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Using the Dice in Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Updated on August 8, 2019
Evelyn Williamson profile image

Dungeon Master, player, consumer, and lover of several "DnD" games, both my own and streamed by others.

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One of the questions I get asked the most when DMing new players in Dungeons and Dragons is about dice. Which dice to roll, and when you've got a big pile of dice all in strange, unfamiliar shapes it's understandable they're confused. So here's a quick guide to help new players choose their dice quickly and with confidence.
Dice are named according to the number of sides they contain. So a D20 has 20 sides while a D4 only has 4.

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D20

We'll start with the most common you'll be using. Your d20 is what you'll roll most of the game. When your Dungeon master asks you to make a roll chances are this is the die you'll need. It's used in:

  • Ability Checks- Example: Intelligence check
  • Skill Checks- Example: Perception Check
  • Saving Throws- Example: Charisma saving throw
  • Initiative rolls- When determining turn order in combat
  • Attack Rolls- When deciding whether your character hits their target

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D4

As a new player, you probably have a level 1 character, so you might get a chance to use a D4 for damage. There are a couple of different types of D4's but they're pretty simple. The number you rolled is the only number right side up. D4s are used in:

  • Some Magic Spells- Example Magic Missle
  • Weapon Damage for Simple Damage- Such as daggers, clubs, darts, whips
  • Improvized weapon damage: Example: hitting someone with a chair in a bar fight.
  • Fire Damage: Example: being on fire
  • Healing Potions

D6

The die you recognize is one that, depending on your class you could either hardly use at all, or use all the time. This die is important for rogues, wizards, and sorcerers. It's used in:

  • Weapon damage- such as pears, handaxes, shortswords, and hand crossbows
  • Bardic Inspiration/Song of Rest
  • Sneak Attack Damage
  • Hit Die: Sorcerer's and Wizards
  • Falling damage
  • Spell Damage- Example: Burning Hands

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D8

For when you want a medium result D8's are most commonly used for damage and hit dice.

  • Weapon Damage- light crossbow, battleaxe, longsword, rapier, warhammer, longbow
  • Hit Dice: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Rogue, Warlock
  • Several Class Skills- Example: Divine Strike
  • Spell Damage: Example: Chain Lightning

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D12

The least common die you'll use. This is the one you let your kid play with so they can pretend they're participating. Unless your a barbarian with a greataxe you'll probably not touch this one.

  • Hit Die: Barbarian
  • Weapon Damage: Greataxe, Lance

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D10

Saved this little guy for last because it's a bit more complicated than the rest. In most dice packs you'll find two D10s, one may even have increments of ten rather than 1. That's because D10s are commonly used a percentile dice. Some tables, items, or abilities require a D100 roll. Since a 100 sided die would be awesome but impractical instead we roll 2D10 or two ten-sided dice. One Die represents the number in the ten's place and the other in the ones. For example: if I roll 2D10 and get a seven and a four then my result is 74. Uses for a d10 are:

  • Percentile Dice
  • Weapon Damage: Halberd and Pike
  • Versatile Weapon Damage: Holding a weapon two-handed

And there's a basic guide for which die to use when. Chances are when your Dungeon Master asks you to roll something, it'll be a D20 especially if you aren't in combat. So the big guy should be your first guess, but sometimes the other dice are used.

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