How to Start Playing: Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 5th Edition

How to Start Playing: Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 5th Edition

*If you’re already know how to play Dungeons and Dragons, here are some advanced Tips on How to Build Your Own D&D Campaign Setting and Running a smooth D&D Session.*


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If you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons before, starting is a daunting task without any guidance.


This post is a primer to start playing D&D 5th Edition (5e). It covers my personal setup and experience to get to my campaign. This includes things like:

  • Books you’ll need
  • Materials for the table
  • Things that are good to have around
  • Things to keep in mind


I am a self taught Dungeon Master (DM) for my group for about 7 years now, and we’ve played 3 editions of D&D, on top of under a hundred different board games. It’s not the greatest gaming track record, but you’ll definitely learn something if you have no experience. By the end, you’ll be building your own homebrew campaign, and starting to play D&D in no time.





First, learning what the game is about. You need to first know how to play. This can be found in most of the material sold by Wizards of the Coast (WoC). They’re a bit pricey but well worth their content. In each book, you’ll be able to uncover and learn more about the vast universe of D&D. There are currently (as of August 2016) 8 published D&D 5E books, with more on the way. Links to purchase the books below.



Core Rulebooks (everything you’ll actually need)

The Dungeon Master’s guide is God’s personal handbook to world building. If you can think it, you can find it here and create it. The information in this one book encompasses what anthropologists and sociologists study through their entire lives (with a dash of wonder and magic). Without this, your players have no sandbox to play in.



The Monster Manual is something most people would regard as negligible. I mean, as long as you know enough mythical lore to populate the world, you’re good to go. Honestly, if you watch enough High Fantasy fiction like Lord of the Rings or play enough World of Warcraft, you have a baseline idea of what monsters you could populate the world you built with. Trolls, gnomes, goblins, werewolves, vampires, banshees; all that fun stuff.

However, the Monster Manual gives you all the stats of individual monsters, on top of being an excellent place to pick up a deep base of a complete and comprehensive creature lore. When your players want to (and they will) interact with the creatures around them, you have a guide in which you can run the game by. If a charm spell is made, what sort of saving throw benchmark would you give your own created creatures? If they tamed the creature, what sort of attacks would it have, and what sort of endurance or resistance does it have?

The Monster Manual gives you a comprehensive list to the creatures that roam any, nay EVERY land imaginable. Even if you don’t use the stats (which you would), you’ll definitely enjoy delving into the immense creature lore, answering questions you’ll never think you need to know the answers to.

For example, how to Mindflayers interact with each other? How many sub-variations of Beholders are there? What sort of society do the Drow live in? The answers are, telepathically through psionic energy,  28, and primarily matriarchal, with priestesses of their evil spider goddess Lloth in the highest seats of power.



Finally the Player’s Handbook. You don’t need it. The Dungeon Master has his hands full with lore and monsters to build infinite worlds with infinite spawns, populated with a myriad of biomes and interactive non-player characters. You’re good to go, really.

However, your players need to integrate themselves into the world. It is usually the player’s responsibility to each own a copy of the player’s handbook for reference, or at least have 2 to pass around the table if anyone needs to look anything up. It depends on the group dynamic. For me, I bought one copy for my own reference, and my party uses that book during our play sessions. They only need to bring themselves and an app, making our sessions convenient for everyone (except me, but I like the work).


To break it down, the Core Rulebooks are what you need to run your game. They help you:

  • Deconstruct world mythology and anthropology (DMG and PHB)
  • Fill your cities, towns, and capitals (DMG)
  • Create troves of items, tools, and magical artifacts (DMG and PHB)
  • Build in-depth and fully customizable player characters (PHB)
  • Design non-player characters (NPCs), monsters, campaign villains (DMG and MM)
  • Carve out dungeons and monstrous encounters (DMG and MM)
  • Aid you in interacting with your world (DMG)


Adventure Modules


Besides the Core Rulebooks, there exist this thing called Adventure Modules. Adventure Modules give you out of the box, hand-crafted adventures by the wonderful people of WoC (at a price). They detail clear outcomes and scenarios with beautiful crafted, and immensely in-depth story arcs. If you love reading high fantasy fiction or pick-your-own-adventure kind of books, you can seriously consider just picking these out for a good read.

I ended up building my own world, so I don’t have much experience with running adventure modules, though I have run through half of Hoard of the Dragon Queen to great success, despite my players feeling somewhat railroaded with linear choices. That could perhaps be poor DM-ing on my part. Otherwise, with a good bit of crafting and preperation on the DM’s part, these adventure modules could feel and non-linear and more sandbox and freeform. My suggestion, pick one up, and if you like it, run it, then get more.




Honestly, you could do without most materials. But then, you could do away with the rulebooks and just play pretend with your friends. The reason why we need pen and paper for D&D is for the many stats the game throws at us. Why? Because this gives us an objective interpretation of the world someone has painstakingly built and not something the DM threw out from his brain. It gives the thing the players are doing legitimacy and law.


For all games, you’re gonna need some basic materials:

  • Pencils
  • Paper (all sorts of maps, trackers, and sheets)
  • Dice (at least one set of 7)
  • Figurines and miniatures (Optional)
  • Monster Counters (Optional)
  • Dry erase mat and markers for battlemap (Optional)


Pen and Paper

Pen and paper is simply the easiest way to note down a variety of complex things; initiation, treasure and notes the party will receive, hit points for random objects, bits and bobs a DM needs to keep track off, and so on. A word document or excel sheet would work as well, but trust me, nothing beats old school in this case.





If you’ve never played a d20 game before, this is going to be great. Most of the population are only familiar with the cubic six-sided die (D6). In D&D, because of stats, charts, and tables, we require a variety of probability generators beyond a D6 (16.67%) per side. We have D4 (25%), D6 (16.67%), D8 (12.5%), D10 or D100 (10%), D12 (8.3%), and the infamous D20 (4%). These represent the spectrum of outcomes we could have in reality while keeping the results to a small, manageable, distinguishable number.

These variations also allow us better flexibility with statistics. For example, standard weapons deal 1D6 damage (1-6 dmg), while weaker weapons deal 1D4 (1-4 dmg), and stronger weapons deal 1D12 (1-12 dmg). Certain permutations even allow players to increase the minimum result. For example, a 5D4 would appear to roll similarly to a D20 roll, but the range for a 5D4 roll is 5-20, while a D20 is 1-20.





Primarily just for flourish, playing with miniatures is what mainstream media picked up from roleplaying games. With the advent of paper, counters, pop-ups, or basically any trinket that you can find around the house, miniatures are not necessary for a D&D game. They’re pretty, and you can paint them, but they don’t do anything other than add board immersion to the experience. In my opinion, if you don’t have spare money, forget about miniatures.

Of course, if you have spare cash lying around, BUY THEM ALL. Then paint them. It’s easy.


Or get me to paint them for you if you don’t have the time. I’ll take care of your miniatures.



Counters and tokens


Print them out, do them yourself. If you’re lazy, D&D 4E sells the Monster Vault, which includes hundreds of monster cut outs. Instead of getting multiple monster miniatures for each of your encounters, this is a much cheaper way of representing monsters in your game. It doesn’t hurt that the Monster Vault comes with a monster manual that will help you craft encounters better, too.

Along with this, tracking money can be a hassle, and it really adds to the immersion when you use real metal coins to track player currency. I got mine from Campaign Coins.



Dry erase mat and markers


Dungeon maps can be found online, created in websites and printed out (links in the resources below). But if you’re an artist, but why not draw your own maps? Completely from scratch, craft out great expansive dungeons with your own hand for your players, and save trees while you’re at it. If you’re going this route, get more colors.





Theatre of the Mind

There’s a reason why I put miniatures, counters, dry erase mats, and markers as optional. With 5E’s inclusion of Theatre of the Mind, you don’t need to physically play encounter battles anymore. DMs can just draw out the rough positions of the characters, and instead of counting steps, range, area of effect and other things that may bog down combat, he can instead focus on the action and story-telling aspect of the game.

Games run a lot more smoothly with the theater of the mind. Combat may be tough, and number crunching may feel tiresome and dreary for some players. There are merits to both, and it’s up to the DM to figure out which works best with his party.



This involves spellbooks, character sheets, character cut outs, and monster tokens. If you don’t want to draw, or meticulously write out every spell available to every player, there are sites online that help with the process.



Party commitment and ambition


Honestly, this is just generic people to people advice.

As a budding DM, you want to find a good game that’ll keep your friends coming and making sure they’ll have fun when they’re with you. However, you need to evaluate how committed your friends are to such a project. Make sure they’re all excited and on board before you invest hundreds of dollars into materials for a D&D game that you might only run once.

Maybe you actually just want to hang out more often and was trying to find a way to hook your friends into spending more time together. Planning a large D&D campaign may tire you out, and you’re not actually cut out for it. Instead, try designer board games. Something less intense but in a similar vein would be dungeon delve type board games like Wrath of Ashadalon or Descent, Journeys in the Dark.

Dungeons and Dragons is an amazing game, you just have to figure out if it’s the right fit for you, and if it’s a right fit for your friends. If it’s really not, no harm done. Good on you for wanting to socialize more, and good on you for being smart enough to find something complex and freeform enough to fit into a wide variety of player types and personalities.

If you’ve decided that it’s not for you, here are some board games that I love playing with my friends.


Tools and Accessories

Miniature Websites

Donjon 5E Generator

DM tools and Generators

Maps and Cartography

Online Platforms

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