A beginners guide to using D&D Beyond whilst playing D&D
As noted in my earlier articles, in my first game as DM I had a few players who were new to D&D and all players were new to D&D Beyond. To help with this I created the following guide to help a new D&D player understand how to use D&D Beyond during play because I couldn’t find one elsewhere. If I have made any mistakes, I can only apologise and blame it on my relative newness to DMing.
This article is a mixture of the core rules, the D&D Starter set, D&D Beyond and how I choose to DM. ITs main aim is to glue together the rules in the starter set and the D&D Beyond character builder so that new players understand how to read and interact with it.
Hope you find this useful.
A Beginners guide to using D&D Beyond whilst playing D&D
- Passive Senses
- Group checks, Retries and Helping others
- Leveling up
A note on some of the basics of the character sheet on D&D beyond and how we use it in game. This is not intended to be a complete overview.
Your character sheet will look something like this:
It’s also worth noting that this section highlighted in red in the following image is tabbed and so you can click areas of it to see detail on other sections:
Click a tab and it will move you to the relevant section:
Often you can click the text to see more detail on a subject:
If you click the numbers … often it rolls a dice for you … if you wish to use these virtual dice rather than real dice that’s up to you … but I prefer rolling physical dice … there’s something … tangible about it! This can be super useful though as a way to learn which dice to roll:
During the course of the game I will ask you to make checks … often to judge how successful you are at something. Checks are often driven by your actions, ie:
- “Can I jump this gap?”
- “Can I convince this person to let me past?”
- “Can I steal that person’s purse?”
There are two types of “check”, let’s call them “core” checks and “skill” checks.
This is where the core checks are located on the D&D Beyond character sheet:
For instance, if you asked if you could bash down the door … I might ask you to “make a strength check”. You would then roll a D20 and add your strength modifier (the value in the box, in the example its ‘+1’) and tell me the result:
In this case a ‘12’. I would then explain the result of your action and how successful it had been.
If something is a little more involved I might ask you to use one of the skill checks, located here on the D&D Beyond character sheet:
For instance, you might say: “I want to sneak past the guard”, in which case I would ask you to “make a stealth check”. You would then roll a D20 and add your Stealth modifier (the value in the box, in the example its ‘-1’) and tell me the result:
In this case … a 3 … not very stealthy!
I might ask ‘if you are proficient in something then you can roll’ … for instance … I might say “everyone who is proficient in History can make a check to see if they know anything about the history of the ‘Evil King’”. You can tell if you are proficient in something by looking for the black dots:
In the example the character is proficient in Deception, Insight, Medicine and Survival.
By clicking each skill you can see more detail as to what type of thing each one relates to. If you have a modifier of +1 or above … your character is pretty good at it … if you have a 0 or below … your character is pretty bad at it. This is useful to remember when you are playing your character. For instance, if you want something to happen but aren’t very good at it … it might be more beneficial for the group to find a way to ask another character if they want to do it, if you know they are good at it. Bonus points if you manage to do it in character! :)
During the course of the game I will ask you to make saves … often to judge if something has an impact on you. Saves are often driven by things outside of your control, ie:
- The floor gives way and you fall down a hole
- A dragon breathes poison gas over you
- A vampire tries to control your mind
The saves section located here on the D&D Beyond character sheet:
For instance, I might say: “the dragon rears back its head and releases a cloud of noxious poison gas over you. Make a constitution saving throw”. You would then roll a D20 and add your Constitution (its abbreviated to CON in the example) modifier (the value in the box, in the example its ‘+3’) and tell me the result:
In this case we rolled a 12 and we added 3 so, 15. We managed to hold our breath and not breathe in too much of the poison gas. Good work!
Some things happen without you focusing or directing them, for instance, would you spot thieves operating in the area or that you are heading into an ambush. This area on the D&D beyond character sheet denotes how likely you are to passively spot these things without necessarily looking out for them:
For instance, if you were walking into an ambush I might ask what your passive perception is to see if you spot it or if the attackers surprise you.
This area also describes whether you have Darkvision or not and what range it has. Dark vision can be thought of as similar to how cats can see better in the dark than humans. Some races can see better in the dark than others.
As with actions, you can perform any spell outside of combat as you can in combat, and some spells and actions are specifically made to be done OUTSIDE of combat. It’s worth noting though things like:
- the time it takes to cast,
- and the amount of time it lasts
Group checks, Retries and Helping others
I don’t know if these are different from the ‘rules as written’ but it’s worth marking these as ‘homebrew’ as they are rules we will follow.
I may ask that you take certain roles as a group. A common reason for this is stealth. For instance, you may all be trying to sneak through a cave and instead of individual rolls I may ask that you take the roll as a group. In this instance, everyone in the group will roll and then I will average that number out to get a ‘group roll’.
To prevent abuse and constant re-rolling and checking, I will only allow TWO attempts at a thing. Want to knock down that door? Try it once, try it twice, after that it won’t budge. To then succeed at that task might take a period of sustained effort. For instance, you might decide you are willing to take 30 minutes to chop at this door with an axe, but some other things might prove impossible, turns out the door is made of Iron and no amount of axe chopping is going to get through it.
Instead of rolling yourself for something, you can instead help another person do their job better. 2 folks keeping watch? One of you has an awesome perception, the other not so great? Instead of rolling a dice each, you can choose to lend your role to the person with the better perception and they can then roll ‘with Advantage’. See the Advantage/Disadvantage section later.
At some point, we are going to be punching people in the face. And that’s ok. The trigger for combat will often be me saying ‘Let’s roll for initiative’. Initiative decides the order in which everything involved in the fight goes. This applies equally to you (the player) and the things you are fighting. Based on this initiative order, we then take turns.
To roll for initiative you roll a d20 and add you initiative modifier:
In this case 7, (1d20 plus our initiative modifier of -1 means that when we roll an 8 our initiative is 7)
I’ll say something like:
- “Did anyone get over 20?” and wait for a response,
- “Anyone get 15-20?”, wait for a response,
- “10-15?”, wait,
- “5-10”, wait,
- “less than 5”.
This will help me create the turn order for those involved.
Combat can either take place ‘in the theatre of the mind’ or on a map. For simpler combats, the ‘theatre of the mind’ is good enough. For more complex combats we will use a map. During combat I will share my screen so you can see the map, but you will also be able to access the map using Roll20. Here is an example map:
(This map was lovingly created using the excellent Random dungeon creator)
You may not see a whole map at once like this in game, depending on how much your characters know of the place. You will also notice that it is made up of squares, which roughly correspond to 5ft. You and your band will move about the map swashbuckling and magicing your way to victory.
In your turn you can do 3 things:
- take an action,
- and take a bonus action.
You do not have to do these things separately on a specific order. For instance you could use some of your movement, then take an action, then use a bit more movement, then take a bonus action, then use the rest of your movement.
Using your movement, you can move a total distance that is equal to your movement value on the D&D beyond character sheet:
An action is something that will take up most of your time in your turn. The most common ones are attacking a creature, casting a spell or running. However, it’s worth taking some time to look at the other options, I will only talk about the common 3 here. You can see more detail on action and what it lets you do by clicking the action:
You can use your action to move quickly, this is called a dash. It allows you to use your entire movement speed again. For instance, in this example which has a movement speed of 25, you could move 25 with your movement and then move ANOTHER 25 with the Dash action for 50 in total. Useful for sticky situations!
You can use your action to attack an enemy creature. First you need to pick a weapon to attack with, you can see your weapons that can be used for attacking here:
First check if something is in range, the range of the weapon will be described here:
If a target is in range then you can roll to hit by rolling a d20 and adding the hit modifier:
In the example, you have attempted to strike an opponent with your Warhammer, which has a 5ft range. You rolled an 8 and added the modifier of +3 to get 11. You then tell me that score and I compare this with the AC (Armor Class, this will be discussed further in the Armor Class section) of the creature you are attacking.
If you miss, there is no further effect, the attack either swings wildly or bounces of the creatures armor, or whatever. If you hit you then roll for damage. The damage the weapon does is explained in the damage section:
This will be the most common time we use a different die than the d20. In this case, we would role 1 d8 and then add a +1 because of our modifier.
Boom! We rolled an 8! That’s 9 points of damage to our target. And that’s the attack over and so we finish our action
Casting a spell
Every spell is different and some require no action on your part, for instance, they may force the target to make a save, which would fall under the rules outlined earlier in the Saves section. Others require you ‘to hit’ in a similar way to attacks and that is what we are going to show here. To hit with a spell requires a similar set of actions as with physical attacks. First we check the range:
In this case we are going to use ‘Guiding Bolt’ to attack a creature within 120ft. We then roll to hit using our ‘Spell DC modifier’:
We rolled a d20 and got 15, we then added our modifier of +4 to get 19. This is then compared to the target’s AC to see if it hits.
If it misses, the spell dissipates harmlessly, if it hits we roll for damage!
Now ‘Guiding Bolt’ does 4d6 damage, so we roll, add it up and apply the damage to the creature. 8! The spell is over and so is our action. It’s worth repeating that not all spells attack like this, and many have additional effects beyond simply doing damage. So it’s worth reading the spell details and making sure you understand what it does, you can see the extra detail by clicking on the spell:
In this case, a successful hit with ‘guiding bolt’ means that the next creature to try and attack this creature ALSO gets advantage (advantage will be explained later) to hit them! Bonus!
Note: As a homebrew rule, any spell which specifies it’s a bonus action can be cast using an action instead. This does not allow you to circumvent the rules around casting times.
If you roll a 20 to hit, that is, the natural roll of the dice without any modifiers is a 20, then this is a ‘critical hit’. Critical hits allow you to DOUBLE the DICE ROLL of the hit (Note: This is different from the rules as written, or is a ‘homebrew’ rule). If we take the example above then the normal damage role would have been:
1d8+1 and we rolled an 8, which means we did 9 points of damage.
The critical version of this hit would be:
((1d8)x2)+1 and we rolled an 8 which means we did 17 points of damage
We ONLY double the dice roll. We DO NOT double the modifiers.
A bonus action is something you can do in addition to your movement and action. It is not a slightly crappy version of action. The list of bonus actions available to your character is here:
The list of bonus actions that are available to your character is unique and you should read through them.
Drinking a potion
In the official rules drinking a potion is classed as ‘using an object’ and so is classed as an action. I will allow drinking a potion to be a bonus action. (Note: This is different from the rules as written and is a ‘homebrew’ rule)
Other bonus actions
There are a host of things that you may want to do in combat that aren’t necessarily covered by the rules. If you think it’s not covered, just ask me whether it’s an action or bonus action. Type of things I will consider to be a bonus action:
- Picking something up, but not using it
- Discarding something
- Swapping weapons
But it’s always worth asking if you think it’s not covered.
Things to do when it’s not your turn
The most common things you will be doing when its not your turn (apart from devising ingenious strategies to try and execute in your turn!) are:
- understand if an attack his hit you,
- make saving throws,
- record damage to your character,
- or take a reaction.
Understanding if an attack hit you
An enemy will make an attack in the same way you do (except I will roll the dice) this value will then be compared to your AC (armor class) which is visible here:
This means an attacker would have to roll an 18 or higher to hit you, that is ‘greater than OR equal to’. The higher your AC the less likely you are to get hit.
I will say something like ‘the zombie rolled a 10 to hit’ and you will tell me whether it hits or not based on your AC.
Making saving throws
Some attacks will ask you to make saving throws rather than roll to hit. This is most common in attacks that might require you to jump out the way, or hold your breath, like lightning bolts or poison gas. See the saves section for how you do this.
If the attack hits and does damage then damage should be recorded against your character. You can do this here:
I will tell you how much damage you take, you then must take this away from your current hit points. Enter the amount and press the ‘Damage’ button:
And your hit points will be updated accordingly:
Once you reach 0 hit points you will be knocked out. IF this happens I will talk you through it … it does not mean you are dead. We start a process called ‘death saving throws’ if you want to google what happens.
It’s also possible that you might make a reaction outside of your turn. The list of available reactions is here:
The most common is opportunity attack. An opportunity attack is when an enemy you were previously fighting runs away from you, as they run away, you get the chance to strike. This is played out as a normal attack (see Attack section). You can only do ONE reaction per round of initiative. That is, if 3 enemies run away from you, you can only use your reaction ONCE.
Any roll can have advantage or disadvantage due to circumstance. I will tell you when these apply, for instance you may take an enemy by surprise, or an enemy may be difficult to hit because they are at the long range for your weapon.
Your natural advantages or disadvantages are indicated on your D&D character sheet with either an ‘A’ or a ‘D’ and you should be aeware of these, you can see an example here:
In this example the character naturally has Advantage against poison saving throws and disadvantage on stealth checks. On top of any environmental or other reasons for having advantage or disadvantage. A full list of reasons can be googled.
You roll the dice twice and take the highest
You roll the dice twice and take the lowest
You cannot ‘stack’ advantages/disadvantages … for example, multiple causes of advantage do not lead to you rolling the dice 3 or 4 times and taking the highest
Any number of advantages and disadvantages cancel each other out. You may have 20 things in your favour causing advantage … but if there is one reason to disadvantage, it becomes a straight roll and vice versa.
Advantage and Disadvantage are not the same as re-rolling. Re-rolls allow the ‘advantage’ dice to be re-rolled. Which may feel like rolling three times. But it’s not! There are many reasons to re-roll (ie the dice lands cocked and you can’t tell what number it is), this is a re-roll.
There are two types of rest, long rests and short rests. They allow your character to recuperate after a battle or other strenuous activity.
It’s easier to google the difference rather than re-write the ins and outs, but short rests allow you to heal a bit, whereas long rests allow you to heal a lot and regain things like spell slots. Some actions REQUIRE a short or long rest before they can be used again.
If you decide to take a short rest hit the short rest button in D&D beyond:
This will tell you how many hit points and what not you can recover (by rolling dice)
If you decide to take a long rest then hit the long rest button:
Which will heal all your wounds!
On the adventures you take, you will at times ‘level up’. This will be done on a ‘milestone’ basis and be decided by me as and when this happens. This represents your character just getting generally better. It often unlocks new skills or abilities, or improves existing ones. After leveling up it’s worth looking through your character sheet again and understanding the changes and the impact they have had.
If you do something pretty damn awesome. Be it a lovely character moment or an excellent strategy, I will hand out inspiration. That point of inspiration can be then be used to re-roll a dice.
Phew. Hopefully this is helpful and helps you start making sense of the D&D beyond character sheet and how it maps to the rules of D&D.
It is not intended as a full rule mapping, but provides insight to some of the more common occurrences and how to use D&D Beyond in those cases.