An Introduction to Dungeons & Dragons Terms​

We’ve all been there. Hopelessly lost in jargon wishing someone would just speak English for a change. This is a few of the Dungeons & Dragons terms that seem to be most confusing to new players.

In Dungeons & Dragons, characters have traits  that help define how they are played. For example, a character with low intelligence and high strength would make a good fighter.

Ability scores use the following abbreviations:
STR – Strength
INT – Intelligence
DEX – Dexterity
WIS – Wisdom
CON – Constitution
CHA – Charisma

During combat, characters can move, take an action and may have a bonus action. Examples of actions are, drawing a sword, attacking an enemy, disengaging from a fight, or casting a spell. Some spells take more than one action, so check the spell description.

Examples of things that are NOT actions, taunting an enemy or moving.

A character’s entire combat turn is 6 seconds. When considering what a character can do, keep that time restriction in mind.

Advantage is a game mechanic in which the player can roll two dice (2 d20) and take the higher score.

A character’s base armor class is 10. The higher the armor class is, the harder it is to hit the character/monster in combat.

Armor class is a measure of how hard it is to hit a character or monster in combat. Many things affect armor class such as the type of armor being worn, the character’s dexterity, magical bonuses etc.

An attack roll on a d20 is compared to the armor class and an attack succeeds if the adjusted roll is equal to or higher than the armor class.

When a character, NPC or monster flees from a fight without disengaging, they provoke an attack of opportunity. It’s a free attack! 

It’s like the kid that tripped you in the lunch room as you went by their table.

Cantrips are zero (0) level spells and don’t take spell slots to cast. They can be cast as many times as you want. They are the lowest level spells, but can become powerful as characters level up

Rolling a 20 on a D20 during combat is considered a critical hit. Some creatures and character classes crit on a 19 or 20. Critical hits allow the character or monster to roll their damage dice twice. Bonuses only apply once.

For example, your character attacks a monster by throwing a dart. You roll a 20 on a D20. Instead of the normal 1D4, you roll 2D4 and add any bonuses you may have.

Anytime you see “D” followed by a number, it refers one of the dice used to play Dungeons & Dragons. The number refers to the number of sides that die has, so a D20 is a 20 sided die. 

DnD Dice: d20, d12, d10 d8, d6, d4

Disadvantage is a game mechanic in which the player must roll two dice (2 d20) and take the lower score.

When a character or monster flees from melee combat, they must use their action disengage from the combat, or they provide an attack of opportunity to their opponent. So hit-and-run attacks can give a free attack to the other character/monster.

DC is a number between 1 and 30 that describes how difficult something is to achieve, avoid or overcome.  How hard is it to do something? Roll a d20 and consult the chart to see if you succeeded.

Task DifficultyDC
Very easy5
Easy10
Medium15
Hard20
Very hard25
Nearly impossible30

Example: Jumping over a table is very easy, so the DC would be 5. A character can use either their dexterity bonus or a related skill like acrobatics to add points to their roll on a d20. If the player rolls a 4 and adds +1 from their acrobatics, they successfully jump over the table.

DM’s often use the difference between the DC and the final roll total to adjust their description or the level of success/failure. For example, the DC is 5 and the player rolls a 2. So the DM describes how they failed so badly that onlookers groan, face-palm and one guy starts laughing.

Dungeon Master – The player that controls and referees the game. The DM is the head storyteller.

The DMG is the dungeon master’s resource book with most of the information you need to run a game of Dungeons & Dragons. A DM should also have a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manual.

Rolling a 1 on a D20 during combat attack represents a fumble or critical failure. This is an optional rule. DM’s may take the opportunity to roll on pre-generated fumble charts or describe how horribly your attempted action went bad.

For example, “You attack your bowl of pudding, but badly over estimate the distance to the table. Your spoon snaps in half, leaving you with a stick and pudding all over the table.”

Initiative determines the order in which each PC, NPC and creature attack in combat. The combatant with the highest initiative goes first and combat progresses down the list to the lowest initiative score.

Initiative is determined by rolling a D20. Characters may get bonuses to initiative, which are listed on the character sheet.  Initiative is rolled only once per combat.

Reactions happen on another character’s turn. That includes NPC’s and monsters. Reactions including things like dodging, counter spelling, or taking an attack of opportunity.

When a character has an effect or action taken against them, they may be able to resist it. In that case you may be asked to make a saving throw. Usually these are done using one of your ability scores, which may give you a bonus or a penalty. 

Example: Your character eats a poison mushroom. You must make a constitution saving throw to see if or how badly the poison effects the character.

Similar to a saving throw, skill checks are required to determine the outcome of a physical task or challenge. A payer rolls a d20 and adds any applicable bonuses from their abilities/skills to see if they meet or exceed the difficulty rating (DC).

See DC for more information.

Spell slots represent the maximum number of spells a character can cast of each level spell.

You can us a spell slot to cast a lower level spell. For example, you can use a 2nd level spell slot to cast a 1st level spell. Some spells are more effective when you do this.

Spell levels and character levels have almost nothing to do with each other. The Players Handbook has charts showing all this information for each character class.

NOTE: Cantrips are zero (0) level spells and don’t take spell slots. They can be cast as many times as you want.

Non-Player Characters are characters controlled by the DM. 

Roll 2D10, making sure to state which die represent the 10’s place and the 1’s place. Rolling a 00 means you rolled a 100. Many charts in the game use a table that goes from 1 to 100 for possible outcomes.

Player Character – a character controlled by a player. PC’s must have a character sheet.

The Player’s Handbook is the core rule book players need to play Dungeons & Dragons. Dungeon Masters also need this book because it is the only place where you will find information on character classes, races, abilities, spells etc.

The monster manual is a resource for DM’s. It provides critical information on creatures that characters will encounter in the D&D world. From ants to zombies, you will find the combat stats, tactics and behavior patters for all your monsters. 

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