Updated: Oct 24, 2020
With the unearthing of ancient 20 sided dice (icosahedron) in Rome around 2013, we discovered that people have been using the d20 for over 2000 years to add an air of chance to games or influence their understanding of the world. The commonly accepted theory is that there were games for which these dice were used. Seems reasonable enough given that’s what we do with them today.
Imagine the fantastic characters, deities, and adventures that people conjured with these stones, inscribed with markings whose meanings have been lost to time.
Now consider the six sided die (hexahedron) … it’s been around since before the bronze age. The oldest surviving set of dice are over 5000 years of age. And that’s not to say that they weren’t around even longer, just that earlier iterations would likely be made of wood, or of unaltered sheep knuckle bones, taking little effort to create, but not necessarily lasting through thousands of years of decomposition.
How many stories? How many jeers of bad luck, and shouts of success, have sprung from dice, tossed on tables and in alleyways, by soothsayers, gamblers, and kings alike?
And not unlike our bygone brethren, we still gather around these bones to tell the future of our characters, while weaving a narrative through collective storytelling, as if around the fires we built at the birth of civilization.
We carry a torch that burns deep within us.
Fueled by popular culture like the works of Tolkien, and Gygax, and touched by the magic of Arthurian Legend, many see high fantasy as the most valid backdrop for these games, and with good reason. These legends have lasted decades, and centuries. Generations have shared their stories.
But today, I say we take that torch and set ablaze a world of new possibilities for using these dice. Without the spectres of great writers standing over our shoulders and bending our worlds to theirs, we can play games that are uniquely ours.
It just takes controlling the "ether".
I joke that I pluck fully formed universes from the ether. And to some extent it's true.
In a moment I can conjure the rocky soil that's under your feet or the constellations above that you are gazing at.
It's not so difficult if you try.
And it's not so hard to learn, either. Surprising or not, I've found it's easier for younger people because they don't hold to the constraints of fantasy. They're not burdened by established canon for what the possibilities might be. They aren’t beholden to the spectres of old writers.
Adolescents, in particular, have a perspective that is imaginative, but they also have an often untapped or at least unfiltered perspective on the world at large, and their ability to draw allegorical relations between what they see in the world and their “fantasy” game play experience is enviable. They can unpack questions of morality, deal with ancient evils, and fight for justice, or at least revenge, and leave feeling good about it, all because we grabbed a couple of cuboid pieces of plastic and came up with a story.
I encourage you to join us in this ancient tradition, untethered by the restrictions of canon lore. The possibilities are endless.