(VERY) BASIC (5E) DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: All You Need To Know To Get Playing, Plus A Few Tricks

A few Christmas holidays ago I gave my best friend's oldest kid Basic Fantasy (and dice) as an intro to Dungeons & Dragons. While I wish I had given a copy of Old School Essentials, I didn't want to overdo it because I didn't know if the kids would take to it or not.

Well, it was pretty much a smashing success. All 4 kids ages 12 to 6 were very into it after I ran a game. And so their dad went out and bought the 5e Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit. Which by most reports is better than the Starter Set. However, my friend still just could not get running Dungeons and Dragons like he saw me do in our initial game. He understood the rules, sorta, but still didn't quite get how to put it all together. 

So I decided to create a ~10 slide deck in PowerPoint outlining how to play 5e D&D with some old-school tricks and advice thrown in to help cover what I think are gaps in the Essentials rules. I also tried to keep the deck to a minimum so my friend would actually read it and could use it as a reference. But also so his kids could use it as a reference too.

I think two of the most important slides are at the end. In the first, I also linked and summarized Ben Milton's observations from watching a game DM'ed by a kid for her classmates-- important. The second is word dense, but I try to distill some of my tricks for running games on the fly into 6 pieces of advice. 

Neither is supposed to be comprehensive but merely to allow for an adult roped into being a DM to understand some quick tricks that can be applied and remind them that kids don't want things dumbed down. I think in part that's why they like "mature" video games- they are dangerous, violent, but importantly don't assume they are 8 years old. This is what Ben emphasizes.

In the Notes from Play slide, I also link two "starter" dungeons: Tomb of the Serpent Kings and Prison of the Hated Pretender. Both use an old-school philosophy in their design but have 5e conversions. So easy for a new DM to run in 5e. But also both have good DM advice built-in. So, as a new DM reads these adventures they are also getting additional advice and the context where it should be applied-- 2-for-1.

In the end, I still think Old-School Essentials or any BX D&D ruleset is a better fit for kids than 5e. They really enjoy play, but the amount of stuff 5e requires is just not something the kids remember once play starts. They are more excited by engaging NPCs, rolling dice, and doing clever and not-so-clever things. They find always attacking with 1d6 hand-axe.

LINK TO PDF: TheVeryBasicsof5eDnD


  1. Nice concise set of advice and sneaky addition of clean simple rules for the important stuff. Also excellent font choices.

    1. Ha! Yes, I was surprised how small the "engine" is for 5e once you really distill it down to the absolute basic mechanics.

  2. You've done a great job with that summary. I particularly like the points emphasizing players making real choices over nit-picking about rules.

    1. Thank you! And thank you for reading. Yeah, that is one of the key things to internalize that makes D&D (and most other RPGs) sing-- don't worry too much about rules when players are making strong choices. If it comes down to not truly knowing an outcome, roll a d20 and try to get over 10.