How much do you care about "balanced" dice?

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
There are a lot of videos and discussions on the interwebs about dice balance. Which dice are the best made, how to test dice, etc. I don't want to repeat that discussion here.

What I'm more interested in is how concerned are you about dice balance?

For me? For players not so much. For me as the DM, very much so.

At my table I pretty much only have two rules regarding dice:

1. Everyone must use physical dice

That means no phone apps or other digital random-number generators. Physical dice are a big part of the enjoyment of the game for me. This does mean that most of the dice used are not going to be well balanced.

2. Rolls must be done in the open, easily viewable to other players.

Not because I'm afraid of "cheating" but because see the rolls is part of the fun of the game. It also helps keep folks invested when it is not their turn. Physical dice help add a bit of anticipation to every action resolution in a way that digital dice do not. Even I, as the DM, roll most rolls openly.

One of the only limits we place on what dice a player can use is that they must be easily legible, even from across the table. None of those annoying, overly decorated, dice that make good art but poor game aids.


I think it is fine that players use whatever cheap dice they by at a bin in the FLGS. I don't make them by Game Science dice or Gravity dice. It is fine for them to "shop around". Part of the fun is when a player disgustedly throws a poor rolling die across the room to never be seen again until I vacuum. Similarly, if a player has a die that tends to roll "high", there is still sufficient chance involve that when they rely on it most it rolls low. Having your heart broken by a die you believed in is also part of the game.

But this is all for players.

As a DM, I believe strongly that my dice should be balanced and that I should not be trying to pick dice that roll low or high. Almost all of my rolls are done with precision metal dice from Gravity Dice. When a LOT of rolls are needed I may dig into the bag and roll some cheap plastic dice, but generally all important rolls are done with the most balanced dice I can afford.

I've thought of buying a bunch of casino dice for games that use six-sided dice pools. But those dice are rather large and you need to throw them against a back board to get a good roll. They don't play well when you have limited table space, especially if you have to roll more than two or three at a time.

Yes, I realize this may be overthinking things for a TTRPG, but dice are part of the fun of the hobby.

What about you? Are you in the dice-need-to-be-balanced camp or the I-could-not-care-less camp?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Setting aside the idea of purposely loaded dice....

Statistically, most of us just don't need to worry about the minor bias that arises from the usual manufacturing process for dice. This imbalance is notable when you roll the die a statistically relevant number of times. You can do a Chi-squared analysis on a hundred rolls, for example. For lesser numbers of rolls, you can't tell the bias from just randomness.

I play a cleric in a D&D game at work. I may roll a d20 five times in a session, maybe 10 on a really busy night. And I have three sets of dice in my bag for this game, and I'm swapping between them. I'd have to go through 30 to 60 sessions (at the rate we play, a year and more of sessions) before I'd be able to measure the typical die bias on any of them, much less be able to really blame bad or good fortune upon the bias of the dice, and I am *mixing* several random small biases, which is apt to give me something like average overall behavior.

So, a die has to be egregiously biased before I worry about it.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Whether DMing or playing, I prefer to use my Gamescience dice. Sometimes as a player I’ll use a dice app. Especially if I feel like my luck with the dice is waning (nonsense, I know, really, but still).

I think a lot of players want dice that roll well according to the system they’re playing, rather than wanting dice that roll randomly. When someone says they've got a lucky d20, it's one that rolls highly, not statistically randomly. That being said, you can never totally escape the whims of chance – unless you outright cheat.

When I’m DMing, I don’t really care about being able to see the dice rolls. If I can’t trust a player, I’m not going to play with them. I’m done with tolerating that sort of behavior.
 

uzirath

Explorer
I don't give this a second thought.

I do ask players to roll in the open and leave the dice untouched after they roll them. Like you, this isn't about cheating, but more about referencing results when things are moving fast and we may forget the numbers ("oh, wait, I need your margin of success. . ."

My first D&D box didn't even have dice. It had "chits" that you'd put in paper cups to roll. (Late '70s, I think.) My next set had cheap dice and crayons. (This was before 10-sided dice, so the d20 had 0-9 twice and you did them in contrasting colors.) Eventually that 20-sider was rolled so much that it developed a 21st side. Once it rolled onto that a few times, we decided, grudgingly, that it was time to retire the die. That's the only time I've ever worried about the physical characteristics of a die.

These days, I mostly play GURPS, so it's just piles of six-siders that tend to hold up quite well.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think a lot of players want dice that roll well according to the system they’re playing, rather than wanting dice that roll randomly. When someone says they've got a lucky d20, it's one that rolls highly, not statistically randomly.
No, they have a die they *think* rolls high. Remember, you are talking about a species that thinks that their favorite sports team will perform badly if we wear the wrong socks on game day.

It is much more likely to be perception rather than reality - unless they actually rolled a bunch of times, recorded the rolls, and did a statistical analysis, their perception is subject to all the usual human cognitive biases. That die probably just happened to roll well in a couple of dramatic game moments, and got labelled "lucky". The times it rolls a 2 when it doesn't really matter are probably discarded from consideration.

And you know, that's okay. I used to have a deeply seated belief that one of my dice would roll well for a particular character, so long as I paid no attention to how many hit points the character had left. If I threw caution to the wind, it would be 17+ all the way, and if I fretted about death, I'd get 4s and under. This is, of course, patent nonsense. Humans are weird that way.
 

Nytmare

Villager
I don't care at all. My dice choices are more about the look and feel of the dice than anything to do with whatever possible manufacture bias they might have. I just can't believe that a normal irregular (albeit not purposefully loaded die) is going to have any kind of meaningful impact over the course of a game.

That being said, as for the the physical/digital divide, I tend to prefer physical dice at the table. But that's only because I think that a physical roll involves the table more, and the fewer e-toy distractions there are, the more everyone at the table is able to enjoy themselves.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Setting aside the idea of purposely loaded dice....

I play a cleric in a D&D game at work. I may roll a d20 five times in a session, maybe 10 on a really busy night. And I have three sets of dice in my bag for this game, and I'm swapping between them. I'd have to go through 30 to 60 sessions (at the rate we play, a year and more of sessions) before I'd be able to measure the typical die bias on any of them, much less be able to really blame bad or good fortune upon the bias of the dice, and I am *mixing* several random small biases, which is apt to give me something like average overall behavior.

So, a die has to be egregiously biased before I worry about it.

Is your game style heavy on the roll-play and lower on the combat and skill checks? 5-10 rolls seems low to me, even for shorter games.

Still, your point is valid. I'm sure the "good" dice and "bad" dice are just good/bad because our brains see patterns in randomness that are not necessarily there.

And TBH, while I like having gravity dice to say that I'm being as fair as I possibly can, I has more to do with my liking the feel of weight, that they are cool to the touch, and are just general aesthetically pleasing in look, touch, and sound. Also, I special ordered my set so that each die is colored to match the traditional alchemical color associated with the element associated with the shape.

My dice make me irrationally happy. That they are better balanced is just a part of the reason for that.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Whether DMing or playing, I prefer to use my Gamescience dice.
I like the clear, shiny look of Game Science dice, and their sharp edges. I also love Louis Zocchi's sales pitches, which are must-watches for anyone who are interested in dice. But I don't like the pips on them and I don't like having to color my dice. It is more expensive, but I prefer machined dice. There are lots of options out there. At nearly $20 per die, good machined, metal dice are not cheap, but I would rather have a few nice dice that trays full of cheap dice.

Sometimes as a player I’ll use a dice app.
I prefer software to generate number when playing remotely on a VTT so that everyone can see the roll, which is part of the game experience for me.

At a physical table, I find that phones don't roll well. And most players chose to use dice rather than drop and try to roll their phones across the table. You roll and show at my table, not tap and announce.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
When I’m DMing, I don’t really care about being able to see the dice rolls. If I can’t trust a player, I’m not going to play with them. I’m done with tolerating that sort of behavior.

For me it is not about cheating, it is about participation.

An example of this is the Acquisition Incorporated games. In the early games they kinda rolled however and announced their rolls and then started displaying the results, then rolling in dice trays, to now having larger dice, in special dice trays with cameras positioned over them.

Why the effort? Check out the audience reactions to a 20 or a 1 being rolled.

At the table, on your turn, the rest of us are an audience for when the spotlight is on your character. It is one of the best reasons to have initiative turns. Rolling in the open with legible dice helps others watch the roll and react to results. It keeps people invested the rolling-player character's actions and the game in general.

I want people looking at dice rolls and reacting to what other players are doing, instead of using other player's turns to check Facebook or whatever. Rolling in the open helps with that.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Remember, you are talking about a species that thinks that their favorite sports team will perform badly if we wear the wrong socks on game day.
Yeah, those people are silly. But if you shave during hockey season, your team deserves to lose.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Is your game style heavy on the roll-play and lower on the combat and skill checks? 5-10 rolls seems low to me, even for shorter games.
How many rounds do your fights last? I'm playing a cleric - I get maybe one roll a round, and not even that if I am casting spells that have a save (like ye standard Sacred Flame), rather than a spell attack roll.

My dice make me irrationally happy.
Ain't nothing wrong with that.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I find that a well-balanced dice is necessary for the peace of mind of most humans, and strongly encourage my players to purchase dice of the highest quality to avoid the natural but irrational perception that the dice is rolling badly because there is something wrong with the dice.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
You make a good point. At my open table group, which is seated around a single table, seeing everyone erupt in excitement when a much-needed nat 20 is rolled is a glorious thing.

I want people looking at dice rolls and reacting to what other players are doing, instead of using other player's turns to check Facebook or whatever. Rolling in the open helps with that.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Truth. I accept the illogic of dice superstition. My brother, a psychologist, does not. To me, it's part of the fun, and a reminder that the game doesn’t just boil down to numbers, that there’s this nebulous, unquantifiable “other” to it. And yeah, not to take it too seriously.

No, they have a die they *think* rolls high. Remember, you are talking about a species that thinks that their favorite sports team will perform badly if we wear the wrong socks on game day.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And yeah, not to take it too seriously.
I think it much better for my players to get mad at their dice than at, say, their coworkers. Blow off the steam in a controlled environment, and all that.

And the superstitions - your brother should understand better than most that this is how the human mind works - including his own. Way better to get your fill of magical thinking while playing a harmless entertainment game, than when making health or public policy decisions, no?
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
What about you? Are you in the dice-need-to-be-balanced camp or the I-could-not-care-less camp?
I'm in the camp where too much knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The way I see it, any die is effectively balanced for game purposes, as long as I don't know otherwise. You might have a d20 that only rolls 4 (ninety percent of the time) and 11 (ten percent of the time), but if I don't know that, then it's still an effective randomizer, because the likelihood of it being unbalanced in that specific manner is exactly the same as if it only rolled 9s and 12s, or 1s and 3s. Without any specific knowledge to the contrary, the chance of a die being weighted toward any given distribution is balanced against the chance of it being weighted toward any other distribution, such that the probabilities cancel out.

Of course, those probabilities change after you've observed the die a few times, so it helps to not pay too much attention.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The way I see it, any die is effectively balanced for game purposes, as long as I don't know otherwise.
Except that this is really not true. It isn't an effective randomizer if it isn't effectively random. What you *know* about the randomness is not relevant. Randomness exists outside yoru perception of that randomness.

This becomes clear with the hypothetical die that rolls 20 nintey percent of the time, and 17 ten percent of the time. The fact that you don't know it doesn't change the fact that almost every roll with this die is going to be a hit. If you just don't happen to realize, "Hey, wait, I hit every single attack for the last four sessions!" doesn't mean it is still an effective randomizer. The character's performance in this case is anything but random.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
While he absolutely does believe in the value of games and gamification in therapy, dice superstition, that he gets grumpy over. Start talking about luck and he says there is no such thing. So naturally, I needle him about it and double-down on my dice beliefs.

And the superstitions - your brother should understand better than most that this is how the human mind works - including his own. Way better to get your fill of magical thinking while playing a harmless entertainment game, than when making health or public policy decisions, no?
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Except that this is really not true. It isn't an effective randomizer if it isn't effectively random. What you *know* about the randomness is not relevant. Randomness exists outside your perception of that randomness.

This becomes clear with the hypothetical die that rolls 20 niney percent of the time, and 17 ten percent of the time. The fact that you don't know it doesn't change the fact that almost every roll with this die is going to be a hit. If you just don't happen to realize, "Hey, wait, I hit every single attack for the last four sessions!" doesn't mean it is still an effective randomizer. The character's performance in this case is anything but random.
If you really get down to the details, dice are physical objects which act under entirely known principles, so it's possible to remove virtually all of the uncertainty in the outcome of a roll. At best, the strength with which you roll can be difficult to control, but it's still not random. Lieutenant Commander Data could make a die roll any number he felt like, if he wanted to.

The only reason we can treat a die as a randomizer is because we intentionally choose to not do the math. We intentionally maintain our uncertainty over the factors involved, because if we didn't, then the outcome would be (effectively) certain. A given die may be objectively unbalanced to a meaningful degree, and that can be measured; but the outcome of any given roll can still be effectively random (to a given individual), because uncertainty is a matter of perspective.

I mean, the point of using a random number generator is that we can't predict it or exploit its bias. As long as we don't know what that bias is, then we still can't predict or exploit it.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
How many rounds do your fights last? I'm playing a cleric - I get maybe one roll a round, and not even that if I am casting spells that have a save (like ye standard Sacred Flame), rather than a spell attack roll.
Well, right now I'm running Rappan Athuk, a meda-dungeon crawl. Losts of trap, arcana, history, religion, athletics, acrobatics, and other checks, not to mention all the saves also involved with all the nasty stuff you run into.

Combat varies greatly. Many are only a round or two but it is easy to find yourself in a combat that can last many rounds.

I may also have my view skewed by the fact that I'm running 8-hour games. I'm tempted to count the rounds at the next game and see what the rolls per hour looks like.
 

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