Monday, May 20, 2013

Dice, Specifically Specialty Dice

Just a short post today. Sorry it is up late. I had a different post set to go but at the last minute I realized it wasn't really ready to go out yet and pulled it down. However, I have been thinking a lot lately about specialty dice for games; mostly due to the Fate Dice Kick Starter (which you should check out.) So, today I want to talk about that.

So Many Dice Already
When you look at the number of dice that gamers like us seem to collect it gets a little absurd. Beyond the normal stacks of D6s and D10s we also have bunches of D4s, D8s, D12s, D20s, and some of us even D30s and D100s. Companies like Game Science are taking this even further with D3s, D5s, D14s ,D16s, D24s, and any other number they can make a balanced polyhedral out of.

Hell, aside from a couple sets of D10s I haven't bought dice in a long time and I have a sack full of dice. More dice than I've ever needed in one game before. Still, I look at that bag and a lot of times I think I don't have enough. Or I wonder what happened to all the dice - bags of them really - I've lost over the years.

Fact is, a lot of gamers have scores of dice already. So why do we need specialty dice for a specific game?

The Bad
The part of me that is paranoid and suspicious has a couple of easy answers. First of all, you make your game use specialty dice so you can sell specialty dice. Fudge and FATE are both becoming quite prevalent in gaming, but they use special dice. The dice market is lucrative enough that Evil Hat is doing a kickstarter to launch a new series of these dice - dice that can only be used for their game - and that kickstarter has already raised over 60,000 dollars. That's a lot of money. The new Star Wars RPG is also using specialty dice. The dice sets are going for about $15-$20 a set, and there is also a $5 app for your iOS and AndroidOS device of choice. Considering Star Wars pretty much sells itself, and Edge of the Empire needs a LOT of dice - even at low/early levels of play - its safe to say that a lot of these dice are going to move.

However, there is also bad here for the developers as well. For one thing, if no one is playing your game they have no need of your dice. That may sound simple, but think about it. Chessex and Game Science are companies that make dice. They don't need D&D to be alive to sell their product. They don't need Pathfinder. They don't need World of Darkness, L5R, or whatever other RPG is out there. They just need their to be games - and other uses - for the dice that they make. Edge of the Empire, Fudge, and FATE on the other hand need people to be playing their games.

The Good
On the good side of thing, you have ease of understanding. FATE and Fudge use a very simple mechanic on their dice where the roll averages out to 0 but ranges from -4 to +4. This makes playing the game easier because you only have to do a simple tally in your head to know what you rolled - something most people can eyeball - and it makes skills and aspects matter more than the dice when determining outcome.

Star Wars on the other hand actually has a more complex system that simply couldn't be represented with raw numbers. Aside from the normal success and failure dynamic, you also have advantage and threat as well as Triumphs and Despairs. When you make a roll in the new Star Wars system it is entirely possible that you will fail at what you intended to do, but still give your side some small to large advantage in the fight. Alternatively, maybe you succeed more than expected, or succeed but also alert the entire station to your presence. Fact is, this can't be done with raw numbers in the way that the SWRPG wants it to. The closest I've seen is the Shadowrun die rolling mechanic, but that is only interested in randomly (but rarely) throwing in random bad stuff into the mix, not good.

In The End
In the end, specialty dice are a thing that may have to stick around. It is possible, and people will always feel like, they are a cash grab. I know I have several friends who refuse to buy games that need specialty dice. In other cases, specialty dice can be a reluctant purchase. I know that even though I like FATE and like Evil Hat that my contribution to the FATE dice kickstarter was smaller than it otherwise may have been simply because after the Dresden Files game I'm in ends I don't know if I'll ever be in or run another FATE game again. I'd like to, but I can't be sure and that tempers my desire to purchase a lot of the dice - even if FATE dice can be added to almost anything as a 'luck' die.

Out of curiosity though, where do you fall on the fence for specialty dice?


  1. So I think I represent a bit different dice-mindset than what you expressed. I'm not tempted to have more dice. I just got back into gaming last year. The two games I planned on playing, one as a player & one as GM, both needed only d10s. So I quickly bought 2 sets of percentile dice, 4 d10s with two of them marked as the "ten" die. I bought more than one set because infrequently in these games you need to roll more than two d10s...and I figured as GM I should have an extra set for a player who might forget theirs. That completely satisfied my craving for dice.

    Then a few months ago I went to my first gaming convention in twenty years & so was playing in all sorts of games calling for all sorts of dice. So after borrowing for a couple of games I ran down to the game vendor room & bought a complete set of dice for about...$1.75 - score. Felt awesome cuz now I was prepared for anything - except FATE & Fudge games, I guess.

    I feel like I'm done. I like having basically just one complete set of dice (tho now I have 3 sets of percentile dice since a set came with the complete dice set I bought at the convention). I use the same set of percentile dice every time (I lent out my other set to a player in a session yesterday - glad I got'em).

    So would I buy specialty dice? Yah, I would. I would probably play in the FATE game for a session or three borrowing dice...and if it looked like this was going to be something for the long haul I'd buy my own.

    So I guess I'm a "need only" dice guy.

  2. I envy your self-control. I'm what I like to refer to as a "consumer whore" course, I never got over the "MORE DICE!" gene from the old AD&D days. Never know when you need 16D6 for some random empowered spell. Or when you need to be able to provide dice for the entire table.