What the Dice are used for in DND
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
First, let's just get some jargon out of the way. Polyhedral dice are common in tabletop role-playing games. Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) is largely credited with popularizing these dice in such games. We define each die by the number of sides it has, putting the letter "d" in front of it.
So when I refer to a d20, this just means the one with 20 sides on it. Similarly, when you see 5d6, this is referring to 5 rolls of the 6-sided die.
So what are the dice used for in Dungeons and Dragons?
Here we will go over every single die that is used, when it is used, and which of the darn things to pick up when you want to do something.
Dungeons and Dragons Dice | What's their role?
Also called a four-sided die, the caltrop, the painful one. It is a tetrahedron with 4 equilateral triangle faces, it always lands face up, and really doesn't roll that well. This dice is numbered 1-4 and we read the top number or the number that is face up, as there are some variations where the upright number is on the bottom. There is also a variation where the die does not have this caltrop shape, as with this set of magician's dice.
While not often used, you may use a d4 when calculating damage from small weapons like daggers.
You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon as a bonus action.
The DM may have other uses for this die as well when calculating chance. If there are 4 players, the DM may use the d4 to assign targets.
The standard cube-shaped dice, the d6 is used in several ways, from weapon and magic damage to recovering hit points during short rest, hit point level up rolls, and sometimes used for rolling a d3 or to assign targets.
It is also used when creating characters and determining stats.
Multiple d6 rolls can be used in place of a d12 to reduce critical strikes or failure as with the greatsword or maul weapons.
D8 - (8-sided):
The eight-sided octahedron which looks like two pyramids attached the base.
This die is most commonly used when calculating damage for light to medium-sized weapons.
When figuring out how many hit points a Cleric receives during a level up, you would use a d8
The DM may have other uses for the d8 as well.
D10 - (10-sided):
It is a pentagonal trapezohedron. The d10 is used frequently, and a combination of two dice can result in moves 1 - 100 if you decide not to use a d100 or a d-10 percentile. Most commonly, the d10 is used for heavy ranged weapons, some and ranged melee attack damage.
When figuring out how many hit points a Fighter receives during a level up, you would use a d10.
As with any of these dice, the DM can decide how and when the dice are used, so refer to them if you are not 100% sure when to use it.
D12 - (12-sided):
This blog's favorite die, mainly because it is so underutilized and beautiful an majestic and... ahem!
Well, we like to come up with ways to make it feel less left out.
It is a Dodecahedron with 12 equilateral hexagon faces.
The d12 works well as a random hour generator. It is also used for heavy weapons like the great-axe or some magic weapons damage.
The DM may also use this die to determine the month or other measurements.
D20 - (20-sided):
An Icosahedron with 20 equilateral triangle faces, this signature die is the most commonly used of the set and rolls the easiest due to its nearly-spherical shape.
We use this die to see if an attempt to do something is successful or not. It is therefore referred to as the decider for most things.
When you are in an encounter and wish to attack, you roll a d20 to see if your attack hits, and then another die to determine how much damage is dealt.
If you are attacked or have to react quickly with a saving throw, the d20 is used to determine the likelihood you succeed or fail.
Skills and Abilities Checks:
If you are asked to check a specific skill with a roll, you would pick up the d20. The higher the roll, the more fortunate the outcome. If you roll a "natural 20" or the highest number, this is a critical success. Alternatively, roll a "1" and there are negative consequences. An example of a negative consequence might be:
Your party just killed a beast that was guarding some treasure chest. You roll a d20 for an investigation skill check, and you see the dreaded "1." Your DM could then decide that this treasure chest is actually a mimic, and you enter into another battle without time to rest from the previous one, and at a disadvantage.
These are the most commonly used dice in tabletop gaming. There are many artisan variations of all the dice mentioned above, and their uses expand beyond this article. What are your favorite unconventional uses for dice in D&D? Leave a comment below and share this with someone you wish to introduce to the game.