If anyone is interested in getting a full rundown of the game mechanics, they can be found in the Player’s Handbook, or one of the two player-oriented “Essentials” books – Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. I’ll provide an abbreviated version here, though, which should cover the very basics.
Most any action in the game boils down to the following gameplay mechanic: Roll a twenty sided die, add or subtract bonuses and penalties, and compare it to a target number (Difficulty Class, or DC). This is how skills are used, how to determine if you hit an enemy in combat, how to see if you shake off poison or a disease, and so on. You always want to roll high.
There are four roles characters can fall into. Many classes have a primary focus with their build type determining their secondary role, but it can be very mix-and-match depending on whatever goal it is you have in mind for your character. The classes in parentheses below are specific builds for a class, that have somewhat different mechanics than the base class itself. For anyone who played older editions of D&D, the parentheses builds are more reminiscent of the 3/3.5e classes.
The roles are:
Controllers deal with large numbers of enemies at the same time. They favor offense over defense, using powers that deal damage to multiple foes at once, as well as subtler powers that weaken, confuse, or delay their foes.
One with the natural world, you can assume the forms of animals and call on the fury of nature.
- Hunter (Ranger)
You use your awareness of the natural world to confound your enemies with ranged attacks.
Imbued with divine power, you speak the words of creation to shape the world to your will.
- Mage (Wizard)
You have mastered a school of magic, manipulating energy to reshape the world.
You unleash the potential of your mind, manipulating objects and enemies with a thought.
A primal champion, you use thrown and ranged weapons to destroy your enemies.
You tap the raw arcane power of the cosmos, bending reality to your will with your focus.
Defenders have the highest defenses in the game and good close-up offense. They are the party’s front-line combatants; wherever they’re standing, that’s where the action is. Defenders have abilities and powers that make it difficult for enemies to move past them or to ignore them in battle.
A hardy warrior, you use psionic power to transform yourself into a living weapon.
- Cavalier (Paladin)
Your faith, honor, and virtue give you the strength to stand against the encroaching darkness of the world.
You define the front line of combat, crushing foes in melee while protecting your allies.
- Knight (Fighter)
You embody personal honor, pledging to defend the innocent from harm.
A holy warrior devoted to a higher power, you smite enemies of your faith with divine power.
You combine arcane magic with physical training to hone and perfect your melee capability.
You draw on the primal spirits to protect the natural world from corrupting forces.
Leaders inspire, heal, and aid the other characters in an adventuring group. Leaders have good defenses, but their strength lies in powers that protect their companions and target specific foes for the party to concentrate on.
Clerics and warlords (and other leaders) encourage and motivate their adventuring companions, but just because they fill the leader role doesn’t mean they’re necessarily a group’s spokesperson or commander. The party leader—if the group has one—might as easily be a charismatic warlock or an authoritative paladin. Leaders (the role) fulfill their function through their mechanics; party leaders are born through roleplaying.
You use psionic power to manipulate the emotions of your allies and enemies, to their boon or despair.
You channel your arcane prowess through an artistic medium, using your power to warp reality.
You are the servant of a divine power, using prayers to devastate foes and bolster allies.
You seek to unlock the secrets of divine runes, turning them into words and signs of power.
- Sentinel (Druid)
Use primal power to shelter allies and defeat those who seek to defile the natural world.
You command the services of a faithful spirit guide, using it to inspire allies and destroy enemies.
You stand toe to toe with your enemies, issuing commands that maximize your allies’ prowess.
- Warpriest (Cleric)
Combining potent divine prayers with martial prowess, you are a shield of faith.
Strikers specialize in dealing high amounts of damage to a single target at a time. They have the most concentrated offense of any character in the game. Strikers rely on superior mobility, trickery, or magic to move around tough foes and single out the enemy they want to attack.
You swear a holy vow to pursue divine vengeance against all the foes of your faith.
You are a proud and fierce warrior, dealing out powerful blows with your mighty weapon.
- Hexblade (Warlock)
Forging the power of your pact into a deadly weapon, you rely on spells and melee potency in battle.
Channeling psionic energy within yourself, you fortify your body and sharpen your mind.
A master of bow and blade, you excel at hit-and-run tactics and avoiding danger.
Stealthy, cunning, and deadly – you appear from out of nowhere to strike your enemies.
- Scout (Ranger)
Wielding dual melee weapons, you dart in and out of combat, striking your foes hard and fast.
- Slayer (Fighter)
Your superior defenses and weapon skill allow you to deliver devastating attacks.
You channel wild, unpredictable arcane energy, harnessing the magic inherent in your blood.
- Thief (Rogue)
Quick reflexes, a sharp wit, and a deadly blade allow you to overcome any challenge.
You draw on a pact formed with a greater power, using that alliance to vex your enemies.
You also choose a race to accompany your class. Your race determines ability score bonuses, skill bonuses, speed, vision, and racial abilities.
Some races are omitted from this list for campaign reasons (e.g. they don’t exist in the Nentir Vale), as well as the fact that they are a bit stranger in their mechanics. However, if you end up wanting to play a race that isn’t listed here (e.g. goliaths, warforged, shifter, etc) I’m sure we can work something out.
Descended from dragons, dragonborn are a proud race of warriors.
The decadent dark elves are a race of beauty and sophistication – too often stained by evil.
The stout dwarves are mountaineers and miners. They are the toughest of the common folk.
Hailing from the Feywild, a realm of verdant magic, the eladrin are masters of arcane power.
The elves have a deep love of nature, and their accuracy with a bow, blade, or spell is unmatched.
Clever tricksters and skilled wielders of fey magic, gnomes use their wits to survive.
Descended from elves and humans, half-elves are said to combine the best features of both.
Descended of humans and orcs, half-orcs are proud, strong, and agile.
Clever wanderes and explorers, halfling who want to hide from prying eyes are almost impossible to spot.
The most amibitious of races, humans count among their numbers the greatest heroes … and the greatest villains.
Tieflings are descended from humans who bargained with infernal powers.
There are tools online that can really help with character creation. There’s an official WotC tool (which requires a subscription; I have one, and we can use my account to create any characters with no problem). There are also third party tools which do much the same thing; I haven’t used them, but I hear they’re quite good. These tools take the guesswork out of character creation, and even will print out a filled out sheet and power cards with all the applicable bonuses, telling you what specifically to roll and add for attacks. It’ll do all the heavy lifting, so thinking of a name and character background/traits is really the most in depth you’ll need to go, if you want.
The game itself is a mixture of roleplaying and combat. Combat rules are actually pretty approachable; everything takes place on a 1" square grid, with miniatures and tokens are used to represent the characters and enemies. In a way, it’s somewhat reminiscent of a persistent board game. Every class has powers (at-will, encounter, utility, and daily) which they can use in order to have some sort of effect. I’m willing to write up a more informative introduction to combat if people want it, or it’s something that could be run through during the game (or, feel free to read over combat rules if you like. The most comprehensive versions of the rules can be found in the Rules Compendium, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, or the Player’s Handbook).