Friday, May 26, 2017

Custom Dice in Table Top Gaming

So we all know the standard array, right? d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4, and maybe a second d10 for percentage rolls. They're familiar old friends and they've been with us on many, many adventures over the decades. I've heard from many old grogs brag "I've got dice older than you, kid" and may have even made the boast on occasion myself.


Lately, with more modern games, I've noticed a trend towards custom dice. At first, I knee jerked against this and felt as though it was a cheap marketing tactic. But over the years, I've grabbed more than a few custom dice for some of the games I own. In fact, two of my favorite games use custom dice.

Fantasy Flight Games' line of Star Wars RPGs uses some pretty seriously custom dice. They use custom two types of custom d6s, two types of custom d8s, and three types of custom d12s. None of these dice are numeric and the game is all but impossible to play with standard dice of these types. Given that the game already has a $60 buy-in for a core book and $15 for a single set of these dice, I really felt it was as cheap marketing tactic. Now, a few years later I'm not so sure.

Star Wars Dice


Cubicle 7 Entertainment's The One Ring Roleplaying Game also uses custom dice, though theirs are not as extreme as FFG's. The One Ring uses custom d6s numbered 1 to 6, with the numbers 3-6 shaded and a little symbol next to the 6. It also uses custom d12s numbered 1-10, with the 11 replaced by a Gandalf rune and the 12 replaced by an Eye of Sauron. It's easy enough to remember these changes and use standard dice. That being said, the game does play a bit faster with the specialized dice and during the game's original release in a two-book slipcover edition, they included a set of one of these d12s and six of the d6s. Extra dice could be purchased, naturally.

The One Ring Dice

So, why is this not a cheap marketing ploy for me? Well, because of the thematic elements. When I pull out my big ol' sack of Star Wars dice, my local group knows its Star Wars time. At the table its almost become as symbolic of the setting as John Williams' classic score. When I pull our dice for The One Ring, their elvish script styling immediately remind everyone of the subtle changes that make Middle-earth unique. It might not seem like much, but along with character sheets and game books, gamers are always looking at their dice. Its a constant reminder of the setting, its tone, and the associated tropes. It can help keep gamers in the game, and I think that's both awesome and important.

Star Trek Dice
This all came to mind because I saw there is going to be a set of d20s and d6s for the upcoming Star Trek RPG. Now, I've zero interest in Star Trek, but in seeing the dice I immediately went "Now that's really cool! Really thematic!" It immediately got me into a Star Trek mindset.

I think that's the real value of little things like custom dice, especially for IP-based games. They remind you that the game you're playing isn't just D&D - its a specific universe, with a specific style. This can easily get lost because games are so constantly compared to the tonal flexibility of games like D&D. Pulling gamers back into that IP-based world is important, or else we'd just play a generic RPG where these things could be easily slotted in over the often high-priced official versions released by various publishers.

10 comments:

  1. My issue with all of these custom dice is that they are added costs and things playersn need to purchase (or the GM needs to supply) to get the game going。 I think it's an uneccessary barrier to entry for the game。 I agree they are thematic and cool。 But, for a gamer on a budget makes me do a double take before I pick up a new game。 I have to factor in the total cost。 I usually supply my new players with their very own set of dice。

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    1. Oh, I agree that there are some serious downfalls to the custom dice trend. TOR tries to get past it by not being TOO custom, while FFG SW has a $5 dice-roller app that's snazzy - but its still extra money out of your pocket.

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    2. There are also a number of third party free dice rolling apps for FFG Star Wars, I have one installed on my phone that does FFG dice, FUDGE dice and standard polyhedral dice.

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  2. Depending on the dice, it can also make VTT play damn near impossible

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    1. *Looks pointedly at FFG Star Wars*

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    2. Not really, before Google Hangouts canned all their apps there was one that allowed you to roll FFG dice, Discord also has a few and there are at least a couple of web based dice rollers for FFG SW games out there.

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  3. Some people just love to collect dice.

    I call these people "people".

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  4. I am not a big fan of custom dice being required for play, for all the same reasons mentioned above. I do totally get the widgety-business-marketing angle of it.

    That being said, like many other grognards, I enjoy sprucing up my own games using unique dice for things like "scatter," specific house rules (roll a skull means BEER for DM!) and other such things. They add something cool and memorable to the tabletop experience, even if only in very minor way.

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  5. I love dice. All kinds of dice. I think it is cool we live in a time where customizable dice are available and for game designers it really broadens the palette they can work with.

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  6. It's wonderful thing when the author of the system you're home brewing a supplement for just spouts

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