Geek Speak

Getting started with Dungeons & Dragons

Psst, hey kid -- want to go on an adventure? Fight some fearsome beasts, save the day, take home some loot? Maybe collect a shitload of polyhedral dice and a stack of arcane rulebooks as tall as you are? Sound fun? Then step into the world of pen-and-paper roleplaying -- so-called to distinguish them from their more popular descendants on computers and gaming consoles -- and start earning that geek cred (not to mention piles and piles of imaginary treasure) hand over fist.

See also: Dungeons & Dragons changed my life -- thanks, Gygax!

And this is as good a time as there's ever been to jump in because the latest iteration of the venerable and popular Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is getting its official launch next week with the Starter's Set, a self-contained kit for aspiring Dungeon Masters (i.e. the people who run the games). In the months to come, a series of additional tomes will come out to take you deeper into the world of pure, hardcore nerdery than all the episodes of Dr. Who in the world could ever hope to. Even better, the company behind the game, not to mention plenty of hardcore fans, are working to make it easier than ever before to get into the game.

So maybe you're wondering why you would ever do that? Well, there's really only one reason -- it's pretty damn fun. I mean, sure, there are some fringe benefits, like stimulating your creativity and maybe making some new friends if you join an existing playgroup, but really, it's all about the good times. It may sound strange, but there is something truly engaging about getting together with a group of friends, drinking some beers (or Mountain Dew, if you're still a wee one) and pretending to live out the kind of sword-swinging, spellcasting adventures featured in your favorite fantasy books and films. Think of it like a weekly poker game, only instead of trying to remember what your odds of taking this hand with a pair of twos is, you get to try and figure out a plausible way that your half-elf barbarian mercenary could break his companions out of the dungeon of Lord Feingold. Less math, more evil warlord slaying -- that's a clearcut recipe for fun.

So how to get started? Let's start with the basics. Right now, for exactly zero dollars, you can download the D&D basic rules. This 100-plus page PDF contains everything you need to get started pretending to hack and slash at orcs in order to take their sweet, sweet gold, apart from some friends, a few dice and a shitload of imagination. If that captures your fancy and you want to take the next step, consider joining one of the how-to Dungeon Master seminars put on by Robert Adducci, the man behind Rocky Mountain Geeks. He's running one each of the next two weekends (Saturday, July 13 and Saturday, July 19), as well as a series of more player-focused (as opposed to the Dungeon Master-centric bent of the other two events) games at his Conclave of Gamers event July 25-27. There are also weekly games at many, if not most, local game stores that you can drop in on if you want to play but can't convince enough of your friends that this will be more entertaining than whatever it is you usually do on stay-at-home evenings. You can find those through the event locator on the Dungeons & Dragons homepage.

From there on, your path will be obvious. Players get off easy, needing, at most, the Player's Handbook (pro-tip: you don't need to buy it, your Dungeon Master will totally loan it to you). Dungeon Masters will probably need, or at least want, to buy the core rulebooks at least -- the aforementioned Player's Handbook, plus the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual -- plus maybe some adventures and campaign settings if you don't want to roll your own. If you discover you love roleplaying, but aren't as thrilled with fantasy -- maybe you want to try your hand at being a superhero? -- there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other rules systems out there for any genre imaginable, from far-future sci-fi to gritty noir. A few new rulebooks, that same core group of friends and you're off into whatever weird world you can imagine, with nothing else needed. Except for that shitload of dice we talked about earlier. You're going to need so many goddamn dice...

Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato