In agreement with @CapKudzu and @flyrefi here. I do take your point - each die and resolution system exists within a cultural context of gaming, and thus can have a “feel.” I agree that feel can shape people’s experience - for example, the d20 has become synonymous with DnD, and is “the gaming die of fantasy” for a lot of folx. 2d6 has the PbtA association, dice pools have a World of Darkness feel for us old folx (a Blades feel for the youngers), and so on.
I’m interested in a couple of things, though - I think we often get a little basic in our approach to dice. We use them a particular way, have a game association with them, and stop thinking of them as just objects - like cards, or tiles, or what have you.
So thing one: I like to think about how to create certain emotional experiences that echo or support the theme of the game. I don’t necessarily think that’s die-specific: for instance, a d20 can be used to key off a chart, or a scaled success system, or some kind of gambling system, and so can all the others. There are ways to represent more results with small dice, and ways to simplify outcomes with big ones. So question 1 for me, more than size of die, is emotional resonance of resolution mechanic.
For instance, the one I’ve seen lately I thought was emotionally most interesting but also elegant (it was posted on Twitter, though I can’t recall by whom!), was a 1d6 resolution where 1-3 was failure, 5-6 trouble, 7-8 success, and 9+ failure. You roll a single d6, then decide whether to roll and add a second, creating a “push your luck” style emotional engagement with a rather simple approach.
That brings me to thing 2: elegance of design. Here, I don’t mean lack of complexity or simplicity, I mean a balance between a mechanic that is intuitive and easy to understand, but incorporates player choice, some sort of nuanced choice, and emotional engagement. The example above seems very elegant to me (I’m kind of fascinated), and most mechanics I haven’t figured out how to use I’ve scrapped because they were either too complex or lacked the emotional outcomes I was going for.
Thing 3 is accessibility. A d6 is the ultimate die for me for one reason: most people have access to one. I do think there’s a lot to be said for standard decks of cards, coins, dominoes (though they’re less common than they once were), chess pieces, checkers - anything people might have on hand. This, again, has to be tempered by emotional engagement - if you can’t create the experience you’re looking for with a yes/no coin toss, then coins are a bad choice. I’ve seen a game in which a designer has put Scrabble tiles to fascinating use (super cool idea!), and I use minifigs from LEGO obsessively in my games.
So yes - I think dice DO have an “aesthetic” attached, if only due to our lived experiences with them? But other resolution tools (string, cards, tiles) have such resonance, too - and perhaps offer an interesting way to bring a “new” feel to old emotional ground. For me, game mechanic decisions for a given game come down to the emotional experience it creates, its elegance, and the accessibility of the tools.
Thanks for such a cool topic! I’m now thinking about all the weird mechanics I’ve abandoned, and wondering if they can be resuscitated! I love these conversations for getting me thinking through this stuff and exposed to everyone else’s ideas - thank you!