Dungeons & Dragons is an ageless gaming classic that’s as relevant today as it was in 1974 when it was first released. The central themes of heroism, fantasy combat with evil monsters, and pretending to be someone else haven’t changed at all. Everything else, however, has.
For starters, back in the mid 1970s you could go outside pretty much whenever you wanted and social distancing was just something people did when they didn’t like you. If you wanted to play D&D back in the day, you just invited your friends over and shared some snacks while you role-played as warriors and wizards for hours on end.
Luckily for us here in the present, the game has evolved. These days we don’t even have to be quarantined together to play together. We can gather around a virtual tabletop and toss some digital dice as much as we want without fear of infecting each other with anything other than laughter and fun.
If you’re new (or an old player returning from the days when D&D was called a “pen and paper” game) Wizards of the Coast has you covered. Over the past few years the company’s done a major revamp of its website and begun leaning heavily into a digital platform called D&D Beyond.
Your first step on the journey into the magical world of D&D should be visiting the website. Unfortunately, like most RPG game websites, this one is brimming with news and info aimed squarely at players already in the know.
You’ll want to ignore everything you see and get to the New Player Guide:
Here’s the thing: there are more how-to guides for learning to play D&D than you’ll ever need. If, for whatever reason, the info on D&D Beyond doesn’t spark your fancy you should feel free to just Google “How to get started with D&D” and find your own way.
I suggest D&D Beyond because it’s super simple, optimized for mobile browsers, and enough to get you and your friends started right away. Just click through the various sections in the New Player Guide and you’ll have a fairly decent primer.
From there, everything else is up to you. You can use the free Character Sheet section to build a D&D character if you intend on being a “player” who controls a fictional character in the D&D game world. If you plan on being a “dungeon master” who controls the story, creatures, and non-player characters, there are tools available on D&D Beyond that will help you build and run your own adventures.
Much of the content on D&D Beyond is free, but it does have subscription offerings for some tools and the adventures and supplementary books range from about $5 – $35. If you’re looking for the “official” D&D experience, this is the way to go.
Of course, “official” is subjective when it comes to D&D. Many of us just want to make up our own fantasy worlds to play using the D&D rule-set. Luckily for us, Beyond supports “homebrew” content that you make up yourself.
Once you’ve figured out how to play and know where to get all the official supplements and info you’ll need, it’s time to find a group to play with. If you happen to be quarantining with some folks who’re interested in tossing the virtual dice around, you’re in luck. Grab em’, have em’ make some characters, and let your adventure-flag fly.
The rest of us are going to have to find our gaming groups online, or play over the internet with our gaming groups while we socially distance. There are a plethora of options for both.
When it comes to finding a group to play with, you can search the D&D forums, check out the LFG (looking for group) board on Reddit, or post an ad on a 3rd party RPG site like Roll20. Millions of people around the world play RPGs and D&D is the most popular — you shouldn’t have to look too far to find a game to join. Alternately you can run your own game as a dungeon master and post an ad on one of the aforementioned forums looking for players to join.
You’ll need a way to play though. I suggest using Roll20. It’s a robust online game atmosphere that lets you play just about any RPG with friends as if they were sitting at a table with you – complete with voice and video chat – while also allowing you to completely change the gaming surface with the click of a button. In the old days, you could spend hours setting up for play. With Roll20 you just open your web browser and start playing with your friends. It’s brilliant.
However – there’s always a “however” – you’ll have to put in some serious elbow grease if you want to run a complex campaign without spending a lot of money. In order to pre-load a lot of the content, you have to pay for it. This is great if you and your group are committed, but if you’re just getting started it can be a bit prohibitive to start tossing money around on a game you’re not sure of yet.
Luckily, you can play D&D in just about any chat interface. In fact, there’s both Twitch and Discord plug-ins to help you play online and D&D Beyond subscribers have access to numerous tools that make it a cinch to link up with players in video chat and roll dice together.
At the end of the day though, you can play D&D in SMS or through email if you want. It’s a game about friendship, storytelling, and imagination. The more creative you get with your D&D experience the more fun you’re bound to have. And we can use all the camaraderie and fun we can get during these difficult times.