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.

Dice Bags

You can’t talk about gamers and dice for too long with addressing dice bags. Every true RPG gamers has dice, and more of them than we really need, and we all have at least one dice bag to cart them around in.

Interestingly, the gamer obsession with dice doesn’t translate as clearly to dice bags. While you know for a fact that something who plays D&D will have multiple sets of D&D dice, and possibly some odd d100 and d30 dice, but often they’ll only have one dice bag. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of gamers with multiples, but it isn’t a given.

However, while most gamers are content to have just the one bag to cart their dice around in, they seem always to be on the lookout for a cooler and better dice bag. Standard fake velvet dice bags are cheap and easy to find, but I know of very few gamers personally who actually use these cheap ones. Instead they’ll have real leather dice bags, dice bags with fancy awesome designs printed on them, jester dice bags or even dice bags made out of chainmail (these are really cool, though not terribly practical.

I don’t know what it is in the gamer psyche that makes collecting many duplicate redundant dice acceptable and even desirable, but echewing the thought of more than one dice bag. Certainly carrying multiple dice bags is impractical, and you could argue that carrying 30 dice is just as easy as carrying 7 (not quite, but close). But in the end I think there’s something in the gamer mindset about dice bags that has the same possessive, collective mindset as we are with dice.

Go to a convention sometime and check out what gamers use to carry their dice around. Very few of them will have anything simple. Perhaps it’s this: while dice are a representation of their character’s personality, the dice bag is a representation of their own.

Here are some images of some of the stranger dice bags I’ve seen:

The classic chainmail dice bag. Holds dice, looks awesome, is really heavy, and not terribly practical (doesn't close well and is kinda hard to get dice out of)

cthulhu dice bag

Dice bag with images printed on them -- in this case an elder sign for Call of Cthulhu

skull dice bag

Dice bag designed to look like a skull. Only works when it's really, really full of dice. Nice concept, but in practice doesn't look cool without a bunch of work to shape it just right.

Cthulhu plush dice bag

An actual plush toy -- Cthulhu again -- with a zipper in back to store dice.

Dungeons and Dragons Dice | D&D Dice

D&D Dice

An example of a D&D dice 7-dice set.

Dungeons and Dragons dice are the most commonly used dice in the worlds of RPG gaming, and in fact D&D dice are the basis for dice used in most other games. Before Dungeons and Dragons came along, it was generally accepted that dice were played with six-sided dice. While other polyhedral dice have been around throughout history, they’ve generally been used historically in more esoteric religious/magical roles.

But Dungeons and Dragons changed that, bringing what we now consider the standard polyhedral dice into the forefront of the gaming world until they are no ubiquitous with RPG gaming — if you see someone with polyhedral dice, you know they’re a gamer.

The Standard Dungeons and Dragons Dice

Dungeons and Dragons is played with six varieties of polyhedral dice. These D&D dice have become the cornerstone of gaming:

  • d4: the four-sided die is often fondly referred to as the caltrop, or the pyramid dice. It’s shape is such that it always lands with the point facing up, and lost dice stepped on by bare feet late at night are something almost every D&D gamer has experienced.
  • d6: the standard cube-shaped dice that all the world is familiar with are also used in D&D.
  • d8: the eight-sided dice are used heavily throughout D&D
  • d10: ten-sided dice are used heavily throughout D&D, and a combination of two 10-sided dice can make for a roll of 1 – 100. Special versions of 10-sided dice are commonly made and called “percentile” dice with numbers from 01 – 00, that are rolled along with a standard d10.
  • d12: twelve-sided dice are used fairly rarely, both in D&D and other RPGs that make use of the same dice
  • d20: the twenty-sided die is the signature dice type of D&D, being the most used die and the one used to determine all attack rolls and saving throws. The d20 was so common that in the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons revamp the mechanics of the game were referred to as the d20 System.

Dungeons & Dragons Dice Sets

The current standard dice set for D&D dice is the 7-dice set. This set includes one each of all of the D&D dice, plus a percentiles d10.

In the 80s and early 90s a 10-dice set was popular for D&D dice, that included all of the dice in the 7-dice set, but had 4 six-sided dice instead of just one. The logic behind this dice set was that multiple d6 were needed frequently in D&D.

The Dungeons & Dragons character creation method (the most common one anyway) involves rolling 4 six-sided dice. In additional multple d6 were used for some weapon damage rolls and for the signature wizard ability, the fireball spell. Almost any long-term Dungeons and Dragons player would eventually need multiple six-sided dice, and many would need them often.

Despite the logic behind the 10-dice set, it faltered in popularity primarily because the largest dice manufacturer, Chessex, pushed the 7-dice set. In relation to the 7-dice set on game store shelves, the 10-dice set appeared far more expensive. In order to compete on price point other manufacturers had to emulate the 7-dice set, giving the minimum dice required to play D&D and no more.

Of course most game stores, as well as most major dice manufacturers, sell loose dice that allows gamers to buy a dice set and then supplement it with additional matching dice that they feel they need (usually d6s and d4s, which are both dice that are used in multiples fairly often in Dungeons & Dragons).

Crystal Caste: Dice Manufacturer

Crystal Caste (official site here) is a specialty dice manufacturer that makes dice specifically for the RPG gaming industry. Crystal Caste is best known for its “Dwarven Dice” series of dice made from semi-precious gemstones such as adventurine and hematite as well as metals like steel and bronze, as well as it’s slightly less well-known “crystal” dice.

The crystal dice from Crystal Caste are a new design for standard polyhedral dice the offers the same number of sides in a misshapen, barrel-shaped dice. The dice tumble more than they roll, and are less likely to roll true than standard polyhedral dice. Nonetheless the unique shape of the dice — patented by Crystal Caste’s Michael Bowling in the late 1990s gave them a brief “new” appeal. For several years it was not uncommon to see gamers with a set of these crystal dice, though modern gamers almost never use them, preferring standard polyhedrals that roll more smoothly and with a more even distribution of randomness.

In addition to these specialty dice, Crystal Caste also manufactures standard RPG gaming dice in the common polyhedral dice shapes. These dice come in the standard mix of colors that you would expect from a RPG dice manufacturer, though with far less variety than the leading RPG dice companies Chessex and Koplow.

Crystal Caste & Hasbro Lawsuit

Dice from Millenium Monopoly, using the patented crystal dice design.

Hasbro published a Millenium edition of Monopoly in 1999 that made use of the patented Crystal Caste crystal dice design, and admitted that they saw the dice at a convention. They did not, however, get permission to use the dice, which led to Crystal Caste suing Hasbro for patent infringement.

In 2008 a jury awarded Crystal Caste’s Michael Bowling $446,182 in royalties. Four years later Crystal Caste still has a banner announcing the victory on the header of the home page of their website.

Crystal Caste and Distribution Difficulties

Crystal Caste distributes their dice through normal gaming industry distribution channels, as well as selling their dice directly to retailers and directly to consumers through their ecommerce website.

Among the most sought after Crystal Caste dice is their Dwarven Dice line of metal and semi-precious stone dice. However, Crystal Caste has appeared reluctant to sell these through distribution. Several distributors have reported being unable to order the dice from Crystal Caste: when distributors try to order Crystal Caste reports they are out of stock, but continue to sell them on their site as in-stock. It appears from this that Crystal Caste prefers to hoard stock for themselves that they can sell at full retail. This is what led to the 2nd largest gaming distributor cutting ties with Crystal Caste and refusing to carry their product.

The largest gaming distributor, Alliance Distribution, continues to carry Crystal Caste dice but also is unable to get stock of the Dwarven Dice line, which continues to sell as in-stock on their website.

In addition to the difficulties distributors have getting dice, Crystal Caste is also declining any new online retail accounts that would directly compete with their own online sales.

As a matter of pure opinion, Crystal Caste’s refusal to part with the most desirable stock through distribution has likely contributed to its inability to become a larger player in the RPG dice industry, as most game stores will only order dice through distribution, and it’s at game stores where gamers are most exposed to new product. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crystal Caste close its doors or be bought out within the next several years. I have no actual data, but my feeling from within the gaming industry is that Crystal Caste has been declining for several years.

Q-Workshop: Dice Manufacturer

Q-Workshop is one of the newest entrants to the RPG dice manufacturing business, starting in the mid-2000s. Q-Workshop (official site here) is a Polish manufacturer known for their intricate designs on dice.

Where all other standard dice manufacturers focus on designs within the material of the dice themselves and use plain numbers or pips, Q-Workshop uses mostly standard opaque dice with intricate designs on the faces of the dice, in addition to creative fonts for numbering.

Q-Workshop is very closed mouthed about their manufacturing process, mentioning only that they have special machines. It is obvious that they do not use the standard plastic injection molding process of other dice manufacturers — on occasion there are Q-Workshop dice with errors where the same number is duplicated on multiple faces of the dice, an error that cannot occur via plastic injection molding unless the entire mold (and thus entire production runs) is made incorrectly.

Q-Workshop dice example

An example of Q-Workshop dice design, with intricate face designs on otherwise standard opaque dice.

It seems likely that Q-Workshop uses some kind of CNC machining or laser etching process to etch the surface of their dice. Possibly they purchase blank dice and etch into them, or use raw plastic blocks for CNC machining. Either process would explain the increased cost of their dice which is often three to four times the cost of equivalent gaming dice. The fact that they’re based out of Poland does not explain the cost increase, especially since Chessex dice are manufactured in Europe as well.

Within the US Q-Workshop dice are popular, but nowhere near as ubiquitous as Chessex dice. They are also often difficult to get a hold of via distribution. Alliance Game Distributors is the official importer of Q-Workshop dice into the US, though other game distributor carry the dice (which are shipped to them from Alliance, with the sale going directly through Q-Workshop).

Despite their high cost, Q-Workshop dice remain a popular “luxury” dice within the RPG market.

Koplow: Dice Manufacturer

Koplow is the 2nd largest general dice manufacturer, though they are second by a large margin after Chessex and within the RPG industry Q-Workshop is likely larger now. Koplow manufacturers all of the general RPG gaming dice that you’d expect, including 7-dice sets and d6 dice cubes.

Unlike Chessex, the RPG gaming industry is not the primary market for Koplow’s dice. Instead, Koplow focuses pretty heavily on non-gaming market sources. As a result, Koplow has a massive inventory of specialty dice that are not gaming dice: they have math dice and animal dice and tons of different kinds of educational dice intended for grade school classroom learning games. In fact, Koplow has more non-gaming dice than they do gaming dice.

Koplow dice tend to be a little bit cheaper than Chessex dice, though they don’t have the array of styles that Chessex does. Koplow gains this pricing advantage by manufacturing their dice in China where they can be made for less.

Despite their focus on the educational market, Koplow does offer some gaming dice that are not offered by most of their competitors. This includes their “jumbo” dice — 7-dice sets of large 28mm dice (compared to standard dice that are 16mm) and several varieties of glow in the dark dice — though they only offer 6-sided glow in the dark dice.

For the time being Koplow keeps one foot in the door of the gaming industry, and I’d be really curious to see what Koplow could accomplish if they just tried to lean more heavily into the market, learning from Chessex’s designs and packaging standardization.

Chessex: Dice Manufacturer

Chessex LogoChessex is the leading dice manufacturer in the RPG industry, and they can be found online at their somewhat dated and not terribly complete site

If you’ve ever been to a game store or a convention and looked through the dice bins, you’ve certainly seen Chessex dice. Chessex dominates the RPG dice market, manufacturing both the very basic and cheap dice sets as well as the more colorful ones. Chessex’s position is so dominant that the only room for most other dice manufacturers to compete is in very high end specialty dice. The only real competitor for the basic $4 – $15 dice sets is Koplow.

Chessex has structured their dice packaging so that all of their dice designs are always sold in the following collections:

  • 7-dice set including the d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and percentile d10 – with numbers
  • Set of 12d6 with pips
  • Set of 10d10 with numbers
  • Set of 36d6 12mm with pips
  • Individually

This sales method ensures that you can get whatever kind of Chessex dice you want in any standard dice set size you want (happily for Chessex, they’re so large that whatever way they choose to sell dice becomes the standard).

Chessex is also know for it’s Pound ‘o Dice bag of dice, which contains approximately 100 dice of various designs, sizes, and denominations. The mix is supposed to reflect common dice proportions (so far more d6 and few d12, for example). The Pound o’ Dice is an inexpensive way for gamers to purchase a lot of dice, but generally the dice are pretty ugly and are clearly cast-offs that could not be sold.

The success of the Pound ‘o Dice has prompted Chessex to also release a Pound ‘o d6 package, and other dice manufacturers have since offered Pound ‘o Dice packages of their own.

Chessex is also known for their dice scoop at GenCon, where they have a vase barrell of loose dice. For a price you can scoop a mug and keep all the dice in the mug, and for a larger price you can get a bucket to scoop with. For a slightly higher price you can actually choose which dice to place in your mub/bucket (though if you ask me that ruins the fun).

Chessex dice are made via plastic injection molding and are actually manufactured in Europe, and Chessex has their own proprietary molds.