Tuesday, March 7, 2017


This bare-bones guide is designed to help a brand new player become more familiar with 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It can be a daunting game to get into; looking at a character sheet it seems like a chaotic scramble of math, and trying to decipher it can be frustrating at first. Really though, a player can learn a lot about the sheet and information by simply understanding the terminology. Ideally, this is the sort of guide that you could refer new players to as an option to help them rationalize the character creation steps.

There are 6 attributes that represent your character’s basic physical and mental ability. They are CharismaConstitution, DexterityIntelligenceStrength, and Wisdom; these attributes are often abbreviated to CHA, CON, DEX, INT, STR, and WIS. These 6 attributes form the foundation of everything your character does in the world. Their numbers typically vary from 8 to 18, but as you level up, they can increase much higher. 10 is the human average, but your characters in Dungeons and Dragons are above average (they are heroes after all) and so their attribute values reflect that.

Attribute Modifiers serve as a quick way to gauge how much faster, stronger, smarter, etc you are than the average person. To calculate your strength modifier, you look at your strength attribute and subtract 10, then divide that number by 2, rounding down. A character with 15 strength has an attribute modifier of +2. The other attribute modifiers can be calculated the same way. You can use the same basic logic if your attribute is under 10; remember that what you are really calculating is the attribute’s absolute value from 10, halved. A character with 8 wisdom has a wisdom modifier of -1, not -9.

Every character has a race. Humans, Elves, and Dwarves are all examples of these. Your race is what defines your basic starting attributes, and often will give you other unique benefits. Elves are known for their grace and agility, so they get a bonus to their Dexterity attribute. Dwarves are known for their resilience and durability, so they get a bonus to their Constitution attribute. Other races get similar bonuses to reflect their own strong suites.

Races also grant you unique benefits. Elves are able to move more easily through tangled bushes, for instance, since they have a unique connection to nature. Dragonborn, a noble race of reptiles, can breathe fire.

Every character has a class, or discipline, that reflects your general training, goals, and the way others perceive you. Cleric, Fighter, and Wizard are all classes, but there are also many more. Think of your class kind of as your job.

There are four defenses: AC (Armor class), Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. These numbers all start at 10, the human average.

Your AC is your generic armor rating, and represents how difficult it is for enemies to hit you with an attack. Most attacks are against your AC. To calculate your AC, you start with 10, add half your level, and add your armor’s defense. Heavy armor like plate mail adds a lot more than light armor like cloth and leather. If you are wearing light armor though, you can also add your DEX or INT modifier (whichever is higher). This represents your character's ability to move quickly in light armor, the way they can't in heavy plate mail.

Some attacks, like many poisons, target your Fortitude, or how well you are able to endure the harsh conditions they impose on your body. To calculate your fortitude, you start with 10 and add half your level, then add your STR or CON modifier (whichever is higher).

Other attacks are measured against your Reflex, which is your character’s ability to dodge and react. These are typically surprising attacks, or represent a quick balance-related check. To calculate it, you start with 10 and (you guessed it) add half your level. Then you add your INT or DEX modifier, just like you did with your AC.

Many spells and mental tricks target your Will defense. Will represents your character’s mental stability, self confidence, and bravery. Will uses your CHA or WIS (whichever is higher) but otherwise you can calculate it the same way you would your Fortitude or Reflex defense.

Your skills represent unique training in various tasks. Things like climbing a wall or picking a lock, bluffing a guard or knowing about herbal lore are all skills. Your class will determine how many skills you know, and which ones you have available to you. For instance, a Fighter usually cannot train in Arcana (knowledge of spells and magic). As adventurers gain levels, they have options to gain training in additional skills through feats and multi-classing, but for now, you don't really need to worry about them.

To calculate a skill, first start with the relevant attribute modifier. Add half your level, always rounding down. If you are trained in the skill, add 5 to it. That’s it.

Powers are the different attacks and tricks that your character can use in combat. They are determined by which class you are, but there are still a wide variety of powers to choose from. There are three kinds of powers: At-will powers can be used as much as you want, Encounter powers can be used once per fight, and Daily powers can be used once a day.

Most powers are attacks, so here is how you calculate an attack. Combat in Dungeons and Dragons consists of an attack roll and a damage roll.

The attack roll determines whether your attack hit or not. As with most things in Dungeons and Dragons, it starts with half your level. You also add the relevant modifier (usually strength for melee, or dexterity for ranged attacks). Finally, if you are using a weapon, that weapon will also give you a proficiency bonus (+1 to +3) to your attack.

The damage roll is even simpler. You roll a dice for damage, and add the relevant modifier (usually STR or DEX) to the result. The dice size is determined by the weapon you’re using.

Most characters start with a single feat, but you will get more as you gain levels. Feats represent heroic exploits that make your character special. There are over a hundred, so don’t worry too much about picking one. Most feats add a modifier to something somewhere, or give your character a new power.

That’s almost everything, but your character also has a few random bits of information associated with them.
Passive skill checks are skill checks that aren’t rolled. Usually insight or perception, they represent your character’s ability to notice things when you aren’t looking for them. To calculate them, add 10 to the skill.

determines how fast your character moves. It is determined by your race; most move 6 squares, or 30 feet, on their turn.

Initiative represents how fast your character acts in combat. To calculate it, just use your dexterity modifier.