You have friends. They want to play. You want them to play, too.
But you don’t want to scare them away.
Dungeons & Dragons and its cousins like Pathfinder are fun games, but they’re full of obscure rules, dice, math, fantastic lore and a stigma of being just too nerdy for a normal person.
Getting a friend into a game without it being overwhelming on any number of levels can be a fine rope to walk.
But you can overcome that. I have faith in you.
I also came equipped with more than belief. I have tips!
Play a game. It’s simple. One of the easiest ways to introduce someone to D&D is to sit them down at the table. Learning the game is best done by experiencing the game while surrounded by people who know what they’re doing.
For this purpose, I highly recommend the D&D Starter Set. It’s built with brand new players in mind, so it starts with an ambush so players learn combat. Then it has a few traps, so players learn ability checks. Then it moves to a small dungeon so players learn initiative and movement. Then it moves to a town so players learn NPC interaction and role-playing. It’s slick. After an hour or so, every new player will know their way around the game. It’s also cheap, comes with premade characters and dice. (Get the D&D Starter Set here.) There’s also free adventures like this Neverwinter one that are good for new players.
Work with them to create characters. If they’re familiar with games or maybe past editions of D&D, help your players craft their characters step-by-step. If they’re brand new to it, don’t bog them down with the complicated process of character creation. (I’ve been playing for a long time, and I still get tripped up.) Bring pregenerated characters, and bring a lot of them so they can choose something they think they’ll like. There are several on the D&D site or you can whip up a few on D&D Beyond or Fast Character.
Get them some dice. I’ll never forget my first D&D experience. My pal, Jarrod, took me to the local game shop and helped me pick out a set of dice. I still have them. They’re still my favorite set. And when I recently played a new campaign with my nieces, introducing them to the game, I followed it by gifting each of them a set. Whether you help your friends pick out a set or pick up some dice for them (Amazon offers several bulk sets for very, very cheap), they’ll be a little more invested if they have their own dice.
Explain everything. “OK, so where it says ‘d8 + 3’ damage? Take the 8-sided one. Yeah, the diamond shape. And roll it. Now add 3. Nice! You did 9 damage! That’s enough to finish that goblin, who falls down with a wound to his chest. He’s not getting back up.”
If someone’s brand new to the game, they aren’t just unaware of the mechanics. They’re unaware of everything. The funny dice. The difference between rolling to hit and rolling damage. How initiative works. The power (or lack thereof) of a goblin. Help them out by explaining even the most mundane stuff and pausing to ask for questions as often as possible. Soon, they’ll know which die is the d12 and exactly how their ranger’s favored enemy works.
Show them a livestream. If someone isn’t willing to commit to a game, they can commit to a couple hours watching Critical Role or another favorite. It shows how the game works and how much fun people can have playing it.
Give them a Player’s Handbook. First, remind your pal that the book is not mean to be read cover-to-cover. Start with the intro chapters and then tell them to flip through the character classes and other information to see what catches their eye. When they say, “I think a ranger sounds cool,” or tell you, “Casting prestidigitation sounds awesome,” you can help guide them in making a character. If you (or they) don’t have the funds to get one, show them the free basic rules on D&D’s site.
Craft a game just for them. Ask your pal about their favorite movie/anime/story/video game and craft a custom campaign using that setting. You can use D&D rules to create your own Legend of Zelda RPG or Harry Potter RPG or whatever, and it will be pretty easy since the story is already in place. (There may even be an RPG for your friend’s favorite property such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel Comics and tons more.)
Start with a simple exercise. If they’re not into games or are intimidated by dice, maps and miniatures, try something more ethereal. Ask your friends what they’d do if a wizard kicked down the door. Let them try anything (cast a spell back at the wizard!) or take on fantastic abilities (super strength to throw something heavy in the wizard’s way) or assume new identities (a gallant knight or an opposing wizard). Then explain that what they just did is play a roleplaying game, and you just wanna try D&D, which has a few more rules you’d be happy to explain.
Start with a gateway game. D&D can be very complicated and intimidating. Maybe start with something easier and more contained like a fantasy-themed tabletop board game. Try something like Descent or Super Dungeon Explore. Those will get the fantasy combat juices flowing without being overwhelming.