Friday, December 17, 2010

Forbidding Players From Using Crappy Chessex Dice?

It seems like 99% of roleplayers use the round-edged dice produced by the major dice manufacturers. These dice have rounded edges because they are dipped in paint and then tumbled. This wears the surface off of the dipped dice, smoothing the edges and leaving paint only in the numbers. Tumbling does not wear the surface of the dice evenly, however; it results in the dice taking on an irregular egg-shape. These egg-shaped dice produce a non-random distribution of roll outcomes. Gamblers call these "cheater dice". Most gamers call these "Chessex" or "Games Workshop" dice. I have one Chessex d20 that is so bad that it looks like an egg-shaped marble.

Is it fair to ask players not to use their crappy Chessex dice? I mean, if they feel that one of their dipped-n-tumbled dice is "lucky", it probably DOES have biased outcomes. Isn't this cheating?

I always bring a pile of precision-edged GameScience and casino dice to the games I run. I hand out sets to all the players. Yet some players - especially gamers at conventions - insist on using their own dice. The only other gamers I've seen using precision dice are the hardcore old school roleplayers. Why is this? It seems like if someone is obsessive enough to learn how to play a game with 576 pages of rules, they might spend a few minutes thinking about how their dice function.

This is kind of an academic question, of course. I would never kick off a session asking someone to tuck away their favorite "lucky" dice. This decreases joy. I guess I am just ranting here because I am surprised by how many people who fancy themselves as serious gamers use shit-ball dice. I am even more surprised that most game shops don't carry, or even know about, precision polyhedrals.

The thing I am most surprised by, though, is that every second of my life has lead up to this moment where I actually sat down and wrote a nerd-rage blog post about rounded vs. sharp edged 20-sided dice. Sigh...

Rant over. Thanks for stopping by!

NOTE: I wrote this post assuming it was made clear to everyone years ago that Chessex and GW dice are extremely inaccurate. Some of the comments suggest that many people still think the inaccuracies of these dice are insignificant. I direct you to this 2006 experimental study from an engineering class at ASU on Chessex and GW d6s. On average they are over 12% off.

47 comments:

  1. Absolutely. I hate Chessex dice for precisely that reason.

    Although I wouldn't call it "cheating" per se, it sure does make the game drag and can end it abruptly, never mind undoing all that "game balance" crap the later editions pushed.

    Perhaps the flawed die rolls compensate in some way for the flawed rules system?

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  2. You took the bullet. It needed to be said, rage-like or not. Hey, the balls and bats in professional baseball have to meet rigid standards, why not game dice? Especially in tournaments where gamers pay an entry fee.

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  3. I'm actually curious if an organization like the RPGA ever did try to enforce a rule like that...

    I can imagine the bitching.

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  4. My FLGS, for all it's helpful customer service and wide selection only sells Gamescience by the single or by the $27.00 pack. No inbetweens. So it's a big investment either way--making it much less attractive.

    Many of the sales people also say they're no better than "regular" dice.

    I wonder if their sales pitches would be different if the Chessex were rightly pegged as the "mutants".

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  5. "Hey, the balls and bats in professional baseball have to meet rigid standards, why not game dice?"

    But does anyone give a crap about those standards in your local throw-some-balls-around-then-go-out-for-beer-and-pizza league? Their probably are a few guys that care and I can assure you that everyone else in the league thinks they're jerks.

    I use serious dice as a courtesy to my players. They deserve fair results. Whether their dice are goony or not is simply way down on my priority list.

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  6. My FLGS, for all it's helpful customer service and wide selection only sells Gamescience by the single or by the $27.00 pack.

    This is insane! You can buy brand new 7-piece GameScience sets for $5 each! Click here, for example.

    It sounds like your FLGS' "customer service" sucks too, if they are telling you that precision dice are no better than misshapen dice.

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  7. One of the guys I play with owns a set and indeed there very well crafted,
    but if you don't have everyone using them at the game, then it defeats the purpose of using them at all.

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  8. I use serious dice as a courtesy to my players. They deserve fair results. Whether their dice are goony or not is simply way down on my priority list.

    This is an excellent articulation of my own approach at the table. I know for a fact that some of my own cheapo-dice roll low. It's not fair for me to put these out for players to use. As I said in the post, however, I would never ask someone to not use their own dice - doing so would only result in an awkward and potentially fun-wrecking confrontation.

    I guess one of the purposes of my post was to express surprise about why a subculture famously obsessed with minutiae would not be crazily obsessed with dice quality, especially when good dice are cheap. Casual players are one thing, but when I see clearly obsessed RPG or wargame geeks at cons rolling Chessex it honestly surprises me.

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  9. I had some Game Science dice once and took a micrometer to them and a set of standard dice I use. The result? About .002" to .010" difference between sides on both sets.

    Not enough difference to matter to me.

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  10. @Josh

    Which style of Chessex dice were they?

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  11. Really guys? I have it from guys who deal with statistics every day of their lives in their jobs: the difference in number distribution is so minimal as to be negligible in practice. A Gamescience die looks cooler than the Chessex die, but except for that, really, don't buy into the hype.

    In addition, Gamescience dice aren't perfect, either, because the dice are molded, which means that you have to allow for an uneven distribution of molten fluid when the die is hardening in the mold, so even though they have sharp edges, one side might actually be heavier than all the others.

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  12. Not everyone is convinced GameScience dice are that much "better". it's honestly tough for me to believe that the statistics are that MUCH different.

    Additionally, dice are not always rolled anymore. Now, the precision jet imprinting of paint is far more prominent.

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  13. I had some Game Science dice once and took a micrometer to them and a set of standard dice I use. The result? About .002" to .010" difference between sides on both sets.

    I'm not sure how you decide what matters, but your "standard dice" are orders of magnitude outside the precision requirements for casino dice (0.0005"). Furthermore, your polyhedrals are probably half the size of casino dice, which makes the inaccuracy even worse, proportionally speaking. I wouldn't be surprised if your measurements indicate a 2-5% inaccuracy, which is quite a lot.

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  14. People often like dice because they like how the dice look and are not worried about precision. And even some of the uneven dice, how much are they really effecting rolls? And is that margin of error all positive?

    Further, I know people who manage to roll poorly no matter what sort of dice they use. While I like the precision dice, I tend to use whatever is at hand.

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  15. I have it from guys who deal with statistics every day of their lives in their jobs: the difference in number distribution is so minimal as to be negligible in practice.

    Your expert friends should announce their exciting new discovery in Vegas!

    Gamescience dice aren't perfect

    Very true! But I'd wager they're the most accurate polyhedrals available commericially. I don't have a strong desire to experimentally test this hypothesis though, but if you want to set up an experiment I actually think it would be really fun to see!

    The babble on this topic is much more plentiful than the data, at least for dice other than d6s. A stats guy at Arizona State did an experiment with Games Workshop d6s that was pretty shocking. I'll look up the link and post it later.

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  16. @Jason

    It is NOT about looking cooler, it is about ensuring you are maintaining a level of 'randomness' that will allow your tables and encounters to function.

    Nothing pisses me off more than having to fudge results because someone insists on using their crappy rolling dice because they are
    "pretty" to the detriment of everyone else sitting around the table.

    It is the core of the game, yet next to no one either understands it, nor cares about it.

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  17. @ Biopunk they are a multi-colored copper and black mix. A bit higher priced than the solid color dice they normally sell.

    @ Cyclo: Casinos are a different story. They can be sued if the dice are off. I have not heard of anyone suing a DM for using 'bad dice'

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  18. One thing Gamescience doesn't cover is the other factors in a roll. The way the die is thrown, table variations, whether it hits something are all factors at normal table play.

    They have a good market spin but IMO that is all it is.

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  19. I see two major questions arising:

    1. Are GameScience dice superior?
    This is untested, but based on what is known about die accuracy in general, they should be better than tumbled dice.

    2. Do Chessex and GW dice suck?
    The answer is unequivocally yes, and this is backed up by hard data. An experiment by a mechanical engineering class at ASU showed that Chessex and GW d6s roll 1s 29% of the time. Casino dice roll 1s 16.6%, as it should be. When the class tried "fixing" the bad dice to a .001" margin, they were still inaccurate (19% 1s), meaning even .001" isn't that great.

    Chessex dice clearly suck very badly. 29% vs. 16.6% outcome probability is a non-trivial difference in any type of game.

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  20. One thing Gamescience doesn't cover is the other factors in a roll. The way the die is thrown, table variations, whether it hits something are all factors at normal table play.

    Dude, if a player is awesome enough to influence the outcome of a roll this way they DESERVE all the 20s they get!

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  21. My guys have tried to use the chessex dice but they actually usually roll 1s and 2s. It's pretty funny really. They are cursed dice of suckage imho.

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  22. My guys have tried to use the chessex dice but they actually usually roll 1s and 2s.

    This is the same result of the ASU study, which is based on 144,000 dice rolls.

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  23. Exploring more... It turns out Game Science dice are indeed highly accurate:

    A 2008 German experiment

    Jeff Reints' post on the topic cites another study by Dr. Daniel Murray, a physics professor in Canada.

    The question now is whether one cares or not about using accurate dice. I guess that's up to you!

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  24. I'm wondering if it's possible to get those non rounded dice.. with tamopgraphed numbers on them.. so there is no material removed from the surface of the dice at all?

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  25. One of my players works in an aircraft manufacturing plant and has access to high precision measuring tools; he recently sent me measurements of Game Science vs. Chessex dice, and the difference was staggering.

    After his results were sent around to our group, everyone invested in a set of Game Science dice. I've been using a set of Game Science dice since about 1983 and their edges are still sharp, with no wear. My set of Armoury dice, bought around the same time, used to have sharp edges, but are now rounded from many years of use.

    There can be no doubt that Game Science makes the most accurate polyhedral dice in the business.

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  26. I play games with dice for fun. Casinos have money riding on the outcome of their dice. There's a bit of a difference.

    I use Gamescience dice because of the way they look, and it's nice to be recognized as an old school gamer when I use them. Am I really concerned about what other people at the table are using? Not at all. I have about about a dozen casino dice as well that I use for rolling character stats, but again, because I like the way they look, and they are nice and big compared to the other d6s.

    If I was ever at a table where someone said "You all need to use Gamescience dice" or "You can only use the dice I provide", I'd get up and leave. I don't have time in my life for someone obsessed with petty crap like that in a game.

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  27. @ Cthulhu's Librarian You are missing the point.

    There is nothing "petty" about wanting everyone to be on an equal footing.

    Using dice to randomly determine the outcome of events is attempt to emulate chance due to the distribution of the rolls.

    If that gets consistently skewed, either way, it is a problem.

    Ignoring this fact, isn't "petty".

    Actively refusing to "...use the dice (someone else) provide(s)" is.

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  28. @biopunk I don't think I'm missing the point. When I play, I want to have fun. Telling someone that they can't use the dice they like because they are inferior isn't fun. If I'm betting $, sure, I want the dice to be as precise as possible. But when I sit at a table to play a game, what brand dice people are using is not something I'm going to spend any time getting uptight about.

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  29. Rient's comment doesn't make any sense. Either you believe balanced dice are useful or you don't.

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  30. As opposed to "regular dice" that tend to keep rolling like the Energizer Bunny, Gamescience dice "stop on a dime," saving time with each dice roll.

    With all of the dice rolling in a session, all of those fractions of a second add up...it's considerate to everyone else in the group to use Gamescience, never mind cutting out all of the BS with dice rolling across the table, under the table, through the miniatures, etc.

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  31. "Rient's comment doesn't make any sense. Either you believe balanced dice are useful or you don't."

    I do believe they are useful. I would prefer it if everyone at my table would use them. But I'm not going to require it, especially as I run an open game where anyone who stumbles into the store is welcome to sit down and play.

    If I was running a HackMaster game I sure as hell would require everyone use GameScience dice.

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  32. I'm 100% behind Cthulhu's Librarian here. We're playing for fun, not for precision or money.

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  33. Oh, and I fully agree with Jeff. If running HackMaster, then Gamscience it is.

    But I've run games using chits in a bowl instead of dice. close to random is close enough.

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  34. Okay, I have to ask the question:

    How is using a particular die considered "fun"?

    You surely don't have any "less fun" playing Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit because you are using the same dice that everyone else uses, so why would you consider it be any different with a tabletop RPG?

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  35. I get all the arguments for more accurate dice but I do find Game Science dice hard and pokey in my hand. I don't like the feel at all. So my dice are probably skewed. Oh well. I tend to like games where failure is at least as interesting as success anyway. And while I *don't* believe in luck, my old dice do have sentimental value.

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  36. @biopunk By themselves, dice aren't "fun". But if someone likes using a particular set because they like the way they look, the color, the size, then it adds a little more enjoyment to the game for them. More enjoyment=more fun.

    Is it really so serious that we need to tell people that their dice are inferior and they can't use them?

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  37. Phew, that's a lot of comments on the subject of dice their accuracy! I find myself in the same place as Jeff here, I'll insist on using Gamescience dice, but I don't insist on my players using them. However, I do see at least one set of Gamescience dice being bought as a present for one of my players this year, along with a link to Zocchi's video. :)

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  38. @Cthulhu's Librarian:

    Is it really so serious that we need to tell people that their dice are inferior and they can't use them?

    If those dice are flawed, yeah, I believe so.

    But I'm not arguing for/against the look, the colour or the size of a die. I'm arguing that any d6 should have the same chance for a 1 as it has to roll a 2, 3, 4, 5 or a 6. Not more.

    __________________________________________________

    If you use a die that tends to do that, consider what that can mean to a 1st Level party in a game like Moldvay's Basic D&D*:

    .Everyone has an increased chance of:
    -having lower ability scores.
    -having less starting Gold and therefor: less armour, weapons and equipment.
    -having a lower number of H.P. restored by rest or healing spells.
    -doing less damage with most weapons or a magic missile.
    -a lower success rate at winning Initiative.

    Your party's Cleric, Elf, and Halfling have a higher probability of having lower Hit Points.


    If a DM rolls the same die, that can result in:

    -an increased chance of a having a room with a Monster, Trap and no Treasure.
    -an increased chance of the party encountering a Wandering Monster in the next turn.
    __________________________________________________

    How many times are you going roll that d6?

    How long until only the Dwarf and Fighter remain?
    __________________________________________________

    *Granted, the way the tables are written skew these results towards even more unfavourable outcomes against the party, but if you’re not taking the dice bias into consideration, I don't think the likelihood of recognizing a table bias really matters until the two become combined.

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  39. I suppose I should not be surprised by the degree of strong opinion and emotion here. Myself, I need to think about it some more to see how much I am really bothered by 'inaccurate' dice.

    One on hand we played for many years with the crappy dice that came in Red Box set - to the point or more accurately until the complete lack of points as they chipped away over time until became more balls with numbers are seemed to spin endlessly. Obviously we knew they were inaccurate but somehow that did not dampen our fun. We did retire them eventually, but keep them for sentimental reasons.

    Though I believe I am not superstitious, I do tend to prefer certain sets of dice for certain times. Perhaps a color for a certain character, or a certain set for sentimental reasons.

    It would trouble me if a player statistically tested out their dice and only played with those that gave them favorable results. I don't think that happens actively in my game, and player die selection is more likely emotional and unscientific. "I like the blue die because it comes through for me on important rolls." I wonder if that is truly born out or just superstition?

    If the dice are uniformly skewed - and the results affect monsters and players equally, is that so bad?

    I was not aware of the degree that dice are likely skewed. I naively assumed it was not as much as is being reported. I don't know if this is going to drive me to start replacing dice or not.

    We have been playing 30 years with crappy dice. Does that invalidate the fun we have had? Will we have more fun in the next 30 years with better dice? Perhaps there is a marginal improvement in the play results that would be worth the cost. On the other hand, if my players are ignorant to the bias is this ignorance bliss?

    My bigger problem is scheduling and getting people to the game table with all our busy lives.... if better dice will get people to show up every week I am on it in a heartbeat.

    Barad "who used to say the dice never lie" the Gnome

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  40. I'm afraid I'm with Dyson Logos and Cthulhu's Librarian and Risus Monkey on this. For me playing RPGs is a social hobby, not a competitive one. I don't even check other players rolls.

    These are my D&D/S&W dice.

    Also:
    Do It Yourself Polyhedral Dice.

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  41. Biopunk:

    Do you also see how telling someone to get his dice off the table because they suck and he's not allowed to use them would result in less fun for that person?

    Especially if said person had just bought a set of dice specifically so said person could game?

    Yeah. Lots of fun. Its approaching the point of telling someone they shouldn't play the RPG they enjoy because the rules are not the rules you like.

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  42. @Dyson: You are completely missing the point and spirit of my argument.

    Yes, I can see your point, if I was using your phrases like "get (your) dice off the table", "they suck" or "(you're) not allowed use them", but that is not something I do...

    Usually, if people just have to own and roll their own dice, I tell them there are plenty of differences in dice and dice quality between dice manufacturers. If they want to ignore the evidence that there might be a higher probability of lower rolls on a d6 just to keep rolling their chosen dice set, that is their prerogative.

    I also tell them there are certain sets of dice called "cheaters" and they can buy them and roll them all they want, just do not to bring them to my table.

    But, then again, I also recommend writing on your character sheet in pencil, not pen, so I guess I'm a complete buzz-kill...


    I wouldn't recommend a vehicle that doesn't fire on all 6 cylinders to someone just because the colour of the car might appeal to their sense of aesthetics. I'd tell them it has a serious flaw. Why wouldn't you?

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  43. What gets me is acting like this hobby is some sort of life or death issue or that money is on the line. It is a silly hobby where we play elves attacking orcs. Nothing more, nothing less.

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  44. Anyone who cares if their fun passtime hobby games dice aren't casino level perfect probably needs to go away and reevaluate their lives...

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  45. Meh. The difference that the rounded edge dice make is so minuscule as to be negligible. So long as they are not loaded or deliberately altered to roll a specific number then I say, "Let them roll what they want."

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  46. Croakamancy post rez.

    The game is about having fun. If fancy looking chessex dice make it more fun for a player then that's a good set of dice for their purpose. If number randomization makes the game more fun for a player, then invest in a set of high quality dice. Have to point out though, every single time you roll a die, you are denting/scratching/blemishing the die (however slightly) and should invest in a new die for every roll. Obviously this is not realistic, and I personally don't find the need to hold every player's dice to the line of (if it's not game science, it's no good) realistic either. D&D is about fun experiences with friends, not dice comparisons.

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