I’ve been teaching people to play D&D since May of 2021, when I started a Discord server called “Frogwarts School of Dungeons & Dragons.” As I was new to the game myself, I only taught the basics. But I taught people how to play by having them actually play a game. We went slow, and I explained stuff and encouraged questions.
I probably helped well over 100 people learn the game. Please note the past-tense, as I am no longer teaching beginners. Too many of them think D&D is a video game!
(That is not really true. Some of the people I taught had a misunderstanding about the game, but not all of them, by any means. I stopped teaching for several reasons.)
What is D&D? It’s not Skyrim
D&D is a “tabletop role-playing game” (TTRPG). In fact, many consider it to be the mother of all TTRPGs. It was invented long before what we think of as video games, in 1974. Its 50th birthday is only two years away! Now in its 5th edition, D&D is getting a lot of attention right now, with more people joining the game than ever before.
D&D Came First
D&D is not a table-top version of Skyrim (or World of Warcraft or other fantasy RPGs). Yes, there are druids, orcs, dragons, and dual-wielding Knights of the Nine. But Skyrim has elves and stuff because of D&D, not the other way around. Tolkien was a huge influence, but those wonderful creatures entered the gaming world primarily thanks to D&D.
However, it appears a lot of people decide to give D&D a try because they love those games, rather than being massive Lord of the Rings fans. I totally get that. Who wouldn’t want to act out Skyrim? (or Diablo or Dark Souls or The Witcher). I do understand how people can go into the game thinking they are bound for Whiterun.
So, what is D&D? I’m here to tell you, if you pick up a set of polyhedral dice thinking you will roll your way through D&D by simply selecting the right “choices,” you will be severely disappointed. You also stand a pretty good chance of irritating the other people sitting at your table.
“I don’t care if you took an arrow to the knee.”
I have found many new players seem to think they are the only player in the game. They see everything as revolving around them – which is extremely untrue when it comes to D&D. If you treat your fellow players like NPCs, it is going to piss them off. Don’t do that. You need them. If they are having fun, you are having fun.
D&D is a social game
What is D&D? More than anything else, D&D is a social game. In my opinion, it has much more in common with the game of Monopoly than it does with Skyrim. I have played both. It may look like Skyrim, but it feels much more like a board game.
When you play a good game of D&D, with a good DM, it does sometimes feel like the controls are in your hand. The whole point is to feel like you are in the middle of a story that you are writing as you go. That’s what makes it so awesome. But you are not really the one in control. No one person is. Unlike a video game, the “story” in a game of D&D is constantly changing. It’s collaborative storytelling, with dice.
To be honest, there is really no way to explain exactly what I mean. To answer the question “what is D&D?” you need to play. As long as you go into it not expecting Skyrim, you should be fine. (But you probably will take an arrow to the knee.)