dungeons & dragons for absolute beginners
Part 5: Playing the Game

How do we play?

This part is easy. The DM will describe situations and places to you. You will tell the DM what you would like to do. The DM may ask you to make a roll to see if that succeeds, based upon your character’s stats. It’s pretty much that simple. There are a lot of fiddly rules that you can figure out as you go along, information about sleeping, healing, long distance travelling, using magic spells, learning new languages, creating new spells, etc., but I am not going to go into that level of detail here. Your DM can explain those things to you as you go along. As a final sample of D&D I will give you the briefest of explanations about how combat works.

Combat timing

When you begin a combat, unless someone is surprised (in which case the unsurprised party/parties get a turn before the combat proper begins), the first thing which everyone does is roll 1d4 and add your initiative modifier to determine who goes in what order, highest rolls go first (ties are broken by who has highest DEX score).

Each person’s/creature’s turn takes 6 seconds, and they are all kind of going concurrently, with the first ones in initiative gong just a fraction earlier. During your turn you can do an action, a move, and a bonus action, in any order. You don’t need to do all three (and often won’t want to or be able to), but you can do all three if you want. You can move up to your character’s speed. Actions will usually be either casting a spell or attacking, but other options include things like dashing (running your base speed again), disengaging from an enemy (if you run from an enemy without disengaging, they get a free attack against you as you run away), dodging (attacks against you have disadvantage until your next turn), helping someone else (they person helped gets advantage to finish whatever they were trying to do), hiding, readying an action (for example, you can state that you will attack the dragon if it attacks your friends), searching for something, or using an object (this is usually health potions in the middle of combat, but could be any number of other things). Bonus actions are usually specific to either a character class or a spell; you will know these if you have them.

When you attack, you roll 1d20 (unless you have either advantage or disadvantage), add your attack modifier, and see if it meets or beats the target’s armor class. If it does, you roll for damage. If the target has partial cover, you will have a harder time hitting them. That is pretty much all there is to it. Some creatures have resistance (takes 1/2 damage) to certain types of damage, are immune (takes no damage) to certain types of damage, or are susceptible (take double damage) to certain types of damage. Be aware of that and be flexible if you come across it. Some spell attacks do not roll to hit, and instead require that potential victims roll a saving throw to see if they evade all or most of the damage. Other spells do use attack rolls. Some spells just happen, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. You will figure this all out as you go along- that is part of the fun of Dungeons & Dragons, figuring out the capabilities of your character and getting better at using them. The Player’s Handbook is over 300 pages long and is full of rules. Explore it as you go along and you will discover cool little tricks to try to make your character even better at what they do. Figure out how best to work in partnership with your other team-mates as well. It will all come in time, and will be delightful while you figure it out.

Once your turn is finished, it goes to the next person’s turn. You also get one free reaction between your turn and your next turn. Usually this reaction is spent attacking someone who tries to leave the area next to you while in combat, when you get a free attack on them. There are other reactions that are possible though. After everyone has had their turn that round, it goes back to the top of the initiative order and starts over again, until the combat is over. If you drop to 0 hit points or below at any point you go unconscious and have to make death saves. For this roll 1d20 and 10+ is a success, while lower than that is a failure. If you fail 3 times before you succeed 3 times you die. If you succeed 3 times before you fail 3 times you stabilise. Rolling a natural 20 gives you 1 hit point and wakes you. Rolling a natural 1 gives you two fails.

Death is not necessarily the end in this game, by the way. Magic allows people to be brought back to life. You will learn more about that as you play.

Finally, be sure to relax and enjoy yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the rules. Nobody knows all the rules. Have a good time and don’t worry too much if you can’t remember everything, especially at first. You will become more familiar with your character over time.