Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a realm called the Midwestern United States—specifically the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin—a group of friends gathered together to forever alter the history of gaming.

It wasn’t their intent to do so. They were tired of merely reading tales about worlds of magic, monsters, and adventure. They wanted to play in those worlds, rather than observe them. That they went on to invent Dungeons & Dragons, and thereby ignite a revolution in gaming that continues to this day, speaks to two things.

First, it speaks to their ingenuity and genius in figuring out that games were the perfect way to explore worlds that could not otherwise exist. Almost every modern game, whether played on a digital device or a tabletop, owes some debt to D&D.

Second, it is a testament to the inherent appeal of the game they created. Dungeons & Dragons sparked a thriving global phenomenon. It is the first roleplaying game, and it remains one of the best of its breed. To play D&D, and to play it well, you don’t need to read all the rules, memorize every detail of the game, or master the fine art of rolling funny looking dice. None of those things have any bearing on what’s best about the game.

What you need are two things, the first being friends with whom you can share the game. Playing games with your friends is a lot of fun, but D&D does something more than entertain.

Playing D&D is an exercise in collaborative creation. You and your friends create epic stories filled with tension and memorable drama. You create silly in-jokes that make you laugh years later. The dice will be cruel to you, but you will soldier on. Your collective creativity will build stories that you will tell again and again, ranging from the utterly absurd to the stuff of legend.

If you don’t have friends interested in playing, don’t worry. There’s a special alchemy that takes place around a D&D table that nothing else can match. Play the game with someone enough, and the two of you are likely to end up friends. It’s a cool side effect of the game. Your next gaming group is as close as the nearest game store, online forum, or gaming convention.

The second thing you need is a lively imagination or, more importantly, the willingness to use whatever imagination you have. You don’t need to be a master storyteller or a brilliant artist. You just need to aspire to create, to have the courage of someone who is willing to build something and share it with others. Luckily, just as D&D can strengthen your friendships, it can help build in you the confidence to create and share. D&D is a game that teaches you to look for the clever solution, share the sudden idea that can overcome a problem , and push yourself to imagine what could be, rather than simply accept what is.

The first characters and adventures you create will probably be a collection of cliches. That’s true of everyone, from the greatest Dungeon Masters in history on down. Accept this reality and m ove on to create the second character or adventure, which will be better, and then the third, which will be better still. Repeat that over the course of time, and soon you’ll be able to create anything, from a character’s background story to an epic world of fantasy adventure.

Once you have that skill, it’s yours forever. Countless writers, artists, and other creators can trace their beginnings to a few pages of D&D notes, a handful of dice, and a kitchen table.

Above all else, D&D is yours. The friendships you make around the table w ill be unique to you. The adventures you embark on, the characters you create, the memories you make—these will be yours. D&D is your personal corner of the universe, a place where you have free reign to do as you wish.

Go forth now. Read the rules of the game and the story of its worlds, but always remember that you are the one who brings them to life. They are nothing without the spark of life that you give them.

Mike Mearls

May 2014