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D&D 5E How to play DnD 5e for Free

Green DM

Villager
Video if you don't want to read the wall of text, then wall of text.

Dungeons and Dragons, and tabletop roleplaying games in general, can be very expensive. The books, the dice, the miniatures, the terrain. There is a lot you could spend money on. And that can feel like a barrier into the hobby. I want to layout how someone could run or play dungeons and dragons for FREE. All they should need is a bit of time, a printer if they want the physical version of some things, and a desire to get started. Will be using "you" as subject for ease of writing. Feel free to share this with anyone you think wants to get into DnD, but thinks it is too expensive to try.

RULES*​

The first thing you will need is rules. The players handbook, dungeon masters guide, and monster manual will run you about $25 US dollars each, which as you can tell, is not free. Instead you will be using the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition SRD, which stands for System Reference Document. The SRD is free, and gives you everything you need to run and play a game of Dungeons and Dragons. This is 400 pages long, which can be very daunting, but you don’t need to read it all.
The basic rules start on page 76 and go to page 104, laying out how to play, including when to roll dice, how to make attacks and saving throws, and everything in between. Pages 3 through 75 layout how to make player characters including options for their race, class, background, and equipment. If you have any spellcasters amongst your players or monsters, pages 105 through 194 list all the spells they could need. Pages 206 through 253 lists magic items you can use in your game and page 254 onwards is a big list of monsters you can use to populate your world and use in combat. You don’t need to know everything in this document. Just choose a few monsters, a few magic items, a few player character options and run with that.
The SRD is an incredible resource that you should think of as the DnD demo document, and I thank wizards of the coast for making it available to everyone for free. It does not have as many options as the full rulebooks have, but this is your first time playing, you don’t need a bunch of options right now. You just need to get a feel for the game and how much your group likes it.
SRD pdf
https://media.wizards.com/2016/downloads/DND/SRD-OGL_V5.1.pdf
SRD WOTC article
Systems Reference Document (SRD) | Dungeons & Dragons
*You can also look at the Basic Rules Document, which may be more new gamer friendly than the SRD.
Basic Rules For Dungeons and Dragons
SRD And Basic Rules Combined on DnD Beyond!
D&D 5e Basic Rules

Character Sheets​

The SRD unfortunately does not come with player character sheets, but thankfully you have some options. Wizards of the Coast has a lot of free character sheets for you to use. If you just want some pre generated characters, wizards of the coast has some of those as well.
5e Fillable Character Sheet
https://media.wizards.com/2016/dnd/downloads/5E_CharacterSheet_Fillable.pdf
5e Progenerated Characters
TRPG Resources | Dungeons & Dragons

Adventure​

Alright, so you have some rules, but you need an adventure to apply them to. There are tons of free adventures online, but again you don’t need a bunch of options right now. I recommend the Delian Tomb by Matt Colville. It is short, made for level 1 characters, and even comes with a map! The monsters of the adventures are also in the SRD! The bugbear on page 266, goblins can be found on page 315, and the undead in room 6 will be 2 ghouls, from page 312. The scythe trap in area 3 is not in the SRD, but we can just use the trap table in the SRD to choose its properties. This is your first adventure, so lets make this a level 1 setback trap. So characters will need to make a DC 10 dexterity saving throw to avoid it, or take 1d10 slashing damage. If you don’t understand those terms yet, don’t worry, the basic rules in the SRD will explain them.
If this adventure is too short for you, or you would like to find another one, DMsGuild.com an online store where you can buy adventures, optional rules, and a lot more, has a free adventures section you can look through. Again links in the description.
Delian Tomb Adventure
The Delian Tomb
Free Adventures on DMsGuild
Dungeon Masters Guild - 1st Tier (Levels 1-4) | DMs Guild -
Best Free Adventures, Courtesy of M.T. Black
Top 20 Free D&D Adventures — M.T. Black is creating Roleplaying Games

Dice​

Okay, you have rules, and an adventure, but you are missing a key component, dice. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of spare dice lying around. If you do have a bunch of boardgames, you might be able to cobble together enough dice to get this gaming going. Otherwise, you will need to use an online resource, or get creative.
For online resources, there are free dice rolling phone apps like Critdice. google has a built in dice roller, or you can use a website like a.teall.info.
If you want physical dice for free, you might have a hard time. But Dice are just an easy way to roll a random number. If you have another fun way of generating random numbers, then use that instead. Whether that means, cutting up some paper squares with numbers on them and putting them in a hat, or cutting little blocks of wood into dice is up to you.
Dice Rolling App - CritDice
CritDice - Dice Roller - Apps on Google Play
Google’s Dice Roller
dice roller - Google Search
Web Based Dice Roller
teal 3d dice roller

Players​

Okay now comes one of the hardest parts for some people, finding a group to play with. Most people just ask their friends or family to play. If that is not an option for you, coworkers are a great next place to look. If that doesn’t work for you, there are a lot of places online that can help you find a group. Reddit has an entire subreddit /r/lfg dedicated to people trying to find groups for tabletop games, but that’s not all. Facebook groups such as the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition group can be a place to connect with other people looking for a game, and the Dnd Beyond forums, as well as many other online tabletop forums, have sections dedicated to getting groups together.
If you do use an online resource to find players, try to ask them a few questions or have a virtual hang out before committing to playing a long game with them. You don’t really know if you will enjoy playing with them, or if you will like their attitude, so don’t commit to long term plans until you feel these people are more than strangers and you feel safe roleplaying with them.
Reddit - Looking For Group
https://www.reddit.com/r/lfg/
Facebook Dungeons and Dragons 5e Group
Facebook Groups
DnD Beyond Forums - Looking For Group
Looking for Players & Groups - D&D Beyond General - D&D Beyond Forums - D&D Beyond

Place to Play​

Now we have all the rules and equipment we need to play the game, now we just need a place to play it.
If you are playing in person, this part can be pretty easy. Choose whoever’s house has the biggest table and play there, or let whoever enjoys hosting people, well host.
If you all live too far apart, or for some reason don’t have a spare table lying around, you can look for local game stores to play at, but most require some form of payment to use their facilities, which I have to point out, is not free.
If none of that works, or you are experiencing a global pandemic which causes you to never leave your house and never see anyone in person for months, online gaming is a great solution.
Online gaming is done at a virtual tabletop or VTT. You have a lot of options, but most either require a onetime payment or monthly subscription. For free options, you have Astral Table Top, Tableplop, Let’s Role and many more. I am not well versed in the free virtual table top market, so people in the comments or in a google deep dive may know better.
Astral
The easiest way to play tabletop games online | Astral TableTop
Tableplop
Tableplop: Easy to use virtual tabletop
Let’s Role
TableTop Gaming for Everyone!

Place to Communicate​

Now that you have a place to play, you need a place to communicate. If you play in person, this seems like a no brainer, its just the table you are playing at, but you might need more than that. Sometimes you want to draw a map to help people visualize a situation or mark out where everyone is in relation to each other. This can be done on some printer paper or graph paper you have lying around, with everyone marked with a coin or token of some kind. Again, this is suppose to be free, so don’t go out buying a bunch of custom miniatures for you players to use. Just say Tom is red bottle cap, Darnell is the kitchen magnet, Jessica is the eraser, and so on. Although, if you have some lego figures lying around, this is a great use for them!
If you are playing online, you will need a place for everyone to go to communicate. I highly recommend at least communicating through voice, but having video and text communication is a good idea too. For this, I recommend using something everyone in the group is already familiar with and uses often. Google hangouts, Skype, Zoom, or my personal favorite, Discord. If you just use what everyone is already familiar with, that means there is one less obstacle stopping you from actually playing.
Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts
Skype
Skype | Communication tool for free calls and chat
Zoom
Video Conferencing, Web Conferencing, Webinars, Screen Sharing
Discord
Discord | Your Place to Talk and Hang Out

Conclusion​

With that, you have everything you need to start, and it is all free! Do note that you will have less options in terms of character classes, adventures, and equipment than someone who spent a bunch of money. But that does not mean your game will be worse or less fun in any way. At its heart, Dungeons and Dragons is a story telling game. Your imagination and passion is going to be worth far more than any fancy terrain or cool virtual animations will ever be. So, go grab the SRD, go grab a phone for dice rolling, go grab some paper to scribble notes on, go grab some friends to play with, and go grab, some memories!
 
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aco175

Legend
I would give a new player a set of dice to keep after he showed up to play for a few weeks in a row. Bonus if the player was younger and really could not afford them. Although, I'm not sure if I would give out a "convention set."
 

I would give a new player a set of dice to keep after he showed up to play for a few weeks in a row. Bonus if the player was younger and really could not afford them. Although, I'm not sure if I would give out a "convention set."
I have two "main" sets of dice I use: A crap ton of kickstarter exclusive dice/DND official dice/Gencon set and then a second "set" that are a bunch of dice that are easily replaceable.

I use the exclusive, non replaceable dice myself. The easily replaceable sets I loan out to the other players.
 
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Goliath Coins

Owner of Goliath Coins
Publisher
I actually think D&D is very cheap to play as a PLAYER. As a player, what do you actually need? Set of dice and a mini?

Of course, a DM has a lot more expenses. This is one reason why RPG companies don't do better. You have 1 DM and 5 players and only 1 person truly needs the reference material. Compare that to video games where each must have their own copy.
 








Al'Kelhar

Adventurer
Be prepared for several dozen responses from posters stating that, in their country, that's more than the cost of a week's food, they can't ship stuff from the US, and so on.

I agree, seriously, the cost barrier to entry to play D&D is next-to-nothing. It's like, slightly more expensive than playing with rocks and sticks in the dirt outside, and slightly less than buying a second-hand game of Monopoly from a garage sale. But I strongly commend the OP for highlighting a bunch of free resources for people to use.

Cheers, Al'kelhar
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Be prepared for several dozen responses from posters stating that, in their country, that's more than the cost of a week's food, they can't ship stuff from the US, and so on.

I agree, seriously, the cost barrier to entry to play D&D is next-to-nothing. It's like, slightly more expensive than playing with rocks and sticks in the dirt outside, and slightly less than buying a second-hand game of Monopoly from a garage sale. But I strongly commend the OP for highlighting a bunch of free resources for people to use.

Cheers, Al'kelhar
It ships for $0.09 worldwide and is coming from China, not the U.S.. You have a choice of colors too!

I just realized I am slowly talking myself into buying more dice. That I don't need because we're not playing in person.
 





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