What is Dungeons & Dragons? (Quick Introduction)

emily mini profile pic By Emily

If you haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons before it can be difficult understanding exactly what it is. In this post, I explain what Dungeons & Dragons is and how it works.

What is Dungeons and Dragons? Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game first published in 1974. Most players role-play adventuring characters such as an elf warlock or dwarf paladin. One player is the Dungeon Master who facilitates the game, controls the monsters and non-player characters, and narrates the story.


Hi! This post may link to online stores. If you click a link and buy something, I may get a commission at no extra cost to you. See my Affiliate Disclosure for more details.


Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a game which never ends, in which anything is possible and which no-one and everyone wins. Sound confusing? It’s surprisingly straightforward.

Read on to find out how Dungeons and Dragons works.

Dungeons and dragons cover

It’s a co-operative, role-playing game

Dungeons and Dragons is a co-operative role-playing game. Co-operative because you work together with the other players to go on adventures in the D&D world. Role-playing because you take on the role of the character you are playing.

Co-operative

In Dungeons and Dragons your group works together on adventures. A group will have a mixture of different types of characters with different strengths and weaknesses.

For example, I rolled a half-elf warlock. I was really good at dealing spell damage at monsters from a distance but as soon as they got close my armour provided very little protection and my physical hits were very weak.

That’s where a character like a Paladin comes in. Paladins wear heavy armour so can take a lot of hits without losing health and they are great at hitting things!

As a team you decide how you’re going to approach an encounter to make the most of each character’s skills and abilities and support each other.

Role-playing

In a role-playing game you can be anyone you want to be.

Usually shy and quiet but wish you could be more confident? Design a character that way. Be Paladin who fearlessly charges into each situation first because they believe it’s their duty to protect their friends.

When you role play you are an actor. You take on the role of that character, it’s not what would you do. It’s what would they do. What would they say?

It’s fun trying on different personalities.

How to play

Get a group together

Four or five players plus the Dungeon Master is a good number. It’s a manageable number of players for the Dungeon Master to keep track of, everyone can fit around a dining table and it allows for a good amount of player interaction and strategy.

Dungeons and Dragons can be played with two players but you may need to flex the roles from the standard set up. With two players you may both want to have a character and share the DM role or have the player control multiple characters.

Decide who will be the Dungeon Master

In Dungeons and Dragons there are players who each control an adventurer, and there is the Dungeon Master (DM) who controls everything else.

The DM has an important role and deciding who this will be will happen long before the first D&D session.

This gives the DM time to prepare the story and monster encounters.
(See this article What is a Dungeon Master? for more info).

Create the characters

Each player creates a character by filling in their Character Sheet according to the Player Handbook.

dungeons and dragons character sheet
My Dungeons and Dragons character sheet for a Monk

The Character Sheet contains all the basic player statics like defence, health and skills. It also lists that characters name, abilities, equipment, level, experience points etc.

The Character Sheet is usually completed in pencil so that details can be rubbed out and updated as their character goes on their adventures.

A key decision for most players is what race and class they will be. Each race and class has its own traits and forms the starting point for your character’s creation.

Are you a big burly orc who can’t wait to hit things? Are you a sneaky elf rogue who will lurk in the shadows and pounce on unsuspecting bad guys?

In the 5th Edition of D&D Core Player’s Handbook the following races and classes are available.

Race

  • Human
  • Elf
  • Half-Elf
  • Dwarf
  • Halfling
  • Half-Orc
  • Tiefling
  • Dragonborn
  • Gnome

Class

  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rouge
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

Another important decision is the character alignment which will influence the decisions that character takes during the game. There are nine alignments ranging from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil, you can read about them in my alignments article.

Select an adventure

This is what your characters are going to go and do. The Dungeon Master may design an adventure of their own, they could buy a pre-prepared one, or they could find a free one the Dungeon Master’s Guild where anyone can post an adventure they have designed themselves.

Set it up

Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t need a board to play.

The adventure may start in a location such as a town, village or city in which case your group will talk through what is happening without representing what’s happening on a board. I’m going to head over to the quartermaster and try and cut a deal on a new bow.

When you get into a physical encounter it can be useful to have a board to show where all the characters and monsters are in relation to each other.

Dungeons & Dragons The Board Game set contains boards, miniatures for characters and monsters and an adventure. But the roleplaying game doesn’t use a board as such.

Some groups use a whiteboard and draw out the environment shape on 1×1 inch squares. My group liked to use printed maps and miniatures. Some groups don’t use a board or sketch at all.

My group playing Dungeons and Dragons with miniatures and maps
My group playing Dungeons and Dragons with miniatures and maps

Do things

With dice and imagination anything is possible.

There are 7 types of dice needed to play D&D.

  • 4-sided dice
  • 6-sided dice
  • 8-sided dice
  • 10-sided dice
  • 12-sided dice
  • 20-sided dice
  • Percentile (which is a 10-sided dice but with percentages on instead of single numbers)

But there’s one dice, in particular, that’s used when players want to do something – the twenty-sided dice or D20.

The D20 is an iconic dice for role-playing games.

dnd dice set
Dungeons and Dragons dice with D20 in the centre

When a player wants do something they roll a D20 to see if they succeed or fail. This is called a roll check. The higher the result, the more likely the player is to succeed.

There are three main types of roll checks.

  1. Causing damage – Trying to hit an Owlbear with an arrow.
  2. Using a skill – Using the Persuasion skill to try to convince a city guard to let you into the house of a nobleperson.
  3. Using an ability without an associated skill – Trying to move a boulder onto a trap pressure plate would need a Strength roll check.

The dice result is added to stats on the Character Sheet to give the final result. The total is compared to the target number (which sometimes comes from the rules and sometimes comes from the Dungeon Master), if it’s higher, the player succeeds – hurrah!

Critical Fumbles and Critical Hits

D&D groups will often use Critical Fumbles and Critical Hit rules for a bit of fun.

A Critical Fumble happens when a player rolls a 1 on a roll check. When this happens, they don’t just fail the roll check, something bad happens too. Instead of just failing to backflip over the bugbear, you backflipped straight into them and are now laid prone on the floor in front of them.

If a player rolls 20, they have rolled a Critical Hit. They don’t just succeed, something awesome happens too. As you backflip over the bugbear you kick the goblin behind them in the face and they are laid prone for the next turn.

How you win

Dungeons and Dragons is the game that you can’t win, but usually, do.

There’s no ‘winning’ in the traditional sense. It’s not the first player to 100 points or level 10 or anything like that.

Having said that, along the way your group will experience small victories which feel like wins.

  • Levelling up your character and getting better stats and abilities
  • Finding an enchanted amulet which gives your character bonus health points
  • Successfully wiping out a cave of orcs that have been upsetting the local town

At the end of a session if everyone has had fun, then you have won.

A typical adventure may take a couple of hours but a campaign can go on for several sessions. A Dungeons and Dragons group may get together for a gaming day where they progress through several adventures in one day.

Conclusion – What is D&D?

Dungeons and Dragons is a co-operative roleplaying game where everyone works together to create a fun story and go on interesting adventures. It’s an imaginative and creative game that’s fun to get lost in and is a great excuse to see your friends regularly!

More Dungeons & Dragons articles

emily sargeantson profile pic

Emily
Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

Buy me a coffee at Ko-fi