Understanding Polyhedral Dice

What are polyhedral dice?

In Latin, Poly means “many,” and Hedral means, approximately, “having face(s) or side(s).” So, literally, polyhedral dice are dice with many sides. This includes the common six-sided variety (referred to as “D6″), but most people reserve the term “polyhedral dice” to refer to dice other than the classic D6.

What is a “D6,” or for that matter a “D” anything?

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D# is shorthand for a die with a specific number of sides. For example, you probably think of a six-sided die when you think of dice. A six-sided die (D6) is the most commonly used because cubes are a fairly simple shape to construct.

Understanding Polyhedral Dice

What are different dice used for?

The purpose of all dice is to generate a random number. Dice with different numbers of sides can roll different numbers. The most common places to see dice used for this purpose are gambling, tabletop games, and board games. Dice can be made with colors or symbols instead of numbers, in which case rolling the dice will randomly choose one of those colors or symbols.

Polyhedral dice other than D6s are most commonly used in a wide variety of role-playing games. Some systems use multiple polyhedral dice, while others will use multiple sets of the same polyhedral die. For example, Vampire: The Masquerade uses a system of D10s, while Dungeons and Dragons uses seven different polyhedral dice-including D4s, D6s, D8s, D10s, D12s, and D20s-depending on what the player is trying to do.

For example, an individual trying to attack an enemy in Dungeons and Dragons will roll a D20; they would then either succeed or fail based on the number rolled (a 1 through a 20), plus bonuses from their equipment. Most often a higher number is more likely to succeed. If the attack is a success, the player would then get to roll a second die or series of dice, depending on their type of attack, to randomly generate how much damage was caused by the attack.

You can see, even from this brief example, how dice make a very effective and low-tech way to generate random outcomes.

Understanding Polyhedral Dice
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