As always, I’m fiddling with things to help improve running my game. Lately a bug has bitten me about using a dice tower for those rolls behind the screen. For the uninformed, a dice tower is a simple contraption that is an open ended box filled with a series of angled slats. You drop dice in one end, they fall out the other, tumbling over the various slats in between. Some are very nice like the ones available at geek chic.
As a DM, I’ve grown to love using a dice tower for several reasons.
Limited space – Between my notes, maps, and books, space behind my screen is limited. I like that I can get a good roll out of the dice, and not have them going everywhere. Typically I’ve got a fair amount of combatants in a fight. I’m rolling for 4-6 minions at a single go. It’s nice to not have to track down dice that scatter all over when I roll a handful.
Less dice mishaps – If using an open ended tower, I’d have it roll up against a screen. For mine, I have a small tray the dice roll into. But in either case, you are going to limit the number of dice that roll off the table, or get a cocked result. I hate having to reroll dice, especially on a cocked die that likely missed only to reroll a 20.
Impressions of impartiality and randomness – You dump in the dice and it comes out the other end. Simple. When I’m rolling for 3+ monsters, I might get a flat roll. Especially with D4s that don’t tumble too well. I hate rolling a few dice and get that one die that flips once or twice. Everyone around the table are friends, but I dislike it when I flub a decent throw and end up having a die result that hurts the player. And face it, as a DM you are rolling a lot of dice. I like that I can go through the mechanical process of rolling dice with some uniformity. Using a dice tower aids in that.
The tower also acts as a great cushion between you and the players when rolling. Psychologically players can take their ire out on the dice tower when the DM rolls a series of critical hits. You can get this a bit using a computer program for rolling dice. I’ve always liked having dice on the table though. This leads me into the last point…
It reminds people you’re playing a game – A dice tower is a toy. It helps remind folks not to take things too seriously. It reinforces that things aren’t personal, the DM is just dumping dice through a contraption. I’ve found at times the tower becomes part of the game. Occasionally I’ve gotten players wanting to use it. When they failed a save twice, I don’t find it unusual to have them throwing the next one via the dice tower. Using a dice tower has helped reinforce that we’re all having goofy fun, using something that at times is inordinately convoluted for something as simple as rolling a single D20.
Dice towers are easy to make. I made mine out of foam board, assembled with white glue and toothpicks as dowels for a bit of support. I also have a detachable tray that fits over the entire box for easy storage. You can pick up the stuff at your local hobby craft store.
Over at Board Game Geek you can find a decent set of plans that fits on just one page. If you don’t want to bother printing on cardstock, an easy way to construct this is with cardboard (just print and paste onto the material). You can also bypass cutting slots for the tabs and just fold them instead, securing with a bit of tape. I encourage people to take a stab at making their own dice tower and use it in your game. It’s a fun thing to have at the table.