How to Play D&D Fifth Edition (for Free)

Now, more than ever Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying like it are making a massive comeback. In fact, there are currently an estimated 13.7 million Dungeons & Dragons players in the world.

But as a new player, where do you start? And is there a way to start for free?

This article will teach you everything you need to know to start playing Dungeons & Dragons and how you can do it for free.

What is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)?

Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game (shortened to RPG or TTRPG) created by the US-based game manufacturer, Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro subsidiary. A roleplaying game usually involves two or more players acting out different roles, or player characters (sometimes shortened to PC), in a shared storytelling setting.

While there are many different types of tabletop roleplaying games of all different genres, Dungeons & Dragons usually takes place in a fantasy setting. Brave knights, spell-casting wizards, snarling goblins and orcs, gold-hoarding dragons, and dark and dangerous dungeons are all common themes in a D&D game.

Currently, Dungeons & Dragons is in its Fifth Edition. That is why you will frequently see Dungeons & Dragons called “Fifth Edition” or “5e.” While Fifth Edition is the most popular edition of D&D ever, there are still many people who play previous editions.

One of the players takes on the role of the game’s Dungeon Master (DM) who acts as a referee for the rules and the person who explains the setting story and characters that aren’t acted out by the players—non-player characters (NPCs).

While Dungeons & Dragons is certainly a game, there is less emphasis on “winning.” Instead, the goal of Dungeons & Dragons is for the Dungeon Master and the players to work together to create a fun and exciting story. This can be done in one-time sessions (sometimes called one-shots) or through a series of interrelated sessions (or campaign).

What do I need to start playing Dungeons & Dragons?

To start playing Dungeons & Dragons, you need, at minimum, the following things:

  • The game’s rules
  • Paper & pencil
  • Polyhedral dice
  • A gaming group

And that’s it! There are plenty of other things that are nice to have such as miniatures, erasable playmats, and supplementary rulebooks, but all of those are not necessary to play a great game of D&D.

Where can I get the rules for D&D Fifth Edition?

The main source of rules for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition is the Player’s Handbook (often nicknamed PHB). The PHB is a 300+ page tome containing all of the essential rules for Dungeons & Dragons.

phb
The Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook for D&D

You can purchase the Player’s Handbook online on sites like Amazon or you can find it at your local hobby or game store.

Typically, the Player’s Handbook costs between $25 and $50 USD.

How can I get the rules for free?

If you are strapped for cash, the best way to get a free copy of the Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook is to go to Wizard’s of the Coast’s official website and download the easy-to-print D&D Basic Rules.

Why do I need paper and a pencil?

At a minimum, the game’s characters will need paper and pencil to record the details of their characters on a character sheet. A sample character sheet is included at the end of the D&D Basic Rules. Also, you can find printable character sheets online at Wizards of the Coast’s official website.

A character sheet contains a character’s statistics, any equipment or goods that the character may have, and any special abilities and skills they possess. The Dungeon Master and players may also want paper and pencil to take notes of events that happen during the game.

In lieu of paper and pencil, you can use a laptop, tablet, or even a mobile device.

What are polyhedral dice?

A big part of Dungeons & Dragons involves rolling polyhedral dice to determine the outcome of a character’s actions. Polyhedral dice are multisided dice that typically come with 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 20 faces. Often, a die is referred by its nickname, d plus the number of sides it has. For example, a 20-sided die is called a d20, a 4-sided die is called a d4, and so on.

Like the rules, you can buy polyhedral dice online or at your favorite local gaming store. A decent set of dice is usually relatively inexpensive, costing between $5 and $10 USD.

polyhedral-dice

How do I get free dice?

If you don’t wish to purchase dice, you can find dice roller applications online.

Wizards of the Coast has their own free online dice roller application that you can use to roll dice for Dungeons & Dragons.

Also, there is a free dice-roller built directly into Google Search.

You can even get a dice-roller app on your phone. Dice Ex Machina is easy-to-use and free (and it’s the one I use).

How do I find a gaming group?

There are a number of ways to find a group to game with, including:

  • Get your friends and family to play.
  • Check “looking for game” boards online.
  • Go to your favorite local gaming store and find a group to play.
  • Play on a Virtual Table Top (VTT).

In fact, one of the best ways to find a group is through DMDave’s Discord channel. In DMDave’s Discord, there are literally hundreds of players available for playing games.

Here’s how you can get started:
  • Sign up to DMDave’s Patreon. It’s only $1/month to get started. Not only do you get access to the games rooms on Discord, but you’ll get access to all the adventure PDFs on DMDave’s Patreon as well (there’s a whole bunch of ’em).
  • Get Discord (FREE). If you don’t already have it, Discord is an app for your phone and desktop where you can chat with friends, family, coworkers, and of course, Fifth Edition nerds. It’s easy to use and setup and it’s free.
  • Make sure your Patreon is connected to your Discord. If you aren’t sure how to do that, check out this informative article.
  • Go to the DMDave Discord server. So long as your Patreon is connected, you should automatically have the server appear once you log onto your Discord app.
  • Enter the channel #looking-for-game 
  • Bonus: If you’re a Dungeon Master looking to start a game, send me a direct message. I offer special rewards to DMs in the channel including my monsters, books, etc..

Oh! And don’t forget to @dmdave and say hello once you pop in. I try to talk to everyone when I’m around (and not writing my ass off).

How do I play Dungeons & Dragons?

This is the basic structure of a Dungeons & Dragons game:

1 – The Dungeon Master describes the environment.

As a session plays out, the DM explains everything that the player’s character can interact within a setting. For example, if the characters are in a dungeon setting, the Dungeon Master might describe the stone floors and walls, the thick, wooden door in the northern wall, and maybe even the curious, acrid-smelling puddle of slime in the middle of the room.

2 – The players tell the DM what they want to do.

Once the players have an idea of the environment in which their characters are, the players take turns telling the DM what they want their character to do. One player may want their character to check out the door and see if there are any hidden traps. Another player may have their character poke the puddle of slime with their quarterstaff.

3 – The Dungeon Master explains what happens as a result of the characters’ actions.

After the characters explain their actions, the Dungeon Master decides the outcome of those actions. Sometimes, these decisions are as simple as the Dungeon Master describing the reaction. For example, the character who poked the slime pulls back their quarterstaff to learn that the slime is acidic; the end of the staff is melted away! Other decisions may require a player to roll one or more dice to learn what happened. For example, the Dungeon Master may require that the character who wanted to check the door for traps roll a 20-sided die to determine whether or not their character found any traps. If the player rolls a 14 or higher, they find a trap. Otherwise, their character doesn’t find a trap.

The gameplay more or less continues this way as the players’ characters continue to explore and interact with the game environment.

What do I do now?

Now that you have a basic understanding of Dungeons & Dragons, what you need to start playing, and the basic rules, download a copy of the D&D Basic Rules from Wizards of the Coast’s website and start learning a little more about the game so you and a group of friends can enjoy the game together.

Need more help?

If you’re still having trouble, you can come onto the Discord and we’ll help you get started. Access to the DMDave Discord is only $3 per month. There, the cool people in the channel can help you learn everything you need to know to play plus show you how to play online.

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