In the early editions of D&D monsters and characters had very different attributes, and you referenced scads of tables to figure out how they affected your chances of succeeding at various actions.
My friend Jonathan Tweet changed all that. He put all character and monster attributes on the same scale, and he dispensed with most of the tables in favor of the difficulty rating, which is a number you need to arrive at by adding modifiers to the roll of a twenty-sided die, or D20 for short.
The six main attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. For humanoid characters, they generally range in value from 3 to 18, with 3 being essentially handicapped in the attribute and 18 being exceptionally gifted. Monsters may have much higher scores in the attributes, but they’re still on the same scale, that is, where a comparison is at all meaningful. A zombie doesn’t have any intelligence, wisdom, or charisma, for instance. A really gigantic monster’s strength may not be practical to quantify.
In addition to the six attributes, characters have Hit Points, which are the amount of damage they can sustain, and Armor Class, which is how tough they are to hit. Characters also have a blanket bonus modifier called a proficiency bonus, which can be applied to skills they’re trained in, and to their combat rolls.
The power and prestige of a character is measured by the character’s level: as characters go up in level, they gain more hit points, a better proficiency bonus, and special skills. Characters start at first level and go up in levels as they gain enough experience points, or XP. They earn XP for defeating foes and solving puzzles.
Whew, that’s a lot to digest. Next I’ll give you some tips for putting it all together.
Next: Monster Stats, Character Sheets, and Adventure Modules