Have you ever wanted to play D&D but you aren’t sure where to start, or even how the game works? The latest D&D Live festival, an annual celebration of the world’s most popular role-playing game, may be the best, simplest, and most instructive lesson in how to play this side of Critical Role.
Playing Dungeons and Dragons may seem complex due to the amount of homework involved in creating a character. It seems like there’s so much to it — there’s books and paper and maths. A turn off for many to be sure. The good news is, once you push through the paperwork at the beginning, playing the game is as easy as asking questions and rolling dice to determine the answers. But it’s one thing for me to describe the game to you, and another for you to see it actually being played. This is what has been the secret ingredient in D&D’s resurgence since the release of its fifth edition in 2014 — it’s easier now than it’s ever been to see how the game works.
The four biggest games of the entire festival were packed with celebrity guests. Lost Odyssey Heroes was a huge game run by Dungeon Master and Wizards of the Coast lead narrative designer Chris Perkins. His players included Guardians of the Galaxy castmates Karen Gillen and Pom Klementieff, Stranger Things‘ David Harbor and Legends of Tomorrow‘s Brandon Routh. This is a classic, high fantasy D&D adventure with a table of players who are not that familiar with the game. Perkins guides them through the hoops, making this a great place to start if you aren’t sure how the game works.
One of the biggest games of the entire festival was the Cast of Thrones game that featured numerous actors from Game of Thrones rolling the dice. Run by Wizards of the Coast’s Kate Welch, the game features Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Natalia Tena (Osha), Daniel Portman (Podrick) and Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy). It’s a fun, breezy fantasy game with a group of actors who clearly love being in each other’s company.
Lets be real: the WWE Superstars event is a thinly-veiled excuse for Xavier Woods to sit his friends down at a D&D table. We’re grateful to him for that, the big nerd. The WWE Superstars game features DM and Wizards of the Coast lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford running for WWE wrestlers Alexa Bliss, Ember Moon, Dio Maddin, Xavier Woods and Tyler Breeze. Wrestlers often surprise fans by being clever, literate, erudite people outside of the ring and this game is no exception. This is a fun, mysterious hunt through a frozen tundra full of twists and turns.
You can also check out Deborah’s Game, run by giant D&D nerd Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil, True Blood). This game features Amy Acker (Angel, Person of Interest), Sam Richardson (Veep), Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo, Scream), Janina Gavankar (Star Wars Battlefront 2, The Way Back) and Jay Ellis (The Game, Top Gun: Maverick). This is by far the spookiest adventure of the day, with Woll finding ways to charm and unsettle her players in equal measure. This is a fun one.
The Comedians Game puts Kate Welch back in the DM chair, running for a table stacked with comedic talent. Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), Sue Perkins (Last Christmas), Reggie Watts (The Late, Late Show with James Corden), Kevin Sussman (The Big Bang Theory), Brian Posehn (literally everything you’ve ever liked) and Melissa Villaseñor (SNL) stage the most hilarious game of the festival.
Finally, we have the Red Nose Day Game, aimed at raising money for Comic Relief. Run by famed dungeon master and senior story designer at WotC, Chris Perkins, the game includes Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Never Have I Ever), Felica Day (The Guild, Supernatural), Martin Starr (Silicon Valley, Freaks and Geeks) and Brett Gelman (Stranger Things, Fleabag). Perkins is known for running dramatic, surprising and suspenseful games. This one is no exception. Perfect if you’re in the mood for something tense and a little dark.
One extra but extremely important stream for the show was its #BlackAF sidetable. D&D Live’s dates fell during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier in June. The #BlackAF sidetable featured a panel of six black creators within the D&D community talking about the game, some of its more problematic and racist facets both recent and historic, and how the game can be improved moving forward. It’s an important and inspiring panel among these many others.
D&D Live, which this year was conducted in isolation via video chat, began with the reveal of the year’s summer adventure book. Icewind Dale: The Rime of the Frost Maiden will take players back to Faerun’s frozen north, beyond the Spine of the World mountains and into the Dale for a sometimes spooky, sometimes mysterious adventure among the glaciers. Once you’ve checked a few of the streams below and are feeling confident in your ability to play, you might want to check it out. It’s out September 15 worldwide.
And there you go! Hopefully these will have given you the confidence and understanding to embark on your first D&D adventure. If you’re ready to start playing, you can jump over to DNDBeyond.com to start making your first character. Trust us: it’s way easier than you think.