How to Get Started with D&D? Free, Cheap and All In Methods.

If you want to get started with DnD it can be quite overwhelming figuring out how to start. If that describes you then this guide is here to help!

There are a few different approaches that you can take to start playing DnD, ranging in complexity and cost. Here we outline the 3 most recommended methods to get started in DnD so that you can pick what method suits you best.

How to Start

Method 1: Free rules and one-shot (most recommended)

This is our most recommended way to get started in DnD. It keeps things simple, low cost (or even free), and still gives you a great start to playing. This method lets you and your group get on top of the rules quickly (using a shortened rule set and pre-created characters) and try out a short game without an ongoing commitment. Of course, if you decide to keep playing you can expand to the full rules, create your own characters and play longer, multi-month epic campaigns.

The things you’ll absolutely need to pick up for this method are:

  1. Free Basic Rules – these are a free cut-down version of the rules that WotC releases, which give you enough to get started with DnD. I think these basic rules are better for a beginner to get started with DnD than the full rules that are found in the Players Handbook, as it’s way less overwhelming. You can get the free rules here.
  2. Free One Shot – A one-shot is a one-off game that lasts from 2-4 hours (as opposed to a long ongoing campaign that can run for many sessions over months). We recommend a one-shot as it keeps things simple to understand, and isn’t a big commitment for new players when trialing the game. Our recommendation for a great one-shot to start with is A Most Potent Brew from Winghorn Press. It’s pay what you want, has an interesting story, and provides a good mix of role-playing and balanced combats.
  3. Free Pre-gen Characters – When starting out it’s a good idea to provide your players with a bunch of pre-made characters (called pre-gens) and let them pick one to play with. This keeps them from having to understand the complex rules of character creation for their first game and be able to play a well-balanced interesting character. WotC provides a few different sets of pre-gen characters. Of course, creating your character is part of the fun, and we definitely recommend if you decide to keep playing that everyone makes their own character.
  4. Dice – You can’t play Dungeons and Dragons without dice. Ok well, if you’re on a tight budget you can use a phone app or a web application for dice rolling, but if you’re playing in person there’s nothing like the feel of rolling a bunch of dice. Rolling a 1 or a 20 on an app just doesn’t get the same reaction. We recommend a cheap bunch of dice to get started with so all your players can have a set each, but if you’re on a budget you can get one or two basic dice sets and share between everyone at the table.

Method 2: Buy a Kit (nice and simple)

There are 2 official kits that we recommend to get started with, the Starter Set or the Beginners Kit, each of which might appeal to you for different reasons. These kits give you a simple way to start playing DnD, and for a fairly cheap price you can pick up a kit that will provide you months of fun and not have to worry about getting anything else.

While not our most recommended way to get started with DnD as it’s a bit more of a commitment, it’s not a huge cost and is probably the most popular way to get started these days.

The Starter Set

The starter set would probably be the way that most people have got into DnD in the modern (5e) era.

It comes with:

  • A set of dice (only 6 dice and not the usual 7 as you can use the 10 sided dice as a % dice as well)
  • The basic rules (a cut-down version of the rules you need from the Players Handbook)
  • A set of pre-gen characters
  • A campaign – The Lost Mines of Phandelver.

The campaign is where this set really shines. It’s a great story that lasts for quite a few sessions and takes characters from level 1-5, and because it’s so popular you can find plenty of walkthroughs on YouTube for how to play this campaign. You need to be a bit careful with this campaign as some of the battles could easily wipe out level 1 characters, but there’s plenty of information online for how to make this a bit easier.

The Essentials Kit

The Essentials Kit would be a close 2nd in the most popular ways to get started with DnD.

The Essentials Kit comes with:

  • A set of dice (the full 7 dice set)
  • A DM Screen (not as sturdy as the one sold separately but still quite functional)
  • The basic rules (a cut down version of the rules you need from the Players Handbook, but unlike the starter set this also outlines how to make a character and rules for playing with only a DM and one character)
  • A Campaign – The Dragon of Icespire Peak

The Essentials Kit is a bit more advanced to start with than the Starter Set. It doesn’t come with pre-gen characters as you are expected to create your own (or you can download the free official WotC ones mentioned above). In comparison to The Lost Mines of Phandelver, the Dragon of Icespire Peak campaign contains a much more sandbox environment, containing several quests that link together to form a story but can be linked in different ways. This provides much more choice for the players and DM, but can also be trickier if the DM or players aren’t as confident.

Method 3: Go all in with the Core Books

This method is for those who are sure about their new hobby and like to get fully involved. In this method you buy all of the core books and a campaign to play through. The main advantage of this is that you get everything and don’t need to upgrade, but this is a big commitment with a ton of reading to get through for the DM!

What you’ll need:

  • The core books – You can buy these in a gift set along with a DM screen, or you can buy the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual separately.
  • A DM Screen – if you’re going all in, a DM screen is a good idea to have for the DM to keep things like notes and dice rolls hidden from the players.
  • Dice – if you’re going all-in getting a large amount of decent quality dice to get started with is a good idea, we recommend this WizDice Set, otherwise just get one or two one or two basic dice sets.
  • A campaign – there are a lot of good official campaigns released, our recommendation for a beginner is Storm King’s Thunder, which has a nice simple start that covers levels 1-5, but then you have one of the most popular campaigns to keep going, and it is still suitable for beginner DMs to run.

All up you’re probably looking at a few hundred dollars for all of this, but you’ll be using it all for many years to come.

Levelling Up your Game

Apart from the above highly recommend the following to upgrade your game:

  • DM Screen – if you haven’t already got one, a DM Screen is great for the DM to use to keep things like notes and dice rolls hidden from the player, as well as having references to more common rules and tables easily at hand.
  • Mechanical pencils and erasers – useful for the DM to take notes, or for players to change things on their character sheets as the game progresses.
  • 3×5 index cards – these are invaluable for a DM. For example, you can use them to write short notes, write spells or magic items down and hand them to players, or fold them up and put them over your DM screen for initiative trackers.
  • Battle mat – to upgrade your game we recommend using a battle mat to draw on maps and then use tokens to represent characters and monsters for battle. This makes battles more tactical and the game more tactile and immersive. The two we most recommend are the Paizo Basic Flip-Mat or the Chessex Battle Mat.
  • Markers – to draw maps on the battle mat – if you got the Paizo Mat get some Dry Erase Markers, if you for the Chessex Mat some Wet Erase Markers.
  • Tokens – use some generic tokens to represent your player’s characters and monsters. You can make these yourself, or you can buy a generic set such as these.
  • Extra Dice – you can never have too many dice. If you’re using one set of dice between the table, a dice set per player and a few for the DM will greatly speed up the flow of the game. We recommend this WizDice Set for a large number of dice that still look good, are reasonably priced, and are decent enough quality.

There are lots of other things people love to have to embellish their games, but these are considered nice to have rather than necessary. There are plenty of long-time DnD players who play without any of these, and still have tons of fun. Some of these items are:

  • Extra rule and monster books to expand the game further
  • 3D miniatures and terrain to make the game more immersive
  • Campaigns to have more stories to play through
  • Reference cards for easy access to spells, monsters, and NPC information
  • Fancy dice, dice trays, and dice towers to level up the dice rolling experience
  • Initiative trackers because people like a fancy way to track their initiatives for combat.

If you are interested in leveling up your DnD game we’ll be writing a more comprehensive guide to DnD gear.

Learning the Game

Read the Rules. Then read them again. You need to know the rules to be able to play. As we mention above, there are a lot of rules in the Players Handbook and you don’t need to read all of them. We recommend starting with either the free basic rules from WotC or the ruleset from either the Beginners Set or Essentials Kit.

We then recommend you watch some videos to get a hang of the game. Some of the types of videos we recommend are:

  • Rules – watching the rules can help cement how the game is played in addition to reading them. We highly recommend the Rules Rundown from Don’t Stop Thinking.
  • How to be a DM – there are many great videos on how to be a DM, one of the best of which has to be Matthew Colville’s Running the Game Series.
  • Played games – watching a game be played can help understand the flow of the game, though don’t expect your game to be as good as these games as they’re often run by professionals. Even if you’re games aren’t as well run, I guarantee you and your players will still have fun. The most famous of game playthroughs would have to be Critical Role (Campaign 1 or Campaign 2), but if you’re playing a premade campaign you can probably find a run-through of the exact campaign you want to play.

Finding a Game

There are 3 places we recommend to find a game:

  • Friends at your house – have a group of friends who may be interested? Convince them to come to your house and play, though be warned that in this case you’ll likely end up being the Dungeon Master.
  • Local in-store – many game stores (that’s board games, not video games) will have tables set up and run DnD sessions in-store. These range from having a place a group of friends can rent out to play for cheap, having socially run games within the store, or running professional / paid games. If you drop into your local store, you’ll probably be able to find a session you can join.
  • Online – many games are now run online (we’ll be writing another article about that), but 2 popular places to find games are on Roll20 or if you’re on Reddit r/lfg.


This has been quite a comprehensive outline of ways to get started with Dungeons and Dragons.

If you’re new, have a bunch of friends who are unsure if they want to play a game, and want to try DnD out in a low-cost low commitment way, we recommend getting the free rules and a free one-shot.

If you’re eager to get in and play, the starter set or essentials kit provides a nice introduction with everything you need for a few months of play at a very reasonable price.

If you are the type who wants to jump straight in and have the full experience, get the core rulebooks plus some of our recommended add-ons like a DM screen and battle mat. This will give you the full experience, and although you’ll spend lots of money you won’t need to upgrade this gear in the future.

Regardless of the option you choose, you should have a great introduction to DnD and a hobby that will bring you many years of fun adventures with friends. pretty cheap pri



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