I'm a new DM, and I'm running two groups of people (one group has complete newbies, and the other has experienced players).

Long story short: both groups have players with the Create Bonfire spell.

Any creature in the bonfire’s space when you cast the spell must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 fire damage

For the newbie group, I took over control on player unrelated rolls that happen "naturally", so for bonfire, I roll the Save AND the Damage, since the damage is no longer in player's control. I find that rolling both saving throw and damage die at the same time helps speed up the game, rather than saying

"The zombie flinched out of the fire, but didn't move enough, please roll damage..."

For the experienced group, the players insist on rolling the damage die both on spell cast, and when a creature enters the bonfire.

Which is correct?

Should the failure of saving throw roll the damage, or the caster / initiator of the effect?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain a little bit why it might matter? Are you rolling in secret? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 12:22
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I am rolling in secret, and... for ... speed purposes. Rolling both saving throw and damage die at the same time helps speed up the game, rather than say "The zombie flinched out of the fire, but didn't move enough, please roll damage..." \$\endgroup\$
    – GTMeteor
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 12:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ When an NPC casts a spell on a PC, who rolls the damage dice? \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added your point in the comment about why you prefer one particular way. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why do you think the damage from the spell is out of the casters hands? This particular spell requires concentration so it is always under the control of the PC/NPC who cast it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 17:47

2 Answers 2


Typically, the players would be expected to make any rolls for their own character. That includes damage rolls.

The Player's Handbook is generally written from the perspective of the 'agent' responsible for the character or creature in question.

For example, under Attack Rolls (pg 194) it says:

When you make an attack, your attack roll determines whether the attack hits or misses. To make an attack roll, roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers.

"You", in this case, is whoever is controlling the character that is attacking. And then, under Damage Rolls (pg 196) it says:

Each weapon, spell, and harmful monster ability specifies the damage it deals. You roll the damage die or dice, and add any modifiers, and apply the damage to your target.

It's clear that the "you" or "your" for both the attack and damage is referring to the same person. And for a PC, that person is going to be the person playing that character.

If it's a monster or NPC attacking, then "you" refers to whoever is dictating the actions of that monster or NPC - typically the DM.

In the Dungeon Master's guide there is also a chapter on Running the Game. It even says here, under "Rolling Attacks and Damage" (pg 235 of the DMG):

Players are accustomed to rolling an attack first and then a damage roll. If the players make attack rolls and damage rolls at the same time, the action moves a little faster round the table.

This pretty much spells it out that players are expected to make their own attack rolls and damage rolls. It even suggests that the players make the two rolls at the same time to speed things up (the very reason you stated that you rolled the damage).

Outside of damage rolls, there is a situation where a DM may make a roll for the player. This is actually spelled out just above the "Rolling Attacks and Damage" section. And this is if you, the DM, don't want the player to know how good their check is (the example given is if a player wants to make an Wisdom(Insight) check to see if the baroness is charmed; if the player rolled this, the dice result would give away a clue - so the DM may roll in secret so that the player doesn't know whether a negative result is due to a low dice roll or because the baroness isn't charmed!).

But the above is an exception - done mainly to maintain an air of uncertainty.

Now...it's your game and you're the DM. And if you still want to roll the damage dice then that is up to you. But hopefully its clear that the rules do assume that it is the players that typically do this. And personally I think if you take too much away from your players, it might make them feel like you're virtually playing the game on your own!

  • \$\begingroup\$ For a spell that's not an attack, there's no other roll for the caster to do at the same time as the damage roll. But that doesn't mean they can't just roll the damage first, before the save is attempted by the target. That's how I've always played in 5e. It may work a little less well with spells like Create Bonfire that can deal damage on another character's turn, but it's much better for AOE spells that still do half damage on a successful save since you need the damage amount regardless of the save result. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blckknght
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 16:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Blckknght: Yes, the player can (and in my opinion should) always roll the damage. It doesn't matter if they actually need to roll an attack first or not. They can roll the attack + damage dice at the same time if they like, or just the damage for, e.g. a fireball. Usually in these cases its save for half anyway, so damage dice still need to be rolled! \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 19:04

I agree with PJRZ and that it is up to you as a DM to decide that. Generally speaking it is assumed that players will roll a die or dice when determining damage.

From my experience as player, I would say that part of the fun is throwing your dice and leaving it to Tymora, the goddess of luck, to determine the fate of your enemies or your own. Rolling dice as a player is part of the fun, whether it is to hit, work out damage, for a saving throw or to use a skill. I would feel micro-managed if my DM decided to roll all our damage for spells that require a target to make a saving throw. But, if that player prefers you to roll, I would personally just use averages - it speeds up play even more, e.g. Bonfire 4.5, so rounded down = 4 points of damage.

Also, I would say that how a DM describes what happens to the creature can really set the scene for the battle and/or create an atmosphere. Did the Bonfire burn the creature to a crisp, or did it only burn its tail. You can even bring in humour, the Kobold jumps up and down and stops on its own tail. My current DM loves using description and we are enjoying it a lot. He asks us to describe what our spells look like, for instance, and that has been real fun, too. Is the bonfire a particular colour?

On a side note, I would say to be cautious with describing overly gruesome deaths too regularly, such as exploding and severed heads and cloven-in-half bodies. It's fun to picture at times, but might not always be a good idea. For one, if it is over used it will make these moments less poignant and less interesting. Secondly, it can seriously limit the campaign's ability to interact with creatures. For instance, a party fights a group of Kobolds. According the the DM's descriptions the Kobolds explode, pop and get liquified and minced into tiny little cubes by the players' characters. The Fighter has the final hit on the last of the Kobolds. The Cleric thinks, "Oh no... this is my last chance. I want to use Spare the Dying, bind the Kobold, heal it and cast Zone of Truth to interrogate it. This way we will know what these Kobolds are really up to." ... DM says "Rougarou the Death-Cleaver, lifts his axe and chops the Kobold in half... gore gore, guts guts, splutter splutter." ...the Cleric thinks "WTF" and sheepishly asks the DM "So, can I cast Spare the Dying on this one?" DM "Erm... sure." Cleric casts the spell. DM "The Kobolds finger twitches - that's it."


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .