*Big list of links and resources below*
Starting D&D without friends to guide you is a daunting task. You may have listened to podcasts, watched TV shows like "Big Bang Theory", but digging into this Role-Playing Game is still completely alien to you.
This post is a primer to start playing D&D 5th Edition (D&D 5E). It covers my personal setup and experience to get to my campaign. This includes things like:
- Books you’ll need
- Materials for the table
- Things that are good to have around
- Things to keep in mind
I am a self-taught Dungeon Master (DM) for about 7 years now and we’ve played through 3 editions of D&D. It’s not the greatest track record, but I promise you’ll definitely learn something if you're first starting out.
WIZARDS OF THE COAST
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is a publishing company that is deeply rooted in board and card games. They are your go-to for anything D&D, and while it may be a pricey endeavor if you don't know what you're doing, that's why I'm here. There are currently (as of August 2016) 8 published D&D 5E books, with more on the way.
*EDIT* As of 2019 there are now about 20+ books, adding to a total of slightly under $1,000.
There are 3 books people commonly refer to as "The Core Rulebooks"
- Dungeon Master’s Guide (Core Rulebook)
- Player’s Handbook (Core Rulebook)
- Monster Manual (Core Rulebook)
DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE
The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) is God's handbook for world building. If you can think it, you can find it here and create it. The information in this one book encompasses what anthropologists, historians, and sociologists study their entire lives (but with fantasy and magic). Want to know how much 50ft of rope, a candlebra, and a full set of magic resistant chainmail costs? It's in there. Without this, your players have no sandbox to play in.
D&D is made of one-half adventure, and one-half combat. While the DMG covers your adventuring needs, the Monster Manual (MM) settles all creatures large and small for combat.
The Monster Manual populates your world with thousands of creatures. Trolls, gnomes, goblins, werewolves, vampires, banshees; all that fun stuff. They stat each creature, giving them health, unique attacks and abilities, and spoils of war once your party inevitably defeats the thing you throw at them. It is a complete and comprehensive tome of creature lore. When your players want to (and they will) interact with the creatures around them, you have a guide in which you can run the game by. If a charm spell is made, what sort of saving throw benchmark would you give your own created creatures? If they tamed the creature, what sort of attacks would it have, and what sort of endurance or resistance does it have?
And even if you don’t use the stats (which you would), you’ll definitely enjoy delving into the immense creature lore, answering questions you’ll never think you need to know the answers to. For example, how to Mindflayers interact with each other? How many sub-variations of Beholders are there? What sort of society do the Drow live in? The answers are, telepathically through psionic energy, 28, and primarily matriarchal, with priestesses of their evil spider goddess Lloth in the highest seats of power.
Finally the Player’s Handbook (PHB). Your players need to live in the world you build. They need to be able to act, and interact with the myriad of biomes and interactive non-player characters. While it may be essentially useless for the DM to have a Player's Handbook, questions will arise mid-session which usually calls for this book to be taken out (100% of the time, trust me). It is usually the player’s responsibility to each own a copy of the player’s handbook for reference, but I have my own for my party if they need it.
To break it down, the Core Rulebooks are what you need to run your game:
- World mythology and anthropology (DMG and PHB)
- Populate cities, towns, and capitals (DMG)
- Create items, tools, and magical artifacts (DMG and PHB)
- Build fully customizable player characters (PHB)
- Design non-player characters (NPCs), monsters, campaign villains (DMG and MM)
- Carve out dungeons and monstrous encounters (DMG and MM)
- Aid you in interacting with your world (DMG and PHB)
WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED
What you actually need is the D&D 5E Starter Set. There is no shame in buying something for starters, because it was created for a reason. And why would you want this?
BECAUSE IT HAS EVERYTHING.
The D&D 5th Edition Starter Set comes with things even buying the core rulebooks won't have:
- Pre generated characters
- A fully built and detailed storyline
- A condensed version of all THREE core books
- A set of 7D Roleplaying Dice
The biggest advantage to the Starter Set is that is doesn't overwhelm new players.
The plot hook for the Lost Mine of Phandelver is story-driven with interesting plot hooks and villains. The characters are decently stated without needing any new player to crunch numbers. Most importantly, a condense and concise rulebook allows everyone to get into the core of playing the game without the hassle of rules.
Not to mention, I haven't even started talking about dice! And the starter set has one. I mean, you'll have to share with your players, but it's D&D compressed into its fundamentals, available to the masses in a tiny, easy to absorb box.
If you do not have an experienced Dungeon Master, I cannot sell getting the starter set enough. It's even cheaper than the DMG alone!
SUPPLEMENTS AND ADVENTURE MODULES
*Edited in 2019*
Beyond the Core Rulebooks, Wizards of the Coast also offer adventure modules and supplements. For those interested in homebrew campaigns, skip ahead. Your Dungeon Master's Guide is all that you need.
Adventure Modules are hand-crafted adventures by the wonderful people of Wot, at a price. If you've played the Lost Mine of Phandelver, they are basically that in long-form. They detail clear outcomes and scenarios with beautiful crafted, and immensely in-depth story arcs.
Adventure Modules have a recommended level start to finish, so adjust your players accordingly. Most start at level 1, and carry on through to 5-10 by the end of the adventure.
Even if you want to homebrew, consider picking these up just for a good read. They will definitely supplement your Dungeon Mastering and World-building. The current list of Adventure Modules (as of 2019):
- Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Levels 1 through 8) Part 1 of 2
- Rise of Tiamat (Levels 8 through 15) Part 2 of 2
- Princes of the Apocalypse (Levels 1 through 15)
- Out of the Abyss (Levels 1 through 15)
- Curse of Strahd (Levels 1 through 10)
- Storm King's Thunder (Levels 1 through 11)
- Tales from the Yawning Portal (Levels 1 through 11+)
- Tomb of Annihilation (Levels 1 through 9+)
- Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (Levels 1 through 5) Part 1 of 2
- Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (Levels 5 through 20) Part 2 of 2
- Ghosts of Saltmarsh (Levels 1 through 12)
Supplements are just that, addition to your Dungeon Master's Guide. Each book adds invaluable information to build lore in your world. The more immersive your world is, the better your game becomes.
These are the available supplements as of 2019:
- Elemental Evil Player's Companion
- Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide
- Xanathar's Guide to Everything
- Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
These are not strictly necessary if you have the Dungeon Master's Guide. But you'll definitely have a lot more options, including new monster, playable races, and classes. Your party will thank you for having these around.
MATERIALS FOR THE TABLE
The only thing you'll need for playing D&D is dice. Without them, all you're doing is playing pretend with your friends. With rules and stats to govern gameplay, we have an objective interpretation of the things happening within the world.
For most games, you’re gonna need some of these:
- Pen and notebook for your campaign notes.
- Pencils and paper for your party
- Dice (A set of 7D per person)
- Dry Erase Mat for maps (Optional)
- Figurines and miniatures (Optional)
- Monster Counters (Optional)
Most of the population are only familiar with the cubic six-sided die (D6). In D&D, because of stats, charts, and tables, we require a variety of probability generators beyond a D6 (16.67%) per side.
- D4 (25%),
- D6 (16.67%),
- D8 (12.5%),
- D10 or D100 (10%),
- D12 (8.3%),
- and the infamous D20 (4%).
These represent the spectrum of outcomes we could have in reality while keeping the results to a small, manageable, distinguishable number.
These variations also allow us better flexibility with statistics. For example, standard weapons deal 1D6 damage (1-6 dmg), while weaker weapons deal 1D4 (1-4 dmg), and stronger weapons deal 1D12 (1-12 dmg).
Certain permutations even allow players to increase the minimum result. For example, a 5D4 would appear to roll similarly to a D20 roll, but the range for a 5D4 roll is 5-20, while a D20 is 1-20.
Primarily just for flourish, playing with miniatures is what mainstream media picked up from roleplaying games. With the advent of paper, counters, pop-ups, or basically any trinket that you can find around the house, miniatures are not necessary for a D&D game.
They’re pretty, and you can paint them, but they don’t do anything other than add board immersion to the experience. In my opinion, if you don’t have spare money, forget about miniatures.
Of course, if you have spare cash lying around, BUY THEM ALL. Then paint them. It’s easy. Or get me to paint them for you. I'll take good care of your miniatures.
TOKENS AND AIDS
Print them out, do them yourself. If you’re lazy, D&D 4E sells the Monster Vault, which includes hundreds of monster cut outs. Instead of getting multiple monster miniatures for each of your encounters, this is a much cheaper way of representing monsters in your game. It doesn’t hurt that the Monster Vault comes with a monster manual that will help you craft encounters better, too.
Along with this, tracking money can be a hassle, and it really adds to the immersion when you use real metal coins to track player currency. I got mine from Campaign Coins.
MAP AND MARKERS
Dungeon maps can be found online, created in websites and printed out (links in the resources below). But if you’re an artist, but why not draw your own maps? Completely from scratch, craft out great expansive dungeons with your own hand for your players, and save trees while you’re at it. If you’re going this route, get more colors.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
THEATER OF THE MIND
There’s a reason why I put miniatures, counters, dry erase mats, and markers as optional. With 5E’s inclusion of Theater of the Mind, you don’t need to physically play encounter battles anymore. DMs can just draw out the rough positions of the characters, and instead of counting steps, range, area of effect and other things that may bog down combat, he can instead focus on the action and story-telling aspect of the game.
Games run a lot more smoothly with the theater of the mind. Combat may be tough, and number crunching may feel tiresome and dreary for some players. There are merits to both, and it’s up to the DM to figure out which works best with his party.
This involves spellbooks, character sheets, character cut outs, and monster tokens. If you don’t want to draw, or meticulously write out every spell available to every player, there are sites online that help with the process.
This is just generic people to people advice.
As a budding DM, you want to find a good game that’ll keep your friends coming and making sure they’ll have fun when they’re with you. However, you need to evaluate how committed your friends are to such a project. Make sure they’re all excited and on board before you invest hundreds of dollars into materials for a D&D game that you might only run once.
Maybe you actually just want to hang out more often and was trying to find a way to hook your friends into spending more time together. Planning a large D&D campaign may tire you out, and you’re not actually cut out for it. Instead, try designer board games. Something less intense but in a similar vein would be dungeon delve type board games like Wrath of Ashadalon or Descent, Journeys in the Dark.
Dungeons and Dragons is an amazing game, you just have to figure out if it’s the right fit for you, and if it’s a right fit for your friends. If it’s really not, no harm done. Good on you for wanting to socialize more, and good on you for being smart enough to find something complex and freeform enough to fit into a wide variety of player types and personalities.
If you’ve decided that it’s not for you, here are some board games that I love playing with my friends.
RESOURCES AND LINKS
TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES
- Chessex (Great brand of cheap 7D die)
- Campaign Coins (Weighted metal fantasy coins)
- D20 Collective (Dice and collectibles)
- Wyrmwood (Amazing gaming supplies)
FOR THE WEALTHY
- Artisan Dice (Luxury dice for the wealthy)
- Dogmight (Luxury cases and dice towers)
- Elderwood Academy (Luxury kits)
- 6D6 Studios (Luxury gaming tables)
- Reaper Miniatures (Kickstater that became an Industry staple)
- Miniature Market (good selection, works with board games)
- Coolstuffinc (my personal favorite board game site)
- Hero Forge (amazing CUSTOM miniatures)
Donjon 5E GENERATOR
- RPG Tinker (5E NPC Generator)
- Hardcodex (Full PC Spellbook)
- Dungeon Master's Guild (Literally everything else)
CARTOGRAPHY AND MAPS
- Inkarnate (My personal favorite)
- WoTC Map Archives (Invaluable resource)