dungeons & dragons for absolute beginners
Part 3: Dice


OK, this is a good time to stop for a minute and discuss dice. Dice are used in Dungeons & Dragons to determine outcomes: whether you hit something which you attack, whether you manage to avoid a spell’s ill effects, whether you persuade an NPC (non-player character) to do something which you want them to do, how much damage you do when you hit a scary monster, etc. The dice which most people are used to are the dice shaped like a cube with 6 sides. In D&D lingo, these are called a d6. If you need to roll one of them, the book will tell you to roll 1d6; if you need to roll 4 of them, the book will tell you to roll 4d6. So far so good. Now it gets a bit more complicated- there are other shapes of dice available, with other numbers of sides, and you will need some of these to play Dungeons and Dragons. The good news is that these sets are easily available, either at your local game store or over the internet. Selling dice for D&D is a HUGE business these days. You can get them in every size and colour imaginable. So let’s now look at the different dice which you will need.

Dice for Dungeons & Dragons



The d4 is easy to identify; it is in the shape of a pyramid. It is also the die you least want to step on- it’s worse than stepping on Legos. Always be sure you pick your d4’s off the floor. The number which you have rolled will be the number which you can read upright, and will be the same on all three of the visible faces after rolling. This die is usually rolled for damage.



This is the type of die that most people are familiar with. It has 6 faces, and whichever face is pointing up, that is the number you have rolled. This die also usually is rolled for damage, but crucially is also the dice used during character creation to determine your base ability scores.



The d8 has 8 faces, and the side facing up is the number you have rolled. This can be a bit tricky to tell apart from d10’s, but the d8 has 4 faces per side, whereas the d10 has 5 faces per side. As with most of the other dice, this die is usually used to determine damage.



The d10 has 10 faces, and the side facing up is the number you have rolled, unless you roll 0; rolling a 0 means you got a 10. Dungeons & Dragons dice never let you roll an actual 0. This die is rarely used to determine damage, and is usually rolled in conjunction with the next die, the percentile die, to get a number from 1-100.

Percentile die

percentile die

This die is a little trickier than the others. Sometimes called a percentile die, sometimes a d00, this die is only ever rolled in conjunction with a d10 to give you a number from 1-100. This die also has 10 faces, and the face from this die are the number in the “10”s column, while the d10 roll gives you the “1”s column. For example, if you roll 20 on this die and 8 on the d10, you get 28 for your total roll. If you roll 60 on this die and 0 on your d10, it means that you rolled 60. If you roll 00 on this die and 03 on the d10, your roll is 3. Confusingly, if you roll 00 on this die and 0 on your d10, it means you rolled 100.



The d12 has 12 faces and the face on top is the number you have rolled. As with most of the previous dice, this die is largely used for damage rolls. Weapons which deal this much damage are much sought after, unlike weapons which deal 1d4 damage. It should be noted however that dealing 3d4 damage is better than dealing 1d12 damage. Maximum damage will always be the same, but minimum damage and average damages are quite a bit different between the two.



The d20 has 20 faces and the face on top is the number you have rolled. The d20 is the die which you will be rolling the most in Dungeons and Dragons. You roll this die to see if you hit when you attack, to see if you avoid bad effects or spells, and to see if your skill and ability attempts work. When people talk about “natural ones” or “natural twenties”, they are talking about this die. This die rules your fate more than all your other dice.

Some dice rolling rules


After you roll the appropriate die (or dice), you then add (or subtract) any relevant modifiers. Sometimes you will get modifiers based on ability scores, proficiencies, skills, or bonuses from magic weapons. If so, after you add these to your dice roll, that will be your final score for that roll.


Sometimes, because something which you are trying to do is going heavily in your favour, you will be able to roll with advantage. That simply means that instead of rolling 1d20 and adding your modifiers, you will instead roll 2d20. You will use the highest (best) roll and add your modifier to that, discarding the lower roll. This usually ensures that you will do better on your roll.

At other times, something which you are trying to do is going heavily against your favour. In those instances, you may have to roll with disadvantage. In that case you also roll 2d20, but this time you use the lower of the two rolls and add your modifier to it, and discard your higher roll. In this situation, you know you will probably have a lower roll than normal.

It is possible to have a number of different situations affecting a roll, and you may have one or more advantages and/or one or more disadvantages affecting the same roll. You can never roll more than 2d20 for either advantage or disadvantage, regardless of how many you have affecting a single roll. In addition, if you have both advantage(s) AND disadvantage(s) at the same time, they cancel each other out (regardless of how many of either type are involved) and you just roll a straight roll of 1d20 instead, after which you add your modifiers as usual. In other words, if you have 2 things which give advantage & 1 thing which causes disadvantage, you still roll a straight 1d20.

Natural 1

During combat, if you roll your 1d20 (or 2d20 if advantage or disadvantage is in effect) and the result on the die which you are using is a natural 1 (often called a nat 1 for short), then you have automatically missed, regardless of whether you would have hit after adding your modifiers. This is rare when you have advantage (usually you will not roll two 1’s, so you will instead use the higher die roll and the 1 will be discarded, but is a more common occurrence when you roll with disadvantage. Some DM’s will add a slightly bad thing to rolling a natural 1 as well; perhaps you strike a nearby companion instead, or dropped your weapon.

Rolling a natural 1 on 1d20 when you are rolling a saving throw, skill check, or ability check is simply rolling a 1, and if it succeeds with that roll and its modifiers, then it still succeeds just fine. It is only with combat rolls that a natural 1 signifies a guaranteed miss. Except with a death saving throw. You don’t want to roll a 1 on a death saving throw. Rolling a 1 counts as two failures. This is very, very bad. We’ll discuss why later.

Natural 20

The same as with a natural 1, rolling a 20 on the die which you use during a combat roll guarantees a hit, regardless of whether your hit would have struck the target with the relevant modifiers added. Again, with advantage it is significantly easier to roll a 20 which you can use since you are keeping the higher number, while disadvantage makes it extremely difficult (and heart-breaking) to get a 20 and have to throw it away because you didn’t get a second 20 on your other die. In addition, rolling a 20 on a combat roll is not just a guaranteed hit, but it as also what is called a critical hit (or crit for short). When you score a crit, you get to roll double the normal number of damage dice, after which you add the modifiers as normal. In other words, if your greatsword attack would normally inflict 2d6 slashing damage, plus an additional 4 points of damage because you are terribly strong (2d6+4 total), if you roll a natural 20 on your attack, you would instead inflict 4d6+4 damage in that attack.

As with the natural 1, no rolls that you make with your d20 apart from attack rolls are affected by you rolling a natural 20, apart from it being a really good roll. Except death saving throws; if you roll a natural 20 on a death saving throw you regain 1 hit point (HP) and return to consciousness.


Sometimes you will make an attack roll where you are trying to beat an opponent’s armor class (AC). If your attack roll plus modifiers is the same number as their AC, you have hit them (if you meet it you beat it). The same holds true for saving throws and ability checks.


Sometimes you need to round numbers in the game. If you get a fraction, always round down unless specifically told otherwise. This will not typically (ever, I think?) affect your dice rolls, but it can impact other numbers which may impact dice rolls. It’s just a rule that is good to remember while we are discussing numbers and maths.

Dungeons and Dragons is fun!
Click on this photo to continue your journey through the basics of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons