Necromancer Dice: a review

Some time ago—I don’t remember when—someone in the Talk Mörk Borg Facebook group—I don’t remember who—posted a picture of some particularly Borgy-looking dice. They featured elaborate sculpts that deviate entirely from the standard polyhedral dice designs. I was intrigued but, at the time, couldn’t find any more information about them.

Months later, cannibal curator Ian Long helped me track them down via Etsy: Necromancer Dice. They were absolutely gorgeous, and while pricey, I decided they were a prime candidate for my first dice review. This blog is about tabletop gaming’s material culture, after all, and these are a fairly striking bit of that culture.

These dice inevitably turn heads—but aesthetics aside, how well do they function as game tools? Are they worth the rather appreciable price of $99 + shipping? This post goes into detail on that as well as some other aspects and issues I think are relevant to consumers.

Note: I’m reviewing the second version of the set, which were redesigned to be more balanced than the originals (which was a set of 9 dice rather than 10).

Materials

The dice are brass electroplated with silver, copper, or bronze (pictured) then colored to provide contrast and emphasize the sculpts’ details.

The set includes a pair of d2s, a d3, d4, d6, d8, a pair of d10s, d12, and d20. Each die in a pair are unique. The d10s are just two of d10s, not a d10 and a d100, but the sculpts are distinct, so you can designate which represents the 10s and 1s spots.

Side-by-side size comparison with a set of standard gaming dice.

These dice are pretty heavy with lots of points and edges. Hard surfaces may incur scratches or dents and possibly cause some unnecessary wear and tear on the dice themselves. I definitely recommend rolling most on a dice tray lined with felt or some similar material.

Aesthetics

Every single die in this set features a nontraditional form and highly detailed designs incorporating macabre/occult figures and objects. I’m more inclined to call them sculptures that generate random numbers, but I’ll use “dice” here as a convenient shorthand.

The faces use rather handsome script numerals. I found some ambiguity with 1 and 7, but I quickly learned to tell the difference. (The 1 has a rather long, thin descending serif, whereas the 7’s arm is blunter.)

Delivery

Although they’re listed on Etsy, the Necromancer Dice are available exclusively (piecemeal or as a set) via direct order from the designer, Mike Novo. If you’re interested in these or any of Mike’s other very stylish dice, you should request permission to join the Cyberdicegames Facebook group and send him a message.

I ordered in late January 2022, hoping to get in under the wire as Russia (where Cyberdicegames is based) showed increasingly aggressive intent against Ukraine. (Mike posted in the Facebook group expressing support for Ukraine and condemnation of his own government’s mad idiocy.) As we all know, the situation escalated, and it rapidly became increasingly difficult to move anything into and out of Russia.

In the end, the order took about five and a half months to fulfill—almost double the projected production and delivery time of two to three months. I’m not complaining; bad stuff happens that’s beyond creators’ control, but it’s something to consider depending on when you read this and the current geopolitical environment.

Controversy

“Dice copyright” isn’t something I ever thought I’d have to consider—but, well, here we are.

After ordering my set, I was idly looking for more detailed images and info, and I happened across this thread on r/DicePorn. In it, the wife of the co-creator of Polyhero Dice claims that Cyberdicegames’s Necromancer Dice infringes on their designs. (Both sides of the argument got heated very quickly, and I personally think the issue could have been handled in a less antagonistic manner. But this is the internet, so that was never really an option.)

The Necromancer Dice clearly take inspiration from many of the Polyhero designs; I think that’s undeniable. Each Polyhero set is named after a class—Wizard Dice, Fighter Dice, etc.—and “Necromancer Dice” very obviously plays off of that.

I couldn’t find a precedent, but as creatively crafted objects (like sculptures), I assume dice designs could be covered by copyright. However, the Necromancer Dice imitate but do not directly copy any of the Polyhero sculpts, and moreover, they’re much more elaborate and intricate than the Polyhero designs.

Let’s take miniatures as an analogy. And to nail down a specific example, the Death Korps of Krieg line in Warhammer 40,000.

Kriegers are traditionally only available as expensive resin models from Forge World. As a commenter once eloquently put it, if you want a Death Korps army, be prepared to take out a second mortgage on your house.

I’ve seen people make molds from the miniatures, use them to cast replicas, and then sell these online. This is absolutely illegal and infringes on Games Workshop’s intellectual property.

But you can find an abundance of models strongly reminiscent of the official Death Korps sculpts, and the people making these are well within their rights to create cost-effective substitutes for extremely expensive products—as long as they’re only gesturing toward the source enough to attract customers and not directly copying the designs or using trademarked terms like “Warhammer 40,000” or “Death Korps of Krieg.”

That, in my opinion, is the position the Necromancer Dice occupy.

Evaluation

Methodology

For this review, I rolled (flipped in the case of the d2s, spun for the d20) each die 100 times onto a yellow legal pad from a height of a few inches (except the d20, which doesn’t actually roll and so doesn’t need to be dropped). I rejected rolls and flips that didn’t actually roll or flip, just plopped onto the surface, and spins that were interrupted by other objects.

If you’d like to see the dice in action, the creator posted a video on YouTube.

The Dice

In this section, I examine each die in detail. The entries consist of:

  • A short paragraph discussing each die’s visual aesthetics and tactile feel
  • Rollability of the physical die
  • Readability of the numerical results
  • Weight measured in ounces and grams to indicate how much heft each individual die has
  • Average of a given die’s roll results (followed by the statistically standard average in parentheses)
  • P-value calculated by Pearson’s chi-squared test, which was suggested and programmed into Excel by LL’s resident mathcat, Derek Gustafson. The test tells us: “If this is a fair die, what’s the probability we get results this uneven?” Comparing expected results for each face with the observed results, the p-value tells us how likely this set of values is. In Derek’s words, “A p-value below 0.10 (10%) is questionable. A p-value below 0.01 (1%) is almost always rejected as bad.” Beyond these thresholds, higher p-values do not indicate greater fairness.
  • A bar graph of roll results

d2 (tentacles)

This die is stylized to look like a tome with tentacled faces on either side. Some of the tentacles cross over the spine, blending into the ridges, which is a neat little subtle touch. The other edges are recessed and striated to look like pages.

Rollability: As noted above, you can’t really roll it, but it’s pretty easy to flip.

Readability: The numerals are large and easy to pick out against the design.

Weight: 0.60 oz. / 16.9 g

Average: 1.53 (1.5)

P-value: 0.548506236

d2 (skulls)

Very similar to the other d2, but this one features skulls, stitch marks, and irregular organic forms that overall make it resemble a book assembled from flesh and bone.

Rollability: Like its counterpart, this one is easy to flip.

Readability: Again, the numerals are large and easy to see.

Weight: 0.67 oz / 19.1 g

Average: 1.52 (1.5)

P-value: 0.689156517

d3

This is an irregular tetrahedron topped by three hands clutching an orb. The sides are stylized with hooded skulls surmounted by ribs and sternums. The edges seem to resemble elongated arms, from shoulder to creepy two-fingered hands.

Rollability: This is the hardest die in the set to actually roll; like standard d4s, it just kind falls and lands. Your best bet is to try to put some spin on it as it leaves your hands, but that isn’t always easy.

Readability: The numerals are displayed on the orb at the top of the die. Besides being rather small, they visually get lost among the surrounding details. One of the less readable dice in the set.

Weight: 0.57 oz / 16.3 g

Average: 2.07 (2.0)

P-value: 0.280831622

d4

This one’s stylized as four demons (or maybe one demon with four faces, arms, and legs) holding up a large orb. The detail in the faces, bodies, and even the little skull kneecaps is quite striking.

Rollability: Despite the extremely nontraditional design, the relatively long axis makes this pretty easy to roll. The orb’s weight makes it unbalanced along that axis, though, which led to some gaffes when rolling.

Readability: The numbers are large and aren’t crowded by the arms and hands around them, making them pretty easy to see.

Weight: 0.98 oz. / 27.9 g

Average: 2.56 (2.5)

P-value: 0.641389369

d6

A bit reminiscent of “gem” dice, this d6 is stylized like a hexagonal tower-ossuary filled with or made of skeletons. It’s crowned by a ring of screaming, cyclopic, horned faces.

Rollability: Rolls very easily, and the tapering keeps it moving in a fairly tight circle.

Readability: The numerals are at the top, narrower end. They’re not super difficult to read, but placing them at the bottom, where they could have been presented larger, would improve usability.

Weight: 0.76 oz. / 12.6 g

Average: 3.22 (3.5)

P-value: 0.461373147

d8

The heavyweight of this set, it’s sculpted to resemble a sort of urn or other container decorated with abundant skulls and surmounted by a multi-eyed octopus (or maybe a multi-faced skull sprouting tentacles). The tentacles are mirrored at the bottom, clutching the lower edge.

Rollability: Absolutely delightful. Easy to put a spin on and heavy enough that it won’t go far.

Readability: The numerals are a decent size and set off from the detail on flat panels, making them fairly easy to spot and read.

Weight: 1.14 oz. / 32.4 g

Average: 4.64 (4.5)

P-value: 0.000427138

d10 (skulls)

A truncated and distorted icosahedron (technically a decagonal dipyramid) designed to look like an urn or maybe a canopic jar surmounted by a ring of skulls. Some of the sides feature designs reminiscent of pulsing blood vessels.

Rollability: Rolls easily, sometimes landing with the base (rather than the skulls) pointing upward. But…

Readability: The numerals are relatively isolated and clear, and they appear on the upper and lower sides, so no matter its orientation, you can read the results.

Weight: 0.50 oz. / 14.3 g

Average: 6.05 (5.5)

P-value: 0.010236918

d10 (demons)

The same design as the other d10, right down to the placement of the “veins,” but capped by horned demon heads. The horns are rather pointy but in a satisfying rather than painful way.

Rollability: Same as its counterpart

Readability: Also functionally the same, but it has more of a tendency to land heads down.

Weight: 0.51 oz. / 14.6 g

Average: 5.4 (5.5)

P-value: 0.025192895

d12

An hourglass-shaped … thing … with 6 faces (and copious skulls) at either end. The two sides are offset, so one end will show a face and the other will show a vertex. Numerals are oriented away from the center.

Rollability: The two sides are well balanced, and it rolls easily in and out of the hand.

Readability: The faces are relatively small and crowded by the surrounding designs. In my case, at least, the coloring settled on the faces, not just in the engraved numerals, making them very hard to read at a glance.

Weight: 0.90 oz. / 25.6 g

Average: 6.34 (6.5)

P-value: 1.25936×10^-9

d20

Radially symmetrical, the numerals are arranged along the disc’s circumference. At the center is—to my eyes—a trio of malformed faces clutching smaller skulls in their open mouths.

When “rolling” this “d20,” you have some options:

  • Spin it like a roulette wheel.
  • Flip it over and spin it like a top.
  • Roll it on its edge like a wheel.

I decided to forego the third method for a variety of reasons. First, it doesn’t work in all circumstances, particularly on very slick or very soft surfaces. When it does work, though, it can be tricky to do consistently, and the die can potentially cover a lot of ground before it comes to rest, even falling off the table and landing too far away to read the relatively small numerals. Finally, it just wasn’t practicable within the methodology I’d already been using.

d20 roulette spin

Because this “die” isn’t landing on a flat face like others in the set, there are some cases of undecidability—the dividing ridge between the numerals, rather than a numeral, is pointing toward the player. Over the course of obtaining 100 usable results, this occurred 30 times. Yeah.

Rollability: The “turret” is easy to grip, the polished base lets you get a good spin on a smooth, even surface, and it doesn’t wander too far.

Readability: The numbers are small but relatively uncluttered, so it’s not too difficult to read as long as it’s fairly close to you.

Weight: 0.91 oz. / 25.7 g

Average: 11.6 (10.5)

P-value: 0.522438274

d20 top spin

As with the other method, I encountered a few undecidable “rolls” where the d20 didn’t come to rest cleanly on a clear result. This happened eight times over the course of obtaining 100 viable results.

Rollability: Grip it by the edge and give it a twist. Depending on how well oriented it is and how much force you put into it, it can spin for up to nearly 20 seconds (in my case, at least)—which can be neat to watch but will inevitably slow down your game. A lot.

Readability: The numerals are oriented away from the center, so if it lands facing toward you, the number will be upside down, and in many cases, it will land away from you, forcing you to lean over to read it. (Due to the nature of the die, moving it to a more readable position isn’t an option.)

Weight: 0.91 oz. / 25.7 g

Average: 8.02 (10.5)

P-value: 1.28463×10^-40

Conclusions

As I said above, I consider these to be less dice and more sculptures that can generate random numbers, and the quantitative results bear that out. This set is very much about aesthetics, and many of the dice’s fairness suffers as a result.

The dice included in the set also support this evaluation. The crux is the pair of d2s: why would we need two of these and only one of everything else (barring the d10s for rolling d100)? A more practical choice would have been to include at least one more d6 to accommodate games that use a 2d6-based system. Instead, two different designs for the d2 made the cut—and to be fair, I do like them both, but I can’t imagine a situation where I’d need to roll 2d2 in the same way that I need 2d6 to expedite play under certain systems.

That being said, buyers can add more dice to their orders without buying another full lot, so there is an option to customize your set to a certain extent, but the additional dice won’t be distinct like the base d2s and d10s are. Picking up some dice from the similar Aztec set is an option but one that breaks your set’s overall unity.

As with so many dice sets, this is a choice between practical functionality and aesthetics. Think of it like a chair: one may be visually appealing but completely fail to perform its purpose of holding your weight, whereas another could be ugly as hell but very comfortable and sturdy.

If you want something designed to be as fair as physically possible, you can better spend your $100+ elsewhere. But if you want extremely unique showpieces and aren’t terribly concerned with consistent fairness, the Necromancer dice may be just what you’re looking for.


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2 thoughts on “Necromancer Dice: a review

  1. These are really cool analyses. X-square to test the efficacy of whacky dice is a cool idea. What a neat little project, thanks for doing this :).

    Like

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