hist-games: Re: Dice

David KUIJT kuijt at umiacs.umd.edu
Thu Mar 4 14:21:28 PST 1999

On Thu, 4 Mar 1999, Michael Burridge wrote:

> >Dice never had numbers.  I haven't seen any examples with numbers, not
> >one.  They all had pips.  Pips are usually of the "dot and ring" 
> design;
> >some Roman examples were dot-and-double-ring.  It is trivial to make a
> >tool that will drill out dot-and-ring or dot-and-double-ring designs 
> (I've
> >done it myself with a flattened nail and a file).
>   I'm afraid that I don't quite understand what you mean by "dot and 
> ring."  Could you give me a further discription of these pips so that I 
> might try making them myself?  For instance, how would I use the 
> flattened nail and file?   I'm kinda assuming the pips are to be colored 
> in - but how should I go about doing this?

"dot and ring" is a circle with a dot in the center.  Many modern dice
use this pip design; only the smallest dice have just a dot.

Take a nail, cut off the head and point so you have a cylinder.

File one end to a wedge shape, so it looks like a (very steep) simple
roof; an inverted V shape.  NOT A POINT!  Like a chisel.

Now take a fine metalcutting saw and make a small cut, off-center,
perpendicular to the chisel-edge.  You'll end up with something sortof
like this:

(top: chisel edge)

+-------+ +-----+
|       | |     |
|       +-+     |
|               |
|               |
.nail below here.

Now file the chisel edge down on the two edges (perpendicular to the way
you filed to make the edge originally) to get the following shape:

     /  | |\
   /    +-+  \  
 /             \
|               |
.nail below here.

When you put that device in a hand-drill (or even spin it in your fingers)
it will make a "dot-and-ring" pattern.

>   (Also, how widely did the size of dice vary? 

Very wide variation.  One of the jet dice in Jorvik is, if I recall
correctly, something like 1" x 1.25" x 1.5" (measurements very
approximate).  In other words, it is neither uniform nor square.

Some Roman dice were quite small.

I suspect that you could use any normal dice (even some of the small ones)
as a model for size and get a perfectly satisfactory medieval die.  The
size variation I've seen all in 20 or so examples of medieval dice fall
within the range of possible modern dice.  Although 20 examples (half of
which are Roman, and very few from the central Medieval period) aren't
nearly enough for the sort of generalization I'm about to make, here you
go: I don't see any reason to say that dice size ranges have changed at
all in the last two millenia.

> Any other die construction tips?)

What material are you making them from?


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