Friday, July 24, 2009

Dice Capades

Another trip down memory lane. This piece ran in my "Live and Let Dice" column on March 29, 2004 and is about a rite of passage of sorts in my family. The day we took our daughter to buy her very first set of polydice. Ah yes. The family that games together, goes to Perdition's flames together. Or something like that. And some musing on dice in general:

Dice Capades

March 2004

By Kurt Wilcken

We performed a rite of passage of sorts this week. My wife Lute and I bought our daughter her first set of polydice.

Gamera Rose has been playing Dungeons & Dragons with us for about half a year now and I figured it was high time she got some dice of her own. Hitherto she's been borrowing my dice and we invariably wind up having to pass the good d20, (the gold sparkly one with the legible numbers), back and forth across the table. This is complicated by the fact that, like many children, Gamera suffers from the instinctive assumption that the further a die rolls the better the result, and so sharing dice with her invariably means chasing rogue dice all over the world.

So when we were out doing our Saturday afternoon shopping, we stopped at Victory Games, the local gaming shop here in Sheboygan, to peruse their selection. Lute took her straight to the counter where the dice sets were kept and began drooling. They didn't look twice at the garish rainbow-colored dice or the ebony 6-siders with skulls in place of the "1's". Lute knew exactly what she wanted.

She's the same way in jewelry shops. My wife likes colored stones with personality. "Diamonds are dull," she likes to say. (She doesn't care for Carol Channing either). She prefers stones like opals and iolites that are enigmatic rather than aristocratic; colored stones with fire and unique iridescences. She carries these same preferences over to the dice that she uses, and while she was helping Gamera choose, she saw a set that caught her own eye: a set of crystal clear dice with black numerals and iridescent centers that sparkle with color when held to the light.

Everybody has their own preferences with dice. Lute and I both prefer six-siders with numerals rather than pips. When rolling 3d6 in Champions or GURPS, I like the dice to match for purely aesthetic reasons. (When rolling fistfuls of damage dice, naturally I don't have that luxury!) Lute has a set of "good dice" that she uses for GURPS and a set of "evil dice" for AD&D. Another friend of ours used to boast that he had his D&D dice trained to always roll high numbers, and indeed, he used to roll critical successes with alarming frequency.

We all know players who believe that some dice are lucky and always roll high; others roll low. I suspect part of the reason why classic AD&D has such a peculiar system where sometimes high is good and sometimes bad, was to neutralize the effects of "lucky" dice. Of course all a player has to do is keep one set of dice for his THAC0 Rolls and another for Saving Throws, but then there's always a loophole somewhere.

Some players don't like it when other people handle their dice. This goes beyond the reasonable fear that the dice become accidentally or intentionally lost, to a sense, whether conscious or not, that the dice might become "polluted"; that somehow their karma might be shifted from rolling successes to rolling failures.

Like everybody else, I've seen dice confound the bell curve. Just last Sunday in a GURPS game I ran, a group of NPC thugs my players were fighting rolled critical failures, natural 18's on a roll of three d6's, twice within a span of ten minutes, followed by a near-critical failure after that. But I don't worry too much about lucky or unlucky dice in my game. I shrug, with the simple faith in the Law of Averages that These Things Even Out. The whole point of using a random element like dice in a game is that you never know what will happen.

Back in my youth, I kept my gaming dice in a small leather pouch that I could tie to my belt. Yeah, it was a cheesy D&D-type thing, to pretend I had a bag of jewels just like an adventurer; but it looked cool. The leather thongs tying up the pouch also had a tendency to come untied and I lost the pouch once at a convention. After Lute and I married we pooled our dice into a large velvet bag. Once she bought a dice pouch and embroidered a dragon on it; (Lute specializes in dragons). Currently we each keep our dice in small wooden hinged boxes that we bought cheap at Wally World. She painted a dragon on hers; I painted mine blue with gold stars.

Unfortunately, her set only came with one d6. So when she plays GURPS with us, she still has to borrow my dice.

Well then, she gets the dice with the pips.

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