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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180413


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
"Why these dice and these colors?"

It was a fair question. We were playing D&D and using dice slammers. ("Not slammers people. We don't have to slam them on the table" - I repeated futilely several times every session). I was tearing apart some existing shakers and making a fuss about using specific odd colored dice in the shakers. My players didn't get it. And why should they? The dice that were inspiring this fit of madness were vastly older than any of them.

Somebody made the fatal mistake of asking MoonHunter a question.

So I made a lore master/ story teller roll and said.....

Long, long ago, when you wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons, you have to travel a good distance to a hobby shop that sold models and military miniatures used for war games.

Wargames, you know.... blank stares... they obviously didn't.

Just like most of your computer RPGs games were originally based on table top D&D or other RPGs, the computer war games were based on table top games. The precursors to your turn based military sims used colored paper maps, cardboard pieces or painted military units, and dice instead of computers screens and a mouse. The look I got was like I was telling them about chipping flint tools. So I moved on.

There were only three hobby shops in the south bay at the time (1976). They had this tiny section of these games. Fantasy Military it was called. You would have your white box oD&D books, the silver Chainmail book, and maybe the supplements. Yes Andrew, this was before AD&D and those books in my cabinets." Oh and miniatures, lots of unsafe lead miniatures. You might of had Traveller and some other games, but only very special shops did.

Right next to those games were "packets of dice". (According to an old catalog, they were called multi-sided dice sets.) In the beginning, they only sold them in sets. Each plastic baggie had:
1d4, a yellow pyramid.
1d6, an orange cube.
1d8, a green octahedron.
1d12, a blue dodecohedron.
1d20, a white(ish) isocahedron.​

Some sets came with pinkish isoheadrons. (There were sets of pinkish and white D20s after a while). A few shops would actually sell dice not in a set (Usually d20s which were for used other war games/ board games) and cost about as much as a set of dice. If you were playing white box D&D or The Arduin Grimoire, and eventually Runequest, you were using the dice sets. Any gamer that started before 1982 had some of these in their Crown Royal Bag (what? Crown Royal Bag... okay story for another time.) or with their other dice.

"We are playing D&D, so we should use proper D&D Dice... hence these colors."

These early dice had numbers on them, but they were just scratched in. The D20s were listed from 0 to 9, twice. This led to the use of crayons in gaming. One would mush colored crayon into the numbers and wipe off the excess with warm water and a lot of finger grease. (Two colors on a D20 to make them 1-10 and 11-20) Eventually people who painted miniatures would use paint (and wipe off the excess with thinner on a cloth). Remember, RPGs as a hobby descended from military miniature wargames which used painted figures (ideally). Most early gamers had those skill.

These dice were made of low impact plastic. The plastic chipped and wore down easily. If you know anyone who still has their dice from those early days, they will be very rounded. If you see a D20, it will be a lopsided ball with messy numbers. It is also the reason why sets of "Original D&D Dice" run for one to two hundred dollars a set on eBay... most of them were worn away during play.

These sets were educational random number generators that TSR originally purchased from a distributor on the West Coast.

You might notice there is no D10. It is not a platonic solid. The d10 was not invented/ introduced until much later (1980 if memory serves).

Eventually dice were made from higher quality plastics that could keep up with the damage of being constantly rolled. Of course, by this time, you could get dice in lots of places, in different colors, and even by single dice.

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The original pre-box edition published used nothing but d6's as required dice, but had an option for use of d20's as well. These earlier drafts (1974 or prior) may have extensively used percentile dice and six sided dice. "Dalluhn Manuscript." or the Beyond This Point Be Dragons manuscripts found in the papers of some famous gamers used percentile dice/d20 and some D6. After the 1975 release of Supplement 1: Greyhawk, game moved to the much wider use of polyhedrals, requiring d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d100 rolls. The White box used polyhedrals. (Also Gygax had done some work with percentages and poly dice in wargame work he had done.)

There is a gamer's tale/ legend that says, since the dice came in kits with all the platonic solids and it was both hard and a waste to open them up and toss the extra, they might as well use them. Thus things were expanded to fit them.

Oh and we didn't have the idea of ydX back then. The 1d6 or 1d4+1 as a notation did not exist in the early days. We would of listed it as a range 1-6 or range 2-5. This was important. You could get d20s for Wargames in a good hobby shop, but there may not be any D&D other polyhedral dice. You could roll the percentile die, do a percentile chance and put that to the range. So if you roll a 58, you would get a 4 (for d6 (.58x6) or 4 (for 1d4+1). If the number was 3-18, you would get no curve but a flat number (12 in this example). I do not know who came up with the designations and when they went live. I have a feeling it happened in the wargame side of the hobby and slide over to the roleplaying side.

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Some supplemental reading

History of dice

How gaming got its dice

and others....
Playing at the World, by John Peterson
Empire of Imagination
Of Dice and Men by D Ewalt
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