Although Dungeons and Dragons shares quite a few things with console or computer RPG games, including a series of numbers defining your character’s abilities, tabletop has fewer limits than a console or tabletop RPG does. In D&D, the imaginations of the players is the limit, as long as it works within the rules system.
While that flexibility is easily one of the strengths of the game, it also can make it intimidating to new players. However, all sessions and encounters will always follow the same basic formula:
1. The DM describes something.
Pay close attention to the description of the area and the people. Don’t hesitate to ask questions for clarification. These descriptions will help you picture what is going on and will help you decide what to do.
2. Players interact with each other or the world.
Based on the description of what is happening, players then announce their actions or reactions.
Examples include talking with an NPC, using an item, moving, attacking, or using a skill. Each group will differ in their approach. In most groups, you speak in first person, but don’t be nervous. Using an accent or talking strangely is not required.
3. The DM will explain what checks are necessary for the action and then narrate the result.
Once the player has decided a course of action, it is up to the DM to determine what skills are required. After any necessary rolls have been made, the DM will determine the outcome. This usually will look back to #1 and the story continues.
What this means for a new player is that knowing the ins and outs of the system is not required to start playing if you have a DM that knows what they are doing.
Basics of the Game
That being said, knowing some of the basic concepts will be helpful:
- Statistics, or stats, define your character’s mental and physical abilities. Strength is how physically fit and strong you are, dexterity is hand-eye coordination and balance, constitution is how well you handle illness, poison, and other stresses on your health, wisdom is your common sense, intelligence is book smarts, and charisma is how good you are at talking to and handling people.
- The d20 is used for all checks. This includes attacking, skill checks, saving throws, and using some abilities. To make a check, you roll the die and then add any bonuses such as a stat bonus, attack bonus, or skill bonus. These modifiers represent your character’s learned skill and natural aptitude.
- Whenever you make a check, the DM determines the score needed to pass. This number is often not shared but will be determined by the difficulty of the task or by an opposing roll the DM makes on behalf of an opponent.
- A roll of a 1 is usually an automatic failure. A natural 1, also called Nat 1, generally is considered to be an absolute failure and may carry other negative consequences.
- A roll of a 20 is often an automatic success. A natural 20, meaning getting a 20 on the die before adding any modifiers, is usually an automatic success. Skill checks are the only check that cannot automatically succeed, although some DMs may allow it.
- Battles are turn-based. At the beginning of each battle, your party and the enemy will roll and actions will be done in order. What actions can be taken each turn depends on the system you use.
There is a lot more to the game, of course, but that should give you enough to make it through your first session. Don’t hesitate to be creative and ask lots of questions!