Alea iacta est

For such a group of people known for following one system or another and insist on a logical system of rules that make sense, gamers are a superstitious bunch.  For all that we argue with the GM about how something works mechanically or how something is “not realistic”, touching someone else’s dice without permission can get you permanently banned from a gaming table.

I thought I’d take a little look at the whole dice superstition, as well as my own experiences with it.

Do Not Mock the Happy Fun Dice

So why does this happen?

Well, when you have a game where so much depends on the throw of one die or another, you want to make sure the number you roll is the one you want. Statistically, a 20-sided die has a 1 in 20 chance of rolling a 20. Of course, gamers know that this argument is ludicrous and obviously made by a non-game.

TV Tropes (click if you dare) also states that even realistically this can be impossible depending on the sort of dice you have. Cheap dice are bound to be made…cheaply. So if you buy expensive dice, as some people are known to do, chances are they will have odds in terms of what a statistician tells you.

Of course, when statisticians roll dice they do so under controlled conditions, without the various things on a gaming table that a die can bump into. Like the GMs screen, for instance. One of my dice bumped this once and the DM gave me a re-roll…and probably should not have.

There also seems to be the impression that a d20 has a limited number of 20s at any particular time, and that using one (or having one taken) when it isn’t needed (say on an Initiative roll) is wasting it. The same goes with 1s, though as you wish to avoid rolling a 1, rolling a 1 when it isn’t important to you works in your favour.

Though the lengths people go to in order to avoid rolling 1s is really mind boggling.

Pete, being the highly logical, calculating person he is, rejects all of that as superstitious nonsense. He instead applies the scientific approach. Over the years, he’s collected somewhere around a thousand twenty-sided dice. Every so often, he gathers them all together. He sits down at a table and carefully and individually rolls each of the thousand dice, once. Of course, roughly a twentieth of them will roll a one. He takes those fifty-odd dice and rolls them a second time. After about an hour of concentrated dice rolling, he’ll end up with around two or three dice that have rolled two ones in a row. He takes those primed dice and places them in special custom-made padded containers where they can’t roll around, and carries them to all the games he plays. (Source)

Of course, 20s are what the players want to see, from their dice and from each others. The GM, on the other hand, views a natural 20 with rather mixed feelings.

Sooner Of Later Someone Rolls a 20

Picture this. Your players are in the final dungeon, where they will be in the final showdown with the enemy. You have the fight planned and maybe the villain will say one or two things or even somehow escape.

But something happens. Something bad happens. Someone rolls a 20.

And there goes half the campaign. It can be salvaged of course, parts of it, but a lot of it will have to be re-written without the villain that your players just killed!

Practically anything can be made possible by the player rolling a 20, and this goes for stealing the innkeepers pants and using them to light the inn on fire.

Of course, a GM should make sure that a villain would not be felled by a single natural 20. Even if it does, just cheat behind the screen and say that you just cut his legs off. Cue Black Knight jokes.

My Own Experiences

Aside from the ones above with the leg removal and burning down the inn, there have been some rather interesting dice rolls at interesting times. Take the last D&D session we played, for example. There were quite a few 20s rolled, as well as 1s. While you may expect a group of eight to statistically have a few twenties in a night of dice rolling, you need to remember that we did not have many encounters.

You also need to remember that we had two 20s rolled, in a row, by the same player, on consecutive turns. She had the only kills that night. Now thats some statistic for you.

As for dice themselves, I posses six sets not including my two spare d20s. Three sets that I personally use and three cheap sets that I let players use that haven’t brought theirs or got any. Needless to say, my sets are in a rather nice small brown leather bag while the cheap sets are in the bigger bag that mine is contained in and roll around, a lot. And the sets are for various purposes. The copper one is for GMing Star Wars, my pearly white set is for playing Star Wars and my blue set is for playing D&D. Aside from compartmentalising, I don’t have any other superstitions other than not letting other people touch them unless I say so and switching dice when they “go bad”.

I’m interested to hear others experiences and superstitions. Oh, and incase you’re wondering, the translation of the title from the Latin in “The die is cast” reputed to be said by Julius Caesar.


~ by katanageldar on March 18, 2010.

3 Responses to “Alea iacta est”

  1. Our group has come to the conclusion that only two things cause natural 1s: the ranger’s player, and the ranger’s player’s dice. He will roll 1s with superhuman frequency with his own dice. Anyone who borrows his dice will roll a 1. If he borrows someone else’s dice, he will roll a 1.

    Three 1s in a row? This guy did that just last session, right after giving another player a reroll that also was a 1. I then rolled a 1 for the NPC interacting with him, at which point the ranger rolled a 20.

    Two 1s or two 20s in a row barely even phase our group any more, especially when they come from this guy. I can think of at least two incidences off the top of my head in about a year of gaming where three 1s have been rolled in a row.

    My only personal dice superstitions involve switching d20s if one isn’t rolling well. Oh, and I have a set of d10s with ankhs on them. They always roll much, much better for defensive rolls than offensive ones. My scarab d6s, despite looking pretty, only roll well when I’m rolling damage for vermin type creatures. I thought the pink d20 would roll better since ugly dice try harder, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So I guess I have a couple superstitions.

  2. Never tell me the odds

  3. The only superstition that I know of is that solid dice roll better. Then again, that could have to do with weight and density. I don’t know.

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