This in-depth guide explains the different types of dice and their role in gaming.
Whether you’re an experienced gamer or a novice, you’ve most likely used dice. But you might be wondering about the different types of dice.
Why do some dice have so many sides? When do you use special dice? How many different dice are there, and does it make a difference which types you use?
In this article, I’ve answered those questions and more. You’ll learn the different types of dice, what they’re called, and their purpose. You’ll also find some interesting information about dice in gaming.
Ready to get started? Let’s roll!
- 1 A Brief History of Dice
- 2 What Are Dice Made Of?
- 3 How Many Types of Dice Are There?
- 4 What Are 12-Sided Dice Called?
- 5 What are Polyhedral Dice?
- 6 What Are the Names of Dice?
- 7 Percentile Dice Explained
- 8 What Are 20-Sided Dice Used For?
- 9 What Types of Games Use Dice Rolls?
- 10 Deciding Outcomes in Games
- 11 Alternatives to Dice
- 12 Types of Dice: Wrap-Up
A Brief History of Dice
Dice are small, throwable objects that have marked sides and can rest in multiple positions. They are used to create random outcomes in all sorts of games, most notably chance games and role-playing games.
While no one knows the exact origin of dice, we do know they’ve been around since the beginning of recorded history. For instance, objects akin to dice were used in the ancient Egyptian game Senet.
Dice have also been found as part of Backgammon-like games in Iran, dating back to around 3000 B.C. Ancient Grecians also used a form of dice in the popular game Knucklebones, which somewhat resembled our modern-day jacks. From Japan to Rome, evidence of dice has been found all over the world.
If you’d like to learn more about these ancient games, read all about them in my guide on ancient board games.
Nowadays, modern dice are still an important element in board gaming culture.
What Are Dice Made Of?
Standard dice are generally made of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), a type of plastic. The plastic is poured into a mold that includes the pips (i.e., dots) on each side. Manufacturers add pigments to the plastic to achieve different color effects.
After the dice are molded and cooled, the pips are painted and the dice are tumbled. A longer tumbling process leads to blunter corners, but you want the dice to be tumbled long enough to wear down the nub from the mold.
Most dice made of plastic are manufactured in China, but there are manufacturing plants in several other countries, as well.
Precision dice, also known as casino dice, are also made with a different process. These are high-quality dice sets that are made with exacting standards, to 1/2000th of an inch. Manufacturers use machines to shape blocks of plastic and then drill holes for the pips.
The holes are filled with a material of the same density as the plastic to avoid any bias from the pips. These dice are then stamped with serial numbers to prevent cheaters from using loaded dice. After all, fair dice are crucial when money is on the line.
How Many Types of Dice Are There?
Standard Dice (D6)
The most common die is the d6 die, a cube with six sides. Sides bear a different number from 1 to 6, generally using dots (a.k.a. pips) or numerals. Six-sided dice come in a variety of colors and may have rounded or sharp corners. The sum of the numbers on opposite faces is seven.
While six-sided dice are by far the most common type, role-playing games and other games use other forms of dice. Read more about other common dice below.
Standard Seven-Dice Set
Many role-playing games used a variety of different dice. Most prominent is the Dungeons & Dragons dice set, which is sometimes referred to as DnD dice. Due to its popularity, such dice are commonly sold in sets of seven dice with matching designs.
You can find a wide range of colors, materials, and styles, including iridescent, glow-in-the-dark, and metal dice. Specialty dice sets can be pricey, depending on the type, but many collectors and avid gamers are more than willing to pay the cost.
These seven dice come in six different shapes. Five of the dice are shaped like platonic solids, polyhedral dice whose visible faces are polygons. The other dice are pentagonal trapezohedra, a ten-sided die with kite-shaped faces. One of the faces is marked with multiples of ten. This allows the pair of ten-sided dice to be combined to generate numbers between 1 and 100.
For a quick breakdown of each type of dice in a seven-dice set (a.k.a. DnD dice set), see the chart below:
|Notation||Shape||Number of Faces/Sides||How to Read|
|d4||Tetrahedron||4 equilateral triangles||Four-sided dice do not have a side that faces upward, so the dice must be read differently. Each face has three visible faces, such that the topmost number on all adjacent sides is the same. The upright number near the vertex represents the roll’s value.|
|d6||Cube (hexahedron)||6 squares||The upright number is the value of the roll.|
|d8||Octahedron||8 equilateral triangles||An eight-sided die resembles two four-sided dice attached at the base.|
|d10||Pentagonal Trapezohedron||10 kites||Ten-sided dice have two sharp corners where five kites meet, and ten blunter corners, where three kites meet. The ten faces bear numbers from 0-9 (zero being treated as 10 in many cases). Odd- numbered faces often converge at one sharp corner, and the even-numbered faces at the other. The sum of the numbers on opposite sides is usually 9.|
|D100 or d%||Pentagonal Trapezohedron||10 kites||A dice set with one d10 die and a second 10-sided die with faces numbered in multiples of 10, ranging from 00 to 90. When rolled with a d10 and added together, this gives an equal chance of every number from 0 to 99. The terms d% and percentile dice refer to the same set of 10-sided dice.|
|d12||Dodecahedron||12 regular pentagons||The sum of the numbers on opposite faces is 13.|
|d20||Icosahedron||20 equilateral triangles||The sum of the numbers on opposite faces is 21. The d20 is the main die used in the resolution mechanic for Dungeons and Dragons. The term “d20 games” refers to games that use the D20 system of dice.|
What Are 12-Sided Dice Called?
A 12-sided die is called a dodecahedron. It has 12 flat surfaces shaped like pentagons. The sum of the numbers on opposite sides is usually 13.
What are Polyhedral Dice?
If we’re getting technical, all dice are polyhedral dice. Speaking mathematically, a polyhedron is any three-dimensional object that is made up of three or more polygons, with straight edges and vertices (corners). Polyhedra are also referred to as platonic solids.
Essentially, polyhedral dice are dice with multiple faces that are equal in size to one another.
While several types of polyhedral dice exist, the most common dice are cubes or six-sided dice. These are found in many board games, including Yahtzee and Backgammon, for instance.
Dice that use both the numerals 6 and 9, which are reciprocally symmetric, usually distinguish them with a dot or a line.
What Are the Names of Dice?
According to the Free Dictionary, the word “die” originates from the Old French de and the Latin word datum, which means “something given or played.”
Dice have different names according to the number of sides. Each type also has a notation, because “pentagonal trapezohedron” just doesn’t roll off the tongue easily.
In Dungeons and Dragons, the d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 dice are used for weapons damage, attacks, character skill, spells, and healing amounts. The d20 dice are used to see if an action succeeds or fails.
The d4 is a four-sided die. It’s also called a tetrahedron or the caltrop. Because of its large flat sides, it doesn’t roll as easily as other shapes. When rolling a four-sided die, the upright numbers represent the value.
The d6 is the standard cube die found in most games. Many gamers have a set of three six-sided dice for quickly rolling multiples. For instance, in Dungeons & Dragons, there is an initial roll of three d6 dice to determine character attributes.
The d8 is an eight sided die also called the octahedron. Eight-sided dice have triangular faces. These dice resemble two pyramids attached at the base. Eight-sided dice are commonly used for damage done by larger weapons.
The d10 is the pentagonal trapezohedron and has–you guessed it–ten sides. There are two of these dice included in a standard D&D set. The faces are numbered from 0-9, and the faces of the other go from 00-90 in multiples of 10. These are often used as percentile dice to determine the success or failure of an action.
The d12 is called the dodecahedron. It’s a twelve-sided die that has faces shaped like pentagons. The d12 dice stack well and are used for damage done by large weapons.
The d20 is also known as the icosahedron and is the trademark die of Dungeons & Dragon. It’s larger and more rounded than other dice. The d20 has adjacent faces that are equilateral triangles. The d20 determines the success of an attempted action.
Slang Terms for Dice Rolls
Most people are familiar with the term snake eyes, which is a dice roll of one pip on each die. But many professional gamblers still use colorful terms to designate the different sides of the dice.
- Ace: 1 pip
- Deuce: 2 pips
- Trey: 3 pips
- Cater: 4 pips
- Cinque: 5 pips
- Sice: 6 pips
Below are some other interesting terms related to dice combinations. Most of these terms relate to the game of craps, a popular casino game:
- Boxcars or Midnight: A roll of six pips on each die
- Ballerina: A roll of two pips on each die (tutu–get it?)
- Brooklyn Forest: A roll of three on each die (two “trees”)
- Yo: A roll of a five and a six (yo is another term for eleven)
There are loads more, but you get the idea. You could even come up with your own fun nicknames. They might stick, who knows?
Percentile Dice Explained
Percentile dice are also called d100 dice. This is actually not a singular die, but rather two dice with ten faces each. One of the ten-sided dice is labeled with numbers 0-9, whereas the other ten-sided die will bear numbers 00-90 in multiples of 10.
One die shows the tens digit, while the other die tells what the ones digit is. So for example, if the dice show a 70 and a 9, the roll will have a value 79.
Non-specified dice don’t clearly designate the tens digit die, so you might use two different colored-dice to distinguish which one represents which digit.
Some results aren’t as straightforward, however. Generally, a roll of 00 means there is no value in the tens spot. So a roll of 00 and 1 would mean the value is 1.
It’s trickier when the upright numbers show 00 and 0. Now, you might think, “That’s clearly 0.” You might even want to treat that as 100, which is very common. However, in this case, it would actually be 10. You can’t roll a zero in Dungeons and Dragons (or in the d20 system).
Mind blown? Don’t feel bad. You can educate your friends and impress (or irritate) your gaming group with this knowledge.
Bottom line is, you should treat the 0 on the ones digit die as 10. This is the only way to be consistent AND achieve a possible range of 1-100.
It can be a little confusing, but you can use the chart below for some common rolls, along with their final result.
|Designated Percentile Dice|
|Tens Die||Ones Die||Percentile Result|
|Standard d10 Dice|
|Tens Die||One Die||Percentile Result|
What Are 20-Sided Dice Used For?
Twenty-sided dice, also called Icosahedron, are the primary dice used in Dungeons & Dragons for the resolution mechanic, i.e., determining the success or failure of an attempted action. The sum of opposite faces on a twenty-sided die is 21.
An entire role-playing system is based on 20-sided dice, called the D20 System. This system was published by Wizards of the Coast for the 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons in the year 2000. In fact, games that use this system are often called d20 games.
What Types of Games Use Dice Rolls?
The most notable gaming genre to use dice sets is role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, Dungeons and Dragons dice sets are used for a host of RPGs. Some gamers prefer to have extras of one or more dice for saving throws and speeding up the game.
Any game that requires a randomized outcome as one of the central components will likely incorporate dice. Specific games include Backgammon, Farkle, Zombie Dice, Yahtzee, Cee-Lo, Craps, Dudo, Ludo, and Bunco. Most of these games require the use of six-sided dice. Several of these games include a dice cup to roll more dice at once.
Whether you have extra or fewer dice, there are plenty of games to play. It boils down to which games you prefer. As the saying goes (paraphrasing), if the dice fit!
Deciding Outcomes in Games
Regardless of the genre or game mechanics, games typically determine results through one of three methods: random resolution, deterministic resolution, and judgmental resolution.
Random resolutions are exactly what they sound like. They’re random outcomes. These outcomes are determined by rolling dice, drawing playing cards, or using other types of devices.
Deterministic resolutions are outcomes determined by game mechanics without a random element. Examples include comparing statistics or spending player resources (i.e., money, energy, etc.)
Judgmental resolutions are outcomes determined solely through the choices of the players. This is also called GM Fiat.
Ron Edwards’ GNS Theory calls these resolutions Fortune, Karma, and Drama, respectively. Board games can use the three types of resolutions in practically infinite combinations.
Alternatives to Dice
No dice? No problem. There are other way to create randomization within games.
Rollers, game spinners, cards, and coins have all been used to generate random resolutions. Additionally, there are dice with non-polygonal faces. Online randomizers are also becoming increasingly popular, such as electronic dice rollers that can generate random outcomes.
Types of Dice: Wrap-Up
Now that you know all about dice, you’ll be ready to roll at your next game night! If you’d like to put your dice set to good use, check out my review of the best role-playing games. Or, if you’re already a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, visit my list of dungeon crawler board games.