Yearning for Dice of Yore


I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with dice. I know I am not alone. For me it came with the confluence of two encounters: 1) My dad buying my brother and me the 1983 edition of the D&D Basic, the “BECMI edition” Red Box Set and encountering the interestingly shaped dice within, and 2) reading Terry Brook’s Sword of Shannara, in which the character Shea is given a bag of Elfstones from the enigmatic Druid Allanon.  In my imagination I always made those Elfstones out to be shaped just like those 12- or 20- sided dice. Mysterious and powerful.

But I’ve also been interested in more primitive forms of dice that entertained and fascinated individuals throughout history. Dice made bone and wood, sometimes crudely wrought, uneven in shape and in weight. There is something magical in the idea of irregular, unique in their properties, their centers of mass, probabilities of each face. In a word, “unfair” dice with unique probability distributions given to it, not from intentional cheating, but from the crudeness of the materials and production. Beyond dice of uneven shape, there are the dice made from unshaped animal bones, sometimes referred to as knucklebones, actually a bone in the ankle of herd animals. This YouTube video is fascinating.

There may be better sources, but it is filled with mysterious possibilities. Each “dice” is different, though similar, shaped by natural forces. I can’t help but want to include such dice into the mechanics of a campaign, either by using such dice when making rolls, or as items that characters can use in the game. For example, what if when a character purchases a set of bone dice, you give it a randomized probability distribution?

Its interesting to think about. Roll them bones.






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