D&D Dad: Getting started, and what you need

So now that you know more about D&D and how it works, let’s figure out how to get started on your first game!

NOTE: I’m going to assume here in the D&D Dad Blog that you’re interested in being a DM as well as a player. If you think you only want to be a player, this information will be helpful to you as well, but some parts you might want to skim. Eventually, everyone gets to be the DM, though, I think!

What to read first?

StarterSetRules

If you’re itching to get started RIGHT NOW, you can jump in without spending a penny by downloading the Basic Rules from the people who make D&D, Wizards of the Coast.

Look over the rules for characters first, and then, if you want to be a DM, skim through either the DM’s rules from the Wizards of the Coast site or the adventure that comes with the Starter Set, The Lost Mines of Phandelver (it’s a good one — check out our review).

You might also want to look at some of the short, “one-shot” adventures at the DMs Guild, which are adventures you can finish in 4-6 hours, give or take. Those shorter adventures are usually easier for new DMs to wrap their brains around, and they’re great for new characters as well, because they’re self-contained and have relatively simple goals.

I’d recommend these great one-shots for level 1 characters:

Watch the D&D Dad blog for reviews of these three one-shots (my players loved them all!), and DMs can also read our Adventure Reports for each adventure to see how our characters fared). You can also get a good idea for how a typical adventure session flows, and how to balance role-playing with combat and solving puzzles.

Another reason for loving one-shots? They’re super cheap! Maybe $2 for a couple hours of fun. Can’t beat that!

A side note about books

Eventually, you’ll probably want to get the “Three Amigos” of rule books from Wizards of the Coast: The Player’s Handbook, The Monster Manual, and The Dungeon Master’s Guide.

But I’d wait to see if D&D is really going to be your thing, because these books are really well-made hardcovers, and they can set you back $50 a book! You can get by with the PDFs or web pages from Wizards of the Coast at first, and then dive into the books when you’re nice and hooked.

What other items do I need to start playing?

As I mentioned in that earlier blog post, you really don’t need a ton of items to start playing D&D. The following items, however, are pretty much required:

  • Dice: Everyone should get their own! You can go a bit crazy with dice, but they’re relatively cheap, and any game store should have a set (try to get a set of 7 different dice if you can, instead of just 6). Here’s a buyers guide to dice(!). I probably need to write an entire post just on dice…
  • Character sheets: A quick Google search for “D&D character sheets” will give you a ton of options, but I like the printable versions from Wizards of the Coast. Their Character Sheets page has a wealth of options for you to look over, including some premade characters (I like to use these as NPCs).
  • An adventure for the DM to run: This can be a big hardcover campaign, a one-shot (see above!), or just some notes and monsters jotted down on a sheet of scratch paper.

Some optional extras

Now, if you want to jazz things up and make it more real for the players, I recommend adding the following (optional!) materials to your games, when you’re ready:

  • DM screen: I like having this divider between the players and me so I can have a little bit of secrecy and mystery while we’re playing. It also hides all my notes and my dice rolls. I’m currently using the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated, but I’ve got all sorts of notes and maps attached to it (I can flip them up to see all the info printed on the inside of the screen). I also need to write a blog post just about the stuff on my DM screen!
  • White board or graph paper for mapping: At first I tried drawing the map on a piece of paper that I folded at the top so I could hang it on the outside of my DM screen (for the players to see). That got ugly FAST, so I stole a whiteboard from one of my kids and used dry-erase markers to draw a map quickly, using different colors to highlight landmarks… or monsters.
  • Tokens or miniatures: Related to the map, it’s nice to have a visual representation of who you’re fighting, as well as the members of your party. I’ve tried a couple different approaches, and you can really go nuts with custom miniatures and even castles and dungeons (check out the Dwarven Forge website at your own risk!). Right now I don’t really use any tokens or miniatures — I just draw Xs (monsters) and Os (players) on the white board to show who’s where during combat. I’m still open to ideas on this one…
  • Music: If you’re like me, finding music might lead you to fall down the rabbit hole. So I just fire up Pandora and go to the “Film Scores” category and do some thumbs-up and thumbs-down action until I find a nice mix of background music. It adds a nice touch to the game, I think.
  • And finally… SNACKS! Some might argue that these are not optional, and those people would be my kids. You really need to find snacks that aren’t messy, so you don’t end up with greasy smears on your maps and books! M&Ms are great, along with pretzels and even carrot sticks(!). And there is a long tradition of scarfing down junk food while playing D&D, preferably in the basement:
2017-09-23 19.27.01
We took over our pool table in the basement for a while to play The Lost Mine of Phandelver. We had a blast (and the snacks came later!).

Keep it simple early on, though, and you can keep adding more things as you get more experience. I try not to add too much stuff to the game because I don’t want to distract from telling the story, and I want to make it easy to set up beforehand and clean up afterwards!

Try out some of these optional items and let me know how it goes in the Comments, below! I’ll have another blog that does a deep dive on more tips and tricks for running and enhancing the game. Until then, 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!

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