Definitions of the new words and acronyms you will encounter in Dungeons & Dragons.

This is support material for a guide about running your first Dungeons & Dragons game.
To read the guide, start at the beginning.

Artwork © Dean Spencer


A temporary condition that gives you a large boost or handicap to a roll. When you have advantage, you roll 2 dice and take the highest roll. When you have disadvantage, you roll 2 dice and take the lowest roll.

Dungeon Masters, game rules, and character abilities can all grant advantage or disadvantage to a player.


A series of encounters that provoke an interesting story by placing obstacles between the player characters and their goal.

Balanced Party

An adventuring party composed of characters that each fill a specific combat role. The basic combat roles are tank (draw enemy fire), healer (heal people), damage dealer (do high damage to enemies, and support (support other roles). A balanced party would have at least one of each combat role.


A long-lasting series of adventures that present a large story arc. They can last for months or years. Think of a story like Lord of the Rings.


An archetype for character creation, such as cleric, fighter, or wizard.

Dungeons & Dragons is a class-based game, which means that every player character must choose a class. The class you choose affects what types of moves will be available to you, and provides strong suggestions for how you might roleplay.

See the list of possible classes on DnD Beyond.

Core Books

The Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual are called the core books. Those three books contain the complete ruleset and basic options for Dungeons & Dragons.

Core Rule

The Core Rule is specific to Dungeons & Dragons. It states "When the outcome of an action is uncertain, the game relies on the roll of a d20 to determine success or failure."


Shorthand for a twenty-sided die. You can use the same shorthand for other dice, for example a ten-sided die could be written as d10. You can also add a multiplier in front to indicate how many dice you should roll, for example 2d10 means you should roll 2 ten-sided dice.

Difficulty Check (DC)

When someone rolls dice to see if they succeed at an action. DC is used as a shorthand to indicate when a difficulty check should happen and how difficult the action might be. For example, the shorthand DC 20 indicates that a player would need to roll a 20 or higher including modifiers to succeed.

Dungeon Master (DM)

The person in a Dungeons & Dragons game who is responsible for the actions of the world and the NPCs. The Dungeon Master is sometimes called the Game Master or Guide in other TTRPG systems.


A single scene within a TTRPG game session. It is an entertaining obstacle that the player characters must overcome. A fight with goblin raiders, a negotiation with a stubborn lord, or a breathtaking climb up a frozen mountain could all be encounters.

Experience points (XP)

A shorthand for experience points. Experience points are rewarded by the Dungeon Master when player characters accomplish certain goals or beat certain challenges. As player characters accumulate XP, they level up, grow stronger, and gain new abilities.

Gridded Map

A visual map of an area designed for allowing combat with tokens using a 2d grid.


The act of creating and using any content for your game that is not officially published by Wizards of the Coast.

Meta Gaming

When Players or Dungeon Masters use their knowledge from the real world to influence actions in the fictional world, even though the characters should not possess that knowledge. Imagine going to a play and then shouting at an actor on stage: "Don't trust him, he is going to murder you in the third act!"

For an example specific to Dungeons & Dragons, consider this: You are playing a brash fighter whose confidence always propels her to the front line of battle. As you approach a door in a dungeon, preparing to kick it open the way your fighter always does, you notice the Dungeon Master smile a little bit and reach for some dice. Suddenly your fighter stops, foot half raised, and becomes unusually cautious. In that moment, when you let your real world knowledge affect the behaviour of your fictional character, you were meta gaming.

It is surprisingly difficult not to meta game. Continue to practice and you will get better at spotting it and stopping it when you run games.

Non-Player Character (NPC)

A fictional character in the game world who is controlled by the Dungeon Master.


An adventure that is designed to last the length of one game session. The standard time for a game session is 3 to 4 hours.


Anyone playing a Tabletop Roleplaying Game who is not the Dungeon Master.

Player Character (PC)

A fictional character in the game world who is controlled by a player.

Rule of Cool

Giving your players the chance to bend the rules a bit for the sake of an awesome scene.

Rule Zero

The Dungeon Master is the final arbiter of all things in the game. They can change, make up, and remove any rule at any time. Most role playing game systems employ rule 0.

A thoughtful Dungeon Master does this in collaboration with their players, with a judge's sense of fairness.

Session Zero

A unique type of game session organized at the beginning of a campaign. Its focus is character creation and expectation setting. It is called session zero because no actual game play occurs during the session. You can learn more in this Geek & Sundry article.


The fictional world in which a campaign takes place. The setting provides the backdrop for every adventure and has a major influence on the feel of the game. They can be designed to convey a specific genre such as medieval fantasy, or gothic horror.

Skill Check

A specific type of difficulty check. When you ask for a skill check, you are asking players to perform a difficulty check and use a specific skill to determine which modifiers to use. For example, asking for a Strength check means asking someone to roll a d20 and add their strength modifier. Asking for a History check means asking someone to roll a d20 and add their history modifier.

Tabletop Roleplaying Game (TTRPG)

A category of game where friends get together (sometimes online) and create a collaborative story by taking the roles of fictional characters in an imaginary world. Dungeons & Dragons is a TTRPG.

Theatre of the Mind

A style of acting out combat without the use of a gridded Battle Map or miniatures. In this style, DMs and players describe their actions in combat. They sometimes use quick sketches to help describe a situation.


A visual representation of a character, monster, or object that is placed on a battle map.

Total Party Kill (TPK)

When every single player character dies.

Virtual Tabletop (VTT)

Specialized software designed for facilitating TTRPGs online. VTTs primarily allow you to display battle maps and place tokens on them to track combat positions. They also provide many other features to assist with the game such as digital dice rollers, chat, and even pre-built adventures.

Wizards of the Coast (WoTC)

The name of the company that owns the intellectual property rights for Dungeons & Dragons. WoTC publishes the core books and many more official materials for the game.

Continue to the next section

I. Introduction

What this guide is, who it's for, why we wrote it, and how to use it.

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