by Mike Shea on 10 February 2020
This article is intended for someone who is interested in Dungeons & Dragons but has no idea where to start. My intent is to get you on the right path to enjoy D&D.
If you are a veteran to D&D, consider sending this article to your friends who have not yet started playing.
The D&D Basic Rules are the best place to start learning about D&D. This free, legal, and official PDF has enough material in it to play D&D for a long time without spending any money at all.
If you know nothing about D&D, the first few pages of the D&D Basic Rules tells you just about everything you need to know about playing D&D.
There are a lot of other great resources for D&D that cost nothing or next to nothing as well but the D&D Basic Rules are the best place to start. Within it you'll find the rules to the game, character creation rules, rules for DMs, and monsters to include in your adventures.
If you want to get a better idea what D&D looks like in play, take a look at the following D&D liveplay videos. Many of these have high production values but they still give you a good idea what it looks like to play D&D. Each video is about two to three hours long.
If you're ready to jump into D&D, start with the D&D Starter Set. This inexpensive boxed set includes all of the rules you need to play, a set of dice, and an excellent adventure for beginning characters called Lost Mine of Phandelver. Here are some articles for starting strong at your first D&D game and tips for running Lost Mine of Phandelver.
You might also pick up the D&D Essentials Kit. This boxed set includes another adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, designed specifically for new DMs and includes rules for running D&D with just one player and one DM. If you're running this adventure, read my guide for running Dragon of Icespire Peak before you get started. The adventure has some rough spots for 1st level characters in it.
Both of these boxed sets can work well together, filling out the area around Phandalin with a host of quests and adventures the players can choose from.
You can play D&D with as few as a single dungeon master and a single player but one DM and around four players is more common. Finding and maintaining a D&D group is likely the hardest part of running a D&D game. Read my article on finding and maintaining a D&D group for advice on finding the right players and keeping your game going week after week.
At this point, if you and your friends are enjoying D&D, it's time to dig into the D&D core books. There are three D&D core books: the Player's Handbook for players, and the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual for dungeon masters.
With just these three books in hand you have enough material for years of play. You don't need any other books or accessories to play D&D for the rest of your lives. Instead of physical books you also can buy books on D&D Beyond and share them with your group online.
D&D has a number of other books that add new monsters, races, class abilities, and campaign worlds. These include:
These books are entirely optional. You can go a long way with just the three core books. That said, each of the above books has additional material both in mechanics and lore to grow your game.
Wizards of the Coast also publishes a number of large campaign adventures. These big adventures can take a group over a year to complete and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Many DMs prefer to run their own adventures in their own world, however. You can read all about these published adventures at my guide for published D&D adventures.
A Flip Mat. Being able to draw what a location looks like can be very useful, particularly for combat. This Pathfinder Flip Mat is my personal favorite. It's cheap, lightweight, easy to pack, and limitless in its flexibility.
Tokens and Miniatures. You'll see a lot of D&D games that use miniatures for characters and monsters. Miniature collecting and painting is its own limitless hobby. Miniatures aren't required to play D&D. There are many cheap options for representing characters and monsters on the table to help you show positioning in combat. These cheap tokens represent both monsters and characters and can be put together for under $30. For more information on tokens and miniatures, see my New DM's Guide to Miniatures.
There's a huge array of other accessories for running D&D games. Some are good, many will complicate your game without making it any better. You don't need anything more than the core books and some dice to enjoy D&D for the rest of your life. Don't get overwhelmed. Start small and add in the accessories you need to make your game great.
Endless adventures await you should you continue your journey into Dungeons & Dragons. Once you've gotten started, check out my Start Here page for a selection of the top articles from this site to help you along your path. Grab your walking stick, tighten up your boots, and lets explore new worlds together.
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