A Beginner’s Guide to Dungeons and Dragons, Written by a Semi-Beginner to Dungeons and Dragons

By Annie Jones
iWRITE Youth Club Junior Officer & Published Author

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“Can I do a stealth check?” Andrew Nanna asked. Mr. Center looked at him, confused. “On… What?” he replied. “I want to sneak to the back of the cave,” he explained impatiently. Mr. Center said, “Nanna, there’s nothing in the cave with you guys. You don’t have to sneak up on the wall. It hasn’t noticed you yet, so I don’t think it’s ever going to.” The room full of boys erupted in laughter. Well, not full of boys. There was a girl (me) who laughed along with them. Finally, someone said, “Can I do a perception check?” He rolled the die and got… Drum roll… a 3 out of 20. Mr. Center said, “To you, the cave looks big and dark.” The next kid goes and rolls a 1. “OK, that cave is looking big and dark.” I raise my hand, “Can I do a perception check?” I reach for the dice. “Thank goodness! Go ahead,” he says. I drop the die onto the table. “16, plus my intelligence score adds 2, so 18.” Mr. Center goes into storytelling mode.

“Jack starts to walk into the cave, but Annie throws out her arm and says, “Stop!” Everyone grumbles, but she lights a torch and waves it in front of the group. In the light of the torch, you see a thin, glimmering tripwire across the entrance to the cave. Jack backs away. You were all about to set off the trap. Alright, activity period is over. Time to go to class!”

At my school, we have activity periods where we get to choose what activity you want to do. I chose Dungeons and Dragons, and even though it had come out in 1974 (the year my parents were born) I knew nothing about it. And to make matters worse, I was the only girl in the group. Granted, I had told Mr. Center, the head of the activity, that I didn’t mind that (which I didn’t), but still. All of the D&D guides online used fancy words like, 1d20 Constitution saving throws or +2 charisma modifier. How was I supposed to know what all that meant? So I’ll be giving you the rundown in my D&D basic guide.

First and Foremost, how do you play? Well, you have your party, which is the people you’re playing with, and the Dungeon Master, or DM. Mr. Center is my DM. When you start a game, your DM might say,” all of you are in a tavern, minding your own business, when you overhear some dwarves talking about how they need someone to guard their wagon through the forest on a 3-day trip.” You can ask your DM, “can I walk up to the dwarves and say I’ll guard the wagon.” You walk up to the dwarves and your DM tells you what the dwarves say. The DM is the god of your D&D world. He tells you where you are, who’s with you, and what’s happening.

But you aren’t in this D&D world, are you? You aren’t in a tavern with dwarves. That’s where your character comes in. You have to design your character and their abilities to take your place in the game. First, you choose your character race. The races are Tiefling, Dragonborn, Half Orc, Elf, Half Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling, Human (at least, those are the basic races. Beginners should limit themselves to these). Next, you choose your class. I won’t list all of them, but some examples are sorcerer, warlock, ranger, barbarian, and rogue. Your class adds to your character’s abilities. If you are a sorcerer, you typically don’t have heavy melee weapons and instead rely on your spells. Barabarians are just the opposite. It helps to pick a class that works well with your race (i.e. barbarian half-orc, ranger elf), but it can also be fun to mess around with a contradictory character and write a more interesting story for them.

Once you choose your class and race, there are a lot of varied things you have to do, so check with your DM if you are a beginner on cantrips and proficinecies and things like that, but you really don’t have to know every single term to play for the first time. But something you definitely have to know is how to use the dice. Say you are being attacked by a cougar and want to use your “Acid Splash” spell. You ask the DM if you can do it. You have to roll the die to see if the spell works and if you miss.If you roll an 18 (and it isn’t a freaky magic cougar) that cougar will die. If you roll a 3, you miss and the panther gets back to trying to eat you. Pro tip: have someone else with you in combat. One bad roll and you’re dead without some backup. If you’re fighting something more challenging that takes a lot of hits to defeat and you’re swinging a sword at it, you also have to factor your strength score into the damage it makes. If you have a low strength score, it won’t damage the monster as much.

Finally, how do you determine that Strength Score? Well, you have 6 different statistics that describe your character’s strengths and abilities. These are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. If you are a sorcerer and casting a spell, you use Charisma. High charisma, stronger spell (same as in the strength example). You determine this charisma by rolling a die. Roll four 6-sided dice and add up the results. This number will be the points for one of your scores. Repeat this for each one, and voila! Just make sure to do this in front of the Dungeon Master so he knows you weren’t cheating.

So now you know the basics of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a really fun game, encouraging the use of imagination and creativity. Make whatever character you want, with whatever race/class combo you want. As I’ve said, this game has existed since 1974 and in currently in it’s fifth version (if you ever google something related to D&D, put 5e at the end). It’s still as fun as ever and it’s awesome when you’re first trying it out. So mess around a bit, write a cool backstory, and don’t get eaten by an Undead Wolf. I hope this helped.

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