Dice are physical game elements that are used to randomize an outcome from a predefined set of outcomes, often with each outcome having the same likelihood.
Many games make use of randomness to determine what happens during gameplay. Dice is one of the most common ways of achieving this, with the 6-sided dice being the most common. Other common Dice are those based on the Platonic Solids, i.e. 4-, 8-, 12-, and 20-sided Dice, and the 10-sided die.
While Dice games such as Mmm ... Brains!, Pickomino, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, and Yahtzee are obvious examples of Dice use, they are also common in Board Games, Miniature Games, and Tabletop Roleplaying Games. Pachisi and Snakes & Ladders are classic examples of using Dice in Board Games while Bloodbowl and Formula D show how specialized Dice can be designed to fit design goals. Car Wars, Ogre, and Warhammer 40K are examples of Miniature Games using Dice while Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay show how Tabletop Roleplaying Games can make use of many different types of Dice.
Using the pattern
Using Dice in games consist of considering what Dice to use, what one should use them for, and if one should use them in combinations.
Standard Dice are 6-sided but regular other types are 4-, 8-, 10-, 12-, and 20-sided Dice. Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Basic Roleplaying and Dungeons & Dragons are examples of games that make use of all these Dice while Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game only uses 8-sided Dice. Other types of Dice exist (e.g. 7-, 16-, 24-sided) but may be more difficult to produce. While Dice normally show number from 1 and up to the number of sides they have, an option is to change this. This may simply be other distributions of the numbers, e.g. to create a D3 or more complex distributions such as those used in Formula D. Mmm ... Brains!, Pickomino, and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age show examples of dedicated sets of results and for the first two cases how numbers and other results can be mixed. Commercially produced Dice that depict different hit areas, random types of weather, or cardinal direction point to other possibilities.
Although Dice can be used as part of determining the outcome of most actions in games, common examples are Movement (e.g. Pachisi), Combat (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer 40K), and checks against Attributes or Skills (e.g. GURPS and Basic Roleplaying). Damage is also a very common case. Scatter Dice in Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40K shows another way Dice can be used. These Dice, which have specialized symbols, have some results that indicate that a ranged attack while scatter and has an arrow that points out the direction of the scatter.
There are several specific subpattern that govern how the final result is produced from a roll of Dice. Extra Chances is a way of modulating how Dice are used by giving players a limited possibility to reroll unwanted results while Open-Ended Die Rolls allows more extreme result outside the range of the Dice but with less probability. Feigned Die Rolls is a way for Game Masters to pretend to make use of Dice while being able to decide the outcome to suit how they wish gameplay to develop.
One reason to use combinations of Dice is to create more complex probabilities. This is most often used to create normal distributions so that the average values are much more probably than the extreme values; examples of games that use this include GURPS. Another reason is to create the possibilities of Sets, which Yahtzee and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age are examples of. A third reason is to use several different Dice that each represents a digit which are combined to create a number. The most common case of this is probably using 2 10-sided Dice to create a D100, i.e. to generate a random number between 1 and 100, and for this reasons 10-sided Dice are typically numbered from 0 to 9 (rolling two 0s count as 100). This can easily be extended to create D1000, D10000, etc. but sometimes D6 and other dice are used in the same way (GURPS does this in a couple of instances, probably due to the design goal of only relying on 6-sided Dice). One issue with using Dice to generate digits is that the Dice need to be distinguishable from each other; the typical solution to this is either to have different colors or have specialized Dice for the different digits, e.g. having a D10 with 10, 20, 30, etc on the different sides.
Dice is an Interface Pattern.
Dice can provide Randomness in games, and this can in turn let players feel Luck. However, in many cases the use of Dice also allows the possibility of developing Strategic Knowledge about distributions and probabilities.
In games which use Game Boards or Maps, Dice introduce Non-Diegetic Features. Although not diegetically present, Dice can effectively be Focus Loci for players, especially when they represent abstract actions or when Game Worlds are abstract (as for example in many Tabletop Roleplaying Games.
While not as common as for Cards, there are some examples of games using the Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership of Dice as their prime gameplay mechanic (e.g. Dragon Dice and Dicemaster: Cities of Doom).
Can Be Instantiated By
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
An updated version of the pattern Dice that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Wikipedia entry for platonic solids.
- Knizia, R. (2000) Dice Games Properly Explained. Elliot Right Way Books.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.