The uniting factor for most tabletop games is the use of dice. They act as the arbiter of success and failure, and are used in almost every TTRPG on the market. We talk often of such dice, and often in abbreviations.
This reality has turned dice notation into the basic jargon of TTRPG communities. Luckily, it’s pretty simple.
If you’ve found yourself confused, here’s a brief guide to dice notation and names:
When you’re reading the rules for Dungeons and Dragons, or any other game, you’re likely to find the instruction “roll 1d6”. Or some other combination of numbers around the letter ‘d’. I like to call this ‘d-notation’, although there isn’t a set name for it. It’s the most common way of telling a player or reader which dice to roll.
This notation breaks down into 3 parts: the first number, the d#, and any modifiers.
The first number in d-notation represents the number of dice rolled at one time.
You won’t always see this! If it isn’t there, you’re either meant to roll only 1 die, or are just talking about dice in a general sense and aren’t indicating that a roll should be made.
This tells you the type of dice that should be rolled. The ‘d’ stands for die or dice, and the # tells you how many sides the dice ought to have.
A d4 means a 4-sided die, d6 means a 6-sided, d8 means 8-sided, and so on. You probably won’t see any of these with odd numbers, unless you have some unusual or irregular dice. And most games won’t call for dice that specialized.
There are a couple of special cases for d-notation. They are as follows:
D2: A 2-sided die is a coin. You can also roll a d4 and divide the result by 2.
D100: While they do sell 100-sided dice, this is more commonly rolled with 2 10-sided dice, using each as one digit of the result. Many dice sets come with a d10 numbered in intervals of 10 so that you can simply add them together. Here, a roll of 00 and 0 is 100, since you cannot roll a 0 one a die.
D3, or any odd numbers: Most games, as previously stated, won’t call for odd numbered dice. When they do, you’re usually meant to roll a die of double the value and then halve the result. For a d3, for instance, you would roll a d6 and divide the result by 2.
d Notation Modifiers
A modifier to the d-notation indicates an alteration to the result of the roll.
+/-: Paired with a number, this indicates that you either add or subtract that amount from your roll. When it’s paired with another instance of d-notation, you roll dice in the indicated amount and add that result to your previous result.
Dropping Dice: You might be asked to “drop” a number of dice from your total after you roll them. This might be the highest, lowest, or dice that have rolled a specific number. In these cases, you discard dice of the indicated value from the final result, not adding them into the total. You’ll only see this when you are asked to roll more than one die.
Rerolling Dice: You might also be asked to “reroll” a number of dice after you roll them. To do so, you simply take on of the dice you rolled, and roll it again! This usually happens under similar conditions to dropping dice, where you alter the highest, lowest, or a specific numeral result.
One of the first things you’ll do when playing Dungeons and Dragons is roll your stats. There are a number of methods to do so, one of which is the “Roll 4d6, drop lowest” method.
To use this method as written, you do the following:
Find and roll 4 6-sided dice (alternatively, you can also roll 1 6-sided die, 4 times). Note the number rolled on each die. You then take the die with the lowest numeral result and discard it. That die result won’t be added to your total.
You then add together the numeral result of the 3 remaining dice, and that total is the first of your stats!
Dice Shape Names
When you’re looking to buy dice, they usually aren’t listed or referred to in d-notation. Instead, they’ll usually be referred to by either their number of sides, or their shape names, which use the Greek cardinal-number prefixes. For a standard 7-shape set, the names are as follows:
If dice aren’t marketed with any of the above terms, it’ll probably be with the name of the game their set is intended to be used with. Warhammer dice, Dungeons and Dragons dice, and Pathfinder dice are all common way to refer to dice sets online.
Games with Custom Dice
Some games opt for custom dice, with unique symbols instead of standard numerals.
Some of these, like Fate/Fudge, can be played with regular dice as well (provided you don’t mind using slightly more math than the custom dice require). Others, like Overlight and Star Wars Destiny must be played with the game-specific dice. These dice are usually sold in sets alongside and separately from the broader game.
In these cases, the dice will usually be named and listed by color, symbol, or function somewhere in the game’s guide.
Do you have a personal/custom way of referring to dice? Could we make this guide any more clear or useful? Let us know in the comments below!