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Posted: Mon Jun 17, 2019 3:05 pm
by Sukumvit
Yes. Dice. Those rolling bones. This is a long post (practically an article,) so only proceed if you're an incurable diceaholic, like me. Otherwise, go and have a cup of coffee; we won't hold it against you. We know there's something a bit wrong with us.

One of the things that made FF accessible to virtually everyone was its use of the humble 6-sided die, or D6; no need to track down Them Weirdy Polyhedrals - just grab the dice from the old Monopoly set (played during those dark days before they invented Fighting Fantasy.) But the D6, although humble, is actually a source of fierce debate (so are the other polyhedrals, but it's the D6 that we're interested in.) Most people have heard of (or own) a cherished, high-rolling "Lucky Die," or shuddered at tales of the dreaded "Cursed Die" (cursed dice are usually binned, buried at sea or cremated like Darth Vader.) But not everybody wonders why some dice behave in these aberrant ways.

What I'll be talking about will be old news to some (maybe a lot) of you, and you will have long since formed a view; others might be a bit surprised (and might not thank me for planting the seeds of doubt in their minds...) But I'm interested in seeing what people think, and what their preferences are. I'm nosey.

The main dice debate is centred around "tumbled" vs. "precision" (or often pseudo-precision) dice. Tumbled dice are the ones we're all familiar with; the ones produced by Chessex, Koplow, HengDa, D&G, Crystal Caste, Paladin, Kraken, et al (most of the dice on the market, in other words.) Once the cast dice are cut from the sprue, they're put in a rock-polisher and "tumbled" to remove the sprue-remnant, then painted, allowed to dry, and tumbled again to remove the paint from the faces of the dice, thus highlighting the numerals. Then they're given another tumble in a finer medium to remove the scratches caused by the first two tumbles and polish the dice to a nice, marketable finish. The objection to this method of production is that the tumbling process isn't controllable, and the edges and corners aren't evenly rounded; some faces have more surface area than others, and some corners are more rounded than others, which creates a bias - some faces are more likely to show up than others. The smaller the faces on the die, and the greater the number of edges, the more pronounced the problem becomes (which allows us to smugly point and laugh at those D20-lovin' D&D hipsters...)
At the other end of the dice spectrum are precision dice, the most well known example being casino dice. Rather than being cast in moulds, they're laser-cut from blocks of cellulose acetate, to extremely exacting tolerances (measurements are accurate to within 1/10,000".) With razor-sharp edges and corners, they're as close to a perfect cube as is humanly possible, with perfectly flush faces. The pips are drilled, then filled with a pigmented epoxy of the exact same density as the material that was removed, so there's no weight difference between the six faces. Cellulose acetate is also a completely homogenous material, with no possibly-imbalance-causing vacuum bubbles to be found. Precision Backgammon dice are made in the same way, but have (milled) rounded or "ball" corners, to allow more rolling action in dice cups and baffle boxes/dice towers. Lastly, there's the mid-point compromise, A.K.A. Gamescience dice. These are often referred to as "precision" dice in role-playing circles, but it's more accurate to say that they're untumbled; they still have the sharp edges and corners that God (or Lou Zocchi) gave them, so they avoid many of the problems of tumbled dice, but they're moulded rather than machined, have indented numerals, surface scratches and a little scar where they were trimmed from the sprue; also, the faces are often not completely flush (all of which would see them banned from any casino, which ol' Lou freely admits.) Recently, polyhedral dice precision-machined from aircraft-grade aluminium have appeared on the market, produced by several companies; but these usually cost way more than most people would ever want to spend on dice. Someone's buying them, though.
Debates about these different types of dice can sometimes get a bit...heated ("if you use that tumbled crap, you're an idiot!" "If you spent £15 on two Backgammon dice you're an anally-retentive nerd!" "You're gambling with your players' characters' lives!" "You're a frickin' DICE NAZI!") Gamblers often refer to our tumbled bones as "cheaters' dice," which is a nifty sucker-punch to the kisser.

Then there are other controversies. Many see opaque dice as the very Devil, as they can conceal vacuum bubbles; the theory is that this problem is caused by the plastic being cooled too quickly, which prevents any bubbles from reaching the surface and "popping." A common accusation levelled at dice companies is that, because nobody can see these bubbles, they can put more plastic through the machines in less time and produce more dice; the dice are cooled quickly, then taken out of the moulds to make way for the next load of plastic. Another issue is pockets of unmelted plastic inside some dice, believed to be the result of the first production run of the day, when the machines are cold and not adequately melting the plastic. For these reasons, transparent dice are seen as a safer bet. Some of you will have seen YouTube videos of people floating opaque dice in saltwater, like medieval witches, to detect bubbles. Some think this test is essential to determine if a die is balanced; others think it's far too sensitive, revealing tiny flaws that have little or no effect on the roll (and is also ignoring the bigger bias caused by tumbling.) Meanwhile, dual-colour dice (such as the Chessex "Gemini" line) are often viewed with suspicion, on the grounds that the two different-coloured plastics are believed to have slightly different densities, creating more imbalance (again, some think this is nonsense, or at least something that would have negligible impact on randomisation.) Casinos, though, obviously think these things can cause imbalances; it's why they insist on perfectly clear, bubble-free, single-colour dice. But then, when millions are at stake, they'll obsess over anything that could give players even a marginal advantage. Lastly, dice that have glitter or confetti mixed into the plastic are also suspected of being imbalanced. Basically, if it's pretty, precision puritans (the acolytes of True Random) quickly reach for their flaming torches (I myself went through a period of precision puritanism, but I really started to miss those bright, pretty colours and swirly patterns. I still go through spells where my old paranoia returns, though, and I cast very suspicious looks at my tumbled dice. Then my partner tells me to get a life.)

Still with us? Want more controversy? Well...there's also the question of the ways all these dice are used. You sometimes come across the view that casino dice shouldn't be used at the roleplaying/wargaming/boardgaming table at all; the argument goes that they're "designed" to be hurled across a craps table and bounced off a cushioned wall - if you don't do this, you won't get a properly random roll because the damn things barely roll at all. Others say that the wall is only there to frustrate dice-controllers, and that as long as you shake 'em up pretty good and roll them on a fabric-covered surface, they'll be fine (Gamescience D6's don't roll much, either; the randomisation comes from shaking them in your hands. Nobody ever questions the fact that G.S. dice only roll a couple of times, then stop. But the exact same behaviour in casino dice apparently rules them out of tabletop use. I'll admit that it's a bit trickier to shake up 19mm casino dice - and they're certainly too big for most dice cups and baffle boxes - but even so...) At the other end of the dice spectrum, many believe that various practices can be adopted that counteract any problems caused by biases in tumbled dice (these are popular among people with large dice collections, who really don't want to throw them all out...) One approach is to use a variety of the same type of die in a session, rotating the dice you use each time you make a roll; if certain dice are biased towards certain numbers, you won't be regularly rolling those same numbers. Another solution is to "stop" the die before it can roll long enough to find its natural centre of gravity (i.e. the largest face or heaviest side;) throwing it into a dice tray, making sure it hits the edge, or rolling it in a dice tower that has a barrier at the bottom achieves this. Advocates of precision dice, on the other hand, find all these counter-measures a bit baffling; "why not just get some decent dice?," they say. The trouble is... although there's no doubt that precision dice have maths and physics on their side, and are beautiful in their own right ( there's something mesmerisingly appealing about a die that's perfectly manufactured,) if you exclusively use them you have to give up all those lovely colour combos and patterns. Which sucks.

Lastly, there's the question of how random you really want your dice to be. This is the heart of the debate. You could invest in precision dice, or do a chi-square test on all your tumbled dice (Google it, pilgrim - I'm not mathy enough to explain it,) throwing out the worst offenders; or you could just say "okay, possibly my favourite D6 rolls "1's" a bit more often than it should, perhaps an extra 5-10 times in 1000 rolls - do I really care? We're not playing for money, here" (I'm not even going to get into the "clustering fallacy" and suchlike as, like I said, I'm not very mathy and I'll probably mess it up...)

I seem to have arrived at a policy of using precision dice for GMing (primarily 16mm Backgammon dice, for their convenient size,) tumbled dice for playing through the old gamebooks again, and whatever I feel like if I'm playing an RPG (I'm not a wargamer, and none of my boardgames seem to involve dice.) What about you? Are you a precision purist? A Chessex fetishist? Happy to take your chances with the God-knows-who-made-them offerings in comic shop dice-bins? Is it a subject that's even come up in your group?


Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2019 2:13 am
by SkinnyOrc
I had no idea... :D

Occurs to me that with mass produced cast dice you're just as likely to get one that's slightly more likely to roll the result you don't want as the one you do. Also with a many sided die the numbers are evenly distributed around it. So if the bubbles did mean you were more likely to roll a 20 you're also more likely to roll the lower numbers that surround it.

The choice of only using six sided die for the FF gamebooks would have been just so they were easily available, and that's been carried across to AFF. But the uneven probabilities you get rolling multiple dice can be really useful.


Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2019 6:38 am
by LordArioch
My dice-OCD dictates only that I use precision dice for Backgammon; I don't care too much about true randomness in RPGing. *big shrug*


Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:33 am
by Sukumvit
The bell curve does help us AFFers a bit; if you're playing a game like D&D, Heroquest or Trail of Cthulhu, games that employ the flat probability of a single die, bias is more of a problem (or more of a benefit - once a D&D player's found a "crit machine," you'd need a crowbar to prise that D20 out of their clammy hand...) The other distinguishing feature of AFF is that sometimes we want to roll high (combat) and sometimes we want to roll low (unopposed tests;) so we can find a use for any biased die eventually! The trick is remembering which one's which...

I think LordArioch's position is probably the most common among role-players; it tends to be a small section of the RPG community that debates the topic. Wargamers do seem to fret about it quite a lot, though. I guess I have a much more relaxed attitude these days; I only insist on precision Backgammon dice for (my) GMing because it strikes me as a fitting extension of "Director impartiality."


Posted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 11:14 am
by drbargle
I've never thought that much about it - and it largely doesn't trouble me unless the results are far from random - but I realise that my own method of "there's a pile of d6 in the middle of the table, pick 2 (or 3) and roll" means that the effect of the bias of any particular die is minimised.


Posted: Mon Jul 01, 2019 5:29 pm
by HedgeWizard
Must admit I’m also not to bothered about this unless the dice is obviously broken (a very rare experience). I just get lots of them and grab what I need. If this was an issue for me then I wouldn’t be able to play any of the board games which I enjoy!


Posted: Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:37 pm
by Ruffnut V2
Never really thought of it until now, but I guess I'm fine with tumbled dice in most cases.


Posted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:58 pm
by Catweazle
I've visited most of the tinctures on the magnificent rainbow of dice-craziness over the years.

I'm mostly better now, except I seem to have decided recently that D&G pearl dice are the prettiest dice in the observable universe.

I also have a thing for Koplow square-cornered pipped dice.

And those D&G numbered ones in old-fasioned colours that are currently really cheap at TDSO.

And those Q Workshop orc dice with the tally-marks instead of pips. Genius!

And that's just the d6s I bought for AFF (OK, OK, and WOIN).

And I'm better now!


Posted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:44 pm
by Sukumvit
My current favourite dice are TDSO orange and yellow Duel dice (actually made by HengDa, but TDSO sell them under their own brand.) They most obviously resemble fireballs, but they also remind me of pumpkins - the shades of orange and yellow are very similar to pumpkin skin and flesh (the flesh in particular.) But you do need to re-ink them in black to really make the colours POP.


Posted: Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:04 am
by Ruffnut V2
I use Dark Reaper GW dice that seem kinda prone to rolling 6


Posted: Wed Jul 31, 2019 4:23 pm
by Sukumvit
GW dice are notoriously biased! You're a terrible, terrible person! :lol:


Posted: Fri Aug 02, 2019 9:04 pm
by HedgeWizard
I have to say that I have a nostalgic soft spot for my ancient little white GW dice...


Posted: Thu Oct 31, 2019 9:53 am
by Ruffnut V2
I have a soft spot for my GW dice that always seem to roll high numbers