Secret Guide to D&D 5th edition
D&D 5 is a well built game, but sometimes it keeps its cards close to it's chest. It states each fact of the game exactly once, which sometimes makes it difficult to understand how all the pieces actually fit together.
This is how the game actually works. I did not figure most of this stuff out, other people did. I am deeply indebted to other players, forum users, and bloggers for their work.
Combat and the Action economy
During combat, there are three types of actions you take, and you normally only get one of each.
- One action. This is your regular action, and it happens on your turn. You have a choice of what you can do, but normally it'll be an attack or a dash action, which is extra movement.
- One bonus action. This happens on your turn. You don't always get a bonus action, they only come from certain spells and class abilities.
- One reaction. This happens during someone else's turn. This may be an attack of opportunity, certain spells, or a class ability like the rogue's Uncanny Dodge.
On your turn in combat, you can do any or all of the following, in any order:
- Take a regular action.
- Take a bonus action, if you have one.
- Move your full movement speed. This my be split up between other items on this list.
- Interact with something, like open a door or draw a sword. This is a small action.
At the early levels you'll probably just have a regular action. But as you gain levels you'll start to gain abilities and spells that give you access to reactions and bonus actions. But no matter how many abilities or spells you have, you still only get one reaction and one bonus action per round.
Some notes and caveats to keep in mind:
- The books use attack and action and turn very specifically. Pay attention to it. An attack is an action you take on your turn.
- Since an Attack of Opportunity is a reaction, you can only do it once per round.
- Some melee classes get Extra attacks. If you take an attack action, then you can attack more than once. But it's still only one action.
- Fighters will eventually get Action Surges, which allows them to take another Regular Action on their turn. They do not get another whole turn, just another regular action.
- Here's a tricky little piece: If you choose to Delay your action to take an action later in the round, then you need to use your reaction to take your regular action.
- If you're melee class with spellcasting, pay special attention to spells that can be cast as a reaction or bonus action. (For example: A rangers entering combat can cast Hunters Mark as a bonus action, and then still take their regular action to make an attack, but now with +1d6 damage.)
- A spell that is cast as a bonus action can not be cast as a regular action.
- If you cast a spell as a bonus action, then the only spell you can cast with your regular action is a cantrip.
There are four types of rolls:
If a spell or special ability affects one of these rolls, then it affects only that one, and not the others.
Note that critical hits and critical misses only apply to attack rolls.
- The ability roll. When you do something, or contest with something else. It's d20, plus your ability modifier, plus your proficiency bonus if you are proficient in that skill. An initative roll, a skill check, and a contested roll are all examples of an ability roll.
- The attack roll. When you attack someone or something. Maybe with a weapon, maybe with a spell. It's a d20, plus your relevant ability modifier, plus your proficiency bonus (normally). You want to roll higher that the target's AC.
- The saving throw. When you react to avoid or mitigate a problem. It's a d20, plus your proficiency bonus if you are proficient with that kind of save. (Your saving throw proficiency is based on your class.)
- The damage roll. This is how much damage your do. The dice is determined by the attack. You may be able to add an ability score modifier, but you never add your proficiency bonus.
Magic is more complicated in D&D 5 than in any previous edition.
Each magic-using class has three different things to keep track of:
- What spells you have available to you to prepare.
- What spells you choose to prepare that day.
- How many of your prepared spells you can actually use that day. (Spell slots)
You choose your prepared spells after a long rest, normally in the morning.
You regain all of your spell slots after a long rest. Except for warlocks, who regain all of their spell slots after a short rest. Wizards can regain a few of their spells after a short rest with Arcane Recovery.
For example, the classic wizard looks like this:
- Available spells: All the spells he has in his spellbook. He starts off with a limited number of spells, but can eventually put every spell in it.
- Prepared spells: Add your wizard level and your intelligence modifier. That's the number of spells you can prepare today.
- Casting: This is where the Spell Slots come in. Casting a level 2 spell will use up one level 2 spell slot. But it does not remove that spell from your list of prepared spells, so it can used again if you have another spell slot. So you can prepare Magic Missile just once and cast it mutiple times.
Here's the summary for all casting classes:
- Clerics, Druids, and Paladins - They have all their spells available to prepare, they prepare a subset, and spend spell slots to cast any of their prepared spells.
- Wizards - They do not know all their possible spells, but one day may. They prepare a subset, and spend spell slots to cast any of their prepared spells. They learn new spells when they gain levels. They can also learn new spells by copying scrolls or other spellbooks.
- Bards, Rangers, Sorcerors, and Warlocks - They only have small subset of all spells available to them, and they will never know every spell. But every spell they know is automatically prepared. They can spend their spell slots on any spell they know. They learn new spells by gaining levels. When they gain a level they may be able to switch out known spells for other spells.
How spells are cast
Most spells are cast as an action. But some spells are cast as a bonus action or a reaction. It's listed in the spell's Casting Time. You only get one bonus action and one reaction per round of combat, so pay attention to those spells.
When it comes to Material Components:
- If the component has no cost. You have it on your person, or you can use your totem or divine wumpwump in its place, so don't worry about it.
- If the component has a cost. You have to buy it.
There are two new features in 5e to be aware of: Rituals and Concentration.
Some spells can be cast regularly, or as a ritual. If you choose to cast a spell as a ritual, then:
- The spell takes an extra ten minutes to cast.
- You don't expend a spell slot. It's a "free" cast.
On important note: Ritual casting is meant to be used in casual environments, like at an inn. It is not meant to be used in combat, where each combat round takes 6 seconds. I mean, you can cast a ritual spell in combat, but it'll take you at least 60 rounds.
Some spells have an ongoing effect that have a Concentration requirement. This is listed under the spell's Duration. This means that in order to maintain the spell you have to keep concentrating on it.
Note that concentration doesn't mean intense focus, it just means that you're just keeping track of it in the back of your mind.
- You can take actions and do normal things while maintaining concentration.
- You can cast other spells while you are maintaining concentration.
- You can't have two concentration spells going at a time. You can only maintain one concentration spell at a time. There are no feats or abilities to change this fact.
- If you take damage, you have to make a Constitution Saving Throw, the DC is either 10 or half the damage taken, whichever is higher. Failure means the concentration spell comes to an immediate end.
- If want a proficiency in Constitution Saving Throw, take a look at the Resilient and War Caster feats.
Spells allow the players a huge amount of conceptual creativity. Sometimes you'll have to make a judgement call on what a spell should and should not be allowed to do. A good rule of thumb is a spell shouldn't be able to duplicate the affect of a higher level spell.
For example, casting the Light cantrip on the nose of an enemy wouldn't blind them, since Blindness/Deafness is a 2nd level spell. And if you want to know what a Minor Illusion cantrip can't do, check out the rest of the Illusion spell list.
Pay attention to what the spell can affect, because there is a difference between "creature" and "humanoid." A humanoid in D&D is not an adjective, it's a specific type of creature. Creatures like undead, giants, and fey are not humanoids, even if they have a human shape.
Identifying Magic Items
You have three ways to identify magic items:
- Stare at it for a while. Spending a short rest playing with a magic item will let you know what it is and how to use it. This is not the same as attuning.
- Cast Identify. Learn what an item is in one minute. Requires a pearl worth 100 gold, but the pearl is reusable.
- Cast Identify as a ritual. As above, but it takes eleven minutes.
There are many ways to regain HP.
- Long Rest - After 6 hours of sleep, you regain all your hit points. You can only take one long rest a day.
- Short Rest - The most confusing method, but also the most common. After 1 hour of relaxing, you can choose to use your Hit Dice to regain hit points. Hit dice is a weird concept in D&D5, and isn't used much. You have a number of hit dice from the dice you roll to gain HP when you level up. A level 3 Wizard has 3d6 hit dice. A level 8 Barbarian has 8d12 hit dice. So when you take a short rest you may use (roll) some of those hit dice to regain hit points. How do you regain hit dice? At the end of a long rest.
- Herbalism Healing Potion - Available for 50gp on the market. Restores 2d4+2 HP. No one is sure if these are meant to be magical, there's a lot of confusion on the matter between the DMG and the PHB. The Adventurer's League says that they are magical, but they don't count against your magic items. If your DM believes they aren't magical, then one can be crafted for 25gp in 5 days of downtime by someone with a proficiency in the herbalism kit. If your DM believes they are magical, then see the crafting rules for the Magical Healing Potion.
- Magical Healing Potion - Not easily available, but restores much more. Can be crafted by anyone with the appropriate spell and class level. See the DMG, and remember that non-permanent magic items cost 1/2 the regular cost, and that counts for one-use potions.
- Spells - Works as the spell says.