Maybe you cracked open your Starter Set and found those strange blue dice floating around in there with the books. Or possibly you picked up a bag of dice to get ready for your first game.
So what’s up with all these dice? We’re talking six or seven dice, all with different shapes and sizes. You might even see the name “polyhedral” used for theme.
Let’s do a deep dive about dice, shall we? Soon you’ll know the difference between a d4, a d12, and a d20. Let’s get rolling!
What’s up with all these dice?
At different points in a D&D game, you’ll have to roll a particular dice. Sometimes you’ll have to roll that dice more than once. So if you see or hear something like 2d8, that means you’ll have to roll your 8-sided dice twice (if it was three times, you’d see or hear 3d8).
You usually have seven dice total = d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, with a “d100” that’s just tens (00, 10, 20, etc.) on a d10 instead of 1-10. Some bags of dice only give you six, without the d100, but usually you’ll get seven.
TIP: You use a d100 along with a standard d10 to get a percentage number between 1 and 100. Roll both dice, and use the d100 for the tens part of your roll, and the d10 for the ones part of your roll. So if you got a “50” with your d100 and a “2” with your d10, you’d have 52. (If you roll a “00” with your d100 and a “0” with your d10, you’d have 100, and a “00” and a “1” would be a 1, unless your DM has a different ruling for that.)
I have to admit, I still have trouble keeping some of the dice straight, especially the d8, the d10, and the d12. The d4 is easy, because it looks like a pyramid, so I just picture the d8 as two d4s stuck together.
You’ll use the d20 the most out of all the dice, so it’ll probably become your favorite. You might even end up with multiple d20s! More on this in a moment.
The Critical Role folks have a quick Handbooker Helper video about dice to help get you up to speed as well:
How do you use the dice in the game?
Let’s break down why there are so many dice for D&D, and talk about when you’ll use different dice.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll probably use the d20 the most. When you hear the DM say “roll for initiative” at the start of combat, use your d20 to see if you get to attack first or last. You also roll the d20 in combat to see if your attack hit, and you use the d20 if you’re attempting something that requires a specific ability or skill (like a Strength check for kicking in a door, or an Arcana check to see if you can identify a magic potion).
Add or subtract any proficiency bonuses along with your skill modifiers to make your d20 roll better (or worse if your skill is low). So if you are proficient with a ranged weapon like a bow, and your Dexterity score is high, you could possibly add 4 or 5 to your d20 roll. Nice!
You use the other dice to “roll for damage” if your d20 attack hits. The type of die you use depends on your weapon. If you have a dagger, it’s just a 1d4. If you have a greatsword, it’s a 2d6. If you have a greataxe, it’s a 1d12.
You also use the other dice (not the d20) to roll your hit points, depending on your class.
Going back to the d20 for a moment, I have to talk about what happens if you roll a 1 or a 20. A 1 is called a “critical miss,” and it NEVER hits when you’re attacking someone, even if you have all sort of bonuses to add to that roll of 1. At our table, if you roll a 1, you usually do something embarrassing, like tripping over your own feet or even doing minor damage to yourself. It’s an “epic fail.”
On the other hand, if you roll a 20 while attacking or making a skill check, you always succeed. This is called a “natural 20” or (if in combat) a “critical hit”. A critical hit in combat also does double damage! If you hear people cheering while playing the game, it’s usually because someone just rolled a natural 20.
As a DM I always keep three to four extra d20s on hand for Inspiration. Whenever a player does something very creative, or if he or she does something that really fits his or her character, I pass them a d20, which they can use on any upcoming d20 roll. Passing out the inspiration dice rewards that player and also seems to focus the other players as well. Sometimes players will award inspiration to other players, and I’ll gladly pass that inspiring player a fresh d20.
I do the same with extra d6s and d8s that I can give to bards, which they can then use for Bardic Inspiration (they can give the dice to the players they are inspiring with their music).
Why can’t I stop collecting dice?
Let me warn you all right now: there’s something addictive about those polyhedral dice! Some players might be immune to the siren call of pretty dice, but not this guy! I love seeing all the different colors and designs of dice, and I already have a big felt bag full of dice.
I usually keep at least two sets handy during a game, along with extra d6s, just in case I need to mix things up or have my players do some gambling. Sometimes a set of dice just don’t seem to be rolling well for you, so it’s nice to have another set. Even if it’s all in my head, I feel like I’m more lucky with my rolls after switching up my dice.
Just like any game or sport, there are all sorts of superstitions about dice, such as making sure your dice don’t get “cold” from lack of use, or not letting anyone else touch your dice. Things can get a little bit nutty with these dice.
If you want to do some serious dice research, check out the Geek and Leisure Dice and Dice Set Buyers Guide. Click that link at your own risk!
You can even buy metal dice to add some serious weight to your rolls:
Just try your best to discourage these kinds of distracting (and noisy when they fall) dice towers (or dice stacks); it seems like younger players really like to build these:
Oh, and finally, if you ever find yourself in the horrifying situation where you have NO dice at all but still want to play, check out the online Dice Roller. Use only in case of (dice-less) emergencies!
Soon you’ll be loving the rattle of a d20 on a tabletop just like the rest of us. Happy rolling, and happy gaming!
Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this blog, feel free to take a look at my books at UnWrecked Press and Amazon. If something I wrote here improved your gaming experience or you just want to say thanks, buy a book or two!