Learn D&D or enjoy a solo session with this official browser game

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A draconic creature casts a spell in Before the Storm
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

If you learned to play Dungeons & Dragons back in 1983 or thereabouts you may well have done so with the D&D Basic Set, a red box that included a solo choose-your-own-adventure to introduce the basics of the Basic rules. That adventure's star NPCs, Aleena the cleric and Bargle the Infamous, are still fondly remembered (and hated, in Bargle's case) by an entire generation of roleplayers today.

Wizards of the Coast has created a new pick-a-path introduction to D&D called Before the Storm (opens in new tab), no relation to the Life is Strange prequel, which you can play in a browser. You get to select a character from five options—human paladin, hill dwarf cleric, lightfoot halfling rogue, high elf wizard, or wood elf fighter—and play through a story that introduces the rules of D&D's 5th edition.

Choosing a character class in Before the Storm

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Those rules are taught simply enough, each character described with a handful of ability scores given as bonuses to die rolls (the paladin, for instance, has a Strength of +3), a list of skills they're proficient in, and a hit point total. Details like name and gender are left to your imagination, but each character has a different background and gets to go on a separate quest in the city of Neverwinter.

While the rogue practices stealth and infiltration as a member of the local thieves guild, the cleric struggles against corruption within the city watch, the paladin intervenes in a street crime, and so on. Ability checks and attack rolls result in a d20 tumbling across the screen, and a combination of awful rolls and deliberately choosing terrible options because they sounded like fun meant my fighter playthrough devolved into absolutely chaotic scenes. At one point I hid in a barrel while watching a shark I was sort of responsible for setting loose wreak havoc on the docks. It was exactly like the kind of glorious nonsense a typical D&D session devolves into.

Shortly after that I found myself in a swashbuckling ship-board duel with a pirate, each action described with a good Dungeon Master's flair. I expected the fighter to be a bit boring, but after playing all five characters they ended up the most enjoyable, though the rogue's life of crime was fun too. The paladin's storyline left me feeling a bit short-changed by comparison, ending abruptly when it had only just begun, though that may be due to the options I chose.

At the end of the adventure you're rewarded with a trio of achievements illustrated in the same pleasant cartoon style as the locations and NPCs, as well as a note of how many hit points you made it to the end with and whether you were knocked out at any point along the way. The link to download the image unfortunately returns a broken version full of blanks at the moment, so you'll need to screenshot it manually if you want to keep a memento.

A rogue's achievements in Before the Storm

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Before the Storm ends with a lead into the latest D&D Starter Set (opens in new tab), Dragons of Stormwreck Isle, and each of the characters you can play corresponds to one of its pre-generated PCs. Even if you're not planning to play that adventure though, this browser game makes for a cute introduction to D&D or a way to play without all the trials of getting a group together.

This is all part of a push to make getting into D&D less intimidating via a welcoming website (opens in new tab) that collects pre-generated characters, free adventures, and the basic rules. Wizards of the Coast is also working on an official D&D Virtual Tabletop in Unreal Engine 5 that looks pretty rad if you can't get a group together in person, albeit one that's likely to have higher system requirements than something more lightweight like Owlbear Rodeo.

Of course, you can always just play D&D in videogame form instead, and conveniently there's a Steam sale (opens in new tab) running until April 3 with some decent discounts. You can get the classic Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition for 70% off (opens in new tab), or the more recent Solasta: Crown of the Magister for 65% off (opens in new tab) to have a modern 5E experience.

Here's the link to Before the Storm (opens in new tab) again if it's a free D&D game you're after. Try not to drown if you end up in that barrel.

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Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games (opens in new tab). He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun (opens in new tab), The Big Issue, GamesRadar (opens in new tab), Zam (opens in new tab), Glixel (opens in new tab), Five Out of Ten Magazine (opens in new tab), and Playboy.com (opens in new tab), whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.

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