Are you just starting with Dungeons and Dragons? This can be intimidating at first, particularly since there are so many D&D products and you might not know which one should you get. No need to worry, as today I’ll talk about what DnD beginners should buy.
I’ll answer questions such as:
- Should you get a rulebook or adventure or something else?
- Where to get free stuff for D&D?
- Do you need dice and miniatures?
- How many sets of dice will you need?
- What do you actually need to play D&D?
- And many more!
Let’s get right to it.
What do You Actually Need to Play D&D?
The good news is that the answer is simple: nothing.
You don’t need to buy anything to play D&D! One of the greatest things about D&D is its accessibility, and nothing (particularly not money) should be an obstacle if you want to play.
Free Resources for D&D
There are numerous free resources, that are great for D&D beginners. So you can start playing with some accessories without spending a dime.
First up, you’ll need rules. There are quite a few of them, but most basic ones are gathered in the D&D 5th Edition Systems Reference Document (SRD). It has everything you need to start with a basic campaign.
Free Character Sheets
You can find various free character sheets online. Get the official Character Sheet here.
On that link you’ll also find some pregenerated characters. These are great if you have trouble coming up your first character.
If you don’t want to just play a basic adventure, but want to add a bit more flavor, you can come up with your own adventure.
Of course, that can be quite hard, especially when you’re just starting out. Thankfully, you can head over to the DMsGuild, where you’ll find both free and premium adventures.
Don’t have dice? No problem, as there are a number of free mobile apps that simulate the rolling of dice. If you have a large roll, then they’re even easier than real dice!
Between these tools, and an electronic device or some paper and pencils, you have everything you need to play your first game of Dungeons and Dragons.
While you can get started with these free products, they can be more limited than paid ones. So, in the following sections I’ll describe the different products you can buy to continue your foray into Dungeons & Dragons.
What Should D&D Beginners Buy – Essentials
The products I’ll talk about will be sorted in three categories:
- Essentials (the basics, recommended for both Dungeon Masters and regular players)
- Character Creation & Tracking (stuff that helps new players create a new character and keep track of everything that’s going on with it)
- Items for Beginner Dungeon Master (what you’ll need, if you’ll be a Dungeon Master)
So, let’s start with essentials first.
The D&D Starter Set is one of the best products for players just getting into D&D.
- one rulebook
- Lost Mine of Phandelver (a short adventure)
- six dice
- one character sheet
- five pregenerated characters.
It has everything you need to start playing and for a reasonable price. Having things laid out for you means you don’t have to sift through character options or story options before playing.
That’s why I’d recommend starting with the Starter Set as it’s the perfect way to get your foot in the door.
Think of the D&D Essentials Kit as the Starter Set Plus. It also comes with an adventure, with additional rules and products like more dice and a Dungeon Master’s screen.
While it might seem like better value, I would still recommend starting with the Starter Set. The Essentials Kit has more rules and isn’t laid out nearly as well for new players. It’s typically more complicated to start with than with the Starter Set.
However, it’s a great bridge between the Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide (described below).
Dice are the meat and potatoes of your D&D products. You use them for everything in the game. Some people play D&D for decades with one or two sets of dice, whereas others (me included) have hundreds of sets. You can spend very little money on a cheap set of dice, or you can get extravagant, metal-cast dice. The latter are obviously just for aesthetics, but since you use them so often, I find them a worthwhile investment.
To start, you need no more than one set of RPG dice. This is considered the bare minimum, as you will have a die for every situation. A full set of RPG dice contains 7 dice:
- 4-sided (d4)
- 6-sided (d6)
- 8-sided (d8)
- 10-sided (d10)
- 12-sided (d12)
- 20-sided (d20)
- 10-sided (d100)
The d100 looks the same as a d10, but has tens (10, 20, 30) instead of ones (1, 2, 3). You will not need any different types of dice from those found in a typical RPG set.
If you’re playing for any extended period, however, I would recommend investing in at least two full sets. This allows you to roll two dice at the same time instead of one after another. Depending on your character, you might have to roll 2d6, 2d8, or 2d20 quite often.
Your next investment should either be further sets of dice, or a set of d6s. These usually come with an additional 4-12 d6s. D6s are the most common die to roll and you’ll never regret having a reserve of them to pull from.
If you want to invest in high-quality, aesthetically pleasing dice, you have a number of options. I personal favor Die Hard Dice, as they have fantastic products and service. They have some of the best polymer and metal dice on the market, as well as other D&D aides. You can also find their dice on Amazon.
Finally, make sure to invest in a rolling tray with your metal dice, so you don’t damage the host’s table.
What Should D&D Beginners Buy – Character Creation & Tracking
A common misconception that the players’ only responsibility is to show up. As a player, you should manage your character, know your abilities and spells, and take notes so you know what’s going on in the game. There are a number of products that can help you achieve this aim, detailed below.
To begin, you’ll probably want to bring your completed character sheet, on paper or in a notes app or some alternative. You’ll definitely want one or two sets of dice. Everything else isn’t critical, but let’s dive into some of the useful products to get you started in D&D.
If you’re just starting out with the Starter Set and / or Essentials Kit, you don’t need anything more. In a longer-form campaign you can start by using the 5th Edition SRD, described above, but you will likely want to expand from that.
It is critical for players to have access to the Player’s Handbook (PHB). It gives access to player rules, as well as all the base classes, subclasses, races, spells, and other details that are important to make your own character. The book lays out character creation and gameplay very well, especially for first-time players.
The Handbook is a crucial resource for every player, and while you can borrow a friend’s for your first few sessions, it’s a good idea to get your own. That way you don’t have to fight over one Handbook for your whole group, as well as just being a good resource to have access to on your own time.
Your Player’s Handbook will become well-worn and well-loved, being one of your most important tools throughout your D&D career.
There are a number of other player-oriented supplements (books that will improve your play experience) as well. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has a great many additional player options, and is probably the one you’ll be most excited to pick up.
The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide has some options as well, though it’s more focused around the Forgotten Realms world and lore. It may be less useful to someone who’s playing in a different setting.
If you’re bored with the “vanilla” races, Volo’s Guide to Monsters provides you with a number of additional race options, most notable monstrous races like bugbears and goblins.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is perhaps the best player supplement, providing you with over 22 new subclasses alone. If you want more variety in your characters, this is definitely a good product to get. You can find a Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything review here.
D&D Beyond – For Digital Play
D&D Beyond is a digital D&D aid that acts as an online character sheet. It contains all published materials, and has the capacity to support homebrew materials as well. It’s very easy and streamlined to use, and you can access it on a number of platforms. It’s a fantastic choice if you’re looking to play online, or if you prefer digital to paper.
D&D Beyond does require you to re-purchase all your D&D resources like the Player’s Handbook to have access to them within the app, but you can try it out using the freely-available SRD. It might be expensive to pay for all your D&D books twice, but D&D Beyond does have sales now and then.
There are other tools online, and you can always just open a PDF of a character sheet in OneNote to keep track of your character digitally, but D&D Beyond is a great alternative if you’re willing to pay for it.
Of course, the tool is purely preference; paper and pencil is a classic and affordable approach to the game. While it’s a great tool. D&D Beyond is not a necessity.
What Should a Beginner Dungeon Master Buy?
As a Dungeon Master (DM), you are responsible for organizing and guiding the game. Let’s see which products can help you do so.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) is an excellent resource for running the game, providing you with a plethora of tips and techniques to improve your game. It should likely be your first D&D purchase.
This Guide includes everything from more advanced rules to magic items to fill your players’ coffers, and is an invaluable resource to every Dungeon Master – you’ll crack the spine so many times during your career you’re bound to get your money’s worth.
After the Guide, Dungeon Masters should consider buying the Monster Manual (MM). The sheer amount of flexibility provided by the Monster Manual will significantly improve your adventures.
There are hundreds of monsters contained within the tome and it is perhaps the most useful tool for a DM. The plethora of creatures it provides means your players can face unique, challenging, and fascinating enemies every session.
The book also provides a ton of lore for each creature, making it a great boon to your storytelling as well as gameplay.
Additional Monsters Manuals
Once you have those two books, I would recommend proceeding with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a book that is essentially the Monsters Manual – Part 2. It expands on some of the species in the Manual, adding additional subtypes and lore.
Similarly, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is another monster-adding supplement that will seriously enhance your adventures and gameplay, allowing you to pit your players up against more variable foes that fit your story and their level.
Alternatively, if you prefer to run pre-made adventures, there are more than a few options available to you. At the time of writing, there are 11 adventure books that can take your players from level 1 to 20.
If you ran the Lost Mine of Phandelver, you can lead your players directly into a number of the other published modules.
You could try something like Dragon Heist. However, I would recommend staying away from the Tyranny of Dragons series (Hoard of the Dragon Queen / The Rise of Tiamat) as well as the Princes of the Apocalypse series as they’re quite complicated to run effectively, but any of the other adventures would be great choices.
There are also myriad pay-what-you-want, and free options available on the DMsGuild.
Battlemaps and Minis
If you’re just starting out, especially if you’re on a budget, I would stay away from investing too much in miniatures and battlemaps. It’s a steep spiral both in money and time when you start buying and painting dozens of minis and terrain pieces for all your different adventures. They may be pretty, but they are absolutely not necessary—D&D can be run “theatre of the mind,” where you simply describe the scene clearly enough for your players to envision it.
That being said, it may be helpful to give your characters some visuals, particularly during combat. You can sketch the scene out on a piece of paper, invest in a large dry-erase vinyl mat, print a map out ahead of time, or design one on some 1-inch by 1-inch grid paper.
Your choice should depend on whether you want an accurate grid to calculate movements, or if you just want to describe objects in relation to each other and hand-wave distances. I personally use a combination of grid battlemats, and a small, handheld whiteboard.
Of course, if you’re playing online with Roll20 or a similar service, you don’t need physical maps and minis. Instead, you can display the scene using free or paid maps and tokens found in communities like the Battlemaps Subreddit.
Finally, if you’re playing in person, a Dungeon Master’s Screen helps keep your notes and rolls secret from your players. You can use a simple 3-ring binder standing up, or you can use the official DM Screen products.
You can also always build your own DM screen using wood or cardboard, and print out any number of custom rules reference sheets.
While not at all necessary, a little bit of music adds a substantial amount of immersion to the game. There are playlists available on YouTube and Spotify for a number of different types of scenes.
To preserve immersion, make sure you avoid ads by using a service you have a subscription for, or use royalty-free music like that from Kevin MacLeod’s tracks. Potentially, you could try Amazon Music Unlimited, which currently has a free trial (as of November 2020).
There are a lot of resources for D&D, and it’s not easy to determine what you need to begin. I hope this article has provided you with some good tips for where to start, as well as some reasonable upgrades.
In case your buying a gift for someone who plays this game, you should check our D&D Gift Guide.
As always, try and buy your D&D products from your local game stores. They need your support more than ever! Good luck with your first foray into Dungeons & Dragons, and may the dice be ever in your favor!