Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Attack and damage rolls are the core mechanics for DnD 5e’s combat system. They can also be pretty confusing for new players.
While it isn’t complicated to roll some dice and look at the number, assigning the correct bonuses to the correct rolls can be easy to confuse.
Luckily, we’ve put together a simple-to-follow guide for calculating attack and damage bonuses with a quick-reference chart you can use to keep track of the correct bonuses to use for any situation.
How to Calculate Attack Bonus in DnD 5e
In DnD 5e, an attack roll is used to determine if you can hit your opponent. An attack roll is always made with a single d20 and modified with a number of bonuses.
Some bonuses are “flat”, meaning they add a certain preset amount to your attack roll.
However, sometimes you can also add a dice bonus where you roll a die and add that number to your attack roll.
The exact bonuses that apply depend on the nature of the attack, but they all follow this general formula:
1d20 + Ability Modifier Bonus + Proficiency (if applicable) + Magic Weapon Bonus (if applicable) + Class Feature Bonuses (if applicable) + Spell Bonuses (if applicable) = Attack Roll
As you can see, there can be up to 5 different types of bonuses to an attack roll, and sometimes you can have more than one kind of a bonus.
So we will carefully explain each of these bonuses.
When making an attack you always apply the modifier of the relevant attribute.
If you are attacking with a melee weapon, that attribute will be Strength.
If you attack with a finesse weapon, you can use either Strength or Dexterity.
A ranged weapon, such as a longbow or blowgun, always uses your Dexterity.
A thrown melee weapon uses its normal attribute (for example, a thrown handaxe uses Strength, just as if you were using it as a melee weapon).
Lastly, a spell attack uses your spellcasting modifier as determined by your class (either Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma).
A list of weapons and their type can be found on page 149 of the Player’s Handbook, or here!
Remember that sometimes your attribute modifier can be negative! If a Wizard with a 8 in Dexterity tries to fire a crossbow (that they’re not proficient in), they suffer a -1 penalty.
When making an attack you can also apply your proficiency bonus if you are proficient with the weapon. Weapon proficiency is usually determined by your class, though through training or feats you can acquire additional weapon proficiencies.
If you cast a spell with an attack roll, you always apply your proficiency bonus.
If you use a magic weapon to make your attack, you may be able to apply a magic weapon bonus to your roll.
A magic weapon bonus is usually included in the name of your weapon. For example, a +1 Longsword has a +1 Magic Weapon Bonus and a +3 Longbow has a +3 bonus. This bonus never applies to spell attacks.
You can also get a bonus on your attack roll through class features, but these are rare. The most common is Bardic Inspiration, which allows you to roll an additional smaller die and add the resulting number to your attack roll.
The Battle Master subclass for the Fighter can also grant a similar ability, and some feats can modify your attack roll.
Lastly, a spell can modify an attack roll. The spell Bless, for example, can add a single d4 to the attack rolls of up to three creatures for one minute.
Remember that in DnD, multiple spells with the same name can’t stack effects, so a creature can only benefit from a single Bless at a time.
Check out the chart below for a quick reference guide to attack modifiers!
Now that you know how attack modifiers work, let’s look at two examples.
Will the Enchantment Wizard and Frank the Battle Master Fighter (both level 10) are both attacking some goblins.
Will tries to shoot a non-magical crossbow, but he isn’t proficient and his Dexterity is 10 (a +0 bonus). Therefore, he doesn’t have any modifiers on his attack roll.
On the other side of the battlefield, Frank is wielding his +2 Greatsword. He is proficient (because he’s a fighter), and he has a 18 in Strength.
He also has decided to use his Battle Master maneuver “Precision Attack”, which lets him add 1d10 to his attack roll. He rolls a 6 on the d10, which means his attack roll has the following modifiers:
+4 (from his Strength),
+4 (from his proficiency with greatswords),
+2 (because he is wielding a magic weapon),
and +6 (from his Battle Master maneuver class feature).
In total, that’s a bonus of +16!
As you can see, it’s possible to stack your modifiers pretty high with the right class features, but usually you’ll only need to know your attribute modifier and whether or not you’re proficient.
And, of course, if you’re wielding a magic weapon.
Proficiency Bonus Chart in DnD 5e
A quick note about your proficiency bonus! This bonus is connected to your character’s total level, and rises at certain points.
Below is a chart with the exact progression. So if a character was a level 6 Wizard and a level 4 Fighter, they would have a proficiency bonus of +4 because they are a level 10 character.
That bonus would not reduce no matter what the character was doing, whether it was casting a spell or swinging a sword.
How to Calculate Damage Bonus in DnD 5e
If you successfully make an attack, you get to roll to find out how much damage you deal!
All weapons do a base amount of damage, usually a one or two small dice.
A dagger for example, does 1d4 damage and a handaxe does 1d6. The earlier chart of weapon types (here!) also includes base damage.
Similarly, spells that do damage specify how much damage they do. But DnD 5e also allows you to add modifiers to your damage.
These are similar to the modifiers to your attack roll, but not quite the same.
The general formula is:
Base Damage + Modifier Bonus (if applicable) + Spell Bonus (if applicable) + Class Feature Bonus (if applicable) + Magic Weapon Bonus (if applicable) = Damage dealt.
The most important things to know about damage modifiers is that you don’t add your proficiency bonus to your damage roll, and you don’t add your ability modifier to spell damage.
In fact, the only modifiers that are ever added to spell damage come from class features.
Other than these two changes, damage modifiers are very similar to attack modifiers.
In the case of both your ability modifier and your magic weapon bonus, the number added to your attack roll is the exact same as added to your damage.
There are also spells which can modify your damage. Spirit Shroud, for example, lets you add 1d8 to any of your attacks made against a creature within 10 feet of you.
If you’ve been Enlarged by a Wizard or Sorcerer, all your weapons that were enlarged with you will do an additional 1d4 of damage. Other spells can modify your damage to different degrees.
When considering modifiers that come from class features, all you have to remember is that the class feature will specify whether its bonus is meant to be applied to the attack roll or the damage roll.
Class feature damage bonuses usually take the form of added dice.
A good example of this is the Paladin’s Smite feature, which lets a paladin burn a 1st level spell slot in exchange for an additional 1d8 of damage.
A Rogue’s Sneak Attack allows the Rogue to add a certain number of d6 (depending on the Rogue’s level) to one attack per round.
Here’s a table for damage modifiers. Notice how spell damage is only ever modified by class features.
Now that we’ve covered damage modifiers, let’s look at an example.
Helen is a multiclassed character; a Level 2 Paladin and a Level 2 Rogue. She has a Dexterity of 16, a magical +1 Dagger, and has had Enlarge cast on her by a friendly Sorcerer.
She successfully attacks an enemy who didn’t know she was there, so she gets to use her Sneak Attack class feature, and she decides to also use her Paladin Smite ability.
Therefore, her base damage is just 1d4 from her dagger, but she also does an additional:
+ 1d4 (extra damage from the effects of the Enlarge spell),
+ 1d8 (from Smite),
+ 1d6 (from her Sneak Attack ability),
+ 3 (from her +3 Dexterity modifier), and
+ 1 (because her dagger has a magical +1 bonus).
In case you’re curious, that’s an average damage roll of 17!
Almost all of these modifiers can stack together (if you can manage to get a hold of them all), but spells with the same name never stack.
So while you might benefit from both Enlarge and Spirit Shroud at the same time, you can’t be Enlarged by more than one caster.
Summing It Up
With these easy-to-reference charts, figuring out your attack and damage modifiers should be a snap!
The general rule of thumb to follow is that ability modifiers and magic item bonuses apply to both attack and damage rolls, while proficiency only applies to your attack roll.
Both class features and spells can apply to either, but they will always specify which.
If you’re ever in doubt, just save our quick-reference charts or bookmark this article so you can come back and check which attack modifiers you’re missing or what damage modifiers shouldn’t apply.
Hopefully, this guide will help you make the most out of your characters combat abilities, and even help you design your next character!
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.