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)Uninked:
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 Diced20 dice map: symmetric (7:458)
Identify with sprue marks: d20 (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)
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.