Kilgore loves the D6. You can never have too many D6s. And while half the fun of casting fireball is the epic damage your magic-user can dish out, the other half is that the player gets to roll tons of D6s.
Unlike many gamers, I’m not super particular about my dice. Of course, I have favorites and want dice to be reasonably well-balanced for random results. But I’m not going to pay a ton for top-shelf dice in order to get Vegas-level randomness. These dice here are from a couple of sets of Liar’s Dice. I love them.
This is a true story.
In 1984 or 1985, my brother and I were in the basement of my grandmother’s house playing AD&D. I was DMing my him through the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (where his character and the rest of the party soon met their end) when my grandma came down the steps.
Now, this was a bit of an awkward situation. My grandma (bless her soul) was solidly opposed to gambling in all forms and I seem to recall that playing cards and dice were not allowed in her house. (But I also remember playing all sorts of board games with her, and it seems odd that they all would have been played without dice. I do remember a lot of games with spinners, though.) Whatever the situation was, I remember being a bit uncomfortable at being “caught” playing this game of ill-repute in her home.
She asked a bit about it and we tried to give a simple explanation, probably no different than anyone else has done when discussing the game with non-players. She was intrigued by the odd-shaped dice, and picked up all of them in her hand to look more closely. Our dice at this time consisted of our red Dragon Dice, possibly a few additional d10s from other games, and a bunch of d6s collected from everywhere we could find them. A fairly typical dice collection for the early-mid 80s.
I will never forget what happened next.
My grandma, who possibly had never rolled dice before in her life, rolled the whole handful out onto the table. I vividly remember the odd way she rolled them. It was clear that she wasn’t a seasoned dice roller, and her release was more of a “drop” than a real “roll.” The release was at an unusual angle, and her fingers all sprung open like when when you pantomime a “poof!” for someone. The dice all hit the table, clattered and bounced, then settled. My brother was explaining something to her (I don’t remember what) but I had glanced at the table and couldn’t look away.
She had maxed EVERY SINGLE DIE.
My brother witnessed it.
I wish we had written down exactly how many dice and what types she had rolled. Even figuring for only a basic set (and at the time a second d10 was not usually standard, you just used the d20 as your other ten-sider) and two more d6s for rolling up abilities and such, the odds come out to 1 in 16,588,800. (That’s one d4, three d6, one d8, one d10, one d12, and one d20.)
I’m positive that there were more dice than that, at least a few more d6s and, like I said, maybe few other dice we had found along the way. Even the addition of just one more d6 makes the odds one in nearly a hundred million. There was a stretch in there somewhere when our d12 was missing in action, and it’s possible that this event occurred during that period. Between this possibility and my surety that more d6s were involved, I’ll just call it even.
Whatever the dice, whatever the odds, my grandma rolled RPG dice exactly one time in her long life. And she rolled a winner. My grandma was like that.
As I noted Sunday, we finally kicked off our first Swords & Wizardry White Box campaign. Alas, mean old Kilgore only took about twenty minutes to wipe out the bold adventurers played by his wife, son, and daughter in the first all-family game ever.
For the special occasion of kicking off a new campaign in a new game meant to get things back to the old roots of it all, I broke out the only two survivors of my original set of dice:
As you can see, these polyhedrons have been trough many campaigns. Red Six, in particular, is looking a bit rough around the edges. These began play in late 1982 or early 1983 after being purchased at Don’s Hobby in Mankato, Minnesota. We had been borrowing a friend’s set of dice for months, but my brother and I pooled our pennies to pick these babies up. The set served as our primary (usually only) dice until I picked up a set of painted purple dice in 1985 or 1986.
Though it’s probably clear to the grognards out there, some may wonder why the numbers on Red Twenty are two different colors. For many years, virtually all d20s were numbered 0-9 twice, and different colors were used to identify whether you added 10 to the result or not. Red Twenty always (I think) used green and yellow. Green meant +10.
And, for those not familiar with the requirement, you had to color in your own dice. Some sets came with special grease sticks, but we always just used crayons. Green and yellow for Red Twenty, white for the rest.
Part of the reason I made sure to use these dice for our inaugural White Box game is that I’m trying to use only d6 and d20 for the game. There are a few points in the rules that call for something other than a d6 or d20 (usually a d4, it seems) but I’m going to try to work it out so that only these two dice are required to play the game. d100 can either be simulated by rolling two d20 or by using only percentages divisible by 5 and using a straight d20 roll to resolve.
I believe that I first got the idea after seeing someone else mention it online somewhere, but I don’t recall where it was.
I’m going to keep using these red meanies for a couple more sessions. Hey, you never know. They may have another TPK left in them yet.
UPDATE: Recalling the good old days these dice have seen has reminded me of an amazing (and basically unbelievable, though I stand by it) story: My Grandma: One in 16,588,800
I got this idea from DC Heroes, and I liked it for quite a while. I carried it over to 2nd Edition and continued to use it when I re-started my gaming with my kids a few years back (with 2nd Edition). It served well and certainly made for some excitement, particularly when a second roll resulted in another 20. I thought I had finally figured out how Bard slew Smaug with only one arrow. (I had never really liked the “it must have been an arrow of dragon slaying” theory as Bard claims to have used the arrow previously, which would have expended the enchantment under D&D rules.)
Since joining the retro-clone revolution, however, I’ve decided that I don’t necessarily care for the rule so much. What seemed perfectly fine under the inflated hit point systems of AD&D didn’t look to play so well under the more-restrained Labyrinth Lord, so I simply went with “roll two damage dice” route, meaning a natural 20 on a to-hit roll with a hand axe results in a damage roll of 2d6 plus bonuses. Alas, Bard can no longer slay Smaug in my game, but I think we’ll manage okay anyway.
Under the even-more-restrained system of Swords & Wizardry White Box, I fear that even this system will be a little over-powered and have decided that, inspired by Philotomy’s solution (since aborted), critical hits will deal automatic maximum damage only. This seems more in line with a system where all hit dice are six-sided and the simplicity is great.
Of course, this all applies to both sides of the battle. I’ve given some thought to completely abandoning critical hits, but my son really likes them so I’m hanging with them for now.
Advanced Gaming Theory wrote about Alternatives to Critical Hits Rules and also covered fumbles (which we usually called “critical miss” though that doesn’t really seem to make sense) and I’ll write about my long and winding road with natural 1s real soon.
(Image from Mathisfun)
UPDATE: My son, who I earlier mentioned really likes critical hits, read part of this post and said that he missed the old “if you roll a 20 roll another attack” method. Philotomy wrote about the issue of extra dice rolling slowing things down, and I would generally agree that anything adding complexity to combat needs to be carefully considered lest it bog things down. However, in my experience there is a great deal of excitement surrounding an extra to-hit roll, either anticipation if it a PC scoring the crit or dread if it’s the enemy. This excitement offsets any bogging in my book, so the extra rolling isn’t really an issue in this case.