Dice! Ah-aaaah! They’ll Save Every One of Us!

If there is anything that identifies someone as a gamer, it is dice. Without them, you could just be a bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table, reading big colourful hardcover books or staring at laptops/datapads. But as soon as the dice come out, everyone knows your secret; you are gamers, your imaginations inextricably conjoined and sometimes ruled by polyhedral fate.
It may come as a great shock to my young gamist brethren and sistren, but it was not always so. When I began playing Dungeons & Dragons (dinosaur-skin edition) there were no dice companies selling buckets of shiny, sparkly polyhedral gems to waiting gamers. And TSR was not yet packaging the game with a set of extruded plastic dice. No, my friends, the box set I started with contained sheets of chits, numbered 1 through whatever, depending on what range of results you wanted to generate. We cut them out and sorted them into film canisters (what do you mean, what’s a film-!? Never mind, Google it.). When we did something in-game like attack a monster, we gave the canister a shake, reached in and the number we pulled out was our “Roll”. Woe betide the person that accidentally dropped the canister, spilling chits all over the place, especially if we lost any. Game stoppages while we, ahem “got our chits together”, were not uncommon.
In fact, the first time someone brought a set of dice to the table, we were a little leery. There was a brief period of monkey/monolith squabbling before we figured out that this would (barring imperfections in the die casting) be as random as picking out chits. And, as I’m sure every gamer out there can attest, there was something ultimately more satisfying about rolling a die, as opposed to drawing a chit. I’d pulled the “20” chit during combat before, and was excited. But the first time I rolled a “nat20” on the die, I felt a little physical thrill run up my spine.
Or should I say, “nat10Blue”. Another bit of dice trivia, the earliest twenty-sided dice (or icosahedrons, if you want to get all mathy) were not numbered 1-20, but 1-10 twice. Why? Because that allowed the twenty-sider to double as percentage dice, generating a number between 1 and 100. You simply took the die and coloured one set of numbers, usually by rubbing coloured crayon into the number stamp. If you needed to roll a “d20” you announced which was your “tens” colour (11-20) and rolled. In my case, if I rolled a green 2 it was a 2, but if I rolled a blue 2 it was a 12. And if I needed a percentage number I simply rolled the die twice, the first number was my “tens” and the second was my “ones” ( a roll of 2 and 7, for instance, became 27). Simple, right? Eventually the ten-sided die came along, and the d20 was numbered as we see it today.
If you wonder why the d10 was late to the party, you can get more info here and here. It has to do with mathtastic things like platonic solids and such.
Despite being small lumps of plastic formed along precise mathematical and engineering principles to generate random numbers, there is a great deal of mythology and superstition associated with gaming dice. Every gamer out there has his or her own version of “dice etiquette”, and the heavens shall rain fire upon you if you violate it! Some are simple and even reasonable, like “don’t touch my dice without asking” or “don’t get your dice mixed up with mine”. More extreme rules I’ve encountered? Things like, “if a d20 fails me (usually by rolling a 1) three times in a session I destroy it”. Yikes! That guy is the dice industry’s favoured son. I’ve encountered people who will not buy their own dice, because it is unlucky; instead, they give the money to someone else to buy the dice for them.
And it doesn’t stop there. “My d20 is all out of twenties” is a common lament heard at gaming tables. It is considered normal to beg, plead, demand and cajole dice to generate the desired number, despite a lack of any apparent aural apparatus on the die’s part. It is not uncommon for players to name sets of dice, and even individual die themselves, in a totemic gamble to make the die look upon its wielder more favourably.
Understand, I say none of this mockingly. I am a gamer, sunk just as far in dice-related rattle-shaking as all the rest. I have sets of dice for each game I play. I will not lend out these sets, though I keep spare dice around for others to use as needed. My dice are not named, but I know from long experience which die will do the job when I need it. And I will retire dice for the evening if they are not performing well, like subbing out the pitcher after some bad innings.
And I admit, I may have a dice problem. I can’t go to a con or game store without picking up “just one more set”. I buy them in all shapes and sizes. I buy them for games I may never play, and I buy dice for games I will likely never play again. And I don’t stop at dice, oh no. Dice accessories are just as bad; I have more rolling cups, dice trays and dice bags than I know what to do with and I keep looking for more. Admittedly, I have more or less successfully hidden the worst of my addiction from my fellow gamers.  But when I die and historians explore my room…
Do I regret it? Not a little. As addictions go it is pretty tame and harmless (unless I lose a d4 in the carpet, then its caltrop city). Really, who am I hurting with these polyhedral jewels? No one but the monsters, baby, no one but the monsters.
So tell me, what is your dicing etiquette? How superstitious are you?

2 thoughts on “Dice! Ah-aaaah! They’ll Save Every One of Us!

  1. You're in good company, Brent. We have many such superstitions in our gaming group. One friend, enraged at his percentile dice (2 d10s), stood up from the gaming table, and stalked away, with his dice, down the hall. Shortly thereafter we heard the toilet flush. It was one of those much-talked-about moments for years, and when we gamed at his bachelor party, we brought a bag of cheap dice for him to destroy. Since we were playing in a garage, we had numerous means to destroy them with (blow torch, sledge hammer, etc.) As it turns out, dice are nigh impossible to destroy. Only the acetylene torch did any notable damage.

    And in closing, you're the only gamer I know in person who played way back in the chit era. That was before my time – I came in with the dice+crayon era. I bought myself a basic red box last year just so I could colour the dice again.

  2. I have one of those dice superstitions that's (ironically) grounded in mathematical fact. I know, logically, that even if I get on a bad streak with a dice, it does not mean it is cursed or “out of twenties”. I know that the law of large numbers will eventually mean the good streak is around the corner. As such, I make it a rule never to change dice during a game. The dice I start with will be the dice I finish with through and through. This makes me sound all smart and down to earth. The real reason I do it? The dice gods punish you for giving up on a dice. It's the truth.

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