How to Play D&D 5e: A Complete Starting Guide for Beginners (2023)

Maybe you’ve heard of Dungeons & Dragons from your friends, classmates, or co-workers. Or, perhaps you listen to Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, or one of the many other D&D podcasts out there. Maybe you enjoy fantasy RPG video games and want to try out a tabletop game.

Whatever your reason, learning how to play D&D can be a bit overwhelming.

Luckily, getting started in playing is pretty easy. All you need is to understand some of the basic rules, get a few friends together, and start rolling.

This article covers the absolute basics of how to play D&D 5e. That said, Role Player’s Respite has tons of other articles explaining these basics in greater detail if you want to dive deeper into the hobby. So, be sure to follow the blog to get notified whenever a new article goes live!

Let’s start things off with explaining what D&D even is.

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

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Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role playing game (TTRPG) made by Wizards of the Coast that sends players on fantastical adventures and journeys. A Dungeon Master (DM) runs a game for a table of players each of whom create their own characters. Both the players and DM utilize dice to determine outcomes throughout the game.

At it’s core, D&D is a role playing game (RPG). Basically, you take control of a character (or multiple in the DM’s case) and experience fantastic, harrowing, or wacky adventures.

Aside from that, D&D and other TTRPGs are a community story-telling experience. You and your other players develop characters, experience harrowing dangers, and craft a tale together.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D 5e) is one of the most popular TTRPGs in recent memory. One of the best aspects of D&D 5e is it’s relatively lower barriers to entry. It’s easy to pick up for brand new players with enough depth of play to give it longevity for those experienced with it.

So, it’s understandable if you’re curious about how to play it. Maybe you have friends who play or you started watching/listening to one of the many podcasts and series out there. Regardless, you’ll need to understand a few simple things before playing D&D.

Why D&D?

Before committing to playing D&D, you should ask yourself; why D&D?

Now, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition might just be the most popular TTRPG out there right now. But, that doesn’t mean it’s the only one.

Pathfinder, the Star War Roleplaying Game, Call of Cthulhu, and Vampire the Masquerade are all examples of other great TTPRGs on the market right now. Not to mention the myriad of independent TTRPGs out there like those on Drive Thru RPG and other sites.

That said, finding a game (which we’ll get to later) tends to be a lot easier since many people, gaming stores, and websites play D&D more so than other systems.

Also, while having the books helps immensely, you actually don’t need that much to play D&D 5e.

What You Need to Play D&D

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Contrary to what you may think, you actually don’t need to pay for anything to play D&D if you’re unsure about how committed you are to playing. Many of the tools you need are freely available. That said, the core sourcebooks are invaluable resources to start playing.

actually boils down to a few things:

  • D&D 5e’s Basic Rules
  • Character Sheet (physical or digital)
  • Dice (physical or digital)
  • A table / play space (physical or digital)
  • Friends

So, let’s briefly go over each of these.

D&D 5e’s Basic Rules are free. Plain and simple. These rules give you everything you need to start playing D&D. Now, for some of the more fancy stuff including different subclasses, a wider range of monsters, and help for DMs to run their game, you should get yourself the core sourcebooks: Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master’s Guide.

The Player’s Handbook includes all the base race, class, subclass, spell, and other rules. The Monster Manual has a huge collection of creatures (and their stats) DMs can use in their game. And, the Dungeon Master’s Guide includes phenomenal guidance for those looking to run their own game.

Character sheets outline everything about a player’s character; their name, their race, their class, their skills, and so on. Every player needs a character sheet to keep track of their status. Now, you can find Wizards or you can even just use Google now (search "dice roller").

That said, nothing beats the click-clack of physical dice on a table.

You’ll need a play space. This could be a physical table at your local game store, a friend’s house, your house, or a virtual tabletop like Roll20 or Foundry Virtual Tabletop. Basically, somewhere where you and your friends can gather to play.

D&D is a group game, so you need people to play with. Playing D&D by yourself…doesn’t really work. That’s called writing a book. So, gather some friends and start playing.

You’ll notice that a lot of these elements of playing D&D are completely free. The Basic Rules, characters sheets, digital dice, and some virtual tabletops all cost nothing.

Now, can you improve your experience by paying for them? Probably, yes. But, if you’re unsure how committed you are to playing D&D just yet, these are all low-barriers to entry.

With that out of the way, let’s go over some of the basics of D&D 5e.

Understand the Basics of D&D 5e

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There are a few basic rules and things to keep in mind before playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Since it’s a game, D&D has rules. Now, many times, these rules are more like guidelines. But, you need to understand the rules before bending them.

This isn’t going to be a complete rules breakdown where I’ll cover each one in detail. The Basic Rules are a good place to start if you want to read through the starting rules for that. Instead, this article covers key elements of starting to play D&D.

  1. The roles of the Dungeon Master and players
  2. How to create a character
  3. What dice do in your game

First off, let’s cover the roles of the Dungeon Master and players.

Dungeon Master vs Player

D&D has two different categories of players: the Dungeon Master and players. A Dungeon Master serves as the adjudicator of the rules and runs the game. Players control player characters who serve as the protagonists of your game.

Being a player is fairly easy. You control your character in their actions, decisions, and interactions. With your character sheet, you track their spells, hit points, abilities, and statuses.

A Dungeon Master facilitates the game for the players. They guide the story, control NPCs and monsters, and adjudicate the rules when ambiguous rulings crop up.

Every game of D&D needs at least one DM and one player. So, when putting your group together, one of you needs to volunteer to run the game as the DM or you need to find one.

Now, being a Dungeon Master requires a lot of work.

You need to either come up with a story and world or follow a pre-published module. Then, you need to run the game for your players, part of which involves helping them during the character creation process. Finally, you need to come up with challenges to present before your players and track their progress through the story.

That said, being a DM is a wonderful experience. Watching your players succeed over obstacles and facilitating their story is an immensely rewarding experience. Just be sure you’re ready for the responsibility.

Character Creation

Each player needs to create a character prior to playing D&D 5e. This is a multi-step process and varies from table-to-table.

As a player, you need a character. There are a variety of ways to build a character, so you can create one that fits how you want to play the game.

Every character has the same five basic elements:

  • Race
  • Class
  • Background
  • Alignment
  • Ability Scores

We’ll go over each of these so you have an idea of how to make your character.


Creating a character in D&D 5e starts with their race. Being primarily a fantasy TTRPG, D&D 5e offers a selection of classic, fantasy races including dwarves, elves, and halflings along with more original options like the dragonborn, who resemble the ferocious creatures of their namesake, and the fiendish tieflings.

Each race in D&D 5e offers unique bonuses to your character. They’ll all improve your Ability Scores, the statistics that form the backbone of a creature’s capabilities, in some way and most offer additional Traits that make each race unique.

Some races have sub-race options that have their own Traits on top of the base ones. This helps you create the character you envision.


Classes in D&D 5e give your character the bulk of their abilities. Each Class has a myriad of Features that dictate what a character is capable of.

Each Class follows a theme in their Features. For example, the Barbarian Class has Features that focus on them taking less and dealing more physical damage. On the other hand, the Wizard Class offers a variety of Features that grant your character to cast spells and making learning certain spells easier.

All classes fill a specific the from directing enemies away from allies to specializing in social situations.

On top of the basic Features, all Classes in D&D 5e have a variety of sub-classes with more specialized Features. Choosing your sub-class gives you more variety in customizing your character.


Your character’s Background informs you and the other players of where they came from before becoming an adventurer. give your character more Skills, starting equipment, and a non-combat focused Feature.

D&D 5e has a myriad of pre-generated backgrounds for you to choose from. Each one provides skill proficiencies, equipment, and a social Feature. Some even give your character more Languages or Tool proficiencies.

Basically, your character’s Background outlines an archetype of their past experiences and the things they learned from them.

Each Background gives the same basic benefits:

  • 2 Skill Proficiencies
  • Starting Equipment
  • Social or Exploration Feature

Some Backgrounds also give your character more Languages they can understand or other Tool proficiencies. For example, the Soldier Background give you proficiency in land vehicles.

Choosing a Background gives you the power of fleshing out your character more when you sit down to play.


Alignment is a guideline for how your character behaves. Contrary to what many seem to believe, Alignment is not a hard-and-fast rule. Nor should it dictate everything your character does.

It’s easy to think that Alignment defines your character. But, that’s simply not the case.

Alignment is a tool for players to help in role playing their character. That said, it’s not an end-all-be-all kind of thing. You shouldn’t let your character’s Alignment define them.

The Alignment system in D&D consists of six elements; three for ideals concerning society and three for morality:

  • Societal Ideals:
    1. Lawful
    2. Neutral
    3. Chaotic
  • Morality:
    1. Good
    2. Neutral
    3. Evil

These six elements form a 3×3 Alignment Grid. The grid helps you visualize where your character falls in their Alignment. Each of the combinations appears in the grid and have a slightly different worldview.

D&D Alignment Chart

Now that you know how the basics of Alignment, here’s a brief rundown of each combination:

Lawful Good
You always try to do the right thing within the bounds of the law or some other code.
Neutral Good
You do good to the best of your ability and within your means.
Chaotic Good
You follow your conscience and do the right thing regardless of what others think or the law.
Lawful Neutral
You follow the letter of the law or some other code or creed.
True Neutral
You don’t choose sides and make decisions based on whatever is the best option in the moment.
Chaotic Neutral
You do what you want according to your needs or desires.
Lawful Evil
You follow a code or law to achieve your own ambitions, often at the expense of others.
Neutral Evil
You do whatever you can get away with to accomplish your own wants.
Chaotic Evil

As I mentioned, Alignment shouldn’t define you character. You shouldn’t refer to your Alignment when you make a decision. Rather, Alignment is a guide for you to use when trying to determine how your character would feel before, during, or after making a decision.

Ability Scores

Your character is made up of various numbers for their skills, hit points, attacks, spells, and so on. Each of these numbers use your Ability Scores in some way. Ability Scores in D&D 5e include six separate numbers: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

Essentially, your character’s Ability Scores determine how capable in any given situation.

When you’re creating your character, you’ll determine their Ability Scores through one of a variety of methods and modify them based on your racial Traits. The method of determining your Ability Scores varies depending on what your table agrees on. But, you’ll usually choose from one of the following:

Roll three six-sided (d6) dice for each of your Ability Scores. Some tables roll four d6 and use the three highest numbers.
Standard Array
D&D 5e has a Standard Array of Ability Scores that makes character creation easier. The Standard Array consists of the same six numbers for every character; 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8
Point Buy
The Point Buy system is a bit more complicated. Basically, you have a set number of points (usually 27) to "buy" increases to your character’s Ability Scores. Each Ability Score starts at a base of eight and you increase them by using a number of your allocated points.

Each Ability Score affects a different aspect of your character’s capabilities. Some affect more than others, but they all have a general theme about them.

Your character’s physical prowess. Often used for melee weapon attacks; lifting, dragging, carrying, and pushing objects or creatures; and your Athletics skill.
How agile your character is. This Ability Score affects a wide variety of things in play including your Armor Class, a variety of skills, certain melee weapon attacks, and most ranged weapon attacks.
Your character’s durability. Constitution improves your character’s hit points and helps stave off poisons and other effects.
How smart your character is. Many skills use Intelligence and the Wizard class uses it as its Spellcasting Ability Score.
Your character’s strength of will and their observation prowess. This Ability Score has a number of associated skills with the most prevalent being Perception. The Cleric, Druid, Monk, and Ranger classes also use Wisdom in their spellcasting or features.
Your character’s force of personality. Most often used in social skills and in spellcasting for Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks.

Now, the number you assign to each Ability Score also determines your Ability Score Modifier. This number

So, that’s a basic rundown of Ability Scores in D&D 5e.

Rolling Dice

In D&D, and most TTRPGs, you roll dice to determine the outcome of an action. D&D 5e uses a variety of polyhedral dice including the four-sided (d4), six-sided (d6), eight-sided (d8), ten-sided (d10), percentile (d100), twelve-sided (d12), and twenty-sided (d20) dice.

Usually, if you want your character to do anything outside of a normal, mundane activity, you’ll need to roll a d20. The d20 is the most important of your dice as you’ll roll it for the widest variety of actions.

You may have heard the term "check" thrown around. This is basically just another word for "roll" in TTRPGs. For example, a Stealth check just means roll your d20 and add your Stealth (Dexterity) modifier.

You use a d20 to:

  • Make an attack roll
  • Make an Ability Check
  • Make a Saving Throw
  • Roll for Initiative
  • Use a Tool

So, when you want your character to do something, your DM may ask you to roll your d20 and add any relevant modifiers.

For example, if you want to climb a building, your character may need to roll a d20 and add their Strength (Athletic) skill modifier. Or, when you make an attack with your dagger, you’ll roll your d20 and add your Dexterity modifier and Proficiency Bonus. Your Proficiency Bonus is a static number that increases as your .

The other dice in your collection have a variety of uses. Mostly though, you’ll roll them to deal damage, determine the effect of a Feature or spell, or for figuring out how many hit points your character has or gains.

Some basic things won’t require a dice roll. Engaging in small-talk with an NPC doesn’t warrant a roll, but attempting to enter a restricted area may mean rolling a Charisma (Persuasion) check.

Finding a D&D Game

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The easiest way to find a D&D game is to ask your friends and/or family if they want to play. When that fails, try your local gaming store as many of them offer organized play on certain nights. If that’s not an option due to your store not running games, you can try various online resources to find a virtual game.

One of the biggest hurdles when starting D&D is finding a group to play with.

Luckily, you have a few options for finding a way to play. First off, I recommend asking your friends and family if they want to play. This is the easiest option for putting together a game as you all already know each other which makes playing a bit less awkward.

Your next option is to try your local gaming store. Many game shops offer some sort of organized play for people to join. Playing at your local gaming store is great for meeting new people and playing D&D.

One final option for finding a D&D game is going through an online source. Sites like Tabletop Wizard, Roll20’s Looking for Group page, or the r/lfg subreddit are all great resources for meeting other TTRPG players and finding games to play. This way, you don’t have to go anywhere to play D&D 5e.

How to Play D&D

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Playing D&D 5e and other TTRPGs means participating in a story outlined by your DM and crafting tales with your other players. Once you have a group, character, and DM, you’re ready to start playing.

With all this, you have the basic elements you need to know on how to play D&D. All you need to do now is start.

To start, you’ll need a group to play with. You can’t really play D&D by yourself.

One person needs to volunteer as the Dungeon Master. This person also needs to either put together a story or read through a pre-published adventure module. A DM serves as the guide for the other players through their adventure.

Players need to create a character. There are a variety of race, class, and background combinations. So, make a character you like and will want to play for a while.

Finally, start playing.

Remember; Dungeons & Dragons is a group game. While it’s important to play your character however you like, you need to bear in mind that other people are there to have fun too. So, you all need to come together to make sure everyone has a fun time.

Example of Play

Every D&D game runs differently. Not to mention games tend to run for a few hours. So, it’s hard to give a general example of play is a bit difficult.

That said, I’ll do my best to guide you through a typical example of how to play D&D for a group of 1st level characters including a Fighter, Cleric, and Rogue.

DM: You find yourselves at the bottom of a 60 foot pit. A thin trickle of water rains down from the ceiling, gathering into a small puddle before flowing through a small opening in the smooth stone wall.
Rogue: Can I try to climb out of the pit?
DM: The walls of the pit are pretty smooth, but there are a few shallow hand holds. Go ahead an roll a Strength (Athletics) check to climb out
Rogue: *rolls a d20* I got a 6.
DM: Unfortunately, you can’t get a solid grip in the smoothed hand holds.
Cleric: Can I check the opening in the wall? I want to see what’s on the other side.
DM: Sure. You look through the hole, it’s hard to see anything as the other side is entirely devoid of light, but it looks like it might open up on the other side into a slightly larger tunnel.
Cleric: Can I find any cracks or anything in the wall?
DM: Make an Intelligence (Investigate) check for me.
Cleric: *rolls* I rolled a 17.
DM: The wall doesn’t look like it has any cracks in it, but looking between the hole and comparing it with the wall, it looks fairly thin.
Cleric: Hey Fighter, think you can take a swing at this wall to see if we can break it?
Fighter: Sure. I take my Warhammer and take a swing at the wall.
DM: Okay, just roll damage for me for your Warhammer.
Fighter: *rolls a d10* With my damage bonus, that’s an 11.
DM: Good enough. You take a swing at the thin stone wall and smash into the slightly larger tunnel. It’s about three feet wide, so you’ll need to crawl through it.

That’s just an example of how you play D&D. Of course, this back-and-forth happens throughout an entire adventure. You’ll basically ask your DM if your character can do something, the DM determines if you need to make a roll, and you resolve everything depending on how well you rolled.

Dungeons & Dragons FAQ

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Do You Need to Make a Story from Scratch?

No. You don’t need to make a story from scratch to play D&D. Wizard’s of the Coast has a variety of pre-made adventure modules you for purchase that you can run. These modules guide you through an adventure, but usually give the DM enough agency to craft their own story with their players.

How Long Does D&D Take to Play?

Most D&D sessions usually take three to four hours to play. That said, a full campaign takes several sessions, spanning weeks, months, or even years to finish. If you’re not looking for a long-term campaign, you can run a one-shot, which usually last only one to two sessions.

How Many People Can Play D&D?

You can play D&D with as many people as you like. But, it’s usually best to play with three to five players and one DM. D&D 5e has some guidance on running games for up to seven players, but it can be difficult to run a game for that many people.

Summary of How to Play D&D

That about covers the absolute basics on how to play D&D.

Honestly, just going through the Basic Rules and grabbing a few of your friends to play is all you really need. You should have a base understanding of the rules so you have guidance on how play usually progresses though. Aside from that, your imagination is really the limit for where your stories and adventures take you.

Leave a comment if you have any questions regarding how to start playing D&D. I’d love to help in anyway and bring more players into the hobby

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