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Dungeons and Dragons (D&D or DnD) is the most commonly known table-top role-playing game (TTRP) , that’s to say a bunch of people sitting around a table ‘role-playing’ adventures with characters they have created.

A ‘Games Master’ or ‘Dungeon Master’ describes the world around them, including other characters and provides the story as they play. Both the players and the GM roll dice (see how dice rolling works below) to check how successful they have been at various things; whether it’s hitting an evil Necromancer with a sword, zapping a Tower Guard with a Magic Missile, attempting to track beasts across a wilderness or trying to bluff their way into the Governors party…

Sounds good eh? You should give it a go, it’s a lot of fun and there is A LOT more to it than just what is described here.

There are LOTS of different types of Table Top Role Playing (TTRP) games out there, and lots of versions of the types. Like driving a car though, they do tend to work in similar ways even if they come with the windscreen wipers on the other side of the steering wheel, or only 2 pedals instead of 3. Here are a just a few of the one’s we’ve played:

Dungeons and Dragons (by Wizards of the Coast). Possibly the original and root of all subsequent TTRPs. The latest version is called 5e, a nimble system that encourages free flowing and characterful play without over-loading the players with tomes of detailed rules to learn or refer to. Typically adventures will be set as ‘Swords and Sorcery’, filled with characters and races you find littered through ‘Lord of the Rings.’

Pathfinder (by Paizo) is another  ‘Swords and Sorcery’ TTRP that is fairly interchangeable with Dungeons and Dragons, and from a distance you may not notice the difference between them. Very similar character classes, spells, initiative order, dice rolling. Pathfinder has more depth in the mechanics of the game. There are more rules to cover more details, providing some exciting opportunities to maximise character abilities and personalities. When it launched its second edition it made some significant changes to the way the game was played; mainly around how the character is created and also how the round is played out, using 3 actions instead of 2 and allowing reactions.

Starfinder (by Paizo) is like Pathfinder, except it is set in Space with future technology and different Character Classes. As with Pathfinder, there is a background Story covering the ‘history of the Universe’, which spans both systems and has spawned a number of Campaigns.

Shadowrun (Catalyst Games Labs). Do you like rolling fist-fulls of six-sided dice? Do you like Cyberpunk, “Neuromancer” (William Gibson) and the idea of characters who can upgrade with Cyberware, Bioware and nanotech and who hack the ‘Cyberspace’ on missions in a Universe rife with Industrial Espionage. Yes? Look no further.

Get this idea out of your head RIGHT NOW. There is no winning, only playing. Even when your character dies, as they tend to do, you fight back the tears for the Half-Elven Eldritch Knight you’ve dragged through countless of hours of hard fought Campaigns from 1st to 7th level, roll up another one (perhaps an Assassin this time?)  and keep on going.

If you really have to have some a concept of “winning” think about the hours of amazing times you will have with friends old and new.

It’s actually quite easy to get going and people who play TTRPs tend to be a very friendly bunch who are more than happy to include new people into their gaming sessions. Get online and look for local games being played. You should go with your own set of dice, a rule book or two that you have read to some extent and a willingness to buy rounds, share snacks etc.

Just type in “Dungeons and Dragons near me” into Google/Bing etc. You should find lots of alternatives available.

If you can find a group of friends who also want to play, you can do so in a home or shed/garage of your choice. Someone will have to be the GM and the rest can be the players.

Don’t be put off by the apparent complexity of the game – the basics are very easy and you can learn the rest as you go. As Jonny repeatedly tells us, we’ve been playing for over 40 years…and we’re still not convinced we know what we are doing.

A Campaign is really just a very long story, with a beginning and an end and often across many ‘chapters’ or ‘books’. You would typically start with 1st or low level characters and the Campaign will then take them along to much higher levels although there are Campaigns for mid to high level starting characters as well. Big campaigns can take many years in real time to play and often players will be involved in many campaigns at once, just to be able to play different characters in different settings.

Building a character is one of the best bits about playing D&D, apart from killing monsts that is. You get to create a ‘Hero’ from scratch. Each game system will have its own sets of rules and methods for doing this but in general there is are similar decisions to make, such as which race, class, alignment to base your character on, how to distribute attribute scores to get the best possible out of the character, which weapons, armour and spells to pick, what feats and skills are going to be most fun and/or useful to choose. You can also go into much greater detail to add a lot more depth to the character, such as background and even character-flaws that will impact on how they act and react to other characters and situations.

Finally you have to choose a name, a critical aspect of all character creation. Some names are good and some not-so-much…

If there is one thing that unites Table Top Role Playing it is the dice. The dice give the games the elements of chance, success and failure; from moderate to critical. Characters, non-player characters, monsts, attacks, spells, heals, skills, feats, life and death are all ruled by the dice.

Generally speaking; you roll a die or multiple dice, add various bonuses and compare the result to a target number. If you make the number you succeed. If you don’t you fail. Some games sub-divide success and failures based on how much above or below the target number you get. Rolling a ‘natural twenty’ on a 20-sided dice (5% chance) will often afford you a special success, known as a “critical success” and rolling a one can conversely mean disaster, with funny and horrible consequences.

To make things more interesting, there are more than just 6 and 20-sided dice. We use:

  • 4-sided AKA “d4”
  • 6-sided AKA “d6”
  • 8-sided AKA “d8”
  • 10-sided AKA “d10”
  • 12-sided AKA “d12”
  • 20-sided AKA “d20”

From this we can also easily describe and understand how many dice to roll:

  • 2d6 = roll 2x 6-sided dice for a total between 2 and 12.
  • 4d8+3 = roll 4x 8-sided dice and add 3 to the total amount to get between 7 and 35.

The physical dice themselves can hold special meaning for players, as if they have magic powers that either roll above or below average. Some people do seem to either be able to either beat the odds, or are always unlucky in their rolls. Or it may just appear that way.

The Character Attributes are the very core of your character and will normally reflect the class and, to some extent, race you choose.

There are various terms used across the game systems; but normally you would deal with Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Intelligence, Charisma and Constitution.

  • Strength = How strong you are. It affects how you hit, lift, climb etc.
  • Dexterity = How nimble you are. It affect how good you are at dodging blows, how you wield a weapon of finesse (rapier for example), how good you are at jumping out the way of traps etc.
  • Wisdom = How wise you are in matters of healing or dealing with Deities.
  • Intelligence = Yes…you guessed it. Can you learn all those spells?
  • Charisma = Not just looks, but personality (persuasion or intimidation) as well.
  • Constitution = How tough you are at resisting damage, disease, poison, exposure etc.

You don’t typically get a fighter who is not strong and dextrose. Clerics tend to have higher than normal wisdom and Wizards rely on their intelligence far more than strength. You could always choose to play a weak and clumsy fighter – but it’s likely they won’t last very long. Likewise, a Wizard of average intelligence is not going to be that useful.

For both Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder your attribute scores are nominally based on a range of 1 to 18; with 10 being ‘average’. Why 18? Well, you used to decide your score based on rolling 3d6 to get a random number (or rolling 4d6 discarding the lowest), where 18 is the highest number you could get. Over time the way you choose the numbers have changed, and there are more options now so that you can choose the scores that best fit the character you want to play, albeit you can’t just choose very high numbers across the board.

As you gain ‘experience’ and go up levels you will occasionally get the opportunity to increase your character attributes, reflecting on how you have improved in certain aspects.

Character attribute scores also form the basis for the ‘modifiers’ when doing things such as thwacking a monst, casting a spell, avoiding a trap, intimidating a foe into telling you the truth etc. You can find more about this in the next section!

A modifier is a number you add to a dice roll before checking to see if you are successful or not.

You can often have more than one modifier to add and modifiers can come from many places.

Take a fighter for example. He’s going to add his strength modifier, proficiency modifier, possibly magic weapon modifier to  a d20 dice roll.  If these modifiers add up to, say 6, and he needs to hit a target of 15 on a d20, he needs to roll a 9 or above (15-6=9)  giving him a 55% (9 or above is an 11/20) chance of success. Without the modifiers he’d only have 30% (rolling 15 or above is a 6/20) chance. Each +1 on the modifier is another 5%  chance of success.