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I understand most of what each number represents, but monster/NPC statblocks often have a number in the damage section before the damage roll in parentheses. For example, for a Sahuagin Priestess (MM, p. 264), one of her attacks looks like this:

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d4 + 1) piercing damage.

What does the 3 in "3 (1d4 + 1)" mean?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour for an easy badge. Great first question. I edited it a tiny bit to fit in with the site (for example, you don't need to put the game system in the title). Look forward to seeing you around! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 21:25

4 Answers 4

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It represents average damage

The Introduction to the Monster Manual discusses how to read the damage of attacks in the stat block:

Hit. Any damage dealt or other effects that occur as a result of an attack hitting a target are described after the “Hit” notation. You have the option of taking average damage or rolling the damage; for this reason, both the average damage and the die expression are presented.

The average result of 1d4 + 1 is 3.5, which rounds down to 3.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So as the person being hit, always take the average? (since it's rounded down) \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok no, only if the DM does not want to roll \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 8:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel it is to help speed things up, it saves the DM having to roll dmg every time for every mob. \$\endgroup\$
    – WendyG
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 18:45
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The 3 is the average damage.

Some DMs prefer to save time by using average damage instead of rolling every time. The average is calculated as you'd expect: ([min damage] + [max damage]) / 2, and then rounded down. In the case of your example, this results in (2 + 5) / 2 = 3.5. The 3.5 is then rounded down to 3 to get the average damage.

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That 3 represents the average value of the damage roll; i.e. on average if you roll 1d4+1 you'll get 3. It's for simplicity's sake and you can use it if you want less randomness as a DM.

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The 3 is the average damage done by her bite (rounded down). Inside the parentheses is the formula for rolling damage.

1d4 (one four sided die) + 1: For possible values of 2-5. (2+5)/2 = 3.5.

Depending on the size of the encounter, you may choose to use average damage instead of rolling damage for every instance.

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