A few months ago, I decided I wanted to buy my first dice tray. My druid character in our ongoing D&D 3.5e campaign uses a lot of dice, and our GM (who comments here as Sarlax) has always used a dice tray and seems to quite like it.
I knew I didn’t want the generic light wood/green felt octagon that I’ve seen in most gaming stores. It’s too large and the walls are too short, plus I’m not wild about the color combination. I wanted something different, and fortunately I remembered a booth I’d spent some time at during GenCon 2007: Dwarven Sweatshoppe.
They make custom dice trays, and the ones they had on hand at the con were beautiful. I remembered that they came in a wide range of shapes and styles, with decorative options for the sides, different felt colors and walls in a variety of heights. From handling a couple trays at the con, I knew they were solid and well-made — the kind of game aid that should last for years.
Which is good, because at $20, $30 and $40 a pop depending on the type of wood and decorations, they’re two to four times as expensive as the generic, widely available trays. That said, having bought one and used it for the past several months, they’re worth every penny.
The order process begins with choosing the type of wood you want: pine ($20), oak ($30) or decorative pine ($40), as well as how tall you’d like the walls to be. They recommend tall sides for “chuckers” and short sides for “rollers.” I opted for short oak, reasoning that oak is a lot tougher than pine (and likely to last longer), and that with shorter walls I’d be able to read my dice more easily.
Once you choose your wood, you get to pick the number of sides: four, five, six or eight. Four looked like an invitation to get dice stuck in the corners, and eight was too traditional; I liked both five and six, and opted for five — the pentagon just looks cool.
The third step is picking a stain, ranging from dark walnut to olive. They’re attractive colors, and the little thumbnails suggest that all of them will look good on the actual wood. But how do you know? Are the thumbnails showing them on pine or oak? And how true to reality is the photo?
The same goes for step four: felt. Sure, the colors look good in the thumbnails, but how will they look paired with the wood and stain you choose? And again, how true are the colors in the photos?
For the last two steps, I scoured the web for larger photos, reviews and other sources of images of assembled dice trays. I checked online gaming stores as well as websites selling the specific makes and patterns of felt used by Dwarven Sweatshoppe. I found an image or two that were helpful, and eventually settled on red mahogany stain and cranapple felt, which looked like they would complement each other well, and also match the oak.
The Finished Product
Here’s what I wish I’d had on hand when I was creating my dice tray: nice big photos showing a finished tray in loving detail. If you’re thinking about buying one, my specific shape, wood, color and felt options may not help you, but hopefully seeing the quality and overall look of the thing will.
Head-on (or check out the giant version):
From overhead (muy grande):
The bottom, showing the felt that keeps it from scratching your tabletop (embiggen):
…and the edge, showing the quality of the construction and evenness of the lacquer (show me the big one, Uncle Martin):
Overall, this puppy is nicely made. The corners are subtly rounded, which keeps it from being too pokey and also ensures fewer wear points where the lacquer can rub off. The felt is perfectly flat and well glued-down, and hasn’t shown any signs of wear yet. The joints in the wood are sound, and the looks good and is evenly applied. I have zero complaints about the quality of my tray — it’s excellent.
At $30 plus shipping, my custom dice tray cost about the same as a hardcover gaming book. For that price, I got a game aid that’s served me well at every session for the past several months without showing any signs of wear. I’ve never used a dice tray before, and this one has made me a convert — I love rolling in it.
The compact size means that it’s easy to find a spot for it next to me as a player or behind my screen as a GM (and I love the funky pentagonal shape), and the height of the sides is just right: I’ve never had a problem reading my dice from any angle. The size of the tray also means my dice tend to “cluster up” when rolled, making scanning them just slightly quicker than normal.
On the ordering front, Dwarven Sweatshoppe did a great job. I got an email confirming my order, and it was assembled and shipped promptly. It arrived in perfect condition.
My only complaint, in fact, is that there aren’t nearly enough photos of completed dice trays available on DS’s website — there’s, um, one. For shame! You can find a few elsewhere, but as of now this review showcases the most and the largest photos of DS dice trays online — that shouldn’t be the case.
I couldn’t be happier with my dice tray. It’s going to be a faithful staple of my home games for years to come, and it looks set to last as long as I want it to. I highly recommend Dwarven Sweatshoppe‘s custom dice trays.
If you have any questions about my tray, the customization process or anything else about this review, fire away in the comments.
Thank you for choosing spanish language to say things instead of, don’t know, chinese ^.^
Just wanted to point out that it’s “muy grande” instead of “mucho grande” 😉
Thank you all for the daily gnome stew!!
I was looking at Dwarven Sweatshoppe’s web site over the weekend, and thinking of getting a new dice tray. Mine is a homemade one, and not nearly that nice looking.
After reading this review, I will be putting it on my list of places to visit at GenCon in August.
While these are attractive, I’m not sure they’re worth the price they charge. I could see paying that much for a carved dice tray, but not for what appears to be a glorified wooden ash tray.
That said, I’m now inspired to build a carved dice tray. I’m thinking quaken aspen for the wood, as it’s easy to carve and takes stain well. After shaping, carving, and staining, a coat of polyurethane thinned one-to-one with mineral spirits will offer a nice, subtly shiny and durable finish. I’ll probably take photos and blog about the process on my website, if anyone’s curious.
I’m one of those guys who is perfectly happy with his $10 octagon dice tray, but if it ever needs replacing I’ll be sure to check out Dwarven Sweatshoppe!
Dice trays do make a difference, and I also recommend getting a dice cup too. Since I started using that combo I haven’t sent a dice flying off of the table. I’m not a “chucker”, but my table is very solid so that tiny dice just bounce off of the surface with very little force. So it is either use a dice tray or roll on the battle mat and risk hitting the minis.
Nice dice tray. When I GM, I either roll big dice in the open or in a small cigar box. But when I play… Hmm. Now there’s a reason for a custom dice tray!
Ben Overmyer – I’d be interested. Originally I thought of making my own, but for $10 I thought that I’d rather save myself the time and give my cash to the FLGS. That said, there is that pride that comes from crafting such items yourself.
Given that we dig under a couch or chair every session due to a bad bounce, I think this is a strong enough clue, even for me.
(That it looks cool is a bonus, of course.)
Thanks for the review we really do appreciate great reviews like this one. Also thanks to all the people who left comments.
Our prices are higher than the conventional dice tray that is out there but we know gamers love to be unique and why not pay a little more to own a one of a kind tray. We do take custom requests so shoot us your idea ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Anyone who drops by our booth at GenCon 2008 (#1331) and mentions this review on Gnome Stew will get $8.00 off their tray.
Looks like I’m probably going to buy a new dice tray at Gen Con this year! 🙂
The problem with most dice trays is they they take up a huge amount of space in a bag. A friend had an elegant solution: make the box’s internal measurements roughly 8.5″ by 12″. When traveling, stuff your books into the box. She actually added a groove to the top and had a wood cover. It had enough space to carry her Shadowrun book, character sheet, dice, and pencil. She’d toss everything in, shut the box, and take it to game with no other bag. When she arrived she’d pull everything out. The cover that slid out acted as a clipboard for her character sheet (no actual clippy thing, but it would be an easy addition) and the box became a dice box. I really dug it. I was too lazy to make my own. I think I’ll rough out a design and see if the sweatshop can make me my own for a reasonable price.
@Erekibeon: I think mucho grande sounds funnier, but fine, fine I’ll change it to be all accurate. 😛
@Patrick: I’ve never understood the rationale behind dice cups. They just seem like a waste of time — pick up the dice, dump them in the cup, shake, roll, repeat vs. pick up the dice, roll, repeat — although some of them do look quite nice. I rarely bounce dice out of my tray, though, so maybe it just comes down to how you roll.
@Dwarven Sweatshoppe: Thanks for dropping in to say hi! And thanks for the discount for GS readers — that’s very cool of you.
…No, I don’t think I’ll ever get over Mucho Grande…
LOL, thank you a lot, Martin! My eyes are so grateful now…
Martin – I’m not trying to convert anyone, but I thought they were silly too until I started to use one. The dice cup does two wonderful things for the GM.
1) It makes noise. A very distinctive noise. A wonderfully distinctive noise that causes all of the players to turn and look at the GM as if they were a deer in the headlights. Table getting a little out of hand with joke cracking or some minor dispute? Plop a couple of dice in the cup and shake. Everyone suddenly freezes and wonders what you are rolling for.
2) It gives you a moment to think before you roll. You start picking out your dice and putting them in the cup and it is a sort of ritual where you have a moment to contemplate why you are rolling the dice at all. There have been times where I started to load the dice cup and realized that I didn’t need to roll at all. I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in the game and that a dice roll wasn’t necessary. Or it just gave me a moment to clarify how I would interpret the results of the dice. Not just success or failure, but what in game event would follow based on the results being a success or failure. It is like exhaling while pulling the trigger at the rifle range. A physical act that helps you to focus mentally.
Another advantage is that it helps to reduce the momentum of the dice before they hit the tray or table. I never realized this until I started to use one with my dice tray. Those bones will strike the sides of the cup as they fall out and settle quickly. Usually landing in a tight grouping not much larger than the mouth of the dice cup. Easy reading.
Plus if you have large amounts of dice to roll, putting them into a dice cup makes life a lot easier.
Of course, your results might vary. 🙂
@Patrick Great answer — that should be a post… 😉
I can see it now – “Get Yourself a Pair of D-Cups! They’re Fun for the Whole Family!” 😀
At GenCon, I visited the Sweatshoppe, and got a dice tray. I got almost the same wood as Martin’s but took the blue leather for the bottom.
The tray is amazing looking and so sweet to roll in.
The first night I got it, I took some new dice I got from Crystal Caste rolled the d20 and got a 20 on the first roll. Even the dice approved of my new rolling surface.
Seriously, if you are at all interested in dice trays, this is the place to check out.
Ditto. I custom ordered one like the demo he had (irregular eight sided, 8″ x 6″, hand-rubbed walnut, brown leather bottom, no legs on mine), and should get it in a couple of weeks.
It’s easily the quickest money I’ve spent at Gen Con, and has generated the least “buyer’s remorse” of any of my major expenses.
To belatedly follow up to my above post:
My dear wife dissuaded me from contacting Dwarven Sweatshoppe about the custom tray for a long time. Little did I know that she did so because she had already ordered me exactly such a beast as a gift directly from them at Gen Con. I received it for Christmas and have been using it since. I love it. It’s just big enough to hold several hardcover 8.5″x11″ gaming books. So I toss my books in the box, then I can put the box in my bag without taking up too much space. The construction is solid. It looks sharp. It’s quite satisfying to roll in. Highly recommended. The octagonal shape is neat, but I think the book sized box is more practical.
@Alan De Smet – Wow, “belatedly” is an understatement! 😉 Still, this is why we don’t close comments.
I’d love to see a photo of your book-box/dice tray combo. Any chance of that?
I intend to write up a slightly more formal review, with photos. Unfortunately I just moved, and I have no idea where it is at the moment. I distinctly remember packing it, now I just need to find it in the land of boxes. So, assuming I find it, and assuming I remember to write the review, and assuming I remember, I’ll post a link to my review here.
These trays are worth every penny. I did the exact same thing for my fiance that Alan’s did, except I also got a tray for myself. Since I bought them as an anniversary gift, the guys went all out and sent us the most sweet letter along with it. Our trays were made form the same wood, leather bottomed, and the leather itself is engraved with an image. My fiance has a dragon engraved in the bottom of his and mine is a phoenix. They are wonderful craftsmanship and will make anyone else at the table jealous. Both of trays came to about a $80 with shipping and all.
I feel odd posting this so late! I was looking for their website again and was hoping to find it. I hope they haven’t gone out of business in this economy.
Unfortunately, I went to the website today to see about ordering myself a tray.
The website is no longer. If anyone can find out any news on them, I’d appreciate it!
@Karizma – Bummer! I shot the owner a quick email at the addy I had on file for him; we’ll see what he says.
Martin, did you ever get a response from these guys? I have been wanting to order a tray for months and keep putting it off and putting it off for various practicality reasons. Then last night, I finally decided to go ahead and do it…and the site is dead. 🙁
I was hoping it was just temporary traffic overload or an ISP outage, but it seems they have been down for some time now. Hoping that someone has heard from them and knows what happened and whether they will be back or if their trays are available through another avenue.
Actually, I just recently received an email from them about them getting an award and them going to Gencon. Here is the email that they mailed everyone from:
Update: I received the following email this evening from the GMail address.
I am still making trays, but I have slowed down my operations quite a bit. I no longer have a website because the guy that was maintaining stopped doing it. I have attached the PDF catalog that you can use for ordering. Just send me an email with your design selections, and I will send you an invoice through PayPal. Thanks for the interest!
p.s. Carl was a character that my former partner had been playing.
So, it looks like the dwarves are still in business, but lack website expertise. Wish I could offer to help them out with that, but my expertise and experience with web design ended around HTML 1.0.
For the time being you can still get trays if you email and ask for the catalog. Hopefully things will pick up or they can work with someone else to get a website back online soon. If anyone has been considering it, now would probably be a great time to buy to show that there is a market for good quality gaming products. I’m ordering mine tonight!
I should have posted a comment here a long time ago… New contact info is email@example.com.
Things have come a long way for me since this project began in late ’06. What started as a partnership among friends deteriorated into the one man show that it is now. It’s not called a Sweatshoppe for nothing. Thanks to everyone who visited the booth at GenCon in ’08, and thanks to everyone that has ordered custom trays.
I am trying to take a sabbatical for a while, but there never seems to be a end to the line of people that want one of my trays. I have some projects on the bench now that I have to get finished before I start anything new, so those that can, please be patient. Send me a line and I will forward the catalog that I have for ordering.
I look forward to hearing from you all.
I am retracting my previous statement of sabbatical. There has been several inquiries and financial necessity is dictating that I continue making stuff for at least a little while. So, I hope that those who are still considering a custom tray will send me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me build something for you.
Christian, I assume you mean email@example.com with the “e” on the end. 😉
Glad to hear it! I’ll go spread the word — interest in your trays has never waned!
If you need any example pictures, I will be glad to send you pictures of our dice boxes. You made some beautiful custom made ones for my and my fiance last Gencon. Leather bottom with a phoenix in one, dragon in the other.
Hello again all, thanks for correcting my misspelling. I have just set up a site on google sites. this will be a little test run to see if there is still a big enough desire for my services, which I hope there is. please visit, but bear in mind it is a work in progress.