Advice From A Precision Dice Addict, Part 2: The Old School d20

When my lovely wife, +Kathryn Muszkiewicz, saw my recent Diamond Dice purchases, she grimaced. Not because I have spent enough on dice in the past month to afford several full sets of Zocchis, but because she didn't like the d20s. She liked the d6s and d12s, particularly since they're bigger than GameScience dice (and yes, she has her own GS dice, so she has a point of comparison). She dug the chunkiness of the d8, d10s and d4. It was the d20 that drew her ire.

Old school d20s like the Diamond Dice are numbered differently from the d20 of today. Rather than being numbered from "1" to "20," these old dice are numbered from "1" through "0" (like ye olde d10), twice. This is the point where Katie freaked out. How was she supposed to tell if she'd rolled a 20 or a 10? 

"Well, Katie, when you ink them, you ink each set of 1 through 0 a different color."

But how do you decide which color is "high" or "low?" 

"You just pick one. That's 'high.' The other is 'low.'"

You'd probably do that before you roll, right?

"Yep. I'd try to keep my colors consistent, too. So, like, if I roll a silver '3,' I'd know that's an actual '3,' whereas a gold '3' would be a '13.'"

Huh, that sound annoying.

"Well, back in the day, that's all we had."

Sometimes I hate back in the day.

"You had to be there, Katie. You had to be there."

Sorting out the Old School d20

So, here's the thing: since your dice's numbers are all jumbled up, you could just hunt and peck and color facets "1" through "0" at random, or maybe even try to even things out. That's what I tried to do at first. Before I learned to true way of the Old School d20. Now, I found the rhythm, the real order of the Old School d20. And now that I know its secrets, I must share them with you.

Step One: Find Your Polar Arrays

This sounds complicated! So here's the thing: there are three different segments of the Old School d20. There are two polar arrays and an equatorial belt. I know that sounds fancy, but it's actually pretty simple. Look for a vertex that is surrounded by the following numbers: 1, 3, 5, 6 & 9. (A vertex means the peak where facets join together.) This will be easy because the top of each of these numbers points toward that vertex. Directly opposite of this vertex on the other side of the die is exactly the same (numbered 1, 3, 5, 6 & 9). Congratulations! That was the easy part!

Step Two: Ink Your Polar Arrays

Now that you know what they are, you're going to ink your polar arrays. Pick the first of the two colors that you plan on using for these dice (silver & gold is good, but I actually use all sorts of colors; it's best to use colors that directly contrast), and ink (using yesterday's techniques) three of the facets on one polar array, preferably in a spaced-out manner (I like to 1, 3 & 5). With the same color, color the facets you didn't choose for the other polar array and ink them here (in my example, it would be 6 & 9; I'll always do 6 & 9 together because... duuuuuuude!). 

Step Three: Find Your Equatorial Belt & Ink It

Holding your partially-inked die by its polar vertices (come on, you play RPGs, you should be able to figure this out), you'll notice that there's a belt of numbers around the center, half of which are right-side-up and half of which are upside-down. These will read (starting at "0"): 0, 7, 2, 4 & 8. Oh look, it's the numbers that were missing from the polar arrays. Ink just sequence that you can read with the same color you partially inked your polar arrays. 

Step Four: Everything Else Is Another Color

Now just fill in what you haven't done yet in another color. Dispense with fancy terminology that I made up to talk about where things are on dice, and get rolling. Done. Have fun.

The Old School d20 was a sort of fun mystery to unravel for me. I knew how to do it, I just didn't know the best way to do it. For me, that is. I mean, of course I think I hit upon the best way in an objective sense, but I recognize that my POV is just my own. I'm also kind of jazzed up about the funky terms I strung together to describe dice. Polar array indeed. Sounds so much cooler than "the top side."

As an afterthought, there is another type of Old School d20 that is much easier to work with than the Diamond Dice style. Armory used to make Old School d20s that were numbered "1" through "0" and "+1" through "+0." These are much easier to sort out and don't even require different colors. Armory dice are, however, very difficult to find. I'd love to find some Armory d30s (the "1-30" kind), but there is a total dearth of them on teh interwebs.