Little Cubes of Chance: Let the Good Dice Roll

closeup photo of dices

I know what you’re thinking.

I could hear it when you clicked on this post. I know what dice are, you scoffed. I’ve played Yahtzee. 

Well, you’re not wrong. So many board games — from the most complex “Euro” strategy games to the simplest of childhood pastimes — utilize dice. They’re one of the simplest, easy-to-use random number generators. Remember how we talked about RNG? Well, here it is in real time. An introduction to gambling; the first lesson in statistics. The game of chance.

Didn’t think you’d have to do math to play this game, did ‘ya? I hate to tell you this, but as much as D&D is about storytelling, sometimes it takes a few simple calculations to get there.

Here are the basic dice you should expect to see around the campaign table.

D20: The icosahedron, aka the 20-sided die. Twenty sides gives each number a 5% chance (or 100 divided by 20). This is the one you’ll be using for the majority of the time, whether it be to infamously roll for initiative, see if your attack lands, do an ability check, you name it.

D12: The dodecahedron, or 12-sided die. You’ll only use this sometimes to attack, most likely if you’re a barbarian wielding a big weapon that does heavy damage.

D10: The decahedron (or is it a trapezohedron?)–whatever, it’s the 10-sided die. In a standard 7-dice D&D set, you’ll actually get two of these. No, it’s not a baker’s half-dozen. Sometimes your DM will make you use these to make a percentile throw, or get a number out of 100. For example, if you roll a 6 first and then roll a 4, that gives you a 64%. It’s important to note that there’s a 0 and also a 00, and they’re not the same. Two 00’s gives you a 100%!

D8: The octahedron, or 8-sided die. Another damage die. Another day.

D6: The cube we all know and love from every board game ever. I feel like I use these during character creation time to get my stats and then never again.

D4: The tetrahedron. This 4-sided die is a pyramid, or 3D triangle, and might look a little confusing at first. When you roll it, you should only be going by the number that’s right side up. If you look at all sides of the die, you’ll realize that top number is the same going all the way around. Don’t sweat it if it’s a little awkward at first; you’re only going to use this for small weapon damage and heal spells, so it won’t get used terribly often. 

If you’re a new recruit in the world of DnD and find yourself diceless, fear not — I guarantee at least one person at your table has already purchased more dice than they need. Why? Because they’re pretty and come in a lot of fun colors. They can be rainbow, neon, glow in the dark; some even have little objects suspended in the resin. And, as I’ve said before, people are just like dragons; we like to hoard cool, shiny things.

Something to note: like all things in life, nothing is perfect–not even pretty dice. If you ever hear somebody mumble about dice being cursed, they’re not just being salty. Imperfections happen.  Sometimes one side is just a little bit heavier than the rest, making it land on a certain number more often. It really depends on the manufacturer, but if you’re factoring other things like human error, if it’s a full moon, etc, I’m not sure how much it matters. If you find a die is giving you bad luck one day, switch it up for a bit! That gives you a reason to buy more dice 🙂

It’s said that the most accurate dice are in Las Vegas and other large, famous casinos. Real casino dice are much more expensive than your average $10-ish D&D set. They’re the most precise, most evenly balanced, and least likely to screw you over (though casinos will screw you out of your money in other ways, I’m sure). If only casinos used D20s, we’d be in business with some pretty kickass dice.

If you’re playing online, most platforms have simple add-ons or features that will do the dice rolls for you. These are technically more accurate, since they don’t have to deal with any external factors like weight and balance. I still like the tactical experience of playing with real dice, but it’s certainly a convenient option — and it’s free. Discord in particular has some “bots” that come with a bunch of features that ensure you never have to do math again. It’s a beautiful thing, though less climactic than watching a crit fail (roll of 1) or nat 20 (20 without any additional bonuses) happen in real time.

What say you? Do you have a shiny dice hoard? Come on, be honest!

Until next time, players. Let the good dice roll! ⚀⚁⚂