I’ve been doing a lot of cycling and walking recently so I have been able to listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of the subjects that has come in various forms is dice.
Dice are a really important mechanic in most tabletop games and are subject to much superstition by us wargamers.
Dice, the random mechanic
Before we start, let’s get one thing out of the way. Dice exist in games to provide a random mechanic, to generate uncertainty. If you need 7 (or less) to hit on 2D6, while the mean value might be 7, you will still miss a significant amount of the time. If you want to be sure of an outcome, stack the odds in your favour. If you don’t, do not complain when the dice go against you.
Over the long term, dice do roll average. While I have many friends that have trouble accepting this, the variations in most dice used for gaming is so small as to be insignificant, so to all intents and purposes, your dice will be random. However more on that later.
And for the record, storing your dice with the sixes up, talking to them, kissing them, storing them in a lucky dice bag or praying to the dice gods won’t help either.
When looking at how Warmachine and Hordes use dice, it is important to note that the results from 2 or more dice are curved, with more common outcomes far more likely than less common ones. This is very different to games like Warhammer which use a single dice to resolve a particular event and therefore are more linear.
The first and obvious cause of frustration when luck abandons you are the dice themselves. While it is very easy to blame the dice, the reality is most normal dice are perfectly random enough for the purposes of wargaming.
For those players wanting the ultimate in randomness, casino dice are often touted as the solution, however for tabletop gaming, they are not. Aside from the practicalities of casting larger dice with sharp edges across a table full of delicate miniatures, casino dice are designed to be thrown against a vertical surface so they bounce.
Unless they are used as attended, they are no better than normal cheap gaming dice, and because they do not roll, they are arguably worse.
For the ultimate in precision dice, you need to turn to backgammon dice. This are designed to roll in a limited space so are far more suited to gaming. They are very expensive and in my opinion do not add much, if anything to the a game. This said, I still fancy a set to accompany one of my Warmachine armies.
Firstly I have a confession, I use logo dice all the time. However, I still think normal ‘dot’ dice are far clearer, and dice with logos on the six simply annoy me when I need to read a number.
For example, in Warhammer 40000 you are normally rolling one dice per action, and you are visually looking for results. In this case logos on the six are fine. But in Warmachine you need to quickly calculate results and dots are easier to count and work with quickly.
Things get even worse if you have a mix of logo dice with the logos on the one or the six. Just don’t do it unless you want things thrown at you.
Fast rolling is the practice of rolling many connected dice at once. This happens a lot in Warhammer 40000. For example, if I have a unit with bolters, and a special weapon, you might roll different coloured dice to hit and then to damage. In Warmachine, it is pretty common to roll damage and location of damage at the same time with different dice.
These two examples are fine. As long as you are rolling no more than two types of things at once, its not a problem. I can normally remember that one dice is one thing and one dice is another. But…
Do not, under any circumstances try fast rolling multiple attack and damage rolls in Warmachine, AND if you have lots of different weapons in a Space Marine squad, roll them separately, ideally with different coloured dice. Please.
Fast rolling leads nicely to the subject of clarity. You want to be absolutely clear with the results from your dice. Although fast rolling might save a little time, its normally best to declare and roll different things separately.
One of the best practices I heard recently for Warmachine is using different dice to hit and to damage, and leaving the results on the table until the action is resolved (BTW, kudos to Trevor from Chain Attack for this idea). This is something I should probably do, but don’t.
For Warhammer 40000 leaving spare dice on the table is impractical, but please please please always pick up misses first when determining results, and give your opponent a chance to check the dice before moving on. This helps avoid any ill feeling that you picked up a successful result by accident and just good manners.
Rolling the Bl**dly Things
My final rant is about rolling the dice themselves. In fairness, their normally is not a huge amount of space on a gaming table, and it is really bad form to casually throw dice around painted miniatures, but NEVER EVER just drop your dice. Please cast them properly so they roll enough to generate a random number.
And if you are rolling a bucket of dice because your Fire Warriors get 33 shots (this happened last night), you don’t need to roll them all at once. Batches of ten is just fine and avoids dice swamping the table.
I have purposely not mentioned cocked dice because they are lots of different fields of thought on these, but as a general rule, if the result is in doubt for either player, its good practice to reroll it.
Anyway, that’s my dice dojo. The reality is, of course, that I rant at my dice on a weekly basis and I have had more than a few of these bad dice habits over the years. Ho hum.