Saturday, March 5, 2016

Know Your Dice!


The other day someone unintentionally ticked me off by calling polyhedral dice a gimmick and not necessary, that a d6 is more than enough for any role playing game worth its salt.

About this I said nothing.

Because it's true.

There are many great games out there that get by using nothing but six-sided dice. Last night I was looking through my game collection and ventured upon TOON by Steve Jackson games from circa 85-86. I had totally forgotten it even used dice, let alone six-sided dice exclusively. It even uses them for creating tables ranging from 11 to 66 which is smart but not very memorable. TOON itself was a very memorable game but not for the dice. In fact, I hardly remember rolling dice while playing it whatsoever.

D&D on the other hand. When I first opened the B/X boxed set and a bag of powder blue polyhedrals fell out I was entranced. The strangely shaped dice told me that I was onto something different, a game reaching far beyond the simple matter of rolling a die and taking that many steps around a board. These dice were intense. They were magic. They made the game outstanding before it was even played.

And yet they were also something of a disappointment. The game ran on d20's, d6's and d8's. I don't think there is a single use for the d12 in all of B/X D&D, which might explain why all of the oldest dice in my possession are all twelve siders. It was like reading through the monsters and realizing that they were only there to give us something to kill. Even back then I expected something more.

So when it came around to designing the Red EFT I decided that I wanted polyhedrals to power it and I wanted them to be important to the game, something much more than a gimmick. I wanted the dice to be like Richard Dreyfuss's mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I want people to roll them and think this means something....

So today I'm not going to tell you how they work. I'm going to show you how they feel with one of my favorite passages from the players handbook called

KNOW YOUR DICE

Dice in the Red EFT are more than just small plastic random number generators. They are the standing stones of Stonehenge, the Moai of Easter Island, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Monoliths from 2001 a Space Odyssey. They are all of these wondrous and fascinating things except a whole lot smaller and easier to roll. Unlike other games the dice in the Red EFT mean something....

D4 – The Caltrop of Pathos. The most miserable despicable die you will ever roll is the foot-stabbing, hard-rolling, pathetic-sounding four-sider. It is shaped like a pyramid and that is the only cool thing about it. When making a roll with a d4 a little success is the best you can hope for and a critical fail is just a small flip away.

D6 – The Cube of the Every Day. Most of the universe runs on d6's. It is the normal die, the average die. It is a sandwich made from white-bread eaten in a compact car carrying suburban commuters to their lackluster jobs in beige office cubicles. When you roll a d6 the best you can hope for is a normal success and for most people that is good enough. Try not to yawn.

D8 – The Rhombus of Rock. The eight-sider punches a defiant chain-wrapped fist through the walls of the cube and bursts out the other side with a screaming heavy metal guitar riff. The eight-sider shouts, Yeah! In your face! And you must listen. When rolling the d8 you may achieve great success, but not too often.

D10 – The Diamond of Excellence. When this die is rolled We Are The Champions plays in the concert arenas of Valhalla. This is the die of the Olympians. To merely touch it is more than most mortals can hope for. When you roll a d10 the outcome of your actions can be incredible beyond belief.

D12 – The Avatar of Awesomeness. This die does not touch the Earth. If the d10 is the die of the Olympians, the d12 is the die of the Olympian who took home all the medals. Angels sing when this die hits the table. Its successes can be so fantastic they often find themselves landing in the record books.

D20 – The Die of the Covenant. This die is a super-massive black hole sitting at the center of a galaxy. It is the maker of worlds and the breaker of stars. When a d20 hits the table it might just melt your face off – so consider yourself warned – for there is no greater success than that which can come from rolling a d20, with the possible exception of....

D30 – The Big Banger. Use of the d30 during a game is the stuff of myth and legend. What is it made of? Dark Matter? Dark Energy? No one knows for sure, but old universes are obliterated and new universes arise like screaming phoenixes from the flaming ashes when a d30 rolls across your gaming table.