[RPG] What are the most essential rules in D&D 5e?


I want to create a quick reference sheet for new players in my D&D 5e campaign. Sessions include an even mix of combat, exploration, and social situations, so the sheet should ideally deal with all three.

What would be a sensible list of rules (and other guidance) for first time players to have on hand?

Answers might include reference to an example of such a sheet online, but should not only include a link to one, as I want to create my own.

Best Answer

The group I use this with:

I run organized play at a boarding high school: almost all my kids come into a year unfamiliar with D&D. Our sessions tend to be 1/2 social, 1/4 exploration, 1/4 combat, 'cause the kids really like chatting with the town drunk, trying to intimidate yetis, and the like.

That said, the times they get tripped up on rules and need a quick reference almost always occur during combat. Thus I've put together a half-page reference sheet based off of the things that tend to trip up my kids:

Player's Reference

  • Ability/Skill checks
  • Combat
    • intiative/surprise
    • on your turn: move, action, bonus action, talk, interact
    • on another's turn: reaction, opportunity attack, readied action
    • movement rules
    • actions: attack, cast, dash, disengage, dodge, help, hide, ready, use an object, anything else you think of!
    • attack rules
  • Damage: track current HP separate from HP max, instant death, death saves, stability
  • (Dis)advantage
  • Resting
    • short rest: >=1hr + >0HP; at end may spend hit dice to regain HP, class features
    • long rest: >=8hr, >0HP; at end regain all HP, spell slots, class features
  • Saving throws

Each item gets a line or two, if necessary and I fit it all on the top half of an A4 sheet, in 3 columns. For example, here's the entry for "ability/skill checks":

ability/skill check description

I'm happy to send it along to you if you'd like to see the full example. Pop into [chat] and you're more likely than not to find me.