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The Sharing of Dice

In a nice bit of synergy, I composed this piece before Matt’s excellent article [1] on Alan DeSmet’s GameScience Dice Analysis, so it continues the die theme nicely. Unfortunately, this article doesn’t have nearly the comprehensive analysis (or fancy charts) that Matt’s did. Soldier on, I say!

The question — and potential solutions — posed today revolve around the sharing of dice: Friendly gesture to the unprepared or sacred taboo to never be discussed?

It’s Only Weird if it Doesn’t Work

Gamers are a superstitious lot, I’ve found. Which is counter-intuitive, considering all the mathematics, reading, and general science-friendly aspects we take part in. But our dice? There’s something to be said about a gamer’s dice. It’s like their girlfriend or miniature: you ask before you touch.

Now this superstition goes so far as to buying specific types of dice [2], dice to celebrate occasions (a new set for each new game), or holding onto memorable dice and that vaunted d20 that always seems [3] to result in a crit. We even placate our dice by purchasing custom die trays [4], hand carved, and padded for their pleasure. Conversely, we’ve thrown them, burnt them, and yes…one of us even buried them [5].

So it only stands to reason since we are so attached to our dice that we’d be hesitant to share them in the event another player forgot theirs — or in the truly unimaginable — doesn’t own any. (Seriously?)

Also, check out John’s review [6] of “The Bones [7],” a book dedicated to gamers and their dice.

The Dice of Shame

In one of my previous groups we had a My Little Pony pencil case. In that case were the “dice of shame.” This mostly pink and hideously colored set was your reward in the event you forgot your dice. Coincidentally, the pencil case also had the “pencil of shame,” similarly embarrassing. People tended to come to those games prepared.

Now this is a policy that you can certainly bring forth at your table: the communal or spare [8] die pool. Perhaps bought with group funds, this set of dice is free for all to use in case of such an emergency. It can also be the standard operating procedure at the table, with every player (sans the GM) using the pool.

Now fellow GMs are an exception. Typically shielded by a reference screen of some kind, it really behoves a GM to have their own set. Besides, every GM also has that special “don’t fail me now” die that has more player kill marks than Starbuck’s viper.

Specialty Dice

In recent years — sans Fudge dice — we’ve seen a few games (mostly by Fantasy Flight Games, go figure) that use speciality dice. This introduces two new problems to the equation: utility and availability.

The first, utility, is very specific: your specialty dice have little use beyond the game they were designed for. Thus, many players may not even bother investing in said dice, knowing that once the game or campaign is complete, they’ll sit alone, unused.

Availability is its own problem entirely. No game line lasts forever and if you’ve recently tried to get your hands on any die packs for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying [9], you’ve felt first hand the results of dice going “out of stock.” Hence, in a five person group, you’ll probably have to share dice, by virtue of the fact that your players can’t find an outlet to even get their own sets.

Then there are the games that use really weird fucking dice, like the d3, the d7, the d30, the d100 (die with one hundred faces), et al. These annoy me on an entirely new level. It’s like the designer was either screwing with us or has financial stake in a die manufacturing company!

Health & Safety

I’d be remiss not to mention that passing dice around could have its own health issues. If one player at the table is sick, hasn’t washed their hands, and starts handling — and sharing — their dice, well, they’re sharing more than just their dice with you!

Washing your hands before you play is just good common sense, as is using hand sanitizer if you intend to share dice at the table.

Something that I’ve never considered is actually cleaning the dice themselves. I’ll admit, I have some dice in my bag that are over 25 years old. In fact the bag itself is probably a microcosm of intrigue with potential bacteria. I should get a new one [10].


It stands to reason when discussing objects of such a sentimental nature that you exercise correct protocol when needing to share dice. Unless express permission has been given, don’t just reach over and grab another person’s die! The exception is doing your fellow gamer a solid by helping recover an over-enthusiastic roll that found its way onto the floor.

Don’t throw, bounce, maim, put in your mouth, or otherwise become overly familiar with the other gamer’s loaned die. Conversely, if you do so, you might get to keep the die, so there is that.

Also, dice make great presents for gamers, NOT. Most gamers, like selecting a fine wine or a comfy baseball glove, prefer to do so themselves. Besides, any gamer that gives me free reign and puts on their birthday/Christmas list “dice” is going to get an assortment of d4s and d12s in various hideous colors. That’s like a golfer asking for his buddy to hand him “any old club” out of his bag to make a shot; take some pride in your gaming heritage and show it with dice! (“This was the die that I cleaved Vecna’s skull in half with the vorpal blade. Never shall it roll again.”)

So, what dice protocol or methodology do you use at your gaming table? Tell us below!

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "The Sharing of Dice"

#1 Comment By Markus Schmidt On February 27, 2013 @ 1:23 am

My players don’t have their own dice. We have this collective dice bag that I bring along, providing everyone with the dice needed. Health issues? Puh-lease.

#2 Comment By drow On February 27, 2013 @ 1:40 am

my group has a huge pool of orphaned and abandonned dice for general use, nobody touches mine. >:)

#3 Comment By Orikes On February 27, 2013 @ 2:33 am

I have never experienced anyone freaking out over someone else using their dice. I’ve never felt it, and no one I’ve gamed with has ever really exhibited that level of paranoia. I never hesitate to share my dice and most of the folks I game with are the same.

On the other hand, I have seen plenty of other superstitions related to dice, ranging from which surface they need to be rolled on (and changing said surface when they’re failing to roll well), keeping them organized in a certain way (I’m guilty of always setting them to the side I want them to roll to), and having multiple sets in case one set misbehaves.

At my first GenCon, I bought a set of d6’s specifically for Shadowrun. They were the worst dice I have ever owned. They could not roll a success to save my life or anyone else’s. I finally decided I had enough. That year at GenCon had the giant d20 where you could donate dice in memory of Gary Gygax. Taking the dice, bag and all, I dropped them in and then went in and bought a new set. That new set is much better behaved. 🙂

#4 Comment By duncan mcphedran On February 27, 2013 @ 5:20 am

I love the fucking weird dice of DCC. With a passion. Remember when you got your first d20 or d12? the d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30 give me that feeling everytime I roll them. so much radness. They are more money, which is lame. I wish I didn’t have to buy them from gamestation ($30 shipping to Japan!). And the d24 has an awful mold. but they let me roll 1 to 5 without division!

also I’m the only one with dice, but I live in Japan and have ordered them. everyone else pays for snacks.

#5 Comment By shortymonster On February 27, 2013 @ 5:35 am

I am unique amongst the people I game with in that I have not a superstitious bone in my body, and just see dice as a way of determining a random result. I have no problem dishing out some dice to people who forget, especially Josh – he knows who he is – who has yet to bring dice in the five years I’ve known him.

I have seen some rather bizarre lengths people have gone to to punish their dice, including a chap named Hopppy who banish his under performing polyhedrals to the freezer. I’ve never been sure why…

#6 Comment By Roxysteve On February 27, 2013 @ 10:36 am

I had one (brand new translucent purple) D20 that rolled four straight ones in a game of Gamma World to my considerable detriment, ruining my enjoyment of the evening. I normally revel in fiasco when it happens but this was just too much.

So when I got home I cut the offender in two with a hacksaw and drilled holes in the halves. I intend to stitch it back together with copper wire and hang it in a custom “Die Gibbet” as an example to the others.

Any more of this “lots of ones” behavior and I produce the Gibbet and start in with my Humongous Voice “No-one has to suffer needlessly this day. A simple statistically likely spread is all I ask. Look upon your dead brother, who mutinously betrayed me for no reason at all. Look well, my dice, for the saw sits yet on its hook and I have gibbets for all”.

Of course, I don’t have a hockey mask which will rob the threat of much of the original model’s gravitas, and any time I try any speech this long in character, no matter what the nationality of the speaker by the time I get to the last line I’m speaking Cornish Pirate, which can detract from the menace I’m aiming for.

A recent Space 1889 game had a new player who asked “What does a Welsh accent sound like”? and the regulars chimed in unison “Cornish Pirate” before I could give of my best.

#7 Comment By Roxysteve On February 27, 2013 @ 10:13 am

So, Don has stocks in the D4/D12 manufacturers then?

There are only two types of dice sets I don’t want people to give me as presents: Ugly and unreadable ones like Chessex Granite, a pattern that rivals color blindness tests for making the job of actually reading the number that is in there somewhere hard (what were thy smoking that day?) or vile and unreadable like the gold on bright pink/white swirl.

Ugly and readable is okay, but expect sullenness if you pick black on orange.

Vile and readable is ok, especially if it has resonance. Black on bile green/white swirl is great for Gamma World for example. The Blood and Custard was OK once I had custom-painted the numbers so the predominantly red faces were numbered in white and the predominantly yellow in black.

Boring and highly visible is best. Black on yellow is tops, white on any dark background also (for some reason black on white is harder on my eyes over time and I almost never use that set, though I have a black on white/black speckle that is a favorite for easy reading over four hours of gritty gaming. Dunno why the difference.)

I have a set of black/copper dice for Deadlands (they look sorta pyrites-like) and a green/copper set too (malachiteish). We are playing Coffin Rock, set in a copper mining community so they work well.

I’m gradually weaning myself off bags of dozens of tiny six mm D6s, a legacy of my Wonkhammer 401k days, and upsizing to larger D6s. The small ones I have bought recently are to use as markers in Deadlands:Reloaded and are the black/copper themed set).

#8 Comment By Don Mappin On February 27, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

Nope, no stock; they’re simply the least-used die in games. If I’m going to screw with someone, I’m going to take it all the way. (BTW, this actually happened in one group. A player asked for dice for XMas and we all pitched in and bought as many d4s and d12s as we could.)

#9 Comment By Roxysteve On February 28, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

But a bagful of each is a wildly dangerous thing to give as a mean prezzie. Consider, all the gamer needs do is wait for that game session that runs really really late so everyone is tired, then scatter the dice, 12s and 4s, all over the floor around the cluttered gaming table before leaving. The next day the house owner will approach the table, bleary eyed from the night-before’s GMing and step on them. If in bare feet, the 4s will form the vengeance as they stab mercilessly into the sole of the foot. If wearing shoes the D12s will act as marbles, precipitating the GM onto his back in a wide-splits pratfall. Onto the sharp D4s.

Also, there’s the Sneaking Of The D12s Into The Candy Dish For Giggles vengeance ploy, the D4s as Anti-Elbow On The Table Negative Feedback Behavioral Modification vengeance ploy. The Freezing Of Dice Into Ice Cubes Which Are Then Smuggled Into The Host’s Ice Maker Tray In The Hopes Of A Cube-Chewer Incident vengeance ploy. The D12s In The GMs Car Hubcaps vengeance ploy.

My God, man. Your were dicing with death.

#10 Comment By BishopOfBattle On February 27, 2013 @ 11:03 am

I picked up a couple packs of cheap D6 (we play Shadowrun almost exclusively, so more expensive specialty or D20 sets aren’t necessary, but I’m sure a similar solution could be found) before we started our first campaign as a group. Total cost was less than fifteen bucks and we’ve got a bunch of dice.

The downside? They’re all 10 or 12 mm dice, which are pretty small and don’t have the same heft to them as a good full size die. But beggars who haven’t gotten their own dice can’t be choosers. 😉

#11 Comment By Bronco_6 On February 27, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

In starting out with roll-playing, I began with the original brown box D&D in 1974 and purchased a set of a black and a red 20-sided polyhedra dice.set and spent some time coloring them in with wax crayons. I still have those original,dice some 39+years later. I won’t let anyone use them. They typically roll high and I have rolled many critical hits with them. Do they roll well for me? They seem to. I will probably be cremated with them in my hand.

#12 Comment By mercutior On February 27, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

As a DM I bought a set of dice for each of my new gamers when we started a campaign. This was my practice for three reasons: 1. Often players are a bit, let say, reluctant about sharing dice, 2. it was a nice way of being sure everyone was prepared, and 3. I felt it was a nice “welcoming” gesture. Of course the gamers were free to use their own dice, but often used the dice provided because of superstition. “Maybe we should use the dice the DM got us or else…”

As a player I often retire the dice sets I used for especially impressive characters. I would never dishonor the memory of those characters (both retired and dead) by rolling their dice for another character.

#13 Comment By Tsenn On February 28, 2013 @ 7:11 am

I ask before I borrow, should I have forgotten my own. My wife and I both have a set of Chessex polys, coloured for our Star Wars characters, which are for our own personal use. For Shadowrun I have one of the GW boxes o’d6 with the two, three and fours blacked out. At some point I’ll do the ones in red, I think.

#14 Comment By Tsenn On February 28, 2013 @ 7:12 am

I ask before I borrow, should I have forgotten my own. My wife and I both have a set of Chessex polys, coloured for our Star Wars characters, which are for our personal use only. For Shadowrun I have one of the GW boxes o’d6 with the two, three and fours blacked out. At some point I’ll do the ones in red, I think.

#15 Comment By black campbell On February 28, 2013 @ 7:14 am

I’ve had players that have some superstition about their dice, but nothing so dramatic as portrayed here. I think the worst case was the guy that dropped to his knees in the middle of a string of bad rolls yelling, “My dice are fucking meeeee!”

I couldn’t care less beyond the aesthetic of a dice set. Ad now, I mostly use the die roller on my laptop when running or on my phone or iPad when playing.

#16 Comment By Scott Martin On February 28, 2013 @ 11:28 am

We have varying levels of dice superstition at our table, though none have adopted the dark mask of Roxysteve’s Dice Gibbet.

When I’m teaching, I casually loan dice out. They continue to roll pretty well for me, so I continue the practice. If they began to betray me for the act, I might have to ensure that the recipients were worthy.

#17 Comment By griffon8 On February 28, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

I use the same dice over and over for all my games. The only retirement my dice get is if they break, but that hasn’t happened for a long time. Guess dice are better made now.

But the best story I ever heard was from a friend who told me a gaming buddy of his was having trouble with his dice. Roll after roll failed. The buddy, tired of his dice’s performance, took several of them and placed them on a fence railing, dumping the rest of them on a nearby stool. Then he proceeded to shoot each die on the railing with a rifle, one by one, forcing the rest of the dice to watch!

My friend said that his buddy insisted that the surviving dice were rolling better after that.

#18 Pingback By B is for Bag of Dice – BaedonWebz On December 3, 2013 @ 4:58 am

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