Remember that D&D is, at its heart, a very social game, and finding people to play with is, forgive the pun, a good move. One of the best strategies you can employ as a beginner is to find more experienced players, who can explain as you go and serve as an example of how to approach game play.
Even if you don't have D&D-playing friends, have no fear: D&D meet-ups and groups are easy to find. Use Meetup.com in your city, check with a local gaming store, or go to the Dungeons & Dragons official Web site to search for groups. While some have closed games – that is, ongoing campaigns with the same players week after week – there are also shorter adventures that can be played in one session. Mini-campaigns like these often take place Wednesdays in game stores and the like. Wizards of the Coast, the company now producing D&D, has also created D&D Encounters, which is a set of adventures specifically designed to be played in game stores, with many different groups of players working their way through the same story each season.
Also, take advantage of the resources available to newbies. Familiarize yourself with the Player's Handbook for the edition you'll be using, as well as any other materials your DM gives to you. Read about other players' experiences on the many gaming blogs on the Internet. Spend some quality time with your character sheet, so when your DM asks you what your dexterity is, you don't have to hunt around for it. You can also use pre-generated characters to get ideas or to make the process of getting started a little quicker.
Some other tips for first-timers:
- Spend your first D&D game as a player, not as a DM. DMs have a lot to juggle, and it's better to get some familiarity with the game (and some of the ways players will try to push the boundaries) before you try to run a campaign yourself.
- Remember to separate what you know from what your character knows, and don't let things only you would know influence your character's decisions.
- Think creatively about what your character can do. Just because you're a fighter armed with a sword doesn't mean the only thing you can do is swing your sword at enemies. For instance, pay careful attention to the way the DM describes the setting – you may find ways to use your environment and what's in it to your advantage, even before you pick a target to attack or defend against.
- Try not to dither. You can weigh your options before making a move, but too much analysis of actions and potential outcomes can slow the game down tremendously.
- Don't feel too attached to your character. Sometimes characters die, in spite of the entire party's best efforts. The important thing to do then is to roll up another character you'd like to play, and then get back into it.
- Bring your own dice. As skeptically-minded as many D&D players are, a fair number are also superstitious about their dice.
Now a little more about all those D&D editions we've been referencing.