I’ve been asked by many people to explain Dungeons & Dragons. I bring this game up a lot because my time in the game is the inspiration for my books. That being said, I’m not even close to an expert. I never owned all of the manuals or studied the ways to create an unstoppable character. I was in it for fun and the storytelling, so that’s the viewpoint you’re going to get here. Also, my whacky humor, so bear with me.
First a brief explanation: Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game of the high fantasy genre. You create a character alongside your friends (or random hobos off the street that you’re paying to play) and go on adventures that require the use of paper, dice, imagination, and sometimes little figurines. Never call them dolls or your more avid (rabid?) players with get angry.
Without further ado, a thorough walkthrough on how to play Dungeons & Dragons:
- Buy dice of various sizes, pencils, paper, soda, chips, and at least the basic manual for whatever edition of D&D you’re going to play.
- Learn to say the die sizes as D-4, D-6, D-10, and D-20. There’s also a D-12, but nobody likes the D-12.
- Gather your friends and decide who gets to be the characters and who gets to run the game. If you have a friend that is dying to be the dungeon master, make him give his story pitch first. Also, have him sign a contract that he won’t start trying to kill your characters within the first 10 minutes.
- If you have a female gamer, give the male gamers a 1-minute ogling time then tell them that she has the right to hit them for doing it again. If need be, arm the female gamer with a blunt object.
- Start making your characters by choosing your fantasy race (elf, human, dwarf, halfling, gnome, half-orc, half-elf), your class (fighter, cleric, magic-user, etc.), and flush out the character with the personal details. Age, hair, eye, gender, and other physical pieces of information are important . . . okay, only gender.
- Name your character. Be creative.
- Roll dice to see what your stats are or use a point system where you divide a set number of points between the 6 stats. These stats are Strength, Dexterity (Agility), Constitution (Stamina), Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
- Use your stats to find out what bonuses and negatives you have to various abilities. This includes you skills and saving throws. A saving throw is what you roll when you’re character is about to get fireballed (reflex roll), hurt bad enough to go into shock (fortitude roll), and resist a mental spell (willpower roll).
- Choose your skills and special abilities that depend on your race, class, role-playing style, and where you want to go with the character.
- Change character name because you thought of something better.
- Begin arguing over who has the prettier dice. Let the woman win and I don’t always mean the female gamer.
- After agreeing on how much money each character starts with, buy gear for your character. Remember that clothes, food, water, and weapons are not immediately given. If you want to horde your money then prepare to be a naked, starving, dehydrated, defenseless character that will be thrown in a dungeon or eaten by a housecat within seconds. Yes, stat-wise a housecat can beat a defenseless human in D&D.
- For magic-users and priests, choose your spells.
- For magic-users, choose a familiar too. This is an animal companion that can give you a magical boost and deliver certain spells. Acceptable familiars are crow, owl, mouse, hamster, cat, and other small animals. Unacceptable familiars are lion, bear, moose, elephant, and anything else big enough to kill the entire group. NO DRAGONS!
- Okay, maybe the first name was better than the second name.
- Everyone tired of character building? Good. Let’s start the adventure.
- Draw straws to get bathroom break order because everyone over-indulged in the soda.
- Now we start the adventure.
- Dungeon master forgets promise and kills group within 15 minutes. Beaten with character sheets, empty soda bottles, and dice. Fun until somebody clocks him with the monster manual, which will probably be the female gamer. She worked hard on that character and endured a lot of ‘chicks in chainmail’ comments to get to where she is.
- Restart game as if nothing happened and have fun.
- Get angry at the magic-user for casting a spell that injures everyone. Review the term ‘area of effect’ and explain that they have to be careful with their doom spells.
- Enter a town to let the depleted priest rest and get his healing spells back. Remind the barbarian that he can’t read, so he should put the tavern menu down.
- Sit idly while the thief runs off to do his own thing. Discuss leaving him in jail when he inevitably gets caught.
- Ask if it’s too late to change your character’s name again. Pout when told your heavily armored warrior from a long line of champions is now named Betsy Cherrypie.
- Go through battles, traps, and adventure.
- Divide up the game loot. Money split evenly after barbarian ‘checks’ thief’s pockets. Magical items go to whoever can use them most. Let female gamer smack the guy who demands everything because he doesn’t understand the concept of sharing.
- Dungeon master hands out experience points based on creatures slain, adventure goals reached, role-playing ability, and other rules that are probably made up as people go along.
- Hug your character sheet as you see your 1st-level character rise to a temporarily impressive 2nd-level character. Put new skill points where you want them to go and stare forlornly at the useful skills that your class is forbidden to touch. Try one more time to beg for Animal Husbandry even though you’re playing a warrior.
- Agree to meet again and promise not to lose your character sheet.
- Lose your character sheet on your trip home. Cry into your pillow.
The key thing with D&D is that you have to use your imagination. The rules, dice, paper, and figurines are simple tools while your imagination is the main ingredient.