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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Veteran of the Dice Wars

     Here's a nice picture of the "low impact" dice included with the Holmes Basic Set. On Flickr, found via Google Images. Good choice for the background:

     There's no ten-sided die in this set - they weren't available for sale until 1980. Instead, the white twenty-sider was numbered 0-9 twice, and was rolled with a control die (d6) to generate a d20 result (1-3 = 0-9; 4-6 = 11-20; per the instructions in the Holmes rulebook).

     Update: Note that these dice were all pre-inked by the manufacturer. If you look closely in the advertisements below you'll see that the dice already have ink on them.

     This set was included in the Holmes Basic Set starting with the 1st print (1977), and are shown (in black and white) in the photo on the bottom of the box with the Dungeon Geomorphs and the Monster & Treasure Assortment Set 1. The same photo showed up in color in a TSR catalog from 1977/1978 (a predecessor to the common "Gateway to Adventure" catalogs):

    The same set, which TSR called Polyhedra Dice, was also provided with Gamma World  boxed sets. TSR also sold the set separately ($1.49), as well as a set of two twenty-siders (one white, one pink) called Percentile Dice ($.89), as shown in the same catalog:

     In Nov 1978, TSR released the 2nd edition of the Holmes Basic Set, with the module B1 In Search of the Unknown replacing the Geomorphs and M&TA. The dice remained the same, as shown in this advertisement:
     At some point while they were selling this edition, the dice supply ran short and the infamous chits were introduced. Here's an advertisement showing the set with B1 and chits:

     In December 1979, the third edition was released, with B2 Keep on the Borderlands replacing B1. The sets still had chits in them, as shown in this ad, which is very similar to the one above:

     This is the version that I had as my first D&D set (which I got in 1982). The Acaeum also reports that some sets have been found with six dice, and the very last printing of the rule book refers to d10 with the other dice, so in 1980 they may have switched back to providing dice once they were available again.

     Which set did you have?

See also:
TSR Percentile Dice in the '70s
How Gaming Got Its Dice - article by Jon Peterson on Playing at the World


  1. So, when did people figure out the trick of using a red crayon on half the numbers on the d20 and a black crayon on the other half? I think that was SOP when I got my Blue Box dice.

  2. As ever, thanks for this post. It's a terrific walk down memory lane.

    @Roger: I'm curious: where did you live when you started gaming? I ask because I have a theory that whether one used different colored pens/crayons or a control die is a regional thing.

  3. I had the set with B2 and chits. We actually used the chits for a few sessions. I don't remember how or where I got the dice but they came with a cheap crayon.

    Since I didn't know anyone else who played D&D (nor had I seen it played before I bought it), no one could have told me to use the crayons other than TSR.

    Those low impact dice were worthless. I threw them away in disgust the first time I got real dice.

  4. First edition is what I started with in 7th grade. I never encountered B1 and B2 until we'd moved over to AD&D years later. So honestly, they don't mean much to me. The adventure in the rule book on the other hand, and those colored dice...they still evoke wonder all these years later. And yes, I used crayon on the d20. That was down in Tennessee, for James' regional hypothesis.

  5. Ah, yes! Those dice. I still have the d12, d8, d6, the others are gone. Doing some research on the most excellent acaeum basic sets site I realize that I have the 5th edition. Got it '78 or '79, not sure. Came with B1 and No Dice. I got them seperately at some point thereafter.

  6. James to answer your question to Roger, We did both the control die and colored our dice. Sometimes we colored the faces with paint. I'm from Michigan.

  7. I should have mentioned this in my original post: The rainbow low-impact dice are pre-inked. If you look closely in the pictures above that show dice you'll see that they already have ink on them. For generating 1-20 or 1-100 you need to roll a control die or roll twice. Some folks in my gaming group were surprised when I told them about this because they assumed that all of the early dice had to be self-inked, but that wasn't the case with this set.

  8. I have what I think is the third print. It had B2 and the chits. I had cut out the chits to use them and hated them. I was glad to get dice soon after.