Long wanted to try D&D, but did not know where to start? This text is for you.
Its developers Wizards of the coasteven released an exclusive prequel adventure – Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. True, there is one snag. Many Baldur’s Gate fans have no idea what desktop D&D looks like.
No panic! We will tell you everything – what it is, how to play it, and why every self-respecting role-player should at least once roll “crit” on d20.
Cthul-like aliens traveling on a squid ship are far from the weirdest thing in D&D
So what are Dungeons & Dragons?
In a broad sense, this is a board role-playing game. In a practical sense, this is … A few not too thick books. To be precise, the complete set of the last, fifth edition of D&D consists of three volumes. The Player’s Book describes the rules of the game, the Monster Encyclopedia provides information about the monsters to be fought, and the Master’s Guide contains useful cheat sheets for the host.
Is that all? But what about the figures, three-dimensional fields, twenty-sided cubes …
This is a fairly popular misconception among beginners. When you talk about D&D in color, people often imagine something completely monstrous and incredibly expensive. But in reality, everything is much simpler: the only thing you really can’t do without is the Player’s Book. It is in it that you can find everything you need, from the rules for creating and pumping a character to the combat system. The rest of the little things, like the same figures, are optional – it all depends on how much you and your group want to get confused. Even cubes of an unusual shape – a key element of the system – can be replaced with a smartphone application if desired.
The screen of the master is the second most recognizable element of the game after the dice. And no, it is needed not just for beauty: there the master holds all the most important information. But if you wish, an even cooler screen will turn out from the laptop – the Internet helps when you need to quickly check some nuance
Wait, how is the game going then?
From the outside, the D&D party is like a long conversation, where the conversation is sometimes interrupted by dice rolls. Players settle in comfortably by preparing their inventory: character forms, where their characteristics and abilities are recorded, someone can take their own set of dice or notepad to take notes. At the head of the table is a presenter, who is often called “master” or simply “DM” – from the English term dungeon master. He plays the role of NPCs in dialogs, describes the world around him, controls monsters in battle – in short, makes sure that the game goes as it should. He also submits the plot to the players based on the text of the adventure. DM knows in advance what key events should happen, what locations players can explore and what kind of monsters they live in. In a word, everything is the same as in Dragon age or any other video game. The only difference with computer RPGs is that in the “figure” the computer is responsible for this, but here it is a living person.
From the point of view of the mechanic, the old Neverwinter Nights came closest to the desktop original
The whole gameplay is, in fact, a dialogue between the master and the players. DM describes in detail this or that situation, and players in response say what their characters do. For example, he tells how a group approaches the entrance to a large cave, where the den of the goblin gang is located. And one of the participants immediately replies that his character, the elf robber, will go forward – he sees in the dark better than the party members and quietly scouts the way.
When players start something risky, a dice comes into play – the same twenty-sided d20. Suppose there are traps in the tunnel through which the robber sneaks, so the master asks for a perception test to see if the character has noticed a trap. And if he’s already caught, and the ceiling above his head is about to collapse – a test of dexterity: what if you manage to dodge at the last moment?
Any experienced role player will tell you that there are never many dice. And the search for unusually beautiful or stylized sets of metal dice is a different story.
After that, the master interprets the result of the throw and tells what happens next. If the player fails the test, then his character may receive damage from the trap, or the goblins gathered around the fire somewhere in the cave will hear a noise – now they won’t be able to catch by surprise. And if successful, the robber will have a chance to neutralize the stretch. If you don’t make it, then the monsters can be ambushed – or made so that they fall into their own trap. It all depends on your tricks.
So in D&D you have to play with words?
Speaking very rudely, yes. Therefore, desktop RPGs are sometimes called “words” or “word games”, although this is not entirely true.
In fact, D&D has much more in common with theater than with computer RPGs. Each party is a small production in which the whole table participates. Moreover, the players simultaneously act as actors and spectators: the stronger they believe that everything is happening for real, the more interesting it is to play. It sounds complicated, but actually immersing yourself in the process is quite easy. Simply turn on the background soundtrack from your favorite fantasy movie or game and make a little effort. For example, refer to other players by the names of their characters. The imaginary world imperceptibly turns into the real one, and in a good company you won’t even notice how quickly you start to take the game seriously.
Music really helps to create an atmosphere at the table, and for this, enthusiasts even create a separate application. For example, Syrinscape, where you can change the ambient and sound effects in real time.
Therefore, details, such as character figures, are not always needed. These pleasant little things only help to imbue the mood and visualize the game. Many masters prefer to win back dialogues and other social moments without scenery, as this saves a lot of time and money. But the battle, where it is important to clearly state the balance of power, is another story. Fights in D&D take place as in any other turn-based strategy: players, like monsters, have many different abilities, and here you need to consider distance, position and landscape. To do this, some groups of flippers buy thumbnail sets, others use lined paper and little men Legoand the third is a landscape sheet and colorful pencils. Who on what much.
It all sounds somehow … dreary. Why strain, if you can always re-plan for the hundredth time Planescape: Torment or the second Baldur’s Gate?
Yes, D&D has some pitfalls, it’s foolish to deny it. Firstly, it’s physically impossible to play alone: you at least always need a master. And in a good way, at least two more players. Just to have dynamics in the group; the more characters, the more different skills, opinions and characters. Unfortunately for all introverts, here, perforce, one has to get out of the shell.
Photo from the Day20 Epic festival. Holidays like this are one of the best ways to get used to the game in the company of strangers.
Secondly, D&D takes a lot of free time. This is not a hobby that you can do between things. One party (game session) on average takes from three to five hours – you need to spend the whole day on it. And not only to you, but to everyone. Both the master and the players. And for this, everyone should have the same schedule: who has work, who has family, children, other concerns. It is better to plan gatherings in D&D much in advance, and even then, there are no guarantees that your group will meet regularly. Once every two weeks, or even once a month is already a great achievement. Therefore, the passage of even one campaign can easily drag on for a year.
Thirdly, the gameplay is strongly tied to improvisation, and some players find it very difficult to get used to it. In the same dialogs before your eyes there are no prepared replicas – they need to be invented here and now. In this sense, the master is even harder: no matter how thorough his plan may be, players will always find a way to break it – sometimes you have to come up with whole story lines on the go. And when there are about five people sitting at the table, it’s a shame to reflect on each decision for 15 minutes. I don’t want to slow down everyone else and break the pace of the game, stomping in one place.
Speaking of improvisation. Web Series Critical rolewhere popular voice actors stream their campaign is a great example of the right chemistry in a band. And the master there is Matthew Mercer – the voice of McCree from Overwatch and Yusuke Kitagawa from Persona 5
For some, these nuances will be a categorical cons, but … Honestly, they fade against all the advantages. Yes, you can go for fun again Planescape, Baldur’s Gate or Icewind dalebut sooner or later you memorize them. D&D, on the other hand … You can play it all your life, and still not “go through” the whole thing. Even close.
Um … I mean, the group will fall apart after several evenings?
This also happens sometimes, but now we are talking about something else. D&D requires much greater returns than computer RPGs, for one simple reason: you can really play it as you please.
First of all, it concerns the content. Wizards of the Coast regularly release official campaigns – pre-made scripts developed by a team of professionals. Moreover, they do not focus on the “standard” fantasy: almost all adventures offer something of their own. For example, in Ghosts of saltmarsh players can be in the shoes of pirates, in Dungeon of the mad mage – go down to the catacombs under the yawning portal tavern in Waterdeep, and in Curse of strahd – open the hunt for a powerful vampire, surviving in the local counterpart of Transylvania. And this is just what was released specifically for the fifth edition. For almost fifty years since the release of the original D&D, dozens of great campaigns have accumulated in the content library – you can’t count all.
Moreover, many masters quite successfully diversify official campaigns with elements that they invented themselves. New characters, storylines written for certain players, boss fights, and sometimes locations. If two people play the same campaign, but in different groups, then there is a great chance that their adventures are completely different from each other. Computer games are unlikely to ever reach such a high level of replay value.
Some go even further and prescribe not individual elements, but entire campaigns. In your own setting, with its own history, mythology and customs: it’s like reading an author’s copy of an unreleased book. Most fan crafts, of course, do not reach the level of Wizards of the Coast, but sometimes there are really worked out, original things.
If you are closer to popular worlds, like The Lord of the Rings or The Witcher, then no problem – the rules are so flexible that they can be transferred to almost any setting and adapted to any needs. Dungeon Race in the Universe Diablo? Easy. Hardcore Campaign Dark souls? Why not, you can even make a separate mechanics of humanity, so that it is straight along all the canons. Hogwarts teen drama from Harry Potter? Also an option! In other words, almost every D&D detail can be “customized” as you and your group would like. And if this part is not there – create it from scratch.
Even the Wizards of the Coast themselves regularly introduce guest settings to the canon – for example, Ravnica from Magic: The Gathering
At the level of gameplay, this freedom of choice is revealed even wider. Here, of course, a lot depends on the master, but in general, nothing is impossible in D&D. There are no invisible walls that do not allow you to look into an interesting place at the edge of the world. There are no scripts or technical restrictions that will not allow you to choose a replica or action simply because the developers did not foresee it. As practice suggests, the master also did not foresee everything – but that is the point. Thanks to him, in D&D, the outside world and NPCs always react to the actions of players, no matter how absurd they may be. It is not for nothing that legends are made on the Internet about bards who save the world by seducing the main villain at the crucial moment. Even if this villain is a dragon. Especially if the dragon.
That all sounds great, of course, but how do you start playing?
Now that the popularity of board role-playing games is on the rise, joining D&D is easy. First things first, you should get acquainted with the rules. Just read the Player’s Book – yes, it’s rather big, but so far you don’t have to cram anything. The main thing is to create in your head at least an approximate picture of how everything works. If you speak English, then a shortened version of the rules can be found for free – for the first time it will be enough. And only then, if you get involved, there is an option to buy the localization of the “Player Book” in hardcover: the price, of course, bites, but the purchase will last you a long time.
Left – 1978 edition, right – 2014
When you are more or less familiar with the rules and decide that it is time to move on to practice, you need to find a group. Fortunately, this should not cause any problems. If you live in a large city, whether it be Moscow, St. Petersburg or Yekaterinburg, go to the nearest anticafe or the shop of desktops – there will surely be games there. In smaller cities, this will be more difficult, but there is always another option – social networks. In “In contact with” there are communities entirely dedicated to finding groups for all sorts of roles, and there are always welcome newcomers. From time to time, masters even specially assemble new ones for educational games to explain all the nuances of the system on the fingers.
It may happen that you find a group, but its members live in different cities, or even in different time zones. It doesn’t matter – you can easily play D&D over the Internet. Perhaps the sensations are not the same as in a personal meeting, but this is better than nothing. In addition, you don’t have to dance with a tambourine: almost all online groups communicate via Discord or Skype, and play in one of several applications. This can be Fantasy Grounds or Tabletop Simulator, which is on Steam, or the Roll20 website – as you prefer.
Before joining the group, discuss with the master of your character. DM will certainly help you with advice, or if you don’t know who you want to play, he’ll surely give you some kind of model so that you have something to start from. In any case, just before the game, read how your hero’s abilities work. Mages will be useful to know their own spells, warriors – the features of their weapons, and robbers – the mechanics of stealth. You will seriously make life easier for the master if you do not pull him up every couple of minutes with questions in the spirit of “what does this spell do.”
That’s all. No tricks, no secret clubs in the basements of abandoned houses. And if you really don’t feel like playing with strangers, you can always just call friends. True … In this case, the wizard’s cloak and magic hat will have to be tried on by the person who is best acquainted with the rules. That is to you. Yes, yes, it’s not for nothing that you read everything we talked about.
Wizard mode in Divinity: Original Sin 2 can be a good simulator for freshly baked DM
Wait, but I don’t know how to drive!
And no one demands you an impeccable game on the very first evening. The only way to become a good master is through practice. Yes, from the outside, the post of DM looks complicated and responsible. This is partly true: it is not easy to play any role-playing game. But, again, the most important thing here is to take the first step. At first it will be difficult, but with each next batch you will receive more and more pleasure from the process. The main thing is that your company has fun.
As a test of the pen, a novice master is better to drive a script written specifically for beginners. Do not be afraid that it will not be boring or too easy – simply in such books authors usually leave useful tips for the master. In this regard, the Lost Mines of Fandelver will be a good choice. A company of three or four people can buy a box of chippings, and there is everything you need: an adventure book, a shortened version of the rules, ready-made characters and a set of dice.
Perhaps the only parting word that can be given to the future master – do not be afraid to make mistakes. Your first game will be a mess of forgotten rules and ridiculous situations, but this is absolutely normal. Try to keep a separate diary where you will record the moments that are most difficult for you. Maybe you don’t know how to play tense dialogs with NPCs or how to lead monsters in battle. And then, after the game, ask the players how it is: what you liked, what caused the questions.
See? It’s not as scary as it seems, is it? Настольные ролевые игры — это хобби, доступное всем и каждому, а не только стереотипным гикам. В случае с D&D это вдвойне верно: за пять редакций авторы неплохо оптимизировали правила, сделав их действительно простыми и понятными. Так что никакого непреодолимого порога вхождения тут нет — надо просто взять и попробовать. Кто знает, вдруг вас затянет?
Новички — милости просим, задавайте в комментариях вопросы! Старички — делитесь своими лучшими байками и историями из ролёвок. А ещё покажите, каким набором кубиков играете, просто из любопытства.