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 A lot of blogs or guides online contain content from 3.5e or 4e that is no longer applicable to 5e games, and beginners might have trouble distinguishing which information is valid to them.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!

Asking My Campaign: Why You Should Give Dungeons and Dragons a (One)Shot

How do I sacrifice my estranged little brother to a potent god? Maybe you don’t ask yourself that question too, but it’s possible that you’re off daydreaming about other universes, tinkering with machines, or concocting potions: whatever your fantasy world is about, you can probably find it in Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D (also stylised DnD) is the first modern role-playing tabletop game, and the most un-board-gamey-game out there. Created in the mid 70s and recently re-popularised with newer editions surfacing, DnD is different from traditional wargaming in that each player creates their own completely unique character, with a huge amount of mix-and-match possibilities and very few limitations.

All players choose a race (such as goblin or elf) and a class (such as druid or rogue) and pick from a long and elaborate list of spells and/or combat tricks. They roll some polyhedral dice (ranging from d4s to d20s) to come up with their in-game statistics, complete with ability scores and modifiers. These scores, which players roll for and allocate themselves, will determine their abilities: how good or bad they are at lying, convincing, dragging, jumping, sneaking around, recalling information, and so on. Left to fend for themselves with only a modicum of guidance, they walk into a spontaneous, or maybe fully-fledged, fantasy world.

Led by the Game Master (GM), also called Dungeon Master (DM), the characters meet each other, or have already met beforehand and must weave their encounter(s) into their respective backstories. They tackle the world they are in with a simple dice roll determining their ability to accomplish a certain task: perceive, investigate, attack… Unexpected enemies or allies can appear at any time, and players might run out of spell slots, or even die.

The purpose of the game is to go on several, often improvised quests, and the beauty of it all, is that it is essentially never-ending: DnD is not just a game, but a story that involves a lot of character-based calculations, consideration for other players, and commitment to meeting up and playing the part. Conversely, many also choose to partake in ‘one shots’ for a riveting DnD session lasting one night and one night only.

That all sounds pretty funky already, but here are a bunch of expert opinions sourced directly from my own completely unbiased party on why you should borrow a set of dice and sign up for your very first game of DnD.

RISK-TAKING

Our quick and cunning thief likes to take bets on her luck and creative mind. Chantal, who plays Earing the Halfling Rogue, will tell you that her favourite thing about playing DnD comes in packs of three:

“The combination of skill, chance, and creativity. Going on a prolonged journey into the imagination of other people whilst they play a character who does not necessarily represent their own [out-of-game] choices and how that collective effort brings life into the in-game world.”

And try as you may, the dice will determine your fate. But if you think creatively and way, way outside of the realm, then your DM might be humoured into lowering the number needed to succeed. So why not take a chance!

Benefits of the halfing rogue combo

• Nimble
• Dexterous
• Good with traps
• Lucky
• Sneaky
• Able to communicate in thieves’ cant
• A lock’s worst enemy

GAMING, MINUS THE SCREEN

Photo 2 by Espen Meisfjord.

If you’re looking for orphaned royalty, we’ve got that too. Our mysterious and untrusting half-elf ranger was once a noble paladin. Sebastian plays (Tar-)Darion Beluarian, The Strayer, and he likes the idea of gaming without the adverse effects of screen-time:

“There’s no screen, and actually, no writer or director telling you what the fictional world should look like. It just allows everyone in the group to have their own world, and yet play together, in real life. You’re totally free, you can eat and drink at the same time, you can leave quickly to the kitchen and come back, and the freedom extends to you as an actor.”

In DnD, players are free to choose what kind of a person they’d like to play, whereas video-gamers are often limited to a list of pre-made avatars:

“Here, you not only choose your own spells and abilities, but your entire background story, look, and personality.”

And it’s not untrue; there isn’t always a list of narrative A, B, C, D options to choose from, and you could spend years on creating a backstory, or invent it on the spot. If you’d like to swap genders, professions, political parties, or philosophies, go ahead. No one is stopping you.

Benefits of the half-elf ranger combo

• Charismatic
• Diplomatic
• Ability to multi-attack
• Knowledge of various terrains
• Bow expert

LARP THE NIGHT AWAY

*The artwork for these minis have been sourced from the internet and most have been modified to fit our needs with photoshop. The artwork has only been used for our miniatures and non-commercial poster. We do not recommend using artwork that is not your own if you are going commericial or pro.

Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, is not just an activity you can participate in to see what it would be like to be a catastrophically elite version of yourself. Vulnerability is key, so don’t shy away from taking on an insecurity or belief you might not have in real life. Becoming someone else and building a common narrative is tricky, but ultimately very rewarding. As a relatively confident person, recent graduate, and atheist, I play Elyssee Elwing, the paranoid half-elf cleric student. It makes no sense, but it’s a lot of fun.

All of it comes with a no-strings-attached policy, because it’s only a character. At the same time, if you dedicate yourself to it enough, it’ll become you. Players in-game usually only refer to each other by their character names, team-members will adopt strange accents and quirks, and, when you die, you die. Back to the drawing board for your new character.

Benefits of the half elf cleric combo

• Charismatic
• Diplomatic
• Necessary healer
• Always useful
• Banish the dead
• Befriend the dead?

MAP-MAKING, WORLD-BUILDING

And just when you might begin to think that DnD sounds unmanageably free and off-the-usual-track, you’ll be pleased to know that the game also offers a wealth of information on how to play. Gimble the Gnome Wizard, played by Espen, dreams of worlds built on travel narratives.

“It gives the gameplay a coherent structure and shifts between an emphasis on ontological and subjective approaches to documentation of places and people encountered.”

You’ll find many maps and treasure troves of information on DnD, which include The Player’s Handbook and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Our well-travelled gnome is thankfully our living map guide, but there are many digital resources, such as Roll 20, DND 5th Edition, and D&D Beyond’s 5th Edition Maps, if you’re not too sure about investing in costly tabletop books quite yet.

Benefits of the gnome wizard combo

• Intelligent
• Unparalleled knowledge of the Arcane
• Naturally gifted illusionist
• Able to communicate with animals
• Chaotic good fun
• So many spells

BY THE BOOK, OR NOT

With all its books and platforms, any rule in DnD can be interpreted as a long list of suggestions at the discretion of your group’s Dungeon Master. Frank, the team’s hilarious bear-who-was-revealed-to-actually-not-be-a-real-bear (it was shocking), or Varen the Firbolg Monk, is all about the in-game freedom:

“Whilst it’s true that the game involves many rules, they don’t operate by restricting creativity, but rather by guiding it, helping to make the game fun for you and your group. When playing DnD, each player has the freedom to invent their own game, which results in an unbelievably rich and unexpected adventure.”

As a bear who walks and talks in the country’s capital without care, Varen embodies freedom of game, exemplified by his quirky tangential mini-adventures, such as the quest for a decent yet rustic pipe to smoke.

Benefits of the firbolg monk combo

• Giant
• Naturally detect magic
• Naturally disguise yourself
• Invisibility
• Mulitattacks
• Ability to stun and delay

Our inscrutable barbarian agrees. Though he initially had many existential questions on the game’s lack of necessary structure and coherence, Nil, or Tork the Orc, now finds the idea of a freer world built on a semblance of reality to be comforting:

“The people I come across, the places I visit. Do they exist before I encounter them? […] The future could be predetermined, yet I have no means of knowing. Where does free will lie under such an argument? Although these questions occupy my mind often, I have learned to not think about them. It is likely that the DM improvises as he goes, and I have found peace in not questioning his ability to [lead us].”

Coming to terms with the at times strange nature of the game has led to a number of absurd occurrences, such as when Tork killed a wizard in one blow for purely narrative reasons. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Tork smash!

Benefits of the barbarian orc combo

• Strong
• Resilient
• Robust
• Naturally intimidating
• Deal 40 points of damage in one swing

BE THE GAME

There’s one last actor, hidden behind a dividing screen. Arvid, our smiling Dungeon Master, also loves the narrative and geographical world-building that DnD has to offer; after all, the game we play is in many ways the seed of his creative mind intermingled with our own individual and joint choices. In other ways, the game is out of his control almost entirely:

“The reason why I play and act as the Dungeon Master in DnD is mostly as a creative outlet. Whether I play or act as the DM, I see it as a performance of story-telling and as immersion for the players and for myself. I like to improvise and I love to write short little stories in my mind that I can act out in front of the players. I am always curious as to what the players will do and where they will end up. This gives me, as a Dungeon Master, the opportunity to express my imagination both in terms of world-building, and in terms of being an improvisational actor.”

According to our DM, an opinion I am sure our players would back up vehemently, the rich fantasy world of DnD us unlike any other game out there:

“I know of no other game that allows for such freedom of expression and after not having played for a while, I always feel drawn back into this fantasy world to see what ideas may present themselves.”

Benefits of DMing

• Narrative storytelling
• Worldbuilding
• Character creation
• Practice accents
• Surprise your players
• DM and NPC – double the fun!

Think you’ve got what it takes to DM? Check out professional voice actor and DM artist extraordinaire Matt Mercer and his top tips on leading a campaign of players.

So, are you ready to play?