Designing Unique Dice for Cartograph - Part 1

So we've been working on a roleplaying game. If you haven't already seen us blabbing about it on the socials, here is the lowdown: Cartograph is a fantasy map-making TTRPG of exploration and discovery. It's primarily a solo RPG, but it has rules for multi-player too. Essentially the game will have you world build and draw a world map that you can then go on to use in a homebrew DnD game. If you're interested, you can follow the Kickstarter here.

Anyway, being dice makers, we couldn't resist making some custom handmade click clacks to go with the game.

The Dice That Didn't Make the Cut

First off, I'm going to give an honourable mention to my first attempt at custom dice, which utterly failed. We've been making dice for over 4 years, and it's wonderful how much we still have to learn. These dice had the looks but lacked durability, with a thin border around each face prone to chipping or splintering in our quality tests. No good for hearty dice rolls! Nonetheless, we iterated and changed our design, and we're pretty happy with our current rendition. If you're curious, here is a picture of those failed dice, in all their imperfect glory:

5 different coloured dice sitting on a table

Designing the Heart of Cartograph Dice

In Cartograph, the main function of the dice is to be rolled onto a page to indicate landmarks and biomes that are present on a map. Without custom dice, this has the player rolling standard six sided dice, and referencing their value to a table (4 is a city, 1 a forest, etc). But why not have the symbols on each dice face represent the landmarks and biomes? So that's what we did. The first step in this design process was creating the symbols that would represent each table value. I jumped into Affinity Designer and got to work. Here is the mountain symbol, the first of many:

A vector line drawing of a mountain

Next, we needed to model the dice in blender. I am an absolute novice when it comes to any 3D modeling software, but in the end, we settled on a design that had 3 main principles in mind:

  • Easy to roll (so we added rounded corners).
  • Easy to read (large symbols on each face).
  • Elegant (a border around each face).

Here's what we came up with for the final version:

3d model of a six sided dice in the Blender software

From Concept to Reality: The Dice Making Process

Now, with our designs and 3D models ready, it was time to bring these dice to life. Our first few attempts printing the dice on our Elegoo Mars were less than stellar, so we opted to phone a friend. A big shoutout to Sapphie_chan, a phenomenal dice maker and artist, who helped us print a set of master dice. You should definitely check out her Instagram for some incredible art.

two 3d printed white dice sitting on a table

These 3D printed dice would serve as our master copies, allowing us to make multiple molds going forward. This means we needed the masters to be polished to perfection. Our polishing process is a tedious one as all dice artists know. First we sanded down the faces to ensure even geometry. Then, using 6 different grits of polishing paper, polishing compound and a pottery wheel, we carefully brought each face to a gleaming shine over many hours. A final buff with a Dremel, and voilà – our master dice were gleaming and mold-ready!

a collection of shiny black six-sided dice

We're excited to offer these dice as part of a limited deluxe reward for backers of Cartograph, so if you're keen to get your hands on some, be sure to follow the Kickstarter to be notified on launch!

That wraps up part 1 of our dice-making saga. In part 2, we'll dive into the mold-making process, the casting, and the grand reveal of the final product. Stay tuned and thanks for joining us on this incredible journey!

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