Here are some resources for you to use in your own tabletop roleplaying games. The Dungeons & Dragons resources have been designed by me, based on the rules for the current fifth edition. The player safety tools were made by other people, but I list them here as a useful collection for whoever needs them (and I’m working on some of my own variations).
If you’re looking to start roleplaying, I wrote an article about RPGs that are great for beginners, other than Dungeons & Dragons; it’s on Medium.
Dungeons & Dragons Resources
Playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time can be daunting! One of the game’s strengths is that is has a rule to cover nearly every situation – but that also means there are a lot of rules you might have to learn. I’ve put the following resources together for new players in my own games, and thought I’d share them here.
- Character Picker – designed to help new D&D players make the big decisions for their first character. It doesn’t assume any prior knowledge, or get into rules stuff; instead it gives some pointers on choosing a race and class, and some general advice useful when making a character. It only uses options and information available in the Player’s Handbook, but that’s probably a good way to start if you’ve never played before. Made using Twine.
- Basic cheat sheet – this covers the basic rules you need all the time when playing, all on one A4 page. Includes important basic terms, rules for the most common dice rolls, and a visual guide to the different sizes of dice. (PDF, 1 A4 page, 298 Kb; version 1.3, updated April 2023)
- Combat reference – a summary of the D&D combat rules, including how turns work, the types of actions you can take, a list of the combat actions available to all characters, and the rules for injury, healing and death. (PDF, 2 A4 pages, 93 Kb; version 1.4, added October 2019)
- DM tips – some tips for first-time Dungeon Masters, applicable to most other roleplaying games as well. Includes some general advice, tips for using and interpreting dice rolls, some notes on running combat, and resolving problems with your players. (PDF, 2 A4 pages, 90 Kb; version 1.0, added April 2023)
If you’re looking for the official free rules, there are a few flavours:
- D&D Beyond Basic Rules – if you have a tablet, phone or laptop at your table with Internet access, this is the easiest way to get access to all the free rules. You don’t even need an account to read them! This version of the Basic Rules includes all the extra stuff from the System Reference Document (see below), but it’s easy to read and navigate, and kept up to date with any rules updates (though there haven’t been many of those since 2018). D&D Beyond also has the original starter adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver for free, though you do need to make an account to get access to it.
- PDF Basic Rules – this 180-page document is a longer version of the rules you’ll find in the Starter Set, broken into four sections: Creating a Character, Playing the Game, The Rules of Magic, and Dungeon Masters Tools. While all the universal rules are present, its limited to only a few character types. You can download the official PDF from the Wizards of the Coast website; it was last updated in 2018, so is a little out of date in minor ways, but they won’t be a problem.
- PDF System Reference Document (SRD) – this 400-page document is meant as a reference for people making their own Dungeons & Dragons books. It includes many more classes, spells, monsters etc than the Basic Rules, but isn’t organised in as friendly a way (you’ll want a PDF reader with good search and bookmarking functions). If you’re using the PDFs to get started, the Basic Rules are easier to use, but you could add in specific sections from the SRD for any extras you want (e.g. particular classes or spells). The latest version is 5.1, from January 2023, so it is up-to-date with rules changes, and has also been released under a Creative Commons license, which means you can make your own stuff with it and even sell that stuff, so long as you provide the proper attribution.
Player Safety Resources
While roleplaying games aren’t “real”, their improvised and collaborative nature means it’s not always easy to predict what kind of topics, themes and situations will come up. Every game can benefit from these tools, both before and during play, which help us to think about what we’re doing in our fiction (and at the table), and respectfully deal with any problems.
Note that these tools all assume adult players; I’m working on some of my own that are appropriate for younger players.
For a broader toolkit and advice, I recommend Lauren Bryant-Monk and Kienna Shaw’s TTRPG Safety Toolkit, which can be found on Google Drive via bit.ly/ttrpgsafetytoolkit.
- Checklists – a list of stuff that could conceivably come up in a game that players can decide if they want or not. This is a really good one for first time roleplayers who might not have thought about these kinds of things before. Monty Cook Games’ free booklet Consent in Gaming includes a sample one; I also really like this online Google Docs version by Lauren Bryant-Monk.
- Lines & Veils – a really simple way to talk about what players are happy to include in a game during your “session zero” conversation. Veiled topics are ones a player is happy to include as long as it is dealt with “off-screen” – i.e. the players agree that whatever it is happened without going into any details. Lines are a hard no from a player for something they just don’t want in the game. More info can be found in this great write-up on the RPG StackExchange.
- The X Card – this concept, originally developed by John Stavropoulos, is usually an index card or small slip of paper with an X drawn on it, placed on the table in reach of everyone. Any player can tap it at any time to indicate they’re not comfortable with whatever is currently happening in the game, allowing the GM and group to change tack and avoid the troubling material. Details can be found via tinyurl.com/x-card-rpg.