My friends and I have started playing 5th edition with no previous knowledge of D&D. We're about 12 hours in and still learning the rules as we go, but I think we may be doing basic combat wrong. Here's what we're doing, whether a monster is attacking a player or vice versa:

  1. Attack roll (1d20+ modifiers).
  2. If the attack roll is greater than or equal to the target's AC plus modifiers, it hits.
  3. Damage roll. Let's say the attack is 1d6+2 and we roll a 3, that's a total of 5 damage.

OK here's where I'm not sure. There's this thing called "Hit Dice" which I've been unable to fully understand. We've been doing an extra hit dice roll on every attack which causes a damage buffer for that attack only. So for example, I'm about to be dealt 5 damage and I roll my hit dice. A roll of 3 would cause me to take 2 damage. A roll of 5 or more would cause no damage at all (even though the attack "hits").

In the book, a monster's hit points are displayed something like this:

Hit Points: 7 (2d6)

To the best of my understanding this is "MaxHP (HitDice)". So in the above case we'll roll 2d6 every time damage is about to be dealt to see how much (if any) is actually subtracted from the target's current hit points.

I'm really unsure about this Hit Dice thing. Granted we are all level 1, but when we use hit dice like this is seems to take forever to do any damage to monsters. When we don't use it the monsters are able to easily do a ton of damage to our party members, sometimes killing them with one hit. We aren't familiar with the pace of combat so we're not sure how it's supposed to be.

I watched a video of people playing out the first premade scenario online and they did not appear to use hit dice, but every character was able to one-shot the monsters, so it seems like they could have been doing it wrong as well.

I thought basic combat rules would be easy to look up but it's harder than I thought, and everyone I asked who plays older versions wasn't sure. Are we doing this right?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Not getting hit is very important in 5e \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 18:32
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ That's amazing - you've almost reconstructed the very earliest D&D combat system where the attacker rolled their hit dice, then the defender theirs and the difference was applied as damage to the loser. Never actually published in that form as the design altered before the first set was released, but the name "hit dice" nevertheless stuck. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nagora
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 21:27

3 Answers 3


Hit dice have something of a misleading name. It would be better to call them something along the lines of "hit point dice".

They serve two functions in the game. First, they determine your max HP. At L1 a PC gets the maximum roll of their hit dice (so like hte fighter's hit die is a d10, so they get 10), plus their con mod (we'll use +2 for our example here). This means that a L1 fighter starts with 12 HP. Each time they level up after that they get to roll their hit die (or take the high average), and add that plus their con mod to their max HP to get their new max HP. So back to our fighter example, when he goes from L1 to L2, he gets to roll his hit die, lets say he gets a 6, which is the high average), and then add his con mod. So a L2 fighter would have 20 HP.

The other thing that hit dice are used for is for healing during a short rest. If you take a short rest following combat, you can spend (roll) hit dice and add them to your current HP to take you up to you max HP.

So yes, you are currently using your hit dice wrong. The monster stat blocks are worded like that to show you how the monster's HP are arrived at (2d6's average is 7). If you want to randomize the HP for your monsters you can roll instead of taking the average (it's the same thing for monster damage, they give you the average, you can choose to randomize it with the dice expression provided).

If you were watching someone play the first adventure of the 5e starter set, most of the monsters there are goblins with 7 HP and, yeah, most L1 PCs can one shot goblins. This is normal.


The "Hit Points" block in the monster entries is really "Average HP (Dice to Roll if you don't want to take the average)". In your example, you can take the average of a d6 to be 3.5, so two of them is 7. This is a shortcut so you don't have to roll every time—but you can, and that monster will have somewhere from 2–12 HP.

Using your examples again, if you make an attack that does 5 damage, you subtract that directly from the monster's current HP. If you are using the average as described above, and the monster hasn't previously been hit, then that's 7 − 5 = 2 remaining HP, which becomes the monster's new current HP.


Hit Dice are not the same as damage dealt on attacks and HP pools.

"Hit Dice" Is a specific term from previous editions and a mechanic; it was included in 5e in part to appeal to players of those previous editions.

Hit Dice for Players

Hit Dice work like surges in 4e. Hit Dice are gained 1 per level and the size of the hit die is determined by your starting class. You spend hit dice when you take a short rest to regain HP lost during your adventuring day. You regain half of your hit dice pool when you take a long rest in addition to your HP. Some healing powers may allow you to spend a hit die.

Additionally when you create your character (and when you level up) you will either roll your classes hit die or take the statistical average rounded up (6 for a d10 for example) adding your con mod and adding the HP to your HP pool.

Hit Dice for monsters

The Monster Stats for HP show a number and then dice afteward. The number is the average of those hit dice and the suggested HP for that monster. Alternatively if you wanted to you could roll the hit dice for every monster to create variations. Thus in your example 7 HP would be the quick and easy HP total for that monster or you could roll 2d6 and use the result as the HP for said monster.

A breakdown of how an attack scenario should occur

  • Player declares their attack ("I swing my battleaxe at it" or "I cast ray of frost").
  • Player rolls their d20 adds their modifier (adv and disadv are factored in).
  • The total is compared to the monster AC. If = or greater than monster AC then it hits.
  • Players roll damage.
  • Damage is subtracted from monster HP pool.

Things can be sped up by rolling damage and to-hit at the same time, but that is the general sequence.


You must log in to answer this question.