View Full Version : Dice 101 (Not written by me)

2007-07-31, 02:42 AM
From a now-dead forum for a now-dead game I played in, written by one of the great minds of our time. It's an awesome read!

Welcome to Dice 101, I am Andrew, and I will be your Dicing professor. For those of you who don't know me, I am a professional dicer: I collect, train, maintain, and roll dice. I am also a practicing dice luck counselor for those of you whose dice always seem to roll the worst roll at the worst moment. In the following lessons, I will teach you:
(1) Introduction to Dice
Dice are finicky, fickle creatures: they can make your dreams come true, or bring about your worst nightmares. One minute they have you on top of the world, the next they crush your soul beneath the heel of a steel-toed boot – all for no more reason than spite.

Mathematicians would have you believe that dice are pseudo-random number generators, no more capable of displaying anthropomorphic traits than your average pet rock. Any experienced dicer will tell you otherwise: dice literally have minds of their own. While they do not display any signs of over intelligence, they are capable of experiencing the same range of emotions as your average manic-depressive, hormonally imbalanced teenager (with corresponding mood swings). They key to proper dicing is to detect these moods, and play off of them: use dice in a manic mood when you need high rolls; depressed dice are good for low rolls; angry, spiteful dice are good for spectacular failures (which can be the desired result in some cases – just don’t let the dice know). Detection and exploitation of these moods is half the game when dealing with dice.

The other half comes from the well known ability of dice to absorb, store, and use luck. From time immemorial, dicers have qualified (and very recently, quantified) the luckiness of their dice, and the tradition continues to this day, passed down from casual dicers to professional gamblers to your kitchen table. With recent advances in dice tychology (the study of luck), we now know more about the behavior of luck than we ever have before. Luck can be selectively collected by, stored in, used by, and even transferred between dice. Learning the proper management of the luck of your dice will put your skill on par with the masters of dicing.
(2) Dice etiquette
So, now that you are into dicing, how do you do it without making an ass of yourself? There is nothing more embarrassing than rolling your dice into the painfully constructed dice fort your neighbor has built, or knocking over the figurines on the battlemat – except, perhaps, being branded a dice squirrel. There are a few simple guidelines that make the rolling of dice easy and (physically) painless:

1. Establish a Dice Rolling Zone (DRZ)
A Dice Rolling Zone is an area where you can roll your dice (typically 18”x12” – customize to your preferences), but where NO ONE ELSE is allowed to encroach. They cannot touch the surface of your DRZ; stray dice that intrude into your DRZ are considered prisoners of war and may be detained until such time as hostilities have concluded (ie. you are done rolling – multiple incursions can result in longer term imprisonment); any player that continuously or gratuitously violates your DRZ may be subject to numerical penalties to dice rolls (Your Dungeon Master May Vary). The one exception to this rule is the DM, who may violate any players DRZ at any time, but only for rolls where success or failure has a dramatic impact on the player in question. At no time may the DM use one player’s DRZ for rolls against a different player. I suggest you customize the interior of your DRZ to suit your own preferences. Beginners are advised to use a DRZ clear of obstructions until such time as you can determine what artifacts aid your dice rolling.

2. Hands off!
Most experienced dicers are extremely protective of their dice and will inflict curses on your family and/or bodily harm if you touch their dice. Other players dice are sacrosanct and should *NEVER* be touched without permission, and even when permission is given, you should be extremely careful in handling them, lest you change the balance of their luck. One of the most despised types of dicer is the dice squirrel: someone who not only touches another players dice, but takes them and rolls them. Dice squirrels will quickly find themselves ostracized from gaming groups, and, in extreme cases, lynched.

3. Respectful pause
It is courteous to pause for a moment of silence when someone rolls their dice. Cheering, jeering, cursing, and hexing the roller are fine before the act, but once the dice are in free fall, give a respectful pause. As the dicer’s fingers glide open and the dice spring free, the table should hush and watch and listen. There is nothing like the drama of an important roll rat-a-tat-tatting across the table and tumbling to a stop. Ruining the moment by speaking is rude and should be avoided. Furthermore, if the die roll is poor, the dicer has a valid complaint that you distracted his or her concentration, and may request a re-roll and/or ask that you be punished by penalizing your rolls (YDMMV).

4. Color conventions
If you happen to be in possession of an old set of dice (1970-80), your d20 likely has the numbers 1-10 printed on it twice, rather than the standard 1-20. Convention dictates that you color one set of the numbers 1-10 in a uniform color. It is acceptable to color both sets, as long as only two colors are used, and these colors are different enough to be easily distinguished. When rolling these dice, you must declare the “high” color, which will have +10 added to the die roll to generate the numbers 11-20. The “high” color should be recorded and remain consistent throughout the game session. It is, however, acceptable to change the “high” color if and only if your character is in mortal peril and you have been getting consistently screwed by the die.
The color convention also extends to the use of percentile dice (two d10’s used to generate the numbers 1-100). You must declare before the roll is made which die is to represent the 10’s digit. If one of your d10’s is marked as a 10’s digit die (ie. It has the numbers 00, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 on it), that *must* be used as the 10’s digit. Using two 10’s digit dice to make percentile rolls is forbidden unless you lack a single digit d10, and can be punished by penalties to die rolls (YDMMV).

5. Clean rolling
All players must roll out in the open where other players can see the roll and the results. Hiding your rolls can be considered cheating, and the results may be declared invalid, and you may be punished by penalties to your rolls (YDMMV). Only the DM is permitted to hide his or her rolls from the players, but may chose to roll in the open if he or she so desires. This is typically used to intimidate players, and is most particularly effective when a natural 20 lands in the DRZ of the target player.

6. Let the dice fall where they may
Dice rolls are sacred and should be treated as such. Once the dice come to a stop, the results are permanent. The exception to this rule is when the dice show no clear result, because they landed edge down in a crack, fell off the table, or were disrupted by someone speaking, touching or blowing on your dice during the roll. Feline intervention (when the cat gets involved with your roll) always invalidates any result (though dice subject to feline intervention should be closely examined for any potential luck increase as a result of coming into contact with the cat). Rolls may also be aborted: if the dice haven’t finished rolling, you may quickly collect them for a re-roll (this may be desirable if you accidentally drop them before you intend to roll them, or if they fall off the edge of the table), but be warned, this tends to anger the dice, and may cause the re-roll to botch. Aborted rolls must be re-rolled using the same dice – changing them out is cheating, and may be subject to punishment by penalties to your rolls (YDMMV).
(3) Choosing your dice
Picking the right dice for your collection is a highly personal choice, and should be made with the utmost care. Choosing dice that match your tastes in color, shape, size, and weight will improve your dicing experience greatly. In addition, dice that match your personality are more likely to accept training than dice of contradictory personality; this is not an absolute, however, and many dicers have had the opposite experience. Still, it is a good starting point for novice dicers, and it is where we shall begin.

1. Color
The first thing that attracts the eye to a die is its color. Today they come in just about every color of the spectrum, including beyond visible light for those of us with infrared or ultraviolet (don’t forget your glasses and sun block!) lamps on our gaming tables. They may be solid, speckled, swirled, or striped. Typically, the numbers on the dice are colored differently than the rest of the surface, and are contrasting (for clarity) or complimentary (for fudging…erm, keeping results to yourself – I do not endorse the fudging of rolls in any way, unless you are the DM and circumstances require it).
Color will play a significant part when it comes time to train your dice: aggressive colors (reds, for melee, and oranges, for ranged) are good for attack rolls, neutral blues are good for rolls in calm situations (skill checks), whites are good for healing, blacks are good for making kill shots, yellows work for saving throws, and greens and purples make solid dice for all situations, but are not specifically good for any one task. Multi colored dice can take on the characteristics of the secondary and tertiary colors, but at the expense of the primary color – this trade off is usually to the benefit of the die, especially if the colors are complementary (i.e. a primary black, secondary red speckled die will be great for killing stuff in melee combat). Multi colored dice can also be trained for environmental conditions (I have a set of Chessex Desert Cammo dice that I could have trained for use in deserts), but this is generally less useful (unless you have a quasi-infinite supply of dice).

2. Opaque or clear?
This is one decision you can make that is virtually worry free. The differences between clear and opaque dice are so small in terms of performance that only obsessive dicers go so far as to purchase one over the other for performance reasons. The only major concern here is that often times on of your other choices will make this one for you by default (i.e. if you want speckled dice, they are almost always opaque, or if you want sharp edged dice, they are almost always clear).

3. Edge
There are two types of edges: sharp and soft (or rounded). This choice should be based on your rolling style and how comfortable you are with the dice. I suggest playing around with some of each type to get a feel for them. Sharp edged dice tend to clatter more satisfactorily than rounded edged dice, but are less comfortable in hand. Rounded edged dice tend to spend more time mid roll than sharp edged dice, and are hand-friendly. Sharp edged dice also tend to have a reduced longevity as their edges are susceptible to wear and tear whereas rounded edged dice are not. This tends to make sharp edged dice a favorite of DM’s, as they can wear down the edges to the point where they can cheat with the dice (much in the same way dice shaving works) and deliberately roll natural 20’s to kill off cocky player characters.

4. Size
The dice should be of a size that feels comfortable in your hand, but keep in mind that just as many people have size complexes, so do dice. A small die at a table of big dice could lose its confidence and perform poorly, while another would give its all in an attempt to show that its not the size that matters, it’s the numbers you roll. Conversely, a large die could act over-confident at a table of smaller dice and get stomped on when it fails to perform at a critical moment.

5. Weight
Again, the weight of the dice should be comfortable to your hands. Most dice of equivalent size are of roughly the same weight, or close enough as makes no difference, but if you buy into dice of exotic material, you can significantly jack up the weight. Heavy dice are intimidating to other dice, and can scare them into rolling poorly, and as such they make excellent dice for DM’s who wish to quash uppity characters. Take care though, those Uranium dice look cool, and their damn heavy, but you don’t want to give yourself carpal tunnel from dicing (not to mention the radiation hazard).

6. Shape
Dice come in three shape categories: classic, crystal, and exotic. Classic dice are what you will most commonly find in gaming stores: a set of five normal polyhedrons (d4, d6, d8, d12, d20) plus two crystal-style dice (d10’s). Crystal dice take the form of the d10’s in a classic set and extend that to the set as a whole, so that the dice look to be shaped like crystals (many dicers, myself included, do not consider these to be proper dice, as they were developed as a novelty item and only spread to gaming because they look “cool” – they also often have more faces than the they have numbers, and so do not fit under the standard definition of dice). Exotic dice include everything else, from the mundane (the d100), to the merely strange (the d30), to the outright bizarre (the d7 – a seven sided figure, with no two sides alike, but which, according to its developers, rolls each side approximately 1/7th of the time, to some unwholesome number of significant figures), and beyond.

7. Material
Your dice should be made of high impact plastic at the least. All reputable dice companies sell dice of this caliber, but the no-names sometimes cheat, so it is best to buy from a trusted brand. In addition, there are exotic materials available for dice, including: stainless steel, copper, brass, bronze, silver, gold, platinum, lead, diamond, ruby, emerald, topaz, hematite, amethyst, jade, opal, quartz, etc. Most of these materials are just for collectors: some of these materials are soft (lead or gold), others brittle (hematite and amethyst), and others are very valuable (need I point these out?). The last thing you want to do is damage your diamond dice by rolling them – although there would likely be a severe intimidation factor in a DM using them to knock off an arrogant character. The steel and copper dice make excellent utilitarian dice and are (comparatively) not too expensive (~$40 for a 7 piece set, versus $100 for sterling silver). The brass and bronze cost about the same as steel and copper, but are more susceptible to impurities in the metal that could bias the die.

I recommend Advancing Hordes for all of your dice needs, and to see samples of the above options.
(4) Training your dice
Now we get to the meat of dice management: training. Brand new, virgin dice (those that have yet to impact a gaming table) from reputable manufacturers should be (and usually are) completely neutral dice. They are neither lucky, unlucky, nor trained for any specific purpose. Dice from companies of ill repute could be predisposed towards one type of activity or preloaded with luck (potentially good luck, but much more likely bad). Second hand dice *will* have a bias of come sort, usually one that was to the detriment of their previous owner (after all, who would get rid of good dice?). Purchasing and training second hand dice is a risky proposition, and is best left to those who have mastered dice management and would like a challenge.

Not all dice take to training the same way, some are difficult and others easy. In order of easiest to hardest to train: d6, d8, d12, d20, d10, d4. In general, the closer the die approximates a sphere, the harder it is to train (so, theoretically, a zoccihedron – the d100 – would be very hard to train). The exceptions for the d4 and d10 appear to stem from the fact that the former is resistant to rolling – it tends to just “plop” down on a number – and the latter’s departure from the realm of normal polyhedrons. Despite being easier to train, most dicers ignore the d6, d8, and d12 and focus all of their energies into the d20, which is where most life-or-death rolls will be made.

Regardless of what type of die you are training, the methods are universal, and simple in concept. Virgin dice need to be gradually introduced into the roll they will play in your dice arsenal. Start the training in an environment that would be appropriate for gaming (your kitchen table for instance). Create an appropriate atmosphere of gaming by placing character sheets, and perhaps a DM screen on the table and bring out your dice. Try to place yourself in a frame of mind similar to what you experience in a gaming session, and announce the action which you intend the die in question to be used for. The more authentic you can make the experience for the dice, the better. After announcing the action, roll the die, projecting in your mind the desired result. Hard Eight Enterprises’ Dice Lab recommends at least 25 rolls before proceeding with a live test, which should be sufficient for both you to get a feel for the die, and for the die to get a feel for what it will be facing. Hard Eight also recommends performing a min/max test at this stage (during your rolls, count the number of times the maximum result comes up, minus the number of times the minimum result comes up) – if, after three training sessions, the die has a negative min/max count (for dice that are supposed to roll high) or a positive min/max count (for dice that are supposed to roll low), you should throw the die away and get another one. I disagree with this system, as this training phase is conducted in a simulated environment, you cannot expect the die to get things right the first time, and the die may simply not be suited to the chosen task.

Once the die has been classroom trained, it is time to field test. Bring the die to a gaming session, separate from your other dice. When a situation for which the die has been trained comes up in game, bring it out and let it have a shot. It is not advisable to bring a rookie die out in a pressure situation (you wouldn’t bring a minor leaguer up to close game 7 of the World Series when the game is tied), so you’re best off giving it a crack at something less stressful. Succeed or fail, keep trying the die until it feels comfortable to use. After several battle tests, you should get a feeling for how well the die is performing in its given task. You may need to go back to basic training to give the die a shot at a different career if its performance is less than average. Keep trying until you find a niche for the die.

Once the die’s niche is defined, you should introduce your rookie to the other dice in your arsenal. Let them mingle a bit so your experienced dice can impart their wisdom to the new guy. If your new die is compatible personality-wise with your other dice, it should start forming bonds that will boost its morale, encourage its growth, and help it out when it’s feeling down.

The basic training regimen should be repeated for dice that are long out of practice or if you wish to retrain a die for a new task, although this will take considerably longer than training a virgin die.
(5) Maintaining your dice
Never Completed

(6) Rolling your dice
Never Completed

(7) Advanced dicing: Luck management
Never Completed

(8) Advanced dicing: Punishment and Reward
Never Completed


The DM asks:
Howdy Andrew!

I've got a d20 that's down in the dumps. It's rolled low consistently for several sessions. How do I make it feel better, Mr. Dice Professor? I'd like to have it be a blazing d20 of glory, instead of the laughingstock of dice that it is now.

Am I correct in assuming that this is the d20 which you have been using to try to decimate our party? If so, I have a few suggestions for therapy that we can try.

First, you need to give that die some alone time. It is constantly surrounded by its peers, and it never gets to do anything by itself. Think of it as the eldest child in a family of 7, and lets call him Joe (Joe is 20 years old, followed by a 12 year old sister, twin brothers at 10, and one at 8 and 6, and a sister at 4). Now imagine that Joe wasn't allowed to do anything by himself - he was constantly surrounded by his brothers and sisters, and had to play at their level (after all, you can't expect a 4 year old to rise up to his level). No wonder he's doing poorly! He has the constant aggravation of his siblings around him all the time, and he can't out perform them or they run to mommy and daddy crying. Its ok for him to sleep at home, but he needs to play with kids his own age. Give him some time alone, and he'll start to shine.

It could also just be tired. You can't have your star pitcher go nine innings and start every game for you and still expect him to be a star, so why expect that from your dice? Give it a rest and rotate in some other dice to relieve it.

If neither of those methods works, you could have a case of bad luck. This is not necessarily a bad thing (you will see in my advanced section of the course that everyone needs a little bad luck), as long as you properly harness it. I don't have time now to get into harnessing the bad luck, so lets try an elementary treatment: the fame rub. Find the name of a gamer who is well known (at least to you - and it can't be yourself) for rolling particular results (eg. always low, always high, always with spectacular results) and rub the die across the name (left to right for high numbers, right to left for low numbers), with the number you wish to roll most often on top (make sure there is a synergy here - don't rub the name of a low roller with the 20 face up or you'll charge the die with bad luck). If you can't find the name of a famous gamer, you can try the names of game developers or game logos (these are not as effective, but some results have been noticed, especially with the original TSR personel). More luck is generated by longer rubbing, but at diminishing returns, and you run the risk of offending the dice if you rub too much. This method is good to recharge empty dice, or eliminate small amounts of bad luck, but does almost nothing for very lucky dice, and can have a deleteroius effect on your whole dice collection if the die in question is very unlucky.

2007-07-31, 05:19 AM
Dice are random number generators, not pseudo-random number generators. Pseudo-random means following a strict, deterministic algorithmn that appears to be random. If the state and algorithmn of a generator is known, its next number can be determined. This is not possible with dice. As the author claims he's an expert in dice, he could, at least, use the correct terms.

As for attributing anthropomorphic traits to dice, such superstition in a post-Enlightenment age makes me angry. I have no sense of humour.

My advice is to buy lots of dice of differing shapes and colours. Brightly coloured objects are pretty.

2007-07-31, 05:32 AM
It was interesting and mildy entertaining. Too bad he didn't finish it, I would have liked to see what "advanced luck management" amounted to.