Dice: A Footnote to "Dungeons & Dragons Just Turned 40"

As I was writing “Dungeons & Dragons Just Turned 40,” I got off on a bit of a tangent about dice. I didn’t want to leave such a narrative-diverting spiel in the middle of what I had intended to be a short piece, but, at the same time, I kinda liked my little reminiscing session about these old friends. 


Oh, the dice. 

When I saw them, I knew I wanted to play. 

The ubiquitous twenty-sider: Nearly round and used for nearly everything — attacks, saving throws, and non-combat actions. The d20 is probably the iconic die of D&D, closely associated with it to the point of becoming the namesake of a D&D successor game system.

The utilitarian ten-sider: Longsword damage and warrior hit points. Always carry a pair, because sometimes you need to role a percentage.

The dutiful eight-sider: Friend to the cleric for hit points and mace damage. Oddly balanced, despite basically being a pair of conjoined pyramids.

The lonely d12: Hardly ever used in typical play, unless you dare wield a greataxe (or, in later versions, dream to be a barbarian).

The basic six-siders: What most non-rpg gamers think of when someone says “dice.” In D&D, they are the tools of character creation, the very first dice you’ll use on your adventuring journey, though they pop up here and there throughout the game, as well. Carry a bunch, if you like to fling fireballs.

The friendly four-sider: Maybe the most distinctive of the bunch, certainly the one I remember puzzling over upon first sight — how do you roll those? — and later learning to love, as the determiner of dagger damage, last resort of a spell-exhausted wizard or the weapon of choice for a back-stabbing thief.

It wasn’t long before I acquired my first set, which, yes, I still own and treasure fondly.

Dungeons & Dragons Just Turned 40

My first thoughts — after getting past “damn, I feel old” — are fond memories.

I first saw D&D during rookie band camp my freshman year of high school, when a trio of my friends tried to put together a game over their lunch break in the music storage room.

I don’t remember much about that particular game itself — I was just an observer — but I remember my immediate fascination with the very concept, marveling at the character sheets, the books, the dice.

Oh, the dice.

Later that year, with those friends and a couple of others, we formed a regular gaming group, though we wound up playing a different fantasy role-playing game; it was a couple of years before I played in a proper D&D game, which only lasted a summer.

Most of my role-playing game experience is with other games, actually, but through many years, games, and players, it all goes back to that day, those friends, and “the” game.

The First Time Buck Tried to Kill Gordie

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but I’m a gamer.

These days that means mostly card and board games, but I have a history with role-playing games, and some of my most enduring friendships were forged in and around RPG tables during my high school and college years.

In high school, my friends and I met for regular gaming sessions on Friday afternoons. We did so at a friend’s country house (which, in the context of the small town I grew up in, meant anything outside the city limits, basically).

The driveway to the friend’s house, which was a dirt driveway that lay just off a dirt road that lay just off a country highway, was a quarter-mile stretch of straight, hard dirt. It was tree-lined on each side, pleasant and shady, which made it a lovely track for a short walk.

One game day afternoon, I was catching a ride with my friend Buck.

(Note: All names herein have been changed, usually to embarrassing alternatives.)

As Buck turned from the dirt road onto the dirt driveway, we found ourselves facing two of our friends, Clint (who lived there) and Gordie. The pair had evidently decided to go for a short walk, probably to get the mail, whilst awaiting our arrival.

Clint immediately stepped out of the way. Gordie, however, stayed put, forcing Buck to stop the car. Gordie then walked up and sat on the hood.

I glanced at Buck.

I saw the look on his face.

“Bad id-” I began.

Too late.

Buck had already hit the accelerator, and we were off.

I don’t know what speed we got up to — probably, honestly, less than it felt like in those terrified moments — but after a few seconds of hard acceleration, Buck braked. Hard.

Gordie shot forward, took a couple of comically large, gawky, attempting-to-catch-his-balance steps, then collapsed face-first in a cloud of dust.

The cap he had been wearing fluttered gently to the ground a few feet away.

Gordie lay still.

The dust settled.

“Oops,” Buck said.

Clint came running up from behind as we stepped out of the car.

Gordie remained face-down in the road as we approached, and I really thought, for just a moment, that we might have killed him.

Just as Buck was tentatively reaching out to touch him, Gordie coughed and cursed.

As all ended well, we still laugh about this.