In an earlier post, I made a comment that “Even without any books or materials, I probably could have managed an impromptu game with just some six-sided dice, pencils and paper”. That may sound like just so much noise, but I firmly believe that you can run a simplified game without any materials whatsoever, other than: d6’s, paper, and pencils.
What Do You Need To Run a Game?
Normally, a DM needs a lot of materials in order to run a game: DMG, MM, PHB, gridded surface and some minis (if minis and a grid are used), pre-made battle maps of certain areas, regional, local, city, and dungeon maps, notes on NPCs and surrounding areas, pencils, paper, calculators, sticky-notes, notebook computer, possibly an external monitor for displaying monsters/etc to players, and lots and lots of dice.
Some use more. Some use less. But very few people have what they need in the car for whenever an opportunity arises for an impromptu game.
But What Do You REALLY Need?
D&D is a role-playing game. You role play your character. In order to do that you need your imagination. Players tell the DM what they want to do. The DM then determines success or failure. The DM can use common sense to determine if the attempt is reasonable and roll dice for success/failure. Everything else really is unnecessary.
Make it easy. Just use basic races and classes: human, elf, dwarf, halfling, fighter, thief, cleric, wizard. Roll abilities and HPs. Start characters with basic supplies and armor/weapons befitting their class. Determine AC. Leave off formal skills and use a simple stat-based skill roll when needed (1d20+primary ability bonus against a DC you set based on circumstances).
I am not suggesting that any DM would have a working knowledge of the stats for every monster in the Monster Manual. But any good DM should be able to wing it for an introductory level game. Low level characters will run into a limited array of monsters, all of which will have very similar stats. Make them up. No one is going to rate you on how perfectly you mimicked the books. The only criteria is whether or not everyone enjoyed themselves. So make it up and don’t worry if it’s the same as the books.
Okay, this is considerably harder… or is it? Again, make it up. Wizards and clerics will need some spells. But they don’t need all of them. We are talking about an introductory level game so we can restrict ourselves to 1st and 2nd level spells. Wizards start with just a couple of spells, so give them what you can remember and make up reasonable stats (whether they are right or not). Clerics are a little tougher since they start with a larger selection, but again, create what you can and don’t sweat it.
Minis and Grid
I love using miniatures. But they certainly aren’t needed. If you are used to using minis, this is an excellent opportunity to experiment with playing without them! If you really need them, any unique marker will do for characters (a piece of paper with each character’s name, coins, whatever). For monsters, I typically use various sizes and colors of d6 sets of dice instead of minis anyway (other than individual monster encounters like a single ogre). For an impromptu game, dice if you have them would probably be the best choice. But literally anything that you can distinguish one from another will work. But honestly, for the work involved in finding a substitute, this really would be an ideal time to give mini-less gaming a go!
Now this is the big issue. D&D typically uses a great many dice, at least a full set of polyhedral dice for the DM and each player. Most likely, in a situation like this, you don’t have any dice with you. But that doesn’t have to stop you. To simulate a d20, tear off 20 pieces of paper of approximately the same size and shape, number each from 1 to 20, and draw one at random whenever you need to roll a d20. Do the same for the other dice. As weird as that sounds, some of the Holmes BD&D boxed sets came with chits exactly like these when polyhedral dice weren’t available. No one used dice like these (few anyway) prior to D&D, so supplies weren’t always available.
However, there may be an alternative. Many board games include six-sided dice. If you can scavenge some from other games, that will make life much easier.
With a little ingenuity, you can simulate any die roll with just a d6:
- D4: Roll d6, 5’s count as 3’s; 6’s count as 4’s. Alternatively, reroll 5’s and 6’s.
- D8: Roll 1d6+1. That will give you a range from 2-7 which averages the same without the extremes.
- D10: Roll 1d6+2 (3 to 8)
- D12: Roll 1d6+3 (4 to 9). Or you could roll 2d6 but this will present an uneven distribution.
- D20: Roll 3d6. That will give you a range from 3-18 which averages the same, again without the extremes, but heavily skews the result, favoring median values. Alternatively, roll 1d6 and multiply by 3. That will yield an even distribution of: 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18. Perhaps not ideal, but functional.
Making It All Work
At risk of sounding like a broken record, make it up. My original post was about my 4th of July family reunion, where I pondered the possibility of running an impromptu game, without any materials, for some family members that had never played D&D but were interested in trying it. In a situation like that, accuracy isn’t nearly as important as capturing the essence of the game. Getting monster stats wrong, and limiting spells to just a few still gets the idea across.
After writing this, I’m actually a little disappointed that I didn’t offer to do something like this. I think it would have been fun. But even as just an intellectual exercise, I had fun thinking about how it could be done.