Tabletop Thursday – The Superstitions of Dice

If a statistician hands you a die insisting that “any given roll has the same odds of rolling a one or a twenty”, it means he’s handing you a depleted die in the hopes of taking advantage of you. Don’t fall for it! – Shamus Young, Twenty Sided Tales

Gamers are a superstitious, cowardly lot.  And nowhere does this hold true more than with their dice, their precious, precious dice.  You know that die.  It’s the one that you bought that had the pretty metallic colors on it.  And the first time you picked it up and rolled it, it rolled a 20.  Once you find a die that you like, you horde it, you care for it, you caress it and call it “My precious”.  You keep it in a special bag, away from the other dice, and only break it out when you really need to roll high.

And the reverse holds true as well.  remember the time that you absolutely, positively had to roll high to make you saving throw vs. dragon breath, and you rolled a 1, of course?  That die was instantly banished, called unlucky, and would never be rolled again.

And what about the DM that constantly seems to be rolling very high numbers?  Is he cheating behind his screen, or are his dice VERY lucky?  I mean, he can’t get that many criticals in a single encounter, can he?

The statistican in us will say that it is all poppycock.  Rolling a D20 should always result in a 1 in 20 chance of a given number coming up every time.  Blowing on it, pre-rolling the 1’s out of it, always making sure that it is sitting with the 20 facing up…none of these should make a difference. 

But maybe…just maybe…some dice ARE luckier than others.

In the attached video clip, Col. Lou Zocchi of Gamesciencegives an explanation about how dice are made.  He explains how many manufacturers of dice take the dice and dip them in buckets of paint to fill in the numbers, and then put them in rock tumblers to get the paint off the surface of the dice.  The process of the is tumbling leaves you with a very pretty, shiny , but ultimately imperfectly shaped die, as the tumbling also rounds the corners and takes some of the surface off of the dice.  When the shape of the die is changed, it will have a predilection to settle on the longer surface, and thus not give you an evenly distributed set of numbers.

Now,  he is in the business of selling his “precision dice”, so of course his are going to be better.  And he’s pretty long winded in the clip.  But I found it an interesting theory as to why some dice will roll higher results than others.

(But I’m keeping my dice.  Cause they’re purdy.)

2 Responses to “Tabletop Thursday – The Superstitions of Dice”

  1. Woman of the House Says:

    Superstitious eh? One of the guys here thought a die was out to get him so he put it on a cookie sheet placed it in the oven and cranked up the heat. He decided to get the better of the die before it got the better of him.

    On another note, have you ever stepped on a d4? Now, can you imagine meeting up with one from Game Science in the middle of the night? You might very well need stitches!

  2. I have stepped on more D4’s than I would like to remember. Actually, stepping on any polyhedral dice can be a painful experience. Hmmm. Aren’t ALL dice polyhedral?

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