Pointless probabilities

Dice of limited utility

These are my Not Very Useful Dice.

The "crooked in every sense" red six-siders are oddly satisfying objects. They're classic, if rather large, sharp-edged casino dice, except for the obvious.

I haven't thrown them enough times to see what kind of result distribution the crooked d6s give. In the aggregate they're probably actually quite fair, since they're all somewhat close to cubic and they have the proper numbering scheme, with opposite sides adding to seven.

(I think they're actually likely to throw a bit low, since the smaller sides on four of them are all ones, plus one two and one six. Frankly, I just want to try sneaking them onto a craps table some day. If you want some of your own, here's an eBay search. A set of six shouldn't set you back more than $US15 delivered.)

The other three dice are perfectly fair. Just... not very useful.

The blue one's a d24, a tetrakis hexahedron (which is one of two possible shapes for a d24 - the other is, of course, the deltoidal icositetrahedron). In gaming, you actually can use a d24 to quickly determine on which hour of the day on some random event takes place. But you can also do that in various other ways on the rare occasions when you have to - like, for instance, a d4 to determine the quarter-day and a d6 to pick the hour of that quarter.

So the d24's appeal remains... specialised. Dungeons and Dragons used to use d24s for a few things, but it doesn't any more. (D12s seem to have been similarly deprecated.)

The larger polyhedron is a rhombic triacontahedron, a d30. It's the big brother of the surprisingly antiquitous, famously malicious, icosahedral d20 that's become the very symbol of gaming nerdery.

I think the d30 has a certain... machismo.

"Oh, you roll twenties, do you? Well, I beat that a third of the time."

It's hard to top that, if you don't have big brass ones.

The d30 can also be substituted for by other dice, though I don't think there's any terribly elegant way to do it - perhaps a rolling-pin d3 (itself substitutable by a halved d6; the cheapest "d3s" are just d6s with only three numbers on them, but "real" d3s aren't terribly more expensive) for the tens, plus a d10 for the units. This isn't something you're likely to need to do very often, though, since d30s are almost as unpopular as d24s. People use them now and then to represent some sort of boost (lucky artifact, you're the son of a god, you bought the DM a pizza) for what would normally be a d20 roll. That's about it.

(There's another design of d24, which is a cube with each face broken up into four flattened triangular facets. I'm not crazy about that type, but since you can get one along with a d30 for a quite reasonable price.)

The red sphere is a more commonly seen item. It is, of course, Lou Zocchi's hundred-sided "Zocchihedron".

Lou is probably royally sick of the sight of his d100, since he spent ages trying to make the darn thing work right, and it still doesn't, really.

(It's a bit hard to find these days, too; most "d100s" currently for sale seem to be just a couple of ordinary d10s. Sixty-siders, which are even less useful, seem to be going the same way. But here's a one-shot start to an odd-dice collection!)

The main problem with a 100-sider is that it's basically a golf ball, and so any sort of fair roll will take ludicrously long to settle compared with the normal "d100", which is just a pair of d10s, one for tens and one for units.

To address the rolling-across-the-room problem, Lou made his d100 hollow and partially filled it with teardrop-shaped metal weights, which slow its roll considerably, and also make it usable as a very small maraca. The d100 is still really only a curiosity, though, and may or may not be biased in favour of the more-widely-spaced numbers nearer its equator.

Companies like Chessex, Koplow Games and Lou Zocchi's Gamescience make a number of other impractical novelty dice. The d5, d7, d14 and d16, for instance, and even the majestic d34. Unfortunately, though, most of the weird-numbered dice that I don't already own are of the pyramids-stuck-together trapezohedron type, which as the side-count rises makes them look more and more like a spinning top rather than a die. The d34 has a particularly severe case of this disease.

I'm still tempted to acquire them, though, so I can have a whole Crown Royal bag full of dice that nobody can use.

If you're at all interested in the aesthetic appeal of dice, by the way, allow me to highly recommend sleight-of-hand grandmaster Ricky Jay's book "Dice: Deception, Fate, and Rotten Luck", a slim volume which alternates gambling - and cheating - history with a lot of gorgeous pictures of decaying six-siders.

9 Responses to “Pointless probabilities”

  1. Byrn Says:

    On the D5 page one of the suggested uses is "Also, in D&D it is great for D4+1 weapons."

    Um, that doesn't sound quite right to me ;)

    Thay also don't seem to have any D7s, which I assume would be double numbered D14s?

  2. ex-parrot Says:

    Those brass hexagonal dice are superb... I'm sorely tempted to make some now but with the price of brass what it is...

  3. Chazzozz Says:

    From the link to the Christie's auction above: Modern scholarship has not yet established the game for which these dice were used.
    This die was from a society that used to think Dungeons & Dragons was real life. Maybe gladiators used to carry some around with them for thsoe special moments when a saving throw was needed? Either that, or some Roman philosopher foretold the coming of E. Gary Gygax. Imagination runs wild at the thought...

    By the way, it's nice to see that the Crown Royal bag as the ubiquitous storage device for your precious dice made it all the way down to Australia, too. I always thought it was just a 'Canadian thing'. It begs the question to be asked: How much Crown Royal is purchased only for the whisky? :D

  4. Darien Says:

    I recently purchased some offbeat dice myself. I got a set of spherical d6, which I'm not convinced are actually fair and take ages to roll, but are really cool. I picked up a 24, some conventionally-shaped dice with odd faces (for determining traps, door state, directions, and hit locations), and then I got (Probably NSFW, though not exactly explicit) Kama Sutra dice! Those were rather laughably expensive, but justified their price by being... rather laughable altogether.

  5. RichVR Says:

    Once again, great photo. I guess it's the off shapes of the d6s, but it seems like they are floating in the air. Until I focus on the other dice and it's obvious that they are on a flat surface. Until I focus on the d6s... aaak!

  6. Balentius Says:

    Ah, yes, the good old d100... I had to buy one of those, when they first hit the gaming stores. I don't think I've ever used it for "real" gaming rolls, though... :)

    One you didn't mention, probably since it isn't a "real" die, is the d20's on this page:

    The "count down twenties"... When you roll that, everyone at the table notices! :) Largest die I own, since I don't have "fuzzy dice" hanging in my car.

  7. RichVR Says:

    Due to this post I ended up browsing the intarweb for dice. Just purchased these:


  8. peridot Says:

    oh, the spherical d6 is cute, but if competently made it should be perfectly fair. You put an octahedral void and a ball bearing in the middle of the sphere. When it stops, the ball bearing will be in one of the six points of the void, and so one if the six faces will be up.

    You do have to put the octahedron right in the centre of the sphere, so presumably it's easy to make these dice badly.

  9. Darien Says:

    The Dwarven Metals are keen. I have the hematite Dwarven Stones; they're very pretty. My wife got them for me for my birthday some years back; I think when you get to the point where your wife is giving you fancy dice as a gift, it's time to come to terms with what a giant nerd you are. :-o

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