Die Roll Probabilities

For Pencils and Paper Role-Playing Games
Copyright ©2012, 2013 J.D. Neal * All Rights Reserved. To: Gary Gygax. Of all the game designers, he seems to be the one who put the most thought into explaining esoteric aspects of gaming. It is a shame he can no longer share his insight. This tutorial is intended for people who already understand pencils-and-paper role-playing games, and how dice are used in them. Dice can create different number ranges based on how they are marked and rolled. This discussion is mainly for ordinary dice that are usually marked in consecutive integers from a low to high number; dice marked in odd ways will have to be analyzed on their own. Probabilities are not laws: they do not state that said numbers must occur in said order with said frequency. Nor that they will. They only indicate the tendency over a wide number of rolls. The results are "probable", but not guaranteed. Probabilities are not odds: Odds are the chance of subject “A” occurring versus it not occurring, for example. For example, if there is a 1 in 6 chance of finding a secret door, the odds are 5 : 1 (5 to 1) against them. If there is a 2 in 6 chance of an event the odds are 2 : 4 or 1 : 2 it will happen (2 : 1 against it happening). If there is a 3 in 6 chance of a character doing something, the odds are 1 : 1, even and with no bias for or against them. Linear Rolls: A roll of a single die will generate a set of random numbers with the same probability of each occurring. Each number on a d6 has a 1/6 (16 2/3%) chance of occurring; each number on a d8 the percentage has a 1/8 (12.5%) of occurring; each on a d10 has a 1/10 chance of occurring. The graph of the probabilities is a flat line.
1d6, 1d8, 1d10 Point by Point Comparison
18% 16% 14% 12% 10% 8% 6% 4% 2% 0% 1 2 3 4
1d6 percent probability

The graph of the accumulated probabilities is a straight line ascending or descending:
1d6, 1d8, 1d10 Cumulative Comparison Descending

100% 90% 80% percent probability 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0%

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

number

1d6

1d8

1d10

BELL CURVES, PYRAMIDS: Rolling two or more standard dice and adding them together results in a non-linear graph: some create "bell curves", others pyramids, and some flat-topped pyramids. Middle numbers occur more often than those on the edges. The more dice that are used, the higher the chance of middle numbers occurring and the lower the chance of the numbers on the end occurring.
2d6 vs 1d12 Point by Point Comparison
18% 16%
percent probability

14% 12% 10% 8% 6% 4% 2% 0% 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1d12 2d6

5

6

7

8

9
1d10

10

number 1d8

number

1

The graph of 3d6 results in a bell curve:
3d6 Probability For Each Number

2d6 vs 1d12 Cumulative Comparison
100% 90% 80%
percent probability

14.0% 12.0% 10.0% 8.0% 6.0% 4.0% 2.0% 0.0%
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Percent Probability

70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

The graph of a roll of d4+d10 or d6+d8 is flat on the top due to the effect of using dice of different sizes.
d4+d10 v2 d6+d8 Point by Point Comparison
14%

number

2d6

1d12

percent probability

12% 10% 8% 6% 4% 2% 0% 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
d6 + d8

Probabilities and Adder Dice The above graphs are for common dice and they occur because the numbers on the dice overlap in different combinations. Adder dice create flat number ranges and flat probabilities because they create the same number of combinations for each number. Below are counting tables showing how a d12, d18, and d36 adder dice function. Each number occurs as often as any other, just like a die marked 1-12, 1-8, or 1-36. 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 d12 Adder 0 6 1 7 2 8 3 9 4 10 5 11 6 12 d18 Adder 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 10 11 11 12 12 d36 Adder 12 18 13 19 14 20 15 21 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

d4 + d10

number

Standard 1d6

Graphing the cumulative probability usually results in an s-shaped line.
3d6 probability Ascending

1 2 3 4 5 6

120.0%
Percent Probability

100.0% 80.0% 60.0% 40.0% 20.0% 0.0%
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Standard 1d6

1 2 3 4 5 6

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

12 13 14 15 16 17 18

12 13 14 15 16 17 18

While not an exact match, an accumulated probability can sometimes come close to the same numbers for a linear roll, such as 2d6 compared to 1d12.

Standard 1d6

1 2 3

0 1 2 3

6 7 8 9

24 25 26 27

30 31 32 33

2

4 5 6

4 5 6

10 11 12

16 17 18

22 23 24

28 29 30

34 35 36

smaller die limits the number of combinations that can result in any number. There are 48 numbers and the probability looks like a "plateau" when graphed (see above for graphs). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 d6 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Calculating Probabilities Most probabilities are fractions. A percentage is simply a fraction converted to decimal format, which is easier to analyze in some ways, but sometimes imperfect or misleading. The easiest way to calculate probabilities is to: 1. List out the possible numbers that a die roll can generate. 2. Determine how many combinations result in each possible number. 3. Determine the total number of combinations that can occur. 4. The chance of a number occurring is a fraction equal to how many times it might occur over the total possible combinations. Thus each number on a standard d12 has as 1 in 12 (1/12) chance of occurring, while a 2 has a 1/36 chance of occurring on a 2d6 roll while a 19 (or any other side) has a 1/20 chance of occurring on a d20. To convert the fraction this to a percentage, divide the fraction out. For small, evenly numbered dice this process is easy. A normal d10 has 10 numbers, and each will occur once, thus there are 10 probabilities. Each number thus has 1/10 (1 in 10) chance of occurring. Determining the probabilities for a roll of 2d6 can be done by using a grid to count how many times each combination occurs, such as this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 First d6 2 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

d8

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Counting more than 2 dice can be clumsy. To analyze 3d6, you would start with a 2d6 counting table such as above and make 6 copies, then add the pips from the sides of the third d6 to each table as follows. When done, you can go through the 6 tables and count how many times each number occurs: 3 occurs once, 4 occurs 2 times, and so on. You may want to look into more sophisticated math if you need other combinations. 1 on 3rd d6 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 2 on 3rd d6 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 3 on 3rd d6 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 10 11 5 6 7 8 9 10 6 7 8 9 10 11 7 8 9 10 11 12 6 7 8 9 10 11 7 8 9 10 11 12 8 9 10 11 12 13 7 8 9 10 11 12 8 9 10 11 12 13 9 10 11 12 13 14 8 9 10 11 12 13 9 10 11 12 13 14 10 11 12 13 14 15

Second 1d6

1 2 3 4 5 6

Add them up and you find there are 36 occurrences (6 x 6): a 2 occurs once, a 3 occurs twice; a 7 occurs six times; and so on. Thus a 2 occurs 1/36 of the time, a 3 occurs 2/36 and so on. Consider a roll of d6+d8: the below table shows how the dice combine. You will find that 2 occurs once, 7 occurs 6 times, and so on. Indeed, note how three numbers (7, 8, and 9) all occur 6 times. The 3

4 on 3rd d6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 10 11 11 12 5 on 3rd d6 7 8 8 9 9 10 10 11 11 12 12 13 6 on 3rd d6 8 9 9 10 10 11 11 12 12 13 13 14

8 9 10 11 12 13 9 10 11 12 13 14 10 11 12 13 14 15

9 10 11 12 13 14 10 11 12 13 14 15 11 12 13 14 15 16

10 11 12 13 14 15 11 12 13 14 15 16 12 13 14 15 16 17

11 12 13 14 15 16 12 13 14 15 16 17 13 14 15 16 17 18

8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

21/288 26/288 30/288 32/288 32/288 30/288 26/288 21/288 15/288 10/288 6/288 3/288 1/288

7.3% 9.0% 10.4% 11.1% 11.1% 10.4% 9.0% 7.3% 5.2% 3.5% 2.1% 1.0% 0.3%

19.4% 28.5% 38.9% 50.0% 61.1% 71.5% 80.6% 87.8% 93.1% 96.5% 98.6% 99.7% 100.0%

87.8% 80.6% 71.5% 61.1% 50.0% 38.9% 28.5% 19.4% 12.2% 6.9% 3.5% 1.4% 0.3%

Below is the counting grid for a roll of d6 x d8:

Note that in a discussion of using 3d6 for a d20 roll, someone vaguely suggested using 2d6+d8 for 3 to 20, wondering what the result would be. Two new tables would be added, to account for the 7 and 8 on the d8: 7 on d8 9 10 10 11 11 12 12 13 13 14 14 15 8 on d8 10 11 11 12 12 13 13 14 14 15 15 16 11 12 13 14 15 16 12 13 14 15 16 17 12 13 14 15 16 17 13 14 15 16 17 18 13 14 15 16 17 19 14 15 16 17 18 19 14 15 16 17 19 20 15 16 17 18 19 20

d6 1 2 3 4 5 6

d6 x d8 d8 1 2 1 2 2 4 3 6 4 8 5 10 6 12

3 3 6 9 12 15 18

4 4 8 12 16 20 24

5 5 10 15 20 25 30

6 6 12 18 24 30 36

7 7 14 21 28 35 42

8 8 16 24 32 40 48

I haven't had the time to make sure I counted right, but here's what an initial analysis looks like: # 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 18 20 21 24 4 Occ Fract. Percent Weighted Average 1 1/48 2.08% 0.0208333333 2 2/48 4.17% 0.0833333333 2 2/48 4.17% 0.125 3 3/48 6.25% 0.25 2 2/48 4.17% 0.2083333333 4 4/48 8.33% 0.5 1 1/48 2.08% 0.1458333333 3 3/48 6.25% 0.5 1 1/48 2.08% 0.1875 2 2/48 4.17% 0.4166666667 4 4/48 8.33% 1 1 1/48 2.08% 0.2916666667 2 2/48 4.17% 0.625 2 2/48 4.17% 0.6666666667 2 2/48 4.17% 0.75 2 2/48 4.17% 0.8333333333 1 1/48 2.08% 0.4375 3 3/48 6.25% 1.5

There are now 288 combinations (6 x 6 x 8) and counting them gives the below: Fractional Combinations 1/288 3/288 6/288 10/288 15/288 2d6 + d8 Asc 0.3% 1.4% 3.5% 6.9% 12.2%

# 3 4 5 6 7

Point 0.3% 1.0% 2.1% 3.5% 5.2%

Desc 100.0% 99.7% 98.6% 96.5% 93.1%

25 28 30 32 35 36 40 42 48 TOTALS:

1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 48

1/48 1/48 2/48 1/48 1/48 1/48 1/48 1/48 1/48

2.08% 2.08% 4.17% 2.08% 2.08% 2.08% 2.08% 2.08% 2.08% 100.00%

0.5208333333 0.5833333333 1.25 0.6666666667 0.7291666667 0.75 0.8333333333 0.875 1 15.75

15 16 17 18

10/216 6/216 3/216 1/216

5% 3% 1% 1/2%

95% 98% 99.5% 100%

9% 5% 2% 1/2%

3d6: There are 216 possible combinations (6 x 6 x 6). About two-thirds (actually 68%) of probabilities are taken up by the numbers are 8 to 13, which is 6 numbers out of the 16 possible. Fractional Combinations 1/40 2/40 3/40 4/40 4/40 4/40 4/40 4/40 4/40 4/40 3/40 2/40 1/40 d4 + d10 Asc 2.5% 7.5% 15% 25% 35% 45% 55% 65% 75% 85% 92.5% 97.5% 100%

Some Probability Tables Following are a few tables for people curious about the probabilities created by some common die rolls like 3d6 or 2d10. The percentages were often rounded for convenience and may not add up to 100; if you need a more accurate percentage, then do the math to convert the fractions yourself. Fractional Combinations 1/36 2/36 3/36 4/36 5/36 6/36 5/36 4/36 3/36 2/36 1/36 2d6 Asc 3% 8% 17% 28% 42% 58% 72% 83% 92% 97% 100%

# 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Point 3% 6% 8% 11% 14% 17% 14% 11% 8% 6% 3%

Desc 100% 97% 92% 83% 72% 58% 42% 28% 17% 8% 3%

# 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Point 2.5% 5% 7.5% 10% 10% 10% 10% 10% 10% 10% 7.5% 5% 2.5%

Desc 100% 97.5% 92.5% 85% 75% 65% 55% 45% 35% 25% 15% 7.5% 2.5%

d4+d10: There are 40 possible combinations (4 x 10). Some 2/3s (actually 70%) of the time the numbers 5 to 11 might show. Fractional Combinations 1/48 2/48 3/48 4/48 5/48 6/48 6/48 6/48 5/48 4/48 3/48 2/48 1/48 d6 + d8 Asc 2% 6% 13% 21% 31% 44% 56% 69% 79% 88% 94% 98% 100%

2d6: There are 36 possible combinations (6 x 6). Some two-thirds (actually 68%) of the time the roll should be 5 to 9, which is 5 numbers out of the 11 possible. Fractional Combinations 1/216 3/216 6/216 10/216 15/216 21/216 25/216 27/216 27/216 25/216 21/216 15/216 3d6 Asc 1/2% 2% 5% 9% 16% 26% 38% 50% 63% 74% 84% 91%

# 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Point 1/2% 1% 3% 5% 7% 10% 12% 13% 13% 12% 10% 7%

Desc 100% 99.5% 98% 95% 91% 84% 74% 63% 50% 38% 26% 16% 5

# 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Point 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 13% 13% 13% 10% 8% 6% 4% 2%

Desc 100% 98% 94% 88% 79% 69% 56% 44% 31% 21% 13% 6% 2%

d6+d8: This is listed to show how die rolls that create the same number range (2 to 14) can differ in subtle ways. Compare it to d4+d10 above. Fractional Combinations Point 1/100 1% 2/100 2% 2d10 Asc 1% 3%

# 2 3

Desc 100% 99%

4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

3/100 4/100 5/100 6/100 7/100 8/100 9/100 10/100 9/100 8/100 7/100 6/100 5/100 4/100 3/100 2/100 1/100

3% 4% 5% 6% 7% 8% 9% 10% 9% 8% 7% 6% 5% 4% 3% 2% 1%

6% 10% 15% 21% 28% 36% 45% 55% 64% 72% 79% 85% 90% 94% 97% 99% 100%

97% 94% 90% 85% 79% 72% 64% 55% 45% 36% 28% 21% 15% 10% 6% 3% 1%

Median Of a Die Roll The mathematical median of a typical die roll is the “middle number”. If the total of the end points is odd, then there are two mid points, the one before and after the mean. If it is even, then the median is also the average. Consider the following die rolls, their average and median: Die Roll d3 d4 d6 d8 2d4 d10 d12 2d6 d16 2d8 d18 d20 Average 2 2.5 3.5 4.5 5 5.5 6.5 7 8.5 9 9.5 10.5 Median Number(s) 2 2, 3 3, 4 4, 5 5 5, 6 6, 7 7 8, 9 9 9, 10 10, 11

2d10: There are 100 possible combinations; thus probabilities are all neat percentages. Modified Rolls and Probabilities Adding or subtracting a number from a die roll usually changes the lower and higher ranges and averages, but does not necessarily change the probability of each result occurring. One exception is when a number is subtracted from a small die roll and the result is limited to a 1. For example, if a roll of 1d61 is limited to creating at least a 1, the results would be as follows: Die Roll 1d6 1d6-1 limited to 1 1d6-1 not limited 1 1 0 2 1 1 Result 3 4 5 2 3 4 2 3 4 6 5 5 Total Avg 21 3.5 16 2.67 15 2.5

If 1d6-1 is limited to 1, the average is changed, since 1 occurs 33% of the time.

This is a consideration in game design for when the designer wants to know what the middle number(s) are so they can design a mechanic, such as a to-hit roll or saving throw. For example: suppose the referee wants to design a mechanic (such as leaping a chasm) based on a d20 die roll. The average is 10.5, but they cannot start the concept at 10.5 because said number will never actually occur on any single die roll. Instead, they have to start with the idea that the numbers 1 to 10 represent 1/2 of the possible number created by the die roll; and 11 to 20 the other half of the number space. A 50/50 chance of success means the character must roll 11 or higher to succeed. Suppose they consider using 2d6 as the die roll to use for the mechanic. The average is also the median: 7. There is no 50% mark: 2 to 7 or 7 to 12 both occupy 58% of the number space available.

6