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.

On your turn in combat, you can do any or all of the following, in any order:

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:

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.


Magic is more complicated in D&D 5 than in any previous edition.

Spellcasting Paradigm

Each magic-using class has three different things to keep track of:

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:

Here's the summary for all casting classes:

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:

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:

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.


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:


There are many ways to regain HP.