I'm about to start running a game for a completely new group. I've been playing DnD for over a decade, and have a lot of experience as a DM, but my group is completely green. I believe one person has played a little bit in the past, but not 4th edition, and the others have never played a tabletop RPG before at all.

I'm having a planning meeting this weekend to get everyone together, discuss the game, plan out a schedule, manage expectations, feel out themes and elements that interest the players, and get them thinking about characters they'd like to play.

One of my players has asked if there's anything they should read ahead of time to prepare. I've looked at the official Wizards' Quick Start Guide, and the "What is D&D" page, but while they're okay... I came away unsatisfied. The quick start guide is a little too rules-heavy, and the "what is D&D" section a little light on actual content. I'd love something a little more human.

I'm looking for suggestions of reading material for these new players, mostly to introduce them to the idea of playing a tabletop RPG, and to introduce them to the fundamentals of DnD in particular. A bit like the introduction to the 3.5e DMG, but aimed at players instead of DMs.

I'm perfectly willing to compile the useful bits from multiple sources, FYI. Something that satisfies some of these requirements satisfies me :)


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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered creating something in your own words? That would end up more relevant to your own DMing style, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Mar 11, 2014 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I had more time to prepare, I'd definitely go for it. As it is, I'd rather spend my limited amount of free time preparing for this meeting and organizing what I'll talk about in-person, rather than drafting supplemental reading. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11, 2014 at 19:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the end, I decided to forgo any up-front reading material. I like the idea of Greg Stolze's primer, but I kinda hate the content. That may fit well for some people, but it wasn't what I was going for. Things went just fine with nothing but my own verbal explanations, and I think there may have been some advice in the primer that would be contrary to my own style/expectations. I think I'll take some time over the coming weeks and put together my own primer... more less what @BrianS was saying. I'd mark that as the accepted answer if I could. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20, 2014 at 21:45

3 Answers 3


Greg Stolze's How to Play Roleplaying Games (zipped PDF) is a concise primer that lays out the basics, from a high-level overview of what roleplaying is to how to create a character you'll enjoy playing, to playing well with others.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My go-to introduction PDF! \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2014 at 2:37

The Hour of the Dragon, by Robert E Howard.

It features Conan, multiple dungeon crawls, loads of fighting, a magic jewel, inspiration for a D&D spell and a D&D magic item AND a battle between evil sorcerers in an ancient crypt!

Caveat: like all of REH's writings, its attitudes about race and women are problematic--even for the time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think he is asking for this. He is asking for a quick introduction to dnd and what rpg'ing means. This may be a good idea for a campaign of sorts but doesn't answer this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tijnkwan
    Mar 13, 2014 at 0:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, I guess I didn't read his question carefully enough, because you're absolutely right. I thought he wanted to set genre expectations, not teach them how to play. \$\endgroup\$
    – cr0m
    Mar 13, 2014 at 17:29

I'm not sure giving them something to read is very important. I believe the evolution of the player's understanding should start off very simple, and proceed in subtlety as they gain more experience in play. The worst thing would be to oversell it, or make it sound complicated. That might make the prospective player nervous or skeptical.

To start, you really could just say something like: "D&D is a game played with dice, on a playing board called a dungeon. A dungeon is a big underground maze filled with traps, enemies, and treasure, like many video games. One person called the "GM" controls the dungeon and all the stuff in it, while the other players control their individual characters. The dice are used to determine the outcome of various moves such as evading traps, combating monsters, and casting magic spells. The players' goal is to navigate the dungeon, defeat any enemies, and take the treasure."

Now of course - we know that is a terribly reductionist description of the game. It lacks all those beautiful artful words we care so much about - narrative, immersion, identification, emotion, emergence, collaboration, creativity... etc! But in fact this is just about exactly what I was told the first time I was pulled into a game of D&D. As this was back in the days of the original red box OD&D rules, my first character lasted about 15 minutes, and was killed by a bunch of poison darts in a booby-trapped chest on level one of a mysterious piece of grid paper. But I sat quietly and watched in fascination as the others continued their adventure into the creepy unknown. The atmosphere described by the DM, the brave and risky things my friends narrated, the seemingly psychic intelligence of those polyhedral dice... I was hooked.

Today I write "object-oriented narrative collaboration systems" and stuff like that. I have developed a taste for the artful stuff, as did my players. But it all began from a very simple description and an emotionally-evocative experience. That's what you're there for. :-)

  • \$\begingroup\$ "The worst thing would be to oversell it, or make it sound complicated." An introductory text is good because it avoids this. It's one of the reasons I consistently recommend Mr Stolze's PDF. Since this isn't being forced on the player, but rather the player wants to dive in and absorb more info, there's no reason to hold back when there are good texts to give them. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2014 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah well, what can I say, I'm not a fan of that document. My answer is my position. \$\endgroup\$
    – As If
    Mar 12, 2014 at 19:40

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