In D&D 5e, there are attack rolls (rolls to hit something's AC, usually with a weapon), saving throws (rolls to avoid something) and ability checks (including skill checks).

Do all rolls of twenty-sided dice in D&D 5th edition fall into one of these three categories?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget the psych out of the DM making you think something is happening. \$\endgroup\$ – SeanC Feb 27 '18 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been using the phrase "ability roll" to refer collectively to attack rolls, saving throws (besides death), and ability checks. I.e. all d20 rolls that add an ability modifier, and can sometimes add proficiency. \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht Feb 28 '18 at 0:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wait a minute. Does this mean you can use bardic inspiration for a death saving throw... Oh... \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht Feb 28 '18 at 0:34

There are exceptions, but not many.

There are several instances of unique d20 rolls, that are primarily related to spell effects or class abilities:

Wild Magic Sorcerer's Wild Magic Surge (PHB, p103) depends on a d20 roll for its trigger.

The Blink spell triggers its ethereal jaunt on the roll of a d20.

Duplicates from the Mirror Image spell are automatically targeted based on a d20 roll.

The Slow spell uses a d20 to see if a spell with a casting time of one action can be completed in the current turn or the next one.

In all cases I can find besides attack, saving throw, or ability check, the use of a d20 seems to be a randomized trigger, more than a check against or comparison to another value.

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Technically, "no," but mostly "yes."

Almost every mention you see of a d20 roll is a check, throw, or attack. The rare exceptions I can think of are:

  • the mirror image spell uses a straight d20 roll to decide which target is hit by an incoming attack;
  • in one module a player in the party is to roll a d20 each morning, afternoon, and evening to determine whether a random encounter will happen;
  • in another module characters can bet on events in-universe which results are determined by a die roll;

and other variations on the "let's purely randomize something" theme. (I mean, sure, all rolls are variations on the randomization theme. I'm just saying that checks/throws/attacks are 99% of them.)

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Mirror Image (PHB p.260) uses an unmodified d20 as well:

Each time a creature targets you with an attack during the spell's duration, roll a d20 to determine whether the attack instead targets one of your duplicates.

If you have three duplicates, you must roll a 6 or higher to change the attack's target to a duplicate. With two duplicates, you must roll an 8 or higher. With one duplicate, you must roll an 11 or higher.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ this seems like a comment \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Feb 27 '18 at 6:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer It's an answer, just not a comprehensive one. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Feb 27 '18 at 7:56

The answer is basically yes but don't put too fine of a point on it. There are some special effects that ask for a d20 and don't fall into any of these 3 categories. All of these are minor, incidental uses of the dice and don't amount to a major section of the rules.

  1. Several wands have the character roll a d20 on the last use of a charge and on a 1 it is destroyed.

  2. I don't know if there is one published yet, but you could have a d20 damage die.

  3. In adventure league Tomb of Annihilation I am playing a surrogate that holds a piece of my dead character's soul and I have to roll a d20 every morning and on a 1 my soul is lost.

  4. There are some d20 tables in the DMG for different effects.

  5. The spell mirror image uses a D20 to establish how effective multiple images are.

In my opinion, I would argue initiative and death saving throws while clearly falling under the ability check and saving throw rules are different enough from other checks of there kind to classify there own categories.

  • Initiative is a Dexterity ability check but doesn't work like any other ability check, it has its own set of rules and some abilities specifically target initiative.

    To clarify, based on the comments. Initiative is an ability check but has several unique features. It isn't a skill check a player initiates but something that happens automatically at the start of battle. It isn't a skill you can be proficient in, though the bard's jack of all trades does apply, as does the Champion's remarkable athlete. It isn't a pass/fail check but a group ordering. It has several optional rules in the DMG and class features which modify how it is calculated.

  • Death saving throws are a saving throw, but doesn't work like any other saving throw. It has it's own set of rules that it does not share with other saving throws.

    To clarify, it is a saving throw, has saving throw in it's name but is 'special' according to the PHB. It is not tied to an ability. It has it's own special rules with a best of five system that no other saving throw has. It has critical success/fail rules that no other saving throw has. It has automatic failure rules that no other saving throw has.

There may be others that I missed but the point is that the d20 is used for more than just those three main features but the 3 main features are the driving mechanics of the game and the d20 is the common thread of all 3 mechanics.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't really understand your first two bullet points. Initiative is a dex check and works exactly like all other ability checks: exhaustion or poison will give you disadvantage, Jack of all Trades'll augment it, &c. Death saving throws are saving throws, albeit not tied to an ability. But thrice-exhausted will disadvantage them, lucky works on them, and a paladin's aura buffs them. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 27 '18 at 3:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 don't forget monk's get proficiency in death saves later as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Feb 27 '18 at 3:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ But initiative is not a pass/fail check like the other ability checks but an ordering, as the question was types of rolls initiative works differently than any other ability check, it happens automatically not as a player choice and places you in turn order rather than "testing a character's innate talent". Death saving throw may be a weaker point but it also feels different to me, PHB describes it as special, it gets a special section on the character sheet. Was thinking you don't get proficiency on it, didn't know monks did, but even then it is not tied to a stat like the other saves \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Bauer Feb 27 '18 at 5:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ The results of initiative rolls are used for a specific purpose, and thus initiative rolls are a specific type of Dex check, but they are still a Dex check and thus a type of ability check. Similarly, death saving throws are a special type of saving throw, but are still saving throws. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 27 '18 at 6:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Steve; I added in the Champion Fighter's 7th level remarkable athlete point on initiative, fixed barb to bard, revised a couple of syntax errors, and tossed in mirror image. Please review the edit to make sure you still like it. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 27 '18 at 13:13


A d20 is just a dice, just like any other dice. A lot of the d20s you roll will be attacks, saves or ability checks, but then a lot of d6s you will roll are damage rolls, that does not mean a d6 is only used for damage.

There is absolutely nothing limiting a d20 from being used in the future for damage rolls, spell effects or chance tables, and any answer suggesting the answer is 'yes, with these exceptions' is not future proof.

In other words, to remember it correctly:

  • An attack roll / save / ability check uses a d20
  • A d20 is not by default any of those things
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