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Getting started with D&D

This post is gonna come across as basically an ad, but it’s just my recommendation of what are some good, easy to understand stuff to get when you are just starting out. (Last updated October 2020.)

Basic rules for level one to twenty

is a PDF that’s available to complement any of the stuff I’m going to recommend here, and if you are on a super tight budget, you can start and end there for zero dollars.

Starter Set

First of all, get the D&D Starter Set.

That has a good set of dice, a short and easy rulebook (32 pages), a shortened spell list, and for the DM a wonderful, small region with monsters, treasure and interesting people and some missions and stuff to do in that world.

You also get five ready-made characters and their backgrounds. They don’t have a set appearance or name so the players can choose how they look, what they are called and so on.

If those characters die and you need to make new ones, you can use the PDF linked above.

Essentials Kit

The Essentials Kit is not necessary to have (the name is kind of a misnomer) but if you can afford it, the time to get it is now. As in, starting with a combination of both the Starter Set and the Essentials Kit is great.

This rule booklet is 64 pages and does cover making characters! I still recommend starting with the pregens from the Starter Set, but if they die and you wanna make new ones, now you can!

You get another set of dice (these red dice are my treasured favorite.)

You get a budget DM screen (better art than, but much flimsier than, the real one they sell separately—same rules content, though, so if you can make do with this flimsy you are set for life!) You get some honestly kinda useless cards.

The selling point is the dice and the character-making booklet and… more quests to add to the village of Phandalin in the Starter Set! It’s presented as, and can be used as, a standalone adventure (“The Dragon of Icespire Peak”) but it’s better used mashed up together with the Starter Set.

It’s not a sequel; you can run the two adventures separately (i.e. having only one of the two boxes is absolutely fine!) but they are also designed to be braided together, with stuff from the Essentials Kit being added into the Starter Set.

You can start with either box—the Starter Set for those who want ready-made characters (which I do recommend) and the Essentials Kit for when you want to make your own. Having both from the start is ♥︎♥︎♥︎.

Next Steps

One of the following two is going to be my recommendation once you have played several sessions out of the starter boxes. They are third-party adventures, since D&D is open source and other publishers can publish stuff for it.

There is a small zine publication called Willow that’s a little hard to find, but I love it, and it works great as an extension to the stuff in the starter boxes.

You can also go online and there is this fantastic site that rolls up random adventures and dungeons endlessly!

You can also use your imagination and remix the monsters from the starter boxes and place them on maps you make. Maybe the same rules data (called a “stat block”) from a Skeleton can double as an unruly robot, or whatever you want.

What Not to Get

Hold off on getting the Player’s Handbook for at least a few weeks, or even months, until you’re more comfortable with the game.

I am not trying to gatekeep people from getting in to that level of play; it’s a fun book with lots of options and you might be ready for it sooner than not. But the spell list is going to be twenty times longer and it’s going to take time to look things up and it can bog down play.

If you do get that book, then hold off on chapter six. Multiclassing and feats are completely optional and they make the game a lot more complex. We do use them (and we use some of the extra books you can get beyond the Player’s Handbook) but we waited for a long time before bringing them in.

The publishers of D&D have made some hardback adventure books but the leap in complexity from the starter boxes to these adventures is way too high. It’s also… hello upsell! These adventure books “require” the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Three very expensive books.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat (published together as the Tyranny of Dragons), Dragon Heist, and Descent into Avernus are especially bad. Princes of the Apocalypse is a fun adventure but horribly organized and very difficult to use. Also, there are many routes but they all lead into the same conclusion, which some people like but I don’t, I’m more into more open-ended play.

As far as first party stuff goes, if you absolutely want the official stamp of official, Curse of Strahd, Tomb of Annihilation, and Rime of the Frostmaiden are all fine if you can handle the horror themes in each and the weirdly colonial perspectives in some of them.

They also have a fantastic anthology book out, Tales from the Yawning Portal. Seven absolutely classic dungeons. It also requires those three expensive books (PHB/MM/DMG) unfortunately.


Also you definitely do not need a bunch of miniatures. Collecting, painting and constructing miniatures and their landscape is almost like a separate hobby from D&D.

My group doesn’t use any miniatures at all, we just say what we do. “I run from the goblins!” To me miniatures make the game feel, well, smaller.

Some groups like to have beautiful miniatures for the player characters and then just use chess pieces or whatever for the monsters. (But what if the characters die? What happens with that beautiful miniature that they invested in?)

Here is something that I haven’t tried or seen in real life, but I saw them on a video blog and I like the idea. There are six sets.

The PocketDM set

One problem with miniatures is that you can get into “my precious encounter”–behavior. You have built a fantastic landscape of some lava crystal forest and carefully painted the wonderful miniatures and then the player characters don’t even go there! It’s easy to get tempted into fudging play into certain situation and making it so that you get to show your precious encounter.

Good luck my friends♥︎