Dice Dice Baby – A Gamers Guide To Dice
Dice, Dice Baby
Guide To Gaming Dice
In one of my blogs about gaming, I forget which one; I used the colorful little phrase “I bleed dice.” We gamers know what that means, and even those people who live in the drabness that is “reality” can comprehend the metaphor well enough, but I doubt they can really imagine it.
In every movie and TV show where someone has to cut themselves simply for the sake of bleeding for some reason or another, they always choose to take the biggest buck knife the prop wranglers can find and using just the tiniest tip of the blade make a long cut across the palm of their hand. Funny thing is that we gamers know that would be the dumbest place ever to cut yourself (the wrist, neck and other vital areas notwithstanding). If you are ever in a situation where cutting yourself for the purpose of bleeding is the answer to your problem, taking your hand out of the equation is not a good idea. If bloodletting is in any way, shape or fashion the answer, then the need for both of your hands to be in perfect operating condition later on may become vital to your general well being should for the sake of argument you need to use a weapon to defend yourself. I would like to suggest the back of your arm. It’s easier to bandage and overall a better choice for a myriad of reasons too numerous to get into right now because I have already wandered far off topic.
Dice. Yes, we gamers use dice when we play our table top role-playing games. And we don’t just use any old type of dice either. Our dice come in an array of sizes, shapes, colors and can only be purchased at a specialty shop, where they are what the woefully mundane would consider to be “expensive.”
Well, I’ll give you that; a set of dice will run you about 10 bucks. But if you consider the set of dice not so much as merely overpriced bits of shaped plastic but rather as the keys to opening the doorways into other dimensions than its cheap at twice the price. (Not that I want Chessex to raise their prices mind you, but they do sell, and I’ll quote their company motto: “The coolest dice on the planet”.)
When gaming, dice are used to determine the outcome of events. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, it should because dice have been used in exactly that fashion for thousands of years. Gaming dice however are shaped a bit differently than the dice that came with your Monopoly board game. Our dice are kuel and come in colors such as Borealis, Cirrus, Frosted, Mother of Pearl, Nebula, Phantom, and Vortex just to name a few. No real gamer worth his salt uses dice he’s scrounged from his old board games. My own personal taste is for a color combination called “Purple-Red/Gold” that hails out of the Gemini collection.
The dice themselves are curiously shaped and come in an array of sizes and sides. “Size” refers to the actual space and mass that the die utilizes. A common size is 16mm, about the height of your typical thumbnail, provided of course you are not one of “those people” who chew their nails down to your knuckle bone or let them grow so long that folks wonder how you handle daily tasks such as using the bathroom. “Sides” refers to the number of flat surfaces that are on a particular die. For instance, your typical batch of dice that come with your typical board game are, in the gaming community, referred to as a bunch of d6. The “d” stands for “dice” and the “6” is the number of flat surfaces the die has, which are most likely numbered one through six. I say “most typically” because there are specialty dice, both for gamers and the occasional board game that have d6s that do not have numbers on them, but rather pictures. Some have compass directions, such as NW, SE, W as in the game “Dread Pirate”; others have pictures of silhouetted animals such as a dragon, bear, or eagle; others yet have swords, or smiley faces, or playing cards-the possibilities are endless really.
RPGs tend to run in two basic groups: those that use only d6s (such as “Champions,” “Vampire the Masquerade”, and “Star Wars”) and those that use a full polyhedral set (“The Dark Fantasy of Sundrah,” “Savage Worlds,” and “Dungeon and Dragons”). D6 based games use only d6s-from character creation and skill checks to the amount of damage delivered in a combat maneuver. The only die a player needs is a single d6. As it happens, these games are designed in such a way that although you can play the game with only one d6, you end up buying a block of d6s (12 dice) because it speeds up game play. If your character can throw a punch that delivers 12d6 of damage, you could roll that one lonely die 12 times and add it up slowly as you go or you could have two overflowing handfuls of dice, shake ’em up and roll them loud and hard across the kitchen table, listening to the clatter as they go. Summing up the total is somehow faster and easier this way and also gives you a bit of an adrenalin rush.
Just a quick note here, there are games, such as “Mutants and Masterminds” which are a single die uses system but opt to use the d20 rather than the d6. Game mechanics aside, the d20 (which will be explained later on in more detail) is used exactly as in the above description and circumstances, except that only d20s are being used. Inevitably someone asks the question which is the better way to go, with a d6 or a d20? Which die gives you the better average?” And depending on whom you ask the answer will be different as everyone has their own idea or concocted math formula as to how to determine the statistical probability of figuring a methodical means that disproves your favorite die. To that I say “How about just playing the game you like regardless of the dice it uses!”
The other group of RPGs are those that have systems that utilize a full polyhedral set. A “full polyhedral set,” or pollys as they are often called, contains a d4, a d6, a d8, two d10s, a d12, and a d20. In pollys, all of these dice are used throughout the game starting at character creation and thereafter. Admittedly, not all of the dice are used as often as other, but all of them are used.
A d4, also known as a tetrahedronal die, is a four sided die and looks like a pyramid. It’s the easiest one to find blind in your dice bag, the one that bounces the highest on the table, the one hardest to see when it falls on the floor and about guarantees that you will step on it in your bare feet just prior to your sudden trip to the Emergency Room to have it surgically removed. Rolling a d4, from a gamers’ point of view is a crap shoot. If you roll a one or a two, you’ve rolled low. If you roll a three or a four, you’ve rolled high. Its sounds simple enough but there is a 50/50 chance that your gonna roll “bad.” And then, let’s face it the best you can get on a die roll is a four! What good is that really?
True story: many years back we were having a “Villains and Vigilantes” gaming marathon at my place. One of my brothers was in town visiting and he was not up to the task. A mere 18 hours into the game he fell asleep while rolling his dice. With his d20 in hand, ready to roll he declared “I shot him with my power blast-zaasspp!” He dropped the die, it rolled, he leaned forward to see the result and in mid lean fell instantly dead asleep. Before anyone realized what happened his forehead crashed smack dab into his cache of dice sending them scattershot throughout the room. We laughed and left him like that, ’cause we were mean. A few hours later when he finally came to, I kid you not, a d4 was embedded in his forehead. We laughed so hard, he looked like a bad Star Trek alien. I tell that story every chance I get and will for the rest of his life-my brother Vince, the d4-acorne.
The d6, perhaps the most common die in the world is also known as a hexahedronal. No one really calls it that when using the die, but it is worth a lot of Geek points, six in fact. These dice can be purchased anywhere. I have see them at Wall-Mart, the Dollar Tree and most gas station convenience stores behind the counter, oddly next to the condoms. Despite its common nature there are two types of d6s on the market: the ones with the little pips, or dots, and the type with actual Romanized numbers printed on them. Gamers are divided as to which is the coding of choice, but here is the rule: When playing a polly based game, all your dice should have the Romanized numbers on them, this way they all match and the karmic magic they are imbued with is not disrupted. Likewise when playing a d6 game, use your pips. It’s the way God and nature intended it to be. News Flash: if ever asked to roll a d3, take your d6 and roll it. A die roll of a 1 or a 2 = 1, a 3 or a 4 = 3, and a 5 or a 6 = 3. Ta-da!
Octahedronals are your basic d8, the sort of a diamond shaped die. They are a good high average rolling die in my opinion; as it seems like 5s and 6s tend to be more commonly rolled than 3s and 4s. It’s probably not true, but psychologically getting a 5 or 6 of 8 seems like a lot. I know I’m crazy.
Polly dice sets come with two d10s or trapezohedrals. This is because they are used as percentage dice. One of the d10, the “ones die” will be numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. The other die, the “tens die” will be numbered 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 00, or “double oght” as the kids say. To roll percentile both dice are rolled and read in a specific order, tens then ones. If your tens die reads 70 and your ones die reads 4 you my friend have just rolled a seventy-four. Tis’ that easy. If your tens die has rolled 00 and your ones die has rolled 1 you have rolled a 1. If both dice come up with zeroes, you have rolled 100.
The d12, dodecahedronal to the Latin literate, is such a great die and so little used. It has nice clean lines and a pleasant shape to look at. It rolls nicely but still makes just enough clatter to be pleasing, when you lose it and find it by stepping on it with your bare feet, it is not a guaranteed trip to the Emergency Room, nor will it roll like a marble and cause you to land flat on your back. If you are a game designer or considering becoming one, may I suggest them and consider giving the d12 a larger role in your game mechanics.
Icosahedronal is not a new species of dinosaurs that was discovered in the Bad Lands but rather what is common referred to at the d20, the last of the dice that come standard in a polly set. In the RPG world, where I live, this is perhaps the most commonly used polly die out there. Seldom used during character creation, it is most often utilized for making skill checks, power usages and the occasional bit of damage. It’s fairly ball-like and rolls nicely across a flat and cleared surface, bouncing little but making definite “clack” as it travels. This die is often the player’s favorite and is rarely loaned out if someone should need to borrow one-that is what the other 44 d20s in your dice bag are for.
Beyond the polly is the d30, icosadodecahedronal, a die that came out back in the late 1980’s but in recent days has been gaining popularity. A few games out there require its usage to play but more have it as an optional die to enhance game play. Also, for those who are too lazy to read their two d10s as percentile dice there is the nearly perfectly round zocchihedronal d100. Once rolled it may well never stop, and if it does, everyone needs to back slowly away from the table so that someone suspended from wires from the ceiling can hover overhead to read it. I have heard tales that even thinking about rolling a d100 will start the die rolling. Owning one myself, I can’t fully swear that these stories are untrue; but the d4-acorne brother, that’s totally true, he has the scar to prove it!
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