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DnD 3.5 - How to Play - What is a Roleplaying Game?

A roleplaying game is a game in which you play the role of one character, and you are solely responsible for the actions of that character. Like any game, the purpose of a roleplaying game is entertainment. Roleplaying games are usually cooperative, and groups of players will work together toward a common goal.

Rule 0

No matter what game you are playing, the rules are ultimately up to you. Game rules are intended to provide a working game, but if there are parts which you and your group do not like, feel free to change them so that they work better for your group.

How does a roleplaying game work?

The Dungeon Master

The Dungeon Master is called different things in different games: Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Keeper, Referee, etc. While the players control their own characters, the Dungeon Master controls everyone and everything else in the game. It is generally the Dungeon Master's job to provide the story of the game (Storyteller), and to be an impartial arbitrator of the rules (Referee). Because the Dungeon Master controls the game, they have final judgment on interpretation of the game's rules.

Because the Dungeon Master must be impartial, the Dungeon Master does not usually play a Player Character. Some Dungeon Masters choose to play a "GM PC", but this tends to cause a lot of problems at the table, and is strongly discouraged.

Choosing your Dungeon Master

Being a Dungeon Master can be hard, especially if you are new to roleplaying games. It often requires comprehensive knowledge of the rules, and requires a great deal of trust from your players that you are not cheating or bending the rules against the players. The Dungeon Master needs to have time to dedicate to the game outside of game sessions, and needs to be trusted by the players. If you have an experienced player in the group, they are often a good choice.

The Dungeon Master is much like an elected official: their authority comes from the consent of the players. If the players are unhappy with the Dungeon Master, of the the Dungeon Master is unable to fill their role adequately, it falls on the players to assist the current Dungeon Master or find a replacement.

Because being the Dungeon Master can be hard, consider changing Dungeon Masters occasionally. This prevents Dungeon Masters from becoming burnt out and losing interest in the game. Be respectful of the Dungeon Master, because they often put more effort into the game than anyone else.

The Players

If you are not the Dungeon Master, you are a player. Players control only their own character, and interact with the story, materials, and personalities portrayed by the Dungeon Master. Because players only have control of their own character, their control over their own character ("Player Agency") should only be violated in extreme circumstances, such as when the character is under the effect of a spell.


There is no "wrong" way to roleplay, and there is no "best" way to roleplay. Roleplaying is a very personal activity similar to acting or writing. Find a style which works for you, and stick to it. Other players may have different styles, but don't let that influence you. Do whatever is fun and comfortable for you.

First-Person Roleplaying

When describing the actions of your character, say "I do something". Many players prefer this style because it helps them to stay in character. However, because it can be difficult to pretend to be a completely different person, many new players find this style uncomfortable.

Third-Person Roleplaying

When describing the actions of your character, say "Jack does something". Many players, even experienced ones, prefer this style because it feels like they are telling a story about their character instead of a story about themselves.


One of the most peculiar parts of tabletop roleplaying games is dice. Because all of the players at the table are human, it is difficult to have an impartial game. Dice add an impartial randomization system which can impartially determine success or failure. This help to make the game both fair and exciting. As you play, you will learn to appreciate the dramatic significance of a "Natural 20" or "Natural 1".

Identifying Dice

A typical set of dice can be purchased as a matched set from any local game store, or hobby shop, or a comic book store in some cities. This set will typically contain 7 dice. Dice are identified by their number of sides (d#), so a die with 4 sides would be called a "d4". The "d" is always lower-case, though I'm not certain why. Gaming dice typically have engraved numbers instead of "pips" like the dice you might find in a game like Monopoly.

  • d4: A d4 has 4 triangular faces in the shape of a pyramid. The d4 can be somewhat difficult to read because each face features 3 numbers. When rolling a d4, wait for it to come to rest flat on the table, then read the number which is upright. The other numbers will be upside down at an angle.
  • d6: The most common die, the d6 has 6 square faces and can be found in any familiar board game, such as Monopoly or Yahtzee!. Many characters find that they need to roll several d6s for the same actions, so it is often smart to have a few extras handy.
  • d8: The d8 is a diamond-shaped die with 8 triangular faces.
  • d10: The d10 looks a bit like a rounder d8, and features 10 roughly triangular faces with one rounded edge. A d10 has numbers from 0-9; the 0 represents 10.
  • d100: The d100 is shaped the same way as a d10, but features 10 numbers which each have a trailing 0 (00, 10, 20). These are used for rolling a d100 (also called a d%, or "d-percent"). When rolling a d100, roll the d100 die for the "tens" place of your roll, and roll a d10 for the "ones" place. If you roll 00 on the d100 and 0 on the d10, you have rolled 100.
  • d12: The d12 is typically the largest die in the set, and has 12 pentagonal sides. Many new players mistake the d12 for the d20. This is an honest mistake, and no one should think any less of you for doing this a few times. If you have trouble, look at a d12 and a d20 side-by-side. A d12 has pentagonal (five-sided) faces, while a d20 has triangular (three-sided) faces.
  • d20: The d20 features 20 triangular sides. Modern d20's have numbers running from 1 to 20. Older models of dice, dating back to the days when you needed to color in the numbers, had two sets of numbers running from 1 to 10. To differentiate these numbers, you colored in the two sets in different colors. Fortunately, we don't have to do that any more.

Dice Roll Notation

Die rolls are typically listed in a notation denoting how many dice you should roll, and how many to roll: XdY. X is the number of dice to roll, and Y is the type of dice to roll. 5d6 would mean to roll 5 d6's.


In most roleplaying games, success or failure is determined by rolling a "check" against a "target number". In DnD 3.5, a check is always a 1d20+modifiers roll against a set number or an "opposed roll". The tie always goes to the roller, so if you roll 1d20+2 and need a 10, a roll of 8+2 (10), you have succeeded. In DnD 3.5 this target number is called a "DC" (Difficulty Class) for most checks.

Sometimes the Dungeon Master may call for an opposed check. Opposed checks take place when characters directly oppose each others actions, such as when they are arm wrestling. Both characters roll and add their modifiers, and the higher roll wins. In the event of a tie, neither player succeeds and nothing changes.

When do we roll dice?

There are a lot of opinions on this, but in general, dice are rolled when the GM and the players disagree on what happens. If the GM declares that a door is locked, but a player wants to pick the lock, the disagreement is settled with a dice roll. Dice are intended to create a random, impartial way of resolving conflicts and challenges in a roleplaying game.