Dice & Role-playing game

Old Dice

After all these articles about roleplaying game, I had to make one about our favorite and most precious item (my precioussss), the die, all the dice with which we share our lives.

As you can see on the picture above, the dice are very old, they are part of the first tools of humanity. In those days, you were not rolling your dice with a glass of Coca-Cola in the other hand, in a warm room, with your buddies, no, you would have surely rolled it while looking around you to prevent the strike of a carnivore.

The first objects, around 8,000 years back, that were used as dice were fruit pits, pebbles and seashells.
Because life was hard, it is still for a lot, but it was for nearly everyone at that time, the first dice were not used to play but by shamans for divination. Will I have a son to perpetuate my reign?
Chance has always been a way to tell the future, and is also a way to organize political institutions, look at the Ancient Greeks Kleroterion.

Senet, a game of the Ancient Egypt, was played with dice 3,000 years ago.
Romans were also passionate gamblers, an expression was used: « aleam ludere = to play at dice ».
The dice were also used in India, as well as in China from which are originated the dominoes and playing cards.

The D6 which is a cube was the first one to be crafted, but archeologists have found in Egypt D20 (icosahedron) made from serpentine, which are dated back around 300 to 30 B.C.

So, the dice are not something new, but there were not a lot of games back at that time, and some were surely quite expensive. Buy an ivory die 2,000 B.C was surely like buying a Lamborghini nowadays.

So, as you can see, when you roll a dice, you are aligned with a very old tradition spread all around the world.

What about nowadays, with all our modern tools and materials, what sort of dice can we use ?

Modern Dice

Modern dice are mostly done with plastic, and colorants are injected to make them more appealing.
Some, for the true warriors, are made of metal. You know you got a critical success when the table break in two parts because of their power 😉

You can buy the traditionnal and eternal D6, the one used in casinos. But you can also buy a four-sided die (D4), a D8, D10, D12, D14, D16, D18, D20, D22… D100.

The dice can have dots to show the number, or quite simply, numbers. They can also have images or letters.

You can also boy stange dice, like a D5 die!

The usefulness of a certain type of dice depends of the rules you are using for your game.
If you play Savage Worlds (if not, you should 😉 ), then you need a D4, two D6, a D8, a D10 and a D12.
If you play D&D, you will need all these dice, plus the sacred and deified D20 which will decide of your life!

Some RPGs don’t need any dice, yeah I know, sound like incredible, a table with an honest gamemaster and players, but it seems to exist.

What about the probabilities?

I am not a mathematician, so I will keep it simple.

On a D6, you have around 16% chance to get each face.
With 2D6, you have 16% chance to get 7, so the average result is not 6 (12/2).
You have also less than 3% chance to get a critical failure (1 & 1) or a critical success (6 & 6).
With more than 4 dice, you can in principle forget your dream to have 6 on each die.

It is important to check all this when you are creating a rules system for your next great adventure.
And in addition to that, the roleplaying games systems use different logics.

Does it allow you to roll again your die when you get the best face?
Does it use critical failure and success, and how ? By comparing with a difficulty level or only when you got only the worst or the best faces of your die?
Do you have modifiers to your roll like bonuses and penalties, or do you rely only on your luck?

A good mechanic will allow the player to feel the universe of your game. You want something gritty, make gritty rules, you want something heroic, allow them to make amazing actions.

The dice are our best friends but are here to help us have fun, don’t let them ruin your game because your players are disappointed. The entertainment is more important than the rule system, so don’t hesitate to change a rule if it doesn’t suit your table. However, if everyone agree on the rule, the result must be respected, otherwise, you no longer have any frame and no one will know what to do the next time.

And because a picture is always better than a text to explain something, I let you read this table to understand how probabilities work 😉

Dice Stats

Savage Worlds

Here some ideas to modify your use of the dice in Savage Worlds.


Personally, I don’t really like using cards, too slow, and when you play SW, you use all the dice except the D20, and I don’t like resting dice 😉

So, an initiative based upon the D20 is simple:

  • The highest number is the first to play
  • 20 = a Joker
  • Quick: you roll again if your score is lower or equal to 5
  • Level-headed: you roll twice the D20 and keep the best score
  • Improved Level Headed: the same but you roll the D20 three times

If a player has Level-headed and Quick as edges, he rolls the die two or three times, depending on his asset, then keep the best number and uses if he needs the edge Quick.

Wild Die

Some ideas to modify your game and the power of your PC.

You want to give more importance to the attributes:

  • Use the die of the attribute linked to the skill as the wild die. For an attribute roll, roll twice the die.

It can gets quite powerful, but don’t your PC are heroes in Savage Worlds?

You want the grittiest setting for your players: NO wild die.
You want something worse: No bennies!

If you want something gritty but not a nightmare for your players, use a D4 as the wild die.

Une réflexion sur “Dice & Role-playing game

  1. Pingback: The Mist (En) | Gregory Huyghe

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