How to Play

Getting Started

The rules of Dungeons & Dragons give structure to the collaborative game of make-believe. 

Players roll dice to determine whether their attacks hit or miss, whether their characters can scale a cliff, roll away from the strike of a magical lightning bolt, or pull off some other difficult task. Almost anything is possible, but the dice make some things more probable than others.

There are players and a Dungeon Master. The players take on the roles of adventurers - they are the "main characters" of the story.

The Dungeon Master leads the story, plays all the non-player characters and monsters, determines the results of the adventurers' actions, and narrates what the player characters experience. 

There is no "winning" or "losing" in D&D -- at least not in the way those terms are usually understood. An adventurer may be killed or the group may fail to complete an adventure successfully, but if the players and DM had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win.

Image by Alex Chambers

The Game Dice

The game uses a collection of polyhedral dice. Different dice are referred to by the letter followed by the number of sides.

The dice used in D&D are: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20.

The d20 is the most frequently used.

The other dice are only used to determine the damage dealt by different weapons.

For example, a dagger uses a d4 but a greataxe uses a d12.

Castle Rock

Exploration vs. Combat

There are two broad "phases" in D&D: exploration and combat.

Exploration is what is typically seen as the "roleplaying" part of the game. The DM describes what the characters can see, hear, smell etc., and then the players decide what they want to do.

There are no "turns" during this phase of play. Players can can interact and react however they would like. The DM may ask for a Skill Check or narrate something, but otherwise there is very little structure during this time.

Combat, however, uses structured rules. A typical combat encounter is a clash between two sides, a flurry of weapon swings, feints, parries, footwork, and spellcasting. The game organizes the chaos of combat into a cycle of rounds and turns. A round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. During a round, each participant in a battle takes a turn. The order that the participants take their turns is determined at the start of combat by every participant rolling for Initiative.

Check out the Rules of Combat page for more information.


The Six Abilities

There are six abilities that provide a game description of every character's and monster's physical and mental characteristics.

  • Strength: natural athleticism, bodily power

    • Important for barbarians, fighters, and paladins

  • Dexterity: physical agility, reflexes, balance, poise

    • Important for monks, rangers, and rogues​

  • Constitution: health, stamina, endurance

    • Important for everyone​

  • Intelligence: mental acuity, information recall, analytical skill

    • Important for wizards​

  • Wisdom: awareness, intuition, insight

    • Important ​for clerics and druids

  • Charisma: confidence, eloquence, leadership

    • Important for bards, sorcerers, and warlocks​​

Every character has an ability score for each ability. This score determines the ability modifier for each skill that requires that ability.

For example, an ability score of 10 is considered average. Therefore, the ability modifier for it is +0.

An ability score of 16 would be well above average, so the ability modifier is +3.

An ability score of 6 would be well below average, so the ability modifier is -2. 

So a character with a Strength of 16, an Intelligence of 10, and a Charisma of 6 would be great at strength based skills, of average intelligence, and not at all eloquent.


Skill Checks

There are 18 skills in D&D:

Acrobatics                                         Medicine

Animal Handling                              Nature

Arcana                                                Perception

Athletics                                            Performance

Deception                                         Persuasion 

History                                              Religion 

Insight                                               Sleight of Hand 

Intimidation                                     Stealth 

Investigation                                    Survival 

The DM uses those skills as a framework to decide how best to represent in game terms whatever the player wants to accomplish.

Each skill uses a specific ability score, and sometimes a character can have proficiency in a skill, which gives them a bonus. The proficiency bonus is determined by what level the character is.

For example, a player wants to cross a narrow, rickety bridge. The DM tells them to make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to see if they can cross without falling. The character is proficient in the Acrobatics skill.

The player rolls a d20 then adds their proficiency bonus and Dexterity ability modifier bonus to the number rolled to get the total for that skill check.

If the total is equal or higher than the Difficulty Class (or DC) of the challenge set by the DM, then the character succeeds.


Advantage & Disadvantage

Sometimes a task might be especially easy or the character has something to aid them. In those instances, the DM may allow the player to roll with advantage.

The player would roll two d20's and takes the higher of the two for the check.

Alternatively, a task might be especially difficult or the character has something hindering them. The DM may require the player to roll with disadvantage.

The player would roll two d20's and take the lower of the two.

There are a number of reasons a player may roll with advantage or disadvantage, such as a spell effect or class ability. It will always be included in the description of the spell or ability, or the DM will decide when it is appropriate.

Image by Mervyn Chan

Saving Throws

A saving throw, or save, represents an attempt to resist or avoid a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat. You don't decide to make a saving throw -- you are forced to do so.

Saving throws use the ability modifier bonus. Just like with skills, some characters may have proficiency in a specific type of saving throw.


Critical Successes & Critical Failures

Whenever a d20 is rolled, there is a chance for it to be a critical success or failure.

A critical success occurs when a 20 is rolled. This is also called rolling a natural 20.

A critical failure occurs when a 1 is rolled. This is also called rolling a natural 1.

In the official Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules, the only time critical success or failures are taken into account is during attack rolls and for death saving throws.

When a critical hit is scored on an attack roll, you get to roll double the damage dice (or roll the normal amount and double the number).

When you roll a 20 on a death saving throw, you regain 1 hit point. If you roll a 1, it counts as two failures.

However, many DMs, including here at Epic Escapades, utilize critical successes and failures any time a d20 is rolled. Perhaps the hero is able to perform a seemingly impossible task, or perhaps they fumble their attack and drop their weapon. 

It is up to the DMs discretion what happens on a critical success or failure. 

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Heroic as they might be, adventurers can't spend every hour of the day in the thick of exploration, social interaction, and combat. They need rest--time to sleep and eat, tend their wounds, refresh their minds and spirits for spellcasting, and brace themselves for further adventure.
Adventurers can take short rests in the midst of an adventuring day and a long rest to end the day.


Short Rest

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds.

A character can spend one or more Hit Dice during a short rest, up to the character's maximum number of Hit Dice, which is equal to the character's level. For each Hit Dice spent in this way, the player rolls the die and adds the character's Constitution modifier to it. The character regains hit points equal to the total. The player can decide to spend an additional Hit Dice after each roll. A character regains some spent Hit Dice upon finishing a long rest.

Some class abilities refresh after a short rest, such as a warlock's spellslots or a monk's ki points.

Long Rest

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours. If the rest is interrupted, the character must begin the rest again to benefit from it.

A character can't benefit from more than one long rest in a 24-hour period.

At the end of a long rest, a character regains all lost hit points. The character also regains half of their total Hit Dice. For example, if a character has 4 Hit Dice, they regain 2 upon finishing a long rest.

Many class abilities refresh only after a long rest.