Design & Development06/09/2006

Dice Weirdos

We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.

Proof that there are no shortages of rituals when it comes to dice... just ask Mike Mearls.

The following tale of dice-daring comes to us from Dave Noonan, DMing a campaign with Stephen Schubert playing the role of a knife-throwing PC.

According to Dave, at the end of one encounter the PCs watched as their drow nemesis used a fly spell to escape yet again. By the time the PCs finished off his minions, the drow had already flown some distance away.

Yet at their feet, one of the slain minions had a bow in its possession…

Stephen’s character, a knife thrower, happened to have Rapid Shot and other ranged feats—so he grabbed hold of the bow. Sure, it would take a natural 20 to hit the drow, but why not give it a try?

Stephen rolled. And of course, it was a natural 20. But the story doesn’t end there.

He rolls again. Another 20. And again—another 20.

Assuming his drow to be safe, Dave instead watched as Stephen Schubert rolled five, yes five, natural 20s in a row. Suddenly, a very dead drow hung in the air…

Iconic to D&D are its strange, oddly-shaped dice. And so today, we look at this crucial element of the game—specifically, at the practice (some call it a science, others an art) of rolling these dice. We all have our rituals, superstitions and beliefs. In today’s column, we reveal dice rolling “secrets” from inside the halls of R&D and WotC, and invite you to share your own.


What are the odds of rolling five natural 20s in a row? Ask this website’s developer, and (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek, Mark Jindra will tell you that it’s a straight 5% chance to roll a 20 every time, regardless of what you rolled before; in essence, that dice “reset” each time they’re picked up.

But probability doesn’t quite work that way, does it? It looks at the odds of numbers occurring over time, and calculates that rolling five 20s in a row would be a 1 in 3,200,000 chance (that is: 1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20).

Hot Streaks

Still, there must be more to rolling 20s besides a pure numbers game, right? At least, we all like to believe this to be true... even, at times, the most rationale among us. Athletes find their zone, draining 3-point shot after shot. Casino players are loath to leave a hot seat at the table when they’re being dealt nothing but good cards. These are all variations on the theme of luck, and in many cases very important rituals come into play to keep these streaks alive. MLB pitchers might not shave during their hot streak. Card players might pick up or look at their cards only a certain way…

Superstitions don’t stop at dice, either. Just ask the other WotC website producers. According to’s Scott Johns, Magic player Jon Becker won’t shake anyone’s hand before a match, not out of poor sportsmanship, but a sense that doing so will bring him bad luck (prompting Scott to intentionally offer his hand before every match with him, to Jon’s continued annoyance). Greg Collins relates how Mike Flores won’t eat during a tournament ever since winning a Magic qualifier this way.

And when Erik Olsen worked at his gaming store, rumor started that it was bad luck if he ever touched a sealed case of L5R cards—to the point where players would come in and insist that his girlfriend unload the truck when new shipments arrived (much to her delight, I'm sure).

It’s much the same with D&D. We all know there’s more to rolling a natural 20 than a simple 5% chance every time. It’s all about the dice—the way we roll them, the way we treat them—that can affect this chance, either positively or negatively.

WotC Dice Rollers

So what do the folks here at WotC do, to improve their dice rolling?

Gwendolyn Kestrel: With my incarnate, I like to color code my dice: red d6s for mantle of flame, green d20 and d6s for dissolving spittle, etc.

Andrew Finch: The most extreme dice superstition I’ve seen was something called "prepping the dice". This ritual was preformed before making an important d20 roll, like against a save-or-die spell. It involved the individual taking as many d20 as they owned, 8 to 12 dice, and rolling them over and over, eliminating all the high rolling dice. The theory being that if you had a die that had just consistently rolled low, it was now due to roll high and could be used for the official roll.

Miranda Horner: My dice must sparkle or have an opalescent sheen or be otherwise glittery/sparkly/shiny. In fact, this is such a necessity that I prefer an unmatched set of sparkly goodness over a matched set of mundane flat colors. (Sometimes you lose one of your sparkly babies while you’re out gaming. It happens.)

I usually buy a whole new set of dice when I hit Gen Con, too. That becomes my starting set for the game, and last year’s set serves as relief should my newer set start supporting the efforts of those villains who seek to destroy or otherwise stymie my character!

Robert Mull: Not too weird, but I like to use a complete matching set of dice. If one of the dice consistently rolls badly, I swap out the entire set (of which I have many, many sets).

Andy Collins: One player in my Eberron game recently rolled multiple critical hits (with his x4 crit multiplier goliath greathammer, no less) in the same session after a many-level-long drought of natural 20s.

At the end of the game, he asked for his d20 to be set aside, so he’d be sure to have it next time. Since the d6s he was using for damage had also been pretty hot, he wanted put those in the cabinet with the d20. We all teased him a bit, but as the DM I humored him and “saved” the dice for him to use in the next game.

Sure enough, when using the same dice in the next month’s session, he scored another couple of crits, and rolled a remarkable number of 5s and 6s on the d6s. Back in the cabinet went those dice at the end.

We’re playing again this weekend. I’m pretty sure that if he manages another crit or two, those dice may never get back into the jar again.

Mike Mearls: (1) I always set my dice to stand with the highest number facing up. That trains the dice to roll high.

(2) I have a starting lineup that I pull out of my bag. I start with one of my blood red d20s. The key lies in knowing when to go to the bullpen. A die can give you a bunch of good rolls in a row, but if it tires out you don’t want to sling it that fifth time when it’s ready to pop out a 1. Other times, you want to take one for the team and roll lots of poor results, and let the good luck keep sliding to the other players. It all depends on the circumstances. On top of all this, you don’t want to pull a starter too soon. You can’t toss a faithful die just because it turns up a single 1.

(3) One of the really important things you have to do is alternate die colors. If that red d20 is spent, don’t go for another red. I try to go across the color spectrum with green, or maybe blue if I really need to change my luck.

(4) For D&D Minis, I bring only one die to the game. That lets the die know that I’m sticking with it through thick and thin. I drew a horrible warband for the latest league, but I still went 2 wins, 3 losses. On top of that, I pulled a hill giant barbarian and Shuluth in the booster I got for playing five games. I’m pretty sure that the Dice Gods rewarded my faith with that booster.

(5) If a die is done, do not put in back in your die bag. You got to air it out, let that bad luck dissipate. Try to push unlucky dice as close to the DM as possible.

(6) Never ever ever roll your damage dice at the same time as your attack, or roll multiple attacks at the same time. People say this method speeds up the game. In reality, all it does is take your good damage luck and mingle it with your bad d20 luck. I have seen more people roll max or near max damage on a 1 or 2 on their d20 than I care to recall. There’s no better way to anger the Dice Gods. Seriously, rolling damage when you roll your attack is presumptuous. You’re telling Fate that you assume you’re going to hit. Roll the dice only when you must, or if you need to test a die to see how it’s feeling.

(7) That reminds me, I like to test my dice. Give ‘em a few rolls to warm up, work those 1s out of their system. Natural 20s on warm-ups are a good sign. It shows that the die is ready to impress.

(8) Pick the right die for the job. I have a few sets of enormous dice that I use only with my Living Greyhawk characters. The blue set I bought for the Temple of Elemental Evil event at Origins ’01 is reserved solely for my halfling rogue in LG play. He survived to level 4 (and that was back in the day when a sack with 100 gp was a treasure worth a cert, and we liked it!). Don’t tell me about your “adventure records” and “treasure based on level”. I had a masterwork light crossbow and a thunderstone, and that’s all I needed to kill that howler, his stupid ogre buddy, and that half-elf ranger!

(9) Finally, for DMs: Always make critical rolls in front of the players. If you roll behind the screen too much, your dice will grow shy and they won’t perform as well when you play.


And there you have it, a look at some of the rituals practiced here within the WotC halls. We’d love to hear about your own dice rituals and stories; feel free to send ‘em in to

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