Dungeons & Dragons: Tips for Beginners and Their DM

Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

Happy Halloween! You’ve put on your costume, and finally come to the realisation that what you’re doing is in effect LARPing and cosplaying for treats. In fact, you might even have given in to the nouvelle vague hype surrounding tabletop roleplaying games – perhaps even Dungeons and Dragons specifically!

Alas, you find yourself overwhelmed by the rules, classes, and races. Where to begin? Here are some tried and tested tips and tricks for new players who are being guided by an intermediate level Dungeon Master!

Be clear about your expectations

MasterSarcasm | https://imgur.com/gallery/PMj3uKK

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a year-long medieval role-play-heavy campaign when you thought you were going to space. Before joining a group, define what exactly it is you’re interested in when it comes to tabletop roleplaying games. Would your ideal gameplay include a lot of combat? Are you expecting everyone to dress up as their character? Do you want music and scenery to add to the immersion, or is detailed narration enough? Talk to your Dungeon Master about your wishes, and conversely, recognise that they might not be able to meet all of your expectations. Of course, this goes both ways; find out how much is expected of you as a player, and ask yourself how much time and effort you are willing to invest in D&D.

Expectations also extend to your level of comfort. Ask your DM whether they plan on providing players with a consent form. It’s a shame to join a group only to realise later on that the story includes scenarios that are traumatic or uncomfortable for you to be put in. This may happen regardless of a consent form, but the DM should try their best to plan ahead. If you are aware of any specific triggers and feel comfortable talking about them to your DM, do so early on, before you start playing.

Agree on edition and core rulebooks

Although most people these days play 5th edition D&D, new players should confirm with their DM what edition they’ll be playing, as it will constitute a good prompt for Game Masters to tell their participants what information will be applicable to gameplay. A lot of blogs or guides online contain content from 3.5e or 4e that is no longer applicable to 5e games, and beginners might have trouble distinguishing which information is valid to them.

Though the game might rely heavily on the Player’s Handbook (PHB), there are other rulebooks that players might already have investigated, keen to incorporate them into their experience of D&D. Have you just discovered Unearthed Arcana? Check with your DM if they’ll allow for it to be included in their world!

Find out what templates you’ll use

With D&D Beyond’s detailed, and by now standardised, character creation template, it’s easy to be assumptive when it comes to what ‘forms’ your DM will require you to fill out; however, there are often easier, simplified versions of character sheets that can be better suited to beginners.

Snippet of homemade template | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

D&D Beyond’s character sheet fills in a lot of information automatically, which is a lifesaver for experienced players who want to save time and already know what perks come with what class and race. Beginners might be more likely to oversee this information, and could benefit from writing it down themselves, or discussing it with their DM to write it down together.

Start off easy or be prepared to conduct research

You certainly shouldn’t feel forced to play a human fighter with no feats, but if you plan on picking a tricky combination, say, a half-changeling wild magic sorcerer multi-classing as a wizard, you’ll have to conduct some research. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of D&D is its immense corpus of choices upon options upon possibilities. If you’re shocked by the amount of playable races on the web that don’t feature in the Player’s Handbook, then you’ll be flabbergasted at the sight of the long online lists of backgrounds at your disposal.

List of available Backgrounds in D&D 5e | dandwiki.com/5e_Backgrounds

Having so many options can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask your DM for recommendations; they should be prepared to dissect your character, and be able to come up with a selection of possible classes, races, and backgrounds for you to peruse in your own time.

Consider playing a one-shot

There’s truly no better way to familiarise yourself with the game mechanics of D&D than playing the game itself. It’s very difficult to sit down with a beginner to explain all the variable rules, let alone be able to cover everything in one call.

If your DM doesn’t have time to prepare a preliminary one-shot on top of the one-shot or campaign they already have set up for your party, ask them about the option of hosting a session zero, or a quick run through of an improvised game. Essentially, you’ll be able to test run ability checks and in-combat turns – no strings attached.

Write your backstory in First Person

When a new player of mine recently got back to me with their backstory in first person, I was taken aback and impressed to discover just how much I was able to hear the character’s voice. Often, and certainly in my case, I see a lot of third person narratives, which admittedly can feel very detached. Writing in first person really brings the character to life, and even more so if you choose to incorporate dialect-specific words. For role-play enthusiasts, this further helps players prepare for what they intend to sound and act like when in character.

Know your character to the best of your ability

As a DM, there’s nothing more respectful and helpful than when a player has tried their utmost best to know everything they can about their character. When you have done research on your class, race, and background, and you are adamant about understanding your weapon attacks, spells, and abilities, the game runs smoother for everyone.

If you intend on playing a light-hearted improvised game just for the laugh of it, then showing up unprepared can of course add to the humour of the night. But be sure you’ve understood the tone of the gameplay correctly, as a lack of research and preparedness can be a big sign of disrespect or disinterest to Dungeon Masters that have spent weeks, months, or even years combing through your character to make sure they have a fulfilling time in a fully-fledged fantasy world.

What can you do as a Dungeon Master for new players?

Consent Form

I cannot recommend consent forms enough. The original form was created for the TTRPG Safety Toolkit and is adapted from the RPG Consent Checklist that appears in the Consent in Gaming supplement by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain, published by Monte Cook Games. The adapted version that I based my adapted version on can be found here.

Consent forms can seem off-putting at first, as there’s a lot of wild stuff on there, but it’s important that you and your players are comfortable at all times (except of course in moments where you have expressly agreed to feeling uncomfortable). Be sure to explain the spotlight method to your players, and convey that ‘enthusiastic consent’ does not denote support of the gruesome things mentioned in the form, but rather denotes an undeniable certainty that the player agrees for these topics to come up in-game. For players that aren’t sure, advise them to always tick yellow.

Dungeon Masters should remember that consent can fluctuate; what might have been all right for a player last week might no longer be. It is your job as a DM to check in with your players, and they should be provided with a safe space in which they can tell you that something feels off.

Questionnaire

Questionnaires are all about exploring and managing the expectations of your players, and finding out how much they already know about D&D or RPG. They are also useful when it comes to worldbuilding and plot expectations. Though most beginners might tend towards being interested in a medieval world that is mostly optimistic in tone, your players might surprise you with their answers.

Snippet of RPG Questionnaire | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

Questionnaires can help you find out what some participants find essential to have a good D&D game.

Snippet of RPG Questionnaire | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

And they are extremely useful as an extension to the consent form, for example on the topic of perma-death, of which the emotional side effects are often misunderstood, downplayed, or outrightly mocked.

Snippet of RPG Questionnaire | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

All in all, questionnaires are always a good idea, and pre-existing templates can be found online for DMs who are stretched for time!

Help Sheets

With so many rules, coupled simultaneously with a huge lack of specific guidelines, it can be useful to have something to refer to that is more condensed than the Player’s Handbook. I had a hard time finding help sheets online that were all-inclusive; 1) colour-coded 2) succinct 3) extensive (includes actions, movement, conditions, environmental effects).

Snippet of Actions in Combat Help Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch
Snippet of Movement Help Sheet| Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch
Snippet of Conditions Help Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch
Snippet of Environmental Effects Help Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

If you plan on being a part-time, long-term Dungeon Master, consider creating your own help sheets, or adapting yours from a pre-existing template. Players will be able to refer to them in-game when you are caught in narration or Non-Player Character (NPC) role-play, and they might just spare you a lot of questions.

Colour-coding and/or semiology

D&D Beyond’s pre-made character templates aren’t very eye-grabbing, which is important when learning rules quickly; when you’re playing D&D, your eyes have to gravitate towards specific information, which is even more important when engaged in combat. This is particularly useful when playing remotely. Don’t know what AC and HP are, or where on your sheet they are located? With colour-coding, your DM will be able to refer to them easily, and you’ll be able to spot them immediately.

Snippet of Adapted Character Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

Of course, it’s the DMs job to make sure everybody is included to an equal degree. Remember to check with your group that all players are able to see colours the same way; if you have a colourblind player, consider semiology instead, and rely on symbols that stand out and can easily be used as visual references. If you have visually impaired players, you will be partly responsible for coming up with a solution that facilitates learning D&D comfortably and quickly.

In-depth Character Creation Discussion

Last but not least, if you’re a high-commitment group, then you owe it to your players to put aside an hour to discuss their character with them. They might have specific backstory questions that will surface in a one-to-one discussion, or be curious about customising something with you. It’s a fun experience that is rewarding to both parties, and will help Dungeon Masters engage in coherent and rich world-building, where characters are tied into the world itself, and where their actions and choices have an impact.

So, what are you waiting for? Halloween is the perfect time to embark on a spooktacular adventure!

TTRPG: 10 Alternatives to Combat in D&D and RPG

Quarrels, combat, battles, and even wars, are often a necessary part of tabletop roleplaying games, and most players wouldn’t have it any other way! But there might be times when there is too much at stake to risk a fight, or you realise mid-combat that your opponents are completely out of your league. If you’re up two against one level 300 aboleth, you should probably bounce. But, if you find yourself in a more manageable situation, then here are some tips and tricks on what to do before engaging.

1. If possible, talk it out reasonably

It might seem obvious, but players tend to forget all about the option to persuade or dissuade when they feel threatened. Ignore the heat and panic, and take a moment to reflect on whether the opponent might be someone an adventurer could bargain with. If the enemy understands you and has yet to attack, some DMs often leave room for a skill check to even out the odds. Particularly designed for Charisma-based classes, such as the Bard, Sorcerer, and Warlock, this alternative befits the Cleric and Paladin too. At level 5, a Bard with 20 Charisma, and expertise in Persuasion, has +11 to their roll; a high chance of weaselling themselves out of a situation. Add in some extra convincing role-play, and you might be rolling with advantage! Here is a list of persuasive phrases for a few verge-of-combat scenarios:

Win them over by appealing to nationalism

– I can’t help but notice the embroidery on your cape, a fellow Athkatlan. What do you say we put our differences aside for the night? Too much blood has been shed on our soil already.

By invoking race

– From one tiefling to another, I feel how irrevocably misunderstood we have come to be. But we can change this misconception, we can show them we are different, that we can be reasoned with.

By relying on gender

– Long has it been since I have crossed paths with a woman fending for herself in the wild. It is admirable indeed, and no easy walk of life, I should know. Perhaps you would make an exception for a travelling sister in need.

By drawing on shared experiences

– My good man, if you are indeed also a soldier as your comrade claims, then you know well that too many battles have been fought in vain. Many of our men met their end too soon, and we need not fall with them.

By calling on religion

– Let us honour our faith in the Moonmaiden, be it Selûne, or Sehanine as you know her by. She who opposes Darkness and champions Good beseeches us to spread her wisdom, not to fight amongst ourselves.

By bringing up values and family

– I cannot help but notice the great resemblance between you and young Merrowynn here. I, too, am a father, and I should wish to one day see my family again, just as you should wish to keep fighting alongside yours.

Invoking pity, for example by relying heavily on emotions

– Prithee sire, I am but a lowly wanderer, an adventurer with no great ambitions and no money to her name. I have nothing of worth to offer you, and I implore you to spare me. Life is the only boon that was given to me.

Invoking knowledge, and mentioning undeniable facts

– A fight in broad daylight is a suicide mission. Needless to say, you will alert the Dynasty’s national guard, and in times of war, marauding and assassinating without good cause is punishable by death. Your loot will do you no good dead. We can waste away our coin, or we can settle this peacefully.

Calling on logic, and suggesting a mutually beneficial option

– Our party is home to an incredible guide who knows the elemental plane like the back of their hand, and an extremely adept healer. We could be of aid; our Genasi Ranger tells me you are not native to these regions.

The doomsday argument

– Listen, we all know that beyond the Great Forest lies the Empire, an Empire favoured by none. Fight as we may, if we do not join forces to take down the entity that oppresses us, there shall be no tomorrow for us to see. There shall be no freedom to relish. I beseech you all to consider a truce.

2. Flattery will get you far

@jointeamalpha

Your first thought might be that flattery is limited to flirting and seduction, and typically restricted to Bards. Throw that out of the window! If you think outside of the box, then this combat-stopper is a well-rounded option, regardless of class, gender, and sex. Try these before resorting to a fist fight:

Proficient in History? Bring attention to fame or noteworthiness

– Lady Darkblade, First of Her Name, Mistress of the Forgotten Forest, Empress of the Highlands; your name carries across continents. Even my lowborn ears have heard of your unmatched accomplishments.

The classic and timeless “rumour has it”

– Rumour has it that this one over here knocked out two Giants in one punch. I doubt he wants to see time wasted on a group of wandering Snow Elves and Firbolgs. There are greater foes beyond these lands.

Flattery of the mind, especially good for wizards

– Such a powerful, and all-knowing Master of the Arts such as yourself would probably see it ill-fit to engage in combat with a party devoid of any academic and experiential training. Though, perhaps we will be in luck if the lack of challenge bores you to death.

Alright sure, seduction works too

– Sir Quixington, may I have a word, perhaps in private? May I call you Maxwell? How kind of you, Max. To be perfectly frank, duelling with such a handsome and strong man such as yourself would be wasting the more sensorial experience I had imagined upon first seeing you. I have been travelling these lands and never have I seen such an attractive… priest.

Well, trying it with an evil priest is a bit far-fetched, but it sure is a roll with disadvantage that I’d like to see! At least you can say you tried.

3. Call on your background or rank

The least appreciated and called upon advantage is probably the one given to players by their background. This alternative is so personal to PC backstories that examples of dialogue might not be fit to illustrate the point. Have a look at your background Feature; if you’re a traveller, your party may be able to pass through favoured terrain undetected by natural means, or if you’re a Navy SEAL (it’s a thing), maybe you can invoke your rank as Commander Lieutenant of the FrostGuard Garrison. Those with military ranks can usually command the respect of their subordinates, and this might extend itself to avoiding a kerfuffle.

4. Trade, or lend your services

This method of doing your opponent a favour as a means of escape is the one least used by my own party. Approaching level 8, we have sadly only just come to the realisation that perhaps we should be doing odd jobs for gold. Travelling rivals might give you a break upon offering to take care of something that has been a huge pain in their side for a while. For example:

Trading inventory

– Instead of killing us all for the platinum shield, rather time-consuming and messy if you ask me, and not a guaranteed win to be honest, we’ll trade it to you for your emerald dagger.

There is strength in numbers

– Well if you’re planning on storming the Castle of Silverymoon, you’ll need more than just four men. How about this, we’ll help you retrieve your stolen artefact, and you’ll let us go our merry way. What say you?

A fresh pair of eyes and ears on unfamiliar territory

– Our party is new to the city, and our business is our own, but we have time to spare at nightfall. Give us no trouble and we’ll see to being your eyes and ears for the fortnight.

Call on your particular skillset

– There need be no haste in this matter; we may be able to strike a deal. I have a highly trained Dwarf Artificer who makes bombs the size of a horse, and a Gnome Wizard-Assassin that can kill your greatest enemy whilst disguised as a Walrus. Solid plan? All in favour, say aye.

5. Offer up a zone of truth

A quick reminder that all your Persuasion checks might be to no avail at all if your opponents disbelieve your party and your worth alive. When in doubt, or when certain of failure, a party Bard, Cleric, or Paladin could offer up a zone of truth as proof of sincerity – immediately, or in a mere matter of hours.

6. Homebrew your bargaining chip: aka lies, lies, lies.

A funner alternative to persuasion when faced with adversity is of course going full chaotic liar. If you’re a Lawful Good Paladin playing on the safe and honest side, then this one might not be for you, but it can undoubtably lead to some hilarious acting. Do be wary, however, of how off the cuff deception checks might lead to absurdity, in which case your DM could have you roll with disadvantage, or severely (and justifiably) increase the DC. Nevertheless, here are some fun ways in which a D&D party can lie :

Disguise self

– I’m awfully sorry I can’t be of help, my liege, I haven’t seen any Dark Elves around here. As you can see, I am a proud Wood Elf myself and great worshipper of the city’s main patron, our Lord and Saviour, Holy Father, Totally My God Lathander.

Feign ignorance and redirect

– Hmmm, a treasure chest, a treasure chest. I think I saw a couple of feral Dwarven swordsmen with eyepatches and pink beards dragging a big old chest in this opposite direction here. In fact, now that I think, I do remember, there was the Emperor’s seal on it, and I did find it rather odd. But my wife Biglie always tells me to mind my own business, and so I do.

Feign allyship

– Oh my good friend, my dearest ally, my sweet long lost companion! I have not seen you in decades gone by. Oh how you have changed, and I too it seems, so much so that you have mistaken me for an intruder! Oh, how I long to embrace you once again, lay down your weapons, and let us share a drink in honour of finding each other once more!

Feign superiority

– I am, in fact, the sovereign ruler of the Mountain of High Tides, and it is actually you who is tress-passing. Another step, and my hoard of angry but very fair Goliaths will seize you and take you to my Torture Chambers of Treason. The choice is yours.

Fake news

– Ah, I believe we are caught up in a great misunderstanding. We are not here to abduct the Pope, we are actually conducting an inspection of the grounds of this monastery by order of the King. Official business, all monasteries must be inspected and be up to code.

7. Cause a distraction

@Shadedown

Within the subcategory of deception you’ll find distractions, ranging anywhere from a “Look, over there!”, to a carefully laid out plan comprised of illusions and trickery. Much like player backgrounds, distractions are often specific to context. Look around and assess your environment; is there anything that can be knocked over so as to create a sound? Are there any animals that could cause a raucous? Are the fabrics available to you flammable? Would it be safe for you to make a drunken scene? With so many options, PCs are truly spoiled for choice, and any good-spirited DM will entertain a fun diversion or two per session!

8. Consider situationally nifty spells

So often do players rely on spells in-combat that we tend to forget situationally useful cantrips or ritual spells that could end up saving the day. There are some very powerful high level spells that have great out-of-combat uses as well. Here is a Situationally Useful Spell List (not all inclusive) that might get you out of having to lose hit points:

Paralyse your enemy: Hold Person, Stunning Strike.

Escape: Arcane Gate, Astral Projection, Demiplane, Dimension Door, Expeditious Retreat, Far Step, Gate, Knock, Misty Step, Plane Shift, Teleportation Circle, Thunder Step, Transport via Plants, Tree Stride, Word of Recall.

Escape through or over difficult terrain: Control Water, Enlarge/Reduce, Feather Fall, Fly, Freedom of Movement, Gaseous Form, Mold Earth, Move Earth, Polymorph, Shape Water, Spider Climb, Stone Shape, Water Walk, Wind Walk.

Incapacitate or inconvenience your enemy: Antimagic Field, Counterspell, Entangle, Magic Circle, Silence, Sleep.

Dissuade from combat: Animal Friendship, Calm Emotions, Cause Fear, Charm Monster, Charm Person, Command, Compulsion, Dominate Monster, Dominate Person, Fast Friends, Fear, Mass Suggestion, Modify Memory, Suggestion.

Hide and protect: Blink, Etherealness, Greater Invisibility, Invisibility, Leomund’s Tiny Hut, Magic Circle, Meld Into Stone, Mislead, Nondetection, Pass Without Trace, Rope Trick, Seeming.

Remove the enemy: Banishment, Banishing Smite, Polymorph.

Communicate: Comprehend Languages, Message, Telepathy, Tongues.

Avoid or intercept the enemy: Aid, Alarm, Commune, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Thoughts, Divination, Find The Path, Find Traps, Scrying, See Invisibility, True Seeing.

9. Drop reason, rely on intimidation

@jointeamalpha

So you’ve tried playing nice, and it looks like your opponent doesn’t have an announce of sympathy in their body. Persuasion checks can be tough if you’re up against the big bad, or anyone who lies somewhere on the truly evil alignment spectrum. Puff up your chest, it’s time to intimidate:

Trigger Warning for this subcategory: violence and graphic description.

Out of your league

– Listen up you puny little knave, we are a party of five ferocious fighters who have seen war and death beyond what you could ever conceive of. I can assure you that if you pick a fight with us, you won’t live to regret it.

A friend of mine

– I can see how you would think that we don’t pose a threat to you, that we are easily provoked. It’s funny, really, how appearances can deceive. Curious, really. I wouldn’t like for you to meet the tip of the poisoned blades that my invisible allies, scattered around this city in the shadows and always watching, have pointed on you as we speak. Think twice next time.

Get out the gore

– Out of my way, I said, or I will rip your entire existence to shred, starting with your heart, which I will gladly and without hesitation force feed to the last man standing on your team.

Display of brute force

– As you can see, Morlasch, standing behind me here, is rending asunder an entire wall made of pure lava. He is immune to fire, and mercy. Imagine what he could do to a tiny face. Fascinating.

10. Run… Hide… Or just fight!

When push comes to shove, you might’n’t have a choice. When desired, engaging in combat is one of the best and most satisfying bits of partaking in any tabletop roleplaying game. After all, you spent good time preparing your moves and/or spells, and your diligent Dungeon Master has no doubt spent even more time preparing a world with intense encounters and riveting combat. So good luck adventurers! May you always face Vampires with a silver tongue, and if they refuse to concede, well, switch to the silver arrow instead.