#diceday - Our Six-Faced Time Lord

This is, of course, only some of my collection.

The humble d6. The Everyman of dice. The definitive, timeless, ubiquitous randomizer.


But why? And how? What is it about this single, simple design that has kept this infuriating partner-in-crime of wargamers across the world still tumbling down the centuries?


I don't plan to do an historical analysis of dice, because, frankly, I'm not even slightly qualified to do so. Go check out the Wikipedia page. It's genuinely fascinating. But it's fair to say that a substantial appeal of the common d6 to game designers lies precisely in the fact of its ubiquity rather than in any of its other qualities. It's simply conventional to assume that everyone has dice, much as you might assume that every one has playing cards.


But, of course, that only explains half of the story, because that ubiquity itself deserves explanation or, at least, consideration. D6s have be the go-to randomizer for so long that it becomes a self-sustaining narrative but they have a lot going for them.


Cubes are pretty easy to make, to start with. Nice, straight, 90-degree corners are a lot easier to eyeball than the angles of a d4 or a d20. They possess an admirable clarity of result - it's easy to spot the uppermost face at a glance: vital in the d6's original and still most popular role, gambling. And cocked dice are pretty rare compared to dice with more faces.


And 6s are nice numbers. It splits into 2 and into 3 (the lowest number, of course, to do so). There's an aesthetic pleasure in the roll of a 1 or a 6, with either result being common enough to be anticipated but rare enough to give the pleasure hit of its appearance (or the converse if it's a "1" that appears). Of course, like all dice, a d6 can be combined with others of its kind to create a new kind of probability curve, but one based on, no pun intended, base-6 has a fundamental appeal to the human mind that seems to cut across both time and space. It's little wonder that 6-sided dice have been used for both games and for fortune telling on every inhabited continent on Earth for almost as long as there has been civilization.


I guess if I have a problem with the d6, then the problem is that very ubiquity. It encourages lazy assumptions and can be a warning sign for the rest of a design. "Everyone has dice" might be close enough to true. But that's no excuse for a game to require thirty dice. No one is going to just organically own thirty dice. If you own thirty dice, you're either already a wargamer or you have a problem, or both.


An a lesser problem I have with the d6 is simply its range. The possible range of outcomes is just too small, in my opinion. The distance between the best and worst outcomes is too short. The likelihood of a game turning on chance rather than skill (which should always be a possibility but never a near-certainty) is simply too great and the favoured solution ("add more dice!") is lazy.


The d6 is the safe option. It's the easy choice.

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