skip to main content
RPGOT Logo

DnD 5e - How to Play

A number of excellent resources are available for learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons, and while those resources are fantastic on their own they are also limited. While they can teach you the rules of the game, in many cases you may still be left with questions, and it may be unclear where to look for answers.

This guide is intended to be a full, thorough introduction not only to the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, but to the act of playing the game. When you finish this guide, you will not only understand the rules, but you will be ready to build your first character, to join your first group, and to play your first game with full confidence that you know the rules well enough to enjoy the game. However, I still recommend reading the Player's Handbook to get the official text of the rules.

This guide is a lot of text. I don't expect you to read it all in one sitting any more than the Player's Handbook expects that you will read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. This guide is equal parts guided walkthrough and reference document, and while it's organized in a specific order, I fully expect that many readers may skip around, revisit sections, or skip sections entirely.

I encourage new players to read the full guide in order, but because the rules of the game all reference each other it will often be helpful to peek ahead at later sections for context. If you're the sort of person that learns by doing, consider skipping ahead to the Creating a Character section, then go back to previous sections when those sections become important to the character creation process.

This guide is intentionally presented in a different order from the Player's Handbook. This guide is ordered to teach you the important concepts of the game before walking you through the process of creating a character so that you can begin the process of character creation confident that you understand what each of your decisions means when you make them.

0. Introduction

A brief introduction for those who are totally unfamiliar with roleplaying games and how they are played.

  1. What is a Role Playing Game?
  2. What is Dungeons and Dragons
  3. Books and Other Source Material

1. The Basics

The absolute basic rules of the game. This is the foundation upon which the rest of the game is built.

  1. Dice
  2. Math
  3. Proficiency
  4. Playing the Game

2. Ability Scores, Skills, and Tools

Ability scores are a character's most basic stats, and they are the primary contributor to your character's chances of success and failure on any task which requires a d20 roll. There are six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each describes a specific aspect of your character's capabilities, which are described in the sections below.

This section will explain what each ability score represents and what it is used for, and will explain each of the skills associated with each ability score. The final portions of this section will discuss tool proficiencies and using ability scores and skills in unusual combinations.

  1. Ability Modifiers
  2. Strength
  3. Dexterity
  4. Constitution
  5. Intelligence
  6. Wisdom
  7. Charisma
  8. Tools, Gaming Sets, and Vehicles
  9. Passive Skills

3. Exploration and Social Interaction

The first two pillars of the game, Exploration and Social Interaction cover the majority of a character's life, at least in in-game time.

  1. Time
  2. Movement
  3. The Environment
  4. Resting
  5. Downtime
  6. Social Interaction

4. Combat

The third pillar of the game, the Combat rules take up roughly 10 pages of text, but they are very dense. Until you're confident in the rules, expect to reference these rules frequently during game sessions.

  1. Combat Basics
  2. Surprise
  3. Initiative
  4. Movement and Position
  5. Space and Reach
  6. Actions in Combat
  7. Attack and Defense
  8. Damage, Healing, and Dying
  9. Mounted Combat
  10. Underwater Combat

5. Items and Equipment

Material items are an important part of any character. You'll spend a lot of time collecting treasure and spending it on equipment for your character, as well as mundane things like food and housing. In some cases, you may even encounter magic items with fantastic abilities.

  1. Currency
  2. The Economy
  3. Armor and Shields
  4. Weapons
  5. Adventuring Gear
  6. Tools and Gaming Kits
  7. Mounts and Vehicles
  8. Magic items
  9. Selling Treasure

6. Magic

Magic is a defining feature of fantasy, and Dungeons and Dragons would be a very different game without it. While magic can come in many forms, the most common is the casting of spells. Being a spellcaster opens up a lot of new options that aren't available to characters who don't cast spells, but it can also be complicated and intimidating for new players.

If you're not ready to take on the challenge of spellcasting, I still encourage you to read Magic Basics so you at least undestand the basics of what spells are and how they work. You'll probably have spellcasters in your party, and it's nice to understand what they're talking about when they start throwing magic around.

  1. Magic Basics
  2. Spellcasting Class Features
  3. Schools of Magic
  4. Casting Spells

7. Creating a Character

If you read all of the previous sections start to finish, you probably have a lot of questions. A lot of things you just learned aren't going to make much sense until you put them to use, but understanding them will make you next step make more sense.

It's time to build your first character! Building a character can be intimidating because there are a lot of options to choose from, but don't worry: You can make more than one character and pick which one you want to play when you start a campaign. If you never use a character you made, that's perfectly fine. If you start making a character and want to start over, that's perfectly fine. The goal of this section is to get you to the end with at least one complete character which you can then bring to a game ready to play.

This section will roughly follow the format of Chapter 1 of the Players' Handbook, but will provide more guidance on making specific decisions like your race and class, and will provide specific advice on how to handle things like ability scores and buying equipment. It will not simply teach you how to build a character, it will teach how to build a character well.

You don't necessarily need to do each step in order. It's common to jump around, changing decisions you've made earlier as your character evolves in your mind. Takes notes to keep track of all of the decisions you make along the way. At the end, we'll look at a character sheet and where and how to record your character so that you're ready to play.

  1. Character Concept
  2. Choose a Race and Class
  3. Choose Ability Scores
  4. Choose a Background
  5. Choose Starting Equipment
  6. Character Details
  7. Your Character Sheet

8. Finding or Forming a Group

You know how to play and you've guild your first character. Now it's time to get into a game.

  1. Finding or Forming a Group
  2. Choosing a Dungeon Master

9. Conclusion

You're ready! You know the rules, you have a group, and you have a character. You're ready to start your first game. Welcome to the hobby. I hope you enjoy it for years to come.

If you have more questions, don't hesitate to email me. I'm always happy to help.

Appendices

You don't need to read these articles to understand how to play, but you may still find them helpful.

  1. Intro to Character Optimization: A brief introduction to the concepts and philosophy behind character optimization.
  2. Trouble at The Tonesvale Fair: An online solo adventure for players new to DnD 5e
  3. Example of Play: A fictionalized text transcript of a group playing Dungeons and Dragons.
  4. Player Glossary: Terms used by players