You are currently viewing Dice for RPGs and Boardgames: Different types, science, collecting

Dice for RPGs and Boardgames: Different types, science, collecting

Dice, Dice, Dice.

We love dice. All shapes, colors, designs, materials. We have polyhedral dice with standard numbers for roleplaying games as well as custom ones for board games. So many possible combinations and sizes. Dice rolls make or break our characters and actions in the game. The thrill of making a savings throw or a critical roll drives the excitement and fun of the games. I remember the first set of light blue / grey dice I had that came with the Basic D&D set as a kid. I carefully colored in the numbers with a white crayon and re-filled in the color once a year after the color wore out. Nothing fancy, but we were fascinated by the d4 and d10 type of dice as kids.

If you are first getting into RPGs, there are several things to know.

** If you end up playing on any frequency, get your own set of game dice. You can find affordable dice sets at local gaming stores or online.

** Don’t forget your dice to game day.    Side note: it drives me nuts when people forget dice, character sheets, pencil/eraser etc. when showing up to game. I have a game bag or sack that holds everything I need for game day.

** Don’t touch someone’s primary dice during game. It is bad etiquette and is thought to bring bad luck to the rolls. Players build an attachment and connection to their primary dice.

** If you need to borrow dice, ask the table. Usually there will be someone that had a bag full of dice and extras that can loan you some dice.

** As a player, 1 set of standard RPG polyhedral dice is typically sufficient. If you plan to DM a campaign, best to have at least 1 of each dice type for every player that you have. You will definitely need more d20 as a DM.

Standard Polyhedral RPG dice come in d4, d6, d8, d10 type, d12, d20. Its usually good to have multiple d20 and d6 dice as those are the most commonly used dice in most RPG games. D20 for action roles and d6 for character generation or action rolls (Burning Wheel). As you get into more gaming session or different games, the dice in your collection tend to multiply.

In today’s world, there are a lot of different dice manufacturers. They can come in different colors,  materials, design themes, and have specialized lettering/numbering. I’m more into dice functionality then design so don’t care about design aesthetic as much. Get what makes you happy. You can find dice sets as well as individual dice at your local gaming stores or online.  Chessex and Koplow Games dice are common manufacturers that you will find at both. RPG dice are so common now that you can find them on Amazon or Ebay. I personally prefer using dice from Roll 4 Initiative. These dice are 20%+ larger than standard dice so the numbers are easier to read for my crappy eyes. I have a standard set as well as ordered their bulk / whole sale dice. Roll 4 Initiative dice are the green dice on top in pics.

d3, d5, d7……d30 – Zocchi dice

There are also some other styles of RPG dice. D3, d5, d7, d16, d24, d30 that were made by Louis Zocchi.

The D3 and D5 are the same shape as D6 and D10. These are primarily used in Dungeon Crawl Classics game though fun to have in other games as well. More dice!

Dice Science – statistics and rolling randomness

I’m a nerd so this section will go into some manufacturing details on different materials used to make dice as the manufacturing and finishing are primary drivers for balanced dice rolls. I also work in materials and have worked in manufacturing of extruded and injection molded parts in automotive and consumer goods so interested in how they manufacture dice.

Modern plastic dice are typically injection molded (molten plastic shot into a mold cavity shaped in dice shape), ink jetted to fill in the number / pip color, and then run thru a tumbler to remove excess paint off the faces (leaving paint in the indented number/pip), to smooth out any flash or gate vestiges, and polish the dice. This will result in unevenness on the edges and faces which can impact the balance of the roll. (Gate vestige is point where plastic is injected into the part and flash is any extra crap leftover on the part not meant to be there. Can be stringy bits, extra plastic build up, etc.)

Here’s a video of dice mfg in China. I like how they hand weigh out the MB color.

Dice can also be made by a casting process (pour in molten material like silicone) and possibly by extrusion (from Ocean’s 11 movie, though I don’t know how they get the pip indents in the extruded dice. Maybe they stamp or surface transfer on the numbers?)

Dice which will have the most balanced rolls will be ones that are not tumbled. Here are 2 links to studies of Chessex Dice (which are tumbled) and Game Science dice (which are not tumbled). Game Science dice in general tend to have a lower standard deviation so tighter cluster / less variation so should have more balanced rolls. However, as the studies state, either dice brand should be ‘random enough’ for RPGs and board games. Unless if you are a super heavy gamer rolling thousands of times.

Game Science dice – molded plastic with gate/sprue hand clipped off. No tumbling of dice.

Made by same company that originated the Zocchi dice. These dice are injection molded plastic, but they hand cut the gate and sprue off which means they are using cold runner molds. Hot runner molds may fix that issue but will be more costly on the tooling.  Trimming the gate by hand may leave some flash or vestige behind that can impact the balance of the roll for that opposite facing. Game Science recommends sanding any extra bits off that face. They don’t tumble their dice to remove the gate vestige or ink so the facings and edges will not see any uneven wear which should result in more balanced rolls. Dice numbers/pips come uncolored typically too (hence, no tumbling). You can always color in yourself. I hope they pack the part out to minimize air voids in the final dice as they could screw up center of gravity of the dice.

Gravity Dice – CNC machined / drilled 6061 aluminum alloy with center of gravity modeled

Closed shop during COVID in June 2020, but look to be reopened under new ownership at End of August 2020.

These dice pricey (~$100 range for set of 7 dice), but I believe they will be most evenly balanced in rolls as they are machined vs. molded. Machining dice will be more precise than molding, and it looks like they chamfered the edges of the dice as well so no weird edges to throw off the roll. I am curious if they extruded the original shape or forged it before machining.  You should probably roll these in a felt lined dice tray as they are so pricey that you don’t want to scuff up the paint job. Aluminum is a pretty soft material and easy to machine. Dice will be relatively light weight. I will probably get a set of these in the future when their company is stabilized and will do a review on them.

Other Metal Dice

There are also metal dice on the market that are NOT machined and much cheaper. These are probably cast so will need finishing after casting process. Eg. Tumbling, sanding, polishing. This could result in unevenness and uniqueness in each dice so could result in unbalanced rolls. These can be heavier than aluminum dice (assuming using denser metal). Roll metal dice in a dice tray or dice tower as they will mark up wood tables and piss off the DM’s partner because of all the nicks in the dining room table.

Wood Dice

Wood dice have been around for awhile and are carved from wood. I’m not sure how balanced wood dice are as I have not used in RPG gaming before. I’m assuming they are CNC carved vs. hand carved so that should result in a more consistent dice. They do have nice aesthetic. Maybe I’ll do a review on them in the future.

Dice Collecting

There are so many options for dice out there now. People tend to accumulate dice normally with consistent gaming. For those that like different designs, there is plenty for you to collect from. Others like having multiple dice available to change their luck during game. We have one campaign where the players consistently roll ‘1’s; like all players – not just 1 player. We’ve had many dice changeouts in that campaign.

Dice Accessories

Like with anything, you can accessorize it.

** Bag – you need something to hold your dice so you don’t lose them (transport/storage). I use a cheapie plastic ziplock bag, but I’ve seen fancy custom dice bags as well as the Crown Royal bag. There are also plastic and wooden dice holders / boxes. Some are combos with dice trays. Just don’t store different material dice together like your metal dice with plastic dice. You will get scratches and wear that may impact your rolls in future.

** Tower – a dice rolling tower. These are nice so you don’t lose your dice when rolling on a table. They also help randomize the rolls a bit as the dice have to roll down several angled ramps. They do make fancy ones in different designs like castle or the mouth of Cthulhu. I also have a poker table which helps contain the dice rolls from flying off the table.

** Cup – a dice cup. Used in traditional gaming or gambling. I like the dice cup if we’re not playing at my place as it’s a lot smaller to carry vs. a dice tower. Shake the dice in the cup and slam it on the table. Don’t need a lot of space use this and helps randomize and contain the role.

** Mat / Tray – dice mats and trays help contain the roll and make sure your dice don’t fly off the table. They come in foldable, rigid, portable, wood, leather, felt, etc.

** Combo – there are many dice mats or trays that also serve as a dice bag or container.