This is RPG-ology #27: Cures for Dropping Dice, for February 2020.
If you play real role playing games, the dice can be a bit of a problem. No matter how careful you are, sometimes they roll off the table–and players are not always terribly careful. My first role playing game–Basic Dungeons & Dragons first edition, what they call the “Holmes Edition”–did not have dice in the box, but came with chits. Chits were probably 3/8″ plastic squares with numbers printed on one side, and you put them in a cup and then drew from the cup. If you’ve never played with chits, it is an experience you don’t need. On the other hand, if you’re ever trying to run a game and somehow forgot your dice, but you do have paper, scissors, and a pen, you can make your own chits, and let’s just say that will be a game you remember. We promptly went out and bought dice.
In the earliest days, if a die rolled off the table, the person who rolled it got down and searched for it. We actually were friends–we had been playing other games together before we discovered role playing games, and still played pinochle and board games–so if the die wasn’t found immediately we generally all got involved in looking. This, though, took time away from play, and we needed a better solution.
The first solution was simple: buy more dice. If a die hit the floor, just take another and roll it. Hopefully we’ll find the dropped dice during post-game clean-up, or if it rolled under the fish tank stand or the hutch or something we would get it when we did more serious house cleaning (right). This was adequate for a group of older, calmer players who only occasionally dropped a die on the floor. My second group, mostly teenagers, made it a bit more problematic.
I have in the years since heard house rules used to discourage reckless dice throwing. Perhaps the most dramatic is that any die that falls on the floor is presumed to be the worst possible roll. Although that appeals to me, my experience with my first group tells me that dice are unpredictable, and careful rolls sometimes wind up going over the edge. It may be a harsh punishment for an unavoidable infraction. Still, in-game penalties for dropped dice might discourage the wild throws.
A better solution was found by my second group. One of the players was an amateur woodworker who put together something–well, I often say “A thing of beauty was made by someone else,” and this was a thing of beauty. We called it a dice box, but since at one time I kept all my dice in a metal Band-Aid® box, that really understates what this was.
Let’s start with the base. I’m guessing, but it must have been about fifteen by twelve inches. It was partitioned into two sections which, allowing for the thickness of the edges and the partition, were probably about ten inches square and three by ten. (As I say, I’m working from memory to give the approximations.) It was all stained hardwood, but the sections were floored with dark blue velvet. The larger section had sides about two inches or so high, and the smaller was probably about one inch. The function of this section was that you put the dice in the side section and rolled them in the larger section. Rolls rarely if ever went over the sides.
As I say, that was only one part. There was also a separate square piece designed to slide into the large section and to stick above it perhaps half an inch. This had a sliding removeable lid and wooden crosspieces that interlocked to create nine compartments inside. When the game was over, the dice got sorted into those compartments, the lid secured, and the case inserted into the base. It was a beautiful and effective solution to a lot of problems. (Let me credit Bill Friant for this.)
I have more recently been told of something identified as a “dice tower”. The person who described it said he only ever used it with Shadowrun™, but doesn’t know if it is actually associated with that game. The tower sits on the table and the player doesn’t roll the die but drops it in the top, whence it tumbles out the bottom to display the result. I have never seen one, but it sounds like an elegant solution.
The problem recurs. With advancing technology I found myself rolling dice at my office desk more and more frequently–that would be the very cluttered desk in my very cluttered office. I was once again dropping dice and not always able to find them easily. Crawling on the floor was not really a good option.
One solution was the use of a stopwatch. Someone with even a bit of geek math can fairly easily convert seconds or hundredths into standard die rolls. When my last electronic watch died, one of my online players sent me an electronic stopwatch which survived several years before I wore out the buttons (thanks here to John Cross). To guard against it becoming lost, I set its alarm for eleven at night, and I still hear it somewhere in the office at around ten-forty.
When I have to do massive identical rolls, such as creating a horde of goblins, I usually use the “random” function in an Excel® spreadsheet. This has proven quite useful to create creatures with hit points, weapon choice, and pocket change all at once.
For most things, though, I still prefer to roll dice, and I have found a solution that keeps the dice contained and the rolls random. I call it a “dice cube”, and it probably owes something to the Pop-O-Matic Bubble® of decades back. I obtained a clear, or mostly clear, food container, such as a one pound deli container. My current one came with dark chocolate covered almonds, which I dutifully ate. Into the container goes one of each die type needed for play, and extras of those for which I am frequently rolling more than one. When it’s time to roll, I flip it upright and then put it down on the lid; the dice fall onto the flat interior of the lid, and I can read them through the upturned bottom and sides. For those die types that have multiple representatives, I usually just use the first one I find, although sometimes I name what the die looks like before rolling. Obviously they never leave the box, so I never have to find them on the floor. I am currently considering creating a similar box for the players, although the temptation to cheat by selecting the best roll from among the dice would probably be pretty strong.
I hope some of these ideas help you solve your fallen dice problem, and if you have other solutions, please offer them in the comments section below.