Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In Praise of Polyhedrals...

Our first system, Pits & Perils, was developed in late 2002 as a thought experiment and a way to introduce Robyn to the hobby, although it was my re-introduction as well!  I'd been away from the games for a good fourteen years, and I didn't have my old stuff, meaning we were literally starting from scratch. 

One consequence was making a d6 system.  When you've been doing college (the adult and working full time variety) and spending too much time deployed, life is about other things, meaning the only dice available are the ones you fish out of the Monopoly game in the hall closet.  But that actually suited us...

For one thing, it felt more like the amateurs of old creating a hobby out of nothing, and since I had close to zero contact with the larger gaming community, we sometimes felt like we were, and this fact, alone, inspired us to stick with six-siders exclusively.

Little did we know a d6 revolution was already brewing, and I can only assume for similar reasons...

But after being re-immersed (and a few conventions later) I realized something important: I MISSED those polyhedral dice!

Yes, technically, polyhedrals provide a greater range of outcomes and greater variability.  The traditional d20 breaks things down to tidy (and easy to manipulate) 5% increments, while the d10 allows percentile results that are actually the simplest and most intuitive reckoning of probability anywhere.  So yeah, we get that.

But it's something else.  Something less tangible.

It's the way they LOOK on the table.  I mean, you have the almost spherical d20 and the strangely hive-like d12.  But there's also the d8 and pyramidal d4, bane of bare feet after an all-nighter! 

Their NUMBERS stand out (a good thing for older eyes), with no boring pips here.  You get straight up numbers!  Even the d6 in this context uses actual numbers, which just works better.

Oh, and the COLORS.  You get solids and marbled, swirly patterns, sometimes flecked with speckles.  And when you buy them individually and over the counter (vs. a packaged set), there's many different colors in play, each as distinct as their varied shapes.

Finally, there's just a different HEFT to a bag of polyhedrals, something harder to quantify, but true.  Maybe it's the rounder dice that sink like miniature cannon-balls to the bottom.  Or the way many different shapes feel when you reach blindly for the one you're looking for.  Or maybe it just brings back old memories...

Either way, polyhedrals are special.  So much so that we're incorporating them (formally) into our upcoming title: The Maze of Memory, which should be out sometime this fall.  Expect us to preserve our trademark simplicity, but also look for the greater randomness these dice permit.  And look for something a little more lethal than our previous offerings, although still lots of fun!


  1. I'm an old school gamer ... started back in the 70s, and still dabble in the hobby - mostly as an outlet for my desire to write.

    Flawed as it was, one of my favourite early systems was Ken St. Andre's "Tunnels and Trolls", which exclusively used d6 (lots and lots of them) Loved it then, and I still love it now. I can teach someone to play T&T in about half an hour, character creation might take another half hour beyond that - still one of the easiest setup times for novices ever.

    But yeah, polyhedral dice have their uses too.

  2. Polyhedrals have the special visceral experience that you describe. Earthdawn did that nicely, but so did old RuneQuest - as it was the convention for players to roll the percentile to-hit dice, the d20 hit location dice, the weapon dice, and their damage bonus die all in one hand.

    But also, from a simulationist perspective, they do account for a great range of randomness.

    Look at this way.. If I was in a standard 100m track race with an Olympic sprinter, I'd get hosed. They would be finished by the time I'd reached the 50m mark.

    But if I was chasing the replicant down the streets of Los Angeles 2019, it's a different story. They might be faster than me, they might have an edge there. But that edge could easily be outweighed by the random elements - which are too finicky for even the best simulationist game to account for. There's scores of people moving around, there's cars, flashing lights, Hare Krishna devotees chanting, it's dark and raining... Olympic level sprinter or not, the chase is on.