The fates are conspiring against me, working in the background to tempt my inner dice goblin to indulge his baser instincts. How else would you explain the plethora of shiny math rock kickstarters, fundraisers, videos, and freakin’ cool STL files that have made their way across my feeds as of late? Surely it can’t be some cold, unfeeling computer algorithm. No, it must be fate, and it must be my destiny to find a way to master all of these funky weird dice.

Seriously, though, the last few months, I’ve been thinking about dice a lot. Specifically weird dice. It all started back at the end of 2023, when my husband gave me this awesome dice spinner for Christmas.

It’s beautiful. It’s fun. But most important – it’s weird, and I love weird. So I started thinking about how I could use this weird artifact for more than simply generating a random number. A die (or dice depending on how you’re counting it) so unique deserves a special place at the table, in my opinion. Using it for every random guard’s sword swing or royal vizier’s bluff check would lessen the impact.

This train of thought took me to a lot of offbeat places I didn’t expect – like spending a week musing over the act of building a Cortex system dice pool and how just choosing the stats you’re going to roll with in that game becomes a kind of role play experience on it’s own – but ultimately it coalesced into philosophizing about the purpose of dice.

The raison d’etre of the math rocks becomes clear – they’re not just randomizers. They are tension-makers. Suspense-creators. Engines of uncertainty.

Because if we really dig into the raison d’etre of the math rocks it becomes clear that they’re not just randomizers. They are tension-makers. Suspense-creators. Engines of uncertainty.

That’s how all the systems tell us to use dice, isn’t it? When you don’t know what will happen, when you’re playing to find out, when success is uncertain – roll the dice.

Dice are the unknown. They’re luck. They’re – dare I tempt it by saying – fate.

Incarnate.

And fate can be fickle.

When we’re rolling dice, we’re taking a chance, and chances are dramatic. Chance creates tension, and when I understood this, I knew how to best use not just my dice spinner, but a bunch of different kinds of dice in weird and unique ways.

Below, you’ll find five weird ways to up the tension at your table using dice. I’ve collected these ideas and arranged from least to most weird. I’ve also tried to include links to the inspiration for the methods when I could provide them.

### HIGH – LOW – EVEN – ODD

Credit for this one goes to my old college roommate (thanks, Jeremy!). I don’t know if he came up with it first, but he’s the first GM I’d ever seen use it.

The process is simple, take a D20 (or whatever die your system uses) and point at a player (preferably the one attempting to do the risky action that required a die roll) and say, “High, low, even, or odd.”

Let them call it. Roll the die. If they managed to call the roll, the action goes in their favor.

Essentially, it’s a coin flip and it works well in situations where pure luck determines the outcome of an action. But this works better than a coin flip because the player feels like they have more agency. Not much, but four options are better than two even if the math works out the same. Plus, it plays into dice superstitions such as “I never roll high” or “I really don’t want to ‘waste’ a twenty on this.”

If you really want to play with their emotions, grab a D20 from their dice jail and call for a high-low-even-odd roll. (This is the most evil version of this roll, and is only recommended for GMs who are willing to tempt every god of fortune at one time.)

### ROLL UNDER A CUP

Inspired by Liar’s Dice, Yahtzee, but mostly this video on the Quinns Quest Patreon. (It’s a fun video and I highly recommend watching it if you can.)

Imagine this: the rogue has split off from the party to scout the villain’s keep. They’re sneaking through darkened hallways and creeping around corners, when they run into a guard patrol. You call for a stealth roll, BUT you tell them to roll under a cup (an opaque cup. Otherwise this doesn’t work) and tell them not to look at it until you say so.

Then you cut back to the rest of the party. You run a scene. Maybe even an encounter. All the while, the rogue’s player is staring at the cup. Wondering if they’ve been spotted.

When I heard Quinn describe this method, I immediately ran out and bought a set of special little bowls for my home game. I can not wait to watch my players squirm under the tension of not knowing if they succeeded or not.

And yes, you could just roll in secret, but then the answer is an ephemeral result in your brain, not a tangible die sitting just out of reach.

Adapted from Edge of the Empire/Genesys.

Lots of games have their own custom dice – like Edge of the Empire’s Task dice or Fate’s Fudge dice. You can easily steal the special dice and import them into your game to add a little spice along with some nuance.

When a character goes to hack a computer system, toss them an Edge of the Empire difficulty die to roll along with their D20 and interpret the resulting narrative complications as you would if you were running that system. Or have them roll a Fudge die. On a minus they set off the alarms, on a blank they succeed with a “yes but,” on a plus they get extra information.

Sure, you can bake these gradients of success into a normal D20 roll based on how far below or above the target number they roll, but adding a special die points a huge ass spotlight on the action. It adds another layer of importance to the action and dials up the tension along the way.

### ROULETTE DICE COUNTDOWN

Inspired by my Christmas present.

I timed it, and with a really good flick my roulette die will spin for about one and a half minutes, but that’s just an estimate. I’m not certain exactly how long it will spin. And what does uncertainty create? That’s right. Tension.

So, imagine this: you set up a scenario where your players have a limited amount of time to make decisions. Let’s say the jackbooted troops of the evil empire are hunting them through back alleys, trying to catch them before they reach their hideout. The group has to either act together or separately, but they only have until the spinner stops to tell you their actions. You set the stakes and give them the parameters of the situation, and then you start the spinner spinning.

“You have until this stops spinning to make your actions. The result on the die will represent the evil empire’s perception check to find you. Go!”

Will the empire succeed? Who knows! You don’t. Your players definitely don’t! All you know is that there is a limited amount of time to choose.

Now THAT’S dramatic.

### SKILL-BASED DICE TOYS

Inspired by these incredibly awesome 3D prints.

These 3D prints turn standard dice rolls into actual real-life skill checks. They take the nail-biting challenge of those old tilt and spin puzzles where you try to navigate a ball bearing through a labyrinth without dropping it through a hole and combine them with either a D20 or a D6. The more dexterous you are at guiding the ball bearing through the maze, the higher your roll result.

Tons of fun on it’s own. Especially if you use it for something like disarming a trap or activating a complicated magical puzzle. But what if you added in a push your luck mechanic?

“The room’s ceiling is coming down and will crush you in three (real time) minutes. If you can ‘roll’ a 13 on this skill-based die, you can unlock the door and escape. But if you get a 17 you can stall out the mechanism completely and find the secret passage that will let you bypass the rest of the dungeon’s traps. If you get a 20…well something extra special will happen.”

These weird dice rolls can add spice to your sessions, drawing attention to pivotal rolls and heightening the tension to astronomical levels of excitement, but do remember to use them in moderation. After all, if every roll you call for has its own gimmick, they’ll lose their specialness real fast.

I’m also still trying to find ways of adopting these methods for online play. The “roll under a cup” method can be replicated in the Foundry VTT by having your players make blind GM rolls and then you can reveal them in the UI when the timing is appropriate. Including Genesys or Fudge dice into the system could probably be done with a moderate amount of coding, depending on the VTT. Mailing your players care packages with the 3D printed skill dice could be an interesting way to add mystery to the session as well, but it of course has its own limitations.

Would you use weird dice like these in your games? How? Let us know in the comments.