You are either a God or a Fool. You can’t be both.
September 24, 2014 4:03 AM   Subscribe

I have rather small hands and so am able to experience the pleasure of having an entire handful of dice to roll more easily than the average gamer. This is always satisfying: it means I have built a character with a strength for what I'm about to tackle and generally that I have also convinced my GM to let me add dice for some weird bullshit reason (attack bonus for blinding an opponent with a lemon pie based on my PC's "snacker" quality, etc). Sometimes it means I have other favorable conditions too. So I know I have good odds every time I can barely keep them all in my fingers.

In my hubris, I often accidentally roll some onto the ground, especially when I'm rolling more than a dozen of the small d6s. It's always satisfying, though. They sound lovely on wood.
posted by NoraReed at 4:21 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anyone who plays Dungeons & Dragons knows that the d20 is the king of all dice, so much so that in 3e they reworked the system to use it more. There is a heft and dignity to the icosahedron that nothing else possesses. Rolling a 20 always gives a special thrill. There's a reason Lou Zocchi's famous spiel centers on twenty-siders.

But when they fail us there is dice shaming.
posted by graymouser at 4:31 AM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]

These free to play games are terrible.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:09 AM on September 24, 2014

I have a deep affection for d12s. Something about the way they feel and look is very satisfying to me. I never have much use for them, though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:34 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

My bff in middle school school had 2 giant d100s in his velvet dice bag. Something something something something, something something something, something--and that's how I found out where babies come from.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:43 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Anyway, great article. But dice have nothing on playing cards. Especially when you have thousands of dollars riding on either seeing or not seeing one card, not just a range of cards, not any one of a number of cards, but a single card out of all possibilities. Nothing has ever come closer in my life to magic than watching the stern face of a red queen turn upwards at the last moment, the dead finality in those eyes burning through your equations and expectations, turning wishes into truth and dashing reason against the rocks.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:48 AM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Question: What, in your opinion, is the best combination of materials for dice rolling?

I would love to find something a bit more sharp than the roll-roll-roll of the Chessex plastic d20. Something a bit more weighty than the game science bounce-bounce-bounce.

Anyone ever make a felt-over-wood dice box? Every six months or so I make a new dice tower out of old cereal boxes. I've gotten pretty good at it and can whip one up in 20 minutes or so, but I'd really like something a bit more resonant and less crushable.
posted by rebent at 5:49 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are either a God or a Fool. You can’t be both.

On the contrary. A good friend of mine from my collegiate gaming club days has always had absolutely the worst luck with dice-based games, from Yahtzee to D&D. Bad die rolls happened to him with such frequency that his name (Let's say "Flugelhorn" in the interest of privacy) eventually became -- within our small group -- synonymous with a botched roll: e.g. "Oh man, I just Flugelhorned."

I went to visit some other college friends a little while ago, and learned that they'd gone to a present-day gaming club meeting during an alumni weekend. Amazingly enough, they discovered that "Flugelhorn" had passed into the club vernacular, more than fifteen years since our mutual friend had graduated. Nobody at the club even knew that Flugelhorn had been a student at the school, only that it was what you said when you flubbed an easy skill check or saving throw.

With a little bit of bad luck, any one of us can pass into legend.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:56 AM on September 24, 2014 [29 favorites]

A friend of mine has been working on a Die Roller project:
It consists of a machine that rolls a die over and over, a camera that takes a photograph of the die after each roll, a computer program that recognizes which die face is in each picture, and some statistical analysis software.

I’m interested in answering some simple questions, like “Are my (or your) favorite Dungeons and Dragons dice reasonably fair?”, as well as some deeper questions like “Which common design features help or hurt dice fairness?” and “What do we mean by ‘fair,’ anyway?”
Video of the die roller in action.
posted by zamboni at 6:16 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jack: relax. Get busy with the facts. No zodiacs or almanacs or maniacs (in polyester slacks) - just the facts. Gonna kick some gluteus max[sic]. It's a parallax, you dig? You move around; the small gets big. It's a rig. It's action, reaction, random interaction. So who's afraid of a little abstraction? Can't get no satisfaction from the facts. You better run, homeboy: a fact's a fact from Nome to Rome, boy.

Spin the wheel, make a deal. When the dice a are hot, show us what you've got; what you're holding. If the cards are cold, don't go folding. Lady luck is golden. She favors the bold; that's cold. Stop throwing stones - the night has a thousand saxophones. So get out there and rock, and roll the bones.

Get busy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:17 AM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Here, we reach the essence of why gambling destroys so many of us; why Yudhisthira was exiled. When “luck” is with us, and we create a freakish sequence of results, we move subtly into a realm that makes us uncomfortable. It is The Kingdom of This-Can’t-Be. If you roll doubles forever, you must be something separate from the rest of the human race. You must be a god. And this can’t possibly be. So you roll and roll again, until everything in the universe rights itself. Until, if within the confines of some sort of game, you lose.

You then believe you can’t lose forever. And so you roll.

I thought the description of the surrealistic rush obtained from a long "improbable" run and the need to replicate or beat it immediately after it ends was beautiful and true and is the best explanation of gambling addiction I've read.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:28 AM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Random generation devices – dice, cards, Twitter bots – exploit that human desire to read into things powerfully. We've probably heard plenty about slot machines and gamification, but it can be great as well.

A surprising amount of imagination can be unleashed by an entry on a Talisman card. Even in something relatively dry like Settlers of Catan, people will make up stories to explain why there is a sudden bounty of sheep and what.

I usually prefer to be good than to be lucky, but sometimes, it's a better experience to be lucky. I was the Russians and was down to two guys. I figured it was pretty much over, but one guy, Sgt. Ketso, who for four turns straight, beat the odds and killed three Germans before finally going down.

Then, of course, sometimes the dice and cards suck, but if you are an analytic player of games, I think it's important for that to happen. Your confidence and rationality must be tested by bad runs. This is why I like poker better than something completely deterministic – courage and discipline in the face of local chaos is tested as well as strategic and basic math.
posted by ignignokt at 6:44 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

MetaFilter: a sudden bounty of sheep and what.
posted by NMcCoy at 7:30 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

James Maliszewski wrote a great piece several years ago on The Oracular Power of Dice. I think about this a lot with gaming, and it ties in very well with what ignignokt describes above with the tendency of humans to make up stories.
posted by graymouser at 7:50 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

So let's just be clear, this is NOT about Battlefield 4.
posted by Fizz at 7:58 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like dice. I play a lot of boardgames, but not many that use dice, and although I've always wanted to play p&p RPGs, I've never done it. Still, I like dice enough that I got custom Chessex D6s to give out at our (boardgame-themed) wedding (the 6 side has our names and the wedding date). I accidentally over-ordered so I still have like 40 of them left.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:01 AM on September 24, 2014

(Whoa, that was a pretty disjointed comment from me. Context of the Sgt. Ketso incident: Squad Leader. Gonna go find a nap spot now.)
posted by ignignokt at 8:27 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Grumpybear, Nice! When I read this that was running through my head!

Why are we here? Because we're here.
Roll the Bones.
Why does it happen? Because it happens.
Roll the Bones.
posted by JKevinKing at 8:28 AM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mmmmm D12s....
posted by Windopaene at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I fetishize the d8 because it's exactly 3 bits of information. I throw fistfuls of them to generate passwords and keys.

Has anyone play tested d8 craps?
posted by whuppy at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Bulgaroktonos: I have a deep affection for d12s. Something about the way they feel and look is very satisfying to me. I never have much use for them, though.

I've posted links in no fewer than three FPPs to the awesome-mazing The Dungeon Dozen, which is made up of hundreds of hilarious D12 tables for adventure improvisation.
posted by JHarris at 10:34 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I once wrote a game specifically to use handfuls of d12s. I felt they were a sadly neglected die.

Pretty satisfying!
posted by curious nu at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2014

As a longtime White Wolf fan, my favorite die is of course the d10.

Nothing is better than rolling a 16d10 attack in Exalted
posted by Strass at 11:09 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've posted links in no fewer than three FPPs to the awesome-mazing The Dungeon Dozen, which is made up of hundreds of hilarious D12 tables for adventure improvisation.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on September 24

Oh yes, I should have mentioned. I do love the Dungeon Dozen. Sometimes I just sit with a d12 and roll on those tables for no particular reason.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:46 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anyone ever make a felt-over-wood dice box?

I know someone who did this, but mostly it was to deal with players who were a little sketchy about their dice rolls (like the DM asking them to do a roll and them just pointing at a die saying, "Well I rolled this earlier, use that," or it falling off the table and them picking it up and announcing the roll where no one could see it). If it didn't land in the dice arena, it didn't count. That said, he did like it aesthetically too.
posted by fleacircus at 1:43 PM on September 24, 2014

I do have a dice tray, the kind featured here. I find it works really well with Gamescience precision dice.

Also – thirding the Dungeon Dozen. Jason makes fun tables to roll on.
posted by graymouser at 2:02 PM on September 24, 2014

I do like dice games. Simple dice games can be a good bridge between more and less nerdy friends who aren't going to want to focus on anything heavy or slow. I have had fun with Knizia's Decathlon, especially getting people to make up country names for themselves (e.g. Nicktenstein) to get that little bit of buy in.

There's a related little mini-genre of solo dice adventure print-and-play games like Delve and the d6 shooters that can be kind of amusing.
posted by fleacircus at 2:19 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

"The greatest advantage in gambling lies in not playing at all."

~Gerolamo Cardano, one of the founders of statistics, and author of the source text for many of Hamlet's soliloquies, the Cardanus Comforte or De Consolatione
posted by Perko at 2:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everyone should read the amazing novel THE DICE MAN by Luke Rhinehart. Brilliant and subversive.
posted by theartandsound at 6:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was just about to recommend Rhinehart's book myself. Theartandsound is right: you should read it.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:41 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Bones: Us and Our Dice, Edited by Will Hindmarch
This isn’t about math. It’s about unlucky breaks and victory against all odds.

This isn’t about percentiles and probabilities. It’s about late-night game-ending rolls where everything hinges on that climactic moment when one single die skitters across the table and determines the fate of a hero, a city, an empire…

The Bones gathers writing about fandom and family—about gamers, camaraderie, and memories— and ties them together where they meet: our dice. These are essays and anecdotes about the ways dice make us crazy, about the stakes we play for and the thrill we get from not knowing what the next roll will bring.
The site for the book includes a hypnotic video of the Dice-o-Matic II in operation. The website for the Dice-o-Matic is worth visiting:
The Dice-O-Matic is 7 feet tall, 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep. It has an aluminum frame covered with Plexiglas panels. A 6x4 inch square Plexiglas tube runs vertically up the middle almost the entire height. Inside this tube a bucket elevator carries dice from a hopper at the bottom, past a camera, and tosses them onto a ramp at the top. The ramp spirals down between the tube and the outer walls. The camera and synchronizing disk are near the top, the computer, relay board, elevator motor and power supplies are at the bottom.

The dice start the cycle at the top of the ramp, toward the rear of the machine. The ramp is comprised of ten steps, each at about a 20 degree incline, with a right hand thread through two and a half spirals. Two layers of cloth covered foam (car headliner) keep the noise down. Felt covered foam quarter-obelisks are at each corner, sewn to the side padding. It took a few tries to get the pitch just right. Too shallow and the dice stopped tumbling, too steep and they would start banging against the Plexiglas. Now they roll very well, sometimes stopping and then getting knocked back into the stream. Perfect.

The hopper at the bottom of the ramp is pure seething violence. I am sure there is a better way to load the dice into the buckets (vibrating tables and all that) but not in the budget and footprint I have. Instead, buckets come up through the bottom of the hopper, smashing their way through the accumulated pile of dice and scooping some up. It is rather hard on the dice, much of the paint gets chipped from the edges of the pips. The buckets are close enough together that dice cannot slip through the bottom.
posted by zamboni at 12:17 PM on September 30, 2014

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