5 Things to Know Before Your First Dungeons and Dragons Campaign

If you have not yet heard of Dungeons and Dragons I’d love to know what rock you’ve been hiding under. It is the game that had conservative Christians frothing at the mouth worse than Harry Potter when it first took the stage and was more recently showcased on Stranger Things. If that does not ring a bell then perhaps you have heard of Critical Role from Geek & Sundry, or maybe you have a friend who won’t shut up about the game. 

Whatever you know, here is the quick and dirty overview: Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop fantasy role-playing game that is older than I am and has managed to stand up to the test of time. A Dungeon Master, or DM, creates a world for players to enter into through playable characters they create.

Your characters can be from one of a dozen races and can be customized through class (think Paladin) and background (think Charlatan!). Dice are used when determining various characteristics that are later integrated into gameplay to decide things such as: 

  1. How well your character lies
  2. Whether or not you can hit a creature with your sword during a fight
  3. Whether your eyes work well

Since joining my first campaign a couple of months ago I have become completely enraptured in the process, from character creation to campaign. Along the way, I have made a lot of mistakes and have thought to myself, “Man, I wish I’d had a guide to lead the way.” Well, folks, I will now give you that guide.

Below you will find the top five things I think everyone should know before diving into Dungeons and Dragons.

Buy the handbook and READ IT

This was probably a given, but I don’t usually do things the easy way the first time around. As a result, I jumped into a campaign assuming the DM (who is a friend of mine) and my fellow campaign members could walk me through the process.

To their credit they have, but a lot of their answers included the phrase, “It is in the handbook on page X.” I also noticed that throughout gameplay, experienced players kept referring to the handbook when they were not sure about something. 

Of course, it did not really click until I was working on my second character that, perhaps, I should try taking a look at the handbook. I was amazed. The writers of the fifth edition did a phenomenal job at laying out the process from character creation to game play.

I immediately regretted not having my own copy of the handbook to work through because it would have made things infinitely easier while getting started. Thankfully, my campaign members were kind and helped me limp along, but I became a far stronger player after reading the handbook.

Don’t start out with a homebrew class

When I started building my first character my friends asked me what I wanted to be. I somewhat jokingly said, “Werewolf!” and was told that they didn’t really have them. Then, moments later, one of them posted a link to an “official” homebrew class – Blood Hunters. It was written by Matt Mercer, who is one part voice actor, one part god, and currently DMs the newest season of Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role series. One of the Blood Hunter orders was referred to as “The Order of the Lycan” and I immediately signed on. 

Of course, I didn’t understand what I had signed on for because I didn’t read the handbook in the first place but… there you go. 

I love my character and in the end, I have no real regrets because I think she is strong and I have learned a lot by being tossed into the fire. However, if I were to do it again and start with reading the handbook I probably would have stuck with one of the traditional classes. 

Watch/listen to other people play

I wish I would have picked up Critical Role sooner, but it is not the only creature of its kind. There are a dozen plus podcasts out there where you can listen to players work through their D&D campaign. If you don’t know where to start, we’ve covered plenty ourselves in our Pod Nod. You can check out why we love Sneak Attack, The Dungeon Rats, and Awful Good right now.

It is helpful not necessarily to learn the specific mechanics, but rather to understand how the storytelling works. Be sure to find campaigns with good DMs, because they are the force that pushes the story forward, but the characters should be interesting too. 

When I first started I was so stressed about the mechanics, on top of playing a relatively solitary character, that I hardly interacted with the party. There were moments where I would zone out during gameplay because I did not know how to really jump in and I was scared of messing it up.

As I have become more comfortable with the format and have started watching other players play, I realize that I can be more animated and dive further into my character. It is like play therapy for adults, honestly, and I’m having a lot more fun. 

Be prepared to make mistakes – and be okay with them!

Mistakes are an honest part of the game. I’m not a fan of mistakes, I don’t think many people are, but Dungeons and Dragons is usually full of them. In character or out, odds are you, your campaign members, and your DM are going to heck something up. It is in the very nature of the game, given how complex the mechanics of it are.

However, also a part of the game is how to make mistakes and failures a part of the story. D&D‘s storytelling capacity is where its greatest strength lies, and every good story has a few instances of failure along the way. 

I will give you an example from my current campaign. Our cleric, a half-orc, who should have proficiency when it comes to perception rolled consistently like crap last session. She was put in situations where she should have had an advantage and, because of the will of the dice, did not.

As a result, instead of getting upset about the series of poor rolls, she came up with an idea: maybe Moira needs glasses. Maybe there’s something going on with her vision and we should explore that. Poor circumstances broadened the storytelling potential and I was absolutely charmed. 

Mistakes are going to be a huge part of the game so embrace them, love them, own them. 

Get ready to be addicted to dice

Okay, maybe not just dice, but that is definitely a part of it. When you play the true tabletop game there’s something to be said for being able to bring fancy, beautiful, character-fitting dice out to roll for attacks, initiative, or skills.

I had to recently purchase a bigger bag to keep all my dice in, something I didn’t expect in a thousand years. “Why do you need all those dice, Katie?” Because I do. Don’t ask questions. 

Outside of dice, though, the world of Dungeons and Dragons opens up a lot of opportunities to figure out how to build and express your character to the fullest. Every member of my campaign has commissioned at least one art piece of their character simply because it brings another level of depth to the game.

Now, not only have we heard their description but we can see them in our minds. A lot of us have worked on extensive backstories, spending hours typing away to build up the events which led our character to the campaign. The DM for my current campaign loves making playlists that capture her characters from other campaigns. 

If you love the world of fantasy and have a single creative bone in your body, Dungeons and Dragons will open doors for renewed creativity. Since getting into graduate school my creative writing has stalled out. Since getting into Dungeons and Dragons, though, I find myself scribbling out stories between classes and contemplating character development. There is more to D&D than just the game itself, and that is one of the coolest things I have discovered about it. 

Dungeons and Dragons is a fantastic game that will tap into your creative reservoir and open up new worlds. So what are you waiting for? Get to it!