25 August 2010

D6, why did it have to be D6?

No matter how the rules are written or whatever your luck is, in the end miniature wargaming almost always comes down to rolling dice.

Ever since I started gaming, back in the days some 10 years ago when GW was the only option and their prices had yet to make even rich people cry – all my joy, anger, and pretty much every other emotion including trying to strangle my opponent by the use of powers of the dark side (which failed) has boiled down to the rolling of dice.
I do believe gamers are indoctrinated by the requirement of dice and the 6-sided “D6” - die in particular. Whoever unwittingly started the trend made every single other company on earth adapt the same method of generating results.

This entire post will be dedicated to dice and whatever generates results in wargames and my personal thoughts about the whole thing.

Starting with the D6, this six-sided die is by far the most overrepresented die in wargaming. Every big company uses it, from Games Workshop, Flames of War, Mantic Games seem to use it as well for their WHFB/Black Powder knockoff, as well as my favorite miniature game Secrets of the Third Reich.

To tell the truth, I’m no particular fan of this die, maybe I’ve just grown tired of it being used everywhere by everyone in everything. It’s not even that good in my opinion, it offers little and the only reason for it being around from what I can understand is accessibility and the endless supply of this semi-crappy game aid.

You’re not offered much flexibility, and with 6 results it is not even when it comes to calculating percentage, with roughly 16% per side. Use of the D6 is heavily dependent on what the rules are like. In games such as WH40k, or WHFB, games that I honestly turned my back on after a couple of years playing both – the rules are written in such a way that you have to roll that damn D6 over and over to generate a result. It’s no longer having fun, you start to feel like a damn gambler at a casino playing craps. Because of the crappy rules and few options the die allows, you have to roll to hit, roll to wound, then the opponent rolls his armor save and then other special saves such as ward saves etc.

Wow, 4 rolls to generate 1 result… And during my time playing WHFB it was enough to make you cry trying to hit something with ranged weapons and then watching as 10 shots generated 1 wound that the enemy successfully saved. Right…

But by far the ridiculous drawbacks of the D6 has to come in games where you have to test skills and for some reason the rules are written in such a way that you only roll 1 D6 to test such result. In one of the games I play, Legends of the Old West ( a fun Western game that really grows on you in campaign mode), there are some tests where the model has to jump over crates or tries to get up on his horse. Now this requires the player to roll a D6 and rolling a 1 makes you fall on your ass…

So you’re telling me that these men, born and raised in an age where riding a horse was essential fail to mount their horse 16% of the time? If you translate that into something more contemporary, Imagine if you fell on your ass 16% of the time trying to mount a bike. Yeah. I don’t remember when that happened last time to me either.
Poor game design? Sure. But then again I think it is owed to what the writers had to work with. In other cases with games using the D6 the writers get creative to bend the limits and drawbacks of the D6 as much as possible. In the case of Secrets of the Third Reich, which also use D6 dice, pretty much everything has modifiers which tweak the die rolls to a certain point. The amount of dice rolled in the game is also half of that rolled in GW games. In Secrets you only roll to hit, and then you fail to wound/wound/kill with a second roll, the result of that roll determines which of those three results it will be. No saves, but a bunch of modifiers instead.

In this case it works most of the time. Sometimes though the limits of D6 show up, like when you cannot hit anything beyond the result of 6, in some cases modifiers stack beyond what you can roll. In which case GW would have solved it by calling it 7+ or more “to hit” meaning you roll a D6, pick upp all results of 6, then roll AGAIN and all second results of 4+ are considered to be hits. That system is crap as well. I can understand why it wasn’t included – but in a games that frequently require rolls beyond a 6 – would it not be more logical to play with other dice?

Again, the whole mindset of miniature wargaming seems to be built around this die. I’m a person with a freakish fascination for the weird so I will also list a few games that “break the rule of D6”.

This Very Ground, is a French-Indian War period skirmish game that employs D10, die with 10 sides. I like this because it has an even amount of sides, and you can divide the results in groups of 10%. It also allows you to instantly roll beyond 6 without counting modifiers in your head, or rerolling the same dice over and over again. It’s a very small game, I would call it “indie”. But everything is determined by 1D10, hits, wounds, morale etc. Well OK the cannons fire multiple D10 and if you generate a number of similar results depending on the caliber of the cannon you can blow it up by accident but that’s another story.

This game uses modifiers as well, but you never go beyond or below the D10. I find this “out of the box” approach quite fresh. The guys writing that game didn’t give a damn about making a game centered around a D6 “because everyone else used it”, but seemed to make their own thing. And really, if I would make a game I wouldn’t start off by deciding what dice to use but rather think about the mechanics and then pick something that suits. Sadly most games seem to work around the D6 without any particular reason when sometimes they would benefit from using something else.

I have in my collection another game, a boxed game that came with miniature sprues, a rulebook and some cheesy cardboard terrain, called “Combat Zone”. I’ll see if I can paint some models up and give it a try in the near future – but – that game also came with a bag of mixed dice, D4, D6 and some D8’s. That’s surely an alternative if the game developer is anxious about the whole “I hope they’ll find a D8 somewhere – maybe we should use D6’s to be sure that this game will ever be played?” which I’m sure happens, or the mere thought that using something else would scare away the customer.

Again I’m fascinated by using alternative dice, and using multiple variations of dice in the same game feels like a reasonable thing if it enhances the gameplay. Looking thru the rulebook it seems as if different weapons use different dice. And that would be logical, considering some weapons to be more deadly and other not so you are bound to have a few freak results when using a regular D6.

Lastly, there is this game Malifaux that I'm also currently playing – that  blew my mind by completely abandoning use of dice and uses playing cards instead. Sounded like a stupid gimmick, and I’m aware that this would never work on a large scale battlefield with dozens of models that each affect the outcome. But in this particular skirmish game the developers created a system where you have a deck of cards at your disposal and add the card value to whatever stat you are testing/using. In which case you have 13 different results, add to that 4 suits and 2 Jokers. Some factions benefit from using cards with a particular suit – which makes the use of cards even more complex and in my opinion finely tuned. Now of course you don’t just draw 1 card and hope for luck, the game is kind enough to allow the players to have a hand of cards at their disposal, “cheat” by using in game mechanics and also draw cards from the deck.

It may sound complicated and slow paced but it is actually a lot of fun, and from my experience – THE most out of the box solution to generating results that I’ve come across in a game that I play. I wish that we will see games that try out new stuff, more sides on the dice, use of cards, something else? It makes for a different experience and could actually enhance the detail level of results generated.

Of course there is more to this thing than just how many sides the dice have, some of you may be like a couple of friends of mine (and myself of late) that start to be really paranoid about the dice when they don't roll adequate results, sometimes resulting in you running off to buy new dice. If that's the case then you've got to see the videos below to finish my rant about this subject. Links provided to me by John Bailey, he posted them at some point when I talked about rolling crappy/good results as a gamer (I have terrible luck) and if he had designed Secrets with people like me in mind since the game sometimes rewards low and sometimes high end results on a D6. He posted these two videos that I found to be very informative and entertaining (and a bit scary) at the same time. It’s filmed at some game convection John attended and this guy on film was pushing “quality dice” and seems to know all there is to know about the subject. Give it a look.



For those of you wondering “when the hell is this guy going to post some painted miniatures or anything miniature related?!” – well I’m still preparing for a big exam which I’ll have to write this very Friday. So expect some painted stuff appearing on the blog and elsewhere during the weekend.

I also have a “H.P. Lovecraft week” in mind where I plow thru my Arkham Horror boardgame collection, take a look at the author and his works, some random HP Lovecraft related products and movies, PC games and music inspired by his stories – I think it will be great and lots of fun putting that together. I actually have  a long list of stuff that I can do “anytime” and “when time is limited” – so as you may have seen for the past days since the start of the blog there has been very little “time consuming” stuff like painted models appearing. But that will change, have no fear.

If you know any more crazy game systems that use other things than D6 dice please leave info of the game in the comment field.


  1. WarMachine uses D6, but most rolls involve adding several (usually 2 or 3) of them up, in addition to a set delta based on the skill/stat. As such, you get a bell curve rather than six buckets with equal weight.

    I'd quite agree that hauling D6 into buckets is a limited mechanic (even though I still play 40K despite this), but the bell curve makes it much more bearable, even with 6 sided die.

  2. Hm, that sounds interesting,is it the same system that is used in Hordes? As I have a buddy who plays Hordes and could show it to me.

  3. Yeah, Hordes and Warmachine are compatible and somewhat similar. Definitely with regards to the dice mechanic.

  4. Asked him over MSN, it sounds like a good solution and tweak, imo better than just rolling the same die 4 times :-)

  5. Adding up several dice (to get a bell curve) is common practice in many roleplaying games and even in several boardgames like setlers.

    Some games use the number of dice to measure difficulty, so 2 dice is easy, 5 dice is very hard, but this does not only have an impact on the average but also affects the distribution which sometimes might not be intended and sometimes works in favour of the game.

    The problem is ofcourse that it requires separate rolls and you cant really practically roll like that for more than a few models. Compared to the GW model where you usually roll 10 or 20 dice at a time.

  6. Great article. I'm all for rolling 2 dice to get a bell curve myself, as Kriss points out. Think about it - no matter what shape of dice you use when rolling single dice, you'll always have the same set chance of rolling any given number. It's menaingless for a wargame to consider a model that has to roll 2+ better than one that rolls 9+ to get a "hit". You'll have 10% chance of making the roll in either case.

    When rolling for multiple models this gets tricky though. I hate having to carefully announce which individual model I'm rolling for when rolling 2 dice in Warmachine. Maybe a game desinger could introduce a chart to determine how many "hits" a squad/unit will make depending one what number is rolled on 2 dice, rolling for the entire squad at once?

  7. I always assumed that d6's were used because they were extremely common. Besides 6 possibilities are better than coin flipping (which would be even more availalble) with it's 2. And let's be honest: we've all raided the Yahtzee box for the dice.

  8. Freebooter's Fate uses cards to determine which bodyparts of the opponent your mini is targeting and he in turn uses cards to see if he blocked your blows. Alkemy uses simmilar technique, along with custom d6. Both mechanics allow for very fast resolution, cinematic gameplay and lots of bluffing where you're trying to actually out-guess your opponent; reverse psychology all the way.

  9. Sounds cool, the only game with card resolution I play is Malifaux and it works rather well :-)

  10. When I started writing Brink of Battle six years ago, I wanted to get away from d6's as quickly as possible. I've been gaming since 1982, and could choke on the number of d6's I own.

    For BoB I used d10's. I wanted to show the chaos of warfare and how the best trained guy could still be dropped by a novice who got lucky.

    I just read this article and now understand what you were so happy about in our first correspondences. :)

    Great article.

  11. I find D10's offer many more possibilities than a D6 can provide. I also prefer having each result to be 10% rather than 16%, this gives for a more even distribution of skills and other stuff affecting the outcome of a dieroll and can receive finer tuning than D6 game mechanics.

  12. Thank you for this post and links to videos. It was in way an eye opener.

  13. In addition, same gentleman created a 24 sided dice which could fulfill all possible rolls. Here is what he has to say:


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