I’ll be your dungeon master for this session.
D&D is a collaborative storytelling between friends!
It’s not a video game!
It’s a social table-top roleplaying game, traditionally played at…you guessed it….a tabletop.
However, with 2020 being the way that it is, many D&D games have moved online via sources such as Zoom.
Despite this, it’s still not a video game and it’s still loads of fun.
How does it work?
First, you need a world to work within. What does that mean?
Lord of the Rings takes place in the world of Middle Earth. It has its own land, it’s own languages, it’s own creatures, and it’s own rules.
Harry Potter takes place in a combination of our normal world as well as the wizarding world.
You can use a pre-built world by the Dungeons & Dragons company.
What is a campaign?!
That’s D&D-speak for the storyline that you’re playing.
Okay okay cool. I picked a world for my campaign. Now what.
Now you need a game master, known as a dungeon master in D&D specific games
A dungeon master is the storyteller. They know the world you’re playing within very well and narrate the protagonist’s journey through it.
Who are the protagonists?
The players! You as a player are the protagonist of a D&D campaign. And the dungeon master’s job is to guide you through it.
The dungeon master also plays any non-player characters, or NPCs, as well as monsters and other creatures. It’s a big job!
Something I want to make very clear right from the start is that there are two critical people at the d&d table – the player or players and the dungeon master. You can’t play without a dungeon master and you can’t play without players.
So something to think about is which you might like to focus on more? Do you want to play for a while and then try your hand at DMing? That’s a very common choice. But in this case, you’ll need to find someone to be the dungeon master while you learn how to play.
Okay. Dungeon master = storyteller
players = story protagonists
A group of players is called a party
Now how does the story move forward?
I’ll explain really quick and then I will show you an actual example
The narrator explains the scene and sets the stage. They will likely use quest hooks or other enticing information to help guide player decisions. Then the players decide what they’re going to do.
Here’s an example of a quest hook:
A broken cart is laying on the side of the road, it’s riddled with arrows. Several feet further ahead you see a couple of dead horses, also riddled with arrows. How do you want to approach this situation?
As a player, it’s your job to explore the world, socialize with other players and non-player characters, creatures, and sometimes even enchanted objects
So in this situation, you’ll interact with your party members. What should we do about these horses and this cart? Should we run away? Should we investigate? Maybe we should try and figure out what kind of arrows these are. Maybe we dig through the cart for supplies! Oh look, the horses have saddlebags full of food and gold.
You’ll also be in combat situations as a player. Though that doesn’t necessarily always mean you’re fighting another living thing.
It could mean that you’re in combat with the elements or even with logic. Maybe you’re solving a puzzle.
A fan favorite, however, is combat-combat.
Let’s say you investigate the arrows and discover that they’re goblin arrows. Well, now you know that there might be goblins nearby. Upon further investigations, you realize that this whole situation happened only minutes before your arrival.
An arrow whizzes past your head and hits the tree next to you. It’s the same arrow as the ones you’ve just investigated.
It’s time for everyone to take initiative because you’re in your first combat situation.
So again: Exploration, socialization, and combat.
It’s that simple!
Oh, wait, actually there’s a catch.
Much of the game is left of to random chance through the use of… dun dun dunnnnnn
This is your most-used die, called a D20 which stands for 20-sided die. This one is called a d6 and this one is called a d12. You get the idea. It correlates with the number of sides the particular die has.
Wait, um, I’m calculating my starting gold and this table says that I need 2d4…. WHATTTTT does that mean?
That simply means you need two, four-sided die. The number in front of the d is for the quantity of die. The number after the d tells us how many sides the die has.
1d20 = 1 20-sided die
3d6 = three six-sided die
Got it? Awesome!
You can either use a physical dice set like this or you can use a free online dice roller! There are also lots of free dice apps available.
Each time you make an action, or whenever the DM deems it appropriate, you’re going to make an ability check with your d20. You’ll be rolling ability checks, which we’ll go over in a minute.
The basic idea, though, is the lower your roll, the lower your chance of success in an ability check to take an action, such as jumping up onto a roof.
The higher the roll, the higher your chances of success.
Let’s say that when you wanted to investigate those arrows sticking out of the horses that your DM asked you to roll for investigation. You DM may set something called a difficulty class which is the secret number in their brain that makes or breaks an action.
Let’s say they set the difficulty class to 15. They don’t tell you this number. It’s their number that they use to determine how the story will go based on YOUR dice rolls.
You roll your d20 and come up with a total number of 5. This means that you’re looking at those arrows… and they look like arrows.
Whereas if you roll something more like a 17, your character will look at those arrows and recognize them as goblin arrows.
You tell your DM the number, your DM tells you what happens next based on the number.
Maybe you rolled a natural one and your character though they were looking at a funny-looking bush, nothing suspicious going on at all.
The story can get quite ridiculous if your dice don’t wanna work with you. I prefer lots of wonky natural one rolls in my games. It makes a hilarious storyline.
The DM narrates the situation, players describe what they want to do, the DM asks them to roll, and then narrates the results.
The DM is the ultimate master of the game. If there is confusion about how something plays out or what should happen, your DM will make a decision and by the laws of improv and d&d, it is reality.
Your DM may have made the executive decision to change some of the rules, or alter, creature stats, or maybe they’re not totally sure on the rules of something and they’re going to wing it. That’s their prerogative. They don’t have to be perfect but every sport has a referee for a reason.
However, it’s also their job not to railroad the story. It’s supposed to be fun for everyone. Everyone has to work together. That’s why it’s called a cooperative game.
Okay, so we’ve covered what players do. We’ve covered what DMs do. We’ve covered the role of dice in the game. Badum chhhh!
We’ve only mentioned abilities, so let’s talk about that real quick.
You’ve got six main abilities on your character sheet. Then you’ve got 10 minor abilities. I only call them minor abilities because they’re dependent on the six main ones. Your six core abilities.
These abilities are strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma.
I’ll use a tomato to explain each of them to you.
Your strength is how well you can crush a tomato
Your dexterity is how well you can dodge a tomato being thrown at you
Your constitution is how well you handle eating a rotten tomato
Your intelligence is knowing that the tomato is technically a fruit
Your wisdom is knowing not to use tomato as the base for a fruit salad
Your charisma is how well you would be able to sell a tomato-based fruit salad.
Your ability scores help determine who your character is in the world they’re playing. Maybe they’re really strong with a high constitution but they’re really unapproachable and uncharismatic. Maybe they’ve got the social personality of a wet sock.
Maybe you have a character that is really intelligent. They can invent anything you’d ever need and get you through situations that require intelligence and puzzle-solving. But also maybe they aren’t very wise and they leave the party’s supply of gold out on a counter to be stolen while shopping for books.
Your ability scores will determine your ability modifiers. If your overall score in dexterity, for example, is 8 or 9, your modifier is -1. This means that if you’re rolling a dexterity check as per your DMs request, you’ll add a -1 to your total roll. So technically you’d subtract one but you get the idea.
I’m a player. I wanna scale that wall.
I’m the DM and I’m going to set that at a difficulty class of ten. “Cool, roll a dexterity check!”
“Alright! I rolled a 10 but my dexterity modifier is a -1 so my end number is a 9! Did I make it?”
“Yeahhhhhhh. So you actually just run flat into the wall. Luckily it makes everyone laugh so it’s not a total loss.”
That’s a quick example of how modifiers work. For a complete table visit hashtaggameschool.com/modifiers
After you’ve added your modifier, you’ll add any other bonuses or subtract any other penalties as per certain features, spells, or circumstances. I’m not going to go into all of that in this presentation. We’re doing the basics and you’ll have to keep growing your game from there!
Your scores also determine other things. For example, your strength score directly correlates with how much weight your character can carry in the game.
Your maximum carrying weight should be 5 times your strength score or less. Any more than that and you’ll lose speed. So say your strength score is 14. You’ll want to make sure your character isn’t carrying any more than 70 lbs of gear.
Every piece of equipment, armor, gear, food, clothing, weapon, you name it has a weight associated with it. This is all listed in the player’s manual or on the website.
So since we’ve briefly talked about ability scores that means we’re already building our first character! So let’s keep on that topic.
Building your first D&D character is SO EXCITING.
I’m going to walk you through the steps to building one, using the core player manual races, classes, and backgrounds as my examples.
The first thing you will do is get a character sheet. You can print one for free or you can even create a digital character sheet.
Then your first decision will be to pick a character race. Race in D&D means what species does in real life. The core D&D race options are elf, half-elf, half-orc, human, Dragonborn, gnome, dwarf, halfling, and tiefling.
Some of these races have sub-races to choose from. Such as gnomes which can be either wood gnomes or rock gnomes!
Your race will give your character physical characteristics, language, skills proficiencies, and more.
After you’ve chosen your character’s race, you’ll choose their class. This is a very important choice that makes a lot of decisions about who your character is and how they interact in the D&D world around them.
The core classes include warlocks, wizards, sorcerers, rogues, rangers, paladins, monk, fighter, cleric, bard, barbarian, and druid. Some of these classes have subclasses to choose from.
You can read more details about each of these at hashtaggameschool.com/characters.
After you’ve chosen your race and your class and updated your character sheet accordingly, you’ll be rolling your ability scores.
These are the boxes on the side of your sheet here.
Once you’ve rolled your ability scores, you’ll consult a special table to determine what your ability modifier scores are and add those to the abilities boxes as well!
Now you’re starting to build your character sheet!
It’s a lot of detail work and it’s more than we can cover in the presentation here but let me give you a timeline rundown of the character-building a sheet process so you know which direction to go:
- Choose a race, add applicable features to your sheet
- Choose a class, add applicable features to your sheet
- Add your ability scores and modifiers to your paper. Take the following numbers: 15 (+2), 14 (+2), 13 (+1), 12 (+1), 10 (+0), 8 (-1) and place them in each ability score box as you’d prefer. You can also choose to place them randomly. The large number is your ability score. The smaller number next to a plus or minus sign is that score’s modifier. You’ll use the modifiers to add or subtract your rolls in the game.
- Describe your character! Choose a background for them and fill in the character description prompts on your character sheet
- Add your starting equipment to your character sheet. Your class and background will determine these
- Choose and add applicable spells if your character is a spellcaster!
- Your HIT points determine how many points of life your character has. If they were to be knocked down to zero hit points, they are no longer conscious. To determine your hit points, you will roll your hit die, determined by your class. Then you’ll add your constitution modifier to that number. (You’ll figure this out when you roll for your ability scores) That number is what you’ll put in the “max hit points” section of your paper
- Your proficiency bonus as a first level character is +2
- Your character’s armor class, or AC, is 10 plus your character’s dexterity modifier. Unless they’re wearing armor. Then it’s different. But we’re just getting acquainted.
Consult the downloadable form that comes with this presentation for links to further information on all things character-building.
You have now built your first character sheet and you are ready to join your first game! Congrats! You’ll definitely be adding more and changing things on your character sheet as you go. It doesn’t have to be perfect before you get started. There’s a lot of numbers and organization involved. It’s okay to whip together the basics and fix it later!
But wait, hold the phone. Now give me the phone.
Maybe you’d prefer to grab that starter kit and be the DM for your party. You don’t need this character-building information!
You totally do, so don’t let those eyes glaze over. In order to be a good DM, you’ll have to have a basic understanding of what your players are building and why.
You’ll need to know just a bit more than a player would need to know.
You don’t have to be perfect! I’ve only been playing D&D for a couple of years and I’m learning more every single day. Sometimes I get things wrong. But I still play and DM multiple times a week because I enjoy it and I enjoy helping other people have fun.
Don’t let anyone gatekeep this game by saying you have to know everything before you start.
That’s lame. And boring. And life is too short.
IT’S GAME TIME
You might want to be the dungeon master. Here are some basic steps for you to take:
-Get to know the character-building process even if you don’t want to build your own characters. If you do, you can use this process to create some non-player characters of your choice.
-Understanding character sheets and stat blocks will help you understand the monster stat blocks. This is pretty important as a dungeon master. YOu don’t have to memorize all your monsters, that’s why there are entire guides to consult. But understanding how to read stat blocks is important. This is how you’ll be able to tell how many hit points a goblin has, what it’s armor class is, and what kind of weapons in might use in an attack.
Other than this here are some simple steps to prepare a campaign to run.
- Read over the campaign or understand the storyline and world you want to narrate.
- Have your NPC and creature stats (Specific to the storyline you’re running) handy so you know how many hit points they have in case of combat!
- Explain the scenes but then let the players move the story forward with their choices and actions.
You can find all the info you’d need either in the Player’s Manual, on DNDBeyond.com, or on my website, HashtagGameschool.com.
I’ve got character builders, tables, and all sorts of stuff going online every day to help you learn and grow your dnd game.