Tabletop gamers love their dice.
It’s not an exaggeration – these many-sided math cubes are a staple of the tabletop community, regardless of game-of-choice. They’re indispensable to most games, a ton of fun to collect, and easily recognizable. If you go looking for artwork or merchandise for the hobby, you’ll find example after example of stylized dice in various forms and presentations.
The standard dice set for playing Dungeons and Dragons comes with 7 pieces – one each of D20, D12, D10, Percentile, D8, D6, and D4. It’s about the only commonality that you can really expect from each set, given the wide swath of colors, sizes, and materials that they come in. Each one has their own unique use in the game.
The d20 is the most frequently used die in Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s the standard “make-an-attempt” die – if you’re trying to make an attack, attempt a skill or action, or cast a spell, chances are that you’ll be asked to roll your d20 and add whatever modifiers are applicable to it. If your roll is greater-than or equal-to the set Die Chance (DC) for the task, you’ve succeeded! If not, you’ve failed.
The d20 operates on standard percentage-change. This means that each thing you attempt has a set chance for you to succeed, and you need to roll higher than that percentage (represented by the DC) on the die. 20 is divisible into 100 by 5, so the math works out so that each 1-value higher you roll, you’re 5% closer to 100% likelihood of success.
(Some rolls may still require more than a 20 to succeed, though! This is because DnD takes place in a fictional world, and some things are only possible through the use of magical or supernatural means – no normal person could make that DC 25 check, but the player characters can because they’ve got an extra special boost.)
The d12 is the second-highest of the dice in a standard set. It’s also the second-least frequently used.
The d12 is mostly used to calculate the health of especially sturdy characters like barbarians, and to roll damage for powerful weapons like greataxes. If you get very, very lucky you might find a spell that deals 1d12 of magical damage.
If you’re playing as a more rounded character, who can cast spells and buff the party, chances are that you won’t use this die. It’s mainly there for those who want to be very good in one particular area – and that area is usually taking and dealing physical damage.
The d10 is an extremely versatile die. It’s numbered from 0-9, with the 0 representing 10 when you roll one on its own. It rolls the health and damage for a number of classes, weapons, and spells. It’s not the highest of the rollable damage dice, but it’s pretty up there.
The Percentile is almost never rolled on its own. It’s usually rolled with a d10, and the results are added to each other to make a combined d100 roll!
Like the d10, it has 10 sides, but numbered in multiples 10, from 00-90. Unlike the d10, though, the 00 side almost always just means 0. The only exception is when you roll 00+0 in combination. This counts as a roll of 100.
Percentile dice are almost exclusively used to roll on tables, or for when you want an exact percent out of 100. It’s rare that you’ll need it unless you’re the Dungeon Master (DM).
The d8 is much like the d10, in that it gets used for various health, damage, and magical rolls.
It’s particularly common for class-specific features and attacks in 5e, like a paladin’s Smite.
The d6 is probably of the most recognizable, standard shape for dice overall. It’s what people think of when they think of gambling, boardgames, or simply fate. Each of these little cubes has 6 sides, and they’re used for a wide variety of things in Dungeons and Dragons.
Aside from being used to roll for health, damage, and spells (albeit the less powerful ones), they're also used in giving Inspiration (a bonus d6 to add to a random d20 roll, which can be conferred by either a bard character or the DM), and determining ability scores.
Ability Scores are a set of numbers which determine your character’s basic characteristics in Dungeons and Dragons. They include Strength, Dexterity, Charisma, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Constitution, and range when first creating a character from 3-18. The absolute average is considered to be 10, with scores above or below that number indicating particular excellence or failure in a trait. A common method of rolling Ability Scores is called “roll 4, drop lowest”, in which you roll 4d6 and add up the 3 highest numbers in the roll. This gives a broad variety of results, although it can make for some pretty crazy character builds.
The d4 is the smallest of Dungeons and Dragons dice, and more painful to step on than even the dreaded Lego.
It’s generally only used for particularly weak spells and damage. Older editions used it a lot more than 5e, as a rolled-for-modifier, but the newer streamlined system has made it a much rarer occurrence!
Sets with Multiple Dice
The easiest dice sets to find a buy come with a standard 7 dice. We sell a lot of them here at D20Collective!
This is all that you really need to play the game, but you can also find sets that include multiple of various dice. They come in different configurations, but the 11-piece set is a good place to start. Soon enough, we plan to have even more uniquely numbered sets available, too!
It’s most common to find extra sets that include 3 more d6, for a total of 4.
These sets are sold for the purposes of rolling ability scores, since it’s faster to roll 4d6 at once than it is to roll 1d6, 4 times. It’s also useful when casting spells or attacking with abilities that give you extra damage, since the d6 is a commonly used die for that purpose.
An extra D20 is extremely useful in 5e.
5e uses an advantage/disadvantage system, where instead of a bunch of modifiers, a DM can opt to simply allow a player to roll 2d20 and take the higher or lower number depending upon whether they’re at an advantage or disadvantage in the situation.
As with the d6, you can roll one die twice instead. But it’s so much faster and more fun to roll 2 at once!