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Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About How To Use D&D Dice

Close-up of a blue glittery D20 die.

You’ve seen them at the counter in the games store, shiny, colorful, alluring. Goblin brain says you have to have them, but grown-up brain says “stop wasting all of our money, you don’t even know how to use them!” Well, fear not goblin brain, because we’re here with a primer on D&D dice that will silence that internal killjoy by teaching you what each and every die is for. Then there’s no reason left not to collect a massive horde of sparkly, clacky treasure that you can run through your fingers like a cartoon pirate in between games. (I’m not saying this is the real reason to play D&D but I’m also not saying it isn’t).

Dice carved from labradorite with gold numbers
Dice carved from labradorite with gold numbers (The Splintered Tree, Etsy)

What is a D20?

The big boy, the true workhorse of any D20 dice set. Your D20 will be making most of the decisions for your character because you roll it to see whether or not you succeed at any given task, from lock picking to combat moves. Before you begin the game, you’ll have made a character sheet, laying out your character’s stats, skills, and combat scores. By combining those numbers with the one you’ve rolled on the D20 you’ll get your total, and the DM will then tell you whether you’ve succeeded or failed a particular action, based on whether that number is high enough to beat the DC (difficulty check) of the action, or the armor class or attack number of your foe.

This is also the die you’ll roll to see who in your party goes first in the combat order (rolling initiative) and to perform the various save checks that determine whether your character succumbs to a number of negative effects, including death when you’ve finally run out of hit points.

A giant iridescent silver D20
A giant iridescent silver D20 (Dispel Dice)


A pretty specialist die, the D12 doesn’t get much love unless you’re playing a barbarian. Used to calculate the damage done by heavy weapons, you roll it after you’ve successfully landed a hit to see how much damage you’ve done to your enemy. Add your ability modifier (determined by your ability score) and any bonuses that apply to get the final score. If you’re a barbarian, you also use it to work out your hit points, rolling it once per level and adding the scores.

Four 12 sided dice with gold numbers. One red, one purple, one blue and gold, one black and gold.
Customisable D12 Dice, (TheCeruleanWolf, Etsy)


D10s act as hit dice for fighters and paladins, rolled once per level with the scores added together. They’re also for working out damage with a number of specialist weapons and spells (their entries in the manual will specify), and for rolling percentages in combination with the percentile die.

A pile of ten sided dice, with purple, blue and pink swirly colouring and gold numbers.
Faerie Dragon D10 Dice Set (mintandmustard, Etsy)

D% (Percentile die)

This is your other 10-sided die, but this one has intervals of ten on the sides instead of single-digit numbers. Roll it together with the D10 to generate percentages. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about this die unless you’re the Dungeon Master as percentages are only really used to generate random encounters.

A pair of blue glittery ten sided dice with orange numbers. One has numbers 0-9 and then other has intervals of ten.
In a Trance – percentage dice set, (Desired Effect Dice, Etsy)


Used to calculate the damage done by swords and similarly large weapons, as well as some spells, the D8 is also the hit die for most classes.


One of the more versatile dice in a set, the D6 is used to calculate wizards’ hit points and the damage done by certain spells. They’re also used during character creation by players who want to randomly generate their character’s ability scores. For each ability, roll four D6, discard the lowest score, and add the other three together.

A blue holographic six sided die with gold numbers.
Lightning D&D Dice Set for Dungeons and Dragons (BestcloakforU, Etsy)


Affectionately known as the caltrop, the D4 is almost as unloved as the D12. Used to calculate the damage done by small weapons and some spells, as well as the number of hit points restored during healing spells.

A large number of red pyramidal dice scattered around three glass vials with aged labels saying healing potion on them.
Healing Potions. Roll For Gift, Etsy

(featured image: Aninka Bongers-Sutherland/Getty Images)

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Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.