It seems like everyone wants to try Dungeons & Dragons lately. A lot of that has to do with the rise of streaming shows like Critical Role, which can be a double-edged sword. New players often come in thinking they should be pro actors or expert gamers to “be good” at D&D, making their start in Tabletop RPGs games a daunting task. This list of five essential books for beginner D&D players will help you find your footing and set you on the way to many glorious adventures.
Dungeon & Dragons: Player’s Handbook
New players to D&D need the Dungeons & Dragons: Players handbook. This is the essential rulebook for players and DMs alike, as it describes everything needed to play a game. Besides core rules that you will need to know, there is a simple primer on creating a character; from chosen species and class to known spells and equipment, everything for the beginner is included.
Great additions to this are other sourcebooks such as Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything or Xanathar’s Guide, as these two add even more options for spells, classes, and magic items. Once you’ve got a few characters under your belt, you may even benefit from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. While aimed at the DM, it does contain item lists and it can help to know where the DM is coming from while playing. Just don’t be one of those who tell the DM how to run an encounter!
Choose Your Own Adventure Books
Choose Your Own Adventure books were a staple for kids in the 1980s. There were over 180 titles that sold more than 250 million copies combined! Written in the second person, the books placed the reader at the heart of the adventure. Each page described a scene with a couple of options you can choose. You then flick through the book to find the page number your choice calls for. For new players, Choose Your Own Adventure books can act as a light introduction to the core concepts of playing TTRPGs. Each page delivers a narrative in the same way a DM runs an encounter, albeit in a simpler form. The best news is that many of these titles can be found cheap!
The Ultimate RPG Backstory Guide
One of the most enjoyable parts of character creation is the backstory. The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide by James D’Amato is the must-read guide on creating believable backstories. It is an interactive workbook that asks the kind of questions players seldom think of. Unlike a lot of guides out there, this isn’t just for the newbies as it hits on cornerstone themes that can enhance all characters.
The Improv Handbook
There is only so much you can do to prepare for an adventure. Part of the game is thinking fast and coming up with creative solutions with the rest of the party but even then the DM will throw a curveball and leave you dumbfounded. Improv is the art of performing on the fly and off the cuff – no script, with an ever-changing narrative. The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White is a guide aimed at performers but many of the skills you will learn can be applied not just in your in-character delivery but also your inventiveness in problem-solving. The volume contains practical exercises as well as interviews with improv artists who share many of their secrets.
Not all books are for reading! Our final recommendation is a players’ journal. Keep notes and record your experience; with days and sometimes weeks between games, a good journal can help you remember what you did, who you spoke to and the outcome of past interactions. More importantly, it may save you to write down that one seemingly-random detail that becomes an essential puzzle solution later on.
Never assume that the DM is keeping notes – what’s important to you as a player may not be for the game as a whole, and this is where the DM’s focus should be. Your journal can also serve as a cross adventure/multi-campaign reference. It will help you build your backstory as your character grows and record friendships and interactions with NPCs you may encounter later in your adventures. There is no fixed style or formula to follow, just buy a good journal with mixed pages, i.e. squares, lined, and blank. Alternatively, you can go for feint dotted pages that allow you to layout as you see fit.
There we have it, five books that should help you play a fun first character and solve dungeon puzzles. Of course, it is easy to get lost in the mechanics of the game but remember why you are there. Don’t be afraid to try different things and find what works for you. Most of all, have fun doing it!
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