dungeon Master’s make the stories more creative and impactful. All the while new classes and races are released in the books to allow players to play with different methods. That’s why people say to get the books. They can help people new and veterans in D&D enhance their gameplay. Almost like a DLC for a video game.

Therefore, if money is an issue or you are concerned about not having the right things to play, do not worry about it. Just read the part of the core rules that pertain to you, and get into a session. Anyone there who is well versed in D&D will gladly help you in understanding something if you ask them. 

Where can I play D&D at?

Now that you understand the three key components on how to play D&D. You are ready to play. But, just because you are ready to play doesn’t mean you can play. If you remember core concept two, “D&D cannot be played alone”. As such, you will need to find a group. Luckily, there are many ways to find a group to play D&D. 

1. The First Way To Find A Group Is With Friends. 

My first ever group was with one friend and a bunch of strangers. I had always wanted to play D&D, but I never knew anyone who would like to play. One day I brought it up to a friend. (Let’s call him Paul since that’s his name.) He had actually been invited to play D&D with a friend he met in class and was unsure if he wanted to play. 

Well, after seeing my enthusiasm to play, he decided to do it only if I could play as well. Of course, the group was excited to have two players join their sessions, and after the first game, we were hooked. Unfortunately, we do not have a video of our reactions afterward. However, here are two famous D&D player’s reactions to the first time they played D&D. Ours sounded similar to that. If you want to hear how we sounded this is a great video on two others. 

But that is how D&D is. It often takes one session for many people to instantly see the fun and make friends. So, the first thing I always ask anyone interested in D&D is to talk to your friends about D&D. Or, see if anyone you know has experience. Sometime’s it just takes one person wanting to initiate to get everyone you know interested. There are more of us than many think and creating a game with existing friends can be tons of fun. So, always begin their first.

2. There Are Official Locations To Play.

After I left high school and went on to college, finding a group was hard. A Saturday evening freshmen year is filled with parties. Thus, finding a group wanting to play proved challenging. I took my own advice to heart and tried asking friends… with little success. Only one person I knew was interested and they would usually choose to party. 

Needless, to say that was a challenging first semester for my D&D fix. I was able to get it every now and then through watching others play such as Critical Role. If you ever need your own fix, I suggest you check them out as they are great. That said, I eventually decided to bite the bullet and play Adventurer League. 

Adventurer League is D&D’s official multiplayer campaign where people can come and go at their choosing. While more nerve-wracking than playing at home. Adventurer League is great for beginners; it mixes people looking to play with others in the same situation. This leads to fun moments and stories told as strangers bond into great friends. One of the best things about Adventurer League is that veterans are there and love when new people join. So even if you do not have anything to play, show up and someone will be glad to let you borrow their stuff and help you out.

Of course, this might sound perfect but there are a few ups and downs that come from this format which is talked about in another one of my articles here. That said, it is a favorite of mine to play, and if you are looking for a group, one of the best ways to find one. You can see if any are near you through their event locator.

3. Online Forums Are A Great Way To Find People.

Now, Adventurer League can be fun for many, but locations are not everywhere. Because of this, many check out online forums for ways to play. The ones I have found to be most successful are Reddit forums such as LFG. There are hundreds of posts of people looking for others to join their group. This way is almost like window shopping. Online forums are great since you can look at what groups interest you then send a message to them. After a little bit of chatting to make sure you guys will get along you get to play. Almost like tinder but for D&D.

Once you find a group online, you will need to find a way to play online. The easiest solution is to use platform Roll20. I have used Roll20 before to continue a game with friends after I first moved and loved it. Not only is the platform easy to use for DM’s. It also has it’s own virtual dice system and chats function to make gameplay run smoothly. The best part about it though is it’s free!

I highly suggest creating an account by clicking the link above and playing around with the system. Learning the basics doesn’t require much time and can be invaluable when you play D&D. For a good guide on how to play online, I highly suggest reading this post from D&D Beyond that really does a great job explaining some rules and ideas for virtual gameplay.

Even if you lived in a cabin in the woods as long as you try these three ways of finding a group, you can always play D&D. And if you do not, call or text me and I will personally do everything in my power to find you a group. Guaranteed.

D&D house rules

What do I need to play?

I’ve already said you need nothing but the free core rule book to play D&D. But, there are some great resources out there to help beginners and veterans alike. As such, I thought it wise to include a list of items I personally use when I play D&D. 

1. Player’s Handbook

If there is any item you should get first, it’s the Player’s Handbook. Not only is it filled with essential content that is great for players. With at least three subclasses for each class instead of the one provided in the core rule book, it also has great tips for Dungeon Masters as well. 

The main benefit of purchasing this book is it allows creative freedom for players and a better understanding of how to tell a convincing story for Dungeon Masters. By having over 45 subclasses and races to play, players can play many different characters before ever tiring of the book. Moreover, the detailed examples and ideas for using elements such as time, environment, and social interactions to enhance the gameplay are unique and cool ideas great for a starting Dungeon Master. With this book understanding the rules, telling the story, and playing the story become remarkably easier.

Right now Amazon sells it for much cheaper than the average location and as such makes a great place for beginners not wanting to invest a lot of money in the game. Of course, even if I lose money, I always suggest going to a game store and buying your books later once you are committed. Many of these stores barely make money and do a lot to support the D&D community. So helping them out does a lot for D&D. You can buy it here on Amazon for $33.74 at the time of writing.

2. Dice

If you are ever talking to a D&D player and need something to talk about; talk about dice. These little things are many D&D player’s obsession. And I am one of them. ( I have over 47 sets of dice and I only play with 3 per session…) 

But, truth is you only need one set of dice and you are good to play. The reason dice are important, is that once a player states an action, players roll dice to determine the outcome.  Because of this, many players use certain dice exclusively for certain characters or special occasions. A good starter set of dice can be found on the Wizard of the Tavern Store where a basic set is on sale now for only 10.95 and comes with a free character sheet for new players to play with.

Besides the Player’s Handbook, dice are instrumental in making sure a game runs smoothly and fun. As such, do not just own dice, but understand when they are needed. If you are unaware of the importance of dice in D&D then I highly suggest reading this article by dndtomb.

3. Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

The final item I recommend is probably the greatest product to get for new Dungeon Masters; The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. This cost $12.49 and is worth its weight in gold. In fact, one of the first campaigns I ran used this product. The book comes with dice, pre-built characters, as well as a short campaign for the DM. In other words, everything I talked about needing to play. 

The campaign’s structure is easy to understand being open enough for players to explore, but narrow enough to tell a story. As such, it helps new Dungeon Masters learn to adapt to their player’s decisions and tell a coherent story. But don’t just take my word on it, Here is a full review of the product and benefits according to GameRant. 

That said, this product is not for everyone. Notice, I said, “for Dungeon Masters”. Truth is, players receive nothing from the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set that is not in the core rule book. As such if you plan on playing, just use the core rulebook and use Instructables Guide to Creating a D&D Character if you have questions on the process. Therefore, the biggest thing I can recommend to those who will be playing is dice and an understanding of your character. As every DM’s dream is to have a player eager to play, but also knows the rules to their character. So, read more articles like mine and Geek & Sundry’s and in no time you will be an expert in D&D.


Now comes the point in my article where I cry a little. You are ready to face the world of D&D. After reading this article you should understand the idea behind “What is D&D?” as well as the general rules on “How to Play D&D”. You know that to play you need to design a character to interact with the Dungeon Master. Or create a story for the players to interact with you. There is also the understanding that there are both online and in-person locations to play D&D. And, some great items that can enhance your gameplay. So, with that said, you are ready to play, Congratulations! Just keep me in mind as you play and keep checking my website for more great content like this!

  • P.S. Feel free to email me your D&D stories I love hearing about what it was like or any concerns you may have after your experiences; really makes my day.
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