The dice are possibly the most central physical object in the hobby of Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D for short). While the Dungeon Master (or DM) is responsible for much of what happens in an adventure, many critical moments are decided by the fateful result of a dice roll. Hitting or missing with a desperate attack, resisting the effects of a poisoned wine, or attempting to scale a slippery wall in a dungeon – all these events are decided by the dice. No wonder many players are very selective (and often protective) about the dice that they are using!
With the explosion of interest in D&D that followed the release of the fifth edition of the ruleset, there has also been a huge rise of dice collectors and collectable dice. It’s easy to see why: dice are important, pretty, and come in a plethora of different variations.
Here follows a quick look into the types of dice that are used in D&D, examples of various styles and materials, and their respective benefits and drawbacks.
What kind of dice are needed for D&D?
The typical basic dice set for D&D contains seven polyhedral dice. These have 20, 12, 10, 8, 6 and 4 sides – and there’s also an additional 10-sided die that is numbered in tens from 10 to 90, which is used for so-called percentile rolls when you want a result ranging from 1 to 100.
Of these dice, the 20-sided one is by far the most important. It is commonly referred to as a d20, and it has become symbolic for D&D. This is not because the d20 usually is the biggest die or has the most sides. Its importance is due to that most checks for accomplishing something is made by rolling a d20, be it successfully swinging a longsword, climbing an icy rope, or persuading a stubborn guard to look the other way when you’re sneaking out of town.
Meanwhile, the other dice are more often used when calculating damage or for other purposes. As with the d20, these too are often identified by a “d” followed by the number of sides that they have: a four-sided die is called “d4”, an eight-sided die is a “d8”, and so on.
How many dice do I need?
Good question! Here is where it starts to get interesting. In boring theory, you need just seven dice. If a that requires you to roll, for example, three d6, you can simply role a single d6 and add up the total. Easy, right?
However! There are many situations that call for lots of dice to be rolled. Sometimes, one must roll a whole handful of dice to figure out the damage of a certain attack or magic spell (meteor swarm, I’m looking at you!). Also, when the attack is a critical hit, the number of rolls is doubled. And then you have the utter chaos of frantic dice-rolling that might arise when a magic user summons a horde of critters into a battle. These situations get more and more common when your character increases in level, too.
But can’t I just roll one die multiple times?
Yes! But while it’s totally possible to roll a d6 over and over, it’s easy to see why it’s preferable to have more than one at hand.
For a start, re-rolling the same die more than, say, three or four times is tedious and slows everything down. Just picture a DM who has described theatrically how your character storms into combat to attack a dragon, only for the action to bogged down by the process of rolling a die fifteen times and slowly adding up the damage.
In short: more dice speed up the game, which makes for more fun. There’s also something special with rolling lots of dice in one go when one’s character has dealt a phenomenal blow or cast a spell to majestic effect.
What’s more, as mentioned above, dice are nice. The words rhyme for a reason! Whether one plays the game regularly or only occasionally, a dice collection always look smashing arranged on your bookshelf. There are even custom dice stands that one can buy to create a kind of mini-exhibition. More on this below!
So if you’re new to the hobby and want to arrive extremely prepared for your first session, don’t hesitate to add a few extra dice to your pile. Alternatively, if you want to learn more about the rules and how the games is played first, just look for a standard set with seven dice and you’ll be perfectly fine.
It’s a material world
The stuff that your dice are made of will affect your experience when you’re playing. Not the actual results of your rolls, perhaps, but definitely the feel and atmosphere that they bring to the table. Moreover, they also behave quite dissimilarly when they’re rolled. So choose your set with care, and remember that dice that look awesome in the shop or on a website might be different to the ones you like to use when you’re actually playing.
Firstly, a pro tip: consider the contrast of the number on the die against its background colour – in other words, how easy it is to tell what the die is showing. If your group (like ours) want to play in candlelight, stay away from dark dice with only slightly lighter or darker numbers, as these quickly become a nightmare to discern in weak lighting. Similarly, very light colours with poor contrast can be equally frustrating in a dim room.
On to the materials! The vast majority of dice for D&D are made of plastic, and for good reason: they’re comparably inexpensive, can be produced in countless colours, and they can be solid, partially, or almost entirely transparent. This means it’s very likely that you’ll find a set that really appeals to your taste, and to a decent price. Recommended for characters of all kinds.
Glass dice are the high-end variety. They’re usually very expensive, but they often also look sophisticated and exquisite, especially when the lighting is right. That being said, they can also be fragile and end up damaged merely from being knocked against one another in your dice bag. So if you go down this route, make sure that your dice are well protected. Recommended for high elves, wizards, and characters who are all about elegance.
Metal dice are the mean siblings of glass dice. They can look very cool indeed, and as they’re more robust than glass dice, one rarely has to worry that they are scratched or dented – on the contrary, it’s wise to be mindful of the table when rolling them! What’s more, many metal dice are lacking in contrast, so it can be hard to make out the numbers on them. Recommended for dwarves and heavily armoured warriors.
Wooden dice are peculiar things. For fantasy settings, wooden dice certainly look the part more than any other dice, and they roll well on most surfaces. But they also tend to be remarkably lightweight, and bounce easily on hard surfaces such as glass or lacquered tables. I’ve seen many wooden dice roll off the table, onto the floor, and disappear into a far corner of the room, which can be somewhat annoying in the middle of a pitched battle. Recommended for halflings and wood elves.
A word on the weird ones
Because of how popular D&D has become, polyhedral dice can now be found in an astronomical number of variations, so it’s no surprise that there are many types of novelty dice out there.
One of the more common type is the sharp-edged die. Often handmade and expensive, this kind of die has, as the name suggests, edges that are very sharp rather than slightly rounded like on more common dice. Sharp-edged dice are coveted by many as they’re pure eye candy, and they work well when they are rolled. However, be mindful that some sharp-edged dice – especially the heavy kind – can leave unwanted marks on delicate surfaces. This is especially likely if they’re also made from glass or metal.
There are also a huge range of dice in curious shapes. Some are almost cylindrical, some are metal grids wrought into a multi-sided forms, and others look like mysterious tangles of metal but function as dice, too.
A word of caution: many of these dice are better as decorations or fun additions to your collection rather than for playing. When the gaming session is in full swing, one usually wants to sum up the result of a dice roll quickly, no matter how gorgeous the dice are. Tread extra carefully around the infamous d100 – effectively a ball with a hundred tiny sides – as this type of die is known (and dreaded) for its tendency to roll for a very long time!
You can never go wrong with a good dice bag! As with dice, there are tons of models available – just make sure to get one that’s big enough for future additions to your dice pile. If there’s text or symbols on the bag, it’s better if they’re embroidered or printed on the fabric rather than glued on. A good alternative to dice bags are dice boxes, which usually are small wooden boxes with lids that can be secured. They rarely break, hold lots of dice, and look great on the table.
A solid dice tray can also be very useful, especially on cluttered tables. They help you sum up the rolls fast, and they can also ensure that your dice aren’t mixed up with other ones – which is a common problem. Make sure it’s not so big it takes up too much space, or so small for a die to roll.
Dice towers are for those who love a dramatic touch. They’re basically small buildings, often consisting of thin wooden sheets and shaped in imaginative ways, into which you pour your dice. The dice then rattle through the little tower and end up near its base, after which you check the result. A nice addition with lots of flair, if your table has room for one!
There are also dice stands (or mounts) on which you can place your most precious dice, ideally in a prominent place. These are mainly for the serious collectors and connoisseurs, but if you have an especially good-looking dice (that perhaps also behaves well at the gaming table), this might just be the thing for you!
You’re now fully prepared to start your collection! So choose your dice carefully, bring your best ones to the table, and let the rolling begin!