D&D Dice Explained: the 7-Polyhedral Dice Set of Dungeons and Dragons
Like many games, Dungeons and Dragons requires each player to have their own “equipment”: a character sheet, a writing utensil, a miniature or token, and of course, some dice.
Those are the wrong dice.
You need a specific group of dice: a 7- polyhedral dice set (polyhedral = 3-dimensional shapes, like pyramids or cubes), each die with a different number of sides.
Each has a purpose and is essential for playing D&D.
Which begs the question: “What are these dice used for?”
Well, folks, it’s your lucky day, because I’m here to explain D&D dice.
(If you are a new player and want similar help building a fighter as your first character, check out this post)
But Wait… What “Roll” Do Dice Have in D&D?
(I get one pun per blog post, and apparently, I’m using it early…)
In D&D, players imagine a shared world and collaborate to tell a story. They role-play characters as they approach situations, make decisions, and react to outcomes.
Those outcomes are determined by the wisdom of the decision, the skill of the character, and the roll of the D&D dice.
A D&D player needs the dice to account for the innumerable forces acting upon the situation that might impact an outcome.
For example, your character has failed to find a specific book in a library. That might be because it was hidden well, or they were distracted by their wounds, or the librarian didn’t like them and sent them to the wrong section, or they didn’t get enough sleep the night before, etc.
In other words, life is chaotic and outside of an individual's control. Rolling dice represents that randomness.
And while you can role-play your way through D&D for hours, most tables have a D&D dice rolled every couple of minutes.
To play D&D, you need some dice, and you need to know how to use them… there is no way around it!
If you still need more information after reading this blog, don't forget to check out Of Dice and Men:
How to Read Dice in Dungeons and Dragons
We’ll start by going over the dice lingua franca.
Often in all D&D written content and conversation, you will see/hear things like “4d6” or “2d10”. Phrases like these are shorthand for explaining A) how many dice you roll and B) what type of dice you roll.
For example: “1d4” means “roll a four-sided dice one time” and “3d8” means “roll an eight-sided dice three times”
And when a spell or character sheet says something along the lines of “1d6 +4” that means you A) roll a six-sided die, B) one time, and C) add 4 to the total.
If it still feels a bit fuzzy about what dice you need for D&D in the midst of the game, refer to this post as you play, and I promise you will pick it up as you go along.
The 7- polyhedral dice set has a D100, D20, D12, D10, D8, D6, and a D4. We’ll start with the most important.
First and Foremost… The D20
Ah, the mighty D20.
This… THIS is the king of D&D dice. And the one most associated with Dungeons and Dragons.
No matter what character you play or what quest you are on, the D20 is the die you will roll the majority of the time.
And it’s not even close; you roll this die 10x more than any other and more than all the other dice combined.
Any time you do anything of substance, you roll a D20.
Any time your character attempts something they may reasonably fail at…
Any time your character attacks something…
Any time your character has to avoid something bad...
… YOU ROLL A D20
Let’s say your character was to enter a tavern and 1) attempt to persuade the barkeep to give you a free drink, 2) attempt to pickpocket a halfling to pay for your drink, and finally 3) get into a bar fight with the offended halfling.
For each of those situations, including each punch in the fight, you would roll a D20.
And despite the differences in those tasks, the D20 is perfect! Every number has a 5% chance of being rolled, including a 1 (critical failure) or a 20 (super-success).
It’s the perfect tension between regularity and rarity. In every session someone is bound to roll 1 or a 20 at least once, and yet every time it feels special… or dreadful depending on the situation!
Long story short: keep your D20 close, because in D&D, you’ll be needing to roll these dice a lot!
The D100 = Random Tables
Let’s move from the most common to the LEAST common.
If you look through your 7- polyhedral dice set, you will notice that two are the same shape. They are identical in nearly every way except for the numbers: one says 1-10, the other says 00-90.
These are percentile dice, and they are rolled almost exclusively for determining an outcome from a random table.
While many Dungeon Master’s roll a D100 relatively often, they are almost never used by players.
But… just in case you are asked to roll a D100, here is how you do it:
1) Roll both ten-sided dice, then 2) combine their two numbers.
Examples: 1+60 =61, 5+30= 35, 9+00 = 9, 0+90=100, etc.
The Other Five Dice
The rest of the 5 dice in the 7-polyhedral set have their unique shapes but perform the same functions.
We’ll talk about the game responsibilities these dice share, and then briefly provide some examples of each.
Health: For all health-related activities, your character has a specific die. You use this to determine A) your max health when you start and when you level up and B) to regain health during a “short rest” by rolling hit dice.
Your health die is determined by the class your character chooses. Magic classes, like Wizard and Cleric, have lower health die and more martial combatants, like Fighter and Barbarian, have higher health die.
Damage: When you hit something with your attack or spell, you then roll again to determine how much damage you do.
The dice you need to use in D&D depend on the specific weapon or spell you use. Small weapons like daggers use a D4 while huge weapons like axes can go as high as a D12.
Spells often involve rolling multiple dice for damage, like 3d6.
Random Tables: Not all random tables need a D100!
Even when you create your character, you have the option to roll a D8 to determine different traits about your character’s personality. Or during an adventure, you might roll D12 to see what random encounter you have on the high seas!
With that said, let’s identify each dice and ways you will see them early in the game.
This dice looks like a soccer ball with not enough hexagons.
Barbarian is the only class that has this for health. The double-bladed ax is the only weapon that has it as damage die, and “Toll the Dead” is the only cantrip that does a whopping 1d12 of necrotic damage.
The lower of the two ten-sided dice, it looks like a spinning top.
Fighters use it for health and when wielding a longsword, and a lot of parties will see them rolled for damage when their Warlock casts “Eldritch Blast”.
These dice look like diamonds.
Pretty much every class will have something that uses this at early levels.
A longbow deals 1d8 per hit, and a cleric has a D8 both as its health dice and grants 1d8 of healing when they cast “Cure Wounds” at 1st level.
The familiar, cube-shaped D6 is seen regularly.
Common uses include a spear’s weapon damage, or the frightfully low Sorcerer health die of a D6, and the fireball spell, which does an eye-popping 8d6 to every enemy in a twenty-foot range.
This pyramid-shaped dice is one you REALLY don’t want to step on with your bare feet.
Each punch from a Monk, “Inspiration” from a Bard, and “Magic Missile” from a Wizard all use the D4.
Thankfully NO class has to roll a D4 for their health!
There is one more thing D6’s are used for… your stats!
(post image of D6’s with caption: “ok, NOW you can raid your Yahtzee box”)
Your stats determine how skilled your character is at certain abilities. The abilities in D&D 5e are three physical (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution) and three mental (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma).
Different D&D groups do it differently, but the most popular method for rolling stats is to take 4d6’s, roll them, and subtract the lowest number. Add them all up, and you got yourself a stat.
Here are two examples:
5+1+2+3 = 5+2+3 = 10
6+4+5+2 = 6+4+5 = 15
Once you do that 6 times, assign them to the categories that suit your character best.
If you are a big, burly barbarian that doesn’t know how to read, your Strength will probably be 15 and your Intelligence only 8. However, if you are a crafty rogue outsmarting the city watch and darting down alleyways, you probably put your Wisdom or Dexterity at 15 and your Strength at 8!
And THAT is D&D dice explained!
What dice you need most in D&D will come down to your character’s class, spells, and weapons. But we can summarize the use of D&D dice as follows:
The D20 is used for all attacks, skills, and saves.
The D100 is used for random tables.
The D12, D10, D8, D6, and D4 are used for everything else, usually healing and damage.
“What to use when” will become more and more natural, but hopefully the information provided in this post is enough to ‘get the ball rolling’.
(ok… TWO puns…)
The pictures seen in this post were taken expressly for this blog by Bryce.
Max the Dice Dog was not amused.
Max the dice dog wishes you a great day!