|Vengence of the dice gods (picture from the blog |
of a talented artist named Vorgus)
In a game ruled entirely by chance, it's not entirely unnatural that a few superstitions should grow up around it. Most common is the phenomenon of the 'dice gods'; supernatural, statistical beings who play with the fates as a child plays at marbles. It's a convenient crutch for the unlucky to be able to blame the gods for his/her misfortune. Tied to this is the sacred liturgy which speaks of being able to appease or even anger the gods, mainly through either beardy gaming or playing with unpainted models.
Sometimes (myself included here), our irrational anger is directed towards those cubes of fate themselves: the humble dice. According to Professor Wikipedia, dice predate recorded history, and so it's only logical to assume that ancient Mesopotamians cursed a run of snake eyes sitting around a table with their friends much as we do today. A number of the curious cleromantic quirks we engage in include:
- Ordeal by Water. An uncooperative die is punished by being kept in water (or more usually the cold dregs of a leftover cup of tea) for a short time. (This is one of my favourites).
- Ordeal by Isolation. A die is deliberately overlooked and left in your carry case on its own, without any supper, to think about what it's done.
- Ordeal by Crushing. A die is left under a heavy rulebook, or in extreme cases, a chair leg as a punishment.
- Ordeal by Fire. (Extreme and quite rare), where a die is ritualistically incinerated in a blast furnace.
An so on. But, of course, for every explanation religion has, science has a counter-argument. Just as there are dice gods, so too is there dice science, or 'diceology', purported as the true answer to wargaming. This generally takes the form of loosely-misinterpreted pseudo-maths. The schools of diceological thought include:
- 'Playing the dice', where before a game a player will roll a bunch of dice together. All those which come up as '1' are kept aside, on the assumption that it won't roll another one straight afterwards and can be safely called upon when a six is needed. (Actually, tongue-in-cheek superstitions aside, an alarming number of people really believe this one)
- The theory that dice are predisposed to resist cajoling or over-enthusiastic shaking, and so by throwing a die quickly, you can catch it off guard and get a six.
- Use of loaded dice. Not really superstition, or diceology. Mainly cheating.
Of course, it's all baloney. And we know it's baloney, and doesn't really work (except the loaded dice). But it still gives us a bit of pleasure to pretend it's real I suppose. Some of them have a purpose, like scaring young 'uns into painting up their models for the club with tales of vengeful gods. I've found it's a bit of a community thing among gamers, and I suppose a communal game would be a little boring if, when firing a shot and scoring an unlikely hit we were to exclaim, "I say, how unlikely, yet statistically feasible", instead of shouted prayers to imaginary gods. The thing about wargaming is there is a very strong sense of natural selection, and things that don't need to be there usually fall by the wayside. This quirky trait of most gamers seems to be very strong indeed, because like wargaming itself, superstitions like this are fun, even though we know it's not real.
But on a more serious note I bet that most wargamers have a better grasp of certain statistical concepts than the ordinary man on the street. Certainly, working out the probability of a guardsman killing himself by firing a plasma gun taught me more about statistics than any of my A-Level statistics lessons. And the odds of a snake eyes (1/36) or of a mutated snake eyes (1/216), or even a twin snake eyes (1/1296) are engrained in my head now forever.
Bit of an odd post, but just some filler while I wait for my Forgeworld purchases to arrive. But I like holding our hobby up to scrutiny once in a while.