How to Start DnD for Free: Resources to get your Game Up and Running at No Cost

Getting into Dungeons & Dragons can be intimidating. For me it was a lot like Lord of the Rings, in that it took me two or three tries. The first time I thought it might be a hobby I would enjoy I allegedly pirated the Player's Handbook (which I cannot legally condone), realized it was over 300 pages of nothing but rules, and promptly quit. The second time, I found the Basic Rules, read through enough to probably actually get a game going before getting stuck on the social obligation of finding people to play with. By the time I organized my first game, I had reread the rules enough times, (and watched enough Critical Role) that I was confident I could make a fun session. From my first interest to my first session was nearly a year, but it really didn't have to be.

To be clear, a great way to get into DnD is by finding a group to play with, there are plenty of forums online and there's a decent chance that a games shop near you runs some kind of league. But, if you want to play with your friends and nobody knows how to play, here are some of the places that will make getting the game going a whole lot easier.

1. The Basic Rules

If you're going to get into DnD, at some point you're going to read through the whole Player's Handbook. But, to actually play you really only need the first handful of pages the Basic Rules. During play, you will receive questions, and in order to answer them (and learn in the process) you simply look up the rules, which is easy thanks to the Table of Contents. But for extreme ease, the only pages you need to read to get going are pages 8-12, 45-47, 60-65, 72-77, 82-83. It's still quite a few pages, more than a boardgame ruleset, but if you can't read 22 pages DnD might not be for you. Plus, out of the 180 pages in the Basic Rules, 22 isn't so bad.

2. Fillable Character Sheets

To play either you or your players will need character sheets. The Player's Handbook has one in the back, but it won't last long and it's super annoying to use unless you want to tear it out which would ruin the book. So use the link above, which is a fillable PDF either to be typed into directly on your computer or printed out and filled in with a pencil (I highly recommend the latter). If you want character creation to go really fast and be really easy sign up with DnD Beyond, which steps its user through the character creation process all within a browser. The only downside of DnD Beyond is sometimes players won't fully understand their character's abilities or where to find their stats, which can slow down gameplay. I prefer to slow down character creation.

3. A Dice Roller

It's not a tabletop game without dice, and while I highly recommend getting a nice set of physical dice so that we can remain in business, free online dice rollers work perfectly well. I recommend the one above over Google's browser one because you can add modifiers directly to the rolls with the WotC one, which is just easier. There are also innumerable apps, websites, and people who will lend you dice for free, but please for the love of god buy our dice we want to stay in business

4. An Adventure Module to Run

Now, many people homebrew adventures and I cannot recommend doing so enough. It is super fun, way easier to customize, and incredibly rewarding. Hell I've made a career out of it. But, when getting into DnD, it's also a ton of work. I did not homebrew the adventure I used the first time I DMed, I allegedly pirated the Lost Mines of Phandelver (which again, I cannot legally condone). You don't have to pirate anything because the link above takes you to one of our Only Crits adventures, which I've provided free of charge, because I have a vested interest in getting more people into this hobby. Don't tell anyone.

5. People

Wow look at that, you can link right to people now a days. What a world we live in. This link takes you to a Reddit community that aims to provide a place for people who are seeking a game to play in. It is not the only such community. If you're worried about playing with strangers, try getting a game going with friends. In 2019 I set up a game in my kitchen with eight players, and a second one a few weeks late with a different eight players. Of those seventeen people (including me), seventeen have played again, thirteen are now playing in regular groups, 13 have DMed, four DM their own long-running groups, and two started their own dice company centered around DnD. It's a fun game. 

That's all you need. If you like it, it could change your life, or just be an excuse to hang out with people you like regularly. If you don't, sweet, you haven't wasted a bunch of time and money on something you don't like. If you're reading this and still debating whether you should give DnD a try, I have one word for you: Do.

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