A Red Run spindown d20 life counter from Dice Envy, featuring the Cyberpunks dice design

What Are Spindown Dice, What Makes Them Different, and Why Does It Matter?

Today we’re marking another notch in our quest to explain all the types of dice in the Universe: That’s right! Get ready to learn about the handy-dandy spindown die!

If you’re looking to buy spindown dice, check out our Spindown Life Counters. These sleek, oversized spindown d20 dice come in your choice of a variety of color accents and match our radical new Cyberpunks Dice Set Collection.

But if you’re just here for the lore, read on!

What Are Spindown Dice?

Spindown dice, also known as spindown life counters, were invented in 2000 for the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. Their original (and still most common) purpose was to keep track of your life total over the course of the game. Since most Magic games start with you having 20 life, Wizards of the Coast (who make both Magic and D&D) got the idea of using a 20-sided die as a life counter.

On a spindown d20, each number is right next to the consecutive numbers above and below it: 20 is right next to 19. 19 is right next to 18. 18 is next to 17. And so on. This pattern makes it much easier to find a specific number on the die when you’ve taken damage (or gained life) and need to change your life total.

That’s right! Those mischievous Wizards changed the very nature of the dice with which the game is played! It’s just how they…roll. 😎

  • It’s fairly common (but by no means universal) for spindown d20s to be bigger than average d20s, in order to distinguish them from regular d20s and to make them more convenient to use as counters.

So the short answer is: Spindown dice are d20s with the numbers laid out radically different from normal d20s.

Wait, So How Are the Numbers Laid Out on Normal Dice?

Regular tabletop gaming dice (as well as all dice used in board games and in gambling) are numbered so that the total value of all the numbers on a die is spread out as evenly as possible, giving you more variance in your rolls.

  • WTF does that mean? It means that you will never see consecutive numbers (like 19 and 20) right next to each other on the die, the way you do on spindown dice.

This Makes It Harder to Cheat

This high-variance numbering system makes the results of dice rolls appear more random—which, critically, makes it harder to cheat.

To understand how this works, imagine the die rolling to a stop: If it were a spindown d20, the die might first land on 16, then roll over to 17, and next 18, before finally coming to a stop on 19. In other words, you know you’re gonna get a good number even before the die finishes rolling.

In studies, it has been shown that this makes it easy for players to cheat with spindown dice because if they want a high roll (or a low one) they don’t have to land on one specific face. They just need to aim for any of the faces in one general area of the die: the area where all the high (or low) numbers are hanging out. A 17 or 18 will usually be as good as a 19.

This doesn’t work on normal dice, because the numbers are not consecutive. 19 might be right next to 10, or 4, or anything really.

Fun Fact!

These numbering patterns are not standardized across the dice industry. If you look at a regular d20 closely, you can find many different arrangements for the numbers. The opposite sides always add up to 21 (or at least they should), but the different pairs of opposites (e.g., 20 and 1, 19 and 2, 18 and 3, etc.) are often placed in different arrangements.

Different dice manufacturers and sometimes different individual dice molds can yield very different numbering arrangements. You can find this inconsistency on other polyhedral dice too.

Can You Use a Spindown d20 for Gaming Rolls?

Yes, you can! You can also poke a sleeping kitten or shake somebody’s can of soda before giving it to them. The point isn’t “Can you?” It’s “Should you?” And the answer to that is “It depends, but usually, you shouldn’t.”

Spindown dice are not meant to be used as tabletop gaming dice. They are meant to be used as fancy counters—for counting life totals, weapon charges, etc. Because it is easy to cheat with them, everyone has to agree to the honor system in order for spindown dice to work for actual dice rolls. So, in general, think of them as counters, not dice.

However, if you do want (or need) to use a spindown d20 for actual dice rolls, you can avoid cheating and get a solid, random result by thoroughly shaking the die together in both hands and giving it a hearty roll on the table. (Or you can use a dice tower.)

As long as the die is well-balanced physically (and if it is well-made, it should be), this will give you a proper random result.

Are Spindown Dice Always d20s?

Not anymore! These days you can find spindown versions for all the polyhedral dice types. However, spindown d20s remain by far the most popular and common type of spindown dice, and they are the only type of spindown counter we regularly stock at Dice Envy.

Now You’re Ready to Go for a Spin!

Spindown dice have grown far beyond their Magic: The Gathering origins and today you will find them used in many different tabletop RPGs and other games. In D&D for instance, it’s fairly popular to use them for life totals for lower-level characters, or as charge counters for items and spells.

To get your hands on some, check out our Spindown Life Counters. Like we mentioned, these cool, oversized dice are available in several different color accents and are designed to match our new Cyberpunks Dice Set Collection

Or, if you want, you can mix and match them with any of our other dice sets. THE POWER IS YOURS!!!

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