Explaining Dungeons & Dragons

One of the tricky things about introducing new players to Dungeons & Dragons is that the bewildering array of options that the game presents can easily overwhelm new players, as well as making it very difficult to describe in a way that sounds both straightforward and fun. Like with modern videogames, a solution is to introduce the game one element at a time. At its core, D&D can be described as follows:

"Dungeons & Dragons is a game played with dice. One player controls a dungeon, which is like an underground maze full of monsters and treasure. The other players control one character each, maybe a wizard or a warrior, and their task is to work together to beat the dungeon. What’s neat is that if you’re successful, you can keep your character along with any treasure they found, and use it the next time you play."

Forget any of this crap about “collaborative storytelling”, at least for now. Yes, it’s part of the game, but storytelling and improv acting are their own game elements, and it’s important that players are comfortable with a solid concept such as a competitive dice-based game, before moving on to the more subtle and perhaps unusual aspects of what we call roleplaying. Let your players pick between a set of pre-written character sheets, give them each a box of dice, and run them through a dungeon of your own devising to let your players have a feel for how the traditional “dungeon crawl” element of the game runs.

Eventually, however, you’ll want to introduce players to the concept that their characters are more than a collection of statistics. This is where character background generation comes in. Stay tuned and I’ll fill this in next time.

Comments (5)

megascorcher (October 27th, 2007)

I remember, before I played my first session, I felt the “Example of play” paragraph of the Dungeon Master’s Guide had given me a good idea of how the game worked. Although, I had already heard of the game before I read it. The times I’ve had to introduce someone completely uninitiated to how the game works, I have always included a basic explanation of the game’s storytelling aspect, and how the DM controls the whole world around the players, and it seemed to work on most of them. I remember at least two who actually tried a game after it.

But yes, if you’re going to explain the game very quickly to someone who haven’t heard anything about it before (which doesn’t seem to be many, by my experience) your description is good, but it is also like it assumes that the one you’re explaining to doesn’t even have any idea of what a roleplaying game is.

Mike (October 27th, 2007)

One thing that I found really effective in another game system was to have a single sheet of paper.

On the front side, put down the character’s name and background. Talk about what the character’s “job” or role in the party.

Let the new players take a look at all the characters and pick out the one they want.

Then, when everyone has a character, have them flip over the character sheet to a simplified set of the “rulesy” stuff like attributes, skills, feats, etc…

Very effective since people pick the character they want to play before they get lost in the rules.

Dudemonkey (April 19th, 2008)

Interestingly, this is an amazing technique for onboarding males, but would probably fall flat with women. Feminist literature aside, men and women think in fundamentally different ways and have different things that they look for in entertainment.

My girlfriend recently ran an experiment where she had a guy do one website design and she did another. Both were good although hers was a little more professional (because she IS a professional). In a blind survey (ie, she basically asked each person to pick one design that they preferred with no background about the designer), men overwhelmingly picked the design done by a guy and the women overwhelmingly picked her design.

The point is that, especially in creative endeavors, men and women have very different buttons that get them to respond. When I explained D&D to her, she eschewed the competitive, violent aspect of it but was very interested in character building and storytelling.

Pingwin (September 3rd, 2009)

We (gameclub) used to explain it the other way around. Its a game where you pretend to be someone else who is somewhere else and you decide what he will do. “You are standing in a corridor, there are two doors and there is a crate in the corner. What do you do?”

The ‘what do you do?’ is for me still the core of an RPG, not the dice that we use to see if we get to do what we want or that we fail :)

starwind1985 (September 7th, 2009)

i always describe d&d to those unfamiliar with it as a videogame played with dice and miniatures instead of a controler

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