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 (such as Zazz Polyspheres) 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.

[Making a few periodic additions to this post since the original, including: Zocchi 1979 gem dice; Koplow dice; 1980 "monster d6s.]

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 (Gamescience) 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 (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. Note as well limited releases of transitional "swirl" colored dice. Late in 1979, began to introduce "gem" styles, starting with the ice (translucent) and diamond (clear) 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.

Koplow Polyhedra (1980)

d20 dice map: mirror 7/1 (7:257)

Initial release in ivory, white and black, with other colors soon added. The Koplow d20 was the first "tumbled" (rounded, glazed edge) polyhedron made for hobby gaming. Manufactured in West Germany. Note the striking Koplow pipped d8, also available in 1980. At first, these two were the only solids Koplow made apart from traditional d6s; a set of five polyhedra was available by 1982, and six (adding a d10) in 1983.

Flying Buffalo and Gamescience "Monster" d6s (1980)

Flying Buffalo "Death Dice" d6s were pipped, and may have appeared a little before 1980; Gamescience "Demon/Orc" dice had transferred numerals. Gamescience would issue the same die in black with white image and numerals; Flying Buffalo would issue their "Death Dice" in other colors in support of their Skulls game. Gamescience would follow with "Destiny Dice" featuring a skull-and-crossbones (for more, see this post).

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.

    2. This guy claims firsthand knowledge of them being hand-inked in Zocchi's Gulfport/Biloxi warehouse and storefront.

  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.

  8. Did Creative Publications actually *make* the Holmes set dice? The article is not clear on this.

    1. My understanding is no, the Holmes dice were manufactured in Hong Kong and imported directly by TSR. The mass-manufacturing the HK firm did for TSR was a bit... less rigorous than the work the firm had previously done for Creative Publications.

  9. Jon, first off, I have to say this is an excellent article. Secondly, I would very much like to discuss the Moldvay Prototypes you show in this article, both for additional information, and (of course) because I covet them.

    1. Sure, anything in particular you wanted to know?

    2. Well a few things:
      1) Do you know if they did two prototyping phases for the Moldvay like they did for the Mentzer?
      2) Did they skip d6 prototypes altogether? I find this odd, but it looks like they did so for the Mentzer molds as well.
      3) Whose prototypes are these, and would they discuss possible sales or trade (I told you I covet them)? I can be reached at dgl3906464, a google mail account, to discuss this last one - I figure that whoever owns them doesn't want 8 jillion messages.

      Secondarily, I've seen some odd Mentzer molds that are NOT prototype dice (gemstone clear types) ... and offhand chance you have any intel on those?

    3. 1) I don't know. I haven't been able to find any 1980 pictures of TSR Dragon Dice that are not like the ones I show here as the "prototype" version, which did not (as far as I can tell) ship in any actual Moldvay boxes.
      2) No, I show a d6 in the picture above, actually (it's kind of cut off in the picture, but it's on the far right. I should do a better picture).
      3) All of the dice shown here are mine, and I don't really deaccess material, but I would say that these aren't especially uncommon. The problem is more knowing what to look for than finding them.

      Mentzer dice are later than my time frame here, I don't have any real insight into them.

    4. I totally spaced on the 6, thanks.
      I can offer a little insight on the Mentzerd ice from a discussion with Frank mentzer, himself: they shifted manufacturing mostly because their supplier wouldn't include the crayon and shrink-wrap for them (they were doing it by hand in the warehouse on two machines which wasn't feasible at the larger production rates they were expecting), and second the consistency of colors. They did a first phase prototyping of the molds in house with an injection molder, making yellow-white "beeswax" colored dice, then did a second phase prototyping in the china facilities to validate the dyes and plastic that would come out of the larger machines.

      Looking at your Moldvay prototypes, I'd expect these to be in-house moldings, so I was really curious if a second set of prototypes was the norm or a lesson learned.

      As far as availability: I've got a few extra of the Mentzer second phase prototypes and was hoping to trade for some Moldvay prototypes but haven't seen any anywhere but yours. Here's hoping I can find some one day.

      Again, thanks for your excellent articles and insights.

  10. I see lots of 'Windmill Hobbies' that essentially look like Zocchi/Gamescience. Were these just essentially rebranded/resold?

    1. Might just be mislabeled by someone. Windmill dice are very distinctive, and easy to tell apart from Zocchi dice. They are smaller, the plastic is inferior, the typeface of the numbers is narrower, and so on. But they do use the same dice map as 2nd generation Zocchi/Heritage, so it's true you can't distinguish them on those grounds.