Basic Mechanics

Dungeons and Dragons is a table top role-playing game. Players create characters to navigate a world the Dungeon Master illustrates and referees. Player characters, non-player characters, monsters, traps, and hazards all have associated attributes that show their relative status and abilities in conflicts. You’ll find these recorded on Character Sheets and Encounter Blocks. Dice represent elements of random chance, fate, and luck that even the best-laid plans are subject to.

The twenty-sided die is used in most contests – things like Attack Rolls, Skill Checks, Ability Checks, and Saving Throws.

Kill and be killed

Staying alive is the primary job skill of a successful heroic adventurer. That means the first statistic players need to worry about are Hit Points (HP). A character that runs out of HPs starts dying – forced to make Saving Throws against dying until he receives healing, stabilizes, or suffers a third failure in an encounter period. A character with 3 failed death saves or a negative hit-point total equal to half his maximum hit points is dead. A monster or object reduced to 0 hit points is slain, destroyed, or otherwise incapacitated (heroes can always stipulate if they’d rather take a defeated foe alive).

Characters and monsters will most commonly lose hit point due to getting hit in combat (hence the “hit” in “hit points”). Hitting an opponent requires an Attack Roll. This involves picking an Attack Power, rolling a d20, and adding any bonuses and penalties relevant to the roll. If the result is greater than or equal to the target’s relevant defense score the attack hits. If it is lower than the attack misses. Each character and monster has four defense ratings: Armor Class, Fortitude, Reflexes, and Will. Each attack power explicitly states what defense it attacks and the effects it generates on a hit (and sometimes on a miss). The most common effect is a damage roll from hitting.

Player Characters (PCs) come with Healing Surges as well as Hit Points. These represent a character’s reserves of stamina, good fortune, and willpower that help them to recover from Hit Point damage. Most common forms of healing cause characters to spend one or more healing surges, regaining a fixed number of HPs based on a fraction of the Max HP. When a character is out of healign surges he’s stretched to his absolute limits. Unless he gets proper rest soon he’s highly likely to be brought low.

More to living than fighting

While combat is often the most dramatic, high-stakes form of challenge that adventurers face, it is far from the only thing they have to worry about. Enemies, the environment, and even the society in which they dwell can create obstacles and opportunities. For challenges that rely on raw physical and mental abilities characters make Ability Checks – rolls of d20 modified by the relevant Ability Score. Most challenges, however, are also influenced by training and expertise. For these the characters make Skill Checks – d20 rolls modified by both a relevant ability score and training level with the skill in question.

Sometimes contests will function similar to combat – with the character trying to overcome a static resistance of an opponent. One example is rolling a skill check with the Stealth skill, trying to overcome the Passive Perception of some guards. Other times contests may involve two sides each making a check to see who gets the best result. Perhaps one character is trying to calm an unruly mob while a nefarious demagauge is trying to whip them into a frenzy. Both the character and the rabble-rouser try to get the highest Diplomacy Check to exert their influence over the crowd.

A note on dice

The game employs a variety of different shapes of polyhedral dice. The kind of die you roll is notated based on the number of sides it has. A twenty-sided die is written as “d20” (pronounced as “Dee-Twenty”). A four-sider is “d4”, six-sider “d6”, eight-sider “d8”, etc. There are also a few symbols for dice that aren’t so obvious. “d3” means to roll a six-sided die and divide the result by 2, rounding up.

Basic Mechanics

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