The quality of gaming dice stinks

Friends have shown me and given me casino-legal craps dice. Take a look at the photograph below to see what they look like. Notice that they are transparent, have sharp, nonbeveled edges and don’t have indentation to represent numbers. They are also big. This is so the user and the casino can see that the dice don’t have loads or distorted faces or edges. The plastic is the same density throughout and the user can quickly test that their shape is a true platonic solid. This assures both the player and casino that there is no cheating going on. When money is on the line everything has to be as close to random as allowable by Newton.

A closeup photo of casino-grade craps dice.

Also notice that the dice don’t use Arabic numerals to represent numbers, they use spots. This is traditional and speeds reading their results and reduces the chance of disputes over results. Large size helps here too. Casino dice games tend to be very fast paced and it diminishes profit if pit bosses are always arguing with players over calls.

My question is, why aren’t RPG dice like this? You’d figure that at least the ones used in official tournament play would be.

I think there are several reasons.

  1. There usually isn’t a money involved. Money makes everything more serious. If money and betting were involved with RPGs (Something I’d be utterly appalled with.) you can be certain, things would tighten up a whole lot.
  2. Sometimes, for gaming geeks, half the fun of playing the game is arguing over rules and judgment calls. Hours are lost to mock protests and joking over dice cocking and misread sixes, nines, zeros and tens.
  3. Many gaming nerds aren’t really confrontational. Passive-aggressive is a key concept in understanding nerds in general. If they think a gamemaster or player is cheating, they just wait until the session ends and then, unless they are really desperate, they find another, more honorable group to join.
  4. Dice are art objects to some. Dice collection is elevated to the dignity of stamp collection. Casino legal dice enforce a boring sameness to dice. The variation space is small–change the color of the pips, change the color of the transparent body, that’s about it.
  5. Casino dice are very durable but considering the number of hands they pass through in a given day, they wear quickly. By definition, wearing (nicks, breakage and divots.) will affect the randomness of the dice. Casinos always swap old dice out when wearing becomes obvious. Casinos probably go through hundreds of dice a month this way. Can you even imagine cheapskate gamers doing this? Me neither.

It really all boils down to the fact that role-playing games are generally not betting sports with money. This is why many dice manufactures can get away with making dice that contain bubbles, variations in size and density and whose faces and edges aren’t true. As long as they look pretty, last long and are cheap most role-players don’t care.

Still, I see a hipness angle here. Perhaps some enterprising dice manufacturer can start marketing casino-grade four, eight, ten, twelve and twenty-siders at conventions and game shops. These dice would be:

  1. Large. At least two to 2.5 centimeters in size. This facilitates easy reading and clarifies desputes over dice loading.
  2. Transparent. Not translucent–transparent.
  3. Sixes, nines, tens, zeros and twenties are as clearly distinguished a possible.
  4. Obviously spots on faces won’t work for higher dice put perhaps for four-siders?
  5. The numbers should be very large in compasion to the face as long as this doesn’t interfere with glancing through the dice to check for loads.
  6. In the case of four-sideds perhaps some usuability research should be done to see if numbers at vertices is easier to read than numbers at edges.
  7. The plastic and injection molding must be of the highest quality. No bubbles, no ripples or distortions in the body must be seen. You should be able to look right through the dice as if it were lens-grade glass.
  8. The molds should be checked to assure that the edges and faces don’t vary from true by more than a few microns. I’m serious about this; the dice I’ve seen in shops are warped and bent garbage. Vegas would never stand for that.
  9. The plastic must be very durable.
  10. Numbers should be flush with the surface, not indentations.
  11. Numbers and body colors should be high contrast for readability.
  12. Edges should be sharp with no beveling or truncation (except perhaps for the vertices of the the four-sider.).

There, do all that, and you’d have dice that’d please most professional craps bosses. This could be sold as a quality and cool thing. Maybe the company that makes these can even bribe a state gaming comission official to certify them as legal for casinos. Some marketing slogans could be:

  • “Casino-legal, professional grade gaming dice. Highest quality, no nonsense.”
  • “Sure there’s no money, guns and mafia involved but, what if there were?”
  • “Electroplating and speckles is easy. Micron tolerances are hard.”
  • “Pretend you’re a Taiwanese real estate baron playing high stakes craps.”
  • “And you wonder why there are no sports figures making endorsements in our hobby.”

Maybe Chessex, Gamescience, Koplow or someone else will step up to the plate on this?

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2 Responses to The quality of gaming dice stinks

  1. Bakafish says:

    Sounds like a great business opportunity to me. A couple of thoughts.
    1) The sharp edges hurt durability and strength, are esthetically unappealing (they make the die look unfinished) and do nothing to improve randomness as I have yet to see a die land on a vertex, or a flipped coin land on it’s edge.
    2) Being transparent doesn’t actually preclude using a mixed density material with the same optical refractive index.
    3) Recessed pip’s suck, but they improve durability. And pictographic pip’s are useless for numbers higher than the average person’s digits.
    That being said, the ideal die IMHO would have many of the traits that you describe. I would take advantage of the transparency in the 4 sided die to put the value in negative readable on the bottom face. I would either use a laser etch of the pips with the exact area of etching balanced on each side with either carefully constructed typefaces, non-numric flourishes or increased etching depth for smaller numbers.

  2. MadKaugh says:

    1. Large – are available, cost more, awkward in pocket, harder on rolling surface, which is often a nice wooden table.
    2. Transparent – available, usually cheapest option, do not sell well.
    3. Distinct numbers – older 20 sided had a double numbering 0 to 9, distinguished by coloring, but that has been superceded years ago. Most 6s and 9s are underscored, but I’ve seen some with a mere dot. Only rarely have they been ambiguous, again mostly on older dice. “Older” – from the early to mid 1980s.
    4. You can get optional symbologies. Dots are available.
    The four sider is numbered differently than most dice because it does not have an up face; it needs a ring of markings on the surrounding faces, either at the bases or near the peaks. The orientation of the symbols is significant for determining which ones apply, and dots would amke this more ambiguous.
    5. Large numbers – I believe this is available, but hard to find. The four would have problems as mentioned above.
    6. Four sider numbering – I assume you mean around the vertex vs around the base. I believe you can get either style if you hunt for them. Usability probably depends more on what you’re used to. It is possible to truncate the vertex and number directly on it. I have a four sided color dice that looks like a lumpy ball, but is actually a truncated tetrahedron; it in effect “numbers” directly on the vertecies.
    7. Injection molding quality – I had some dice from the 70s that were really poor; hollows on some faces and such, then some that were too soft, but dice in the last twenty years seem passable. Haven’t noticed bubbles and voids. Market has driven the quality up to this level, appears not to expect more. I know I don’t.
    8. Check molds – as above, market driven. I haven’t seen the bad examples that you seem to have. Your checks sound costly. It makes sense for a casino. They more than make it back; gambler confidence is imortant in a betting environment.
    9. Durable – you should have seen the soft plastic dice from about 1980. Some of the dollar store cheapies fall apart real fast, too.
    10. Flush numbers – painted would wear off; numbers would be a trick to mold in. I think the casinos use paint the same density as the plastic, or they may alternately use plastic dots, probably depends on the era.
    11. Contrast – I agree. I select with view to contrast; still what sells, sells.
    12. Consistent beveling and truncation should not matter. Why does it bother you?
    Dice sales are not going to be greatly affected by slogans. The demand is pretty much what it is.
    Casinos have different requirements, as you pointed out. It’s all about the money.
    The Gamescience 5 and 7 siders should really get your goat.

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