Dice – The Alternative Article

I’ve done a lot of articles on dice over the last year or two, so maybe it is time to look at some alternatives. I want to explore the what else we can use to generate random numbers for various games.

We all know what role dice have in a given game. They are there as a tool to generate a random number from a given field of numbers that pertain to whatever prescribed section of the game. The single most common die is the D6, or six sided die. It is used in countless games the world over. And of course there are other dice that come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours.

But what do you do if you happen to lose the die for that game, or you forget your bag of dice on game night? Then you have to use something else, and there are several options to choose from.

First I will take a look at the electronic versions.

One can go to their app store on their phone or tablet and download any number of apps to roll dice. They can range from simple text to full blown animated dice rolling around on screen. They can even use a phone’s gyroscope to detect if the phone is moving and use that to roll the dice.

Most will include options to change how many and of what type are being rolled. Some will let you change the appearance of the dice and the background on which you can roll them. Some even include sounds of dice being rolled.

I’ve used one before called DnDice, available on the Google Play Store. One can roll 3D animated dice on screen. The amount of dice that can be set is staggering. There are plenty of options to change the rolling tray and dice themselves. It is free, but has in-app purchases, though I didn’t do any of that. I think they were mainly to do with dice colours.

When I was in high school and was playing 3rd Ed D&D, we needed dice. However, I was the only one that had any, and I often didn’t use them for fear of losing them. But since we would often play at school, one thing I always had on me was my scientific calculator. We figured out how to make a dice roller on the calculator. It had a random number generator, but would only generator numbers between 0 and 1, up to 3 or 4 decimal places. We would fix the maximum decimal places at 0, then we would multiply the number generator by the size of the die we needed, so a 12 sided die would be RANx12, or a 20 would be RANx20. We could also set up whole strings. A magic longsword with an acid enchantment wielded in two hands by a character with strength 18 (In a D20 system) could have an equation like this (RANx8)+(RANx6)+7. If it didn’t matter what the damage type was, it was a very easy way to roll total damage.

There do exist electronic dice, though they seem mainly in just a D6 form. But there are very few beyond that. Apparently handheld random number generators are not needed anymore, probably with phones taking over that sort of thing. Also, generating numbers randomly on hardware is not easy to do. Though I did find this interesting;+10 Electronic Dice Barbarian Gauntlet from Thinkgeek, but it is no longer available. https://www.thinkgeek.com/product/efc9/

Now let us look at some non-electronic methods.

I read an article the other day about inmates who play RPGs in prison. Those who are incarcerated are often not allowed dice as they can be used for gambling. They can get quite creative in finding dice alternatives. There are four alternatives I will go over in this part; Grids/Tables, Spinners, Cards and Blind Draw.



Back in the old days, when I first started RPing, I lived on a farm, half an hour away from the closest town, which only had a population of about 4000 people. No shop locally sold dice sets, and to this day, I still don’t know where my friend got the Judge Dread RP book from. And this was before the calculator fun I had in highschool with D&D 3rd Ed. But in the back of one of the books my friend had, there were random number tables.

These tables are just a collection of randomly placed numbers in a grid. If the grid is for a D10, then the numbers will range from 1 – 10. A D20 grid will have numbers 1 – 20, and so on for the various different types of dice needed. We would just close our eyes and randomly stab at the page with a pencil to choose a number. As a random number generator, it is not a very good system and can be abused pretty easily. I don’t think we did anything like that, but I don’t remember, as that was 25 years ago.

Like most of the methods in this section, one can make these at home, though it might be a bit tricky to ensure the numbers are randomly spread throughout the grid and not following some sort of pattern.



Some board games have these sorts of devices already as they are cheap to make and can have anything on them for random chance, be it numbers, colours, directions or anything else. The classic example is Twister with its colour and hand/foot spinners. A simple flick of a finger and something is randomly chosen.

Construction is quite simple, evenly marked sections in a circular fashion on a piece of card, and something at the center that can be spun, such as a straightened paperclip on a pin poked through the card. With a couple of measuring instruments, one can even create a spinner that has all the standard dice on it.

As I stated earlier, anything can be put on a spinner, so it could replace any dice, such as a fudge dice, or it can add new things, like a Critical Hit/Miss effect generator.


It is said there are more combinations that a standard deck of 52 cards can be in than there are atoms in the earth. The number is something in the vicinity of 8 x 10⁶⁷, which, to non-math nerds, is the number 8 with sixty seven zeros after it. A well shuffled deck of cards has an extremely high chance of being in an arrangement that has never existed, or never will again. So one can assume from this that it is a good way of generating a random number.

Depending on what sort of dice you need to emulate, you might need some preparation. If you need a D6, then use numbers Ace – 6. If you need something more, then use what is appropriate. Need a D20? Use Ace – 10 of the red suits as 1 – 10 and Ace – 10 of black suits as 11 – 20. Cards could also be marked on the face to read certain numbers, depending on one’s need.

Some games already use cards instead of dice. The miniatures game Malifaux uses such cards, calling them Fate Decks. One can use a regular deck of cards, or they produce their own custom decks with fancy artwork and different suit symbols.

A deck of cards is something that is very easy to acquire, but not easy to make. Sure, you can make your own deck, but it is significantly easier to just go out and buy a deck. I could go down to my local cheap shop and pick up a deck for a couple of dollars. And you can get ones made out of plastic rather than card, so are very resilient to damage.

Blind Draw

The single most easy option from this list, blind draw involves scribing some numbers on a small piece of something, throwing them into some sort of container and picking one at random. The card game version of Arkham Horror uses this method with its Chaos Tokens, due to how the amounts of tokens can change with the difficulty of the scenario.

Got a writing implement of any kind, some scrap paper and an object that can hold things? Congratulations, you can make a dice alternative! Write what numbers you need on paper or card or old Scrabble tiles or any amount of small, same looking and shaped objects. Throw all those objects into a container, preferably something you either can’t see into or you can shake around. Pick a random object and BINGO!, you have your random number. Depending on how much effort you want to put into it, you can have a die alternative of any number of sides. Who knows when you might need a D37?


I’m sure there must be more alternatives than what I’ve gone into, so let us know in the comments below what sort of measures you have been forced to do to replace a die or two. Or perhaps it is a hobby of yours to create these sorts of things. If so, let us know too.

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One Comment
  1. emptiful
    April 17, 2018 |