The Rules

There is one formula, or script, that will always be in play in Dungeons and Dragons:

1. The DM presents a situation

“You enter a room with a chasm across the middle. A chandelier hangs above it.”

2. The players imagine their characters in that situation and decide how the character acts in response.

“My character’s a bit of a swashbuckling rogue, so I’d like to jump onto the chandelier and swing across the chasm!”

3. The DM determines the outcome

3a. The DM determines whether or not the action is even possible

[If it was a fifty foot chasm] "If you try that, you’re going to die. No one could do that without flying. Are you sure?

3b. The DM determines whether the outcome needs to be randomly determined

[If it was a one foot chasm] “Yeah, you swing right across and can continue across the room. You probably could’ve just stepped over it.”
[If it was a ten foot chasm] “This is something that you could potentially screw up and end up dead. I’m going to make you roll for it!”

3b1. The DM determines how to randomly determine the outcome

“Jumping is either going to be an athletics or acrobatics skill check, and this is going to be a medium difficulty task, so you’re going to need to meet a DC (difficulty class) of 10. [The DM does not always tell you what you need to roll]

3b2. The DM makes a die roll or instructs the player to make a die roll

“Go ahead and roll me an acrobatics skill check, because swinging across on a chandelier is pretty acrobatic.”

3b3. The DM determines the outcome of the die roll

You roll your d20, plus the appropriate modifiers, to find your result.

The player rolls a 6 on the d20, but plus his acrobatics skill modifier (which gives him a +3 bonus to acrobatics checks), his total is 9 – just under the DC for success.

3c. The DM decides an outcome

“Because you were just under the DC, I’m going to say that you made it across, but the chandelier broke on your way over, and is now resting at the bottom of the chasm.

3d. The DM describes the results of the action of the players

“One of you made it across, but the other two are going to have to find an alternative way across the chasm, because the chandelier is gone.”

4. Repeat from step 2.

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This script is used for absolutely everything in the game, from climbing out a window, to punching someone in the face, to jumping from a horse onto a dragon while shooting two laser guns sideways through the air while yelling.

Step 3b is an especially important point. Dungeons and Dragons is a dice game, but you don’t need to roll the dice for every single event. I won’t make you roll a dice to see if you can get up out of bed.

Finally, you may have noticed that the players barely do anything in that script. It is easy to be a player. Don’t get caught up in what skills you have or how high the numbers are next to a certain box. Think about what your character could do, not what your sheet says they’re good at.

There are only TWO things that a player character (PC) can do:

1. Ask the DM for more information about something.
DM: You see three goblins blocking your way!"
PC: What sort of weapons are they brandishing?"

2. Declare an action.
DM: You see three goblins blocking your way!"
PC: I draw my sword and attack the closest one!"

What not to do:

DM: “The guard refuses to let you pass into the baron’s castle.”
PC: “I roll an intimidate check. 14!”

What to do:

DM: “The guard refuses to let you pass into the baron’s castle.”
PC: “I tell him if he doesn’t, he may not have much of a family to go back home to tonight.”
DM: “Roll an intimidate check.”

It’s a subtle difference, but keeps this role-playing game from becoming a roll-playing game. (See what I did there?)

The Rules

Stone k_luhmert