Role-playing games — and the unusual-looking dice that bring these games to life — have exploded in popularity over the last few years, fueled in part by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and popular television shows like “Stranger Things.”
During lockdown, people were forced to stay home and binge movies and television shows, read books or play games. Because of formats allowing role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons to be played online via Zoom or Facebook Live, millions have embraced games.
Interest in the nearly 50-year-old D&D game — which is part role-playing or acting, part board game and part miniatures game — isn’t surprising to John and Susie Davidson, owners of Changing Hands Book Shoppe, 528 Virginia Ave. in Joplin.
What is surprising to them is the popularity of an accessory that’s crucial to the game’s overall success — dice. They’re not talking about traditional six-sided dice here but rather dice that have four, eight, 10, 12 or 20 sides.
“I’m continually shocked by our (dice) sales,” John Davidson said. “We started keeping track of our dice as a (separate) category three years ago, and we were amazed at how much we’ve sold.”
Changing Hands had a record sales year in dice from 2018 to 2019, he said. Between 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic, they saw a 47% increase in sales. This year, they are on course for another 30% boost in sales.
The store’s dice collection has grown considerably since 2018. It now takes up most of the surface of the long counter facing the front entrance.
“You starve failure and reinforce success,” John Davidson said. “We (now) have 300 different sets of dice when we’re fully stocked, and that’s not counting our loose dice.”
“The joy we see on people’s faces when they walk in and they see the dice” is priceless, Susie Davidson said. “We’ve been told we have more dice out and available than any place other than Kansas City or St. Louis.”
Good and bad luck
The store sells all kinds of dice sets — plastic, metal, stone, wood, in all the colors of the rainbow or in a swirling combination of colors. Some dice sets glow in the dark, while others have unique “pieces” found inside them. Some are hollow.
Susie Davidson keeps a black light nearby so she can shine it on certain dice sets, exposing a second, previously unseen color when they are rolled across a hard surface.
“I have fun showing which dice glow in the dark,” she said.
The dice, when used in a role-playing or board game by gamers, provide them with luck — good and bad — and can change the outcome or outlook of a game on a single roll.
“I think it’s that gambling element to rolling dice that we love,” said Joshua Carter, a Joplin High School teacher who oversees the school’s Eagle Gaming club. The club had 122 students sign up for membership this semester; more than half of them were interested in playing D&D. About 50 students showed up earlier this week to role up characters using dice.
“Most students want that social side of humanity, and (gaming) gives that opportunity, whether it’s playing a role-playing game such as D&D or playing the many modern board games we have available for the club,” Carter said. “I think what’s fueling this popularity is that students are seeking social interaction that they have missed the past couple of years with the pandemic.”
Some gamers buy dice sets or individual dice, such as the 20-sided one, for their games or simply to collect, Susie Davidson said.
“Everybody has to have their own set — it’s bad luck to play with somebody else’s set,” she said.
Some players will “retire” a D20 that rolls badly for them during a game and will seek out a new one as quickly as possible. Others will buy a new dice set for each new player-character they create, while many players always have a backup set of dice, just in case.
Simply put, dice are an addiction, said avid D&D player Methechai Hunter McKee. “I think the reason D&D players thirst for more dice is because it’s your lifeline to the game. The dice are one of the very few physical links we have to our world, so it means we have to bust out our lucky dice.”
Former Webb City resident and gamer Ted Conn knows all about these unwritten role-playing rules. The 50-year-old has so many dice in his possession it would take him more than an hour to count them all.
“My collection has grown over the years, but I rarely buy dice for the sake of buying dice. Like pennies, dice seem to accumulate — especially six-sided ones,” he said.
Overall, “I believe that for gamers, dice are a cool, fairly inexpensive way to collect and appease their need to grow their hobby without breaking the bank.”