Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
New player guide to role-playing: Getting started

Another question from my "ask me anything" thread was about how to get started with pen & paper role-playing games. That is not an easy question to answer. In fact it could be said that this is one of the weakest points of the hobby: There is no easy way to pick up a box/book, sit around a table, and start playing.

When Dungeons & Dragons was young, it existed in two different incarnations: A Basic D&D game, and an Advanced D&D game. The basic game had much more simpler rules and thus was easier to learn. Since the third edition of D&D in 2000 there is only one version, and it is the advanced one. The main competitor of D&D today, Pathfinder, is also based on advanced D&D rules. 4th edition changed D&D into a more tactical game, but that ended up being even more complicated. Errata and rules changes didn't help. Many other rules systems on the market were also made by veterans for veterans, and didn't exactly simplify the rules. So how does one learn to play?

The best option today is finding other people who are already playing, and to join them. Many stores that sell role-playing games have some sort of organized play events, or at least a message board where you can find other players. Google can help too. How successful you are in finding people to play with will depend on where you live, for example America is much better covered than Europe (D&D stopped getting translated into other languages a few years ago), and of course it is easier to find other people with the same interest in urban environments than in rural ones.

If you are really determined to try to learn the game without outside help, the best way to start would be a starter box. The 4E starter box ("red box") is out of print and is being sold on the secondary market for outrageous prices over $100. Pathfinder has an in-print and thus affordable "Beginner Box". But if you can wait a few more weeks, 5th edition D&D will publish both a free set of "Basic Rules" and a very affordable "Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set" on July 15th. Once I get hold of these, I will post a review, but right now these would be your best bet of getting into D&D without joining an existing group.

Old copies of the Moldvay and Metzner D&D Beginner sets run around $30-$40 on eBay, if you've got an old school player in the group.

Of course, I'm old enough to have had a Moldvay set when I was young, so that might influence my thinking a bit.

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