Thursday, October 7, 2010

Phumble Phailure: Improper Use Of A d100

The introduction of platonic solids into gaming pre-dates Dungeons & Dragons. Romans were gambling using d20's long before Gygax et al conceived their use as random number generators for fantasy role-playing games.

I like the platonic solids: d4, d6, d8, d12, d20. My favorite? The d12, partly because it gets so little play at the game-table --and is thus the red-headed step-child of the number-generator family -- but also because I made a d12 out of paper, long before I knew anything about D&D, in some elementary-school craft project, to which I pasted pictures of 12 influential people -- what their achievements were, I can no longer recall.

I'm not a big fan of either the d10 or d100. Oh, they are useful, if uninspiring, dice. But the d100, in particular, seems over-used to me. The d100 often gets used, when a d20 would suffice.

Take, for example, Dave Hargrave's Magical Phumble Chart, from Page 18 of The Lost Arduin Grimoire IV. The table has 13 magical phumble entries. Except for two (4% and 1%), each magic phumble entry has a 5, 10, or 15% chance of occuring. A little pet peeve of mine, but if each entry has a probability that can be expressed as a multiple of 5%, then a d20 will work equally well.

I know some people have a fetish for the d100. But i'm a big fan of economy, whether it be in my written communications, or the dice employed in my role-playing game.


disperse said...

I agree, d100 is the worst of dice conventions. Having to declare which of the two 10-sided-dice is the tens and which is the ones. Plus, the whole idea that 0, 0 is 100. Unless you are used to the concept, it is confusing.

d12s are my favorite as well: they roll well. The shape is a good compromise between the slick almost-sphere of the d20 and the blockiness of the smaller polyhedrons.

Anonymous said...

I think the 12-sided solid is the most beautiful of the Platonic solids. I try to use the d12 as often as possible.

Jeff Rients said...

"Having to declare which of the two 10-sided-dice is the tens and which is the ones."

I find it well worth investing in d10's labeled 10, 20, 30 etc. to avoid this problem. I even handed them out to people at a con game once. It was a system with a lot of percentile based skill rolls. Which brings me around to why d100 rolls can be useful: most casual, non-uber gamers have a grip on what a 45% chance of success means. 5 in 8 might leave them cold.

But I adore the d12 as well. And the plain ol' d6 roll.

KP said...

@disperse: They, of course, make percentile dice where one die of the set includes a 10s digit, so you don't need to declare which is which.

I mostly play percentile- or d10-systems (Call of Cthulhu, BRP/RQ, and Nemesis/ORE), so they're a favorite of mine. Intuitive task resolution, fun to roll.

d12's are ok, in my book. Nice shape. It's sad that they are underused.

I hate d4's. Bleah.

Dave Cesarano said...

A little pet peeve of mine, but if each entry has a probability that can be expressed as a multiple of 5%, then a d20 will work equally well.

This is something I realized years ago in high school. The only meaningful percentage increment really is about 5%--anything less is honestly not worth recording.

Indeed, all other dice can do double-duty. 25% chance to succeed on a d100? Roll a d4 and try for a 1. 50% chance? Flip a coin. 75%? Break out that d4 again.

Anonymous said...

Totally agreement on the d100. As a typical dice-hoarding P&P gamer, I'll inevitably get one (if I ever find one that's not boring), but I don't know what the heck I'll use it for.

I don't play dice favorites, but I've been wondering for a while why there's this gap between the d12 and the d20. Why don't we have d14s, d16s and d18s? It's not like we gamers couldn't find a use for such dice, particularly in the more recent D&D editions. Is it just tradition that we don't have these dice, or is it simply that not many molds exist for them? Or what?

Also, would you share your source for the d20 chucking Romans?

Aaron E. Steele said...

Tequila Sunrise said...
Would you share your source for the d20-chucking Romans?

Sorry about that. I just added a link to my blog post. Check it out. "Twenty-sided dice date back to Roman times, as far back as 2nd century AD."

Alan said...

My absolute favorite dice to roll are 2d10. Something about their weight, and the way the roll seems just perfect to me. Odd, I know.

d20s and d12s roll too well (and keep on rolling). d4s d6s and d8s roll too poorly. I guess what I am saying here is that the d10 occupies the Goldilocks zone of dice for me. ;>

Akrasia said...

My fondness for MERP and BRP ('excuse me!') incline me to like the d100, despite the fact that the d10 is not a Platonic Solid (unless it's a d20 being used as a d20, of course). Also, I find thinking in terms of percentages quite intuitive.

The d4 is truly a wretched die. The d12 is cool, though.

Interesting point about the Romans' d20 gambling activities!:D

disperse said...

The d4 makes a great improvised caltrop. Unfortunately, it is usually improvised against my en-socked foot as I'm walking across the carpet.

Roger G-S said...

The worst thing about d4s is when you have to add up some that are "point numbered" and some that are "edge numbered" in the same roll.

New Fish In An Old School said...

Generally speaking, I like the percentile dice. However, they get plenty of play time when I opt to run Marvel Super Heroes so I prefer to use others when playing D&D.

Anonymous said...

" Why don't we have d14s, d16s and d18s?"

It's probably about geometry, although I think I have a d14 from Gamescience.

Anonymous said...

Never thought I'd find history trivia at Cristie's. Well, now I've seen everything a jeweler has to offer.

@jonhendry2: Just checked the Gamescience site, and they do indeed have d14s and d16s. I think the gaming community has created a sacred gap between the d20 and the lesser dice -- it's hard to believe that geometry can't give us a d18 when it can give us d100s and d34s.

I think when I write my fantasy heartbreaker, I'm going to write weird dice into the rules so I have a few easy gift ideas for my gamer pals. :)

dclunie said...

I think I read an article about the inclusion of the polyhedral dice in the first set of dnd and Dave Areson was the one who introduced the dice after purchasing three sets in england. Then they shopped around for a supplier and ended up with a china vendor which made the notorious "mud dice" which fell apart after all of the handling and abuse by players, and then eventually Lou Zocchi supplied the dice for later sets. So it was Arneson I think not Gygax who added the odd dice. Also of note Arneson indicated that with the inclusion of the other dice d4,d8, d10, d12's they went back and re-wrote some of the rules to use those dice instead of going through and picking out all of the dice out of the plastic packages which was too costly in manpower and produced too much "waste" if there were just going to use d6's and d20's. One thing though they did take out the supplier info slip of paper in each baggie so that they could monopolize the early days dice production! hehe

anywho. I think the d20 is my "dnd" die instead of the d12 which was used in many of instances especially in movies "cloak and dagger anyone? :D) but alas I love all my dice!

-david - My Game Blog