Recently on Twitter I had this wonderful exchange with a complete stranger:
Hi!!! Im the woman in the video and I've always wanted to play that game!— Kimberly Elayyne (@Kimberlyelayyne) July 28, 2022
Moments like this are what make the internet worthwhile. The magic of human connection is the often elusive promise of social media.
Now I haven’t played DND with my new friend yet, but I hope we get the chance. And the whole exchange got me wondering what exactly someone needs the first time they play DND? Or any TTRPG for that matter?
Let’s say you’ve been invited to a local DND gaming group. Or some online friends asked you to join their next Pathfinder adventure. Or you think organizing a TTRPG campaign with your family or friends would be a great way to spend time together (spoiler: it will be!). What’s your shopping list before you get started?
Now you can make this as complicated as you want. There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to tools and accessories for a gaming table. But sometimes all of those goodies can feel like a barrier to entry for a new player. What about the essentials? What’s the bare minimum needed to play and enjoy that first session?
I had to admit it’s a pretty short list.
If you’re going to sit down and play a game, you should at least have a basic understanding of the rules of play.
There’s no need to go overboard here. You don’t want to try drinking from the firehose and get overwhelmed before your first session. If you like the game, you’ll eventually want to buy a basic rules set. That might be The Players Handbook for DND, the Pathfinder Core Rulebook or Beginner Box, or any of a myriad choices from smaller publishers.
But you don’t need to purchase anything right out of the gate. Wizards of the Coast, the often maligned owners of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, offers downloadable PDFs of the Basic Rules, and over on DND Beyond you can find an extensive collection of articles that will tell you everything you need to know to get started.
Paizo, the creator of Pathfinder among other gaming systems, has partnered with the Archives of Nethys to offer everything you could need to get started on Pathfinder without paying a single red cent.
The best advice I can give is talk to your Game Master and find out what they expect you to know and read before you show up at the table.
2. Character Sheet.
It’s a Role Playing Game. You need a role to play.
Before I ever started playing DND, I used to love to create characters. I came up with a name, race, class, and backstory for a slew of PCs who never left the graveyard of my binder or notebook. I’d even roll for attributes and fill out the entire sheet. If you’re creative like I am and enjoy telling a story, it’s just fun!
How you approach this really depends on the nature of your game. This day and age, many games are played exclusively online. In which case you can use an online character generator such as Roll20 or DND Beyond to build your character from the ground up. Both offer free accounts.
Which brings me to the next item on the list.
3. Pencil (or pen) and paper.
OK, I know that this can all be done with an app or laptop or website or whatever. But in some things I am a Luddite. There’s just something nice about scribbling notes in your own notebook. And you will want to take notes. Lots can go on during an RPG session, and it’s usually more than a week between sessions. So you’re not going to remember the name of that smuggler who had the item you needed to complete the mission for the duke. You might not even remember the item or the duke!
It helps to write things down. And for that you really can’t beat a notebook.
Pen or pencil is your call. You don't need anything fancy, but being able to erase is pretty clutch.
C’mon, you knew this was coming, right? A set of polyhedral dice is just about synonymous with DND and TTRPGs. Those big, multisided math rocks are like a rare bird's plumage, marking the unusual species of TTRPG player.
But, honestly, despite what I’ve said online…
...you don’t have to go out and buy dice. There are a ton of free options when it comes to apps or websites with dice rollers. And these will basically do what you need to do.
All that being said, there’s really no substitute for the feel and sound of real dice. There’s something about that anticipation and excitement as the die is rolling that a mouse click just can’t replace. When your character’s life is on the line, that click-clack can be a thing of beauty or despair.
When you’re starting out, you don’t need any of the beautiful fancy dice we offer here on our site. There’ll be time for that later once you’re hooked. For now, get yourself a cheap set of off the shelf dice at your local hobby store or online. And don’t worry if they’re “balanced.” They’ll be good enough.
Eventually you might want something more, something special to show off at the table. You might even be one of our hardcore gamers who wants a dice subscription. When that time comes, we’ll be here!
And that’s really about it. This can all be purchased for less than $10. You don’t need a game mat, a fancy GM screen, a dice tray or roller, or an army of miniatures. All you need are a few simple supplies and your imagination. And communication. Talk to your GM or players and find out what their expectations are beforehand. And get yourself to a table. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be glad you did!