Picking Up 5d4

Do you ever have days when you feel that you’d rather pick up 5d4 – or whatever other combination of dice – and roll them because that would be more satisfying than the day you just experienced?

Today was one of those tough, tiring, enervating, and disappointing days to which the only response I have is to grieve. I don’t know if anyone else knows what I am speaking of here, but some days leave me weeping on the floor, closer to despair, and exhausted. These are the days when, of all things, dice are my friend.

I carry dice in my pocket. Usually it’s 3d6 – nice, logical, orthodox dice that don’t make the regular people around me freak out too much should they catch me with them. Because, let’s be honest, most folk think dice are weird and geeky outside of a good boardgame.

Dice are my fidget toy and my comfort blanket. When I touch dice I feel connected to the community of friends, the imaginative worlds, and to memories of the deeply enjoyable moments I have experienced as a gamer. Dice are a symbol of who I have become outside of the box our dehumanising culture has put me into. Dice are a form of cultural resistance.

When I got home today I saw a whole array of dice on my desk at home… and the four-siders were standing out proud and bold. I should mention here that, as a rule, I really dislike the d4. But for every one I have stood on, every clunky d4 I have tried to roll (because four-siders don’t truly roll), today they were the best thing and the one thing that I needed when I got home.

5d4 is the character creation attribute roll in one of my favourite fantasy roleplaying games: Imagine. When I first read the rules, I was pretty disappointed with the use of d4s and immediately went hunting for the alternative systems. I found those in the Master’s Guide. But my opinion of the roll of 5d4 changed when I rolled them. Well, actually, you roll 7d4 and take away the lowest 2 results for most of the attributes, but you get the idea.

There is something about the rattle of 5d4 and the particular curve of the mathematical probability that resonates with me. There is something… older…. or more archaic..? It feels right for a fantasy roleplaying system to be rolling a handful of weird dice and using them as the basis for constructing a new heroic character.

Anyway, when I got home… 5d4. That was my grounding action. This was the thing that anchored me back in the present moment. To realise that in every roll of the dice – a metaphor for every one of the actions we attempt each day – there is a resolution and also a need to accept the result.

Somehow, as I rolled those dice, I recognised that I needed to adjudicate the outcome of my day in the same way I need to adjudicate the roll of the dice in a roleplaying game. I considered the options I have as the Game Master…

Pass/fail or fail forward? Seeing it as a degree of success or failure in a range of possibilities? As I try to make sense of my tough daily experience, it seems much more useful to see the degree of failure – closely missed but filled with the opportunity to learn – than to consign my efforts to the judgement of simple failure.

I’m not sure what this rambling reflection is really all about except to say that, the way I see it, rolling 5d4 is a heck of a lot more sensible to me than some other options I could consider. Would you rather I got drunk, or acted out, or got angry? Dice ground me back to reality and help remind me that the lives we experience all require a narrative which we can construct in more than one way.

Anyway… if you ever have a tough, tiring, enervating, and disappointing day to which the only response you have is to grieve, know that you are not alone. Rolling 5d4 is optional.

Game on!


  1. Rolling any number of d4 seems like more punishment to me.
    I think perhaps it’s more about the games and experiences they represent than the dice themselves.
    Given a choice and the presence of mind to take it, I’d rather roll a d8 to achieve my d4 result every time.. it’s just a annoying, trying to work out multiple d8s as d4s.
    I’d like to find someone who makes rollable d4s or d8 with just 1-4 on them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.