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May 15, 2020 | Meredith Mullins

What To Play: Dungeons & Dragons Do’s & Don’ts

Published in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons is considered the original tabletop roleplaying game. While its popularity has varied since its publication, the game has recently experienced a resurgence of interest with shows such as Critical Role and The Adventure Zone bringing tabletop games into the spotlight. This means that there are a lot of people new to the game who are unsure of how to start or who are just curious about what the fuss is about. Regardless of where you might fall on this spectrum, this guide will walk you through the basics you need to know if you want to play. 

What are Tabletop Roleplaying Games? 

Tabletop roleplaying games are cooperative games that are usually played in groups of 3-7+ people who design and roleplay characters and go on adventures together. Players roll dice to determine if they succeed or fail at the actions they take, so there is some math involved. The game is overseen by a Dungeon Master (DM) who designs the adventure and acts as the narrator for the story. These campaigns can be one session or span a long period of time, depending on the group.  

Systems (Or the Game itself) 

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition: Considered the most long-running and classic tabletop system, Dungeons & Dragons or D&D is certainly the most well-known system. It comes with the iconic races (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.), classes (warrior, rogue, wizard), and fantasy elements that people associate with tabletop games. There is a wide variety of material available for this system and it is one of the more beginner-friendly systems.  

Pathfinder: Beginning as a modified version of D&D 3rd Edition, Pathfinder has come into its own and developed its own lore and rules. It is also a fantasy game, but tends to be less restrictive in its rules than D&D. An interesting alternative if you don’t necessarily like D&D, but still want fantasy.  

Other Systems 

Not interested in D&D and fantasy? Here are some other options: 

Cipher: A lesser-known but interesting option, Cipher is a highly-customizable system with limited rules that allows for players to participate in a wide variety of genres, which includes romance, western, historical, post-apocalyptic, and so on. When the system say it offers just about any genre you can think of, it means it. Perhaps not the best system for beginners, but a nice alternative to the typical fantasy. 

Star Wars: Ever wanted to be in George Lucas’ famous space-epic series that features Jedi against Sith, the Republic against the Empire, and the Force? That is absolutely an option.  

Call of Cthulhu: Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s horror mythos, this is a dark system that pits you against eldritch abominations and the horrors of the unknown. Keep in mind, this is not a system for the faint-of-heart: campaigns tend to end with everyone dead or driven mad by what they’ve seen. It has Cthulhu though, so that’s a plus.  

Shadowrun: A science fiction fantasy with cybernetics, magic, and fantasy creatures all in one, Shadowrun is definitely unique with its blend of many genres from cyberpunk to horror. Much like Call of Cthulhu, this system is difficult to learn and to play: players will die more often than not, but Shadowrun offers one of the more unique premises and is worth a look if you want something a little different. 

Tools & Resources  

Rulebooks: Whatever the system you choose to play in, you will need the rulebooks for that system. This usually consists of a Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Guide, a Monster Manual that details the enemies in the game, and maybe a module book if you are using a pre-built adventure. These are available in print or digitally as PDFs.  

Dice: You need dice to determine how your game will play out. The most basic set of dice includes 7 dice: d4, d6, d8, 2 d10s (00-90 and 0-9), d12, and a d20. If you don’t want to buy a set, there are many dice rolling apps available online and on both iPhone and Android.  

Character Sheet: This details who your character is, what they can do, and what they have. How this sheet looks will vary from system to system, but the basics are usually the same.  

Table Manners 

It is important to set some rules of conduct for how your group is going to behave before you start to play. Games can get emotional and you have to be careful to make sure that everyone stays respectful of the people they are playing with. Players should enter and leave the game as friends. Remember that this is supposed to be fun!  

How to Play While Social Distancing  

Playing tabletop games while social distancing is tricky, but not impossible. There are several options available, depending on the tools that you have. 

If you have a microphone and/or a webcam, you will be able to talk to and see your group by using Discord, software that allows chatting using text, audio, or video. Discord essentially provides multiple ways to communicate with your group, depending on your preference, and it’s free! Discord is available online and as an app. 

Along with Discord, it is suggested that you use Roll20, which is browser-based. Roll20 allows you to roll dice easily, as well as share maps with your group. Roll20 does require a steady internet connection, so bear that in mind. Both of these resources have a learning curve, but there are many tutorials available.  

If you want more options, these videos go more in-depth: 
How to Play D&D While Social Distancing! 
How to Play D&D Online for Free 

Want to learn more? Here are some more resources: 

Learn the Basics of D&D in 7 Minutes! 
RPG Etiquette! Game Master Tips 
New Player’s Guide: How to Play D&D Online 
How To Setup And Use Discord – Basic Overview Of Features and Tools 
Playing D&D Over Discord (Text) or (Video
Roll20 GM Overview: Learn the Basics!