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Thread: [Article] D&D 3.5 for Total Beginners

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    Mephibosheth's Avatar

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    Jul 2005
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    Default Article 1: Introduction

    Introduction to Dungeons & Dragons 3e

    Dungeons & Dragons (hereafter referred to as D&D) is a table-top role-playing game in which players use pencils, paper, polyhedral dice, and their imaginations to guide characters (often called “Player Characters” or “PCs”) through the dangers of a (usually-medieval, Europe-based) fantasy setting. The game can be seen as an exercise in cooperative storytelling, in which the participants create a story together as their characters interact with the imaginary world. In most cases, the players and their characters work together as a party.

    A D&D group consists of two or more people; the Dungeon Master (DM) and the players. The DM establishes the setting and plot for the game. He or she plans the adventures, determines the actions of monsters, non-player characters (NPCs), and the world around the PCs. Ideally, the DM creates adventures that challenge the players and force them to think creatively but that do not overwhelm the players and the abilities of the PCs. The players, on the other hand, control the actions of one PC within the world the DM creates, working on their own or with other PCs to overcome the challenges the world presents.

    Game Philosophy

    Before launching into more concrete topics, I want to say a brief word about the mindset that, in my opinion, players and DMs should have. D&D is, first and foremost, a game. It’s about having fun with your friends and exploring an exciting imaginary world. It is not unlike reading a book or watching a movie in the sense that it stimulates your imagination and provides a mechanism with which to interact with a different, perhaps more exciting and certainly more fanciful, world.

    Unlike most games, however, D&D is not about defeating your fellow players. To be sure, the PCs must overcome challenges and risk defeat with every encounter, but their goal should be to defeat the obstacle presented by the world, not their fellow players. Similarly, the DM should try to present a challenging encounter but should not actively try to destroy the PCs. There is a fine line between a fun challenge that may or may not claim the life of the PCs and a frustrating inevitable defeat against overwhelming force. DMs and players should not try to beat each other. D&D is fundamentally a cooperative exercise, where the players and the DM work together to challenge each other and have fun.

    Basic Mechanic
    D&D 3rd Edition (usually abbreviated “3e” or “3.5”) uses the d20 fantasy rules set, the basics of which are available for free (with a few exclusions) online at The rules set seems daunting at first and the rules are indeed extensive. However, the entirety of the rules set boils down to one simple mechanic:

    Roll one twenty-sided dice (called a “d20”) and add the relevant modifier

    The system functions by incorporating different modifiers for different tasks. To attack an opponent, roll 1d20 and add your attack bonus. To jump over a chasm, roll 1d20 and add your Jump skill modifier. To resist a magical assault on your mind or body, roll 1d20 and add the relevant save modifier. To break down a door, roll 1d20 and add your strength modifier.

    The Adventuring Party
    Most games of D&D (but not all) take place in the context of a small group of adventurers, usually 3-6 characters. They may be a mercenary company or a military Special Forces unit or a wandering group of exiles from a nearly-destroyed race, but they function as a team to overcome obstacles.

    Players usually (but not necessarily) create characters that fill a certain role in the party and reinforce or compliment the abilities of other characters. There are five archetypal party roles that are usually filled in one way or another.
    • Meat Shield/Tank – The meat shield is usually the character with the most formidable defenses, able to withstand or avoid damage and keep enemies away from more vulnerable members of the group. The meat shield is usually a warrior of some sort and most often focuses on conventional melee combat (i.e. hitting things hard with a big stick).
    • Skill Monkey – The skill monkey is usually a weaker, more vulnerable character. However, a skill monkey has specialized, non-magical skills that enable him to overcome or bypass challenges in ways other characters cannot. He may be able to climb, jump, and balance to go around or over obstacles. He may be able to use diplomacy or bluff to talk his way out of trouble and make deals. He may be able to pick locks or disable traps (often considered the key skill monkey ability).
    • Arcane Caster – Magic is an archetypal ability in fantasy settings and the arcane caster plays a crucial role in any party. Arcane magic is the magic of wizards and sorcerers, based on their ability to manipulate the laws of reality through study or innate talent. Arcane casters can rain fire down upon their enemies, they can control the minds of others, they can summon powerful creatures from other planes of existence, or they can enhance the abilities of their comrades. Arcane casters can have a number of specialties, but their abilities to re-make reality are formidable.
    • Divine Caster – While arcane magic is gained by the caster of his own ability, divine magic is granted to character by the gods. Clerics, priests, and druids use divine magic. Divine magic lacks the versatility and quirkiness of arcane magic but has several advantages. Divine magic is the only way to access healing spells (and indeed, some players call divine caster “healbots” and consider healing their primary role). It also has a wide array of spells that enhance the abilities of the caster and his or her comrades.
    • 5th Wheel – A 5th wheel character is a character who usually fills multiple roles in the party but doesn’t do so quite as effectively as someone who focuses in that role. They are jacks of all trades but masters of none. They fill gaps in the party and enhance and compliment the abilities of others.

    It is important to note that these aren’t the only party roles, just the most common. It is entirely possible (and in some cases, desirable) to create a character that doesn’t fit one of these roles perfectly or to make a party that doesn’t have all of these roles filled. A good DM and a good group of players can make any party configuration work. Again, the important thing is to have fun, not to play the game to win or “the way it’s supposed to be played.”

    Important Acronyms and Terms*
    D&D has an extensive specialized vocabulary. The following are brief explanations of some of the most common acronyms and terms.
    • AC – Your AC, or Armor Class, determines how well you can avoid being hit. It includes the type of armor or shield you use, how well you can dodge blows, how tough your skin is (in some cases), and a number of other factors. The higher your AC, the less often you’ll get hit.
    • BAB – Your BAB, or Base Attack Bonus, determines how well you can wield weapons. A high BAB allows you to hit your target more often. Your BAB is determined by the class you select and increases as you gain experience.
    • Buff – The use of an ability (usually a spell or similar effect) to improve your or your allies’ abilities.
    • DM – The Dungeon Master, or DM, builds and runs the world around the PCs, creating the adventures that make the game fun.
    • HP – Your HP, or Hit Points, determine how well you can take a hit. Having a lot of HP means that you can take a few hits and keep on going. HP is determined by your class and by your toughness.
    • NPC – Non-Player Characters, or NPCs, are any non-monstrous entities that exist in the game world and are controlled by the DM. The king of the country, the prison guard, the drunken bum in a tavern, and the highway robbers who try to take your money are all NPCs. NPCs are usually humanoid, though this need not necessarily be so. They are distinct from…
    • PC – Player Characters, or PCs, are the characters controlled by the players. They are obviously affected by the DMs world but should not be controlled by the DM.
    • Saves – Your ability to shrug off attacks on your body and mind is represented by your saves. Your fortitude save (fort) helps you avoid poison, disease, and being turned into a frog. Your reflex save (ref) helps you avoid being caught in explosions or trapped under avalanches. Your will save (will) helps you avoid mind control and telepathy.
    • Skills – Skills represent your ability to interact with the world in (by-and-large) non-violent ways. They include your ability to negotiate and bluff, to open locks, to pick pockets, you understand complex concepts and recall facts, to jump, climb, balance, and tumble, and a host of other things.
    • XP – Experience Points, which determine when your character moves to a new level and gains new abilities

    *I will probably be adding to this list as I write the other articles.
    Last edited by Mephibosheth; 2009-12-14 at 12:15 PM.
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