By: Maxwell Gawlick
Admit it: when you sit down to play D&D, Pathfinder, or any other tabletop RPG that uses dice, there’s some ritual you do to ensure their best performance. There are those who can’t start playing until they’ve completed their rituals.
The most common one I’ve seen—and one I participate in myself—is pre-rolling. Whether I’ve just sat down for the game or I’m at a convention about to buy some dice, I have to give them several test-rolls each. If they don’t perform well, they go back in the bag for the rest of the session, or I choose another set to purchase.
Another less common example is the habit of orienting one’s dice face-up (in other words, with the highest number facing you). It’s been scientifically proven that leaving them in this position for long enough trains them to roll the desired number. Personally, I’ll have an array of all the dice I’ll be using for the session set out behind my DM screen, and I’ll spend a couple of minutes organizing them so I see only 20s, 12s, 10s, 8s, 6s, and 4s (or whatever fancy symbol is printed in place of the highest number).
Dice segregation is a common method to ensure optimum dice success. Some players insist on keeping one or several sets for combat encounters, and others for out-of-combat rolls. Others have a single, extra-lucky d20 specifically for rolling initiative, so they always get a head-start on the enemy. Players at my table keep a d20 specifically for death saves, and as DM I give them a new d20 when they gain inspiration. When I’m feeling more cruel, I pull out my sets of metal dice for boss fights, dice my players insist are weighted.
Some take their dice rituals a little more seriously. Sometimes, all it takes is the breath of an innocent, and a gamer will have their newborn niece, nephew, or child blow on them. Some will baptize these indispensable gaming tools in certain liquids, symbolizing the three stages of the average gamer: soda, cheap beer, and coffee.
Some gamers will always keep a saline solution handy to test the weight of the dice. If you’re not aware, if you fill a cup about ¾ of the way full of water and add salt until your dice float, you can roll them gently to test their weight. Unfortunately, this test won’t work with metal dice, as they’re too heavy. Some gamers will do it only once, while others will keep a cup of solution near the gaming table in case they need to test or retest at any time.
All of the above have been measures for preventing poor performance in dice, and sometimes they fail. Some people employ retroactive methods to improve their future rolls after certain dice have disappointed them. Dice that consistently perform poorly will go to “dice jail”—temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity of the offence. The term “dice jail” is interpreted differently by some; sometimes, it means a time-out back in the dice bag, sometimes it means the dice are sent across the room or out the window.
Often, more severe punishment is required for particularly bad performance. Gamers who are prepared to go this far will set one die apart from the others—but still in sight, that the others might watch—and destroy it. A blowtorch is preferable, but a microwave is acceptable as well. Generally, the more creative, the better. Whatever it takes to teach the other dice a lesson.
Now, we’ve talked so far about what our dice rituals are, but why do we do them? Is it to please the dice gods, or is it our way of petitioning for the favour of the Demonlord of Fate? Perhaps it’s just superstition, and our efforts are futile… Or, perhaps there’s some unknown node of possibility that causes our dice to improve over our time, so long as we put the effort in. Personally, I’m of a differing opinion: I believe dice are sentient creatures, and these rituals improve our relationship with them, thereby increasing their likelihood of rolling in our favour. Now, whether that relationship is one of respect or fear—or both—is up to you.
All in all, dice are complicated and mystic entities. Each dice master has their own rituals for keeping those geometric conduits of fate in check. What methods do you employ, and why?