Do you want to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons, but don’t know where to start? In this Ultimate DND Beginner’s Guide, you’ll learn everything you need to embark on your first DND adventure.
Anyone can get the Player’s Handbook and read about the classes. (And you should still get a copy, if you don’t have one.) However, I’ve found many new players running into problems even after reading that book. So I wrote this DND Beginner’s Guide with new players in mind. Hopefully, it will help you with various problems that you might encounter on your first campaign.
As you can see from the table of contents below, I’ll talk about everything – from character creation to combat and how to find the best DND group. But before we start, let’s talk about what DND actually is.
What is Dungeons and Dragons?
In simplest terms, D&D is shared story telling. Each player is telling a portion of a story, and the campaign is all of the stories together. There is one Dungeon Master that acts as the narrator. They create the world and run the rules for the game. The other players control characters in this story. They use their stats and roll dice whenever their character wants to perform an action that requires extensive effort or skill. Moving a chair won’t require a roll, but moving a desk would.
There are separate rules for combat situations and non-combat situations. Combat is done in turns and there are specific rules on what you can and can’t do during your turn. Out of combat you and your party can do actions in any order and help each other.
One very important fact I want to share is that I’ll try to focus on official rules, but the Dungeon Master is always free to change the rules in their game.
DND Glossary – Common Terms
Before we start going in the specific topics, let’s first check some of the common terms you’ll encounter through this DND Beginner’s Guide and through your campaigns.
- Dungeon Master or Game Master (DM / DM) – Both of these terms refer to the person running the game. They create the story and scenarios, control the villains, and manage the rules.
- Non-Player Character (NPC) – This refers to any character that is not a main character being controlled by one of the players. Usually the DM controls them. They can range from allies to villains to shopkeepers.
- Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) – This acronym is used commonly to refer to the main villain of the story. This is mostly used online when people are telling stories, I’ve never seen someone use this one in an actual game.
- Melee – Melee refers to combat where the target is next to you. Melee range is usually 5 feet, but some abilities can increase melee range.
- Armor Class (AC) – Armor Class represents your ability to avoid attacks. If an enemy tries to attack you, they must roll equal to or higher than your AC.
- Short and Long Rests – A short rest is resting for one hour. A long rest is resting for 8 hours. A short rest doesn’t have to involve sleeping, it can be reading a book or meditating. A long rest requires 6 hours of sleep and 2 hours of relaxing. It is always good to spend those hours keeping watch for danger when you’re in the wilds.
- Proficiency – Depending on your class and background, you’ll have skills that you’re considered proficient in. These skills will get a bonus equal to your proficiency bonus (a number that depends on your total level).
- Buff/Debuff – A buff is something that improves a stat for a character. It can make attacks deal more damage, or make them better at dodging attacks. A debuff just does the opposite, it makes the victim take more damage from attacks, or makes them unable to attack.
A stat (also called attribute or ability) is an information that describes to which extent a character possesses a certain characteristic. There are 6 different stats.
List of All 6 DND Abilities / Stats
|Strength||Strength focus on brute force. Not many skills use strength, but it is very important if you want to use melee weapons or heavy armor. The best heavy armor requires at least 15 strength.|
|Dexterity||Dexterity represents agility and reflexes. It boosts skills such as stealth and sleight of hand (think ability to pickpocket, or cheat at cards). Dexterity also helps ranged attacks with bows, and melee weapons with the finesse trait, such as shortswords and daggers. Dexterity helps decide turn order in combat and your AC.|
|Constitution||Constitution doesn’t help any skills, but it decides your max hit points and your ability to resist certain spells and poisons. Barbarians can use constitution to add to their AC.|
|Intelligence||Intelligence represents your academic knowledge and skill at memorizing knowledge. Skills such as arcana and history depend on Intelligence, and wizards need intelligence to cast their spells.|
|Wisdom||Wisdom is similar to intelligence, but focuses more on life skill knowledge. Knowing how to hunt, applying medicine, and scanning the area for danger. Clerics and druids use wisdom to cast their spells, and monks use wisdom for their AC and certain abilities.|
|Charisma||Charisma represents your social interaction ability. Charisma can make you better at persuasion and lying. Bards, paladins, sorcerers, and warlocks all use charisma to cast their spells.|
Each stat has a stat score and a modifier. The stat score can range from 1-20. 10 is considered completely average, with 1 and 20 being immensely skilled or weak.
Your modifier is what you add to rolls, and it depends on your score. Each 2 points above or below 10 gives you plus or minus on your modifier. So 12 is +1, 14 is +2, and 8 is -1. Your max stat modifier is +5 to your rolls.
Each stat affects different skills and can affect your class in certain ways. Barbarians and Monks gain bonus AC depending on certain stats if they’re not using armor. Spellcasters heavily depend on certain stats for their spells to work effectively.
Rolling Stats – How to Roll Stats?
There are multiple ways to decide your stats, and you need to ask your DM on how they want stats to be done. There are three official ways to decide stats, but there are also tons of homebrew ways to do so.
The most commonly used way to pick stats is to roll dice for random stats. You roll 4 six sided dice, and remove the lowest number. That makes each stat a number between 3 and 18. If you DM wants this method, please ask them about rerolls. Official rules don’t mention rerolls, but some DMs allow them if you reroll all stats if you roll horrible stats.
My personal favorite stat method is to let everyone roll, and if they roll too low I’ll let them reroll all the stats. One rule my friend and I took from Matt Mercer from Critical Role is if you roll two stats that are 8 or under, or you don’t roll at least 15 on two stats then you have the option to reroll everything.
The next option is point buy. With point buy each number for a stat costs so many points. The way it works is if you want a 15 in a stat, it costs so many points. Since you have limited points you have to decide if you want two high stats and the rest very low, or to balance all of your stats.
From my experience this strategy takes far too long to build a character, but it does let you pick and choose your stats.
The last option is standard array. The PHB lists specific numbers for the 6 stats, and you just assign each number to a stat. You pick one stat to be 15, another to be 8, and so on. This is the easiest method for new players since each number is already set in stone and it makes character creation faster.
Overall random stats is the best way to have higher stats, but you risk having potentially lower stats. That’s why I have my players roll stats and have the option to reroll. I’ve played characters with low stats, and it is not fun to fail at everything you attempt.
Skill Checks versus Saving Throws
These can be confusing since your DM could say “make a strength check” or “make a strength saving throw.” Each type of roll uses different numbers as well.
- Skill checks are when you’re initiating an action, such as shoving an enemy through a doorway.
- Savings throws are when you’re protecting yourself from someone else’s action, such as an enemy shoving you through a doorway.
Skill checks can only use a stat, such as strength or intelligence, or can use an actual skill such as acrobatics and athletics. Skill checks that use skills can use your proficiency bonus if you are proficient in the skill. It is up to the DM what type of roll you will roll.
For saving throws, each class can add their proficiency bonus to two specific stats. For the other four stats they’ll only add their stat modifier to their saving throw.
When making a skill check, it’s considered rude to say “I’m making an investigation check.” Instead, tell the DM what you want to do. Tell them “I want to check for hidden doors” instead.
You can increase your chances of success if you’re being specific. If you just say you’re persuading someone to help, you might have a rough time. But if you actually articulate reasons for the person to help you, you could possibly skip the roll and succeed if the DM feels you did a good job persuading the person.
Instead of saying you’ll search the room, go into detail about searching crates or the wall for hidden doors. Being specific will help you succeed if there is a hidden door, versus just randomly searching the room and finding everything but that hidden door.
If you want to get some amazing dice for your skill checks you can find the best dice for DND here.
Advantage versus Disadvantage
Whenever you roll a skill check, saving throw, or attack roll you can possibly role two 20 sided dice instead of one.
- Advantage has you rolling two dice and picking the higher number for your roll.
- Disadvantage has you picking the lower number between the two dice.
Certain skills give you advantage or disadvantage, and the DM is free to give them depending on the situation. If an ally is helping, or the enemy is distracted, you could gain advantage. If you’re distracted or somehow weakened, you can have a disadvantage.
Rolling a 1 or 20 – Success or Failure
Rolling either 1 or 20 during an attack roll cause a critical success (20) or failure (1).
A 20 will allow the attack to hit regardless of the target’s AC, and will be a critical hit, so you will roll double the damage dice. Any modifiers added after the dice remain the same.
Rolling a 1 will cause the hit to miss, regardless of the target’s AC. Some DM’s have homebrew rules for extra complications for a critical failure, but there are no official rules for this.
Skill checks do not have critical successes or failures. This is the official rules, but again some DM’s will make their own rules for this.
I’ve seen many players ruin the game for new players by telling them what to play. They’ll say “the party needs a fighter or a cleric,…”, but there is no single class that is needed to play the game. There are certain qualities a party can find useful, such as a healer or someone that can disarm traps, but there are multiple classes that can do any role.
So when you’re starting your character just ask “What am I going to be good at?” Here are some roles and abilities to think on:
- Dealing damage in melee.
- Dealing damage at a distance.
- Do you want to focus on dealing damage to one target, or multiple targets?
- Picking locks and disarming traps.
- Negotiating with other characters.
- Buffing your allies.
- Debuffing your enemies.
- Being able to take tons of damage and survive.
- Being stealthy and able to scout areas.
- Knowledgeable on certain fields such as magic, nature, or history.
Once you decide what you’re going to do, you can look at the classes and subclasses to find what compliments your goals. While clerics and druids tend to be the main healers, there are subclasses that allow warlocks and sorcerers to be great healers too.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to fill a role just because your other players didn’t. Talk to the Dungeon Master; a good DM will help the party fill any roles they need. If you lack a healer, the DM should make sure everyone gets healing potions and items. If you need a locksmith, the DM should allow someone to learn how to pick locks, or let the party hire a NPC to pick locks. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has rules to allow characters to learn skills they wouldn’t normally have.
What if I Make a DND Character I Don’t Like?
If you’re a new player don’t feel bad that you don’t like your character. I have years of experience, and I’ve had some characters I loved and some I started hating immediately after creation. I’ve seen new players create a character, and then immediately start trying to kill them, so they can make a new character. Please don’t do this. It hurts all the other players in the game.
Just talk to your DM. Discuss what problems you have. Maybe you’re not dealing enough damage, or you’re tired of the party not having someone with high charisma to talk to people.
The DM’s goal is to make sure everyone has fun, so they should help you find a character you’ll enjoy. They should help you decide if you want to make a new character, or modify your current character.
There are 12 different basic classes in Dungeons & Dragons. A character class is the fundamental part of the character’s identity. Class affects the character’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
List of the 12 DND Character Classes
|Artificer||Uses technology to enhance weapons/armor, use support spells, and can fit most roles.|
|Barbarian||Huge focus on dealing and absorbing damage in melee range. Always remember to use your rage ability when combat starts.|
|Bard||Support caster that focuses on buffs and debuffs more than damage, and a high focus on out of combat skills. They can also help themselves and allies in increased skill checks and saving throws.|
|Cleric||Divine caster whose spells can fit many roles depending on which deity you follow. They all have access to resurrection and healing spells.|
|Druid||Uses a variety of nature themed spells to heal, deal damage, and control the battlefield. Can also shapeshift into animals for combat and utility.|
|Fighter||Very versatile class that can focus on range or melee, and absorbing damage or dealing damage. Subclasses allow access to few spells but most focus on dealing damage.|
|Monk||A primarily melee class that focuses on dealing damage, and abilities that are just plain cool such as running on walls and resisting status effects.|
|Paladin||A melee fighter that can absorb damage and heal or buff allies. They can also deal tons of damage with a good weapon and smites.|
|Ranger||High focus on ranged combat with a surprisingly good access to healing and buffing spells. They were generally known as one of the weaker classes but new subclasses and fixes in the Xanathar and Tasha books make them really powerful.|
|Rogue||High focus on stealth and dealing damage. Their access to high skill bonuses allow them to fit tons of out of combat rolls.|
|Sorcerer||A great spell caster for dealing damage and casting support spells. They have sorcery points to improve their spells, but they can cast fewer spells compared to other casters.|
|Warlock||A caster with spells focused on damage, debuffs and controlling the battlefield. They cast the fewest spells compared to other classes, but they regain their spells with an hour rest while other classes have to rest 8 hours to regain spells.|
|Wizard||A high versatility caster that can learn new spells and change their spell list during a long rest. They’re known to be fragile but their spells are some of the most powerful in combat.|
Each class has a variety of subclasses to help you focus your class’s abilities or give you access to abilities from other classes to give you more options.
Warlocks and clerics have to pick their subclasses at level 1, since they are defined by their god or patron. Every other class picks a subclass at level 2 or 3, giving some time to learn how to play their class and decide on what they want to focus on.
Your subclass can give you access to new spells, or certain skills. They can also affect combat, such as a Hexblade Warlock using charisma instead of strength for sword attacks. You gain certain bonuses at certain levels that differ per subclass.
Picking multiple classes will be tempting when you start leveling up. It can make your character powerful, but the rules are extremely complicated. Honestly from my experience unless you have a super detailed plan for your character’s development, picking multiple classes will weaken your character.
Let’s say you’re at level 5, and decide to start leveling in a different class. Level 8 comes around, and instead of having the abilities a class gets at level 8, you instead have level 5 abilities in one class and level 3 abilities in another. This can be extremely painful for spell casters, since their spell lists and levels will be significantly weaker if they start gaining levels in another class.
Backgrounds and Backstories
Backgrounds represent what your character does for a living before they became an adventurer. They could have been a soldier, thief, baker, or student. When picking a background, think of what skills you want your character to have outside of combat. Also some things to think of:
- who raised your character
- what organizations your character is a member of
- how were they trained on their class skills
Each background can possibly give skill/tool proficiencies, languages, equipment, and special abilities. Feel free to play around with the different background abilities. Perhaps you have the criminal background, but your criminal organization is a group of rebels fighting a dictator, or a monastery that wants to gather knowledge by any means, or a spy network helping the royal family.
The Player’s Handbook also mentions details on customizing your background. Maybe you want an acolyte with a focus on History and Arcana instead of Insight and Religion. You can totally switch the skills if that fits your personal story better.
Each background also includes characteristics for your character that can help shape their personality. You are welcome to ignore these and make up your own, but they’re great to read for inspiration.
- Personality Trait – Quirks that relate to how your character views their Background
- Ideal – Sorted by alignment, these are your characters primary goals.
- Bond – These are organizations and people that your character holds close to their heart.
- Flaw – Flaws are personality traits that can get in the way of reaching your goals.
Alignment is a feature that is confusing to most players, even to experienced ones. There are an infinite number of blogs and chatrooms where people are arguing over alignment definitions as we speak. The key points you want to focus on is the spectrum between good versus evil, and lawful versus chaotic.
Lawful VS Chaotic
These two can be very confusing. Lawful is someone that follows the rules of society, and chaotic means the opposite, someone that doesn’t follow the rules of society. It doesn’t mean someone that acts chaotically. It also doesn’t mean you have a compulsion to break random rules, it means you’re willing to break the rules. I have many players say “My character is chaotic good, so that means I’ll do this chaotic thing.” This definition of chaotic doesn’t fit the D&D alignment definition.
Batman and Robin Hood are both good examples of someone that is chaotic good. They both break the law for the greater good, and do so with very intelligent plans. They’re not chaotic or insane.
Good VS Evil
Good versus evil is one set that you would think is easy, but many players have problems with. Many players build selfish evil characters, and refuse to acknowledge that they’re evil. They fall into the trap of “every villain is a hero in their head.”
It is up to the DM to decide if a character is good or evil, since they’re able to think from the perspective of the world. It ultimately doesn’t matter if you think your character is a good guy if everyone you meet thinks you’re a monster that causes endless suffering.
Generally I think of good alignment as someone willing to do work to help others without personal gain for themselves or those they care about. Evil alignment is someone willing to hurt others for personal gain for themselves or those close to them.
Nine DND Alignments
You can also add neutral to represent being between the two extremes of either spectrum. So you can be neutral Good, chaotic neutral, or even true neutral to represent you avoiding any extremes. This leads to 9 combinations for alignment.
One important fact about alignment to focus on is your actions decide your alignment, not the other way around. Don’t spend too much time thinking “I’m chaotic, so I should do X” or “I’m good, so I should do this thing.”
Instead do what you feel fits your character, and if your alignment changes, that’s totally okay. Alignment only rarely comes into play, mainly with certain spells and some magic items that can only be used by those that match certain alignments.
The next step in our DND Beginner’s Guide is Combat. In this section I’ll explain how does the combat work in Dungeons and Dragons.
Each combat begins with everyone rolling initiative. You roll a twenty sided dice and add your initiative bonus. Your initiative bonus is equal to your dexterity modifier. Once everyone rolls, the DM makes a list for turn order.
Sometimes enemies will have separate turns or the DM will lump them together to make things quicker. Certain classes gain allies or pets that can share their turn. If two enemies tie, the DM decides their order. If two players tie, they can decide between themselves which goes first, or they can roll again between themselves.
Once it is your turn you gain an action, possibly a bonus action, a set amount of movement speed, and a reaction. An action is most things you’ll perform, like attacking or casting most spells. You can also use your action to interact with objects, such as opening doors or flipping a desk over to gain cover.
Bonus actions are certain abilities or spells that can be used on the same turn as an action. Monks can use bonus actions to attack more, and rogues can use them to hide or gain movement speed. Official rules state you only get a bonus action if your class gives you one.
Each character will have a set movement speed in distance, such as 30 feet. You can move that distance each turn. You can break up the movements as well, so you can move 10 feet, cast a spell, and then move your remaining 20 feet.
Reactions are the strangest part of combat turns. You gain a reaction on each of your turns, but you use them on other peoples’ turns. After you use your Reaction, you can’t use another Reaction until your next turn. The most commonly used Reaction is attacks of opportunity. If a creature starts their turn or enters your melee range, and then leaves, you can use your Reaction to attack them. Some spells can be used as reactions to protect you and your allies.
One of the most useful and confusing Reactions is hold action, where you delay your turn’s action to be triggered on someone else’s turn. When you hold action, you pick a trigger and an action, and these have to be chosen during your turn.
For example, you don’t see any enemies but you know they’re hidden. On your turn you decide to hold action, so you can attack when someone appears. So in this situation the trigger is an enemy enters your line of sight. The action is to use your bow to attack the creature. This uses your action on your turn, though you can still use a bonus action and your movement speed.
Something important to remember is when you hold action, you can’t change it after your turn. If no enemy appears and you’re holding an attack, you just wasted your action. You can’t use it for a spell, you just have to wait until your next turn.
Here are some other actions you can take:
- Dash – This action lets you gain extra movement speed equal to your normal movement speed.
- Disengage – If you’re next to an enemy and you want to move away, the disengage action lets you avoid attacks of opportunity.
- Dodge – Until your next turn, all attacks against you have disadvantage if you see the attacker, and you gain advantage on dexterity saving throws. You lose the bonuses if you become incapacitated.
- Help – You can give advantage on an ability check to an ally or give an ally advantage on attacking an enemy that is within 5 feet of you. The ally doesn’t have to be within 5 feet of you.
- Hide – You can make a stealth check to become hidden from enemies.
- Search – You can roll a perception or investigation check to search for something.
- Use an Object – Use this to interact with any object. You can draw a sword, or flip a table to use for cover.
In combat each turn takes 6 seconds. So a spell that lasts one minute will last 10 turns. Time usually only matters in relation to spells, and sometimes if someone is drowning or suffocating.
Cover means you’re somehow hiding behind something when someone attacks you. There are three degrees of cover.
- Half cover gives +2 to Armor Class and dexterity saving throws. Half cover means half of your body is behind cover between you and the attacker.
- Three-quarters cover gives +5 to Armor Class and dexterity saving throws. You get this if ¾ of your body is hidden behind cover.
- If you have total cover, you can’t be targeted directly by attacks or spells. Spells that affect a large area can still hit you. You have to be completely hidden by cover.
Damage Resistance and Vulnerability
There are several damage types, such as bludgeoning, cold, poison, and so on. Certain creatures will be resistant to certain damage types, meaning if a spell or attack deals damage to them with that type they’ll only take half damage. There are damage immunities as well, where creatures take no damage from certain damage types.
Damage vulnerability means the creature takes double damage from certain types. It is also important to know certain creature abilities can be triggered or stopped by damage types. Some enemies heal if they take a damage type. Trolls heal each turn but this can stop if they take acid or fire damage.
When picking spells and weapons, try to have a variety of damage types. Nothing worse than only having fire spells and fighting an enemy immune to fire.
You’re capable of making a special attack to grapple an enemy. If you can attack multiple times per action this will replace one attack. The target must be within your range and has to be one size larger than you or smaller. Sizes for creatures work like this:
Fine < Diminutive < Tiny< Small < Medium < Large < Huge < Gargantuan < Colossal
So if you’re medium size, you can grapple something that is large or smaller. When you grapple, roll an athletics check and your opponent rolls an athletics or acrobatics check (they chose which one). If you succeed, you give them the grappled condition.
List of DND Conditions
Conditions can alter a creature’s capabilities in various ways. They are usually a result from certain spells, class features or monster’s attacks. Most conditions are downsides, while some can be beneficial.
- The target can’t see and automatically fail any ability checks requiring sight.
- Attack rolls against the target have advantage, and the target has disadvantage on all attack rolls.
- The target can’t attack the charmer or target the charmer with negative effects.
- The charmer has advantage on all social ability checks with the target.
- The target can’t hear and automatically fails any ability checks involving hearing.
- The target has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of fear is within line of sight.
- The target can’t willingly move closer to the source of fear.
- The target has a movement speed of 0, and can’t benefit from any bonuses to movement speed.
- The condition ends if the grapplier is incapacitated or moved away from the target.
- The target can’t take actions or reactions.
- An invisible creature is impossible to see without special abilities. It can still be detected by noise or tracks.
- Attack rolls against the creature have disadvantage. The creature’s attack rolls have advantage.
- The target is incapacitated and can’t move or speak.
- It also automatically fails all strength or dexterity saving throws.
- Attack rolls against the target have advantage.
- Any attack that hits the target is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the target.
- The target is transformed, as well as all non-magical items they are wearing or carrying. They’re transformed into some substance, usually stone. Their weight increased by a factor of ten, and nothing ages.
- The target is incapacitated, can’t move or speak, and is unaware of their surroundings.
- Attack rolls against the target have advantage.
- The target automatically fails all strength or dexterity saving throws.
- The target is resistant to all damage. It’s also immune to poison and disease, though if they already had poison or disease they’ll still have it if petrification is cured.
- The target has disadvantage on all attack rolls and ability checks.
- The target is lying on the ground, and thus can only crawl when moving.
- The target has disadvantage on all attack rolls.
- All attack rolls against the target have advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet of the target. If they are outside 5 feet, the attack has disadvantage.
- It costs half their movement to stand up and end the prone condition.
- The target has 0 movement speed, and can’t get extra movement speed.
- Attack rolls against the target have advantage, and the target attack rolls have disadvantage.
- The target has disadvantage on dexterity saving throws.
- The target is incapacitated, can’t move, and can barely speak.
- It also fails strength and dexterity saving throws.
- Attack rolls against the target have advantage.
- The target is incapacitated, can’t move or speak, and are unaware of their surroundings.
- It also drops anything they’re holding and become prone.
- The target fails strength and dexterity saving throws.
- Attacks against the target gain advantage.
- Any attacks that hit the target become critical hits if the attacker is within 5 feet of the target.
0 Hit Points for Players
When a player hits 0 HP they become unconscious instead of dying. You could instantly die with enough damage. If the remaining damage after you hit 0 is more than your maximum HP, you die instantly. You don’t get negative HP, any remaining damage disappears unless it kills you instantly.
When you’re unconscious at 0 HP, you begin to throw death saving throws. Each roll doesn’t have any modifiers, it only has the number on the dice. You roll a 20 sided dice, and 10 or higher is a success and 9 or lower is a failure. A 20 counts as two successes, and a 1 counts as two failures.
If you get three or more successes, you stabilize. That means you’re still unconscious, but you’re not dying.
If you get three or more failures, you die. Any time you take damage while rolling death saves, the damage counts as a failure. If the damage is from a critical hit, you get two failures. In case you take damage equal or greater to your HP total, you instantly die no matter the death saving throws.
If you receive any healing, you stop being unconscious, but you are prone. You can then get up and rejoin the fight.
0 Hit Points for NPCs
In general if a non-player character hits 0 HP, they die. Enemies don’t normally have death saving throws, though the DM will sometimes give an ally NPC death saves.
If someone hits an enemy with a melee attack and it’ll make them 0 HP, the player can choose to make it a knock-out attack. The enemy becomes unconscious, and is not dying.
Certain classes gain spells, and they differ from class abilities. Class abilities have their own unique rules, while spells have the same rules no matter the class.
Spell Levels & Slots
Each spell has a level, from 0-9. Level 0 spells are known as cantrips, and can be cast an infinite number of times. For spells level 1-9, they cost a spell slot, and each character has a limited number of slots per level, depending on their character level. Warlocks are an exception, they have a number of slots and as they level up all their slots increase in spell level.
Let’s say you’re a level 5 cleric. You have access to level 0-3 spells. You have a set number of spell slots per level, with four level 1 slots, three level 2 slots, and two level 3 slots. A spell has a set level, and requires a slot of equal or greater level. Some spells gain bonus effects if you use a higher slot to cast it. Cure Wounds is a healing spell that is level 1, and you can use higher slots if you wish to roll more dice for a higher heal.
You regain your spell slots during a rest. For most classes you need a long rest to regain your spell slots. Warlocks can regain slots with a short rest, but they have less total slots than other classes to balance that. This makes it important to balance saving your slots for emergencies and actually using them to make sure your party survives. Plan your rests carefully and make sure each caster has enough spell slots to get through emergencies.
Each spell has a casting time. For most spells they take an action or bonus action. Some spells require you to sit and perform a ritual for a set time, making them impossible to cast during combat. Some spells have the ritual tag, meaning they can be cast and use a spell slot, or you can avoid using a spell slot if you cast the spell by performing a 10-minute ritual. Detect Magic is commonly used as a ritual since you tend to cast it while exploring instead of in combat.
Some spells can be cast as a reaction. These spells require a specific action to take place, such as someone attacking you or casting a spell. These spells can be cast on other people’s turns, so they can be very useful depending on what you’re fighting.
Range/Area of Effect
Each spell has a max range it can be cast. This is important when using ranged attacks against enemies and staying out of danger. Each spell will also have an area of effect. Usually this includes the target of the spell, but some can hit multiple targets.
Spell effects include different shapes of areas: line, cone, cube, sphere, and cylinder. In each shape you need to focus on the point of origin, this is the point on the map that you pick and the spell affects around that point for a specified radius.
If a spell says that the range is touch, you must be able to touch the target. You can also pick yourself as the target, since you are within range.
Attack Rolls vs Saving Throws
When you use spells on opponents, you’ll either roll an attack roll or the target will roll a saving throw. Each class section of the Player’s Handbook includes the math to decide the bonus to attack rolls and your spell save Difficulty Class (DC). Each spell lists what type of saving throw the target uses, such as Dexterity (DEX) or Charisma (CHA), and you always compare it to the same DC number.
Spells that last over time will sometimes require concentration. Concentration must be maintained for the spell to continue, and you can only concentrate on one concentration spell at a time. You can cast other spells that don’t have concentration.
Whenever you take damage or something major distracts you, you’ll have to roll a constitution saving throw to keep concentration. The DC equals 10 or half the damage, whichever is higher.
When you are concentrating on an important spell, it’s very important to stay out of danger but still close enough to maintain the spell. Spells will list a max range and mention if you have to stay close.
Some spells require certain reagents to cast. You can replace minor reagents with a spellcasting focus or component pouches. Certain classes gain spellcasting focuses and they are mentioned in the class. Component pouches are bags where it is assumed you have already collected minor reagents such as special plants, minerals, and animal parts.
Any reagent that lists a gold cost can’t be replaced with either spellcasting focus or component pouch. Revivify specifies diamond dust of a certain value, so you need to buy that diamond dust at some point. The reagent is destroyed when you cast the spell, so if you want to cast the spell again you’ll have to buy more reagents.
Questions to Ask New DND Groups
If you’ve assembled a group of DND players, or if you’ve joined one – either as a player or as the DM – there are some questions that you can ask, so everyone will have a better experience.
What Kind of Balance Between Combat and Roleplay?
Most players want a mix of both of these aspects, but I’ve met many players that obviously have a deep preference towards either combat or roleplay.
Combat players want to fight strong monsters and go through trap infested dungeons, and they couldn’t care less about the story and why they’re doing what they’re doing. They want to maximize their stats and play the game purely as a game that one wins, not a story.
Roleplay characters focus less on combat and more on their character’s story and place in the world. They want to think on why they’re doing what they’re doing, and if they should do it at all. They befriend and make enemies with many characters and build emotional connections.
The reason I’m mentioning this is that it can cause problems if a player that mostly wants combat joins a group that mostly enjoys roleplay. If you’re joining a new group it’s important to ask what drives the players to play. I’ve had players that only love combat get angry when other players want to roleplay, and this can end up making the game not fun for everyone. You should think of what interests you in the game and find a group that compliments you. That way everyone has fun.
Are There Any Triggers We Want to Avoid?
I’ve had problems in the past with players that kidnap, torture, and murder characters and this deeply affects other players. I’ve had DM’s get uncomfortable when a player tries to seduce or have sex with an NPC.
Because of these I always lay ground rules for behavior that I know makes me or my players uncomfortable, and ask everyone to follow them.
What Types of Characters are Allowed?
The Player’s Handbook contains the main races and classes you’ll play, but it is up to the DM what is allowed or not allowed.
An example is I’m working on a Theros campaign, which is inspired by the Greek mythology. Because of this, it heavily limits what races the players can pick since elves and dwarves don’t fit in the Theros world.
D&D also released a new class, called the artificer. This class uses technology so some games without technology would have difficulty fitting an artificer.
Can My Character Join any Factions?
Some Dungeon Masters use rules for factions the player can join and they can level up their rank with the faction. It is always good to think of this early since you can include the faction in your character background.
Factions are a great way for new players to work out how their character got certain skills and allies.
What Gods Exist in Your World?
This is very important for clerics and other classes. D&D generally uses the Forgotten Realms set of gods, but D&D also has several official pantheons that exist on other worlds, such as Ebberon or Dragonlance.
You can also use real world pantheons such as Egyptian or Greek gods, or make up your own pantheon.
DND Beginner FAQ
Before we wrap up, here are some answers to questions that trouble tons of beginners. If you have a question that I didn’t answer, feel free to leave a comment below.
How Many Players Do I Need to Play Dungeons & Dragons?
My first time playing was just my sister and I. She was the DM and I had a dwarven fighter. There is always the option of a player having more than one character. As long as you have a DM and any number of players using characters, you’re fine.
Oddly enough it is a bigger problem to have too many players. I’d say avoid going over 6 players, with 4 being the ideal number. Once you get six or more players, combat takes far too long and it is difficult for the DM to give time for everyone to roleplay. I had a campaign with 8 players and it was difficult getting anything done since we’d all want to do our own things.
What Supplies and Books do I Need to Play DND?
The only supplies you truly need as a player are:
- dice or dice app,
- character sheets and notebook to keep track of your character info,
- the Player’s Handbook.
You can find free character sheets on the official DND website. There you can also find various pre-made characters. You can use them for your game play, or you can just browse through them to get an example, of how your DND character could look like.
As for books, you can always purchase them online, or from your game store. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular DND books, starting with the most essential one.
The Player’s Handbook is the essential book for every DND player, especially if you’re interested in role playing. It contains multiple useful rules and suggestions for:
- character creation, advancement and backgrounds
- skills, exploration and combat
- equipment and spells
- and many more
If you were to buy just one DND book, this would be the one to get.
There are also DND beginner kits that include pre-made characters, rule pamphlets, and pre-made adventures and maps. These are super useful for new gaming groups.
Some of these also come in a bundle with a set of dice, so that’s something you want to check out, if you’re missing them,
Books for Dungeon Masters
If you want to be a Dungeon Master, these two books can help you. The Monster Manual (MM) and Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) adds new monsters to fight and details on magic items, so they’re must haves for the DM. There are other books I can recommend, but these are all you need to start with.
Additional DND Books
If you really want to dig in deep into the world of Dungeons and Dragons there are plenty of other books as well. While these certainly aren’t necessary, they can improve your overall experience. Besides, they are also just fun to read on their own.
There might be one that’s particularly suited for your needs, so let’s check them out.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything both add new subclasses for players and rules for downtime and patrons, which are super useful to adding to your story.
They both provide a nice additional depth to the game.
Tasha’s book also adds rules for making custom races, which is great if you want to make your own race or create a character of an existing race but customize it to fit your story. Both books add new spells and magic items, and special rules for each class to give players more options.
You can find an in-depth review for Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything here.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters adds new races for players to add, with a high focus on monster races such as orcs and goblins. I personally love this book, it adds the races and has chapters focusing on the cultures and history of them, which can always enrich your story telling.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes adds new races (mostly subraces of elves) and tons of new monsters to fight from other planes. Great if you want to fight angels or demons. You can also play an elf made of plants that changes with the seasons, so that’s pretty sweet.
DND Books – Conclusion
There are tons of other books that add amazing content for your game, but these are my top picks. Players should just focus on the Players Handbook, and the Dungeon Masters should focus on getting the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual.
Physical or Digital DND Books – Which Are Better?
It completely depends on how you want to play. If you play in person, I’ve found DNDBeyond to be very useful. I personally prefer physical books, but my fiancé uses DNDBeyond so when she’s creating a character sheet it will auto-fill with the information she needs.
If you want to play online, you have to test different methods and see what you enjoy. Maybe you’ll want to play on Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds. In that case, it’ll be better to get their digital versions so it auto-fills your character info as you play. If you’re just playing on Discord, physical books or DNDBeyond are good options.
One useful fact I’ve found for DNDBeyond is that if you buy books, it is possible to get a membership that allows you to run a campaign and give your players access to the same books. It costs a monthly fee but it is very useful for sharing tons of books with your group of players. They can only access classes/races and items, so if you have an adventure book it won’t spoil the story.
How to Find a DND Group?
Most gaming stores will have Facebook groups or Discord channels to help players find groups. If you can’t find these online you can always call the store.
Roll20 & Fantasy Grounds
I use Roll20 to run online games currently. It is free to use but you can spend money to buy the D&D books and pre-made adventures and maps. Getting the books is nice since they’ll start auto-filling info for your character sheets, but not required.
I’ve heard amazing things about Fantasy Grounds, which is hybrid application which allows you to play and create your own RPG games. You can get it from their site or from Steam. It does cost money to use though. The person running the game can buy a license to allow their players to join for free, but this costs so much that the DMs sometimes charge players to join their games. I’ve heard Fantasy Grounds runs better that Roll20 but currently, I prefer the less pricey option.
Both Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds have forums and search engines to help you find DND groups. I prefer Roll20 since you can easily search using keywords such as “welcome new players” or “late night.” Fantasy Grounds has a calendar but you don’t get info about a game unless you click on its name and load a different tab.
Playing on Discord
Running online games take far more prep time for the DM and makes it far more difficult for players to go off the beaten path, but it is far easier to find groups to play with.
There are also groups to join on Discord that don’t use maps and images, but the DM just goes into greater detail describing scenes and has to spend time helping players during combat since they can’t see distances without a map. This makes combat very complicated, but it is still possible. If you can get over the combat issues this is a good method.
I’m planning on writing more articles similar to this, so if you have any requests please comment! I’m thinking of writing an article focused on character creation and backstories. I can also write articles for advice for DMs on things such as trap making, world building, and recommending map programs.
Would you want me to write articles directed at new players or players that have more experience? Let me know in the comments below.
If you don’t have a playgroup often enough to play with you, don’t worry. You can always play DND by yourself. Check out how in our DND Single Player Guide.
Hopefully, this DND Beginner’s Guide was useful to you. Until next time, have fun on your new DND adventures, and may you roll many natural twenties.