How to Play
The play of the UESTRPG game unfolds according to this basic pattern.
1. The GM Describes the Environment.
The GM tells the players where their adventurers are and what’s around them, presenting the basic scope of options that present themselves (how many doors lead out of a room, what’s on a table, who’s in the tavern, and so on).
2. The Players Describe What They Want to Do.
Sometimes one player speaks for the whole party, saying, “We’ll take the east door,” for example. Other times, different adventurers do different things: one adventurer might search a treasure chest while a second examines an esoteric symbol engraved on a wall and a third keeps watch for monsters. The players don’t need to take turns, but the GM listens to every player and decides how to resolve those actions.
Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. If an adventurer wants to walk across a room and open a door, the GM might just say that the door opens and describe what lies beyond. But the door might be locked, the floor might hide a deadly trap, or some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task. In those cases, the GM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.
3. The GM Narrates the Results of the Adventurers’ Actions.
Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right back to step 1.
This pattern holds whether the adventurers are cautiously exploring a ruin, talking to a devious prince, or locked in mortal combat against a mighty dragon. In certain situations, particularly combat, the action is more structured and the players (and GM) do take turns choosing and resolving actions. But most of the time, play is fluid and flexible, adapting to the circumstances of the adventure.
Often the action of an adventure takes place in the imagination of the players and GM, relying on the GM’s verbal descriptions to set the scene. Some GMs like to use music, art, or recorded sound effects to help set the mood, and many players and GMs alike adopt different voices for the various adventurers, monsters, and other characters they play in the game. Sometimes, a GM might lay out a map and use tokens or miniature figures to represent each creature involved in a scene to help the players keep track of where everyone is.
Does an adventurer’s sword swing hurt a dragon or just bounce off its iron-hard scales? Will the ogre believe an outrageous bluff? Can a character swim across a raging river? Can a character avoid the main blast of a fireball, or does he or she take full damage from the blaze? In cases where the outcome of an action is uncertain, the UESTRPG game relies on rolls of a 20-sided die, a d20, to determine success or failure.
Every character and monster in the game has capabilities defined by six attribute scores. The attributes are Strength, Agility, Endurance, Intelligence, Willpower, and Personality, and they typically range from 3 to 18 for most adventurers. (Monsters might have scores as low as 1 or as high as 30.) These attribute scores, and the attribute modifiers derived from them, are the basis for almost every d20 roll that a player makes on a character’s or monster’s behalf.
Attribute checks, attack rolls, and saving throws are the three main kinds of d20 rolls, forming the core of the rules of the game. All three follow these simple steps.
1. Roll the Die and Add a Modifier.
Roll a d20 and add the relevant modifier. This is typically the modifier derived from one of the six attribute scores, and it sometimes includes a proficiency bonus to reflect a character’s particular skill. (See chapter 1 of the Basic Rules for details on each attribute and how to determine an attribute’s modifier.)
2. Apply Circumstantial Bonuses and Penalties.
A class feature, a spell, a particular circumstance, or some other effect might give a bonus or penalty to the check.
3. Compare the Total to a Target Number.
If the total equals or exceeds the target number, the attribute check, attack roll, or saving throw is a success. Otherwise, it’s a failure. The GM is usually the one who determines target numbers and tells players whether their attribute checks, attack rolls, and saving throws succeed or fail.
The target number for an attribute check or a saving throw is called a Difficulty Class (DC). The target number for an attack roll is called an Armor Class (AC).
This simple rule governs the resolution of most tasks in UESTRPG play. Chapter 7 of Basic Rules the provides more detailed rules for using the d20 in the game.
Advantage and Disadvantage
Sometimes an attribute check, attack roll, or saving throw is modified by special situations called advantage and disadvantage. Advantage reflects the positive circumstances surrounding a d20 roll, while disadvantage reflects the opposite. When you have either advantage or disadvantage, you roll a second d20 when you make the roll. Use the higher of the two rolls if you have advantage, and use the lower roll if you have disadvantage. For example, if you have disadvantage and roll a 17 and a 5, you use the 5. If you instead have advantage and roll those numbers, you use the 17.
More detailed rules for advantage and disadvantage are presented in chapter 7 of Basic Rules.
Specific Beats General
In the Basic Rules, it contains the rules, especially in parts 2 and 3, that govern how the game plays. That said, many racial traits, class features, spells, magic items, monster abilities, and other game elements break the general rules in some way, creating an exception to how the rest of the game works. Remember this: If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins.
Exceptions to the rules are often minor. For instance, many adventurers don’t have proficiency with longbows, but every Wood Elf does because of a racial trait. That trait creates a minor exception in the game. Other examples of rule-breaking are more conspicuous. For instance, an adventurer can’t normally pass through walls, but some spells make that possible. Magic accounts for most of the major exceptions to the rules.
There’s one more general rule you need to know at the outset. Whenever you divide a number in the game, round down if you end up with a fraction, even if the fraction is one-half or greater.