Thursday, 10 July 2008

Dice Superstitions

Somebody has put up a thread about dice over at the rpg site. It's tongue-in-cheek stuff, but it says something interesting about gamer culture that I've often noticed: The prevalence of dice-related superstitions. Dice are a lot of fun - but at the same time there is a kind of fetishization of the little blighters that I think most of us share; we do not readily understand them (the results of a roll are a mystery - impossible to predict) and that fundamental uncertainty has a bewitching effect. In that respect we are like ancient tribesmen who dream up elaborate explanations for changes in the weather ("It's raining because Snake-on-the-Water cheated on his wife!"), because their true mechanics are unknown and unknowable.

My own superstition about dice is, as I posted in said thread:
"When I buy new dice I have to integrate them into the gang by rolling them at least a dozen or so times in different combinations with my older ones. My dice are a team, and I won't tolerate non-team players." When I say 'at least a dozen or so times' I am probably cloaking the true shape of my neurosis - I actually roll my new and old dice together more like fifty times, the very day I buy them. If I don't do this, the new dice might not properly integrate, and this could ruin the chemistry of my dice rolling when it really matters. (If you think that's weird, you should meet my old DM Chris. His dice-superstition was to put his d20s in the freezer for a few hours "as an example to the others" if they consistently turned up poor results.)

I've done this for as long as I can remember. As with most such superstitions it probably got its start due to fluke (I happened to be rolling new and old dice together just before a particularly lucky session), and it is now maintained entirely due to terror. Terror that if I stop, there will be dire consequences for my gaming from now until kingdom come. Granted, I have had lucky and unlucky sessions since the superstition began. But if I stop performing the ritual, it might be the case that I never have a lucky day ever again.

I also believe that dice-related superstitions are one of the only, if not the only, situations in which Pascal's Wager really makes sense. You don't lose anything from such beliefs. Getting on the good side of the dice Gods costs nothing. Of course, you might be wrong; the superstition could be meaningless. But the potential ill-effects if it happens to be true and you ignore it are too terrible to contemplate.


Blaise Pascal says: Tell me of your superstitions.

21 comments:

  1. I'm a fairly unusual dice fan. I'm very picky about the way my dice look, and I like to have matching sets of the polyhedrals, while I like to have unusual d6's. For example, I have some d6's that were used at a casino in Vegas that I love (the dice, not the casino). They're large, with very crisp and sharp angles, and include serial numbers. Too cool.

    I keep a large dice bag for extras, and a small box for my personal sets. I used to buy dice whenever I was bored, so I have a lot in the bag that don't make the grade.

    I used to have a set of d6's that one of my players named the 'Krystal Kill Dice'; they seemed loaded during actual play.

    I'm not particularly superstitious about dice, except during actual play. I do get the feeling that certain dice run 'hot' or 'cold' during sessions, and will rotate them at times. Odd but true.

    ~Sham aka Dave

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  2. Yeah, casino dice are brilliant. I hear that you can basically have as many dice as you want from a Vegas casino; they are only used a few times before they have to be thrown away, so all you have to do is ask.

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  3. I like to buy my dice in sets and they should be rolled in its set as much as possible. I don't like my dice mixing it up.

    I also have a set of game-specific dice. I got a set of green jade d10s from my wife as a wedding gift. They are only to be rolled when I play or run Exalted. The serve no other purpose, and they have served admirably.

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  4. Ah, game-specific dice. I had a friend who had a set of elemental d10s strictly for use with Werewolf: The Apocalypse, back in the day.

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  5. I have zero dice related superstitions. The closest I come to it would be aesthetic preferences for certain dice pairings, or sentimental attachments to some of my dice.

    Anyone ever practiced throwing dice to figure out how to make certain numbers more likely? I remember I used to try and cheat d6 rolls by starting with the hoped for pip face up and throwing with a flat spin. It seemed at the time like they'd rotate once or twice only and come up with the pip I wanted. Likely just another trick of selective thinking

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  6. Max: Yeah, I've tried that. I also had this theory that you could hold a die with the opposite side pips up to the one you wanted, and then blow on it. The condensation on your breath would be enough to weigh that face of the die, resulting in it tending to end up on the bottom. With the face you wanted, obviously, on top.

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  7. "Anyone ever practiced throwing dice to figure out how to make certain numbers more likely?"

    I saw a show on the History Channel about, IIRC, a physicist who managed to develop a method of holding and throwing dice for better results in craps games.

    I guess anything is possible.

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  8. Yeah, no superstitions here. I like various dice in my bag because I think they look cool, and I did go out of my way to buy a set of blue/green d10s for a Blue Planet game (to get the whole "ocean" vibe going...) but I've never had any neuroses related to random polyhedrals.

    My friend Ben gives his dice names, though. Like Ice, his favorite for Mutants & Masterminds. "It's cool under pressure, like me!" he says.

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  9. HA! What a great post!

    I always play as the DM, so I could care less how my dice are functioning. My players, on the other hand, all have the same ritual. We keep all of our dice in a giant bag. There might be a couple of complete sets, but most of them are just mismatched sets that were picked up here and there.

    Everyone spends the first five minutes rolling d20s over and over again. Sure I make fun of them during this process! They are just getting random numbers, but they swear by it. They each chose a different d20 for attack rolls and another for making saving throws, depending on if the thing rolls high or low. As far as the other dice go, they won't chose one that doesn't roll its max within a couple of rolls.

    Actually, I take that back. I do have one superstition. I won't roll the dice unless it counts. I'm afraid that I'll waste a good roll. Rolling a twenty that doesn't count for anything is, of course, wasting the twenty, because now I won't role it when I'm attacking, with this belief that if I would had waited, then it would had rolled to the twenty during my attack.

    I also hate rolling double lot, it's like aces & eights. Sure, nobody has ever died with this roll, however something in my head is convinced that this is the equivalent of the "Dead-man's Hand".

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  10. In my old group, I wasn't allowed to touch anyone else's dice after I borrowed someone's d20 and it rolled nothing above a 6 for the rest of the session. Beyond that, I'm considered unusual because I don't have many dice superstitions -- at least, none that I talk about. I DM for new-ish players pretty frequently, so my dice get borrowed a lot. No big deal.

    There are some dice that I roll more than others, or for more important rolls, but that at least started out because I like the way they look.

    Oh, and I always buy a new full set for every campaign. (Except my GURPS game -- for that, I got a whole mess 'o d6s.) I have a couple of sets that weren't purchased for such reasons, or that I got from friends, but most of my dice, I can say when I got them and why they're the color they are based on the campaign in question.

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  11. Zweihander: I'd like to know who that guy is. I guess most people would hear about that and think, "I'll make millions in Vegas!" whereas my immediate thought was, "I'll be slaughtering orcs and making saving throws like no tomorrow!"

    patrick: I tend to prefer a monochrome, uniform approach. Pretty much all of my dice these days are either black with white pips/numbers or white with black. It makes me feel like a serious dice roller.

    Ripper: I'm usually the DM too, but I still care about the rolls - if my players are going to be beseeching the dice gods to help their characters, then somebody (i.e., me) has to do it on behalf of the poor monsters!

    Odyssey: I've met players with the cursed touch before. Stay away from my dice. ;)

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  12. I don't have any superstitions as such, but at the table I tend to arrange my dice into little rank-and-file affairs, as square a formation as possible, sorted by die type. So all the d20s are in one battalion, all the d6s in another, etc. During lulls in play I rotate all the dice so that there maximum value is face up. It makes finding the right die type a LOT easier for me.

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  13. I don't know if I've ever bought dice other than the ones that came with rulebooks and crayons. I've nearly always DM'ed and I just use some of the community pile. Apparently I'm also a thief because somehow I have dice here at the house without having bought them. :|

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  14. Its great to see this post. I'm currently researching a Grad level paper on collecting and as a Gamer I had to write it on Dice! I could fill 20 pages on Dice stories alone.

    Personally, I have a hand-crafted wooden box to store my dice in. I have one d10 that has been my initiative die from the moment I started DnD. Anyother dice I use now for Inititative have to be red with white numbers. I have another set of low percentile d10s and a set of high percentile d10s, a d20 named Fireball because it rolled a crit every other round the first time I DM'd with it.

    I have a set of 'Bone' Dice that are only good for rolling attributes.

    When I have a character reach the point that I would raise them rather than just roll a new character, they get their own set of dice for damage and to-hit.

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  15. Well, keep in mind that manufacturer defects can give certain "superstitions" (such as mixing old dice with new dice or only using certain dice for certain games) a potentially rational footing. wear and usage, handling, etc will slowly round corners and edges, wear away surfaces.....Heck, freezing the dice as described might alter their center of balance and how they roll. But since you don't KNOW precisely what changes you're making with your ritual, it's largely trial and error...

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  16. Amporilos: I tend to use only black and white dice - either black with white numbers/pips or vice-versa. The monochrome really appeals to me.

    Ralph: That's it, but if you buy lots of cheap dice it could be worth freezing them. For every d20 that you cause to most often land on a 12 or a 2, there'll be one which is warped on the 20/1 axis.

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  17. I NEVER let anyone touch my dice. And when I buy a new set, I roll each individually until I get it's max. And even then, I'll start pairing up and try to get about a certain number (10 on a d20, for example)

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  18. The Christmas I was nine - the year I began playing - I was gifted with a flame-speckled d20, which has been my die of choice ever since. Over the last fifteen years, every group I have ever gamed with has come to the conclusion that it is a feral beast, and that I am the only one whose touch it will tolerate.

    I've often loaned it to other people during games. Which almost always results in a devastating failed saving throw or a critical miss. And then, the instant I get it back? Nothing below a 12 for hours.

    If I weren't the one rolling, I'd suspect trickery. But I know the truth. My die is the last scion of the primeval d20s, of the dice of the ancestors. It suffers my touch only because it chooses to, and its will can never truly be broken by the hand of man.

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  19. I have a couple common ones. Firstly, I always use my own dice, because I believe the dice gain an affinity to their owner, and another person's dice are not calibrated correctly for me. It always seems to happen that, whenever I have to borrow someone else's dice, I consistently roll lower than average.

    Also I believe that dice sets are jealous, and will not work for you if you "cheated on them" by using another set.

    my final superstition is particular to my set of dice. My personal set is a "Call of Cthulhu" set that I picked up in a shop a number of years ago, and I believe that they lose their affinity if I take them into a church.

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  20. I know I'm late to the party but I just found this blog!

    I don't know that it's fair to say that having dice rituals is essentially harmless. When it comes time to roll understanding set theory and statistics helps you make rational and realistic cost/benefit calculations. If I believe that I have a die that is rolling "hot" I may take an inappropriate risk that could lead to severe consequences.

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  21. I have no personal dice fetishes, beyond a feeling of nostalgia as my current dice bag always had at least one from the original set. Often the same yellow, flaky plastic one I stepped on and which holed the original box cover in a perfect triangle. I have other, better constructed dice which I use, but when pushed, those old yellow four-siders (sharp as caltrops) still see battle. Sometimes I toss in my old, nearly-round twenty sider, the one you had to color half the numbers to denote that you added ten. Which I can't use anymore, as it never stops till it hits a wall. I still bring out the horde of white dice I stole from every board game in my parent's house when I need a fireball. The handful of clear plastic twenties I bought so I could do multiple attacks from the orc hordes. Then I have the nice set of matching black dice I use when playing. Every die in the bag brings back memories.

    Now other people's dice fetishes, those I suspect, as quite a few of them seem to just translate into "I know which of my dice are crooked." Especially those old flake plastic or clay dice. I've seen a lot of people's "lucky dice" not stand up to statistical analysis.

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