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Introducing Dice Positivity: Why Punishing Dice is Hurting Your Game

Introducing Dice Positivity: Why Punishing Dice is Hurting Your Game

Grymwatch Dice...  They're so pretty

Dice are complicated little creatures. They have many sides to them*

*Six, in fact. Sometimes more.

Owning dice is a pleasure. We love dice.  They allow us to play Underworlds, they enrich our lives, and in some cases, the enrich lives of our children or loved ones. We love their crazy antics, the way that they eagerly roll crits when a single support would do. 

But owning and rolling dice is also a big responsibility. Dice can sometimes do the wrong thing, and sometimes their behaviour will be very disappointing. It can be hurtful when the behaviour of our dice isn’t nearly as good as that of our opponent, whose defence dice obediently show up crits on demand, and the only time they roll dodges for Shield warbands is when they’ve played Rebound, while your dice are busy getting cocked or falling off the table. In those times, it can be tempting to punish your dice – to put them in Time Out, dice jail or in some extreme cases, resort to permanent banishment. But I’m here to tell you that the best way to improve your dice’s behaviour is through love, and support, both single and double.

One of the most important aspects of a die is that its behaviour is random. They try their hardest to please us, but there’s no telling what they will do from one roll to the next. We as somewhat rational beings, attempt to project our expectations, and calculate the odds, but the reality is that odds of 1:6, 1:3 etc are figures that are based on a couple of different and not-entirely-true assumptions:

1.      1. Estimates of odds assume an infinite number of trials. Now this may seem like semantics, but it is worth considering. A six-sided die may have a 1:6 chance of rolling a single support, but it is perfectly possible for you to roll that dice and get nothing but single supports for your entire life; because your life is but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a bat of Eternity’s eyelash (And to think, you choose spend it looking at memes and complaining about Rebound...). If that die keeps rolling until the inevitable heat-death of the universe, it’s likely to approach a 1:6 distribution of single supports.
2.      2. Our notional odds are based on dice that are free of bias. They may be perfect in our eyes, but dice bias is a real thing. Bias refers to one or more factors that may stop “a thing” from performing in a balanced way (see for example, any media that has come in contact with Rupert Murdoch).  Die with carved faces are likely to have uneven distribution of weight as some faces will have more material removed from them than others; whilst others might have bubbles in the plastic below the surface; still others will have faces that are appreciably not flat. All of these may make some results more or less likely than others. Testing bias can be tricky, especially when considering point 1, but it’s probably worth a bit of an inspection of your dice collection for any rogues*.

 *If you find a rogue, toss it. If you knowingly keep a biased dice and use it for certain rolls, you’re a cheat. Plain and simple

Now that we’ve established that our notions of Math-hammer are fundamentally flawed (though useful as a guide!), we need to establish another point. Dice do not have memory.  Just because you failed a 7 dice attack last roll, doesn’t mean you’re ‘owed’ a double crit this roll. Just because your luck was atrocious last game, doesn’t mean it will be brilliant this game. The odds of any roll occurring are entirely independent on those rolls that have gone before. Believing otherwise is called The Gambler’s Fallacy and has been the ruin of many a person.  The notion of ‘luck’ as an enduring trait is one that crosses cultures and history, but it remains a narrative construct attributable to humanity’s reflexive ability to ascribe meaning to random events.  In case you’re wondering, there is some research showing that what actually affects a person’s ‘luck’ is their ability to adapt plans and patterns of behaviour to embrace opportunity (  

“All well and good, Rowan, but why should I love my dice?”

One of the simplest reasons to take a positive disposition towards dice and ‘luck’, is that people’s decision-making ability is known to strongly biased due to emotional stakes. If you’ve done any Philosophy study, or have watched The Good Place, you will have probably heard of the Trolley Problem. The Trolley Problem places people in a horrible bind -  they and they alone can divert runaway trolley/tram/train onto a siding that would otherwise kill 5 people. The catch is that standing on a siding is another person, who would otherwise be unharmed.  Seems like a no-brainer right? 5 lives saved for one spent. Easy. Well, it turns out that only a minority of people will actually pull the lever. The reason, primarily, is that again, our tendency to ascribe meaning to random situations gets in the way. Most people will perceive themselves as actively ‘killing’ the person on the siding, and our emotional response to murder tells us that this is worse than passively watching 5 people die.  I did my thesis on this problem. We found that people were even more likely to not pull the lever if they knew the person on the siding (down from around 30% to 2%), but were significantly more likely to be do so if the person on the siding was described as obese (rising to almost 1 in 2).  Despite the maths saying this is an obvious win, most people will not intervene.  In fact, it turns out that people are still loathe to intervene in some of the myriad variations, such as the Foot Problem, where cutting a person’s foot off (they live) would save 500 people infected with a rare virus!

“Rowan, you’re still not talking Underworlds….and the word ‘Goblin’ hasn’t been mentioned once’

All in good time. I’m establishing a point. In Warhammer Underworlds, we’re presented with a limited number of opportunities to roll dice. We have a limited number of actions, and it’s important that we make clear, rational, evidence-based decisions in order to maximise our chances of winning. If you get angry at your dice for failing you, or fixate on a really low odds event from happening (suck it up buddy, the odds of that thing that happened happening are now 1), you’re more likely to get emotional, which is likely to skew your decision-making, and almost never in a positive way. Returning to the article I cited earlier -  Neuroticism (peoples’ predisposition to worry) is correlated with tunnel-vision, and above average cognitive load, leading to impaired concentration and decision making (I did a research project on this testing peoples' performance in a driving simulator – I had so much fun at uni!).  As you might expect, the tendency to worry is increased with stress or emotion.  Thus, getting angry about past rolls is actively impairing your decision-making going forward. Okay, we all know about ‘choking’ or going ‘on-tilt’, but understanding the mechanism behind how you got to that point is a great way to understand how not to do get there in the first place.

Underworlds is a game of risk-mitigation. Making sure you have a support or using ploys to increase your odds of success is a fundamental part of the game. The game is complex enough too that there are often multiple options or previously unforeseen opportunities that crop up. Being able to dispassionately and sort those options into most efficient or least risky is a crucial skill that marks a good player from a not-so-good player, and good players rarely blame their dice.

Okay, now it’s time to talk about how to become better dice owners.

1. Dice are social creatures. Roll more where possible.
In almost all cases in Warhammer Underworlds, it’s better to roll more dice than fewer. Three Swords is mostly a better attack than Two Hammers. Occasionally it’s merely ‘as good’, but mostly it’s better. This is pretty obvious, but if you need to succeed at a dice roll, look at ways to increase your dice.
2. Dice are shy creatures. They need supports.
Supported attacks are brilliant, but subtle. A Swords fighter attacking with a support is as good as a Hammer fighter (though typically rolling more dice), while a Hammer fighter gets waaay good (a single support will take a 2 Hammer attack vs a 1 dodge defence from 59% success to 72% success, which is roughly as good as rolling an extra die).  As you rarely have the agency to dictate where attacks you receive come from, supports are not as impactful on defence, but be on the lookout for opportunity where they can be applied
3. You can prepare dice for the world, but ultimately they make their own decisions
In case it wasn't clear earlier, I am a devotee of Math-Hammer. Knowing the approximate likelihood of an attack is important. But don't be slavish to it - don't read 16% as impossible or 83% as certain. On balance, if you have two options that are going to net equal glory, you should always take the one that has a higher likelihood of success - so long as it doesn't come with a greatly increased risk of something bad happening down the line. 
4. It takes a village to raise dice. Celebrate the success of dice that aren’t yours.
It’s easy to be a sour puss when your opponent rolls a crit-def against you yet again (Looking at you, Alex!), but as I mentioned earlier, getting emotional about the issue will only a) leave you prone to decision-making errors b) annoy/insult your opponent, which can make the whole experience pretty awful. Now emotions are reflexive, unbidden reactions, and it’s not possible to not feel them, but using that energy in a positive way can be as simple as a laughing and offering your opponent a high-five. If you don’t feel like doing that, simply saying ‘oh, I really hoped that attack succeeded’ is a legitimate way to reduce negative emotion. If that doesn’t work, excuse yourself, take a bathroom break and come back composed and with a smile on your face.
5. Put yourself in Time-Out, not the dice.
Underworlds is a highly dynamic game – there are lots of decisions to be made, and each one can have an impact on the eventual outcome. I would encourage all players to mentally review each game you play, and not just stewing over the ones you lose. Sometimes, you’ll have won a game despite making an absolute howler of a mistake, and that’s something to take as much note of as those games where you made correct decisions throughout, but the dice didn’t cooperate. Comparing those two hypothetical games, the game you should lose sleep over is the game you made the big mistake, not the one that came down to a dice roll, despite the fact that you won. Let’s imagine for a second you’re doomed to play those two games over and over and over (not unlike the fluff of Underworlds). As the dice trend back towards expected outcomes, you’re going to lose the former more often than you do the latter.  If you’re always blaming the dice, you won’t recognise where your own game let you down.
6. Dice can’t do everything. You need practice too.
Related to point 4. Practice makes perfect. Wherever possible play games. If, like me, your playing time is limited, you can still practice deploying vs different warbands (yes, I am that sad), or practice card-play. Not only is practice good at building familiarity with your deck and your fighters, but the more you can internalise your moves or decisions, the less vulnerable you are to the kinds of emotional distractions caused by the swings and roundabouts of the game.
7. Dice can’t do anything about cards.
Cards like the super-wholesome and community darling Rebound excepted, Dice don’t generally affect your cards. Again, this seems obvious, but unlike Magic the Gathering players, we tend not to blame our cards, instead taking it out on our poor little dice.  Depending on the warband you’re playing, you could roll nothing but crits but still lose if you’ve taken bad objective and power hand that won’t allow you to progress your strategy. Learn which of your cards are essential to your deck, and which you can mulligan away (or discard between rounds) if needed. Be sure to include your card decision-making in your mental reviews.
8. Celebrate your dice’s success. Take them out for ice-cream.
I’m serious. Love the little cubes and they’ll love you right back.

Anyway, that’s all for today. I hope this has given you a bit of a different perspective on dice, or at least I hope there’s a bit less dice blaming going forward. If you found any of that interesting, I’m more than happy to talk psychology or Underworlds, just drop me a line on Facebook.




  1. Thanks for interesting read. I have to major remarks.

    1. "Dice do not have memory." And how do you know that? You have to assume implicitly many things to come to that conclusion. For instance, that there is no luck, karma, magic, hidden demon or whatever in this world. And this is a sign of hubris and arrogance typical to the post-age of enlightened modern people.

    2. From the enlightened, scientific perspective - there is no such thing as probability or randomness. We use this concepts to describe systems which are way too complex to be understood. Is a dice roll a "random" event (whatever that means)? No, it is not. It is FULLY deterministic. However, the outcome depends on so many factors beyond our control, that we tend to think of it as "random".

    Certain people may have certain dice-rolling habits and as a results obtain results which will not follow the theoretical distribution even in a very long term.

    1. Oh, I'm going to have to disagree with you there. I think the only truly humble way to approach an argument is through objective data. From my perspective, claiming that forces such as magic, Karma or luck exist in the face of available evidence is where true arrogance lies.

      As for whether or not people have 'habits' that obtain non-random results, if those people are successful in this endeavour, those people are cheating. Simple. We play games on the shared understanding that rolls are random, not to a strict scientific definition, but a social definition that's 'near enough'. Now we all do things like giving an important roll an extra shake or toss it that bit harder, but that's in hope, nothing more. If someone has practiced and refined a technique that actually produces results, they're ethically no better than a person who uses loaded dice.

      Now if they're doing that at a Casino, I don't care, because screw those guys, but the "dice sharps" is using their technique to win an Underworlds Tournament, then they should be pitied and reviled in equal measure.


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