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The Mystery Die

skewed probability die

Not long ago, archeologists in Bergen (Norway) discovered a mystery die from 1276.

It is a normal six-sided die, but the numbers are not the normal 1 to 6.

Instead it sports a three, two fours, two fives and a six.

skewed probability die 2

Archeologists immediately assumed the die had been used for cheating, and therefore, so did the media.

It may be so, but there is another possibility.

 

The cheating theory has mostly gone uncontested, except in the comment section of the only English article I could find on the subject.

 

old die dice comments

Like these good people, I find it more likely that this die was used in a game with skewed probability. A game that had been designed so that it would be more likely to get ‘ok’ numbers than ‘very good’ or ‘very bad’ numbers.

 

One reason for doubting their theory is that the fault with the die is far too easy to detect.

Making a loaded dice, that would land on a specific side, seems like a safer bet to me.

 

And the die does follow the same tradition as normal dice. Namely having all the opposite sides adding up to the same number.

 

d20 d12 d6 d4

Dice can be used in a lot of very creative ways.

In ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, and other table-top roleplaying games, dice are often used to test the abilities of the player characters, with some randomness added.

An action the player attempted to make may have a difficulty of 15 out of 20, and the player would then have to match or go above that number on a 20-sided die.

If the character was skilled in said action, they could get bonus modifiers to the outcome on the die.

 

And that is just one example.

There are countless ways dice have been used, beyond the straight forward “normal” way.

 

If the find does turn out to be an unknown game, rather than an attempt to cheat at dice, this is an even bigger discovery than first assumed!

Imagine if we were able to somewhat recreate a game from 1276 with this die and our knowledge of Bergen from this time.

 

In fact, I would love to see what you could come up with!

Be it a concept, idea or a full print&play experience, please leave it in the comments.

Maybe together we can discover some new possibilities about this mystery die 😉








Recommended article: InterRail 2010 – Part 1: From Bergen to Berlin


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18 thoughts on “The Mystery Die

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  1. Were dice only used in games? Are there other possibilities? The English phrase ‘dicing with death’ springs to my mind. Perhaps some important decisions need to be made, where the probability was deliberately skewed. I say this in complete ignorance, just curiosity…

    1. That seems very possible.
      Even if there is no record of something like that, it is so far back that it is hard to know for sure.

      Could be a drinking game, or a way to randomise how much fish you could buy that day, or anything really.

    1. Who knows, maybe there is a game like that somewhere else in the world.
      Bergen is a port-city, so it could have been introduced by traders.

  2. This appeals to me on many levels. I prefer not to speculate about the possibilities of use but, rather, just to marvel at it’s preservation and our connectedness throughout the ages. Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting.

  3. The numbers on the die add up to 27

    27 in math is a perfect cube

    The dice represent an easy way of showing a perfect cube on a cubed die.

    1. Awesome, thanks for the info 😀

      Then it sort of seems like a math-joke.
      I think you may have cracked it 🙂

  4. The ‘Average’ dice has the following sides: 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 which serves to ‘smooth out’ the results. (http://bit.ly/2RgfH93)

    Perhaps this is an ‘above average’ dice?

    Puns aside, there are current games which adjust the numbers on the dice, so one could expect that of historical ones too.

    Formula D (neé Formula De: http://bit.ly/2QSF4OS) for example, uses polyhedral dice to represent ‘gear shifts’ in a car, with the dice being fixed to show higher numbers (one example being 11-20 on the dodecahedron http://bit.ly/2QVNOUw).

    Other games, such as X-Wing by Fantasy Flight Games, or Warhammer Underworlds (Shadespire / Nightvault) by Games Workshop, replace the numbers with icons – both providing a spread different to the expected 1-8 or 1-6.

    1. While Christianity had mostly overthrown Norse faith in Norway by 1276, the Norse mythology probably still had some influence on the culture, so your theory may well be correct.

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