Dungeons & Dragons is a cooperative storytelling game that harnesses your imagination and invites you to explore a fantastic world of adventure, where heroes battle monsters, find treasures, and overcome epic quests. This page contains the essentials you need to start your D&D journey.
In D&D, each player creates a character who is an adventurer and teams up with other adventurers (played by friends). One player, however, takes on the role of the DM, the game’s lead storyteller and referee. The DM runs adventures for the characters, who navigate its hazards and decide which paths to explore. The DM describes the locations and creatures that the adventurers face, and the players decide what they want their characters to do. Then the DM determines the results of the adventurers’ actions and narrates what they experience. Because the DM can improvise to react to anything the players attempt, D&D is infinitely flexible, and each adventure can be unexpected.
How to Play
The play of the Dungeons & Dragons game unfolds according to this basic pattern.
1. The DM Describes the Environment
The DM tells the players where their adventurers are and what’s around them, presenting the basic scope of options that present themselves (how many doors lead out of a room, what’s on a table, who’s in the tavern, and so on).
2. Players Describe Desired Actions
Sometimes one player speaks for the whole party, saying, “We’ll take the east door,” for example. Other times, different adventurers do different things. The players don’t need to take turns, but the DM listens to every player and decides how to resolve those actions.
3. The DM Narrates the Results
Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right back to step 1. This pattern holds whether the adventurers are cautiously exploring a ruin, talking to a devious prince, or locked in mortal combat against a dragon.
The game uses polyhedral dice with different numbers of sides. In these rules, the different dice are referred to by the letter d followed by the number of sides: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20. For instance, a d6 is a six-sided die (the typical cube that many games use). Percentile dice, or d100, work a little differently. You generate a number between 1 and 100 by rolling two different ten-sided dice numbered from 0 to 9. One die (designated before you roll) gives the tens digit, and the other gives the ones digit. If you roll a 7 and a 1, for example, the number rolled is 71. Two 0s represent 100. When you need to roll dice, the rules tell you how many dice to roll of a certain type, as well as what modifiers to add. For example, “3d8 + 5” means you roll three eight-sided dice, add them together, and add 5 to the total.
The Core Rule
When the outcome of an action is uncertain, the game relies on the roll of a d20 to determine success or failure. Ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws are the three main kinds of d20 rolls, forming the core of the game’s rules. All three follow these simple steps.
1. Roll the Die and Add a Modifier
Roll a d20 and add the relevant modifier. This is typically the modifier derived from one of the six ability scores, and it sometimes includes a proficiency bonus to reflect a character’s particular skill.
2. Apply Any Bonuses or Penalties
A class feature, a spell, a particular circumstance, or some other effect might give a bonus or penalty to the check. Also, the roll might have advantage or disadvantage.
3. Compare the Total to a Target
If the total equals or exceeds the target number, the ability check, attack roll, or saving throw is a success. Otherwise, it’s a failure. The DM is usually the one who determines target numbers and success.
Other Rules to Remember
Additional things to keep in mind during play include:
The DM Adjudicates the Rules
The DM is the final authority on how the rules work in play. If there’s ever a question about how something functions in the game, the DM provides the answer. This helps keep the game moving. If you’re the DM, remember this: D&D is a co-op game, so make rules decisions that enhance the enjoyment of your group.
Whenever you divide a number in the game, round down if you end up with a fraction, even if the fraction is one-half or greater. This is the case in every circumstance unless a more specific rule (see below) specifies that you should round up instead. If any doubt emerges, round down!
Specific Beats General
Many things in the game (racial traits, class features, spells, magic items, monster abilities, and other game elements) break the general rules in some way, creating an exception to how the rest of the game works. If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins. For example, you always round down when you end up with a fraction in D&D, but you might have a class feature that tells you to round a particular fraction up. That feature creates a minor exception in the game.
Effects With the Same Name Don't Stack
Different effects in the game can affect a target at the same time. For example, two different benefits can give you a bonus to your Armor Class. But when two or more effects have the same proper name, only one of them applies while the durations of the effects overlap (a duration is a time span of 1 round or more). The most potent effect—such as the highest bonus—is the one that applies, or the most recent effect applies if the effects are equally potent. For example, if bless spell is cast on you when you’re still under the effect of an earlier bless, you gain the benefit of only one casting.