The array of oddly-shaped dice that are required for playing a tabletop roleplay game can be bewildering and intimidating at first. But don’t let it scare you. Once you get the hang of the dice, it will come like second nature.
The most important thing to note is that not all tabletop systems use all of the polyhedral dice. In fact, there are several which only use a six or ten-side die. Regardless, it’s still good to know what each of the different dice to and look like.
Understanding the Dice
A polyhedral dice set can be purchased at any game shop as well as online. There are usually seven dice in a set and they can be found in just about any color combination imaginable.
Here is a breakdown of each of the seven dice:
This is a 20-sided die, often abbreviated as d20. It is the most circular of all of the dice. In most systems, this is the dice that you’ll use the most. Every time that you make an attack, save against an effect, or try to do something this is the dice you’ll roll.
There is usually a dot indicating the difference between the six and nine. The dot should always be at the bottom of the number. Most players try and keep at least two of these, but you really only need one at a time. DMs, on the other hand, should probably have at least three to make rolling for multiple enemies easier.
This is a 12-sided die, often abbreviated as d12. It looks like a less articulated version of the d20 above. Much like the other smaller numbered die, this is solely a damage die.
Out of all of the dice in a typical polyhedral set, this one will likely be used the least. In fact, in some systems there was only one weapon which used the d12 and so it has the reputation of being a worthless die (unless you’re a barbarian and need that particular weapon). You don’t need more than one.
This is a 10-sided die, often abbreviated as d10. A polyhedral set will usually have two of them; one with two digits and one with only one digit. They can both be rolled together in order to get percents (this is to replace a 100-sided die. Your DM may call for a d100 roll which requires these two dice). The dice themselves look like two little cones squished together.
The d10 is mostly going to be used either as part of a percentage d100 roll, or else for damage for larger weapons or more nasty spells. The 0 should be read as a 10.
As a note, there are a few systems which use this die as the primary or only die in the system. Blocks of d10s can be purchased if you are playing a d10 system. In a d10 system, other dice sizes will not be necessary.
When rolling as a percentage, roll both die and read the one with two digits as the 10s place, and the other as the ones. A roll of 00 and 0 is 100% while a roll of 00 and 1 is 1%. Remember that getting a 0 on any die roll, including the d100, is not possible.
This is an 8-sided die, often abbreviated as d8. This die will look like two little pyramids pushed together, or like a diamond. This die is used for damage, and depending on how high level the character (and which weapons/spells you use) you may need more than one. Most players won’t need more than two, although a typical polyhedral set only comes with one.
The d8 is one of the more common damage dice and many weapons use this die. Additionally, a number of spells and abilities (like Bardic Inspiration) upgrade from using a lower die to this die when used at higher levels.
This is a 6-sided die, often abbreviated as a d6. Shaped like a cube, this is easily the most common die in games across all genres, including board games and gambling. This is also one of the more common die rolls, especially when starting out, and players will need quite a few, although a typical polyhedral set only comes with one.
The d6 is the most common damage die and a majority of weapons use this die for dealing damage. Additionally, many lower level spells and abilities will use one or more 6-sided dice for damage or bonuses.
It is worth noting that there are entire systems which only use the d6. These systems have a number of names, but the Fusion system is one of the more well-known. In many of these systems, you will roll multiple dice and then count the number of times you succeeded. Blocks of d6 are available for purchase if you are using one of these systems. Be sure to check with your DM as a few systems will require two different colors of dice.
This is a 4-sided die, often abbreviated as a d4. This die is shaped like a little mini pyramid, and the numbers are either at the tips or clustered in the center, depending on the maker of the die. Regardless, always read the number that is aligned the proper way. A typical polyhedral set comes with one d4.
The d4 is really only used for a handful of smaller weapons (such as daggers) and very low-level spells. While you may use it quite lot your first couple of levels, you will likely need to quickly upgrade to an item/spell that uses a bigger die. As a result, while this die is not uncommon it will not see as much use as a d6 or d8.
Which die do I use?
Whenever you’re reading the different spells, skills, and weapons, you’ll probably come across things like “2d4 damage” or “1d8 damage”. As you can probably guess, the first number is how many dice, while the rest tells which which die you need. For the first, you would roll two 4-sided dice; for the second, it would just be a single d8.
As far as Traditional Dungeons & Dragons is what is called a D20 System, which means that all of your actions involve rolling the d20. Damage is done using the other dice.
For more information on using the dice and playing the game, check out the rest of the D&D 101 series.