Guide ultime : comment se lancer dans Donjons & Dragons (Partie 1 : se préparer à jouer)

Ultimate Guide: How to Get Started in Dungeons & Dragons (Part 1: Getting Ready to Play)


This article is the first in our series How to Get Started with Dungeons & Dragons

That's it, you've made up your mind. You are about to embark on Dungeons & Dragons. Since you've been talking about it with your group of friends, it's time to move on, and you've agreed to be the Game Master (GM).

But how to do it ? How it works ? What are dice used for? How are the fights going? What about Non-Player Characters (NPCs)? You have a million questions, and it's hard to find all the answers. You are in the right place.

In this article, we'll guide you step by step to help you begin your epic journey into the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Get ready to laugh, cry, and experience incredible adventures. Let the initiation begin!

First of all, what is Dungeons & Dragons?

Cover of an old Dungeons & Dragons manual

Dungeons and Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the 1970s, is an iconic tabletop role-playing game that allows players to play as various fantasy characters such as warriors, mages, thieves or priests. The objective is to experience imaginary adventures in a fantasy world, under the direction of a GM who guides the story and events.

The world of Dungeons & Dragons

Most pre-written Dungeons & Dragons adventures take place in the same universe: the Forgotten Realms. It is also the universe used in the video games Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter . Home to many mythical cities like Baldur's Gate or Pasdhiver, the Forgotten Realms are a heroic-fantasy world where magic is omnipresent. Your players can therefore (depending on their class) use magic to carry out a number of actions. However this also means that the inhabitants of this world are used to magic: no one will be surprised if you can throw fireballs, and bank vaults probably benefit from magical protection, detect invisibility spells, etc. …

Map of the Sword Coast

A map of the Sword Coast, an iconic region of the Forgotten Realms ( available here )

Keep in mind that you are not obliged to use this universe: the rules of Dungeons & Dragons can be exported to the world of your choice, and you have total freedom regarding the management of the universe. For example, Matt Mercer from Critical Role has created a unique universe, and uses the rules of Dungeons & Dragons to help his players evolve in this universe.

A photo of Matt Mercer, the GM of Critical Role

Critical Role is the most famous American Actual Play series worldwide. The participants are professional actors, and are therefore particularly gifted in roleplay.

Simplified operation of the game

Playing Dungeons & Dragons (and role-playing in general) is very different from playing a board game or video game. The total freedom granted to the GM and the players makes it a truly personal adventure, beyond simply a series of objectives to complete.

Keep in mind that you can't win a game of Dungeons & Dragons, it doesn't make sense. The point of playing is the experience and the good times spent with your gaming group. The GM can at any time decide that an enemy who is too strong dies prematurely, or that a player who is a little too confident falls into a trap that wasn't here a minute ago...

A game of Dungeons & Dragons is a story created from scratch by the GM and the players participating in it. Each action changes the story, and influences the destiny of the group. It is up to the GM to decide the consequences of each player's act, and to lead the group towards the rest of the story, or if he prefers, to divert this story towards new horizons (which he will need to then create mentally).

The role of the GM

You yourself, as GM, are the world and the universe in which the characters evolve. You play all the non-player characters, the monsters, and decide (with the help of the dice) the success or failure of their actions. You also decide on the presence or absence of these entities, the topography of the place, the number of trees in the forest, the mood of the wine merchant today... You are the universe, and decide on all its components.

However, having to play the entire universe and its variables can quickly become exhausting. This is why pre-written campaigns exist: they set up a path, create NPCs, environments, adventures, encounters with enemies, which constitute the basis of the story. It is then up to you to appropriate all these elements to make it a unique adventure; but you can always rely on this support if you have forgotten something, or have a breakdown of inspiration.

Even if you create your own worlds and your own campaigns, it is strongly recommended to create your world and its components in advance, so as not to need to improvise 100% of the content of the adventures for each game.

Finally, despite your omnipotence as a GM, and in order to offer a pleasant gaming experience to your players, it is wise to impose some constraints on yourself:

  • respect the causes and consequences: if your players kill an NPC in the middle of a city, but you decide that the city guard decides for no reason not to intervene, your players will not respect the universe, and quickly the game will become boring . There must be consequences for actions so that players know how to place themselves in the universe and act with finesse.
  • respect divergent decisions: we must not forget that history is written by many people. Forcing players down a path they are trying to avoid can be very frustrating. In particular, it is appropriate to limit the “cutscenes” which constrain the players, where something happens to them without them being able to intervene because of any paralysis spell or “stasis” or something of that sort. Certain events can of course happen without them being able to do anything about it (like an earthquake for example), but it should not be abused. Let your players improvise, and you improvise in return, to allow them to express their freedom. It's this freedom that is so satisfying about roleplaying, don't deprive them of it. There’s nothing stopping you from gently redirecting them in the direction of the story afterwards, but “gently” is the operative word!
  • respect the rules: as a GM, you are the guarantor of the rules of the game. Very often, players will refer to you to find out more about how the game works. Nothing prevents you from changing these rules, but if you do do, make sure to warn your players so that there are no misunderstandings. Additionally, you are the arbiter of the rules, and if there is a disagreement between players or with your own interpretation, you must decide in order to move the game forward. Finally, in certain cases, the rule of “it's cool therefore it passes” ( The rule of cool) can be invoked if necessary. For example, if George wants to throw a fireball while doing a backflip over the dragon, you can let him do it because it's fun and it doesn't change much in the flow of the game. On the other hand, if George wants his fireball does 10 times the base damage, at which point the balance of the game risks being depleted.

Statistics & dice

A hand holding dice above The Hoard's dice track

Each character has statistics which, combined with their dice rolls, influence their ability to perform actions with more or less success. Let's take an example right away:

Jacquou has 14 Dexterity, which grants him a +2 bonus to his Dexterity rolls

Jacquou wants to throw a coin in the air and catch it in mid-air. To do this, he must succeed in a Dexterity roll of 12 (this number is most of the time determined arbitrarily by the GM depending on the complexity of the action to be carried out; tables exist to help GMs choose a appropriate number).

Michel, Jacquou's player, rolls a die of 20; he's 11. By default, you might think he failed his roll. However, since Jacquou has a +2 bonus to his Dexterity rolls, the final value of his roll is 11 +2 = 13, which is higher than the roll he needed to succeed (which was 12). It is then said that Jacquou “passed” his jet. He catches the coin in mid-flight as planned, impressing the children who were watching him.

If Jacquou had rolled 5, his Dexterity bonus would not have been enough to catch the piece (5 + 2 = 7 < 12). His hand would have closed in the air and the coin would have fallen to the ground.

By passing certain levels, Michel (the player) will be able to assign characteristic points to Jacquou (the character). When he has 16 Dexterity, his bonus of +2 will become +3, making this type of action even easier.

Player freedom

Players are inherently free. They may decide to go in any direction, or perform any action that you did not anticipate. It is then up to you to adapt to the players' decisions, to improvise the reactions of the NPCs to their actions, while respecting the universe.

Despite this seemingly total freedom, it is often agreed that players do not go anywhere ignoring the clues that take them in the direction of the story. If this situation happens several times and repeats itself, it is perfectly acceptable for you to discuss it with your players and ask them why they are not following the clues: do they prefer a different campaign style? Did they expect anything else from this adventure? Etc.

Still expect to have to improvise during your first games, and above all, take advantage of it: it's when your players surprise you that the games are the most fun.

The fights

A combat scene on Dungeon Craft and Battlemap settings

Combat in Dungeons & Dragons is very codified, and a little less subject to improvisation. Players still have freedom over their actions, but have a limited list of abilities they can use, and specific rolls to make to decide the success of their actions and the damage they inflict. The general idea of ​​this codification is to be able to transcribe the infinite actions that your players can perform in the game, into precise actions in the game system. For example, the rules of unarmed combat apply in a similar way if the character punch, kick, head, knee...

You can find the details of the combat rules in the rulebooks or in the SRD ( Dungeons & Dragons basic rules available for free ). However, here is an example of how a fight unfolds; keep in mind that this example is simplified, some additional rules apply to certain numbers, but we have not mentioned them here to keep the example fairly fluid:

Gasto is a barbarian; he fights in close combat with a Battle Axe, which inflicts 1d8 damage. Gasto has 16 Strength, which gives him a +3 bonus to his Strength rolls. The total value of his attack roll will therefore be the value of the roll of his d20 + 3 (his Strength bonus, which is used here because he fights in close combat). If he hits his enemy, he will inflict 1d8 damage (he will need to roll an 8-sided die to determine the damage).

He has skin armor, which gives him an AC (Armor Class) of 12: an enemy must roll at least 12 to hit him.

Selva is a ranger; she fights from a distance with a short bow, which inflicts 1d6 damage, and has a range of 24m. She has 18 Dexterity, which gives her a +4 bonus to her Dexterity checks. The total value of her attack roll will therefore be the value of the roll of her d20 + 4 (her Dexterity bonus, which is used here because she fights at a distance). If it hits, it will inflict 1d6 damage (you will need to roll a 6-sided die to determine the damage).

She has leather armor, which gives her an AC (Armor Class) of 11: an enemy must roll more than 11 to hit her.

The fight begins:

Selva shoots an arrow at Gasto who is less than 24m away; her player rolls a d20 and rolls a 5. With her Dexterity bonus, the total value of her roll is 9. This is lower than Gasto's AC which is 12: the attack does not hit. Either Gasto avoids the arrow, or the arrow fails to penetrate the armor, it is up to you and the GM to narrate this failure as you wish.

Gasto rushes at Selva and attacks her with his axe. His player rolls a d20 and rolls 18. With his Strength bonus, the total value of his roll is 21. This is much higher than Selva's AC which is 11: the attack hits. The Gasto player now rolls a d8 to determine the damage of his attack: it is 7, Selva therefore takes 7 points of damage, and therefore loses as many life points.

The round is now over, it's Selva's turn to play again...

There are a wide variety of effects and special rules that can add dynamism to battles, but above is an overview of how they work.

Social interactions

The interactions between the characters and the NPCs in your world are one of the most interesting aspects of role-playing. As mentioned above, it is up to you as the GM to play all the NPCs; It's up to you to decide their moods, their eloquence, and what the characters think or prejudge!

You can play these social interactions in first person with your players (talking while in character, and acting out the scenes), but this can be difficult for some people. Otherwise, it is entirely possible to play the scenes in the third person, simply by describing the conversation:

Player: I ask the tavern keeper to give me a beer

MJ: The tavern owner looks at you askance, places a full mug on the counter in front of you and asks you for 5 copper coins with a curt look.

In addition to “simple” interactions, players have several skills they can use (and which require a die roll) to influence the course of a conversation, such as Intimidation or Persuasion. At this point, it is the GM who will decide, based on the actions undertaken by the player, whether a skill roll is necessary for the player to achieve his goal.

Finally, there are also spells and abilities that allow you to change or influence a person's state of mind.

Differences and similarities with (MMO)RPG video games

Character Evolutions (XP)

Dungeons & Dragons characters evolve in a manner quite similar to an RPG video game character. They gain experience throughout their adventures, level up, and can assign points to certain of their characteristics to improve them and make their dice rolls easier (see Statistics & Dice above ). They also gain new skills as they develop. However, progression is much slower (in time played) than a video game: don't expect to level up with each game.


The evolution of the characters' equipment is, however, very different. Indeed, there are very few “weapon levels”: a long sword is a long sword, it always has the same characteristics. Each change of equipment is accompanied by advantages and disadvantages: replacing a short sword with a long sword for example is not a linear improvement, where the second is simply “better”; it deals more damage, but also takes up more space and is heavier.

The only real evolution of equipment is the change to magic items. Magic items have unique properties that can grant their wielder additional abilities; However, they are very rare, very expensive, and can also have their own flaws (like a curse associated with the item for example).

What do you need to get started?


At least 2 people, 1 GM and 1 player. Generally speaking, however, groups often number between 3 and 6 people. It becomes complicated for a GM to manage more than 5 players in the same game, especially if they are a beginner; we recommend staying below this number for your first few games.


Ideally, one sheet of paper and one pencil per person + 1 set of dice for the table may be enough. However, a little more hardware can make the gaming experience much more comfortable. In particular, we strongly advise you to play a pre-written campaign to start; this will greatly reduce the number of variables to manage during your games, and will allow you to concentrate on managing the game.

The best way to get started is to purchase a starter kit. There are several; we recommend the most recent, the L’Essentiel box.

Contents of the Dungeons & Dragons “Essentials” introductory box

This box includes a simplified rulebook, pre-drawn characters, a set of dice with several duplicate dice, as well as a perfect first campaign to get started and the accessories that go with it: an A3 format map of the area, and playing cards with the NPCs that your players could meet during the adventure, the different quests available, the magical objects...

Don't let your players read the playing cards or campaign book! This would spoil all the surprises of the adventure for them.

If you want to further improve your experience and the fluidity of these first games, our Initiation Pack contains in addition to the Essentials box, 2 to 4 of our cheapest dice sets (we recommend that you take one per player ) as well as a dice track. An essential accessory, this will prevent your dice from getting damaged, damaging your table, making too much noise when you throw them, or rolling under the table and pausing the game while you find them!

How to prepare?

Read the simplified rules

The first essential step is to read the simplified rule book provided in your introductory box. This will allow you to have an idea of ​​how the rules work, and to be able to find certain rules during your games if necessary because you will already have an idea of ​​what is written there! It's not necessarily worth taking notes or trying to learn anything at this stage. If your players wish, it is highly recommended that they read the rules too, in order to be able to support you during the game and avoid you being the only source of knowledge.

Watch videos or listen to Actual Play podcasts

Today there are dozens of Actual Play series (videos or podcasts that broadcast role-playing games in full) on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. You can find them in English and French very easily. It's a very good way to get a first idea of ​​how a game works, to understand the rhythm and the interactions between players and GM. However, keep in mind that, very often, the participants in these games are experienced players and GMs who are particularly gifted in storytelling; don't put pressure on yourself to achieve such fluidity from the start of your games, this will certainly not be the case at first.

Here is a selection of Actual Play series in French (⚠️ not everyone plays Dungeons & Dragons, but watching or listening to them can still help you work on the progress of your games and your narration):

If you speak English, head without hesitation to Critical Role (Dungeons & Dragons)


We have seen in this article everything you need to prepare to play:

  • the world of Dungeons & Dragons, and the history of the game
  • the basic functioning of the different facets of the game, such as combat, social interactions, the role of the GM or even player freedom
  • the equipment and people you need to embark on the adventure
  • and finally, how to prepare yourself to play, by reading the rules and watching or listening to recorded games

Now that all of this is done, you are ready to begin preparations with your group. In the next article, we'll talk about how to do your pre-game: choose or create your player characters, play a mini-game to test the dynamics of the game, and prepare yourself as a GM to actually launch your campaign!

Read more: Ultimate Guild: How to Get Started in Dungeons & Dragons (Part 2: The Pre-Game)

Choosing your dice for the role-playing game

Ultimate Guide: How to Get Started in Dungeons & Dragons (Part 2: The Pre-Game)

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