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What does a Japan Rail Pass really do?

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Hi! Soon I'll be traveling to Japan for two weeks, spending half of the time in Tokyo and the other week either in Hiroshima or Osaka then to Kyoto and back to Tokyo to fly out. I'm pretty sure a Japan Rail Pass will save me money, but I'm not really sure what the pass entails. Does it cover the full price of all of my train tickets? Is there a pretty good chance that I will get to ride a train that will accept my pass? Do I have to buy my train tickets ahead of time, even though I can't get the pass until I get to Japan (due to the voucher exchange)? Any help is appreciated!

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