What is Dungeons and Dragons
This is a very popular question right now due to the regrowing popularity of Dungeons and Dragons in pop culture. Part of its success is that the game itself has become more use-friendly, but there are also countless ways to watch, play, and learn about the game. Unarguably, one of the most impactful things affecting the growth of DND is the popular group/show Critical Role as well as other streaming shows and podcasts.
If you’re loooking for a short answer to the question “What is Dungeons and Dragons,” then here it is:
The heart of Dungeons and Dragons (now) is storytelling. However, it’s dissimilar from an author writing stories and everyone else reading it. YOU and your friends, or a group of strangers, gather and tell a story together. You design a “hero” or character from a long list of character creation options (or make up your own), and then guide that character along with your friends through epic quests, dangerous battles, intrigue, and more.
If you ever wanted to live in a fantasy world or partake in things like the political intrigue that you watched unfold through all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones (I refuse to accept there is an 8th season – “I don’t want it.”), then Dungeons and Dragons (or some other tabletop role-playing game like Pathfinder or Dungeonworld) is the way to do it.
There you have it, those are the words I use to answer “What is DND?” Bear in mind, however, that this really doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. It’s the tip of the iceburg when you consider everything else that D&D can offer. But, I digress, I’ll go further in depth in a different post… probably titled “Why Play DND?”
As stated above, each player makes a character. Alternatively, you can often choose one that’s already been made, but I don’t recommend it for reasons I’ll explain one day. If you’re pressed for time, or don’t know what to do, then picking a pre-made may be the way to go. Typically, there are 3-5 players; one of those players or someone else will take on the role of Dungeon Master (DM). The Dungeon Master acts as the central storyteller and “referee” of the rules. From here on out, I will use the words
- Dungeon Master
- Story teller
- Game Master
interchangeably. “I” will be slipped in there usually by accident, since the role I’ve filled now has been Dungeon Master, so it’s just a part of my identity now. I may also more often than not say “he” because of my own identity, but women and anyone else can DM, and I encourage you to.
It’s easier to say what the DM doesn’t do. The players play their characters and they react to what is presented. The DM does everything else. They describe the locations, the other characters (like bar maids, rampaging giants, or sly goblins), and they adjudicate the rules. Often, the DM is referred to as “god” of the game, but I dislike the term. It’s a team game, and everyone’s role is important.
How To Play
You can play Dungeons and Dragons anywhere. 99% of the time people will play with dice and paper and pencil (I guarantee that statistic is made up by me), however, you can play it on a bus, on a train, or in a house with a mouse. Yes, you can play DND here and there, you can play it anywhere. If you like pattern, the game can be broken down into this someone cyclical pattern. Also, if you like diagrams or flow charts, then make me one and let me know.
The Dungeon Master Describes The Setting
Games will generally “begin” in a tavern, but they can start anywhere. Just like a movie, you can begin right in the middle of a chase, or aboard a crashing airship. Whatever the scenario, the Dungeon Master describes it. A few brief sentences is sufficient in this case; if you talk too much, you lose the players through boredom or lack of engagement. If you talk to little, you give the players no context and will have to say more anyway. Off the top of my head, a typical game start would go something like this:
“After finding a flyer that announced
“Little Snuffles is Missing! Find my cat and I’ll reward you handsomely. Find me at The Swinging Sword tavern and ask for Bridget the halfling,”
you’ve each walked in and found a spot in the downtrodden dive. It smells of spilled mead and body odor, but the clientele and the music give life to the place. Behind the bar is a scaled lizardman with a tail half as long as his body pouring drinks for several different patrons. You can hear muffled footsteps above you from the second floor as well as a burst of raucous laughter that comes from a room in the back.”
That’s enough to set the scene and give the players some options. The goal is to give enough detail to interact with and then explain in further detail base don what the players pick up on. If you read carefully, you’ll see I’ve given the players a task, a contact, several rooms to explore, and some patrons (called non-player characters) to engage with.
Players Then Decide and Narrate Their Actions
After hearing the description, a player might decide to light the place on fire. Why? I don’t know, but some players are just like that and I immediately remove them from my game. If they don’t burn the place down and they don’t go about killing all of the innocents in the tavern, then you’re off to a great start as either a DM or a player.
Joking (but seriously, that can happen) aside, a player might then decide to approach the bartender and ask for Bridget, they may ask for a menu to get something to drink, they can ask the DM “What do the patrons look like?”, or any number of options. I never try to predict all the things players might do. There’s more of them than me, and usually smarter.
Each player doesn’t need to do each thing in turn, though it helps if they SPEAK in turn. For example:
- Michelle, playing Minmaximus, the barbarian: “Is there a muscular dude sitting at the bar? I want to arm wrestle him.”
- Whitaker, playing Lady Kicks a Lot, the monk: “That lizardman looks suspicious, I want to stay away from him, so I’m going to explore the other room and see what all the laughter is about.”
- Zachery, playing Peppers McGee the bard: “I’ll ask ol’ leather face if he knows where Bridget the midget is.”
- Brian, playing Edgelord the druid: “I’m going to find the darkest corner to sit in. I’m going to watch and see what’s really going on here.”
That can all happen concurrently. Also, that was all a bit tongue-in-cheek, but players can AND WILL do weird stuff.
Dungeon Master Will Announce The Outcome
After being presented with all of their questions and input, the Dungeon Master responds with more information and the story develops. That’s all there is to it. I try to always make things interesting or funny, though sometimes I also just try to move the story along. With certain goals in mind, I’d respond with something like this:
- To Michelle: I may or may not have “known” what all the patrons looked like in the bar, but that’s why I was vague in initially describing them. I can now say “Yes, there’s a 7ft tall human. He’s only got one arm, but it looks like it’s more than enough. In fact, he’s eyeballing you from across the room.” Then maybe add that he winks. I like to keep my players on their toes.
- To Whitaker: “You make your way to the other room in the back and immediately learn what all the laughter is about. It seems as though “The Swinging Sword” is a double entendre for the type of dancing that goes on here. A humanoid that looks like a big turtle is pole-dancing and just fell flat on his back. The crowd laughs as he struggles to recover.”
- To Zachery: The lizardman shows you a warm, toothy grin and says “Yesssss, sssssshe hassssss a room upssssstairsssss, ” as he points with a long nail to the stairs.
- To Brian: “You find the darkest of corners, but just as you’re getting settled in an overly-friendly woman walks up to you with a big grin on her face and tells you that “You absolutely must come with me to the back room. There’s a turtleman there making a fool of himself, and I think you’re just what we need.” You’re pretty sure you notice her gauging the size of your hands.
Truly, that’s all you absolutely need to play D&D: at least two people.
- a player playing a character
- a player playing the Dungeon Master
If you want to have fights and encounters on bridges or in dungeons, then you’ll need at least the Player’s Handbook to get you started. There’s three Core rule books that you should have if you really want to explore your options:
- Player’s Handbook
- Dungeon Master’s Guide
- Monster Manual
A character sheet along with a pencil and some dice… and you have the tools you need for thousands and thousands of hours of fun and memories that will last you a lifetime.
I hope you enjoyed this little scenario!
Signing off with some finger guns aimed at ya! *pew pew*
What got you curious about D&D?
Share with us what brought you here! Ask any questions you might have. I intentionally made this short and sweet, just to show people how simple it is to get started.