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Tips and Tricks: Easy dice alternatives in tabletop gaming

Kids too young for dice? Small children in the house and worried about them finding missing dice? Dice difficult to see or use? Here’s some options to help find alternatives!

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Why consider dice alternatives?

There’s lots of reasons to consider swapping your regular sized dice for something else, including: 

  • Worried about child choking hazard
  • Small numbers difficult to read due to eyesight
  • Dice difficult to pick up due to arthritis
  • Players are having a hard time counting
  • You want to try a lawn game TTRPG session

If you are concerned about using small dice at your table or are having difficulty using dice, here are some alternative options that you can use to help keep randomization in your tabletop games!

Also, in parallel to this article on dice alternative crafts, I put up an article for ready-to-go dice options that maybe a little more child friendly or fit some of the other needs listed above.  I kept it separate to focus on crafts/DIY here, but if you are looking to buy some alternative dice, please check out my other article!

Dice alternative crafts:

Number tube

To make the number tube, you need:

  • Cylindrical container (I used a leftover breadcrumb tube)
  • Construction paper
  • Crayons, makers, or a pen
  • Scissors

Simply tape the paper around the tube and cut off the excess paper.  Then draw lines and numbers on the tube for how you choose to randomize. 

This gives an easy to roll option with large easy to read numbers.  You can use mostly scrap materials to make (so little to no cost), and it took me about 5 minutes.  My son had a lot of fun playing with this, and it is light enough to where if he rolled or threw it a little too hard, no one got hurt. He also really liked helping to color it afterwards.

Numbered cards

To make numbered cards you will need:

  • Thick/not transparent paper (I used folded over notecards)
  • Crayons, markers, or a pen
  • Optional: Tape

You make these similar to making other learning flashcards.  Write what you want on one side and then optionally wrap in packing tape to make it water resistant…. or tape a second layer on the back so they aren’t see-through. Then you either shuffle the cards or let you players pick from the face down cards to randomize their choice.

These were nice because my son was already familiar with using flashcards, and it still let him practice counting the dots.  You can also add more cards as your child is able to count higher.  This cost almost nothing to make and took about 5-10 minutes.  

You could also use numbered cards from a standard deck of playing cards if you don’t want to make your own. 

Pass/fail discs

To make these discs, you will need: 

  • Cardboard (I used scrap from a shipping box)
  • Scissors
  • Crayons, markers, or a pen

For this one, cut out a disc from a piece of cardboard and then draw appropriate symbols on both sides.  For the symbols, I used a happy and an “uh-oh” face, but you could also use numbers, X’s and O’s, coloring them red and green, heads and tails, etc.  To use, you simply throw the disc up like flipping a coin or roll it on its side and see where it lands.

This took me about 1 minute to make and just used scrap material.  It is also good for kids who aren’t used to counting yet since it just gives a pass/fail reading.  

You can also add a little complexity by having multiple discs: 
1 disc odds = 50% heads, 50% tails
2 discs odds = 25% both heads, 50% one heads + one tails, 25% both tails

So, for 2 discs, you can say: 
One heads + one tails = you pass
Both heads = super pass (like rolling a nat 20 in D&D)
Both tails = does not succeed

You could also start introducing some addition by putting numbers on the discs and requiring adding them up to a certain score to succeed.

Draw a number from a cup

For pulling numbers from a cup, you will need: 

  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • A cup or other container
  • Crayons, markers, or pen

Cut a sheet of paper into slips, then write numbers or symbols on the slips of paper.  Fold the pieces over and put them in the cup.  Then, have your player choose one of the slips of paper to use instead of their roll. 

This is another really fast option that gives you a lot of flexibility.  You put numbers on the paper or X/O, P/F, happy face/sad face, etc to represent pass and fail without using numbers.  If you want to vary the odds, you can easily alter it. 

For example:
If you have 5 pass and 5 fail slips (50% odds of pass, 50% odds of fail) but want to weigh more toward success, you can always change it to 8 pass and 2 fail slips (80% odds of pass, 20% odds of fail).  

Other dice alternative options and crafts:

Spinners

I did not put a spinner craft above because there are a lot of spinner crafts already out there.  There’s ones with fidget spinners, folded paper, pencils, paperclips, rubber bands, etc. If you prefer to use a spinner it can be a really good customizable option, but just make sure that if you are making the swap from dice due to them having small parts, remember to pick a spinner that will be safe for your players as well (i.e. something like a paperclip or pushpin could pose similar choking risk to dice).

Rock, paper, scissors

Rock, paper, scissors is another one that can be a great substitute, and it doesn’t require anything more than your hands!  As long as your players are able to make the rock, paper, scissors symbols, it can be a feasible option.  You can also use objects (a rock, safety scissors, and a sheet of paper) to replace the hand motions if your players don’t have the dexterity to make the symbols.

Players can play rock, paper, scissors versus the game master (GM) to see if their attack hits, they succeed in a check or challenge, etc.  

It can also be used against a pre-set requirement.  For example, the GM would set that the player needs to choose rock or scissors to complete a skill check, but if they choose paper, they would not pass.  This can be a little faster than playing the full rock, paper, scissors every time there is a check.

Electronic randomizers

If you are OK with allowing your players to have a screen at the table, there are lots of dice rolling apps online that can be used instead of physical dice.  A lot of virtual tabletop systems (Roll20, D&D Beyond, Tabletop Simulator, etc) have built in dice rolling systems as well. 

If you are concerned about screens being a distraction at the table or players wandering past the dice roller app, you could also try an actual stand-alone calculator.  Most graphing calculators will have a random number generator; it can require a little figuring out, but if you search for your calculator model and “random number generator” online, you should be able to find the specific syntax to use for that specific calculator (i.e. for my graphing calculator, I would type “TI-84 random number generator” and would get this tutorial). 

I hope this article helps you find some tools or generate ideas about alternatives to using dice!  A lot of these options are customizable and have tons of options for tweaking probability.  If you have ideas or use any of these options, please let me know below!

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