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How to get into Dungeons & Dragons in modern times

It wasn’t too long ago that playing Dungeons & Dragons was kind of a pain. No, not rolling a character and doing the math to optimize it — that’s fun. I’m talking about actually finding a group to play with, finding somewhere to meet, deciding on an edition to go with and, you know, actually getting down to the very serious business of adventuring with friends. Fortunately, however, that’s no longer the case.

Nerd culture is ascendant, with recorded D&D sessions making up a surprisingly fertile podcast subgenre. In most places, the damaging myth that D&D is somehow connected to satanism or the occult has been dispelled, and perhaps most importantly, the roundly despised 4th edition of the game has been tossed in the garbage heap in favor of 5th edition, a version of the game that is extremely easy to pick up, but with a surprising degree of depth.

Obviously, the best way to play Dungeons & Dragons is always going to be with a group of pals at someone’s house where you can order pizza, swear, and drink and smoke whatever you want. That’s the ideal. If you can’t swing that, though: fear not! There are a bunch of other ways to get your D&D fix, like the Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer’s League.

The Adventurer’s League was created with single players in mind, as a way for people to show up at a gaming store and hop instantly into a one-shot game. You’re not going to get the depth, specificity, and long-running storylines that you’d find in a regular, recurring game, but the Adventurer’s League is a great way to meet people and try out characters in an environment that’s safe and comfortable for everyone.

Best of all, just because the Adventurer’s League adventures are rather short, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have character growth and change. The AL system is designed so that as long as you’re playing in authorized games, you can retain all of the experience points, fun stories, and magical items that you obtain. This also makes for fun moments as different level characters with varied, wacky stuff in their inventory come together to solve a problem. You also never need to worry about Adventurer’s League games getting stale, as Wizards of the Coast is constantly producing and releasing new adventures for all different levels, making them available for download through sites that gaming stores and official DMs can access directly at their convenience.

After you’ve played in a few Adventurer’s League games, if you weren’t being a jerk, chances are that you will have made a few friends. And who better to start getting your own ongoing, recurring games with than people who you’ve already played and had fun with? If you’re still looking for more folks, you can also check places like Craigslist or some of the D&D focused subreddits, as if you’re in a major metropolitan area or don’t mind driving, there’s likely a game already waiting for you.

For a lot of D&D players, however, it’s just not feasible to get together in person. Either because the people they want to play with are spread out all over the country (or the world!), they don’t have a large enough space to play, in or just because a commute adds together with game time to make for just too large a time commitment. Fortunately, there are a number of different online options available for those gamers.

Of course, there will always be MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, ways for people to get their RPG fix solo and in a graphical environment. But while WoW is a great game, it’s not a one-to-one comparison to Dungeons & Dragons, as it lacks the complete freedom and social components that are hallmarks of the D&D franchise.


Enter Roll20 and its virtual tabletop. There are a number of different options available for people who want to play online — including just setting up a video conference through Skype or Google Hangouts — but Roll20 is a system specifically built for helping you play tabletop games like RPG remotely. Not only does it help you keep track of your character sheet and dice-rolling (features that can be used in real life play as well), but Roll20 also has a slew of other features including direct messaging, the ability to play background music and, most crucially, the option to load in predesigned maps that also take lighting and line of sight into account as players move across them. I’ll always prefer in-person D&D gaming, but I’d be lying if I said that Roll20 didn’t boast some serious advantages.

If Roll20 isn’t real enough for you? If you miss the feeling of sitting around a table with a bunch of pals rolling dice? Well, now you can replicate that feeling in virtual reality, by playing D&D in AltspaceVR. Each player straps on their VR headset and gets to hang out in a virtual tavern, controlling their custom minis on battlemats laid out by their DM, just like in real life, except no one has to worry about clean-up or disturbing the neighbors if your session goes late.


AltspaceVR also allows for dice-rolling in-game, which simplifies things while keeping everyone honest. Like Roll20, playing D&D in AltspaceVR has some distinct advantages over real life play, including the fact that digital miniatures don’t cost money or take up space and there is even a built in way to find additional players if you’re a few bodies short.

Dungeons & Dragons has been a popular pastime for decades, but now, in 2016, it’s easier and better to play than ever. Not only is Wizards of the Coast committed to bringing new players into the hobby with initiatives like the Adventurer’s League, but systems like Roll20 and AltspaceVR help use technological innovations to make gameplay even better without losing what has made D&D such a beloved game.

Do you play Dungeons & Dragons currently? What edition and systems do you use to get your questing done? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Aubrey Sitterson is the creator of the ongoing sword & sorcery serial podcast, SKALD, available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher & Podomatic. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website for more information.

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