Saturday, February 22, 2020

Identifying the Dice of the 1970s

How can you recognize a polyhedral gaming die made in the 1970s? The video above gives my tips for collectors and researchers who want to roll old school. After the cut, I give a quick reference guide to identifying these dice.

A brief note on scope: this list is restricted to polyhedral dice that were known and available to the hobby gaming community of the 1970s, which basically means that information on how to order them could be found in zines and catalogs of that period. Other numbered polyhedra overlooked by the hobby wargaming/RPG community are not included here. Note as well that this reflects research I consider to be stable, but these are difficult objects to study, and there are still open questions that might nudge these conclusions one way or another.

1970s Dice Quick Reference Guide

Japanese Standards Association (JSA) Dice (1960s)

d20 dice map: staggered.

Identify by finding in its plastic case, or compare dice to the dice ladder above.

Bristol Wargames Society Dice (1970)

d20 dice map: additive (9)

Identify by comparing to dice ladder. Imported to the USA by Lou Zocchi. Later in the 1970s, they may have introduced some additional colors.

Creative Publications Dice (1972)

d20 dice map: symmetric (7:235)

Dice maps are the same as Holmes dice, which are widely available. Identify by the colors (comparison to Holmes is shown below), as well as the sharp engraving of the numbers, especially the "3". Only released in white (d20), blue (d12), green (d8), pink (d6), and yellow (d4).

Zocchi 1st Generation Dice

Percentile Set (1975)

d20 dice map: partially symmetric (7:248)

Original distribution was red and white only. Resold by TSR until 1977.

Polyhedral Set (1976)



Identify with color and sprue marks: blue d20 (sprue on 7/8 vertex), yellow d12 (sprue on 5), orange d8 (sprue on 1), green d4 (sprue on face 2:13). Note as well the oversized, warped d12, and the pointy d4. The dice map of the blue d20 matches the ladder for the 1975 percentile dice. In 1977, some additional colors for the first generation d20 were introduced, including orange and yellow (and probably green as well). 

Holmes Basic Dice (1977)

d20 dice map: symmetric (7:235)

Released in white (d20), blue (d12), green (d8), orange (d6), and yellow (d4). Colors are slightly darker than original Creative Publications solids.

1977 Percentile Set

(Pink d6 shown for color reference only)

Shipped in TSR boxed games like War of Wizards, Boot Hill, and Top Secret.

Comparison of Holmes (back) and Creative Publications (front):

Zocchi 2nd Generation Dice

d20 dice map: symmetric (7:458)

Identify with sprue marks: d20 face (two molds, either on the face 7 or 8), d12 (face 5), d8 (face 1), d4 (face 2:13)

First releases in red, white, blue, yellow, orange and green (1977). Subsequent releases included black, brown, and violet (1978), and from there branched into many other colors by 1980, including gem styles. Note as well limited releases of transitional "swirl" colored dice. From 1978 forward, many sets shipped with a pipped d6; by 1980, Zocchi began making a matching numeral d6 for these sets.

Selected Dice After 1979

TSR Dice (1980)

d20 dice map: symmetric +10 (7:235)

Included a matching d6 and d10. d20s numbered 1-20.

Prototype summer 1980 release shown. Dice map is the same as later Moldvay dice, which are widely available.

Armory 1st Generation (1980)

d20 dice map: symmetric (7:458)

Identify with "A" instead of "1" on faces of d20, d8, and d4.

Shipped in nine opaque colors and five gem colors off the bat, with many other colors quickly added. Sets included a pipped d6. Note that pre-1980 Armory dice packaging contained Zocchi 2nd generation dice.

Heritage (1981)

d20 dice map: symmetric (7:458)

d20 ladder identical to Zocchi. Identify with circle embedded in the face of the 1 on the d20 and d12. Primarily shipped in red, white, blue, yellow, orange, and green; also seen brown in the wild. Up to 1980, Heritage blister packs (which may be labeled "Kriegspielers" or "Dungeon Dwellers") contained Zocchi 2nd generation dice. "Adventure Gaming" blister packs made by Heritage contained dice as shown here, though some (probably early 1981) contain a mix of Heritage dice and Zocchi 2nd generation dice.


  1. Tried to share this blog on Facebook, but:

    "You can't share this link. . .because this link goes against our Community Standards."

    1. Yes, it was flagged as spam when I put it on the Playing at the World page as well, as people started rapidly sharing it. FB will let you post the YouTube link directly (which in turn links to this blog).

    2. Twitter seems OK with the blog page link.

    3. I complained to them about the erroneous error yesterday, and it was cleared today, so post away about Jon's history on FB now!

  2. Hello dear John!
    Here the D20 Nation, the first Italian youtube channel on D&D! We write to you with absolute esteem for your research and for your work in this wonderful playful landscape. We have seen your research on the history of dices and we would really like to produce a video regarding your latest work; we had thought of adding subtitles to your video but often (at least here) people don't really want to read Italian subtitles. In this regard, we would really like to bring your research into our channel by producing a video and linking ALL information to your work and your blog! We have come here under the advice of Zoltar (Sage Advice) our dear friend, with the intention of asking for a collaboration and quotation permit for your work! If your answer will be negative, we will continue to follow you and share your work with our whole community! Thank you very much for your time!

    1. If you want to use this blog post's information to make your own video in Italian, you are welcome to.

  3. Jon, have you ever seen a Creative Publications or Holmes Basic set that was not pre-inked? I'm assuming the inking was done by the supplier in China?

    1. I've seen examples of both that have lost their ink, but I'm not aware of any sealed sets that are uninked. It is also my understanding that the inking was done overseas.

  4. I still have my 1st and 2nd gen Zocchi dice in my collection, but sad that I did never got the Holmes set. Those colors just have a certain nostalgia attached.

    1. Put some pics of your 1st-gen Z's up on your blog!


  5. Hello, I am publishing a free French emag on dungeons & dragons and the OSR movement, I wanted to know if it was possible to translate your article to post it in our emag.
    I'll put a link to the n1 if you take a look.

  6. Very informative post and video, filled in a few gaps in my knowledge. Thank you for all your work.

  7. Were d20s with plus markings not made or in use until the 80s?

    1. Correct. The Gamescience dice with those plus markings were advertised as "new" products in 1981.