A big part of the Thirdwalling gaming philosophy is breaking down the game into its component pieces, enhancing the key elements of play and discarding the frivolous components. Some upcoming entries will detail the contents of our pack, highlighting how this philosophy has led to a streamlining of the game experience without a lot of extraneous clutter. But for now, our philosophy has had very little need for something as bulky and single-purposed as a dice tower. Now we’ll decide if we were right in casting off this gaming gadget, or is it an indispensable piece of tabletop technology?
While researching for an upcoming project involving loaded dice (watch for updates here!) I needed to find a way to take the “human element” out of rolling dice. The Thirdwalling crew bounced around ideas ranging from Yahtzee! dice cups to robot arms (admit it, you want one too) but we ultimately settled on the cheapest option; a dice tower. See, I’ve recently been spending a great deal of time building my own custom 2.5D Terrain with varying degrees of success. This cardboard crafting has left me a healthy supply of cardboard and hot glue and a reasonable level of confidence in building with those materials. So a few dice rollers provided the random impartiality my project needed at the right price (totally free!).
Now that they have served their purpose, I’ve decided to use them at the table just for the “gadget” factor. In my time with them at the table, I came to a few conclusions about their use:
1.) Use them if they are there, but don’t carry one around.
Even small dice towers are bulky compared to dice trays or just rolling on the table. If you play somewhere that you are comfortable leaving your tower or if your Game Master provides them, they are a great tool – but their return simply is not worth their bulk. They’ll make a good addition to a gaming room or geeky-man-cave, especially some of the nicer looking wooden and foam-board ones. We’ve talked before about building them into custom GM screens.
2.) Contrary to my previous assumption, when space is limited they’re better!
If you have butter-fingers like I do, the tower helps keep things controlled. Nothing ruins the immersion-factor of gaming with miniatures on the table quite like having a stray D20 bowl through your miniatures like one of Sherman’s cannonballs through Atlanta (too soon?). The same is true of dice bouncing across the table to roll under the bookshelf or disappearing down an Air Conditioning vent. When space is tight, rolling in a dice tower confines the dice to a smaller area – reducing the risk that they’ll level the miniature playing field, or vanish into the cats’ domain. One person I talked to at my local game shop said they use them when they play at the house because they have young children. Keeping the dice in a tower means they aren’t being swallowed by curious infants!
3.) Don’t use them for every roll – just the really important ones.
For better or for worse, dice towers are a distraction. Depending on how they spit the dice out, they can make it harder to read them and depending on the complexity or number of baffles inside they can take longer to actually roll than dropping a fistful of D6 onto the table would. For that reason, I’d say only use them for the really dramatic rolls, where the added sound and suspense heightens the experience and doesn’t slow down gameplay. When the big liche is throwing a maximized fireball, employ the dice tower. When the bard is trying a Charisma roll to get free drinks at the bar, again? Toss it by hand.
I especially liked using them for damage rolls at dramatic moments in play – a critical hit against the module’s final boss or the big dragon’s breath attack against the already-injured party, for example. In those moments, it was a fun tool and really made the damage seem more “random” than the GM throwing down a fist full of dice!
4.) Make your own!
… and donate them to your local game store. There are a lot of really great commercial dice towers out there ranging in price from a few dollars to $100 or more – but making your own from cardboard is really rewarding and a lot of fun. If you’ve got some foam board or cardboard laying around, you’ve got a dice tower. Spending money on a commercial one just doesn’t have the same effect as showing up for your next game with a tower customized to the character, game or setting. And once it is made, leave it wherever you usually play (the game room, the local game shop, etc). That way other people can use them and you don’t have to remember to bring them to every session. Just remember to send us a picture if you make your own. You may find it featured in a future post on Thirdwalling!
Got something to say about dice towers? Got a picture of one you’ve built? Take it to the comments!
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[Dice Tower Image by Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ]