Once you’ve got a few campaigns under your belt I guarantee that you’ll find yourself in an odd position when it comes to dice. On the one hand, you clearly have too many – all those poly sets are pretty identical, after all – but on the other you know that you always need more.
We’re certainly in this position. There’s one drawer where most of the RPG equipment – minis, markers, etc – is kept and it’s at least half filled with dice in all the colours of the rainbow. And we mean that last bit quite literally, so long as we keep to the seven-strong spectrum they wheel out in school.
Nevertheless, I can’t resist picking up new sets far too often. The most recent acquisition was a set from the Call of Cthulhu 7th. Edition box, made by the folks at Q-Workshop and decked out with creepy tentacles and eldritch runes.
Am I ever going to use them? Probably not.
Did I buy them anyway? Hell yeah!
Flying the Colours
Back in the heady days of 2011 we started our tabletop gaming career with the much-maligned D&D 4E. Brimming with excitement, I went out and picked up a set that a) matched the character I was creating, and b) looked fancy as hell.
With a Lawful Stupid Paladin on the books I plumped for a shiny blue and white design with golden numbering. I realise this sounds insane but I remember trying them out on the shaky table on the train home, imagining all the fun we would get up to over the coming years.
Unfortunately, like so many campaigns set up by new players that one only lasted a few sessions before petering out. We soon had another one up and running, however, and naturally I had to buy a new set to match my new character. Tired of being the moral compass I was switching to a Tiefling Warlock, and naturally picked the most evil, badass-looking dice on the shelf – a mix of fire-red and soot black that were beautiful, if a little hard to read.
Over the years many characters and many, many dice have come and gone, but those two still hold a place in my heart. They were the tools that first got me into tabletop gaming and the demonic red set is still the weapon of choice for my Warlock, whose five-year campaign has stalled as friends moved across the country, got married and forged careers, but hasn’t yet died. They are tied in with happy, hazy memories in a way that I find it hard to describe.
Rolling With the Changes
These days I play in enough games (and have grown blase enough about taking risks) that I’ve grown away from having one set per character. Regularly DMing has also forced me to expand the amount of dice I have on hand too, both for rolling for multiple creatures at once and to hand out to players that inevitably forget their own sets.
Though I still pick up nice-looking sets when I visit game stores, I’ve shifted away from using them. Right now, the vast majority of the time I stick with the plainest, simplest dice I can find. Single-shade opaque sets are easy to read, easy to pick out and easy to find when an over-enthusiastic roll sends them bouncing off the kitchen floor.
At the moment, my go-to set for both DMing and playing is the most basic poly set I could find, in plain white with simple black numbers. They were dirt-cheap, are really reliable and can easily be read from across the table.
Honestly, the more I’ve played the more I’ve come to appreciate how important this last point is. While dice coated in runes and sigils are beautiful, the most important thing about dice is rolling them and reading them. If it takes you ten seconds to decipher the difference between a ‘1’ and a ‘7’ they aren’t actually fulfilling that job very well.
I appreciate this may make me sound like an unpleasant DM, but super-complicated dice also make it impossible for me to know if you’re cheating. The vast majority of players out there don’t cheat, but when the guy with tentacles all over his dice is instantly whipping it off the table to ‘check’ that it was indeed a natural 20… well, it raises some alarms.
Tools of the Trade
Despite professing that these days I am utterly utilitarian in my use of dice, I’ll admit that we all have little superstitions that develop over the years.
Now, I’m a trained physicist and have spent long hours of my life reading up on stats. In day-to-day life I don’t have any superstitions. Walking under a ladder doesn’t both me and we happily own a black cat. I know that the only bad luck associated with breaking a mirror comes in the form of cuts and the bill for a replacement.
Nevertheless, I will never touch someone’s dice without permission and never ever go near the DMs dice at all. If a d20 starts off a session with a natural one the entire set goes back in the box until next week, while those that come up with a 20 get to stay at the top until the luck runs out. When I’m not using them, every dice rests with their highest number facing up, so that they naturally settle that way.
Is this madness? Perhaps. But I’m yet to meet an experienced roleplayer that doesn’t suffer from it in one form or another. Perhaps this is the price we pay for investing so much of our self into acts that depend so strongly on the flight of these little pieces of plastic…
In any case, I love my dice. To me they represent not just random chance and luck, but all the worlds and stories I’ve helped to create. Some – like the red and blue sets associated with my first characters, or the giant metal d20 that my home game uses for death saving throws – have memories of friends, laughter and happy days tied up in them.
It’s nonsensical, but on some level we know that if we treat our dice well, they’ll return the favour.
Or roll nothing but ones, it’s honestly hard to predict.