When we started The Redacted Files and the idea that I would become a regular player in a variety of games including Call of Cthulhu, D20 Modern and Numenera first started to materialize, a big question in my mind was how I would be able to roll dice. From listening to other actual play podcasts wrestle with large dice pool games, I’d heard about dice roller apps, and figured that would be the natural, and exclusive, tool I would be using if I wanted that function to stay in my hands. But that was way back in the Naïve days of 2014, when people were still figuring out a lot of what makes gaming as vibrant and dynamic as it is today: including the wonders of 3D printing.
That same spring, a project on Kickstarter set out to produce 3D printed molds to produce Braille d20s as part of their board game accessibility business. I now have two of those 64 Oz Games dice, which will never be made again. They produce the distinctive thunking sound in many of our early Numenera and Pathfinder games as they are really quite substantial chunks of plastic. 64 Oz games would go on to produce polyhedral sets using their 3D printers, which take the unique approach of producing the dice in halves that are then glued together. This technique has had mixed results.
Later that same year, a young woman with a visually impaired friend set out to acquire a 3D printer with which she could produce Braille dice of all kinds to make their shared passion fully accessible. In 2015, the gargantuan scope of her extremely successful Kickstarter eventually led to her turning to Shapeways to fulfill most of the project, and those dice can still be had today. Her dice are noteworthy in that they are hollow and employ an unconventional iconography to depict numbers greater than 9. Rather than include the tens place, 10 is expressed as 0 and all subsequent numbers fill in the unused lower dots of the Braille cell to differentiate them from the first ten. For a primer on how Braille numbering works, see the end of this article. Like the 64 Oz Games, these dice relied on contextual information to orient the cell so that a reader could identify which way was up, for instance, in the d10s and d8s, the point of the die is always considered “up.”
In 2017, the DotsRPG project arrived on the scene with the mission of making tabletop RPGs more accessible, with Braille translations of RPG content and the hope of bringing other aids to blind gamers. As part of these efforts, they have created new Braille dice and shared the files so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can produce them. We ordered a set through Shapeways and here they are.
The first thing one notices about these dice when picked up is how comfortingly solid they feel. They have a rewarding sense of heft and are smooth to the touch. The dots are a little cramped on some of the faces, which causes some concern about how easy they will be to read when in the middle of combat, but the aesthetics are overall quite pleasing.
These dice take a couple of novel approaches to the design considerations necessary to produce Braille in such a compact form. For instance, the d20 uses letters throughout to avoid having to include a tens place. In Braille, K through T are actually represented by the same dot patterns as A through J with the addition of an extra dot at the bottom of the left column, which makes this a rather elegant solution. As for being able to tell similar symbols apart based on orientation, the designer employed a dotted line to indicate which side of the face should be the bottom when reading. Other dice employ less elegant solutions however, such as the d4 and d6, which use a numeric indicator that seems utterly superfluous on the d4 in particular. While the lack of uniformity is concerning and I think some designs could use a reworking in my opinion, the creator has clearly tried to put a lot of thought into making the dice more accessible.
The biggest issue I have with these dice however is one I tend to have with dice that are denser than average, namely that these dice don’t roll very much. As I tossed them into the roller, I regularly heard the solid thud of the dice landing, followed by a profound stillness. This is when I realized that one of the things I had taken to be a weakness of the oldest polyhedral Braille set might actually be a point in their favor: the light dice tend to bounce when they strike a flat surface and impart extra spin to their motion. Thanks to an awesome anniversary present from Megan, I can get some of this experience with these dice by actually rolling them on a concave roller, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.
Ultimately, laudable as they are, given the goal of providing the same experience to the blind gamer as the rest of the tabletop community, the older Braille dice on Shapeways still win out in my book. Also, due to the materials cost involved in producing solid dice rather than hollow ones, even without making a profit, DotsRPG’s dice cost $5 more per set.
The good news is that while these dice aren’t the undisputed champions in the tactile dice market, they are actively being worked on and will likely see more improvement as the creator gets more feedback. I’ll look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
For a look at the basics of Braille math, see this tutorial from the American Printing House for the Blind.