Thanks to the Internet, you have access to over four decades of information related to Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and it’s hard to know just where to start your research. That’s where I, the D&D Dad, can help. I’ve been there myself, cluelessly clicking through site after site, trying to find the quality content that didn’t make my head want to explode.
In this week’s blog entry, I’m going to narrow things down for you by sharing the online resources that helped me learn D&D quickly.
Watch (or listen to) other people play D&D
Okay, confession time. I used to give my kids Drew and Mitch a hard time a few years ago whenever they borrowed (stole) my iPhone or our iPad and fired up YouTube to watch people play Minecraft.
“How can you just sit there,” I said in my best Dad voice, “and watch someone else play your favorite game?”
And then I decided to learn how to play Dungeon & Dragons, and it all made sense.
If you want to quickly see how other DMs and PCs play the game, nothing works better than watching a couple video streams or listen to podcasts of a group of friends playing D&D. These are usually called “actual play” streams (usually on Twitch) or podcasts you can download to your phone, because it’s not just folks talking about the game, but actually playing it.
And some of these sessions can last hours! It’s great to see how different DMs run their games, how many times they make players roll the dice, how strict they are with rules, and how they tell stories. It’s a huge eye opener.
For D&D “actual play” podcasts and streams, I recommend the following for new players:
Rivals of Waterdeep is especially great because it’s relatively new, so you don’t have many, many hours of catch-up to do. The characters are diverse, and a few of them are first-time players. Also, DM Aram Vartian is a master storyteller.
Another bonus: the first episode of Join the Party also works as an introduction to D&D, so there’s lots of asides where they explain the game mechanics while telling the story.
However!!! While Rivals of Waterdeep and Join the Party are kid-friendly, Critical Role and The Adventure Zone have wayyyyy too much swearing for me to let my 10- and 13-year-old sons listen to them. Which is a bummer, because they’re great listens. Matt Mercer, the DM for Critical Role, is simply amazing with his world-building and creativity, while the Adventure Zone guys are truly hilarious. Listen to them without the kids.
I’m truly bummed those podcasts (and many, many other D&D podcasts like them) aren’t able to skip the F-bombs. So if you come across some “family-friendly” D&D podcasts, please let me know in the comments!
Read some sample adventures…
When I found out about the DMs Guild, I kind of went crazy. It was like walking into a gaming store back in the ’80s and finding row upon row of those slim D&D modules, all waiting for me to crack them open.
The DMs Guild hosts a ton of D&D resources, but what I really love are the shorter adventures, aka “one shots” that you can finish in one or two sessions.
I recommend reading the short 2-4 page samples of some of these one-shots to get an idea of how the adventures are run and how they start, and then buy a handful of the ones that grab you. Personally, I’ve had a ton of fun running adventures by M.T. Black from the DMs guild (check out my reviews!), and you can’t beat the price. Maybe $3 max for a PDF you can print and run that very day. This is a great way to get your feet wet as a new DM, without dropping a lot of cash.
And when you get confident in your skills as a DM, you can invest in the bigger “campaigns” in the Dungeons & Dragons line, such as “Storm King’s Thunder” or the upcoming “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist” adventures.
I have yet to run one of these big campaigns, and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about do so. But I’ll work my way up to them (and I’ll let you know how it goes when we finally dive into them)!
… Or play a solo D&D adventure online
This nifty little site-within-a-site lets you “pick a path” through a short online adventure (kind of a mix of Zork and the Endless Quest books!), where you get to play a human fighter named Craig Greenswaddle. You don’t get all the fun interaction of being part of a group of adventurers, but it’s a great introduction to how the game works and how to use those crazy multi-sided dice!
For aspiring DMs, learn from Matt Colville
If you want to dive into the world of dungeon mastery, you can’t go wrong with this series of how-to videos by fantasy writer and game designer Matt Colville: Running the Game.
Matt is fun to watch, and his enthusiasm is contagious. You can tell he loves the game, and he does some serious deep dives into what it takes as a DM to run a great game. He’s been playing for years (decades, really), and his knowledge is deep and wide.
He has a ton of videos, and if you have time, watch ’em all. But the first 5-8 videos are a great introduction to the game, so you can really get a handle on the game by starting there.
Also, he’s just fun to listen to.
Speaking of videos, here’s a fantastic video that gives you a really nice introduction to the game, and also shows how amazing D&D is:
(I think it’d be a BLAST to play D&D with these folks!)
One last tip
There are a ton of resources out there to help you get started (including this blog, of course!). Try out some sites, listen to some “actual play” podcasts (these are great for long drives or commutes), and watch a how-to video or three.
But when all is said and done, close your browser and start thinking about how you want to play the game. There’s never going to be a perfect time to jump in and start playing, so do your best to prepare, try not to obsess and over-prepare (I’m totally guilty of that). And when the time comes, fake it ’til you make it.
So long as your players are having fun, they won’t care if you skipped a room in your adventure or didn’t do the math right during that longsword attack against a hobgoblin. Just roll those dice, create a great story with your players, and have fun gaming!
Thanks 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!