Dice Randomness Tested

A great post over at Awesome Dice examines how randomly RPG dice really roll. They rolled Chessex dice and GameScience dice in two tests: one of 10,000 rolls of a d20 of each, and a follow-up confirmation test of 1,600 rolls each.

Their test showed that none of the dice rolled completely true, but that GameScience rolled more true than Chessex. However, they also stressed that the difference is incredibly small. You would have to roll over 1,000 times before you saw a difference, and even then the difference would be only 5 or 10 off from expected.

I think overall this test shows that our gaming dice all roll pretty good, regardless of the manufacturer. You can read their full write up of the test here.


Where to Buy RPG Dice

RPG gaming polyhedral dice really didn’t exist until the launch of Dungeons & Dragons in 1976. While they are far more common today, RPG dice can still be hard to come by — after all, you still can’t walk into the drug store to pick them up.

There are two basic options: get ’em from a game store, or buy your dice online. I’m going to list a few online stores a bit later, but if you have a game store in your area, you should absolutely hit that up instead.

Friendly Local Game Store

If you are at all involved in RPG gaming, you need to find out if you have a friendly local game store at all near you. If you do, you need to buy your dice and games from them!

Local game stores are where gamers come together to meet, where they discover awesome new games and — most importantly — where new gamers are created! But in this age of internet discount sales, friendly local game stores are dying out. Here’s how it goes:

  • More and more people buy their games online for cheaper from retailers who don’t have the overhead of retail space and employees.
  • Game stores make less money, and can’t stay in business. There are fewer and fewer game stores (this is already happening!)
  • Fewer new gamers stumble into game stores and spark their imagination with worlds of gaming. Fewer new gamers are created.
  • With fewer gamers, less of all games are sold as older gamers retire.
  • Publishers sell fewer games. This hits larger, professional publishers hardest (the ones that actually have paid game designers) and they publish fewer games, fewer new things and instead just make more of the same. Over time there are fewer publishers.
  • With fewer publishers taking less chances, there are fewer games for all of us.
  • Everyone loses.

So please buy your dice from your local game store if at all possible. And more importantly, buy all your games from the local game store too. Yes, when you buy retails you’re going to pay more than you will through internet discounters, but you are very literally supporting the future of RPG gaming. And by getting your games from a local game store, you’re helping to ensure that there will be more great games in the future.

That said, not everyone has a game store local to them. In fact, if you don’t live near a large city, buying your games from retails is very likely impossible. In that case — go for it and buy your dice or your games online.

Buying Dice Online

There are a solid handful of places to buy your dice online. Some of them are general game stores, and others specialize only in dice. As you might imagine, the dice specialty stores usually have the best selection, make it easiest to find the dice, and have the best dice photos (usually).

The general stores are usually much harder to find stuff, have shitty photos and stuff out of stock; however, they’re also usually cheaper (though in the world of dice you’re talking about saving a buck or less). And of course you can buy games as well as dice.

  • Awesome Dice — sells dice only and my favorite dice store, US and Canada
  • Board Game Central — general store selling lots of stuff
  • Lucky Dice Webshop — UK dice store
  • Paizo — general store and makers of Pathfinder
  • Troll and Toad — general store that is cheapest and the biggest pain in the ass to use with lots of dice out of stock

If you don’t have a game store in your area, any of the above online stores should give you the ability to get the dice that you need at any time.

Eclipse Phase Dice

Eclipse Phase coverEclipse Phase is a great newer RPG that I’ve been playing a lot lately. It’s an incredibly detailed and crunchy game of transhuman space. This is a fancy way of saying that it’s a sci-fi game set in a future in which human minds can be downloaded into new bodies.

So in this game not only are you customizing your characters stats and skill and the myriad of gear available in high-tech games, but you’re also customizing your body (or morph) and all the myriad of possible enhancements.

Eclipse Phase Dice

While I’m a big fan of Eclipse Phase, it’s not a game for the dice-lovers of the RPG world. Eclipse Phase uses primarily percentile dice to handle most situations. The only time that you’re using anything other than percentile is to roll damage, and even then the dice variety isn’t large.

To dice up for Eclipse Phase you’ll just need the standard 7-dice set, but there will be some dice in there that you’re not going to use. The key is to have the percentile dice on hand, and preferably an extra set (or at least an extra d10 or two) for when you inevitably lose a die or two.

Gaming Dice History

The guys at Awesome Dice have a fascinating article on the history of dice in gaming. They put together this pretty cool graphic that highlights the major finds in dice.

History of dice infographic

One of the cool things about this post is how all the information is specifically from a gaming point of view — these aren’t dice that were used for fortunetelling for mysticism — it’s all about dice used for gaming.

I think the coolest thing on here was the ancient d20 from the Roman empire 2,000 years ago. You can see some more information and the sources for all the data on the post here.

Shadowrun Dice

12d6 Shadowrun dice setShadowrun is a popular game in RPG circles, though certainly far less popular than the top tiers of RPG games. Shadowrun uses six-sided dice exclusively, and player are usually rolling a lot of them.

Because of the numbers of d6s used, players absolutely are going to want a lot of six-sided dice for Shadowrun — a standard 7-die set that comes with a single d6 is not going to cut it. Happily dice manufacturers have us covered on this front.

The most common Shadowrun dice set is the 12d6 set (pictured here) that provides a good number six-sided dice in the standard 16mm size. The 12d6 set covers most of the rolls that you’re going to make in Shadowrun; however, the big rolls for the abilities the character is best at will often need 15 or more dice.

Shadowrun players typically will have a couple of different 12d6 sets to have the number of dice they need. However there is another option: you can also get a 36d6 dice set, known as a dice cube. The dice cube provides a heck of a lot of six-sided dice; however, the dice are 12mm dice, which are substantially smaller than the standard 16mm dice.

In the world of Shadowrun the 12d6 sets are more common, though the dice cubes aren’t exactly rare — they are more popular among wargamers however, than among RPG gamers.

Dice Colors

As of course all gamers know, dice come in a myriad of colors. But many of the younger generations of gamers aren’t aware of how different the varieties of colored dice are today from where the RPG industry started.

Polyhedral dice were really first introduced with the D&D boxed set. It came with a set of Dungeons & Dragons dice: these dice were opaque and the numbers were not inked. The colors of the dice from those days were pretty dull and muddy.

Of course the materials to make higher quality dice were already available and used for casino dice. Polyhedral dice are manufactured via plastic injection molding, and it was just a matter of time and experimentation before the dice makers discovered the right mix of plastic polymers that would work with the process and start yielding better looking dice.

We pretty quickly got better-looking opaque dice with much more luster and polish as well as pre-inked dice numbering. Then our dice just started getting better and better looking. Today dice are available in just about any color you can imagine, and in a lot of different coloring styles. These include:

  • Opaque dice
  • Translucent (colored see-through dice)
  • Speckled — opaque dice with specks of another color (or multiple other colors) in them
  • Swirled/multi-colored — opaque dice that swirl or otherwise combine multiple colors of plastic together in one die.

In addition to these basic die types, there are almost any other kind that you can think of. There are dice made of metal and stone that are machined rather than molded, and even dice made of fossils. There are dice that combine opaque and translucent plastics and dice that deliberately inject air into the die to create bubbles within. We have giant dice made of hard foam and patterns for dice made of paper; we have glow in the dark dice in various designs and dice that light up when you crit.

We’ve come a long, long way from the D&D boxed set, and we’re not done yet. I’m excited to see what might come next.

Call of Cthulhu Dice

Call of Cthulhu is probably one of the most well known games in all of gaming, second in name recognition only to D&D. It is, however, not played nearly as much as many other games with less name recognition. Despite this there are indeed RPG dice made specifically for Cthulhu.

Call of Cthulhu makes use of the standard 7-dice set, a fact that many people who have played Cthulhu are unaware of. The vast majority of the game is played with only percentile dice — these dice handle rolls for every skill in the game, and the well-known sanity checks.

Dice outside of the percentile are used only for three things:

  1. Rolling initial stats
  2. Rolling for sanity loss
  3. Rolling for physical damage

It’s probably pretty safe to say that 95% of all dice rolls a player makes in Call of Cthulhu are the percentile dice, and perhaps 70% or more of the game master’s rolls are percentile as well. But there are just enough occasions when another die type is needed that a full dice set must be at hand.

Call of Cthulhu Specific Dice

While any 7-dice set can serve the purposes of a Call of Cthulhu game, the unique atmosphere and mood of Cthulhu prompts many players to have special Call of Cthulhu dice sets. A couple of manufacturer make dice specific to Cthulhu, most notably Q-Workshop.

Q-Workshop Cthulhu DiceQ-Workshop makes a line of Cthulhu dice that are a 7-dice set with Cthulhu designs printed on the face of the dice. These Cthulhu dice are available in a variety of colors (even pink), but the most common and popular are the black dice with green print.

At one point Q-Workshop even made glow in the dark Call of Cthulhu dice, which followed the black & green design but using glow in the dark in on the dice. These dice were printed as a one-time limited edition set (and sold for over $40 per set!) and are currently out of print. Q-Workshop has not announced any plans to reprint the glow in the dark Call of Cthulhu dice set, though they still have the set listed on their website, so perhaps they’ll revisit it at some point.

Cthulhu dice setQ-Workshop is not the only Cthulhu dice manufacturer. A German dice manufacturer has released a special Call of Cthulhu dice set called Arma Ctuhlhiana. This non-standard dice set includes 3 6-sided dice and no d12. The d6s (three are used to roll stats) and d20 have an elder sign printed on them.

It’s entirely possible that the d12 is not actually used in Call of Cthulhu. I can’t think of any instance where it comes into play: if it does, it is only as a sanity loss die, but I can’t think of a creature that yields a d12 sanity loss for a failed roll.

Unlike the opaque Q-Workshop Cthulhu dice, the Arma Ctuhlhiana dice are a mixture of opaque and translucent material with air bubble in the center, giving them an appropriately yellow-green Cthulhu look and feel.

Vampire Dice

Vampire Ankh Dice SetVampire dice are gaming dice that are specifically designed for the World of Darkness game Vampire: the Masquerade — or the reboot version, Vampire: Requiem. Like all WoD games, Vampire uses only 10-sided dice and the standard set of 10 ten-sided dice is considered standard for vampire.

However, while any 10d10 set of dice will work fine for Vampire games, the popularity of vampire led manufacturers to create sets of dice specific just for the Vampire roleplaying game. These vampire dice (pictured on the right) feature a red ankh in the place of the 10 on the face of the dice and are manufactured by Chessex.

The ankh was a common symbol associated with the goth punk style of the original Vampire: the Masquerade and the standard set of vampire dice make use of the marbled green and black look from the original Vampire books, as well as the Mind’s Eye Theater live-action vampire role-playing game.

Vampire Dice Variations

In addition to the green/black marbled version, there have been vampire dice manufactured in other color mixes. Some of these featured a rose design instead of an ankh — a red rose was included on the green marbled background on the original Vampire: the Masquerade book.

Here are the vampire dice variations with which I’m familiar:

  • Marbled green/black with ankh
  • Speckled green/black with a red tip and a rose instead of an ankh
  • Black (with and without a red tip) and a rose instead of an ankh
  • White dice with black ankh

All of these varieties were manufactured by Chessex and of them only the marbled green/black with the red ankh are still being manufactured. Vampire remains a popular enough game that the vampire dice are still in active production; however, the popularity of the game has fallen vastly from it’s height in the late 90s and there is no longer a large enough playerbase to support the huge variety of vampire-specific dice — unlike d&d dice, which still enjoys a huge number of players.

GameScience: Dice Manufacturer

GameScience was one of the very first manufacturers of RPG gaming dice in the industry, founded in 1974, and GameScience founder Lou Zocchi takes credit for manufacturing the first RPG dice for the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set.

GameScience is known for their Precision Dice as well as for their odd-sized dice, and was bought by Gamestation in March of 2009. Gamestation is a gaming retailer based in Kentucky with a large online presence and a significant presence in the poker supplies market.

GameScience Precision Dice

GameScience dice, according to Lou Zocchi, are made with a higher quality of plastic materials than other gaming dice, which gives them a more lustrous, almost gemlike quality.

What they are known for is the sharply defined, razor-like edge to the dice. This is achieved because the dice do not undergo the tumbling process that is used on most dice and is a part of the inking process. As a result GameScience dice not only have the characteristic sharp edge, but also come uninked. The number are still set into the dice, but must be inked by hand by the gamer who buys the dice.

In addition to the sharp edges, GameScience dice have an extruding chunk of plastic, a sprue from where the dice were removed from the mold. This sprue is normally removed in the tumbling process; however since GameScience dice skip that process this sprue must also be removed by hand (via a small piece of sandpaper) or tolerated.

Lou Zocchi claims that the tumbling process of other dice manufacturers causes dice to have uneven sides and differently rounded corners — and this is demonstrably true, as Zocchi has shown fairly convincingly. He further claims that as a result the dice will not roll substantially close to true and only GameScience dice will actually give gamers something very close to a truly random distribution of numbers. However, while this claim has theoretical merit, there has yet to be any testing or evidence that demonstrates that other RPG dice do not roll close to true. As such Zocchi’s claim is thus far unproven.

Update: Awesome Dice blog has testing of GameScience dice vs Chessex dice over 10,000 rolls for statistically significant results. Neither dice rolled within the margin of error; however, GameScience mostly rolled closer to true, except for the 14. Unlike what Zocchi says in the video below, the sprue on GameScience dice does drastically affect the rolling, making the 14 result far less likely to come up.

Odd-Sized Dice

Zocchi is a fan of odd sized dice and GameScience sells a “Zocchi Pack” of 5 dice that come in d3, d5, d14, d16 and d24. While the d3 can come in handy for many games, there are no RPGs that actually make use of these other dice sizes, and they are purchased primarily for the novelty factor.

Zocchi also created the d100, a die that looks something like a very small golf-ball. The interior of the hollow die contains many small weights that prevent it from rolling endlessly, like a ball might. This spherical die has 100 facets, enabling gamers to roll a percentile roll without requiring two separate dice; however, it can be exceedingly difficult to read the result.

Shortly after the release of the d100, or Zocchihedron, it was demonstrated that the d100 did not roll evenly — some numbers would come up much more frequently. Zocchi then modified the numerical distribution across the die and changing the way the inner weightings worked to address this issue.

Dice Sets

RPG gaming dice generally come in pre-determined dice sets. They are packaged and sold in these sets by the dice manufacturers. These are arranged to suit most popular RPGs, and indeed most RPGs are designed around a specific kind of dice set.

Following are the standard dice sets used in RPG gaming:

  • 7 Dice Sets contains 7 separate dice and is the traditional Dungeons & Dragons dice set. This contains one each of d4, d6, d8, d10, percentile d10, d12, and d20. This provides the essential dice that every gamer needs for nearly every game and the variety needed for D&D. However, while the 7-dice set gives all the dice needed, it provides only one of each. For D&D this often isn’t an issue since you rarely need to roll very many of a single die type, but for other games having just one of a die type isn’t practical.
  • 10d10 dice set contains ten 10-sided dice. This set was created to serve the needs of World of Darkness games (Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, etc) which use the 10-sided dice exclusively. Typically rolls will require players to roll from a few to 7 or 8 dice per roll, and larger rolls can require even more than ten dice. The 10d10 dice set suits the needs of the game almost perfectly. This same dice set is also used for Legend of the Five Rings, which also uses 10-sided dice exclusively, also in large numbers.
  • 12d6 dice set includes a dozen six-sided dice. This is used for games that make use of six-sided dice exclusively, which includes the popular Shadowrun, as well as Champions. These games can often require rolling fifteen, twenty, or even more six-sided dice and as such gamers will often want more than one 12d6 set. The 12d6 dice set uses traditional pips for numbering, rather than actual numerals, which are found on 10d10 and 7-dice sets (including the d6 of 7-dice sets).
  • 36d6 dice cube is a set of 36 six-sided dice. These sets make use of smaller 12mm dice (16mm is standard) to provide the quantity of dice desired at a lower price. these dice cubes can be used in games that require a lot of six-sided dice, like Champions, and are also popular for war games. 36d6 dice cubes also use pips for numbering, like the 12d6 dice sets.

There are, of course, exceptions to these standard dice sets, but they are rare. At one point a 10-dice set was common in the RPG gaming industry. It provided more six-sided dice which was well suited to D&D, but lost favor due to the lower price of the 7-dice set. GameScience sells 5-dice sets of odd-sized dice, and many dice manufacturers sell a Pound of Dice product will a random assortment of dice of all sizes.

The vast majority of gamers will buy one or more of these dice sets, however. Some more particular gamers will prefer to buy one of these dice sets and then supplement it with individual matching dice to get the dice ratio they want.