Dice are used in games around the world to generate a random number. Traditionally the die is cubical; however there are multiple forms of non-cubicle die, such as, the 20-sided die. Ancient die were typically made from bones, wood, or rock. Today, die of all shapes are usually made from resin.
The 20-sided die can be traced back to the Romans, however this ancient tool for generating numbers was put to a new purpose in 1974 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. In 1974 Gary Gygax incorporated the 20-sided die into a new game he had invented. That game was called Dungeons & Dragons.
Before adopting the die, Gygax’s now-famous game asked players to randomly draw numbered poker chips from a bag. This method was cumbersome, limited the game’s portability, and was not sufficiently random. Gygax adopted the new die because the shape of the 20-sided die offers an equal five percent probability for each outcome. The more commonly used six-sided cubical dice do not offer equal probability and are relatively predictable in their results. With two six-sided die, for instance, rolling a 6, 7, or an 8 is frequent, while 2’s and 12’s are rare. This does not create equal probability in a combat with monsters!
In his fantasy-based tabletop game, Gygax introduced Americans to a new kind of role-playing game where all players needed was the rule book, seven types of dice, pencil, paper, a sheet of graph paper, and their imagination. Players create their own personas, endowed with characteristics achieved by a roll of a die. Once the brave companions have started their adventure, the 20- sided die became the most important die used in the game. That die controls the strategies and attacks made by players; an ancient tool put to new uses!
Written by Mallory Zink, June 2018.
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