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D&D Dice and Dice rolls explained

No idea what dice you need to play Dungeons and Dragons or what to do with them? You're in the right place. This blog covers the types of dice we use to play D&D, and the different kinds of rolls we need to make.


Prefer to watch? Check out the video (and make sure you're subscribed). Note: The video version of this blog includes lots of visual aids to help you understand the topics discussed, and skits that demonstrate making different types of rolls, neither of which convert well into blog form ~Dan



Quick links:

Why do we use dice in D&D?

Dice are an important part of playing D&D. We use them to determine the outcome of things that don’t automatically pass or fail. Among other things, this can include the outcome of attacks of spells, and whether you successfully use a skill or avoid or resist a negative effect.

 

WHICH DICE DO WE USE TO PLAY D&D?

In D&D, we use seven different types of dice to play.


We call each type of die “D” followed by the range of values on the die. For example, the typical six-sided die is called a D6 because it has 6 possible values, 1 to 6.



The most commonly used die in D&D is the D20. We use it to determine the results of attack rolls with weapons or spells, skill checks and saving throws among other things.



Most of the other dice are mainly used for damage or healing rolls. These include the D4, D6, D8, D10, and D12.



The final die is the D100, which has results in increments of 10 between 0 and 90, or 10 and 100, depending on how you read the result. This is used along with a D10 to make a percentage dice roll, with a result between 1 and 100. Percentage rolls are mostly used by the DM to roll for random results on tables, for example to determine rewards such as magic items.




WHEN SHOULD I MAKE A ROLL?

Your DM should tell you when you need to roll dice. Usually they’ll say something like "Make me a Perception check", "Make me an attack roll" or "Make me a damage roll".


Let’s look at some of the types of rolls you’re likely to make and what you need to know about them.


INTERLUDE – WHAT DO I REALLY NEED TO KNOW IF I'M NEW?

There are a lot of rules in D&D, and this blog describes most of the rules that apply to dice rolls.


When you’re getting started on your adventure, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the rules, but you don’t need to know everything by heart. Treat this blog as a reference that you can come back to if you want a reminder.


I have made printable reference cards that you can use to jog your memory about the rules while you play. You can get them my Resources page.


Print a copy of my free rules reference cards to make sure you're never far from the answers you're looking for.

 

D20 rolls, advantage and disadvantage

Most often when playing D&D, you’ll be rolling D20s.


Most D20 rolls can be rolled “with advantage” or “with disadvantage”. You should be asked when to make a roll “with advantage” or “with disadvantage”, or it should otherwise be obvious.


Rolls made “with advantage” are more likely to hit.


To make a roll with advantage, roll 2D20, or roll the same D20 twice, and use the highest result to calculate your total.


Rolls made “with disadvantage” are less likely to hit.


To make a roll with disadvantage, roll 2D20, or roll the same D20 twice, and use the lowest result to calculate your total.

 

Skill check rolls

One of the most common rolls is a skill check, which determines whether your character is successful in using a skill or not. Examples of this include your character trying to open a locked door or trying to persuade someone to share a secret with you.


To roll for a skill check, roll a D20 and add your character’s skill bonus to the roll, as well as any situational modifiers, such as bonuses from spells like Guidance or abilities like Bardic Inspiration, to determine the total value. Your skill bonus depends on your character’s bonus in the relevant ability, and whether your character is untrained in the skill or has proficiency or expertise in it.

You can find your character’s bonus to each skill in their character’s Character Sheet or Journal.

The DanDMadeEasy Character Journal includes everything you need to track your characters' skills and abilities and makes it easier and more immersive to play. The Journal comes with over 300 covers in a range of styles and you can print custom Journals for any character, including multiclass characters, at home, so you can make the perfect Journal for any character. Congratulations, if you're reading this, you passed your Perception check – you can get 10% off the Journal and other DanDMadeEasy digital products using code BLOG10 at checkout.


Your DM will set a difficulty check or DC for the roll, which is the number you need to meet or beat to get a positive result. In some cases, the DM may set multiple difficulty checks, which give increasingly positive results when met.

 

You may be asked to make a skill check roll “with advantage” or “with disadvantage”, making it more or less likely to succeed. A common reason to make a skill check “with advantage” is because another player used the Help action to help you in making the skill check. You may need to make skill checks “with disadvantage” because your character is exhausted, or for a situational reason, such as trying to follow tracks during the night.


If you roll a 1 on your skill check, you’re likely to fail regardless of your character’s skill bonus or any situational modifiers.


If you roll a 20 on a skill check, you’re likely to succeed regardless of their bonuses. As per the standard rules, there are no other effects for rolling a 1 or 20 on a skill check, but your DM may apply extra rules in these cases.

 

Ability check rolls

Technically, skill checks are a type of ability check, but they’re far more common than ability checks. Your DM might ask you to make an ability check when a task requires the use of a specific ability, but not a specific skill, for example using Strength to move a heavy boulder.


To make an ability check, you roll a D20 and just add your character’s relevant ability modifier to the result, plus any situational modifiers.

 

Initiative rolls

At the start of each combat, all player characters, allies and enemies involved will need to make an initiative roll. This determines the turn order for each actor in the combat.

To make an initiative roll, roll a D20 and add your character’s initiative bonus and any situational modifiers to determine the total value. By default, your character’s Initiative bonus is equal to your character’s Dexterity bonus, but other bonuses or penalties may apply too.

You may be asked to make an Initiative roll with advantage or disadvantage, making you more or less likely to go first in the turn order.


If you roll high on an initiative roll, you’ll likely go before other actors in the combat. If you roll low, you’ll likely go after other actors in the combat.

 

If you and one or more other actors get the same total initiative, your DM may ask you to compare Initiative bonuses to determine who goes first. If your initiative bonus is higher, you will go before the other actors. If your Initiative bonus is lower, you will go after the other actors.


Rolling a 1 or 20 on an initiative roll has no special effect other than making it less or more likely that you’ll go first in the turn order.

 

Attack rolls

An attack roll is used to determine whether your attack hits your target or not.


To make an attack roll, roll a D20 and add your character’s attack roll bonus as well as any situational modifiers, for example from spells such as Bless.

Your character’s attack bonus when making a weapon attack is equal to their modifier in Strength or Dexterity, depending on the type of weapon they attack with, plus their proficiency bonus. If your character can cast spells and makes a spell attack, your character’s attack bonus is equal to their modifier in their spellcasting ability score, for example Intelligence for the Wizard, plus their proficiency bonus. You can find your character’s attack bonus on their Character Sheet or Journal.


Attacks and attack bonuses in the DanDMadeEasy Character Journal


The total result is compared against your target’s Armor Class. If your result meets or beats the target’s Armor Class, your attack hits and you’ll likely need to make a damage roll. If not, your attack misses.

 

You may be asked to make an attack roll “with advantage” or “with disadvantage”, making it easier or harder to succeed the roll. Common reasons you may get to make an attack roll with advantage is if your DM uses the “flanking” optional rule and you are flanking your opponent, or if your opponent has been blinded. Common reasons you may have disadvantage include if you are trying to make a ranged attack past your weapon’s effective range, or trying to do so while an opponent is within 5ft of you.


If you roll a 1 on an attack roll, your character will miss with their attack no matter what their bonuses are. This is called a critical miss. Some DMs may have other things happen on a critical miss, for example your character may drop their weapon or overextend and give advantage on the next attack an enemy makes against them.


If you roll a 20 on an attack roll, your character will hit with their attack no matter what their bonuses are, and will do extra damage. This is called a critical hit. Different DMs treat critical hits in different ways, for example by having you roll all of your damage dice twice, or having you roll once and doubling the result, but either way, you can expect to do more damage if you make a critical hit.

 

Saving throw rolls

A saving throw is a roll that you may need to make to avoid or resist harmful effects such as avoiding an arrow trap or not taking the full force of a Fireball.


To make a saving throw roll, roll a D20 and add your character’s saving throw bonus as well as any situational modifiers, such as from spells like Resistance, to the roll.

Your character’s saving throw bonus depends on their bonus to the relevant ability, such as Dexterity for resisting damage from a fireball, and whether they have proficiency in saving throws for that ability. You can find your character’s saving throw bonuses in their Character Sheet or Journal.

Saving throw bonuses in the DanDMadeEasy Character Journal 


If you meet or beat the effect’s Difficulty Check, you will avoid or mitigate the effect.


If you don’t meet or beat the Difficulty Check, you will take the full force of the effect.


You may be asked to make a saving throw with advantage or disadvantage, making it easier or harder to succeed.


Rolling a 1 or 20 on a saving throw has no special effect, but you’ll likely fail most checks on a roll of 1, and succeed them on a roll of 20.

 

Concentration check rolls

A concentration check is a special type of Constitution saving throw that is used to maintain concentration on a spell when your character takes damage.


To make a concentration check, roll a D20 and add your character’s Constitution saving throw bonus to the result.

A difficulty check is set for the check depending on the amount of damage your character took. This is equal to whichever is the highest between 10, or half of the damage your character took rounded down.   


If your total meets or beats the difficulty check, your character maintains concentration on the spell. If they don’t, your character loses concentration on the spell, and its effect immediately ends. You can find your character’s constitution saving throw bonus in their Character Sheet or Journal.  


You may be asked to make concentration check rolls with advantage or disadvantage, making it easier or harder to succeed. Common reasons that you’ll get to make concentration check rolls with advantage are if your character took specific features that give them advantage on concentration checks, for example the War Caster feat, or the Eldritch Mind invocation for the Warlock.


Rolling a 1 or 20 on a concentration check has no special effect, but you’ll likely fail most checks on a roll of 1, and succeed them on a roll of 20.

 

Death Saving throw rolls

If your character drops to zero hit points, you may need to make a death saving throw. This is a D20 roll where you don’t add anything to the result.

Each time your character starts a turn in combat with 0 hit points, you’ll need to make a death saving throw. These special saving throws give you death saving throw successes or failures, and you can get up to 3 of each.


If you get 3 death saving throw successes, your character stabilizes at 0 hit points and no longer needs to make death saving throws, but they can’t act until they regain one or more hit points. If you get 3 death saving throw failures, your character dies.


If you’re reading this before your first game of D&D, don’t worry – it’s pretty rare that characters die as even if your character gets reduced to 0 hit points, another member of the party will typically heal or stabilize you before you die. It’s also possible to revive characters that died recently, but it may be hard or impossible to do so at lower character levels.


If you roll a 10 or higher on a death saving throw, you get a death saving throw success and your character is more likely to stabilise their condition than they were before you made the roll.


If you roll less than a 10, you get a death saving throw failure and your character is more likely to die than they were before you made the roll.


If you roll a 1, you gain 2 death saving throw failures and your character is much closer to permanent death than they were before you made the roll.


If you roll a 20, your character gains 1 hit point and you can take a turn as normal in combat, but you will begin that turn prone.

 

Learn the lingo

As with any hobby, specific language has evolved for D&D over time.


The following language is used for certain results on a D20 roll:


  • Rolling a “natural” or “nat” 1 means that you rolled 1 on the die you rolled before applying any bonuses or penalties to the roll. Regardless of what you were rolling for, it’s likely that you will get a poor outcome. 

  • Likewise, rolling a “natural” or “nat” 20 means you rolled 20 on the die you rolled before applying any bonuses or penalties to the roll. Regardless of what you were rolling for, it’s likely that you will get a good outcome, and for attacks, this means a guaranteed critical hit.

  • Rolling a “dirty” 20 means that your total value after you applied any bonuses or penalties to the number you rolled is equal to 20. It’s likely that you’ll have a good outcome in this case, but this isn’t always the case, even for attack rolls, as particularly resilient enemies may have over 20 armor class.

 

Other rolls

Unlike the rolls we’ve looked at so far, these rolls don’t typically use D20s, but use different types of dice instead.

 

Damage rolls

If you hit with an attack, you’ll likely need to make a damage roll. To make a damage roll, roll the number of dice indicated based on your weapon or the spell you are using, and add any bonuses.


For an attack with a weapon, your standard damage bonus is equal to your character’s Strength or Dexterity bonus, depending on which attribute you used to make the attack. Extra bonuses may be applied on top of this, such as from the Barbarian’s Rage ability.


You can find your character’s damage bonus with each of their weapons in their Character Sheet or Journal.


For spells, no bonus is typically applied. To determine the dice you need to roll, look at the spell description.

 

Healing rolls

There are a few different ways to regain lost hit points in D&D.


Two of these involve healing rolls, which you may make because your character is subject to a healing effect from a spell or magic item, or when your character takes a short rest.

 

Healing from a spell or item

If your character is subject to a spell or magic item that causes healing, the indicated number of dice in the spell or item description is rolled, and add any relevant bonuses are added.


If a fellow player applies a healing effect to you from a spell or item, they may roll the dice, or they may ask you to.


If a healing effect is applied from a spell, the roll depends on the spell, and a bonus is often applied to the roll based on the caster's spellcasting ability modifier.


If a healing effect is applied from an item, the roll and bonuses should be described in the item description.


When you work out the total healing from a spell or item, restore that many hit points to your character up to their hit point maximum.


You can find your character’s current hit points and hit point maximum in their character sheet or Journal.

 

Healing from a short rest

When your character takes a short rest, they can spend hit dice to regain lost hit points.


The hit dice your character has available is dependent on their classes and how many levels they have in each class.


To spend a hit die when you short rest, roll one of your available hit dice and add your character’s Constitution modifier. Then heal that many hit points up to your character’s maximum hit points, and mark the hit die as used. You can spend more hit dice one at a time until you have healed as much as you want to, or roll many hit dice at once.


You can find your character’s maximum, available hit dice, and Constitution modifier in their Character Sheet or Journal.

The DanDMadeEasy Character Journal makes it easy to understand how to play D&D with reminders and infographics for key rules, such as how healing on a short rest works.

 

WHERE CAN I GET DICE?

Most D&D players love their dice collection and build one up over time, but where do you start?


Here's my dice collection


You can get a basic set of dice in the D&D Essentials Kit or Starter Set, which each also include basic game rules and everything you need to start your adventure.


You can also check out your local gaming store. Many hobby stores with a roleplaying section sell sets of D&D dice in a variety of styles, and likely sell individual dice too.


There are also many third party creators that create dice in more styles than you can imagine, and some are really spectacular. I’m part of the Tabletop Creator Hub, a worldwide group of creators with a shared vision of supporting the roleplaying community, and many Hub creators make dice.


If you intend to play D&D online, you can use virtual dice on whichever platform you use to play, such as D&DBeyond, Roll20 or Foundry.

 

HOW CAN I LOOK AFTER AND STORE MY DICE?

A range of peripherals are available to help you look after and store your dice.


To make sure dice don’t slide across the table or get lost under it, many adventurers prefer to roll dice onto rolling mats. You can get permanent or collapsible mats in a range of styles.  

A slightly more exotic version of the dice mat is the dice tower, where you put dice in one end and they magically roll out of the other. You can get these in a range of styles.


Finally, some players like to keep Dice jails to teach dice that roll badly a lesson. You can get these in a range of styles, too.  

 

Conclusion

Dice are an important part of D&D, and many players come to love their dice collection. We never stop learning in D&D, and you shouldn't stress if you don't remember all of the rules, especially if you're a new player – make sure to pick up my free rules reference cards to help you jog your memory in your games.


Enjoyed this? Subscribe to my newsletter to stay up to date with content like this and have a chance to win free loot every month.


Until next time, happy adventuring!


~Dan


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