Stuff We Love: This video explains why your favorite D20 actually sucks

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Dec 9, 2017, 11:00 PM EST

Even though I consider myself a gamer, I never seriously contemplated dice beyond praying to whoever my mage worshiped as I rolled her way to safety or sudden death. But this lecture below, by Louis Zocchi, owner of GameScience, changed all of that.

Zocchi points out some very real flaws in game dice that I never knew existed. Seriously, watching this lecture for the first time gave me the same mind-melting sensation I had when I learned Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father.

The dice that we know and love and roll are imperfect, more so than we think.

How does Zocchi know? He took dice from six companies, including his own. He then stacked two sets of dice from the same company side by side. On the first stack, the 1 side faced the 20 side; on the second, the 9 side faced the 12 side. When placed side by side, they ... don’t align. He displays a simple picture of the uneven dice stacks, along with his own evenly aligned dice. This picture is worth a thousand dice rolls, a thousand character deaths.

To make his point, he took two stacks of dice from one company and measured them. With a micrometer. The dice he measured in the first stack were, according to Zocchi, “15 thousandths of an inch larger from one side to the other than the dice in the second stack.”

It turns out that most dice are “tumbled,” that is, polished in a machine. And the reason is simple: Dice come from a mold and, when hardened, are clipped, and this clip creates a small blemish, known as a flash. Tumbling smooths out that flash.

That’s not all. This tumbling 1) makes dice dull, 2) rounds their edges, and 3) thins them out unevenly.

Zocchi, a manufacturer of dice, as well as a maker of games, never tumbles his dice. They keep their precise size, thank you very much, but they still retain the initial flash that tumbling removes. Because of this, Zocchi’s own dice are imperfect.

In what is one of the most hardcore studies on dice I’ve ever seen, AwesomeDice.com rolled two sets of dice 10,000 times each. They learned that GameScience’s dice are less random on the 14 side—and you want randomness in dice rolling—as a result of the clip on its opposite side, the 7.

But Zocchi dice are still more random than others, and commenters in the article say that some simple filing or a swipe with a straight razor fixes that right up.

The video is a revelation to those of us who never thought about rolling and randomness and oh gods, why did my mage have to die in that fiery explosion? If only I had used better dice. Or even a dice ring. I’ll never look at my beloved polyhedra the same way again. Thanks for the eye-opener, Zocchi.