Do you roll or use static damage in your D&D game?
5th Edition stat blocks list damage as a flat number, with rolled damage in parentheses:
If you deal damage, you must do one of these (or some variation). But do you know why? In order to make an informed choice about whether to use flat or rolled damage, you should understand the benefits of each.
Several very smart and experienced Dungeon Masters have transitioned to flat damage. They are happy to sing of its virtues. Notably, Sly Flourish makes the case for “static” monster damage, primarily focusing on the time it can save at the table. Since both rolling and math take time, not doing them is faster!
Of course, flat damage may be easier for folks for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you prefer predictability for your players. It can also help folks with dyscalculia, who might otherwise experience difficulty adding additional math to the battle equation.
Personally, I still roll damage at my table. While it’s not as easy, I’m able to derive enough benefit to make it worth it. I also employ some time-saving techniques to cut down on any time loss. Let’s focus on two different situations, since the benefits are different for each.
Small Damage. For small damage totals, you can roll attack and damage dice at the same time. This alleviates much of the concern folks have about damage dice “taking extra time” at the table. If all the dice are tossed at once, the only additional time sink is some basic arithmetic. While this can be prohibitive for some folks, it is generally a skill that can improve with practice.
The benefit is that the damage die informs the narrative. A hit that deals 3 damage plays much differently than a hit that does 10 damage. Especially when the target’s HP total is closer to 10. What might be a glancing blow in one case is a crushing impact in another. The cool thing is that this still works, even when you miss! The 3 damage miss may have been a weak swing that was deflected. The 10 damage miss may simulate a large windup that’s too slow and deliberate to connect.
Big Damage. For large damage totals, you get a big dramatic dice drop. It takes time to count, but the tension it creates makes it worth it. As you call for a saving throw and reach for the dragon’s fistful of breath weapon dice, the players’ eyes will widen with anticipation. That tension hangs in the air until the damage total is declared. Taking a pause to count up dice here actually serves its own function in that it telegraphs the sheer power of the attack, tipping players to avoid it in successive rounds.
There’s less narrative bite to the variability with large damage totals, but you can still tell whether something was a good roll by reference to the flat total (or the classic, “hey, that’s a lot of 8s!”).