Wednesday, 7 November 2018

On dice

My favourite dice are 2d6, with pips not numbers. They are the dice of my childhood. The dice of Monopoly and Escape from Colditz. I love the rattle they make and I've used them so often that I instinctively understand the probability curve.

For me, six sided dice are "proper" dice.

"Proper" dice
Two dice v 2d6

Until I started playing Call of Cthulhu, dice always had six sides. So there was never any confusion when I asked someone to "roll the dice". Call of Cthulhu was the first game I owned that needed polyhedral dice, and with that came the need to define the number of sides. So "two dice" slowly became "2d6".

And Call of Cthulhu wasn't my first RPG - that was Traveller. Traveller only used six siders, and just referred to them as 2D. (I didn't play D&D until much later.)

Pips v numbers

On six sided dice, I find pips much faster to read than numbers. (And when I say "much faster", we're talking fractions of a second.) That's because I pattern match, rather than count the pips.
Five pips and two pips = seven. Simples.

If the dice have numbers, I have to mentally add the numbers together. If the dice has pips, I just recognise the pattern.

This works for 2d6 - I don't think it works for larger numbers of dice (I didn't enjoy GURPS enough to embed 3d6 in my brain).

Of course, this only works for six sided dice. Pips on a d12 would be just daft.


As I get older, dice readability becomes more important to me. So I like dice with good contrast between the numbers or pips and the background.

I find dice with weird fonts and additional decoration hard to read, so I try not to use them.

Special dice
Special Fate dice.
I hates 'em I tell you, I hates 'em.

Special dice unique to that game can actually put me off a roleplaying game (Star Wars I'm looking at you). If I were to rank RPGs purely according to the dice they use, it would look like this:

  • 2d6 (Traveller, Dungeon World)
  • Other multiples of d6 (Risus, GURPS, Cthulhu Dark)
  • Polyhedral dice (F20 games, Call of Cthulhu)
  • Special dice (Fate, Star Wars)

I suspect that one of the reasons I like PbtA games is that they're powered by 2d6. (Dungeon World spoils that by needing a bunch of polyhedrals as well.)

If a game uses special dice it has to be pretty special for me to want to play it. So Fate is special enough, but Star Wars isn't.

My dice collection

My dice collection looks like this.

(My dice collection: I may be over invested in d6s.)
The only dice that I can remember buying specifically are:

  • Percentile dice because I needed to run Call of Cthulhu at Continuum in 2016.
  • The green d6s for Cthulhu Dark (as yet unplayed). I bought the purple d6s at the same time because I liked the colour.

Note I do not own any d4s, d8s or d12s. The only d12s I own are in boardgames (Ankh Morpork and Tiny Epic Kingdoms).

A Level Mathematics

I earned a grade A at A-level Mathematics. A third of the questions were statistics questions, and our statistics started by using 2d6 to calculate probability. And I was good at that because of all the games I played.

Being good at 2d6 probability opened the door into statistics, and ended up really enjoying it.

So I like to think that games (and specifically dice) directly led to my A grade in A-level Maths.

So that's it: me and dice.

1 comment:

  1. And just to be clear, I'm not put off by boardgames using special dice. I'm very happy with that (and these days I can think of very few boardgames where I'm expected to roll dice and add the results together).