D&D 5E Rules

This page was developed as a repository to assist all of us in better understanding the game of D&D 5E we are playing. Coming from the old school days of … well … REALLY FRICKIN OLD 1st Edition+ … I find many times we are working a tad too hard to play the rules mostly because we are using concepts ingrained into our RPG minds since the dawn of dice times. The reality is that the 5E system has done away with many of the more in-depth rules in favor of a streamlined, faster pace. Please note that there are some negatives to the realism in 5E because of the streamlining but in the end, it results in balance of play … ONLY if we use all the rules though due to the built in synergies between concepts.

So I want us to learn these rules so we have more options and a better experience. I also hope that by everyone learning the system better, you can assist me as the DM to keep things moving faster. There is still a lot to organize and being online doesn't make it easier in some cases. We need to teach some old dogs new tricks and I hope this helps. Keep in mind, all of you should have access to most the source books on D&D Beyond as well (Thanks go to El Jefe and his "donations"). So start sparking your interest and digging into the D&D world.

I tried to simplify things as much as possible to as to reduce the required reading for those of us that follow a "Don't read much … hurts ma'brain" philosophy. The content is all derived from source materials as well as Sage Advice articles (official developer Q&As). I thought this important since it appears that even some of the "best" playing groups (Critical Roll was used as an example) are still playing some of the rules incorrectly due to a lack of understanding (specifically Surprise and Passive scores). Nothing wrong with "doing it your own way" except that in most cases, they are performing more work to accomplish less results because of a lack of understanding. That's what I want to avoid.


Passive Scores (Perception, Investigation and Insight)

Passive Scores for skill is the baseline for all rolls. If the roll is lower then the passive is used.

Skills with Passive Scores only require active rolls when specific situations are being addressed ...

  • Seeing if there is a trap on a chest (Investigation).

  • Determining how to open a discovered secret door (Investigation).

  • Noticing a lie when you already have initial conflicting information (its a VS roll but still a roll - Insight).

Passive Scores cover general situations such as ...

  • Searching for secret doors in a room (Perception).

  • Looking for traps in a hallway (Perception).

  • Getting an idea that you aren't being told the whole truth (Insight).

In some cases, another party member(s) who has proficiency in the same skill can "help" with a roll by providing Advantage on the check.

Stealth Checks are a VS roll against the Perception Passive Score.

Trap Detection Checks are a Perception Passive Score unless there is a specific target you are concentrating your focus on such as a chest or drawer in which case it becomes an active Roll on Investigation.

Trap Disarm is a Dexterity Roll with Proficiency in Thieves Tools required and Advantage if you have Proficiency in Investigation.

Wealth & Living

Each character has a Standard of Living based on how comfortable they want to be in life. For adventurers, this cost represents many things including ...

  • Rations for the road & Food while in town

  • Inn stays & mount boarding (fodder & shoeing)

  • Simple spell components (this does not include those that cost 10gp per or more)

  • Gear and weapon maintenance (sharpening, ammunition, dent removal, cloth sewing, etc.)

  • General living (entertainment, donations, small item purchases, etc.)

The formula is ... Character's Level x Wealth Factor = GP cost per Day ...

As the Character's Level increases, the cost of living goes up due to the higher needs of their career ... better gear, greater spell components and so on.

Adventurers are assumed to hold at least a Modest lifestyle if not more considering what they do for an occupation and the rewards that it usually entails. The DM can alter this to be lower if a story needs be but overall, the high risk of such a career leads to wealth (or death).

  • Modest 1

  • Comfortable 2

  • Wealthy 4

  • Aristocratic 10 (may be more)

Modest. A modest lifestyle keeps you out of the slums and ensures that you can maintain your equipment. You live in an older part of town, renting a room in a boarding house, inn, or temple. You don't go hungry or thirsty, and your living conditions are clean, if simple. Ordinary people living modest lifestyles include soldiers with families, laborers, students, priests, hedge wizards, and the like.

Comfortable. Choosing a comfortable lifestyle means that you can afford nicer clothing and can easily maintain your equipment. You live in a small cottage in a middle-class neighborhood or in a private room at a fine inn. You associate with merchants, skilled tradespeople, and military officers.

Wealthy. Choosing a wealthy lifestyle means living a life of luxury, though you might not have achieved the social status associated with the old money of nobility or royalty. You live a lifestyle comparable to that of a highly successful merchant, a favored servant of the royalty, or the owner of a few small businesses. You have respectable lodgings, usually a spacious home in a good part of town or a comfortable suite at a fine inn. You likely have a small staff of servants.

Aristocratic. You live a life of plenty and comfort. You move in circles populated by the most powerful people in the community. You have excellent lodgings, perhaps a townhouse in the nicest part of town or rooms in the finest inn. You dine at the best restaurants, retain the most skilled and fashionable tailor, and have servants attending to your every need. You receive invitations to the social gatherings of the rich and powerful, and spend evenings in the company of politicians, guild leaders, high priests, and nobility. You must also contend with the highest levels of deceit and treachery. The wealthier you are, the greater the chance you will be drawn into political intrigue as a pawn or participant.

Be a Tool

Tools are highly underappreciated and yet, Wizards of the Coast continues to develop them out and provide them as stronger solutions than just skills. Example, there is no Pick Lock or Disarm Traps skills ... there are just Thieves Tools which anyone can learn (eventually) to perform these tasks. Driving a horse cart or steering a ship lack representative skills and fall under Tools proficiency (Land or Water Vehicles). Even brewing potions of healing or creating magic items or armor are not Skills but Tools. The goal of the developers is to alleviate the burden of skills by assuming that the Proficiency in the Tool means you have learned the Skill to use them for their purpose. This reduces 5E's skill list significantly from the old days of ten thousand skills and subskills (see Pathfinder).

Unfortunately, the SRD rules are not as complete as the flushed out rules found in Xanathar's Guide to Everything ... so I've created some Homebrew tools in D&D Beyond with the advanced rules to replace the current standard tools. For those that have tools, I've already replaced the items so they will show up in your inventory both on D&D Beyond as well as Foundry VTT.

I HIGHLY recommend everyone check out the different tool sets because there may be a time (there have been many already) that your Tool proficiency could offer you a better option to deal with a situation, challenge or even solve a puzzle. If you do not have any Tool proficiencies, keep in mind that you can actually train them without a level up using the Downtime rules. This would require some time but such may appear between chapters in the adventures. If not, at least you would have an understanding of the potential available for future characters, adventures or even controlling other missing PCs.

Other stuff we didn't know ...

This is not your old school timing …

  • A Turn is your time to act: Action, Bonus Action, Move

  • A Round is six seconds and includes EVERYONE'S Turn.

  • There are ten (10) Rounds in a Minute … this is a standard grouping.

There is No Surprise Round in 5E

  • Initiative is rolled immediately upon engagement ... whether both sides are aware or not.

  • Stealth Check VS Passive Perception determines Surprised condition for each individual in engagement

  • If you have the Surprised condition, you cannot move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you cannot take a reaction until that turn ends (please note … this is the end of your TURN … not the ROUND).

With the exception of Cantrips …

  • You may cast only ONE SPELL per Turn.

  • Spell for Action, Cantrip for Bonus Action

  • Spell for Bonus Action, Cantrip for Action

The Pen IS mighty as heck …

  • Scrolls are very powerful but some limits.

  • Anyone may use a spell scroll if the spell is available to their class (even if its higher level then they are).

  • If the spell is higher level than you normally may cast, there are potential consequences for failure.

    • If the spell is on your class's spell list but of a higher level than you can normally cast, you must make an ability check using your spellcasting ability to determine whether you cast it successfully. The DC equals 10 + spell's level. On a failed check, the spell disappears from the scroll with no other effect. - page 200 DMG

  • You can purchase/make scrolls fairly easily relative to most other magic items.