Maybe you’ve sat through a few episodes of Stranger Things, caught up with a bit of Critical Role viewing on YouTube, or sensed your friend’s borderline arousal over a new dice set. Maybe for years you’ve been an avid writer, video gamer, or cos-player. Whatever came before, and whatever the reasons – you’ve finally decided to muster the courage to dip your toe into the water of Dungeons and Dragons – or pinch your nose and jump in with both feet. Either way, it’s exciting. But whether you’re a spotlight-searching drama student or the biggest introvert on the planet, taking part in a game can be daunting, confusing, and for some, emotionally challenging.
Let’s face it – you’re putting yourself in a situation where you can practically be anyone and anything; you can be so far removed from the personality you hold tight to that for maybe one evening a week you might feel an escapism that genuinely helps you forget all the other weight in your life. However, you’re committing to being social – at least if playing across a table or voice/video chat – and you’re going to have to open your mouth and interact. Scary stuff.
So, where do you start?
You’ve got options. Lots! But let’s start with a few disclaimers to put you at ease:
There’s lots of rules – but nobody remembers them all.
There’s loads of dice – but you’re going to use the same one a lot.
There’s loads of numbers and stats – but there are apps and sheets which make life easy.
All you need to get started is the confidence to reach out to a few places or people. I found my first game by searching for a group on Facebook. I posted some mumbling text about wanting to play and a few hours later I had a date in my diary at a local cafe: Geek Retreat. I bought a bag of dice, grabbed a notebook, and turned up to meet a group of strangers in the middle of the city. I was worried about not being able to keep up with the game, or have a clue what to say or when to say it. But, turns out, that’s what a Dungeon Master is for. I sat quietly for the first fifteen minutes or so until a magic portal opened up in a tavern that I was drinking in – as an invisible force began to drag my character towards it, the DM asked me to roll a d20. Suddenly, I was playing. Note – it was a really bad roll.
For others, that can seem terrifying – the game and narrative is a very personal thing and anxiety can lead us to worry about whether we’re ‘doing it right’ and whether or not we’re ruining someone else’s game or affecting the experience for others. What if we disrupt the flow? What if we roll the wrong dice? What if I get someone killed? There’s no easy way to address those fears other than to say: you’re sat with a group of people who care about the story, the game, and you. Most importantly, it’s the DM’s job to look after you. And they will.
I could write forever about ways of getting involved so let me keep it brief and give you a few gentle nudges in the right direction. If you’re worried about the rules, watch a few episodes of Critical Role on YouTube and look at how the mechanics work. Do so with the understanding that these are actors and have played for a long time, but the pace will help you get your head around things. You could buy and read the official D&D Starter Pack to learn basic rules and gameplay, or, if you’re really hesitant, take a suggestion from one of my now established players: she put a post out on Facebook asking to be shown the ropes so we invited her to log into Skype and simply observe one of our episodes. At the same time, I encouraged her to put a character sheet together using the toolkit on http://www.dndbeyond.com, and – when she finally felt more confident – we worked together to craft an interesting way of how her character could enter the story (check out episode 10 in our Live Campaign). The rest of the group were thrilled by someone new entering the fray; they talked her through things when needed, and it’s now openly a highlight of her week.
If you’re not at that point yet, don’t worry. Reading about D&D means sooner or later you will end up playing. Just take your time to find a group – that plays online or in person – and a DM that you feel comfortable with. Don’t worry about putting on an accent or talking in character (some do, some don’t, and some really do), and don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. You’ll be surprised how many people feel the same way as you, and everybody has those first-date nerves. Roll your first dice and you’ll be amazed how quickly it becomes the most natural thing in the world.
Let us know your own experiences and thoughts – we’d love to hear about your first session!
The Desperate DM.