So, your party has just completed their most recent dungeon crawl. They’ve made their way back up the dusky corridors, crawled past the oozes and mimics, and dragged themselves back to the nearby village to sell their loot and spend a few nights resting at the local tavern. While you as the DM are setting up the next mysterious stranger in a black trench coat to give them the new quest, they’ll probably want to do a few things: fight over magic items, seduce the bar maid, and gamble.
The gambling is the hardest part here – especially if you aren’t a dice player yourself. And while it can be fun to simply hand the players a deck of cards and tell them to just play Gin Rummy while you sort out the charts and tables, it can feel a little anachronistic.
You could buy The Great Dalmuti, or other campaign-included games, but it can be equally as fun to test out some ancient dice games. Here are a few simple ones to try:
What You’ll Need: 4d4
Tali is an ancient Roman game, originally played with knucklebone dice that had four sides. For modern purposes, d4 work just as well. The exact rules of this game are unknown aside from the basics, and there are tons of variations, which you can read through here in this document by Michael J. Speakman For a DnD game, simple Tali is easiest.
To play, players all agree on an initial amount to put into the pot, and an additional value that anyone has to put in should they roll Canis. Then, they take turns rolling the dice, and the pot goes to player who had the best result out of the following (from best to worst):
Venus – one of each value (1, 2, 3, 4)
Senio – 4 and three other numbers, higher numerical total ranking higher than another Senio (4, #, #, #)
Vultures – four of one value other than 1, higher numerical total ranking higher than another Vulture, but not a Senio (2, 2, 2, 2/3, 3, 3, 3/4, 4, 4, 4)
Canis – four 1s (1, 1, 1, 1)
If you rolled none of these, roll again!
Alternatively, Emperor Augustus’ Tali is also simple.
In this version, there is no base pot. Everyone takes turn throwing the dice, putting a set amount (Augustus used 4 coins, but you can do however much you want) in the pot if they roll Senio or Canis. The first person to roll Venus wins the pot.
Heaven and Nine
What You’ll Need: 2d6, The following chart (results ranked from highest to lowest)
This is a Chinese game that’s most fun when done with at least 4 players.
To play, gamblers select one person to be the banker (they should take turns in this role). The banker sets a limit for the bets, and matches whatever wagers the other players decide to make, or at least proves that they can pay up if they lose to everyone else in play.
Then, the banker rolls 2d6, and determines the “suit” for the round. This is either Civil or Military depending on the column the roll falls under on the above chart. If they rolled Heaven or Nines, they win all the wagers. If they rolled Red Mallet Six or Final Three, they lose all the wagers.
If they rolled something else, the other players take turns rolling the dice and compare it to the banker’s roll (if you roll something in the other suit from the banker, roll again). A higher result on the chart means they win, and the banker pays them, while a lower result means they opposite. On a tie, neither wins and nobody pays.
The banker stays the same until a round is completed where they lose a bet. Then, the player to their left becomes the banker. You play until everyone has been the banker.
Help Your Neighbor
What You’ll Need: 3d6 (or higher), 10 counters per person (such as coins, stones, candy, etc.)
This game isn’t exactly ancient per se, but it’s certainly old. I can’t seem to track down it’s exact origin, but every source I’ve found mentions learning it from an elder of some kind.
To play, each player puts an agreed stake in a pot, and numbers themselves from 1-6. Then, they take turns rolling 3d6 (the value of the die might be higher with more players). Each time a players number is rolled, even by another gambler, they put a counter in the pot. The first person to put all their counters in the pot wins it’s contents.
To make the game more exciting, you could coins (gold, silver, etc.) as markers, so the stakes go up as numbers are rolled.
What You’ll Need: 6d6
This is a simple Chinese game, usually for low stakes such as a portion of food.
To play, each gambler agrees on the stakes, but doesn’t put it in a pot. Then, each person rolls 6d6 until they have a result with 3-of-a-kind.
If you roll 6 of the same number, you automatically win everyone’s stake and the game ends. Otherwise, you add the other 3 dice together to determine the “rank” of the throw.
Then, the next player rolls until they have a 3-of-a-kind result. If they got 6 of a kind, or their “rank” total was higher than yours, they win your stake. If it’s lower than yours, you win theirs!
These are just a few of any number of ancient dice games that you can include in your games. If you have any favorites or go-tos, we’d love to hear about them!