Dice Basics: What are Standard Sized Dice?
Books, maps, miniatures and even cosplay: these are all things that people associate with Dungeons and Dragons. But above all of those, the most iconic part of the game is the well-known 7 piece polyhedral set of dice..
Dungeons and Dragons dice, a guide.
These ‘D&D dice’ have become the central mechanic of most tabletop roleplaying games, but we will focus mainly on D&D and the standard dice set that every player needs. The dice are named according to the number of sides. You start with the letter ‘d’, which stands for die, and then a number. For example, a four-sided die will be called a d4, a ten-sided die a d10 and so on.
The most important in the game is the twenty-sided die, or d20. This is the dice that you will be rolling for every attack, save, skill, and out of battle interaction. More often than not you will add some number to the result. For example, when persuading the city guard not to arrest your group for stealing the kings crown, you will roll a d20 and add your persuasion modifier. If it tops the d20 + insight of the guard, they might let you go.
Additionally, a 1 on the dice roll might have bad repercussions if your DM is feeling particularly evil. E.g. you try to reach for a document that explains everything, but the guard thinks that you are drawing a weapon. He tackles you to the ground (and you fail the dexterity check) and the group goes to the dungeon.
On the other hand, a natural 20 on your roll will give you a god-like success on your action. E.g. you convince the guard that you are part of a band of actors that pretends to steal things to test the guards’ efficiency. You are very pleased with his performance and will write a glowing review to the king. He will get a promotion for sure. The guard falls for it completely and even escorts you out of town while asking for additional tips.
Next is the d12, an almost exclusively battle oriented die. It is most often used by barbarian characters with giant clubs or axes that they use to smash things to a pulp. It may not seem like much more than a d10, but with both a higher average and max number it adds up quickly. If you get the chance to get a d12 weapon, go for it!
The d10 is a bit of an oddball, mostly because there are actually two of them. One has the numbers 0-9 and the other 00-90. Why would they do that you may ask? Well, the answer is to clear things up... and maybe stop a few cheaters as well. Back in the day players would roll 2 d10’s to determine a percentage. E.g. a 6 and a 9 makes 96, as the 9 clearly landed to the left of the 6 when viewed from the perspective of the houseplant in the corner of the room. Having two distinctly different d10’s helps stop discussions like that, as it is very hard to turn a 60 and a 9 into a 96. (Although some players still might try.)
Other than that, the d10 is also used for attacks and magic damage.
If you ask someone who plays a barbarian, the d8 is a d12 for wusses. This is because it is most often used for onehanded weapons, a fighting style often practiced by classes that use shields or dual wield a second weapon. Don’t be fooled though, when used wisely in combination with your abilities you can cause much more damage with your 1d8 blade than the barbarian does with his massive club.
The d6 is an old friend and usually the only familiar face in the dice pack. Unlike most d6 dice that you know however, this one will sport numbers instead of dots. In game, it is usually the die that will get used by spell casters, who might even get roll several of them on their strong spells. A less pleasant use for the d6 is to calculate fall damage, one for every 10 feet!
The d4 is the most dangerous die of the lot if you happen to step on any. Its pointy shape seems to be designed as a direct competitor to LEGOs. In game, d4s are much tamer: they are used for the weakest weapons and spells, but also for some healing potions. Especially in the beginning of the game, you will be seeing these a lot due to the fact that both you and the enemies have limited health. After that most players start avoiding abilities and actions that involve them, as its usually not worth spending an action to regain (max!) 4 hit points.There are two styles of d4 - be sure to read our blog on How to Read a d4 to understand these differences.
That concludes our list of D&D dice and their most common uses. If you still get confused by them, you could try to put away the ones that you don’t use. Early characters seldom use more than three types, and you'll pick it all up along the way.