How To Get The Most Out Of Dungeons and Dragons [Tips For Players]

  • by
how to get the most out of dungeons and dragons

If you’ve might be wondering how the make your DnD better then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will share our experience on how to get the most out of dungeons and dragons adventure!

Getting the most out of your gaming

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is like all good Role Playing Games (RPGs) a game of the imagination. In it you find yourself acting out the role of an adventurer in an alternate world, one fuelled by the Dungeon Master’s imagination and the players’ actions, by classic books and iconic films, by a whole series of “what ifs” and “why nots?”

It is a world bounded by only the limits of the minds of those who inhabit it. But it also has to work like a real world. And working means having an internal logic even if it is one far removed from the possibilities of our own world. For example, if magic is so common and so powerful a phenomenon that a wizard can teleport into a castle and steal the lord’s precious family heirloom, then why would you bother building castles at all? Surely that would be a world where bricks and mortar mean nothing and magic meant everything? We’re not saying don’t build that world, we’re just saying think it through. It’s all about finding the balance and balance means that there have to be rules. And it is the rules which guide the state of play and flow of events in such games.

As a player you will have watched too many films where the muscle-bound hero leaps effortlessly over small huts to land, sword drawn and ready to take on the gang of orc bandits. In the RPG world it is the rules which determine if your low-level gnome thief can perform this heroic deed or will he more than likely, find himself sat in the mud having failed to achieve the necessary trajectory, picking straw out of his teeth having leapt, non-heroically straight into the side of the building. Just because you can imagine a certain Cimmerian performing this deed of derring-do, doesn’t mean that you can do the same. He probably didn’t have to make as many dice rolls as you either!

What’s in it for me?

D&D is a game where it is what you put into the game which determines what you get out of it. Excuse the cliche. The neat thing about Dungeons and Dragons, and thus all of the games which came along in its wake, is that it revolutionised the nature of gaming.

Previously, games had been board-based and all about strategy, they employed a limited set of strict rules which both players adhered to rigidly. Chess, Ludo, Monopoly, even the more sprawling historical war-game re-imaginations, all had concise limits as to what you could and couldn’t do.

D&D changed all of that. It was like playing a game of chess, with, perhaps 4 other players, against a mysterious god-like referee. And your Queen can fly. And she has a magic sword that means that bishops can’t attack her. And she breathes fire. And don’t even get us started on what the Rooks can do.

It turned out that whereas in traditional games you had to play by strict and unbending rules, now the rules were merely there to determine the chances of something happening, and that “something” was only bounded only by the logic of the game and the imagination of the player. And this openness, this new, blank canvas approach to gaming, became its unique selling point. It remains its unique selling point.

The clue as to what lies at the heart of the game is in the title of the genre. Role. Playing. Game. A game where you play a role. Like acting, only with outrageous dialogue and more lethal weapons. Like being the character in a book but a book which is being written around you based on your decisions and actions.

The game is also open-ended. Individual adventures end but there is always another dungeon to explore, captured prince to rescue, castle to storm. Because of this, any short term goals – let’s get this door open, we need to defeat the goblin guards, I’m going to try to scale the tower unseen – are more than matched by the growth and development of your DnD character. Who are they becoming, what skills have they garnered, how do they get the Merchant’s Guild off of their back, why does this keep happening to them?

All of this means that success in the game is measured less in terms of winning and losing but rather by your own personal goals. Just like life. Do you want to acquire lots of money? Become the most powerful wizard in your part of the kingdom? Build a castle? Make a name for yourself? Perhaps your motives are driven by more covert aspirations. Do you belong to a cult and have to undertake certain quests to gain promotion? Are you driven by a family secret or motivated by revenge? These are the things which subtly drive the game. The various adventures are the small battles you must fight, sometimes all too literally, but it is these story arcs which are the war that you are engaged in. Playing out these story arcs is where the real fun lies.

Up and at ‘em!

Such plotlines develop as you explore the world, and often get woven into the next part of the world design as the DM creates it. This means that what motivates you as a player and indeed as a character, in the early days is not the same as what might be driving you years later. There are plenty of common factors but there are also ideas specific to how seasoned you are as players.

The Newbie

1. I Don’t Believe It

Your first few adventures are where you learn how to play the game, at least master the basic concepts, so this is the steepest part of the learning curve. It is also the point where you will feel most lost. You stare at the figurine representing your character stood in a card square representing the room as the DM informs you that the footsteps on the other side of the door are clearly heading your way. What does it all mean? What am I meant to do?

The first thing to do is to learn to suspend disbelief. You can either be sat in the spare room pushing figurines about the table with a couple of friends from the Accounts Department or you can be an untested but enthusiastic adventurer heading into the unknown with a bunch of like-minded explorers. D&D only works if you immerse yourself in its strange charms. The dice roll and the charts might move the action on but it is all there to create the film which needs to be running in your head. If you don’t have that, you really are only playing chess. Albeit it a weird, complex and slightly surreal version of the game.

2. I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am

Secondly, embrace that feeling of being lost. You may not really know how the game works yet but then you don’t have to. The great thing about D&D is that you essentially play the game through conversation with the DM… “I’m going to listen at the door,” “I’m going to ready my sword,” “I’m going to run away,” …it is their job to turn your spoken intent into playable results.

And remember, just as you are new to the game, you are playing a character who is new to the world of freebooting and dungeon raiding too. Two days ago you were dying fabrics in your father’s workshop now you are quarter of a mile underground searching for treasure and, by the sounds of it, trouble. Your sense of bewilderment is actually perfect for this moment in terms of role-playing.

3. Team talk

Perhaps the thing to concentrate on at this point is less the rules and rolls and more in understanding the etiquette of the game. Firstly remember that D&D is essentially a team game, more so than ever in these earlier sessions.

You may eventually develop sub-plots and personal objectives but these can only be achieved by fulfilling the common goals of the adventure. They are probably fairly uncomplicated objectives. Stay alive (obviously), rescue the prince (so that you get the reward money), kill the ogre (all good combat experience), find the magic sword (we all like shiny objects.) etc. etc. Simple yet crucial objectives.

4. Stick to your own job

Working as a team means that you don’t want to be that one player who thinks that they can do everything and who tries to hog the limelight. After all, the party will be made up of characters with all manner of different skills, all suited to various tasks in the dungeon environment. Just because you have the muscles doesn’t mean that you should be kicking down every dungeon door that you come across, charging headfirst into combat and trying to dismiss bands of undead warriors with a wave of your childhood hymn book.

Let the thief silently pick the lock, head into combat strategically as a united party, allow the cleric to call on his god to banish the dead. No one is going to thank you for trying to be the star of the show. Firstly it doesn’t work strategically and secondly, and more importantly, it ruins everyone else fun by reducing them to spectators or merely walk-on parts in your TV special.

5. The role of a lifetime

Most importantly of all, learn to role-play. Just because you, the player, sees the world a certain way, doesn’t mean that you, the character, has to have that same outlook on life. In fact, why not be the total opposite? If you are a fairly confident, sporty male why not play the timid, female, half-elf thief and see what the world feels like from there. That’s role-playing.

6. Share the love

As well as role-playing your own character, it pays to care about the party, something which you can do both in character and as a player. A party of adventurers, a newly assembled posse tasked with chasing down a raiding party of Drow, would quickly be working each other out, or if already familiar perhaps catching up with events since they last saw each other. Ask questions, understand each other, find out who your fellow adventurers are. This will help you bond as a team and it might throw up some interesting parts of your own back story which you can add to your character sheet or which the DM might even work into the bigger world picture.

And even if attitudes and alignment means that you are never really going to warm to the half-orc mercenary who you hired on to add a bit of muscle to the posse, you can still be excited for the player when they make their saving role or if they role-play a certain scene particularly deftly.

7. Having found yourself, it’s time to lose yourself

Role-Playing also requires you to be in the moment. A game of D&D doesn’t happen in real-time, in fact, it takes place in a strange sort of stretchy timeline which might speed up when you are crossing the Great Plains of Ombi and then slows down when the players are about to rush into combat and have to make simultaneous statements of intent. But it is very easy for players to slow the game down unnecessarily through their actions and so some consideration should be made for being in the moment.

DM “You walk into the room just as a whole unit of Orcish militia enter through the opposite door. They rush towards you. What do you do?”

Mage: “I flip through the Players Handbook for ten minutes reading up on the most effective spell I could use.”

Fighter: “ I drop my backpack and rummage through it looking for my dagger which is +1 against Goblin-folk andwhich I know I packed but can’t seem to find.”

Thief: “Can I see the map again, I just want to work out how long it will take me to double back on myself and flank the Orcs….”

No, no, no! No. Although you could argue that the players are only thinking strategically, when you have a pack of overworked, upset and out of pocket… did we mention that yesterday you robbed the wages for the entire Orc garrisons?…creatures 14 feet away and closing fast, then you should have to think fast. You are probably going to just panic-fire the first spell which comes to mind, pick up the most obvious weapon available to you…the one already in your hand, probably…or hide in the shadows hoping not to be noticed.

Reality would require first instincts to prevail and snap decisions to be made. Otherwise, from a gaming point of view, you have just drained all of the drama out of the moment. It’s like if you watched the raw footage of the charge of the Rohirrim before the walls of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings. Instead of an act of heroic endeavour, thousands of horse-lords hurtling headlong into the mass ranks of Mordor’s ugliest, you have instead just been shown the green screen and the 30 New Zealand ranch-hand extras before all of the computer enhancements were added.

Strategy – 1 Belief – 0

8. Be nice!

Never forget to be a good sport. Sometimes the DM might make a call which goes against you. A fellow player’s actions might cause harm to your own character. Maybe everyone has had a tough few days at work and the highlight of the week that you have been looking forward to so much ends up being lack-lustre and a bit underwhelming. It happens. Players are only human even if their character might not be. Don’t take it personally.

At the end of the day, you got into Role-Playing Games to hang out with friends. To be social, to escape reality for a while and have fun. Even if the game session wasn’t one which will be written down in the annals of history and spoken about in hushed, reverential tones in the future, you still ticked most of those boxes. And the next one will probably be the stuff of legend.

Growing Pains

1. Learning to Fly

It is perhaps when you reach a more seasoned, intermediary position that you stop learning how to play the game and actually become one with the game. By now you know how the game works, what rolls and rules govern what part of the game mechanic. You have also by now, hopefully, learned that those rules and requirements are not the most fun aspect of the game. That the game taking place on the table in front of you is just a doorway to the scenes being painted in your head. You know that, right?

2. Roll-play verses Role-Play

The first thing to embrace is that role-playing is more fun than roll-playing. Just because there is a rule structure to cover a certain action, it doesn’t mean that you automatically have to roll the dice. If you are talking to an inn-keeper, trying to glean some important information out of him, perhaps a dice roll might let the player know if he is to be trusted or not. But isn’t it far better to play out the conversation with all its necessary nuance and eloquence and let the players make up their own mind? Perhaps the DM has built-in a certain important game element into this dialogue, perhaps it’s just more fun.

3. I am the law! Or not.

This brings us on to the Rules Lawyer. In seasoned gaming groups, you will have members who are players in one campaign and who might run their own alternative world setting too. This will mean that there are players in each game who are at least as familiar with the rules as the DM running it.

Again it is key to remember why you play. If you, as the knowledgable player, are constantly questioning the DMs decisions, calls and judgement, if you are breaking the flow of the action by questioning decisions and telling everyone how you would have resolved an action or event then you will only succeed in ruining the players’ enjoyment. Such people are known as Rules Lawyers and they should be tarred and feathered and chased out of town with flaming torches and pitchforks. Or failing that, someone should have a quiet word with them. Remember…role-play not roll-play. (Do you think if we had 100 t-shirts made up with that slogan they would sell?)

4. Grow as a person

When you began playing, you may feel as if you are just hanging on for the ride, reacting to events around you and just being guided by the more experienced players. But as you play two things naturally happen. You get better as a player, which is merely a technical aspect of the game but more crucially your character grows in detail, which is the all-important role-playing side of things.

When you started playing Gribbin the lowly fighter from the village of Ditchwater, you knew only a few basic details and had a sheet in front of you which described him in a purely statistical fashion. Okay, you know he is strong and blessed with a certain charm but not the brightest and a bit clumsy. But this information is little more than a postal address, a notion of what he is really all about and what he might become. By the time you have a bit of experience under your belt as a player, you should have worked out a lot more of his personal back story. Some of this you just added in, some of which has evolved through playing.

You know that his father was a soldier who fell at the Siege of Khadar, which explains your dislike of the Khadari people, in fact, all Westerners really. You were once the owner of an elegant, magical longsword until you were double-crossed by a Dwarven mercenary called Janko who left your party for dead and ran off with your treasured weapon. You now undertake quests and adventures which might help you track down your nemesis or give you a clue to his whereabouts.

(A good DM will weave such sub-plots into the wider campaign, small nuggets of information are left scattered around to be found like Hansel and Gretel’s yeast-based treats)

Eventually, Gribbin will become a well-rounded character rather than just a vehicle for bashing baddies and grabbing gold. You will know his strengths and weaknesses, not just as dictated by the ability scores, you will know his traits and bonds, flaws and allegiances and you will have built up a convincing and unique backstory including elements from his childhood, past employment, love life and personality. Stats and rolls might guide the action but it is these attributes which makes the character feel truly human/non-human (delete as applicable.) If this person was the main character in a book you would believe in them.

5. Mix and match

We keep saying that D&D is a team game, and it is, but to be successful you have to also have a party which complements each other’s abilities. A party of fighters might be able to quickly charge through the hordes of Hook Horrors which stand in their way but they will probably trigger every trap in the dungeon as they do so.

Similarly, a party heavy on magical types might be able to keep everyone at bay for a while but if a chink in their magical defences is found then they won’t last long. The art is to assemble a group of characters who work well together and cover a wide range of skills. (It is for this reason why players might have a number of characters in the same campaign, able to field one or another as the adventure requires.)

There are essentially four “roles” to be found in the D&D world. ‘Tanks’ are the martial classes good for soaking up incoming blows. ‘Casters’ are spell userswho are able to do mass damage generally at a distance. ‘Healers/buffers’ are classes such as clerics and bards who act as the support system for the party especially healing magic, and ‘skills monkeys’ are the rogues who disarm traps and pick locks.

When you set off on an adventure, it pays to have an equal spread of these skills. Having too many tanks and healers isn’t a problem but if you have an abundance of casters or skills monkeys they might find that their competition for the same role spills over into frustration.

The Stuff of Legend

1. The Long Game

D&D is like playing a musical instrument, there is always more to learn. Just because you have learnt the notes (the rules,) have a repertoire of cool tunes in the bag (a long history of adventuring) and have embraced all genres and styles (played characters of all levels, races, classes and alignments) that isn’t the end of it. Remember that there are no long-term winning conditions in D&D.

Even with all this knowledge and experience under your belt, there is always more to learn and you will find that as a seasoned player the things you are now learning about gaming relate more to you as a person and role-player rather than the minutiae and technicalities of gameplay.

2. Alignment is no excuse

Alignment has a lot to do with gameplay. After all, there may be two Elven Fighters in the group but the Lawful Good character will always strive for the path of least harm and the most benefit for all concerned, her Chaotic Neutral colleague is governed more by randomness, anarchy and personal whim.

Their race and class may be the same but it is alignment which accounts for their most stark differences. Even at these dizzy heights of the gaming hierarchy, some players still need to be reminded of how alignment works. Especially those playing chaos-aligned characters.

Characters following the path of chaos are not fools. (Unless they are fools, check their intelligence scores in case of doubt.) Just because there is an opportunity to steal an ally’s magic ring, doesn’t mean that they should, just because burning down the Inn where the party is staying might seem fun and chaotic, it doesn’t mean that it serves their purpose. All too often players, even experienced ones, use alignment as an excuse to be disruptive.

Alignments are broad stroke world views, moral guides, ethical considerations but the character still needs to be logical. More importantly, such behaviour ruins the game and that has to come above all other considerations. The player who decides that their halfling rogue is going to punch the local mayor, who you happen to be working for, insult the daughter of the local hard-man and then go and get drunk in the local tavern isn’t portraying Chaotic Neutral, they are playing Chaotic Stupid!

3. Knowledge isn’t always the answer

Metagaming is a type of play which comes with an intricate knowledge of the game. Put simply this is when a player uses personal knowledge of the rules to act in an illogical way to gain an advantage.

Imagine that you are a seasoned D&D veteran and your group is running a low to medium level campaign. The party stumbles across a couple of gargoyles guarding the entrance to a tomb and they rush to attack. This is the first time that your character has ever encountered gargoyles.

Now, as a player you know that they have magical defence and can only be harmed by magical weapons, so instead of having your Barbarian wildman rushing forward to attack, knowing that your excellent but ineffective sword will barely leave a mark, you instead hang back.

This action is illogical and derives from player knowledge rather than character knowledge. A good DM will have the players realise before long that they can’t harm the creatures and give them a way out anyway, so trust your DM, commit to the character and role-play.

Similarly there are players who spend their nights reading The Monstrous Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide just so they know which creatures have which specula attacks and magical defences. This is an approach more akin to Chess than RPG’s.

4. There is only one rule –  ignore the rules…if you want to.

Lastly, and most ironically for a good gaming guide, remember that rules are there to be broken, especially if you are the DM. A game session is more about imagination than procedure, more about flights of fancy…and indeed fantasy… than rolls of dice. It’s about escapism, fun and social interaction.

So whatever works for your group, whatever brings the most enjoyment, whatever is for the greater good of the game, is the best way forward. The rulebooks are just guides, think of them as a loose structure and feel free to change what you want for a system or structure which feels right for you.

Right, just off to get my +2 armour from the dry-cleaners and then we can hit the road to the fabled Forest of Trebner….

Hope we did not get carried away and that this guide on how to get the most out of dungeons and dragons was useful to ya! See you around!