About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier

DM of the Rings CXX:
Luck Thief

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 2, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Gimli is stealing Aragorn’s luck.
Legolas points out their mistake.

The Truth About 20-Sided Dice:

There are a limited number of “twenties” in any given d20. That is, no matter how many times you roll a d20, you cannot roll another twenty once the supply has run out. These twenties can only be replenished by rolling a corresponding one with the same die. Thus every gamer is duty-bound to protect their supply of good rolls. If a friend rolls a twenty using your die, not only have they stolen your good roll, but they have doomed you to the extra one required to replenish the twenty.

Some players get excited when they roll several twenties in a row, concluding the dice are “hot”. Don’t make this blunder! This is like driving your car for 400 miles without gassing up, and then concluding that your car is a perpetual motion machine. After a few good rolls, pass the die off to an unwitting companion and let them charge it up for you.

Statisticians have known about this behavior for years. They call it “the probability seesaw”. Unlike the bell-shaped curve, in the seesaw system the odds of rolling high or low is directly proportional to what has been rolled in the past. They usually pretend this isn’t true. If a statistician hands you a die insisting that “any given roll has the same odds of rolling a one or a twenty”, it means he’s handing you a depleted die in the hopes of taking advantage of you. Don’t fall for it!

Now the secret is yours. Please put this knowledge to good use*.

*By “good use” I mean, “take advantage of other players”.

Comments (217)

1 2 3 4

  1. Jindra34 says:

    The post comic comment was funnier than the comic… and second post.

  2. Kaz says:

    Hrm. A fruit basket… I should try that next time I ‘accidentally’ use my husband’s lucky d20. Maybe it’ll grab his attention long enough for me to escape… ya think it’ll work?

    Classic, Shamus… I laughed, I cried, I snarfed!

  3. Mordaedil says:


    I remember this fondly from my days of playing Yatzy with my family as well. “You took MY full house, b****!!”

  4. DB says:

    A very interesting theory. Horses are over-rated anyway. Legolas’s eye popping “They’re on our side” seems out of place, but is still funny to look at. Good luck on your diplomacy roll, the statisticians are against you.

  5. Tyler says:

    love it shamus keep it up

  6. elda says:

    hahaha…if only fruits baskets and cards made up for all blundrs. “oops i killed your dog.” here’s a fruits basket. “woops i completely forgot our anniversary” here’s a card. *sigh* i wish life were that easy.

  7. Arnold says:

    Okay. This marks the fourth (by my count) episode with a exclamation referencing Conan, all having occurred since CII: A Minor Omission. What’s the deal? Whence came this newfound love of the Barbarian/Destoryer?

    (Oh, and great episode. Wonderful screen captures, etc.)

  8. Cenobite says:

    Here’s another law of dice rolls: Any dice that are thrown for no good reason whatsoever (such as taking them out of your gamer backpack and putting them down on the table for the first time) will always roll better than whenever they are actually thrown and used during a game session.

  9. Eltanin says:

    I recently discovered the webcomic xkcd. It’s brilliant! I’m probably the last person on the internet to hear about it or something, but just in case you or some of the readers of your site haven’t found it, you should check it out.

    Here is an appropriate comic to start with:


    P.S. – please forgive my inability to post a link. I’m not sure how the syntax works here.

  10. Eltanin says:

    Cool! Syntax is automatic! I almost looked smart!

  11. Telas says:

    It’s funny how a bunch of enlightened, educated, mathematically competent, literate people will subscribe to the strangest theories.

    Now please exscuse me, I gotta go get my dice out of the freezer; they’ve had enough punishment.


  12. Wulfwen says:

    I think it’s hilarious that Leg-o-lass is actually voting *for* restraint and less bloodshed! I guess it had to happen sometime… :)

  13. Wraithshadow says:

    There’s another, lesser known way to recharge dice.

    When one die refuses to roll well, line up all the rest of your dice so they can all see the offending die. Then crush it with a hammer. This will show the price of failure, and encourage your other dice to avoid a similar fate.

  14. Cryptoknight says:

    I recently had a bad run of dice (my character died), so I made an emergency run to the geek store before our next session. I compared and contrasted about 10 different sets before settling on a set that looked like ice. Clear plastic with faint blue swirlies in it. Awesome looking. Yes, I have dice fetish. Leave me alone, I’m a geek.

    Anyway, as my buddies were looking at the wall o’ game-books, I cracked open my new set and gave them a trial roll. The d20 rolled a 20. The d4 rolled a 4. The d8 rolled an 8. Stunned, I quickly put them back in the box and into my pocket. Friday game-night came and went. They rolled unbelieveably well.

    Funny thing is I’m moving to California in a month and all my gamer friends want to buy my new dice, so don’t tell me there’s no such thing as lucky dice!

  15. Rolld20 says:

    But what about all the complicated training and conditioning regimens my friends swear by (and occasionally at)? It can’t be ineffective- I’ve seen them actually roll good numbers!

    Humph, this is almost as bad as my husband’s delusion that dice are just small lumps of plastic that generate numbers completely randomly. Me and my pearlescent green buddies know better. ;)

  16. Gothmog says:

    Great comic today, and I LOVE your clever ‘first’ post solution you’ve implemented, Shamus.

    I’m so very sorry to nitpick- but isn’t it ‘Thief’ not ‘Theif’?

  17. Dan says:

    I implement a different method: I hope for 19 and act disappointed if I roll a 20. This negates the effect of over rolling 20s.

  18. Vrym says:

    Hah, the comments on d20 probability were possibly better than the comic itself… and so true. Well done, sir.

    ~On a side note, I totally predicted Stephen Furst as the first poster this time around. ;)~

  19. Bruce says:

    One of the best – and so true.

    What do you want woman!

    Nearly made my head explode by swallowing my laugh behind my PC in work.

  20. Mrs T says:

    I’m disappointed that there was no horse f*cker reference :(

  21. Modrons a'marching says:

    Ah, the dice fetish. I recall a time that I watched, horrified, as one of my fellow players took a lighter to his 20, using the flame to ‘exorcise the demons’ after one of the worst 1 rolling runs that I have ever seen. This let to a couple of interesting coincidences. At the end of the session, he scooped up his dice and poured them into his open dice bag. Not one of those dice made it into the bag. You could almost hear them crying out for freedom from tyranny as they scattered, most of them landing under the couches and chairs. The other coincidence is that those dice never rolled that poorly anymore, but I never saw another 20 out of that set again. I guess you can burn all of the 20’s out of your d20 as well as roll ’em out.

  22. Bugsysservant says:

    My theory was always along the lines of “for every unlucky player, there is a lucky counterpart.”
    Thus, whenever I roll poorly, I seek out my lucky counterpart, and slay him. Works every time.

  23. Wtrmute says:

    It's funny how a bunch of enlightened, educated, mathematically competent, literate people will subscribe to the strangest theories.

    It’s just like electric engineers subscribing to magic smoke theory… It’s better than the truth!

    As for holding a die under flame, one of the easiest ways to load a die is to put it (highest side up) in the microwave and blast it for a couple of seconds. The plastic melts just a little and the center of gravity for the die moves down. Perhaps it was the same with the lighter?

  24. Fickle says:

    I love the fact that LEGOLAS, Mr. ADHD himself, was the one to figure out that they were killing off their own party. XD Fantastic bit of usefulness there! What with killing Gollum and everything, he’s turning out to be pretty useful.

  25. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    Not as bad as luck vampires. When we first started playing RPGs and wargames, for two to four years there was a vacuum of players in the immediate area of my younger brother.

    Anybody sitting next to him would roll pitifully, and he would roll tremendously well.

    I remember, one time we had a team war-game set up where he would repetively resist large numbers of the games strongest units with individual squads of the weakest, meanwhile his teammembers were getting pounded, one (me) because he was badly outnumbered on another side of the table, the other because he was sitting next to my brother and thus couldn’t roll higher than a 7 on the d20. Of course, their opponent had the same problem.

    Occasionally, we would make sacrifice in the form of a newcomer who we would let sit next to him, but otherwise we avoided the area.

    Now, my brother doesn’t seem to do that anymore. Instead he just a statistically bizarre number of both 1s and 20s.

  26. harrowed1 says:

    A d20 I’ve had for 13 years rolled one 20, in my last session, then nothing over 10. I nearly wept when I saw the third 4 rolled. Is there any hope for it, or should I just retire the poor old thing?

  27. Nogard_Codesmith says:

    Shamus quiet! You’re giving away the secrets us veteran gamers have held from the rest of the world for decades!

    Don’t listen to him folks. An unbiased d20 has a 1 in 20 chance of coming up on any number. Its simple statistics and physics. Don’t believe the lies… and keep your hands off my dice!

  28. Da Rogue says:

    Mr. Morden: “…and what is that you want?”
    Vir Coto: “I hope to live long enough to see you head thrust on a pike outside the imperial palace; I’d look up at those lifeless eyes and wae just like this…”

  29. wererogue says:

    See, nobody else understands why I leave my dice with 1’s face up.

  30. Vinchenze says:

    I wish that statement about the odds were true, it’s NEVER worked for me. i ALWAYS get 5-9, with the odd 11 in there, i’ll get a 20 everyothere GAME, and i’ve onlt rolled a one once. so i can Truely state that my Luck sucks.

  31. brassbaboon says:

    Dice karma…. It’s always bad when you talk to a player. I know in my case that dice have always hated me. When I used to create my own games, way back in the day, I had one overriding rule that was never violated.

    No dice allowed.

    I have had Risk games where I have had statistically overwhelming odds destroyed by a steady diet of bad dice rolls. My brothers used to mount suicidal attacks against my units, knowing that any seeming advantage I had in numbers would be quickly overcome by my mythic bad luck with dice.

    So, all of the success I have had in games over the years has all been due to my superior strategy and tactics, made doubly so because I have to not only overcome the opponents, I have to also overcome my karmic deficiency when it comes to random chance. ;)

    This is also why I don’t play the lottery….

  32. Al Shiney says:

    Shamus, I echo Nogard’s chastisement for giving away the most holy of holies. I never knew the official name of the “probability seesaw” until today, but you shouldn’t have released it to the masses like this. I hope you’re not rolling dice soon, the karma is going to kill your character.

    We have a player in our group who is the reverse of a luck vampire … not only will we avoid using his dice like the plague, we won’t even HAND them to him across the table.

    Mike: “Hey, pass me my dice bag”
    Everybody else: “Go to hell”

    It’s a little more pleasant than that, but the sentiment is pretty much the same. Most of Mike’s troubles come when he’s making a saving throw, although his experiences rolling above a 14 “to hit” can be pretty easily counted too. He has particular trouble with saving against “Hold Person” … which is why he is frequently envisioned in a frozen, statue-like pose holding one index finger in the air to signify what he rolled for the save.

    It’s quite humorous, really.

  33. Jim says:

    The closest I come to being superstitious about die-rolling is to blow on the dice and utter some witty variant on the “new pair of shoes” line, like, “Baby needs a new pair of orc nipples.”

  34. AndiN says:


    I do the same thing. Everybody I game with thinks I’m nuts.

    “What are you doing? You’re going to encourage them to roll ones!!!”

    I then calmly explain that I’m letting all the ones waft into the air, instead of clogging up in the dice waiting to burst out at the worst possible moment. :-)

  35. txknight says:

    Telas Says:
    “It's funny how a bunch of enlightened, educated, mathematically competent, literate people will subscribe to the strangest theories.

    Now please exscuse me, I gotta go get my dice out of the freezer; they've had enough punishment.”

    Lol! This actually needs to be on a t-shirt or something. But now if you will excuse me, I need to go back to cussing out my software and asking it why it won’t work for me!

  36. Senalishia says:

    I think it all boils down to what has become my motto for a surprising number of things:

    “Couldn’t hurt; might help.”

  37. Browncoat says:

    Good Comic.

    I’ve enjoyed all the comments about the dice; I guess this is what they’ve been reduced to. At Helm’s Keep, Aragorn was all, “It’s my turn? Fine, I kill another orc.” Now he actually has to roll, and Gimli’s taking all his katra or karma or something.

    I love this campaign.

  38. Lovemonk says:

    Superstition goes up in direct proportion with how vital to survival an activity is and how unpredictable it is. The mind wants to make order so badly it will hallucinate it where it does not exist.

    That said, our group (myself included) will NOT touch the GM’s dice. They work wonderfully for him, awfully for all else. More to the point, really.

    Genius strip, Shamus.

  39. Rico says:

    Nice commentary on the truth about the d20.

  40. Shamus says:

    Proof of the Seesaw distribution: Roll the dice long enough, and the number of ones will always be roughly equal the number of twenties!!!

    Coincidence? Chance? I don’t think so.

  41. Roxysteve says:

    Your summation is the truest thing I’ve ever read. This is why I roll bad dice at tourneys: All the jouncing and bouncing in the car on the way there shakes the luck out of my entire dice collection before I even get them out of the trunk.

    On the subject of using up your luck, I remember a game that GDW put out called “Asteroid”. One player took the part of a mad genius who had uploaded his personality into a computer controling an Asteroid that was now going to hit the Earth.

    The other guy played the crack team sent in to save the world. One of the characters the hero player could pick was “Lucky McGee”, the luckiest man in the world (but if he did, then he had to take his brother “Muscles McGee”, the strongest man in the world). Before the game started, the computer player rolled dice to determine Lucky’s luck score. Each time Lucky used his luck (to banjax the combat table or fix broken equipment by thumping it) that score was reduced by a set amount. When the score reached zero, Lucky’s luck ran out, at which point he usually got crushed, electrocuted or torn in half by mad robots.

    In light of your comments, I’ve come to realise that this was the truest simulation game ever.


  42. The_Shadows says:

    The comic is, as always, awesome. I think, however, I laughed harder at the “Furst Post.” Of course, I’ve also been rewatching B5 lately.

  43. corwin says:

    My own main d20 went bad a couple months back, so I put it in the freezer when I got home as a lesson to the other dice. I then bought three new d20s, all of which roll quite well indeed now.

    When I bought the new dice and explained why I needed them, the guy at the game store said he actually knew a guy who lined up all of his dice outside the microwave to witness the execution of a bad d20.

  44. Coyote says:

    Dang, Shamus, I think you’ve been spying on our gaming table.

    We discovered this truth back in the late 80’s, and have followed this superstition since then. I discovered it playing Risk or something like that… I’d pick the dice that rolled low on the last roll. Defying all laws of probability, they tended to roll high on the subsequent roll.

    I guess that shows how universal this law is!

  45. Dev Null says:

    Oh man that brings back memories!

    Back in the Dark Ages, playing 1st ed DnD (yes dear – and we rode dinosaurs to school) there was a character in our group who you have all brought back to mind so vividly I can remember his name: Chrisofax the Danger Detector. So known because the first sign of danger which the party encountered was invariably Chrisofax failing a saving throw – usually with a 1. So it was always:

    *shing!* *klunk!* (Chisofax’s petrified corpse topples to the floor.)

    “Battle stations!”

    It was so bad that his player eventually rolled a second character to have something to do in the battle sequences (and he rolled fine for the other character, and in any other circumstance but saving throws for Chrisofax.)

    Worst. Cleric. Ever.

  46. brassbaboon says:

    It actually all boils down to the most bizarre of all quantum mechanics predictions. “Things behave differently when you watch them.” Dice are real-world manifestations of quantum events, and as such will operate substantially differently depending on how much you have invested in the outcome. So all the experimental research showing that if you roll a die 10,000 times it will follow the “rules of probability” are pretty much just academic nonsense. Of course they will, because nobody really cares about the outcome.

    But let the roll determine the life or death of a character you have nurtured for 13 levels, and suddenly the investment in the outcome becomes so profound that the result of the dice through becomes a purely quantum event, and as such follows only the rules of whim or karma, which is why we gamers all know how dice “really” act when the white-robed number crunchers aren’t around.

    This is scientific. Honest it is. Ask Heisenberg.

  47. Atanamir says:

    I have a lucky dreidel. Landed gimel (the winningest letter) 12 times in a row. I got permission from my GM to use it as a d4, mapping nun = 2, gimel = 4, hei = 3, shin = 1. That thing never seemed to run out of gimels.

    Sometimes it’s the situation, not the dice. In one game, my standard d12 usually rolled high for combat purposes, but the same die never rolled higher than a 2 when used to see if I was getting drunk. This phenomenon held true even if I swapped dice. I was playing a dwarf who apparently could not drink.

  48. Arson55 says:

    brassbaboon, I know exactly what you mean about Risk. I have lost more that one game of Risk because I have burned off upwards of twenty units trying to take one territory with a single defender.

  49. brassbaboon says:

    Heh, the “dice through” in my last post should have been “dice throw.” This is an example of a mental lapse that goes well beyond your ordinary typo… sigh….

  50. General Ghoul says:

    13 Wulfwen Says:
    July 2nd, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I think it's hilarious that Leg-o-lass is actually voting *for* restraint and less bloodshed! I guess it had to happen sometime…

    Of course he wants restraint, he justs bluffing the DM, so he doesn’t request his character sheet to see how many arrows he has listed in his inventory.

  51. Melfina the Blue says:

    Personally, when one of my dice starts to roll badly, it gets a nice salt bath to restore it back to um, norm, balance, whatever you wish to call it. Just stick it in rock salt for 3 days or so. It goes back to rolling normally after that.

  52. Isoyami says:

    Great strip!

    As usual, I had to read through it twice to catch all the little nuances. “What do you want, WOMAN?!?”

    Aragorm-less’s and Leggy-lass’s expressions in the fourth-to-last and third-to-last panels are utter win.

    Oops indeed.

    And come on, can’t Aragormless be more creative with his Conan’s curses? I really like the alliterative ones.
    Like: “Conan’s Crotch!” “Conan’s Canines!” “Conan’s Carpals!”

    And my favorite: “Conan’s Cruciate Ligaments!”

    Also, I’m surprised the DM let them sneak a quoting of Holy Grail in there. Unless he wants to say “Ni!” at them. Or have the Green Ghosties kill the insuspecting orcs by shouting it at the top of their undead lungs as they charge through the battle. ;)

    And yes, I am eagerly anticipating another big event in this battle being deconstructed with Shamus’s usual razor wit in the next few strips or so.

    *Hums “He was a skater elf” under my breath and giggles.

  53. LO-stink’n-L!!!

    The screen caps of Legolass are absolute GENIUS!
    His faces are just…Perfect! With a capital P :D

  54. Bex's says:

    *snigger* it’s all true I swaer it is LOL.
    another GREAT page :D

  55. MOM says:

    The title “Luck Thief” reminds me of the Luck Dragon in The Never-ending-story.

  56. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Telas Says: Now please excuse me, I gotta go get my dice out of the freezer; they've had enough punishment.”
    Let me guess, when the dice come out, do they ask “What did the turkey do?”

    Who remembers 1976's Rookie of the Year, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych? He had the same theory, just with baseballs instead of dice, throwing them aside after it gave up a hit, because “you just didn't know how many hits were in each ball”. Fidrych did quite well, until he was punished for revealing the secret of baseballs with a series of career ending “injuries”.

  57. Smith says:

    @ wererogue: No, no no. When your dice aren’t being rolled, you must set them highest number up. This will train them that highest number up is their natural state, and they will roll better for you.

  58. lastakodo says:

    It might just be my own group but no matter how poorly a player rolls if he/she is the GM they will never stop rolling phenominally well, that is untill they become a player again.

  59. Daimbert says:

    Is it safe to assume that using the Babylon 5 picture with a comic that mentions sending someone a fruit basket is an odd coincidence, or are you finally watching Babylon 5.

    (Potential spoiler: in the original pilot movie, the original Lt. Commander makes a VERY funny comment about sending a fruit basket to a waiting Narn vessel to G’Kar).

  60. Eomer32 says:

    I DM’ed for a bunch of Noobs several years ago and made them use MY dice to roll. They were sufficiently clueless and never knew what hit ’em…BWAHH-HAAAA-HAAA-HAAA!!!

    PS Shamus, if you don’t use the “wild-eyed Eomer” screen cap during the Pelennor Fields set-piece I shall be forever disappointed… :)

  61. Jurrubin says:

    “What do you want, woman?”


1 2 3 4

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *


Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>