Running a Dungeons & Dragons Campaign

Over the past few months we’ve toyed with the idea of trying to play Dungeons and Dragons.  I mean, to be fair, who hasn’t recently?  It’s seen a massive upsurge in popularity over the past few years and seems to be riding high atop the 2020’s zeitgeist.

Once we’d all agreed to play, there were suddenly a whole host of arguably far biggest questions.  We went from “Should we play Dungeons and Dragons?” to “How do you play?”, “can we all play?”, “where do we begin?”.

The good news is, that it’s all easily tackled with a bit of persistence.  But let me say this.  You will have to actually want to play Dungeons and Dragons, and your group will need to have at least a slight interest in making it work.

The biggest beast we slayed collectively in our first adventure, was overcoming the unknown, and getting into Dungeons and Dragons itself.  Both conceptually and as a game to play.

Run primarily through masses of rules and your imaginations, how the hell do you “start?”.

I have a good idea now of the answers to the aforementioned questions.  We ran a campaign, and I’d say I have far far more questions and a need to know more/get better at the whole thing.

This isn’t a definitive guide as to how to get into Dungeons and Dragons, but it will hopefully at least serve as a beacon in the mass of information online.  A lighthouse to help steer you in the right direction. If you can understand the concept of Dungeons and Dragons, I think the world is your oyster.

 

How do you play?

Arguably the biggest question, and at the same time, the smallest.  Dungeons and Dragons is built on the imaginations of the players and the Dungeon Master (DM).

In simple terms (the only way I know), you have a Dungeon Master that “runs” the game.  Responsible for being all of the non-player characters, the enemies and for steering the game towards whatever the ultimate conclusion should be.

You have players that use their created characters to play as, on the adventure.

Beyond that, it can kind of be quite loose.  The DM tells the players they’re in a pub, then the players can ask about the pub, try to talk to patrons, choose to leave….you name it.  You’re in a pre-determined world and left with an infinite amount of choices as to how to proceed.

All actions are dependent on the rule of Dungeons and Dragons and the laws of the world within which you’re playing.  Want to attack someone? Well, what’s their armour? Roll a dice to see if they’re protected, if not, roll a dice to see how much damage you do.

Want to try woo someone into giving you what you want? Roll a dice, lets see if you have good enough intelligence or charisma.

Everything you do is determined by player stats and dice rolls. That’s where the rules really come into their own.  If there’s something you need to do, there’s probably a rule to help you achieve it.

What is a campaign?

So that’s it, you can do pretty much anything within the boundaries of the rules, or what the DM decrees inside the lore and laws of the world you’re playing in.

Dungeons and Dragons gives you the rules to structure your game and the ways to play.  Everything else is DM and player choice.  That’s it.

I had such a hard time comprehending “what” a game of Dungeons and Dragons is, and what it has to be.  Let me tell you, it doesn’t have to be anything, it can be whatever you want.  A game of Dungeons and Dragons is friends, dice, pen & paper and imagination.

In fact I would go so far as to say that whilst there are rules for everything.  Fun is the key driver, so if it’s getting too complicated to do what you want, or you can’t find the rules to make it work.  Fuck it, the DM has the final say and in my (limited) experience you can make it work.  Rules give you structure, but don’t get bogged-down in the detail if it’s killing the pace of a game.

Dungeons and Dragons
 

Can we all play?

I suppose it depends exactly how many of you there are, but we had five players and one DM and it seemed to be the perfect amount.

Dungeons and Dragons is a game of imagination and it’s not particularly dependant on being physical (unless you get animated in describing actions!).  So it makes it accessible for pretty much anyone that wants to try and play.

Considering everyone creates a character based on different races and classes.  It’s incredibly inclusive, too! The only real requirement to play is that you’re willing to give it a go.

Yes, there’s plenty to learn about how to actually play.  But I can’t think of one mitigating factor that would stop literally anyone wanting to play.  If you have imagination or even just the inclination to give it a go, Dungeons and Dragons seems to be pretty much ready to go!

Where do I begin?

Thanks to YouTube, the rise in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons, and a whole wealth of resource online.  You’re not going to struggle to find guides and help!

Quantity doesn’t always equate to quality, to be fair.  However, there is a lot of quality content.

I watched hours and hours of videos guides and even just games being played to get a feel for it all.  No doubt, if you have an idea about the world of Dungeons and Dragons, you’ve heard of Critical Role.

I have to say that Critical Role and their content really helped me get started.  Guides on being a DM, guides on getting started, and their massive campaigns.  What a wealth of information.

Look for Discord servers and Subreddits, too. You’ll be spoiled for choice.

Beyond that, I bought the starter set and the essentials set.  Mostly because I wanted some physical “stuff” to look at and use.  With a starter campaign, slimmed-down rulebook and pre-determined characters.  You’re getting loads of cool stuff to get you going!

Just go for it

The more I watched and read, the more questions I had, and the more I wanted to understand.

I’ll tell you this though, I think this can only take you so far.  Experience is the best teacher, and I would say you do better to just start your first game and learn as you go.  Without context, some abilities and actions don’t make sense, and some things may never occur in a video or guide.

Assuming you’re playing with friends, or at least like-minded strangers.  Just dive in and see what happens.

I guarantee we did things “wrong”.  I made calls that were likely incorrect.  Players possibly took actions that would be frowned upon.  But it’s all about fun.  I would rather run 100 hours of “wrong” campaigns and have a good time with my friends, than 1 short game that nobody engages in because we took the rule set too seriously.

 

Being the DM

I volunteered (not a noble gesture, I’m a control freak) to be the DM and essentially try to bear the burden of being the one to get us all together and make it work.  Ultimately, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make something happen, which meant for some crazy dreams for a few days!

Knowing my friends and having plenty of history with all of them.  I created a one-shot, short campaign.  Designed to get even those non-fantasy guys engaged.  Set in what is our actual hometown (for most of us), with re-imagined places and people from the world we all grew up in, it made it relatable and hopefully easier to get involved with.

Dungeons and Dragons absolutely needs a DM.  Someone to keep the game on-track, regardless of how far out of the way the players take it.  I found that you could write some very specific, in-depth scenarios, only to find that one of your players has instead decided to sleep with a local, and completely change the narrative you intended.

You’re not so much the owner of the campaign (despite writing it and prepping it) as you are a shepherd, keeping everyone going in the same general direction.  I’d definitely put less pressure on myself next time.

Broad strokes pre-written. Characters, locations, scenarios.  All of the real detail comes from everyone else.  You have to help everything take place. You can disallow stuff, but you need to create logical reasoning.

Wing it

The amount of stuff you end up just pulling out of thin-air is crazy.  I had some contingency plans for encounters and situations, but I would say I used about 20% of what was planned 20% contingency and 60% making it up as we went along.  I loved it!! Hopefully everyone else did, too.

Have plans, have ideas and have a grasp on the rules.  Then watch what your friends do with their imaginations. It’s wild, and by far one of the best tabletop experiences I ever had (they are limited to be fair).

Dungeons and Dragons can run forever if there’s no structure, so the DM has to keep it on track and can dictate the pace.  Have you been in the same situation for a long time? Move it along!  Is everyone just landing terrible dice rolls and things not progressing? Fudge your rolls and adjust those stats a bit. You’re in charge and fun is the most important thing.

 

More to come

All this is an absolute amateur still buzzing off our first campaign weeks later.  So take my advice with a pinch of salt.  Hell, who even am I to tell you how to play when I don’t truly know myself?

Dungeons and Dragons could be seen as a potentially dry, nerdy pursuit.  Thick rulebooks, high-fantasy and dice.  It appeals to me, even on that level, but I could see how it wouldn’t for some.  Hopefully, with it being pretty in-vogue right now, people will be more open to it, because I honestly don’t know that there’s much else like it.

I spend a lot of time now with a cup of coffee poring over the rules, learning more and more and getting ready to go again! This time as a player, to see how it works from that side of things.

If you’ve ever fancied it, go for it.  There are plenty of people out there to play with, Discord Servers, Sub Reddits and no doubt countless other corners of the internet.  Just have fun and go with whatever happens!

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