How-To: Dungeons and Dragons 5e


Hello reader,

I’ve created a concise, but detailed how-to on running Dungeons and Dragons. I have tailored this specifically for library programmers that might not know where to begin. Dungeons and Dragons has had a resurgence of popularity with the release of D&D 5e. Since its release, my teens had wanted to play D&D, but I didn’t know where to start or how to run a game. On my own time, I learned how to play, played in a few games, and have run a couple sessions of D&D on my own. Hopefully this guide will help you understand D&D, how to run it, and what you can expect.

This program may appear later in the YALSA Program HQ website. For now, you can save this post for your future reference.

Program Description

Participants will group together into groups of 5-7. One person in each group will be the Dungeon Master (hereon referred to as the DM), and the rest of the members of the group are the players. Together, the members of each group will role play, puzzle solve, and build a story together using Dungeons and Dragons 5e.

This program can be held as many times as you would like. The size of the program can also vary depending on how many of the participants are willing to be the DM. We hope that these programs have teens willing to volunteer to be the DM. If none, the largest size I would recommend is 6 per library staff.

Learning outcomes

  • How to work together to solve a problem and make joint decisions. Working together cooperatively to solve problems build a foundation for them to work with other people in teams.
  • Learn how to collaboratively create a story and tell it. Creating and telling stories allows the teens to explore their creativity and overcome the shyness that comes with expressing themselves. This will help them be more assertive when speaking with others.
  • Learn to work with other people by engaging them and being present.


To start with D&D, the first prep is always the longest. Expect to front load a lot of information and, depending on your preference and budget, there is a front loaded cost to running these games as explained later. Following the first program, the rest of the sessions become easier and easier to prepare for once you have become used to the rules and story telling on the fly. There is a chance your teens may already play D&D, and I would advise you to speak with them and collaborate with them as you prepare to run this program at your own library. Encourage the teens to become DMs themselves!

What you will need:

  1. Read up on the Basic Rules for both Players and Dungeon Masters here. You can totally run a game of your own imagination just by following the free Basic Rules. If you find yourself wanting more or have the room in your budget, consider ordering the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. These are optional purchases and somewhat costly, but they more than make up their cost in how many times you will find yourself using these invaluable resources. If it is possible, consider adding these items to your circulating collection, or even better, your professional collection.
  2. Get an assortment of polyhedral dice. These dice are used to determine success rates or the outcome of events. They are commonly used in role playing, puzzle solving, and combat. You do not need too many dice, having at least one of every kind of dice (starting from 20 sides down to 3 sides) should be good enough. I recommend buying large assortments as it makes rolling go more quickly if all the teens have their own set during the game. You will also find that some teens will buy their own or bring their own.
  3. During the first session, you will have the option to have the teens create their own characters using character sheets (download link) OR you can have them play pre-created characters. For first timers, I would suggest using characters from this website or the pre-made characters in the starter kit.
  4. Finally you will want a notebook or loose paper and something to hide that paper behind, such as a Dungeon Master’s Screen or even a large open binder. This is to hide your notes and rolls from the teens so that there is an element of surprise.

Your options in running your own game:

  • You can spend any amount of time creating your own original game. For the most part, you want to have a few story hooks, such as: the city is being attacked by orcs, the mansion in the bad side of town is haunted, or even a princess has been kidnapped by a dragon. You can be as detailed or as loose as you want, the important thing is to create a situation where the players have a goal to accomplish.
  • You can purchase the D&D Starter Kit for fairly cheap, and it will contain a physical print out of the rules for players and DMs, along with dice, pre-made characters, printed maps, and nifty miniatures and tokens. If you have some money to put into this, I would recommend you put it here.
  • You can download official Wizards of the Coast adventure league campaigns for cheap! These are meant to run for several sessions. There are several that you can choose to run. I suggest trying these before hand so that you can get a feel for how they are written and what might be expected to happen as you play.
  • You can spend money on campaign books. These books expand on the adventure league campaigns and can last for months or even over a year depending on your players and how often you meet.

Running the game:

  1. Start by creating/distributing characters to the players, handing out any pencils to people who didn’t bring any, and putting the dice at the center of the table.
  2. Have the players introduce their characters. You can have them speak in character, talk about their character, and/or do ice-breakers such as “Tell me what Grom the Dragonslayer likes to do in his free time?”
  3. Set the scene for the game. Describe the town, the situation, or an event that will engage your players to explore and quest in the world.
  4. Find good stopping points about 10-15 minutes before your program is over. I like to use heightened climax scenes or cliff hanger moments to entice the teens to come back next month.
  5. Wrap-up your program however you feel, whether you give an ending scene, talk about when the game will next take place, or ask how the players how they felt about the game.

You can easily run a single game (referred to as a one shot) of D&D rather than run a series of games. This is based on your and your teens’ preferences. I would always allot for at least 2 or 2.5 hours of play time. Here are a summary of upfront costs depending on your budget. Dice are included in most listings, because you should own at least 1 set!

Mostly Free:

  • Basic rules
  • Character sheets &pencils
  • Dice


  • Starter Kit
  • Pencils


  • Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and/or Monster Manual
  • Character sheets & pencils
  • Dice
  • Printed out Adventure League sessions from here or as listed in the supplements.

You can always become more invested and purchase the campaign books: Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat, Princes of the Apocalypse, and/or Out of the Abyss. These are optional, but have a ton of helpful information and ways to extend your game past a few months. The cost for each of these books is around $20 to $30.

Finally, here are some tips and optional things that I couldn’t fit elsewhere in the instructions:

  • You do not need miniatures, figures, or tokens. You can do combat without visuals. Pros to this is that it is cheap, cons is that it may be hard for the teens to get into combat.
  • You can use white boards, paper, and dice to represent maps, battlefields, and characters.
  • Be ready for your teens to drop your story hook, and want to do random things. Maybe they don’t care about the kidnapped princess and instead want to go exploring a nearby cave or they decided they would rather start up a business in the town. Be ready for them to do almost anything but what you planned!
  • I recommend using note cards to keep track of monster stats and player stats. This way you are not always referencing a book or PDF, and can instead rely or reference information on the go.


Evaluation is done via asking the teens their opinion. I do this by sending out a monthly e-mail about D&D to my teens while also asking for their input.

My questions for them:

  • How do you feel about the length of the event? Too long or too short?
  • What did your group do that you enjoyed? What did they do that you didn’t enjoy?
  • What was your favorite part in the story?

To give you an overview of comments I received:

  • I think the program should be an hour longer. (We now play for 4 hours)
  • Sometimes the room can be very noisy, and I find it hard to hear. (Consider your space and how you can use it. We have made D&D an after hours program so that we can use the entire building.)
  • I would like to change groups because I want more story than combat.
  • I just like fighting things.
  • Can you teach me how to be a DM? (DMing is something you just have to do. There is no training for it. Encourage them to just jump in! If they are still nervous, direct them to the Dungeon Master’s Guide or the DM’s Basic Rules for more information.)
  • I wish we could play D&D more than once a month.

Other resources

Link to D&D Behind the Screen: Collection of reference materials, pdfs, and how-to DM guides

Talk with your local gaming/comic book stores, gaming groups, and your teens to see what kind of collaboration you can come up with. If you are lucky, a local store might sponsor your library program.



D preps for D&D NEXT (Spoiler Alert: I don’t like 3.5e)

Hello readers,

Some of you might be aware that Dungeons and Dragons has been playtesting their next edition. Its called NEXT, but most players have been calling it 5e. It originally came out last year for beta-testing and they still have no tentative release date. The goal of NEXT is to bring in new players as well as see if they can grab hesitant players such as myself.

For those of you that do not know, Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game in which there is a Dungeon Master (DM) that sets the narrative for players to explore. A typical game of D&D consists of characters killing monsters or running errands for gold and loot, but unlike MMOs, they allow the players to shape their environment and live out their fantasies. I’ve always been drawn to D&D, but I have not always had excellent experiences with it. Luckily for me, I joined a group made up of people I know. I have a way better feeling about this attempt to be apart of a gaming group.

We have decided to use NEXT/5e as our set of rules and so far it has been incredibly easy to work with. We had a test run last month and built our own characters on May 3rd. From previous experience, 3.5e took FOREVER to get anything done. I felt like we were constantly looking up rules, stats, and it just made the game seem like it was more time spent arguing what would make sense over actual gameplay. Character creation for 3.5e, for me, was kind of complicated and came off a bit cluttered. 5e is pretty simplified and character creation was not confusing at all. I will walk through what I prepared as my character for 5e and I will do my best to explain things along the way. I will be leaving some information out since it might not be pertinent to the character I have created, but I would be open to answering questions! There will be a link to the playtest materials at the end of the page.

Ability Scores, Race, & Class

First, I decided on being a druid that heals at range and her name will be Diyaa. Druids are restricted to simple weapons (boo) and I wanted to be a badass with a bow, a martial weapon, so I chose to be a Wood Elf to gain access to Longbows. Picking Druid and Wood Elf told me I could add +2 to my Wisdom score since Druid can add + 1 to either Constitution or Wisdom and Wood Elf adds + 1 to Wisdom. We used the point buy system to determine our initial ability scores. I decided to leave Strength at 8, but boosted the rest of my scores to at least 12 with 15 Wisdom. My final ability scores look like this:


They might not be the best scores, but I my main focus on stats will be Wisdom (healing and intuition), Intelligence (knowledge checks), and Charisma (gathering information and persuasion). Since I am a Wood Elf, it means I gain:

  • Low-Light Vision (I can see pretty well at night)
  • Keen Sense (Advantage on Wisdom spot and listen checks)
  • Free Spirit (Immune to charm and sleep effects)
  • Trance (Instead of sleeping, I can rest for 4 hours in a trance and its equal to a full night’s sleep)
  • Fleet Foot (I can move 5 ft more)
  • Mask of the Wild (I can attempt to hide even when I don’t have much cover)
  • Weapon Proficiency in short swords, long swords, shortbows, and longbows
  • Languages I speak and read both Elvish and Common

As a Druid, I have the ability to cast Druid spells that I prepare or cantrips. I decided to be in the Circle of the Oak to have better spellcasting abilities. Cantrips are spells you can cast repeatedly for free in 5e. Other spells have limits on how many times you can cast them per day. In 5e, you prepare spells, but you can cast any of them repeatedly based on how many level one spells you can cast in general. For example, I only have 2 spells I can cast per day, but I may cast any of the 3 spells I have prepared. When you cast a spell to damage a creature, that creature has to make a saving throw of some sort against your DC. What that means is if they need to make a Constitution saving throw, they roll a d20 and add their Constitution Modifier to the result. What they roll needs to be higher than your Save DC. Druid Save DC has this equation: 10 + Wisdom Modifier + Spell Bonus, so my equation comes out like this: 10 + 3 + 1 = 14.

My cantrips are:

  • Druidcraft (I can create little illusionary effects, such as critters or voices for about a minute)
  • Fire Seeds (I throw 2 burning seeds with a range of 50 ft. Target makes a Dexterity saving throw and if they fail they take 2 Fire Damage)
  • Read Magic (I can decipher discrete magical inscriptions on objects)

My level one spells are:spellbook

  • Cure Wounds (At 25 ft range, I can either cure a creature for 1d8+4 or damage an undead for basically a ton of damage at 4d8 on a failed Constitution save and half that on a successful one)
  • Entangle (At 50 ft in a 5 ft radius, I can deal 3d6 piercing damage on a failed Constitution save and half that on a successful one. It creates difficult terrain in a 20 ft cloud for 1 minute)
  • Thunderwave (Each creature in a 15 ft cone in front of me must make a Dexterity save, if they fail they take 3d8 thunder damage and are pushed 15 ft away. On a successful save, they take half that damage with no push)

The playtest character sheet doesn’t have room for all of these notes, so I have a notebook that I will be using to both keep track of the story and have a quick reference to my spells and feats.

Skills, Background, & Equipment

In 5e, players starting at level 1 may chose 4 skills. Those skills are considered trained skills which means whenever the character rolls for one of those skills they add 1d6 to the initial 1d20. What this means is: I can roll a spot (Wisdom) check even if I don’t have it trained, which is 1d20 + 3 (my Wisdom modifier). Since I am an Elf, I have the Advantage on those kinds of checks, which means I can roll 2d20 and keep whichever one rolls better. That means if I roll 2d20 and the results are a 1 and a 20, I can choose to take the 20. If I have spot check trained, then I add a 1d6, so the overall calculation looks like this: Adv(2d20 )+ 1d6 +3. Similar to Advantage, Disadvantage has the player roll 2d20 and take the worse of the two results, so I would have to take the 1 if I was actually Disadvantaged in spot. There is also Contest, which allows to creatures to compete toward the same goal with just a 1d20 + modifiers, but that won’t come into play for Character Creation. It seems confusing to read, but if you try it out its actually quite easy to understand.

Since I am rolling a healer, I decided to focus my skills on being knowledgeable about nature and magic. I also want my character to be a little intuitive and able to receive information by talking to NPCs. In 5e you are not restricted to what skills you can take, so I chose to take:

  • Recall Nature Lore (Intelligence) I have advantage since I am a druid
  • Recall Magical Lore (Intelligence) Any healer worth their salt should know about different hexes, curses, and spells
  • Sense Motive (Wisdom) My character is an observant person, a “people studier”, so I can catch on to people’s natures
  • Gather Rumors (Charisma) My character enjoys talking with people and can sometimes learn things from them

Usually, in 5e, it seems you will pick a background first and then it will assign you the 4 skills, but we decided to mix and match our backgrounds and skills. Backgrounds are there to offer players: skills, a trait, and half of the starting equipment if you chose to take it (you must take the other half from your class). Traits are kind of nifty since they allow all characters to have some kind of input to the Role Play part of the game. For example, the Fighter class is mostly just about brawling and before did not bring too much to the Role Play other than having low intelligence and charisma stats (depending, but most seem built that way). Now, a Fighter can chose to take the Temple Services trait and gain the ability to go to the temple of their chosen religion/god and be able to: ask priests, acolytes, and other members for help/information, heal yourself and your companions for free, and receive religious services. Thus, your fighter can be a Templar if you chose and actually contribute to the Role Play and not just combat. Its a great way to help you construct a background for your character.   I chose the Sage trait.


There are feats in 5e, but they are completely optional unlike previous editions. Our group decided we wanted to have ALL THE THINGS, so for my feat I chose Herbalism. Herbalism lets me spend an hour to create up to 3 items (Antitoxin, Healer’s Kit, and Potion of Healing). I must have  the necessary material components in order to create them, components such as: herbs, vials, cloth, etc. I can also identify poisonous herbs.

For equipment, I did decide on taking the recommended starting items for Druids and Sages, but I did decide to change it up just a bit. I had 70~ gold plus some items from the set I didn’t necessarily want (such as a spear!), so I decided to gain a fishing tackle box (as a method of providing food) and a Longbow. Now I only have 17 gp, 12 sp, and 8 cp leftover, but I feel better about my starting equipment:

  • Robe
  • 10 Candles
  • Code Ring I haven’t decided what its for yet
  • Nature Tome The DM will assign a DC to the Tome. If I would have to make a DC check about something the Tome covers, if the DC is the same as the Tome’s, then I can succeed a check with it
  • Ink, Ink Pen, and 10 sheets of paper
  • Leather Armor Adds 11 to my armor class
  • Shield I won’t be using it for right now, but kept it just in case
  • Longbow 1d8 piercing damage!
  • Adventurer’s Kit Has a backpack, a healer’s kit (20 uses), 10 torches, 10 days of rations, a waterskin, and 50 ft of rope
  • Sprig of Mistletoe Apparently it can be used as a Druid Focus, but I honestly don’t know what that means for this edition since it had no entry anywhere other than in the Druid starting equip list
  • Fishing Tackle Box Has the fishing rod, lures, and lines

With that, my character is complete. I left out some details, like how fast she can walk and her measurements, but those things are easy to look up for yourselves! I had a lot of fun setting up my character and I hope I have  a lot of fun playing her. The last thing I need to do is give her a back story. I already had one in mind as I made her, so here it is:

Wood Elf Druid taken from

Diyaa grew up in a small, secluded village by a river. While Wood Elves typically are weary of other races, Diyaa’s family moved into the human dominated village nonetheless. Her father and mother were Druids that acted as soothsayers and healers in the town, able to cure just about any ailment that came their way. One day they died of some mysterious illness that even Diyaa’s grandmother couldn’t stop. With only the notation that it was Magical in essence, Diyaa decided that in order to become a great healer she must learn all she can about healing, both natural and magical. Leaving her grandmother behind to tend to the village needs, Diyaa set off on a journey of discovery with a slight hope that she might recognize the cause of her parents’ untimely deaths.

I am really excited about this character and I hope I got some people excited about playing D&D 5e. I will try to post more about the system in action when we convene to play on May 24th. I will give my impressions of the ease/difficulty of the system and whether or not the Skill Dice, Advantage/Disadvantage, and Contest additions add or detract from the gameplay.

If you are interested in D&D 5e, the playtest is free! You can gather a group of friends, go to, or join to find groups online or offline. D&D 5e, according to my DM and a lot of people on the forums, seems to be compatible with ANY campaign setting and most other rule books. I would be happy to hear about other people’s experiences so feel free to leave a comment below!

Have a great day!