If you have seen the Dungeons & Dragons played on TV or in a live play video, you might suppose that playing requires a lot of maps, miniatures, props, and other gear. While many players enjoy using the accessories, D&D is a game of imagination that requires dice and virtually nothing else. Many players prefer to keep play in their imagination, unburdened by gear.
The things you need for a Dungeons & Dragons game depends on your game’s style and how much you wish to spend.
Required: Rules and Dice
To start, all you really need rules and dice.
Start with the free-to-download Basic Rules. Print some blank character sheets from the one that appear at the end of the basic rules.
D&D uses an unusual set of dice, each with a different number of sides.
4-sided 6-sided 8-sided 10-sided 12-sided 20-sided
The ten-sided die shows a 0 on one side, but that counts as a 10. Some dice sets include a second 10-sided die numbered from 00 to 90. To generate a number from 1-100, you add a roll on this die with a roll on the other d10 , with a roll of all zeroes counting as 100.
Ten-sided dice with just 10 sides first appeared for sale in 1980. Before that, players rolled a twenty-sided die numbered from 0 to 9, twice. Those rounder d10s roll better, so I prefer them over the modern version, but I stopped using them. Whenever I made a damage roll with my 20-sided d10s, my players would panic. What sort of monster rolls d20s for damage! I will happily interrupt a post for a gaming history lesson, but not a combat encounter.
You just need one of each die, but many rolls add more than one result from the same size die. If you buy extra dice, you can make these rolls faster by throwing several dice a once. Veteran players tend to collect bags of dice.
More rules options
You could play D&D for years without anything more than the basic rules, but most players eventually seek even more options.
The Player’s Handbook expands your character options and makes a good first purchase.
In Dungeons & Dragons, the Dungeon Master (DM) acts as the games referee and storyteller. If you want to be a Dungeon Master, the Monster Manual adds monsters beyond those in the free Basic Game. The Dungeon Master’s Guide can wait until you’ve run a few games and feel an urge for more advice, options, or magic items.
Some DMs prefer to start with a published adventure. The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set includes the adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver which ranks as an excellent adventure and a good start for new DMs. Of course, many DMs prefer to dream up their own adventures.
Optional: Battle map
Unlike some earlier editions, the latest version of Dungeons & Dragons enables you to play combats in the theater of the mind, a fancy way of saying in your imagination.
Theater of the mind works well for small battles, but for most encounters, I favor playing on a grid of 1-inch squares called a battle map. Blank, reusable battle maps let you draw walls and other features, and then wipe them clean.
The Pathfinder flip-mat works with both wet- and dry-ease markers and folds for easy storage. When laid out, the mat tents a little at the creases.
The Chessex Battemat rolls out and lays flat, but the rolled map is harder to carry. This vinyl map limits you to wet-erase markers.
Even if you choose to run some fights on a battle map, you do not need to invest in miniatures. Instead, just use any tokens that you can tell apart. For example, a lot of convention judges use Starbust candies to represent creatures on the battle map. They come in a variety of colors, and players like to eat the monsters they slay. You can also use 1-inch washers or game pieces from other games. NewbieM explains how to create tokens from inexpensive materials. D&D is a game of imagination first.
Optional: Dungeon Master Screen
Many DMs prefer to work without a screen that divides them from the group, but I favor a screen.
In my very first post, I listed five reasons I use a DM screen. Mainly, I like keeping my notes secret. Most players avoid snooping, but with a screen no one has to worry about catching sight of a spoiler. If you decide to use a screen, you can purchase one, use my rules inserts, or make your own screen.
Even if you usually opt for a screen, you do not always have to use it. Sometimes when an adventure reaches an interactive section, I lay my screen flat and portray non-player characters without a barrier.
For more gear options, see my “Photo Guide To Dungeon Masters Tools.”