The two most common complaints I hear about people who haven’t yet fallen in love with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is that it’s 1. too complicated and 2. too expensive. Unfortunately, I can’t really help you with the complication factor. It’s true: there are a lot of different editions, rules, and details involved in playing D&D. The only thing I can tell you is that it does get easier once you start skimming The Player’s Handbook and play for yourself.
However, I can help with the expense factor!
While it would be great if everyone could buy the official D&D merchandise and shell out $50 per book, that’s simply not always possible, especially if you’re a kid, student, working minimum wage, or have actual necessities you need to purchase (ya know, like food). Fortunately, there are quite a few resources out there for people that just don’t have the dough, and some of them are even Wizards of the Coast (the people who put out D&D) approved! So if you’d like to start playing D&D but just don’t have the cash to spend right now, read on. Here’s how to play D&D on a budget.
Behold — hundreds of dollars!
COMPLETELY FREE WIZARDS OF THE COAST-SANCTIONED MATERIALS
Wizards of the Coast actually puts out a lot of free D&D material—way more than you’d expect. It’s all pretty basic, especially the PDFs, which means you don’t always get every race, class, spell, rule, etc., but they do give you the basic information you need to figure out if you want to play D&D and how. Best of all, they’re always putting out new items! Here’s a small sample of some of the free stuff you can find.
These are the basic rules for players and Dungeon Masters (DMs). You can either print, download, or view them online. If you combine these with several other free resources, you can basically learn the whole game.
As always, I swear this totally makes sense (eventually).
While making your own character is fun, if you don’t quite understand the rules or feel overwhelmed by all the information out there, it can be a good idea to start with a pre-made character sheet. Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast offers both blank and pre-made sheets with a variety of really cool characters. Play a Drow Rogue, Halfling Monk, or Tiefling Warrior or take the information you find in these sheets and use it to tweak your own character.
I’m a little iffy about promoting this since it’s still in its beta-testing phase, but it is so cool and could be so wildly helpful that I just have to mention it. Recently, Wizards of the Coast has released a digital toolset, Dungeons and Dragons Beyond. You can access it on your phone or your computer, and it has all of the basic information, including the whole compendium (monsters, rules, races, spells, items, etc.), how to create a character, and homebrew (fanmade) content. You do have to log in with a Twitch account, and there have been glitches, but if you want all of the D&D 5th edition content and advice on how to create and play characters at your fingertips, you won’t find anything more comprehensive than this.
Tragically, none of this are free, but they are all pretty #basic.
Sometimes, Wizards of the Coast puts out supplemental chapters for longer campaigns which people can try out and see if they want to purchase or play the actual campaign. Wizards doesn’t typically do this, but it’s a great way to figure out if you want to play the campaign, or DM. For example, I started DMing with a couple chapters related to the Princes of the Apocalypse module, which I’m used to level up my party in preparation for the actual campaign. My only caveat is that sometimes these supplemental chapters don’t align neatly with the actual module and you lose a little bit of depth. I discovered that firsthand when I switched over to the Princes of the Apocalypse module and have had to do a bit of retconning.
Best part about automatic dice rollers? They do the math for you.
To play D&D, you need polyhedral dice. The standard set usually has a d20, d12, d100, d10, d8, d6, and d4 (the numbers correspond with how many sites there are—except for the d100; that still only has 10 sides), and you can often purchase these sets for less than $10 online or at your local comic and gaming store. Or you can just use the above dice roller. You can input how many of the dice you need and any relevant modifiers, and it will produce a random number for you. In my opinion, it’s not quite as fun as rolling your own dice, but it does work.
FREE (MOSTLY) UNAFFILIATED MATERIALS
There are also, of course, a lot of non-Wizards of the Coast-released items you can find with a quick Google. The most comprehensive list that I’ve been able to find is this D&D reddit page. Sometimes, reddit can be a flaming trash heap that you wouldn’t want to approach with a 10-foot pole, but this is actually a very finely curated list. It’s full of Wizards of the Coast-released information like the Basic Rules as well as details about different classes, adventure supplements, character sheets, and ways to build encounters, generate treasure, and track monsters. It’s pretty much everything you’ll need.
A godsend, truly.
However, there is one more site I would recommend: Roll 20. Roll 20 is distinct from Wizards of the Coast but does seem to have their blessings, having fully uploaded their 5th edition (5e) content. Using this site, you can look up just about any class, monster, spell, or item. It’s a wonderful resource, especially if you want to check something and you’re away from your Player’s Handbook.
If you use these items, you won’t have to pay for anything more than the normal costs of your cell phone or computer, and you can have all the fun of playing D&D without investing a ton of money upfront. Best of all, since most of these were released by the company that makes D&D you don’t have to feel guilty about not buying their products—they want you to use these freebies! D&D is meant to be played by everyone, regardless of their income. There’s no shame in learning how to play D&D on a budget.