Things I Wish I Knew When I Started D&D

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All players–new and old–make decisions that, with or without the help of terrible dice rolls, are often regretted later. It’s inevitable and I really can’t help you with that. But, what I can and have done is collect some of my “Aha!” and “Wow, that would have been nice to know THREE LEVELS AGO!” moments together into a handy list. You’re welcome. Hopefully it saves you some grief–the dice will probably give you enough of that on their own.

1. Learn the ins and outs of your class

As a player, there are going to be many aspects of the game you simply don’t need to memorize–adhering to the rules is the DM’s job. What YOU need is to make sure you really understand your class. This means reading through the class abilities available to you and making sure you get how they work, how they can be used, and when they can be used. If you have spells, make sure you know how spellcasting works for your class as well. Clarify any vague wording on your abilities with the DM ahead of time–it will greatly speed up the game and also ensure you’re getting the most out of your character.

I also highly recommend making yourself some kind of cheat sheet for your abilities and/or spells so you don’t have to be constantly flipping through the book. Eventually you’ll know it all enough you won’t need it, but it will be helpful at lower levels in those moments where everyone is desperately trying to figure out what to do.

2. There are tools to make spellcasting simpler

Spellcasting can be a little complicated with spell slots, components, and memorizing spells… it’s a lot to keep track of. But don’t worry! There are plenty of tools out there to make spellcasting much easier and if you’re playing a spellcaster, it will be worth it to invest in some.

One option are spell cards, which include all the spells, complete with wording, for each class. Players can pull out the spells they have memorized for the day and set them aside. There are also several apps that are great for tracking and looking up spells. My personal favorite is the 5th Edition Spellbook which is searchable and allows you to compile a list for each character. The app is free, but it does have ads which can be removed by paying $2.99, which if you have a spellcaster will be well worth it.

3. You WILL need a copy of the PHB

Sure, you can use the SRD or Download the PHB PDF or borrow a book from a friend… but unless your group uses a lot of technology at the table, having a physical book is going to be your best bet. You’ll spend enough time using the book that it’ll be worth the money in the long run. Players don’t really need the Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual (unless you’re going to be a DM) but there are additional race and class options in some of the extended books as well. If you intend to play a race or class in those books, you’ll probably want a copy.

4. Dice superstition is normal

Everyone starts D&D with a pretty firm grip on the statistics of chance and how it works, but once you’ve played for a while, that’ll all go down the drain. Statistics are all well and good, but once you see the same dice roll three 20s in a row or spend an entire session rolling nothing above a 5, a little superstition is natural and normal. Just embrace it. And, while you’re at it, get a couple dice sets so you can switch between them. It sounds silly, but trust me when I say you’re going to want to have a backup set for those days when the dice really are trying to kill you.

5. Character concepts make for better characters

There are lots of different ways to make a character, but starting with a basic character concept will make building and roleplaying the character MUCH simpler in the long run. If you’re not sure where to start, then try going through your favorite books and movies to find a character you like… then use that as a base to create your D&D character. This site also features a lot of ideas and tips for building better characters. Check out our Character Creation articles.

6. Don’t hog the limelight

By design, each class has moments where they will shine. While it’s possible–and fun–to build a character outside of those areas, no matter how you slice it your character will have things that they’re REALLY good at and things where they’re mediocre. Could your fighter with a 10 charisma try and make a bluff check on a guard? Sure. But why not let your bard with the 16 charisma do it instead? Always share the spotlight. It not only makes for a more successful campaign, but no one wants to have to sit on the sidelines and watch the party fail because one person insisted on doing everything. After all, the more heads you have in the game, the better you’ll be able to execute plans. 

7. D&D doesn’t have to be a fantasy setting

The base books for 5th Edition are set in the Forgotten Realms, but if you’re new to the world of roleplaying it may come as a surprise that there are other settings out there including steampunk, space opera, superheroes, and more. Currently, the options for 5th Edition are a little limited, but if you look back at earlier editions, the options become endless. Just make sure you read through the rules of each setting as some of them are not d20 based and will require a new rules set. If you want to stick within the current official Dungeons & Dragons world, check out the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, which is the universe used for Magic: The Gathering. 

8. Understand different gaming styles

Dungeons and Dragons can be played any number of ways. You can have a roleplay heavy campaign with lots of intrigue and dialogue. There are ginormous dungeons that can encompass an entire campaign. You can solve every problem with judicious use of a fist or sword to the face. The game can be extremely serious with the fate of the world on the line, or it can be absolutely ridiculous with funny or weird events and randomness that makes no real sense. Like an entire city filled with llamas wearing feathered hats.

No matter how the game is played, it’s important for all players to have the same expectations. So if your DM doesn’t verbalize it, make sure you have an honest discussion with your group ahead of time and make sure everyone can have fun. Not every person is going to enjoy the same kind of campaign, and that’s okay, but you’ll have more fun with a group that wants the same kind of game that you do. At the end of the day, there isn’t really a wrong way to play Dungeons & Dragons and the important thing is that you have fun. 

Have other tips or things you wish you’d known before starting the game? Leave a comment below and share it with us! If you’re looking for more articles, then check out our Archive, or head back to the Homepage for the most recent articles. New to the site? Check out our D&D Basics page for more articles to help new players get started!