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How to Play Dungeons and Dragons

Neha Pant discovers the popular role-play game and its timeless appeal

There is a reason we are all obsessed with the Netflix Original series, Stranger Things, which has just the right amount of early 1980s-1990 nostalgia in the form of things we all loved as children—board games, bikes, a close group of friends and mixtapes. It replicates an uncomplicated time in everyone’s life, the same charming way as Boyhood did in 2014, except that it throws in a Spielbergesque adventure that makes it even more irresistible. No matter how hard we try, we cannot go back in time, but what we can definitely do is to try and get a hang of Dungeons and Dragons (DD) like the child protagonists of the show, so that we can now give the almost boring Pokemon hunt a rest. And besides, any game that has a fireball throwing wizard in it has our full vote.

Upon research, we discovered that the game has been around for decades in the fantasy world and has a cult fan following. When the game first hit cult-status in the 1980s, millions of teenagers across the globe battled dragons with the help of three important things—pen, paper and a dice. Almost thirty years later, things are a little more confusing. Over 20 million people have played DD since its launch and over $1.5 billion has been spent on an industry spanning, game equipment and books. Gary Gygax told the BBC that when they first came up with the idea, he thought they would sell about 50,000 copies. The game which spread by word of mouth across college campuses and universities worldwide became a hit that was bigger than its creators ever imagined.

Stranger Things

Stranger Things: Over 20 million people worldwide have played D&D

The cult status aside, the game didn’t enjoy its erstwhile limelight until Stranger Things brought it back into focus. Ever since the series ended people have been scampering to play it, but then how does one get started. And especially in India where table-top games are still not mainstream and import duties are high. The internet would have you believe that you need a starter kit for anything and although we could not find any retailers on ground, we did manage to can get a kit on Amazon, the Flipkart kit was nearly half the price (but was currently out of stock). We soon realised you don’t need a kit of any sort for this game. All you need are a couple of miniatures, a map and a soft-copy of the rule-book (easily available online), the fourth edition is considered generally more user friendly. You can play it both, online and offline. The real fun of it truly lies in playing it old school style, with your friends sitting across a table.

32-year-old Kingshuk Pandey who has been playing the game since his early teens says, that people who play D&D (or any kind of fantasy game) are usually associated with being social pariahs of some sort who don’t have a life or are reclusive. “It is actually quite the opposite because the premise of D&D is based on storytelling, so you basically sit down and tell stories with your friends.”

So how do you play it?

The rules are pretty simple. Unlike other board games, there is no agenda except to survive and take notes. The game is best played in a mid-sized group, but large groups also work. You need to have one Dungeon Master or Game Master, the responsibility of this person is to create an alternative universe with enough detailing that other players find it believable enough to step in. The players then have a control over their own stories and make decisions that will impact their lives on the game.  “For most, it is a chance to step in to the make-believe world of magic and adventure, which is so hard to find in real life,” says 28-year-old Shalini Aggarwal who has just started playing the game. “I have fairly boring average life that involves long hours at work and little time for anything else, when  I play D&D, I feel that I can do things that I can’t do in my normal life, like go to war, espionage and even slay dragons. I get to live out my fantasies.” Aggarwal who plays with four other people over the weekend says their last games lasted 8 hours on Sunday, “but we had so much fun at the end of it. It really pushes your imagination.”

Usually each game set comes with its own set of characters, the race and class of which will determine your role in the game, like human, dwarf, elf, halfling, half-elf, half-orc, and gnome which will have classes such as rogue, wizard, fighter etc. You will also have to flesh out your character enough to determine how he/she would react to a certain situation. Your character has to evolve through the game based on the decisions that they make and what they learn. As you continue playing the Dungeon Master will grant you experience points based on your contribution. Your character in the game will expand as you use these points to get ahead.


It is important for you to note down the details of your respective character before you start.

According to the Red Box rules of 1983, this is what your character should be based on. These then become the ability scores that make it unique.

Strength – how much stuff a character can carry (and how much physical damage that character can inflict)
Wisdom – intuitiveness
Dexterity –nimbleness, both in using a weapon and in slinking around unnoticed
Intelligence – the capacity for learning new things
Constitution – a character’s stamina and toughness
Charisma – likability, which comes in handy in avoiding fights and making friends

And then there are the dice, the most important of all. These are not regular dice.

You roll up a character by rolling dice – three six-sided dice for each ability, yielding a score of 3 to 18 for each one. These dice are used almost every time the player or the Dungeon Master takes an action. The chance of something happening is directly attached to these especially if the outcome is doubtful. You roll, and if the numbers are high, then you can go ahead with your decision.

A number of outcomes are controlled by these dice.

45-year-old Shashank Kapoor who has recently started playing the game with his 15-year-old daughter says that it is a high he cannot replicate, “thanks to stranger things, I have my college hobby back,” he guffaws.

If you’re confused by all the rules, the best bet would be to start with a starter kit which has pre-generated characters, information on how to begin being a Dungeon Master and an adventure to play it through.

We suggest you give it a try and then freestyle it through the rule-book. We for one are addicted. Get your most imaginative friends on board and let the adventures begin.

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