D&D Dad: What is D&D?

Welcome to the D&D Dad blog! This is the second blog in the “Historical” section (after “We’re going on an adventure!“), and in this entry, I’m going to try to take some of the complexity out of the game for new players (including new Dungeon Masters).

The Dungeon Master from the D&D cartoons from the early ’80s.

I’m a technical writer for a software company for my day job, and I started out my career as a junior high English and Reading teacher many moons ago. So I have a need to help people learn, and I spend most of my time at work breaking down complicated processes into simpler steps.

I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between being a tech writer and teacher with being a Dungeon Master and running a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

So I thought I’d use my love of the game and my experience with writing and teaching to help explain D&D to new players.

The basics of D&D

You start out with a “Dungeon Master” or “DM.” The DM is the person who runs the adventure: he or she sets up the adventure, describes the settings, and tells players when to roll dice to advance the story.

Think of the DM as the referee as well as the main storyteller in the game. The DM knows the basic framework of the story, but he or she is ready to improvise based on the actions of the other players.

The rest of the people playing the game are “Player Characters” or “PCs.”

The Freaks and Geeks D&D Crew
The “Freaks and Geeks” D&D Crew (not as mean as they appear)

As a PC, you can portray a wizard, a thief, a barbarian, a monk, or some other type of character with his or her own special set of skills and weaknesses. Each PC has his or her own backstory, personality, and goals. And you get to be that character during the game!

A group of PCs in D&D is called a “party” (how cool is that?), and a party usually is made up of two to six actual players, give or take. I’ve found that three to four players, plus a DM (usually me!), is the sweet spot for me. With six players, it can be really hard keeping up with everyone!

Playing the game

A typical game session can last from two to four hours, if not longer. During a session, your party with meet new people (non-player characters, or NPCs, who are portrayed by the DM), take on new quests, and enter a dungeon, castle, or the wilderness to combat bad guys and monsters. It all takes place in a fantasy world that is definitely not Earth.

NOTE: You might not complete an adventure or quest in one session; sometimes you have to find a good stopping point and continue the adventure in a week or so.

Here’s how the game unfolds:

  1. The Dungeon Master describes the setting and all the details of whichever room the party is currently located.
  2. The Player Characters tell the DM what their character is going to do.
  3. Depending on what the PCs try to do, the DM might make the PC roll a die (usually a 20-sided die, aka a “d20”), or the DM might describe some new details based on what the PCs tried to do in step 2. Also, there could be a battle!
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until the game ends or the session ends.

While you’re playing, you might notice one thing that’s missing: there’s no game board! Sure, some of the fancy DMs use lots of miniatures and fancy maps that cover the entire table. But you’re probably not there yet. And best of all, you don’t need all that.

DiceNSheetsAll you really need to play D&D is:

  • an adventure or outline for the DM to refer to as the game progresses
  • character sheets for the player characters
  • dice

Everything else is just window dressing. I’ll talk more about the extras later in this blog. But for the most part, I like to keep things pretty simple.

When I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll get out a couple dry-erase markers and a white board to show the players the rooms in the dungeon or castle they have explored so far.

But my point is this — you don’t have to make it complicated. Focus on the story if you’re the DM, and focus on the quest you’re trying to accomplish if your the player character. In upcoming blogs I’ll share tips for making the game run smoothly and speed things up, along with tips for making combat even more fun.

For more information about the game in general, see the What is D&D page from the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards of the Coast. Happy gaming!

DnDDadThanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this blog, feel free to take a look at my books at UnWrecked Press and Amazon. If something I wrote here improved your gaming experience or you just want to say thanks, buy a book or two!

3 thoughts on “D&D Dad: What is D&D?

  1. Funny to see 2-4 hours for a game. I play like that now, but I still think of a game the way I did in college. It was an all-day affair. For me the ideal game is a skirmish and some conversations until dinner, then a major battle that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. …oh to go back to those days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We started out doing longer sessions, too, but it wore us all out. I want to do an all-day event (or an all-nighter), but right now with the kids as young as they are, we sort of hit the wall after 3 or 4 hours.

      I’m not sure where all that free time went after college… 😉


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