Lately, with more modern games, I've noticed a trend towards custom dice. At first, I knee jerked against this and felt as though it was a cheap marketing tactic. But over the years, I've grabbed more than a few custom dice for some of the games I own. In fact, two of my favorite games use custom dice.
Fantasy Flight Games' line of Star Wars RPGs uses some pretty seriously custom dice. They use custom two types of custom d6s, two types of custom d8s, and three types of custom d12s. None of these dice are numeric and the game is all but impossible to play with standard dice of these types. Given that the game already has a $60 buy-in for a core book and $15 for a single set of these dice, I really felt it was as cheap marketing tactic. Now, a few years later I'm not so sure.
|Star Wars Dice|
Cubicle 7 Entertainment's The One Ring Roleplaying Game also uses custom dice, though theirs are not as extreme as FFG's. The One Ring uses custom d6s numbered 1 to 6, with the numbers 3-6 shaded and a little symbol next to the 6. It also uses custom d12s numbered 1-10, with the 11 replaced by a Gandalf rune and the 12 replaced by an Eye of Sauron. It's easy enough to remember these changes and use standard dice. That being said, the game does play a bit faster with the specialized dice and during the game's original release in a two-book slipcover edition, they included a set of one of these d12s and six of the d6s. Extra dice could be purchased, naturally.
|The One Ring Dice|
So, why is this not a cheap marketing ploy for me? Well, because of the thematic elements. When I pull out my big ol' sack of Star Wars dice, my local group knows its Star Wars time. At the table its almost become as symbolic of the setting as John Williams' classic score. When I pull our dice for The One Ring, their elvish script styling immediately remind everyone of the subtle changes that make Middle-earth unique. It might not seem like much, but along with character sheets and game books, gamers are always looking at their dice. Its a constant reminder of the setting, its tone, and the associated tropes. It can help keep gamers in the game, and I think that's both awesome and important.
|Star Trek Dice|
I think that's the real value of little things like custom dice, especially for IP-based games. They remind you that the game you're playing isn't just D&D - its a specific universe, with a specific style. This can easily get lost because games are so constantly compared to the tonal flexibility of games like D&D. Pulling gamers back into that IP-based world is important, or else we'd just play a generic RPG where these things could be easily slotted in over the often high-priced official versions released by various publishers.