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Zen And The Art Of Dice Maintenance

Dice. In the beginning, was the die. A simple cubic fellow indigenous to almost all households, and understood by all. Then came D&D© etc., and a whole new breed developed, and spread, albeit slowly, across the land, finding shelter in places best forgotten, until they eventually appeared as the diverse species we now know and love. I’m sure we all remember trying to get to grips with our first RPG, asking ‘Do I roll the green one now, or is it that stupid triangular one?. At the start of a session, novices are normally confronted by a table-full of established players pulling improbable numbers of dice from even more improbable containers, shouting ‘Has anyone got my red dee-ten ? It’s my punk dice, and I’m gonna need it this week.’ On pointing out that the player in question has at least three red d10 in front of them, the reply of ‘It’s my punk dice!, don’t you understand ?’ doesn’t normally help, until the convert has played a few sessions and then faced one of the rites-of-passage from neonate to player:

Buying Dice.

The first problem faced by the prospective dice-buyer is where to get them. Walking into the local toy shop on a busy Saturday normally elicits the following conversation;

‘Excuse me, do you have any dice ?’
‘Sure, single, or box of three ?’ (produces d6 in four colours, two sizes.)
‘No, role-playing dice, the ones with lots of sides.’
‘Huh ?’
‘The ones for D&D.’
‘Huh ?’
‘You see those books over there ? The game-books ? You need dice to play them.’
‘We have dice. Single or pack of three ?’
‘Hold on,’, novice spots tray of brightly coloured lumps of plastic. ‘there’s a tray over there. Do you know which I need ?’
‘Oh, those things. Always wondered what they were for. They’re 50p each.’
‘Which do I need ?’
‘Huh ?’

This normally continues until the novice walks out, confused, or buys a random selection of dice that they don’t need. Specialist games shops are not much better, with handfuls of spotty kids hanging around waiting to snigger at each question or mistake and assistants either patronisingly understanding to the point of slapping them or effectively non-existent. These places will have large trays holding every type of dice you don’t need, sorted by colour, size, style and usefulness, priced from 10p (small 6-siders) to £2 (glittery, inked, high-impact-plastic polyhedra), with specials (d100, glittery d30, steel) being up to £3. Add the dice for weather, reactions, treasure, colour of underwear, etc. and there is a mind-numbing selection. The first piece of advice, in large friendly letters, is

Don't Panic !

This done, ask one of the players in your game just which dice you need, and then go to the shop and say in a loud, clear voice ;

‘I would like to buy some dice. In fact, I think I’ll have two marbled dee-fore and a pink twenty-sider, if you please.’

After a few sessions with your new toys, it should become clear which dice you need to buy more of, which always roll badly and have to be replaced and which are the wrong colour. Colour selection is important for two reasons; Firstly, identification. But more importantly aesthetics. A dice pool should not just be a collection of dice on the table, but should add a certain quality to the surroundings. Whether they be a consistent colour, a selection of contrasts or colour-by-size, a little thought will make all the difference.

Storage / Transport

Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of 15-20 dice ! The next problem is what to do with them while they are not being used to vanquish enemies, solve riddles and rescue fair maidens. Just as rule-books need to be kept in good condition and character sheets should be neatly filed in a ring binder with all of their relevant info.,( ? - Ed) dice need a good home. For best results, two containers are needed, one for storage, one for transport. The first of these has to be large enough to hold at least twice as many dice as you own, solid and decorated in the fashion of one of your characters. (I use a large tin coated with radioactive warning tape. It doubles as a Cyber Punk prop.) It will be used to keep the dice clean, free from dust and static and easy to find (It may be helpful to write ‘Dice’ on the outside). While in this box, the dice are inactive, and may be treated with a little less care than active dice (in your transport container), although some care must be taken to maintain their reliability. For taking your chosen dice to the game a second container is vitally important, as improper treatment of active dice can impair their performance. The current fashion (always a good back-up if you run out of ideas.) is for a medieval draw-string purse, which fulfills the main criteria of portability, ease of use and identifiability. (On no account write either ‘Dice’ or your name on this transport container. ‘R.N.G.’ or ‘Knucklebones’ are the nearest acceptable labels). These purses are available in a variety of materials and sizes, from small cloth bags to leather purse to chain mail bags. Other tried-and-tested options include pencil cases (also useful for carrying pens, pencils, etc.), cigar tubes (if you only need a few dice) and small glass jars (Be Careful !). Whatever you choose, care must be taken while in transit. Do not subject them to sharp knocks, extremes of temperature or anything sticky. Cleaning dice will remove the layer of probablite that builds up during normal use, reducing their effectiveness.

At The Game.

So, armed with your dice, you arrive at the battle-board, lay out your sheets and tip your dice onto the table. Now what ?
There are several schools of thought about the best way to treat dice during a game. Two that I feel to be at best a waste are the ‘d20 ? Yeah, I’ve got one somewhere.’ and ‘Tower of Babel’ theories. The first relies on a complete faith in the Gods not only to provide the required roll, but to help find the dice themselves. Followers of this school are often seen rummaging through a pile of assorted dice trying to locate their special ‘Role Master attack’ dice, and have to make do with two Cthulu skill dice. Some are even known to use the first dice of the required size, without considering its suitability for the occasion ! (Warning! This is only acceptable practice for complete novices and GMs, who are prone to ignore the roll anyway.) Babel scholars find great enlightenment in piling all of their dice on top of each other until the stack collapses, under the misguided impression that they will have benefited from the higher altitude. The two remaining schools have conflicting ideas, with one asserting that dice left showing a certain score will ‘wear out’ that roll, leaving the other sides to catch up when they are rolled. I subscribe to a regime of training, where dice left showing sixes (or tens, or ones) will get used to being that way up, and try to return to that position when disturbed. A variation on these two teaches that rolling the dice until a run of a certain number/range will ensure that range again / guarantee a different roll. Pick a theory, and be prepared to defend it.

When The Shooting Stops

At the end of a session, the most important thing is to reclaim all of your dice. This may sound straight forward enough, but did you have two d12 or three, and what happened to the d20 that the GM borrowed ? (One of the great mysteries of RPG dice is that no matter how careful you are, after a few sessions your collection will contain three dice that you know are not yours, and at least two of your secondary set will be missing.) Having rounded up as many as you can find, place them carefully in your transit bag and return them to long-term storage. You may wish to take this opportunity to re-arrange your dice, deactivating less popular dice in favour of some that haven’t been used for a while and may be losing that competitive edge.

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Author: Mad Dwarf


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