Need help getting back into D&D after <mumblemumble> years of not playing

Okay, who here can help me with D&D?

Somehow my kids have gotten fascinated with D&D despite never having played it. I played it a couple of times when I was a kid and had a decent time, but it was never super compelling for me. But after decades playing some fairly complex board games, I figured I could pick up the Starter Set, which I assumed would be “D&D for Dummies”, and get things rolling as DM/GM pretty quickly.


It seems like the world building stuff I can grok but trying to keep in mind all of the fiddly aspects of ability checks and attack rolls and the seventeen types of combat actions and difficult terrain and two-weapon fighting and opportunity attacks and saving throws makes my head spin. I’ve bounced off the rule book hard at least three times, so I figured (hoped?) they’d probably just forget about the whole thing after a while.

But now my daughter is making her own maps and lists of spells and weapons based on a box set of books I gave her when I thought this was more feasible. The amount of effort she’s putting into this on her own while longing to actually play is breaking my heart.

So, boots on and sleeves up. I’ve ordered the three core rule books, and I already have the Essentials Kit because the kids are keen on making their own characters. Now for the big question: What resources are out there to help with learning how to run the games? Not from a “How to make the world COME ALIVE!” perspective; there seems to be a plethora of such videos on YouTube, and, really, I feel like I can cover that pretty well. No, what I need is more of a pragmatic guide to getting your head around the logistics of the game. Or maybe the answer is you just have to memorize page after page after page of rules (please no)?

You don’t need to memorize rules.

The main thing is to be familiar with an overall flow of the game. The hardest part is usually managing initiative.

The good news is, the rules only get more complicated as your characters level up. The better news is, other than combat, there really aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules.

So, especially 5e, rewards a lot of various approaches to problem solving. It’s a lot of skill checks, and you have some variance on what skills you have the players role.

Combat is fairly straight forward. Opportunity attacks are when you leave an adjacent space to an enemy, they get a free whack at you. Attacks with advantage, you roll 2 d20s and take the highest. Disadvantage is the reverse.

Something like the Total Party Kill series might give you an idea for how a typical session goes.

And, it really doesn’t matter if you completely flub the rules as long as they have fun. And the art of DMing is the ability to completely ignore some detrimental affect because it would ruin the good time.

Sometimes I forgot what happens when a tie is rolled vs. a target number. A tie goes to the person or NPC or whatever who is rolling to overcome the AC (Armor Class) or DC (Difficulty Class). “Meet it or Beat It” is my mnemonic.

Like so many other things, practice helps. It’s still possible to have tons of fun as a newbie, and you WILL get better the more you do it.

Also, if your daughter is as motivated as you describe, maybe she’d like to DM and you can be the player. Or you can switch off every once in a while.

If you want bite size explanations of the various rules (like ability checks, weapons, ability scores, abilities, …), I highly recommend watching some of the videos here:

Critical Role put together some helpful summaries of the various rules you will encounter. I think it will give you confidence.

The Essentials Kit looks great. My daughter has been playing it with friends and enjoying it. Personally, I’ve been running The Starter Set (Lost Mine of Phandelver) for my wife and daughter. It’s very similar in scope and rules provided. It’s my first experience DMing and it’s a blast.So I hope you can figure out the Essentials Kit and have fun with it.

5E is very streamlined and easy to learn compared to previous editions. Your players will not have to be grognards to grok combat. And checks become natural after a few rolls.

My manager has proposed setting up occasional D&D sessions as team building exercises, since we’ve been working from home for over a year and obviously aren’t getting together much anymore. So yeah, looks like I need to get back up to speed with D&D after (cough) years too.

Also, not totally what you were asking, but depending on how old your kids are you might consider looking into No Thank You, Evil. That’s a kind of training wheels D&D game if you aren’t familiar with it, my kids (aged 6 and 9) really enjoy playing around with it. Rules are not complicated at all.

I’ve never used their service, but I did hear the guys from Tour Guide Games on Gamers with Jobs a few weeks ago. It sounds like their service might be what you’re looking for – basically an online GM for hire who handles all the fiddly bits and allows you to just play (and pay).

Most of the hard rules come down to how abilities / spells / etc work.

At least 90% of contested rules falls under this.

For example +1 weapons always adds +1 to attack rolls AND damage rolls.
My DM just nerfed my +1 Longsword on the fly out of the blue saying it only has +1 to hit. This is not a thing for +1 weapons but a specific DM rules override.

There are a couple of meta-advice books that I have found helpful in reading about “how to gamemaster”.

Sly Flourish’s Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master

Sample of the first few pages available here:

Your Best Game Ever

Free preview:

For Return of… don’t worry this is a sequel to another book. This is essentially the updated version of the original book.

+1 to this. Don’t stress over the rules if you have a basic understanding of combat. If you start out at first level it will most likely be quite straightforward anyway.

Thanks for all of the comments, folks. And please keep them coming! Despite the thread title that was created when this was split out of the Board Gaming thread, I am not really “getting back into D&D”, but rather I am the next closest thing to a complete neophyte. That’s why I find it all so daunting!

You come from complex board gaming, which is a bit of a different beast than DnD. RPGs are about telling stories (where the dice adds randomness) together more so than playing a crunchy game. My advice is to stop worrying so much about GMing it right and apply the “rule of cool”.

This means 2 things to me
Do not let a rules issue slow the game. Nothing takes the wind out of a session like a lengthy rules discussion.
If the player wants to do something awesome cool (and its not game breaking), don’t worry about the rule details and help make it happen.

Don’t be fiddly in the skill checks and attack rolls. The player wants to do X. You think of a difficulty in your head based on the situation, maybe roll some dice behind your screen about how the opposition is reacting, then have them roll. At least in my games I try never to get into a deep discussion of the difficulty I selected or why. Yuo want to keep things humming!

Then post-game or between games, discuss what worked well with the players and what could be better, as well as doing any rule reading or clarification.