Physical Dice vs. Digital Dice
June 9, 2024 5:08 AM   Subscribe

"We took it to the streets and asked both hardcore and novice tabletop gamers." Meanwhile, on another forum... A loosely related blending of physical and digital. Some feel that It's The Apps That Are Wrong. A D&D-focused list of dice apps. There's also Elmenreich's "Game Engineering for Hybrid Board Games" [SLPDF]. Previously

Research article citation:

Elmenreich, Wilfried. "Game Engineering for Hybrid Board Games." W: F. Schniz, D. Bruns, S. Gabriel, G. Pölsterl, E. Bektić, F. Kelle (red.). Mixed Reality and Games-Theoretical and Practical Approaches in Game Studies and Education (2020): 49-60.
posted by cupcakeninja (28 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Physical dice when I'm not the DM. But digital for DMing—even if my players give me shit sometimes about never seeing me roll a die. Combat takes long enough without y'all sitting there watching me roll-and-math every opponent's attacks, damage, saves, and initiative manually.

It probably helps that for at least 15 years I've been using the same little dice-rolling Windows program (yes, old enough that it predates calling everything "apps") and I can therefore attest that it is random enough, particularly when factored alongside the ultimate randomizer: player decisions.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:02 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]

These days I roll a lot of digital dice, because the vast majority of my gaming is done with people who've moved away (for tax reasons, of all things). TTS has absolutely hot garbage dice mechanics, so in theory I could and should just roll physically at my desk. The dice are in the drawer three feet away, after all.

But I don't. And when I do roll locally, it's with one of a couple of dice-rolling programs for my TRS-80 Model 100: I wrote something for Eldritch games that counts successes for me so I don't have to pick through dice, and a guy on the m100 listserv wrote a really, really amazing full-featured program for basically everything else. Both of those are saved into one of my REX memory images.

When we're playing something in Foundry VTT, it's in-game digital all the way. The pf2e rig for it does all of my math and that's literally the single most important thing for me ever. I'm awful at simple arithmetic.
posted by majick at 7:12 AM on June 9

and I can therefore attest that it is random enough,

Certainly more random than the vast majority of polyhedral dice.
posted by Mitheral at 7:20 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

I have an app on my phone in case I forget my dice. But failing that, I'm always going to roll real dice. A couple years ago I found a game shop that had a stash of what the guy called "gem dice." Old school sharp edged clear acrylic dice with imprinted unpainted numbers that you need to crayon in yourself. Some of the d20s were even double 0-9s! My first set of dice was like that, back around 1980. I got the D&D Basic box set for Christmas 1979 and they were selling too fast for the dice manufacturer to keep up, so my set came with chits. I got dice soon enough, a differnent jewel-tone color for each die shape. Lost them somewhere along the way, so it felt special to get something roughly equivalent, even if they didn't have as many colors as I wanted. There are some cool modern dice, but most of them are trying too hard (fancy stuff inside, unreadable numbers) or not hard enough (Chessex).
posted by rikschell at 7:21 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

Currently I’m playing in two regular groups, both online groups that converted from in-person as people moved away. One group makes heavy use of Roll20 for virtual tabletop stuff, so we all use the digital dice there. The other is pure “theater of the mind” and we mostly all roll physical dice and report the numbers.

I really prefer the tactile experience of physical dice, but the style of session you want to play really factors in. For example, the Roll20 campaign can deal with many more dice rolls without slowing down, and the platform does the math for checks, so it’s much more combat-heavy and people use more complex rules that take more math.

My other group couldn’t play in that style without getting much more bogged down in people doing math and counting things, and it would all just move a lot slower.
posted by learning from frequent failure at 7:51 AM on June 9

Everyone I know who plays prefers real dice, because they are cool and fun to play with. They evoke memories of decades past. But on VTT digital dice makes so much more sense that the topic of using real dice has never even come up in our group. We went virtual when Covid hit, then one player moved 20 miles away (we all lived relatively close and gamed on Sunday mornings like old timers do).
posted by SoberHighland at 8:15 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I am in one in person group and we have seen our tabletop slowly disappear underneath laptops and other devices, so while I have physical dice and like rolling them, I have lately taken to using a virtual dice roller because having it auto calculate success or failure is great for staying in character.
posted by bl1nk at 8:36 AM on June 9

I'm not a big tabletop gamer, but Mansions of Madness has both an app that handles some more complicated randomness (the board itself is partially randomly generated) and actual physical dice. I think it would verge on unplayable if you had to do it all through physical dice, but, yes, for aging nerds physical dice are indispensable for atmosphere.
posted by praemunire at 9:02 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

This seems like a good place to give a shoutout to the guy who built an enormous die-rolling machine to power his online board-gaming site, capable of rolling hundreds of thousands of dice per day, logging the results, and using those in his games.
posted by Hatashran at 9:20 AM on June 9 [8 favorites]

I tend to use physical dice because they are usually right there, and I would have to mess around to find a die roller. Of course, I mostly play games these days where summing 2d6 or looking at 2-3 dice to find the highest number is the extent of it. If I was juggling a bunch of different kinds of dice, I might feel differently.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:23 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

The thing about physical dice is that very few — outside of the ones in licensed casinos — have actually been tested for true randomness. A lot of the more decorative elaborate dice, like the cage ones or the ones with colorful inserts or small electronic lights inside, will give skewed results over time. Even an embellishment as simple as changing the “20” on a d20 to a fun logo will unbalance the die and change the distribution of results.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:24 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I played a bunch of Arkham Horror: the Card Game over zoom during COVID, and that game uses a bag of tokens for randomness (very cleverly, in my opinion). If I started up again, I’d probably use the token picker in the Arkham Cards app, just so all players could “draw.”
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:27 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

Physical Dice vs. Digital Dice

posted by The Bellman at 9:56 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

the ones in licensed casinos

I have a set of these, though I didn't spring for the fully traceable ones that come with certificates. Even so, mine came security sealed with a unique barcode, and each one has a serial number laser-etched in tiny digits. They're very dense and the edges are uncomfortably sharp.
posted by scruss at 10:04 AM on June 9

In the game I DM we use physical dice. One player uses dice tower as well, but I'm not sure what the point of that is.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:42 AM on June 9

I'm not sure what the point of that is.

For an adult I'm pretty sure it's just a fun object that makes a pleasing rattling noise, but if you've ever played with 8-year-olds, it's the only thing keeping the dice on the table.

very few ... have actually been tested for true randomness

I love this quality of gaming dice sets. The elaborate superstition players develop over the character of a particular d20 is key to the experience of tabletop gaming, in my mind. I felt the loss of my personal d20s and my weird interpretive relationship with their behaviors more keenly than the loss of the tactile experience when my gaming moved to mostly digital spaces.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 10:54 AM on June 9 [9 favorites]

We have a superstitious set of dice for Kingdom Death: Monster, a pink set that feels like it rolls reliably under average and is the dice set assigned to the Monster Controller each turn.

I have a dice set that I'm not, uh, superstitious of but which I do believe are #blessed. They're Death Guard dice, with a suitably biohazard, triple skull inspired facing on the side where the six would be. Last year at the Warhammer 40K NOVA Open Narrative, I rolled a very lucky charge with a silly throwaway unit that ended up scoring some major points in what was otherwise a loss. After this roll, a physical fly hit my opponent in the face and landed next to the unit of Poxwalkers and the dice pile.

These dice are sanctified by Grandfather, Plaguefather, the Three Eyed Fly. Delivering the truth of the dark gods to the followers of the False Emperor.

(Outside of 40K I love dicerolling apps because they usually roll better than I do. Seriously, I roll so reliably badly that we have called my monster controller turn in KDM "the damage phase".)
posted by Slackermagee at 2:40 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]

The thing about physical dice is that very few — outside of the ones in licensed casinos — have actually been tested for true randomness.

I've been hoping to lean into this, actually. I want to build some ostentatiously loaded dice I can use in presentations about climate change - i.e., how global warming skews outcomes.
posted by doctornemo at 3:24 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]

Similar practice with others here: I use digital randomizers when I'm running a game, like Reacting to the Past. As a player, I tend to the physical - unless they aren't around.
posted by doctornemo at 3:24 PM on June 9

Physical dice, Character sheet apps.

Fight me.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 3:30 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

Physical dice, Character sheet apps.

Flagged as “offensive” ;-)
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:33 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]

Srs bzns, play is play. I think the combination that works is what works, and I could actually see doing that myself. There’s only so much clicking around I want to do without a good reason while playing a TTRPG, but digital character sheets really do solve certain issues…
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:35 PM on June 9

I use a digital dice roller partly because my game group is scattered worldwide and we game via Discord (where there are many fine free dice bots) - but also because my setup is a laptop, on my lap, in bed. I don't actually *have* a table to roleplay from, let alone roll dice on.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 5:29 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

Like a few others, I play D&D virtually with friends who I used to play in person with who are no longer local to me. We use Roll20 and use its dice roller because everything calculates for us and shows up in the chat. Right now I’m DM’ing and I’ll grab my physical dice when I’m rolling from a table or something.

We’re all pretty nostalgic for the physical dice though, and the odd time we can get together in person we use them.
posted by eekernohan at 6:13 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

I have a particular set of d10s I use for most of my WoD and CoD games. They are, as pointed out above, not fancy and are skewed as a result, and they roll some tens for me when I need the damn tens. It is known by my group and we refer to them as "Ramona's Dice" after the pc who first benefitted from their poor manufacturing.

I use this skewing to tell good stories. I use low rollers when I need them and high rollers otherwise. Knowing your dice as a GM is a way of giving your players an edge when they need it and supercharging your enemies, too. It's just another tool in the box.

We did play a lot on R20 during lockie and it wasn't the same. I have contemplated using a roller for big combat stuff, but it is very satisfying to roll them, have the rattle and purr of the dice against the wood of my tray, and then revel in our victories or defeats.
posted by Jilder at 11:32 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

During one of the lockdowns I wrote a small site that allowed you to cryptography roll dice (or shuffle and deal cards) over the network with no trusted servers. It used SRA public key crypto (by the same folks as RSA) to ensure that as long as there was one honest player then the other colluding players couldn’t influence the result or trade cards. I made some improvements over their 1981 paper so that players don’t have to reveal their hands at the end (since if you fold you don’t show your cards).

Looks like the web site died at some point. I should figure out what went wrong and get it running again.

I thought it might be fun for D&D uses although the GMs I talked to mostly said that they don’t really roll dice other than for show.
posted by autopilot at 12:15 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

Physical dice only, no laptops, phones or tablets at the table. Pencil and paper only. No fancy dice with liquid cores, either. We switched from D&D 5e to Pathfinder 2e, which does require more arithmetic, but it's really basic arithmetic: it's not actually a problem. It takes a little getting used to, but it's so much more fun to have people interacting instead of staring yet again at screens.

During the first year of quarantine, we played via Discord and used one of their dice bots, but the minute we felt reasonably safe going back to F2F, we did and never looked back.
posted by outgrown_hobnail at 10:03 AM on June 10

I wonder if anyone's ever brought a copy of RAND's A Million Random Digits to a tabletop game? Crossing off numbers from that would be truly random, but also completely predestined.

(I am lightly obsessed with A Million Random Digits, and have built several hardware TRNGs inspired by it. I can't quite spring for the thermionic noise source or mechanical whiffletree logic that was used to generate the 1948 data set, tho)
posted by scruss at 8:48 AM on June 11

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