RPGBOT.Podcast – How to Play Dungeons and Dragons, Part 1 – Concepts and Themes

Show Notes

In this 4-part series, we teach new players with absolutely no exposure to the game how to play Dungeons and Dragons with the help of our special guest, Jodie, who prior to recording with us had never been exposed to Dungeons and Dragons. By the end of this series, you’ll be ready to build a character and play your first game.

In our first episode in this series, Random and Jodie discuss the basic concepts and themes of Dungeons and Dragons and other roleplaying games. They discuss what players do in roleplaying games, how they work, what dice are for, and what sort of things that characters do in a roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons.

The Full 4-Part Series

  1. Part 1 – Concepts and Themes
  2. Part 2 – Characters
  3. Part 3 – Playing the Game
  4. Part 4 – Questions and Answers

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall

Welcome to this very special episode arc of the RPGBOT.podcast. Yeah, so in this arc, we’re going to take our special guest, Jodie, through learning about how to play tabletop gaming. In particular, we’re focused in Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition. We’re going to do this in four episodes. So the first episode we’re going to talk about concepts and themes in tabletop gaming. The second episode, we’re going to work through building a character for playing D&D 5e. The third episode, we’re going to do a one-shot in D&D 5e. And in the fourth episode, we’re going to gather and to kind of talk through everything that Jodie experienced. Give her an opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the game. So yeah, if you’re a regular listener, if you’re super into D&D 5e, this art might not be super useful for you, but we’re hoping it’s something you can bring to folks who want to come to the game. And if you’ve been away from tabletop for a while, and you want to come back to it, we’re hoping this is a great resource for you to kind of get familiar reacquaint yourself and come back into the game. Thanks a lot.

And now, episode one with random and Jodie on concepts and themes and tabletop gaming.

Random 

Hello, this is Random Powell, and today you’ll be hearing me kicking off this RPGBOT.Podcast, because we’re doing a special series, which you will have heard a little bit about just before. And so let me also introduce Jodie.

Jodie 

Hi!

Random 

Good evening. Today, we’re going to do a little three part miniseries where we talk about how to get into D&D for the first time, we are going to use Dungeons and Dragons, fifth edition as the start of our roleplaying game adventure, because it is very accessible, very popular right now. Lots of places that you’re going to be able to find more resources or games should you want to. And so this makes sense is a good place for us to kick this off. Jodie, you and I had talked a little bit the other day, and I really liked your anecdote about your first experience with a computer game. Would you mind telling that again?

Jodie 

Oh, sure. Yeah, when we were younger, my husband and I, we knew another couple, and we had a chance to visit them at their house on a couple of occasions. And one time, when we went over there, they had a video game on their computer system, and we’re talking way back in the mid-80’s. And so it might have been a Commodore computer, or I don’t know what it was way back then. But it was like the most basic kind of game you could have. And I had a chance to play it, I have no idea what it was called. But I played it for about 10 minutes, and what I remember about it is that you were… it would describe the place that you were in, like you were in a room and in you see a door, and then you had to do something, like, type in a command like look around, or, or do something like that. And, I mean, that’s really all I remember about it. But I remember being absolutely fascinated by that game. And after that experience, I kept thinking about it and wishing I knew what it was and had a chance to play that again. And when I think about what Dungeons and Dragons might be, that’s what comes to mind. Some situation where you’re, you’re thinking about where you are and what you need to do next, and you have to give, I don’t know, some kind of direction or command. It was really cool.

Random 

That’s absolutely right. And, and the thing about that, that I think is really going to resonate with a lot of people, I had a very similar experience. The first time I played Dungeons Dragons, where I got into this game, I really enjoyed it, and I found myself thinking about it for hours at a time, you know, reading source books, back in the days when the internet was still in the place where you could use it, sure, but it certainly wasn’t something that you spent a lot of time on short of loading your your little flash games. That experience of being in something, getting, giving commands getting back a response, that does really relate to what roleplaying games are, except that rather than having a program that is going to accept a limited number of inputs, and then give you a limited number of responses, you have a real human being on the other side. At least one person running the game, and hopefully some other players as well. What you’re going to end up with is instead of a really, you know, narrow path, which can be a lot of fun, you’re going to have someone who hopefully is going to be able to improvise as you give them inputs that are not what they were expecting, not what a book may have written or what their pre-written, you know, homebrew campaign may have written. A roleplaying game at its core is just you taking on the role of someone else. And we’ll get to characters here in a bit. But you taking on some other roles, which depending on the role playing game may even be yourself but perhaps in an enhanced way. That’s episode for a future date. There’s a really cool system I want to talk about. But roleplaying games are just ways to enable cooperative storytelling by providing a framework of rules so that people can tell a story that has some elements of randomness to it. Now humans do love stories, no argument there. Chance makes things exciting. You know, some possibility of failure makes things exciting. And so that’s why we add things like dice rolls, and all these rules that go with them to make it so that you’re not just acting out a play, which is a great time, but it’s not what roleplaying games is about. It’s a little bit more than that. The purpose of this episode is really to just start building some context for you and the listeners by extension. That’s what a roleplaying game is. Dungeons and Dragons, in particular, fifth edition is one of those. There’s a lot of things that are consistent across all of them that I’m going to touch on. So character. In general, you are going to be playing a character. And that character can have many, many choice points about what they are, what they do, how they accomplish it. You’re going to generally have things that are common between them. You’ve got your name, you’ve probably got some kind of lineage, you probably got some set of things that defines how you accomplish your abilities, whether that be a class or an exalt, if you’re playing that system. Or perhaps it’s the house of vampire you are if you’re playing that. But in general, you’re going to play a character, it’s going to be able to do some things, and the things that it does and how well it does them are based on choices that you made when you created it. That character goes into a story in a world. That story, that world, all of that is created by a Dungeon Master. In Dungeons of Dragons, other systems call it other things, you may hear it as a Game Master or Soryteller, but a Dungeon Master in general is the term that we’re going to use. Because not only is this nominally about Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition in particular, but also it’s the one that we played a lot of and therefore have that. So you as your character, a Dungeon Master, and perhaps other players, we often will talk about the characters that they are that they play as player characters often shortened to PC’s. Whereas the Dungeon Master, when they are talking from the perspective of someone who is in the world, they are inhabiting an NPC, a non-player character. That is a really common term you’ll see thrown around. “NPC”. Particularly NPCs versus PCs. And because the Dungeon Master needs to be all of these NPCs there can be a lot of points where we talk about those, because it’s a big thing that they focus on.

Jodie 

So actually, this is sounding a little bit like LARP to me. Live action roleplay.

Random 

Well.

Jodie  

They have the same kind of terms.

Random 

Exactly. And–

Jodie 

Okay,

Random 

That’s not… I mean, that shouldn’t really be surprising. Live action roleplay… While technically you could roleplay just roleplaying, if you don’t have some sort of game rules applied to that, it’s just improv and there’s no real reason to call it live action roleplay. Live action roleplay is generally going to incorporate some sort of ruleset and therefore, in fact, be a roleplaying game that you’re just acting out in person. Yeah, absolutely. That that makes a ton of sense. Now, you’re in this world, there are these characters, the DM is going to tell a story. They’re probably either going… well, sort of by definition, they will be leading you through one of two types of story, either a story they wrote, and we call that homebrew. That’s the term for it. I don’t know that I know the etymology, but there you go. Or they will be running you through a story that somebody else has written. If this is a story that has been written by one of the big publishers, it’s called a “module.” Again, I don’t know why that’s the term we went with. But the whole gaming community seems to have stuck with that forever. So: module. Sometimes, if there’s particularly multiple modules that are meant to tie together you may hear this referred to as an “adventure path.” Okay, you go through in this story, come out the other side. And along the way, you’re going to get a lot of cool stuff. You’re going to meet a bunch of these NPCs, some of which will be helpful to you, some of which will be antagonists to you. You’re going to meet monsters who are often antagonists to you and combat in particular, in Dungeons Dragons, fifth edition. We talked about this in the optimization episode, if you haven’t listened to that. Dungeons and Dragons, as a system has always been a very combat-oriented ruleset. Okay, if you look at the player’s handbook, have the 300 some odd pages to it, a decent chunk of that, probably I would say over half, is devoted to combat options and the way combat works. Monsters or just people because sometimes people are the real monsters haha. These are things that are going to be antagonists to you and there’s a lot of rules for adjudicating that and that’s a lot of what happens during sessions. You know, there’s going to be some description of interacting between your party of characters, whether that’s one more many, and other NPCs perhaps for social intrigue. Perhaps is something as simple as buying equipment at the store, or perhaps you have made it through and you are now face to face with the wizard who has been terrorizing the kingdom and you need to deal with them. In between those social things you’re going to have combat in general. Combat is measured in rounds, a round comprises six seconds. And in that six seconds, we sort of suspend disbelief about how physics works. And say, for the purposes of making this work and telling a story with how we need to do this, everyone takes a turn. You determine what order people go in by rolling initiative at the start of a fight. You will have an initiative modifier that is based on some parts of your character, which Tyler will get into with you.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

The start of a fight is generally always marked by everyone rolling initiative. Your Dungeon Master will then decide what order they want to ask for your initiative values in and record those somehow so that they know what order things are going to go in. At some point, you will get to your turn. On your turn, you get to move up to your speed. Your speed is determined by the race that you are. In general, most human-sized and cheap things will be able to move 30 feet in six seconds, which is pretty freakin’ fast, but if you consider how fast you can sprint. Maybe you will get to take an action. This action can be kind of anything, maybe it’s swinging your sword, firing your bow, casting a spell, hiding so that you can effectively stab someone in the kidney next turn. There’s all kinds of stuff that you can do. But in general, you’re going to do something with your action.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

And then sometimes you will get a bonus action. In general, bonus actions are meant to be smaller things, things that are like, perhaps some rider effect on a thing that you did. Maybe a feature says when you attack you can push somebody with your shield because it’s you know, you swing and then you shove. That’s the real basics of how fifth edition combat works. Move up, if you want to, Take an action if you want to. Maybe you get a bonus action. And then your turn is done. Every single person will get a turn. Once every single person has gotten the turn, the round is complete. Six seconds have passed. Back to the top of the order and you keep going. That’s a real basic what a turning combat looks like.

Jodie 

So, and when you play a game, everyone in the game has to participate in the combat?

Random 

In general, everyone is going to roll initiative, because there’s always going to be the option for them to participate in combat unless there is something preventing it. If say someone is in jail somewhere else, or has been teleported somewhere and for whatever reason they physically can’t participate, maybe they don’t all initiative. But in general, if they’re there, they’re going to roll initiative, they’re going to be placed and then on their turn that they can choose to do nothing. But you’re going to want to give them the option.

Jodie 

Okay, wait, hold on a minute. What is initiative?

Random 

So that’s the the thing that I said just a little bit ago, where when you start a round of combat, you’re going to roll initiative.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

This is a, and I will get to roll in a second because there’s a big thing about how this randomness works with dice.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

Basically, initiative is a… it’s just a number that tells your DM who is going to go in what order in this fight.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

Okay. I’ve talked about rolling a few times. Dungeons Dragons, when you’re going to do basically, any of the things that we’ve talked about whether it be social interaction, whether it be combat or whether it be something you’re doing in downtime, like maybe you’re trying to craft neat stuff for yourself, or maybe you’re trying to track somebody through the woods or whatever the case may be, we need some element of randomness. So: dice. A standard set of polyhedral dice for Dungeons and Dragons is a 20-sided die, a 12-sided die, a 10-sided die, an eight, a six and a four. That 20 sided dice is the one that’s going to get the most work. In general, when you try to do much of anything that involves a chance of failure, you’re going to roll that 20 sided die and add some sort of modifier. Now your character sheet is going to tell you often what that modifier is. Initiative is one of the things listed on there, like we’ve been talking about a little bit, but there’s a lot of other things you’ll have a separate modifier for which weapons you attack with and that can be different. You know, maybe a Rogue type character is very good with their daggers because they’ve done a lot of practice with that but you give them a huge two-handed sword and they haven’t the faintest idea what to do with it. Different weapons, different skills if you are trying to accomplish something like sneaking or convincing someone of something, all of these are going to involve a d20 roll.

Jodie 

So these kind of skills you have are based on the character that you’ve created, and then how you’ve kind of proceeded through the game and the skills that you have further developed as you play the game?

Random 

Largely, yes. Fifth edition in particular, has taken out a lot of the idea of the capacity to train other skills once you’ve created a character in general, the things that you’re good at, when you start the character, you will get better at them as time progresses and your character grows stronger. Unless you take some specific options, you won’t be able to get better at new things. A, this Rogue character that we’ve talked about, maybe they’re good at being stealthy, and picking pockets, and noticing details. They’re always going to be good at those. They’ll get better. But in general, they’re not going to suddenly become good at jumping. Maybe. There are ways to accomplish that. But in general, that’s not the course of things. Any of these things that you’re going to do is going to involve some sort of d20 roll and you add some sort of modifier and your DM will be very happy to tell you, I want you to do this thing. And when you say great, what does that mean? You say, here’s what I need you to do. Roll your d20, add this thing, add this thing. And as time goes on, you’ll become more and more proficient, pun mildly intended, with which things you are going to add to a certain dice roll in order to get them the number that they’re looking for. The reason these are important is because these numbers that you roll are always going to be compared to some target that the DM knows and you’re not really intended to. So when you go to attack somebody, there is an armor class, AC for short, that everything has. Everything has an armor class. And when you try to attack them, you roll your d20. You add some numbers, and then you compare it to the armor class. If your roll is equal to or greater, you have hit them. You proceed on to damage and your DM will help you adjudicate that, too. If you try to make some sort of skill check, like you’re trying to sneak or like you’re trying to find something. Things which are hidden, have a DC, difficulty class as opposed to armor class, have a DC where again, you roll with the 20, you add your modifiers in trying to beat that target. And so generally, roll the d20, add some modifiers, see if you beat the target. If you did, success, you do the thing you wanted to do. If not, then you just didn’t do the thing. Rarely, there are penalties for if you don’t do the thing very well. But that’s pretty rare. So it sounds like as you’re playing the game, you’re always looking for the highest roll you can get In general, yes. I can’t think of an instance immediately where I would want to roll low. I’m sure there are some perhaps if for some reason you were mind controlled and needed or were forced to attack your friends. But in general, yes, you you want as high rule as possible. And so a lot of what we talked about on the website, and in the other podcast episodes is how to optimize how to make it so that you get the as high a roll as possible when you’re trying to do a thing. Okay, so that was a lot of talking. But that’s really a brief overview of what you are going to be doing, the world you’re going to be walking into, and what you’re going to be doing once you get into that world. Any questions?

Jodie 

Well, at this point, I My mind is kind of full of thoughts of wow, this can be very complex, as far as trying to create your character. And it seems a little bit intimidating for someone just starting to create their character and decide what kind of character they want. So is it a case of when you start playing and you’ve got a group that you’re playing with and you maybe you know, you’re following a story and everybody, I mean, there’s certain characters that go with that story that you’re going to pull from?

Random 

Sometimes. You’re not going to generally play anyone who already exists in the story. You are bringing these people to a story. But there are certainly people who would make more sense. So, you know, if you’re going into a story where you know it’s meant to be this sort of war epic, and you’re going to be marching across battlefields, leading battalions, whatever, maybe you do go on more soldiery route. Or maybe you are still a Wizard who is supporting or maybe you’re still a Rogue who is meant to be an assassin. There’s going to be ways to fit nearly any character into nearly any story. And the thing that that is really important here is while I understand why it can be intimidating… Building a character itself, there’s a lot of steps to it. But none of the steps to building a character are actually all that hard. And Tyler’s gonna do a great job leading you through, I’m confident. One of the things that I will eventually talk about in an upcoming episode where I talk about being a first-time player is your first character is not going to be optimized. That’s fine. You don’t have to make something that does a ton of damage, that abuses one of these mechanics, like we talked about. You’re there to make someone who is going to be your representation in the story. The only thing that matters is that you make someone that you’re going to enjoy playing. Because that’s… that’s really what you’re going for. Everyone at the table having fun. As long as your character is something you’re going to enjoy playing and as long as it has some motivation to be in that story, then that’s it. The numbers don’t matter.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

And we’ve even talked about in another episode, why failing, can be fun, right? Why failing can be a thing that engages people. So even if you make a character and you decide, oh, man, I, you know, I, I decided to make my character really stealthy and not be able to talk very good. And here we are in a social situation where I need to convince somebody of something, you just roll. If you do great, then great, the story proceeds one way and if not, then it’s on your DM to make it so that the thing that you tried, works for you in some other way, even if it’s not the way that you intended.

Jodie 

Okay, so when you play, you always have just one character. It’s not like you’re playing multiple roles, correct?

Random 

IN general, that is accurate. If you’ve been playing for a long time, maybe you want to try and do that route. Tyler has proposed an amusing idea in an article about playing a character that is three kobolds, which are two-foot-tall, kind of miniature lizard dragons that are otherwise, you know, pretty human, intelligent and whatnot. Tyler has talked about playing three kobolds stacked in a trench coat and having that be character, but apart from silly stuff like that, in general, yes, you are only going to be playing one character.

Jodie 

So once you join a game, and you’re playing for the first time, and you get some experience, and maybe you realize that the kind of character you chose to be isn’t the kind of character that you would like to be based on your new experience and seeing what other people do with their characters. Can you change to a new character mid-game? Can you like, kill one, kill off your character like a soap opera?

Random 

Entirely up to the DM. But in general, yes. And sometimes that is your character develops a sudden death wish and leaps off a cliff. But in general, your DM is probably going to be a bit more lenient, and just allow you to say yes, of course, you can make some other character.

Jodie 

Okay.

Random 

Something that does fit what you want to do better. I’ve seen that play out. And honestly, that’s a really good idea. Because if someone is not invested in a character, and you’re forcing them to play it anyway, they’re not going to have a good time, they’re going to make everyone else not have a good time. You want someone playing something that they are actively engaged in.

Jodie 

Well, I feel like I’m kind of really fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from experts. But in general, if someone decides they’re going to play for the first time, and they have friends that play and the friends say, yeah, come join us, this is going to be great, then I would guess that those particular friends would kind of guide a new person into what kind of character would fit the game or what they think that that… What kind of character they think they would like?

Random 

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I, from my own experience, I have walked people through this process. You know, I’ve had people join, who have never played before. And the first question when I help them make a character is always “what do you want to do?” Do you want to be someone who is big and burly and swings a sword or wears armor and protects their friends with a shield? Or do you want to be an archer? Or do you want to, you know, be sneaky? Do you want to have an animal companion? Do you want to wield divine magic? Do you want to wield arcane magic? Because there’s a ton of options. Starting from what do you want to play? And I don’t mean, you know, what do you want your characters mechanics to be? I mean, who do you want to be in this setting? I think it was also the optimization episode where I talked about walking into a party that was very fragile, very backline focused. And that was totally fine. You know, these, these people who had never played before they all made things that they wanted to play. I as someone who has played kind of everything, stepped in and said, okay, great, I will fill this role and go from there. But it’s, again, it’s on a DM you know, if if everyone makes characters that maybe aren’t super synergistic, that’s fine. If there’s a role left open, that’s fine. And it’s on the DM to figure out how to make it something people are still going to have fun. Maybe you tweak some encounters so that maybe it’s more of a, like, a lot of people with ranged attacks versus a lot of people with range attacks. And so you make it, you know, about cannon barrages as ships pass or something. But that group of friends will hopefully, you know, walk you through the process in a way that you end up with something that you are going to invest in because that’s really the whole point. You know, these characters can absolutely be just piles of numbers throwing dice at each other. And I’ve been in that game too, and you can definitely have fun with that. But as a roleplaying game, ideally you’re going to want something where you are really playing the role of the character.

Jodie 

So when you go into a game, or you join, well, I guess I’m thinking about when a game starts up, are there usually certain roles that need to be filled? Like, for example, if you’re talking about combat, would everybody be a warrior? Or would you have warriors and healers and I don’t know what other kind of characters so that everybody has kind of a different role to play?

Random 

Yeah, and, so we talked about this in the optimization episode as well, there’s the sort of gold standard of a Fighter, someone who stands in the front, is burly, does some attacking and mostly takes all the attacks. A Rogue, someone who is probably somewhere near them, hides in the shadows, and then appears, does a boatload of damage and disappears. A Wizard, someone who can control the battlefield, enhance their allies, I’m going to say debuff, which you probably don’t have the context for. But basically, it means make weaker the enemies and generally help with that. And then a Cleric or a Druid, someone who can heal, like you said. And that’s, that’s been sort of the gold standard for a long time, because it does work so strongly together. But there can be a lot of other things. And that’s sort of what I touched on a little bit ago, when I was talking about how if there are holes in the party, if there are places where there are things that aren’t covered, that’s fine, that’s on the DM to maybe tweak things a little bit, so that the party that people are interested in playing, is going to have fun, maybe things are more challenging for them. And as long as they’re still having fun with that, that’s fine. Because, you know, there are some things that are intended to be done with done by certain rules. You know, if you find a locked door, if you don’t have someone who can pick locks, you either got to go around it, or you got to bust through the door.

Jodie 

Yeah.

Random 

While those are options, they’re a little bit harder options. But they’re still options.

Jodie 

Okay. So it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming when you think of it in those terms, that there’s certain kinds of roles that are kind of a guideline for… I think I can come up with what, where I would want to fit.

Random 

Perfect!

Jodie 

I think.

Random 

Well, on that note, Tyler is going to take over and he will be talking you through what making a character looks like, how you make those roles and maybe assign some points, and how you do flush out that character sheet. So that when you eventually end up talking to Randall here anin not all that long, then he’ll be able to guide you through and you’ll have a good idea of what this character is in this role in this story.

Jodie 

Awesome. Sounds great. Thank you.

Random 

Absolutely. And thank you.

Randall

Alright, well, thank you for joining us. I hope you found this episode useful. If you enjoyed this content, please listen to our regular weekly episodes on the RPGBOT.Podcast, where we talk about all kinds of topics across tabletop gaming. And if you want to read more about building characters and character optimization, please visit RPGBOT.net. RPGBOT.net. Alright, thanks a lot, folks.

2 Comments

  1. Keovar January 21, 2022
    • RPGBOT January 22, 2022

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