Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game first created in the 1970s and currently going through an unprecedented surge in popularity thanks to 5th Edition.
There are two main reasons for the growing number of players. The first is due to the realistic and fun depiction shown in the TV show Stranger Things set in the 1980s. This would have been the first time many people saw the game in action.
The second reason is due to a group of famous voice actors sharing their Dungeons and Dragons game through popular streaming services. This group is known as Critical Role and are the most viewed creators on Twitch, not to mention garnering millions of views on YouTube!
But how these people play their game is irrelevant. Everyone plays differently. it’s time for you to join in on the adventure!
What Is D&D?
Dungeons and Dragons is a game filled with acronyms, so let’s get the most common ones out the way. You can see the title of the game written in 4 ways. The first is “Dungeons and Dragons,” the second is “D&D,” the third is “DnD,” and the fourth is “5e.”
The first three probably make sense to you, as they are just shortening the full title. However, the last one refers to the edition of D&D you’re using.
Today we will be discussing the 5th edition of D&D, which often goes by the shorthand of 5e and is by far and away the most popular and most played edition in D&D history.
Dungeons and Dragons is a game where the Dungeon Master tells a story like a narrator. The other people are PCs or Player Characters, and they react to the story in character – this is the roleplaying part.
Sometimes the Dungeon Master will allow the players to succeed or fail from the roleplay alone. Other times, the players have to roll dice to decide their outcome.
The story can be anything from fighting, murder mysteries, exploration, and so on. In fact, the best stories have every genre mixed in.
Essentially, you get to play the hero in a story created with your friends.
The Basics: Rolling Up A Character
Using the Player’s Handbook, you can either randomly create a character or spend hours going through the potential creations available to you. Just like when you make a character in Sims or Elder Scrolls, building your person can be just as fun as playing the game.
Before we explain how to create your character, we should talk about the expansion books. D&D is a game where everyone constantly wants to see more content from the creators. This means that you can find fanmade work (known as Homebrew) and loads of additional books to expand your choices.
Today, we are going to primarily focus on the basics found in the Player’s Handbook, but the following books are also considered “core” D&D books for character creation:
- Dungeon Master’s Guide (for items)
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (for the Artificer class and additional rules variants)
- Volo’s Guide to Monsters (for additional character race options)
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (for additional rules variants)
First off, you get to pick a race. Races in D&D refer to the type of humanoid creature you can play. Each race has their own strengths, but you put the personality into their culture.
List of Player Handbook Races:
Dwarves are resistant to poison damage due to their excessive drinking.
This means that whenever a creature or enemy deals poison damage, you only take half the number. Traditionally they are small but strong and get special bonuses for checks involving stone work.
Elves are old and wise creatures that inherited ancient magic. Because of this, they have advantage on saving throws against being charmed.
This means when someone tries to use a charm spell against you, you get to roll your dice twice and pick the highest number to avoid the effect.
Halflings are very similar to Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. They are quiet people who always find a way to prevail. Because of this, they are Lucky.
This means whenever you roll a 20 sided dice (the most commonly used die in D&D) and get a 1, you can re-roll.
A 1 in D&D is not just the worst number you can roll, it is also known as a Critical Fail. You didn’t just fail at the challenge; you might also have broken your weapon, hurt yourself, or anything else the Dungeon Master decides.
Humans are the most common race in the world. They breed quickly and find it easy to pick up basic tasks, earning a reputation as the most versatile of all the races. Because of this, you are allowed to increase all of your ability scores by 1.
We will talk about ability scores next, but it basically means you become a little bit better at everything.
Dragonborn have an ancestral connection to godly beasts – dragons. This heritage allows you to breathe fire, shoot lightning, or spray poison depending on what color scales you pick.
This means you’ll get a special ranged attack, and you will have resistance to whatever damage you chose.
There are 10 scale color options to pick from, each with their own abilities. To read more about them, click here.
Gnomes are a cunning race who like to play pranks on their friends and invent amazing contraptions. Because of this, they tend to be quick when it comes to magical issues.
This means you have advantage on all Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom saving throws against magic.
Half-orcs are tough and smart. Having the parentage of brutish orcs and cunning humans in their social and biological history. Because of this, they are hard to kill and attack with savagery.
This means that when your health (or Hit Points) reaches 0, you can drop to 1 instead (but only once a day). Not only that, but when you make a Critical Hit, you can add an extra die to deal more damage.
Critical Hits, just like a Critical Failure is an extreme outcome. If you roll a 20 on a 20 sided dice, that is the best outcome you can get. This normally means you can double your damage dice, but for a Half-Orc, you double and add one more.
Lastly, you can become a tiefling. These are people who have an ancestral connection to demons. Because of this, they are often outcasts, or at least treated with suspicion but also have inherent resistances and magic.
Traditionally they are resistant to fire damage, but there are other subclasses that change the resistance to some other damage based on ancestry.
Which Race To Pick?
All of the information we have just given you might seem overwhelming, and as we warned before, this game has a lot of acronyms and jargon. But don’t worry, we will explain everything we have mentioned.
For now, you can either roll an 8 sided dice and see what the fates suggest you play, or you can pick the race which seems the most fun to you.
When people roll up their character, what they mean is rolling their ability score.
The ability score holds all the information that impacts your character’s skills in the game. You can either decide your character’s class first or their score. If you like to be in complete control of your custom build creation, then pick the class first. If you want to see what the dice have in store for you, start with the scores.
There are 6 scores in total. The first three are to do with your character’s body – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution.
The last three are to do with your character’s mind – Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma.
What The D&D Ability Scores Mean
Strength – How hard you can hit something, tackle someone or lift something.
Dexterity – How quickly you can duck away from a weapon, sneak past someone, catch or throw something.
Constitution – Your health, ability to handle poisons, ability to hold your breath.
Intelligence – Your ability to remember, learn, and investigate, this is also the main magic casting stat for Artificers and Wizards.
Wisdom – Your connection to nature, understanding people, and perceiving the world. This is also the main magic casting stat for Clerics, Druids, and Rangers.
Charisma – Your ability to manipulate, impress or deceive others. This is also the main magic casting stat for Bards, Sorcerers, Paladins, and Warlocks.
Being tied to mental capabilities, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma also serve as important scores for spellcasters. Each spellcasting character class uses 1 of these scores to determine how easily they can attack with spells and how difficult it is to resist their magical influence.
Creating Your Ability Score
To create your score, there are several options, but the most popular is by rolling for stats which generally is done one of two ways:
- Rolling 3 6-sided dice (d6) and adding up the scores
- Rolling 4 6-sided dice (d6) and adding the three highest while ignoring the other
For example, your end result could look like this:
Strength – 6
Dexterity – 17
Constitution – 10
Wisdom – 6
Intelligence – 13
Charisma – 13
Rolling like this means the lowest score you can get is 3, and the highest is 18.
If your Dungeon Master wants characters to be more powerful, you might instead roll 4 d6s, reroll 1s, then drop the lowest die for each stat. For lower, but more consistent character power levels, your DM can use the point buy system to give players even footing for score selection.
If you want to know more about the point buy system, click on this link. For a quick explanation, you are allowed 27 points with 8 costing 0. You can then spend up to 27 points to make your character more powerful. Using my example above, the 17 would have cost 13 points, and the two 13s could have cost 5 each. The 10 would bring my total to 25 points, meaning I would have 2 points remaining. I could swap my Wisdom or Strength to a 10 or make them both 9s.
This system is more strategic and less random.
Using the randomized scores above, my character is a dexterous person with good people skills and a higher than average IQ.
We have talked about ability scores before when discussing the human race. If I chose to be human, all of my scores could change after the roll. They would all increase by one, making my new minimum 4 and new maximum 19.
Some old school DMs force the player to put the rolls down in order. So the first roll is for Strength, second is for Dexterity, etc. Most DMs now allow the player to make six rolls and then choose where to place each stat based on where they want it.
The Basics: Character Classes
Some people prefer to choose their class before they roll their ability scores. This is because their class will affect what powers and abilities they can do. If you decide you want to play a wise class, like a Cleric or a Druid, but you end up with a Wisdom score of 6, then your character won’t be very good at their job.
However, if you like to randomize your character, doing the ability scores first narrows down your choices, making picking easier. Instead of choosing which number does where, simply fill in your character sheet in order. For us, we want a class that uses their dexterity more than anything else.
In the Player Handbook, there are 12 classes that you can choose from. We will briefly describe what they can do, what their highest ability score should be, and what type of game you can play with them.
Artificers are the mechanics of the fantasy world. They create magical items that help the team complete a quest, use their genius brain to unpick riddles, and even build robots.
Their biggest skill is their ability to infuse items with magic – making armor stronger, allowing you to teleport, or even building a robot friend.
To complete these amazing devices, the Artificer has to be very smart. This means their highest ability score should be intelligence.
They are considered support when it comes to battles, as although their items can aid in doing a lot of damage, most of their greatness is outside of combat.
Artificers are great for players who have a big imagination and love to solve problems. Their intelligence means they can pick up almost any tool and know how to use it, making them perfect for interaction-based games.
Barbarians are fierce warriors who can enter into a primal rage when they attack. When they Rage, weapon damage hurts them less. This means that they are resistant to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage – they only take half of the damage rolled.
A barbarian’s highest ability scores should be strength and constitution.
As barbarians can take more damage than others, and they have the potential for higher hit points than other classes, they tend to take the tank role in the game.
Tank means they try to take as much damage as they can so their teammates don’t get hurt.
Bards are musicians, poets, dancers, or artists of any kind. Their magical creations inspire people to follow them into battle, manipulate unsuspecting victims, and distract unattentive guards.
Bards have a special dice called the Bardic Inspiration die. They can give this die to their teammates as they sing an uplifting song. The player they chose to inspire can roll that die once and add the number to their attack or to a skill check.
Due to their way with people, a bard’s highest ability score should be charisma.
Bards tend to become the support member of the group. They make their friends stronger, heal the wounded, and belittle their enemies.
Outside of battle, bards show their true strength. They can charm people into doing their bidding, disguise themselves to get into secret locations, and so much more. They also can serve as a skill class if your group doesn’t have a rogue.
A cleric is a priestly person. In Dungeons and Dragons, there are many gods who watch over the world. If a god sees real devotion, they might give powers to their disciple.
Clerics are known as the healer of a group. They can bring people back from the dead, heal those who are wounded, and remove harmful diseases infecting someone.
However, that doesn’t make the cleric weak. They can pack a godly punch and can be pretty hard to hit.
Clerics get their divine power from wisdom, so this should be your highest ability score.
Druids don’t praise gods but nature. It’s not uncommon to find a holy druid, but their main ideals come from balancing the natural world: fire and ice, sun and moon, death and life.
The same as a cleric, a druid gets their magic through their wisdom. So their highest ability score should follow.
Druids can shapeshift into other creatures, allowing them to climb walls like a spider, become stronger like a giant ape, or hide in plain sight like a rat. They can also change the weather, move the earth, and become elemental themselves.
Druids can be damage, healer, or support, depending on how you play them. And importantly, they have a lot of magical options to make solving problems easier.
Because of their magical connection to nature they cannot use armor or weapons made of metal.
Fighters are often considered the basic class. They don’t hold any magic, but are excellent with all weapons and armor. Just like a barbarian, fighters can be considered tanks as they can take more damage than the spellcasters.
However, fighters do not have the Rage ability. Instead, they can wear heavy armor, use shields, and learn different maneuvers to help them in battle.
Between these maneuvers, up to 3 extra attacks each round, and their Action Surge ability,this makes the fighter better suited for dealing damage.
Fighters are a great choice for players who love battle and like to strategize. Their proficiency with all weapons in the Player’s Handbook allows them to flexibly switch between melee and ranged fighting as each situation requires.
If you want your fighter to focus on ranged weapons, then you want your highest ability score to be dexterity. However, if you want your fighter to do as much damage as possible in melee, then the highest score should be strength.
Constitution is an ideal place for a high ability score as well, since fighters tend to find themselves in the thick of battle.
Monks are masters of martial arts. They don’t tend to use weapons to hurt people. Instead, they can do enough damage just with their fists.
Monks can learn a small number of magical spells, which is great for players who only like a touch of magic to think about. However, most of their energy is used to move faster than their opponents and hit harder.
Despite their powerful punches, monks aren’t necessarily strong. Instead, your highest ability score should be dexterity, followed by wisdom. The dexterity is to help you move faster than your opponents, and wisdom is needed to make you harder to hit and power your small collection of ki abilities.
Monks are considered a damage class. This means they can hurt your opponent a lot more than other classes and have some scary class abilities, but they can be beaten much more easily than fighters or barbarians.
Paladins are like a mixture between clerics and bards. They are a holy warrior who can hurt and heal in the name of their god, but they can also encourage their friends and connect to the community.
Each paladin swears an oath to their god. To keep their powers flowing, they must abide by them. If the oath is broken, the paladin’s powers are removed.
Very few spells that a paladin can learn are to do with damage. Instead, they can heal people, detect magic and sense the presence of evil. When they want to hurt someone, they can convert their spells into Divine Smites, which considerably ramp up the classic power of the sword.
Because of this, a paladin’s highest ability score should be strength, followed by charisma. Their charismatic nature is what makes people want to follow them, and their god, like a knight in shining armor.
Paladins are considered tanks as they are hard to hit, so they are another class that benefits from a high constitution score.
Rangers are like a combination of fighters and druids. They are connected to nature, and if they are walking in their favorite terrain, they can instantly understand elements of the landscape around them.
Rangers often use bows and arrows, which allows them to fight from a distance. They need that distance, too, as rangers tend to have lower armor class, which makes them easier to hit.
With a whisper to the vines around them, a ranger can ask nature to help them in battle. They might produce brambles from the ground, lock-on location like a sniper, or talk to the animals around them.
To be a good archer, the ranger needs a high dexterity score; and to communicate with nature, they need a high wisdom score too.
Rangers are considered damage classes and can be devastating with a good archery build.
Rogues are a stealthy class who hide in the shadows, pickpockets, and unlock doors. They use their dexterity to sneak past guards and throw daggers at their enemies.
When building a rogue, your highest ability score should be dexterity, followed by intelligence. This is so you can sneak past guards and then investigate the king’s rooms without any additional help.
Charisma is also useful for interacting with people – especially if you need to convince someone of why you should be allowed in a restricted area.
Rogues are considered to be a damage and skills class, but they are vital in games that require dismantling traps and cracking codes.
Sorcerers are the only type of class that are either born with magic or develop magic through a natural event. For example, magic might run in the family veins, or they may have been hit by lightning, which somehow didn’t kill them.
Being born magical means your character was likely viewed with suspicion or treated like a god. Either way, they will have developed a strong charisma skill to terrify or socialize with the people around them.
Because of this, their highest ability score should be charisma. Their powers will be connected to their charisma too. As a consequence of being so connected to magic, sorcerers are often considered physically weak. Their hit points are lower than most, and they cannot wear armor without being tired out.
Sorcerers are considered damage classes.
Warlocks are known as the cantrip class. A cantrip is magic that doesn’t cost you anything to perform. Normally a spellcaster will have a limited amount of spells they can do each day, so they have to choose their moment wisely.
For example, a spellcaster might know 3 cantrips (which they can do as often as they like) and understand 5 different spells. However, they might only be able to perform 3 spells per day.
Warlocks are allowed to hack this system because they’ve made a deal with a powerful entity. This entity agreed to give them powers in return for their service. The warlock may have sold their soul to the devil, may have promised to bring children to a hag, or could have agreed to kill someone every month so they might live another year.
The backstory is up to you, but this agreement allows you to wield a lot of power. To make a powerful entity agree to such a bargain, you need to have a high charisma score. This score will power your magic.
Warlocks are considered damage classes.
Wizards are scholarly magic users. They didn’t pray to a god, didn’t sell their soul, and weren’t blessed with magical powers. Instead, they spent years of their life learning the mechanics behind the arcane forces.
Because of their intense research, a wizard’s highest ability score should be their intelligence.
They are considered a damage class but are very easy to hurt. Because they spent all of their life in libraries, they never developed their physical strength. This is why they cannot wear armor.
Wizards can do more than just fight, though. Their magical teachings allow them to use their skills in everyday situations. They can mend items as a cantrip, use their spells to understand languages unknown to them, detect the thoughts of others and even modify a person’s memories.
Since wizards can add spells they find to their spellbook, they can develop a wider selection to choose from than other spellcasting classes. This makes them excellent strategists, as the only limit on their potential over time becomes their foresight of any given problem.
Understanding How To Play Dungeons & Dragons
Once you have created the race, class, and ability scores of your character, everything else comes down to the dice rolls.
Ideally, you should read the Players Handbook to understand everything your class and race can do, but today we are discussing the basics.
Once you know your ability scores and have adjusted them with the information given from your chosen race and class, you can create your modifier. This is where things get a little technical.
Ability Scores And Modifiers
The ability score is rarely used by itself. Sometimes a creature or spell can affect your score, and that will have a knock-on effect to the rest of your character’s abilities; but in reality, you will mostly use your modifier over everything else.
Use this table to figure out what your modifier is:
Using our score created before, our character’s modifiers would look like this:
Strength – 6, -2
Dexterity – 17, +3
Constitution – 10, 0
Wisdom – 6, -2
Intelligence – 13, +1
Charisma – 13, +1
As your character gets stronger and levels up, they will have a chance to increase their ability score to a maximum of 30.
Skill Checks And Using Your Modifier
We said before that a 20 sided die is the most commonly used dice in D&D.
When your Dungeon Master asks you to roll to fight, roll to deceive, or anything else. You would roll your d20 (20 sided dice) and add your modifier.
For example, if our character wanted to throw something, they would roll d20 +3 as throwing is a dexterity ability and our scores above gave us a modifier of +3. If we rolled a 5, our total outcome would be 8.
There will be some things that your character is considered proficient in. For example, a bard would be proficient in playing the flute.
If we wanted to distract the crowd as a rogue pickpocketed a wealthy citizen. The Dungeon Master might ask the bard to do a performance check. Performance is a charisma skill, which they are also proficient in.
Let’s say our character was the bard. As a level 1 bard, this character would have +2 to proficiencies. This means they would roll d20 +1 (for the modifier) +2 (for performance proficiency) +2 (for flute proficiency). This makes the minimum number outcome 6, and we haven’t even rolled yet.
We rolled a 17 with our d20 making 17+1+2+2 = 22. That’s an amazing number!
The Player’s Handbook has all the information about proficiencies at different levels, so grab the book to learn more.
Advantages And Disadvantages
Your character might get an advantage to their roll for any number of reasons. An item could give you this boost, you might have help with a task, or the Dungeon Master may just like your plan.
When you have advantage, you get to roll your d20 twice and pick the highest number.
When you have disadvantage, you have to roll your d20 twice and pick the lowest number.
Saving Throws And Attacks
Saving throws are when you roll the dice because something has happened around you. For example, you may have fallen from a tall height, you might have breathed in poison, or you have to dodge away from a fireball.
Just like before, saving throws use modifiers, but you might be proficient in them.
If we create a gnome wizard, we know that gnomes get advantage on all Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom saving throws against magic. Due to their intelligence, wizards are proficient in Intelligence saving throws, too.
Let’s say our gnome wizard is in a fight, and someone uses a spell against them. The Dungeon Master tells us to make an intelligence saving throw to avoid being affected by the attack.
We can roll our d20 twice, then +1 (for our modifier) +2 (as we are proficient in Intelligence saving throw).
The first roll gave us a 10, creating 10+1+2= 13 total.
Our second roll gave us 15 creating 15+1+2 = 18 total.
We pick the highest option and hope it’s enough to avoid the attack!
When you attack someone, the method is a little different. Physical attacks with a melee weapon use your strength modifier and your proficiency bonus (if you are proficient in the weapon).
You then roll your d20 like normal. Ranged weapons work similarly, using Dexterity instead.
But, if you cast a spell on someone, and they have to make a saving throw, your opponent has to beat your Difficulty Class (DC) number. This number will get bigger as you level up, but it follows this formula.
8 + Spellcasting Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus.
Your spellcasting ability modifier is the same ability we said to prioritize before. For example, a wizard uses their intelligence to learn spells. This is their spellcasting ability.
Using the scores we created earlier, our wizard’s DC would be 8+1+2 for a total of 11.
As the wizard leveled up, gaining a better proficiency bonus and higher intelligence, that DC number would go up, reflecting their growing strength as an adventurer.
Playing Dungeons And Dragons
Unlike most games, Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t really have a “winner” or an “end.” Your Dungeon Master might come up with a story, like “free the princess from the dragon,” “find out who killed the king,” or “figure out where a missing town has gone,” but they could also let you create the story too.
Once the first story ends, you can simply make another one. Even if everyone dies, you can make new characters and carry on playing in this world.
For example, the players might create a backstory for their character, and the dungeon master creates a world that makes this story come to life. Maybe the barbarian first felt Rage after the store they worked in burnt down. Now they are on a quest to find out who did it. That alone could be the story your team follows.
Your Dungeon Master will walk you through the scenes, and you interact with what you see. Whenever you need to roll something, your Dungeon Master will tell you to, and that’s where the dice can affect the outcome.
Some Dungeon Masters will use premade campaigns written by the creators of the game. Others will make up their own story which better suits their playing style.
Either way, as a player, all you need to do is know your character and think about how they might react to the situations they find themselves in.
There are a lot of rules to play Dungeons and Dragons but don’t let that put you off. When it comes down to it, the game is all about rolling dice, doing math, and imagination.
It might take you a while to learn the rules, but remember these key takeaways; your most used die is 20 sided (d20); your character is affected by their race, class, and ability scores; and The Player’s Handbook is your best friend. Ideally, new players should ask older players to help them out, but you will soon be adding proficiency bonuses and ability modifiers as quickly as a dice roll.
Braden is a founder of Assorted Meeples and has been a gamer & writer with a vivid imagination all his life. Don’t believe us? Check out his excitement when meeting Goosebumps author R.L. Stine as a kid! An avid Magic: The Gathering spellslinger for over 15 years, you can always convince him to shuffle up for a game (or three!) of Commander.