Dungeons & Dragons is going through a bit of a renaissance right now. The success of Stranger Things combined with the release of D&D 5th edition has brought the famed role-playing game back into the spotlight. If you're stuck at home and missing your friends, this might just be the perfect time to try it out.
Know nothing about D&D? Start here:
Dungeons & Dragons is not a board game like Clue or Monopoly you might be familiar with. The game has no winner and no loser - the only objective is to create a fun story together. One player plays as the Dungeon Master (or DM), and the rest play as fantasy heroes. Everyone gets to create a character however they like, within the rules, that is, and the DM describes the scene, the creatures, the villains, and the challenges. The players then work together to overcome those obstacles through a series of challenges.
The publisher of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, has made a number of resources available for free so new players can try it out. You can download a copy of the basic rules from their site here: https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules
What you need to know as a player:
Players are the heroes of the story. Your team of characters has come together for one reason or another to go on an adventure. If you've ever seen The Lord of the Rings, you have basically watched a series about a big D&D adventure. A wizard, a halfling, a dwarf, an elf, and others come together from different backgrounds with a single objective. This is a great place to start as an inspiration for your journey.
As a player, you create a hero of your own by using a character sheet. Wizards of the Coast has made printer-friendly character sheets available on their site here: https://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/trpg-resources/trpg-resources
With the release of the 5th Edition of D&D, getting started is easier than ever. Wizards has a tool called D&D Beyond which will walk you through the character creation process.
Playing your first game:
Ok, you have your DM, you have your group of friends each with their own hero, and you're ready to go. How should you start?
This starts with the DM. The DM will be responsible for coming up with the story. This is either something they are coming up with from scratch (they determine the setting, the monsters, the challenge) or they use a pre-written adventure. Wizards of the Coast is releasing a D&D encounter for free every Friday during the Coronavirus lockdown.
If you don't have a group to play with, consider looking into the D&D Adventure League. The Adventure League is an organized format that allows you to register your character and take it with you between games. If you join a group one week as your character, your progress made can be carried over to another Adventure League game even if you join a different group the next week.
Running a game digitally:
Due to our current conditions, it may be some time before we can gather around a table and play D&D as it traditionally is done. That's ok though because it's easier than ever to run a game online. Wizards of the Coast works with digital tabletop services like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds to provide you the tools to run a game entirely online. You don't even need to buy any dice!
Seeing the game in action:
Still not sure what you're doing? There are a number of recorded campaigns online showing people playing the game, creating characters, and telling the story. I'd recommend starting with Critical Role, the most popular D&D stream. Other honorable mentions are Acquisitions Incorporated by Penny Arcade and Heroes & Halfwits by Rooster Teeth.
D&D is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, connect with friends, and have a fun and relaxing time. If fantasy isn't your speed, there are many other role-playing games out there that might be a better fit for you. D&D is most peoples' first RPG, so it's a good way to get acquainted with the abstract nature of them. From there, the sky's the limit. Good luck and have fun!