By: Jennifer Bisson
Divination is often seen as using mystical means to ‘see’ the future, and is often held up to great scrutiny as to its validity. The word divine not only means to see the unseen (often through some kind of supernatural agency), but also has a connection to divinity (many forms of divination are ways of asking for divine guidance). Divination is used by many people as a way to gain clarity about a situation, advice for the future or uncover secrets. It isn’t always about seeing the future with absolute certainty.
There are many ways to tap into divination, and while some are quite iconic (like tarot or a crystal ball), you can use all kinds of things for divination, including dice! There are sets of dice created specifically for divination, but you can also divine with a wide variety of other dice. Whether you want to explore dice divination for personal growth and guidance or as a way to add a layer of mystery and foreshadowing to your RPG games, using dice for divination opens a lot of doors.
At its heart, divination is all about interpreting symbols, and there are two main categories of symbols: universal and personal. A universal symbol is the traditional meaning associated with a symbol (and universal meanings are definitely regional!), while a personal symbol is something that is based on your own personal history and experiences (for example, if you got bitten by a dog as a child, you may associated dogs with danger and pain).
When you consult a divination tool, you are interpreting the symbols you are being shown, and this can often use a combination of universal understanding (where you might have studied the traditional meanings) and personal.
Let’s first look at some of the dice produced with the intent of being divination tools. Tarot dice are big chonky dice, about one inch per side, with nice clear printed images. There are images for the Major Arcana, though the Minor Arcana are represented with pips (in the style of their suit, so the five of cups isn’t represented by a single symbol or image, but rather by five cups).
A lot of people worry about not being able to memorize all the meanings, but the good news is you don’t have to. Most tarot decks come with a book to tell you what card means what, and tarot dice are no different. If you want to refer to the book, that is fine. There are as many ways to read tarot (or any divination style) as there are readers, and whatever works best for you is totally valid!
If you prefer not to use the book, you can look at the symbols rolled and see what they mean to you. Our brains work in symbols very well, and when you see the image of a heart, you probably think of love and affection. The Major Arcana are often easier to read, for many people, because of this. Especially when the Minors are just pips, as they are with the Tarot Dice.
When looking at the Minors, it is often helpful to remember that each of the four suits relates to a different element. Wands are fire and creativity, cups are water and emotions, swords are air and thoughts, and earth and the material world. Each number can also be viewed through the lens of numerology, where each number represents a different idea. For example twos are duality or pairings and fours are stability. When paired together, the suit and the number gives you guidance on how to interpret the Minors.
Next I’d like to look at Astrology dice. These are a three dice set, with one die representing the 12 zodiac signs (constellations), one representing the 12 ruling planets and one representing the 12 houses (or sections of the sky that the planets and constellations can be seen in). These dice again come with their own little booklet, though if you are interested in astrology there is a deep well of resources out there for you to expand your knowledge base with. However, even with just the little white book that comes with the dice, you can interpret your rolls quite well.
The thing to remember, with this trio of dice, is that you start with the planet. That die tells you what is going on. Then, you add in the Sign dice, which will explain how things are manifesting (think of this die like the energy that is motivating the situation). Finally, the House die will tell you where these things are happening (which area of your life they are effecting). Once you have this basic framework, you can look at the dice rolled and expand upon the basic ideas they give you.
So, for example, the dice shown in the picture are the Sun, Scorpio and the 12th house. The sun represents the Self (specifically the self you show other people), Scorpio is intense and emotional (but with a bit of a dark or secretive side), and the 12th house is things that are apart from the ‘normal’ world (retreats, hospitals, prisons). This roll is showing how your outward persona, the ‘you’ that people see (Sun) may need to explore something deep and personal (Scorpio), and to do so you should find a way to step away from your normal life (12th house).
Of course, this is just a brief synopsis of what those three dice mean, and you could journal out in more depth what you feel is creating this situation or how you might want to proceed forward. The real beauty of symbols (especially on dice) is that they are small representations of much larger ideas, and the more time you spend working with them, the more information the symbol comes to represent for you. At first, you might not come up with much, but the more you work with a symbol set, the deeper you will be able to go.
Another great example of this is the Futhark Runes. This is a Norse alphabet that is often used for divination. There are 24 symbols that make up the Elder Futhark, so these can be placed on 4d6 (or 3d8, which actually works really well considering the Futhark are often separated into ‘aetts’ or three sets of eight runes each).
Each of the rune symbols represents not only a letter and sound, but a concept as well. Raido (the one that looks like a R) represents travel or a wagon, and Isa (the I) is ice and being frozen in place. But, like with the astrology symbols or tarot cards, there is much more to uncover and learn. There are books and websites that will let you explore different deities and myths associated with each rune symbol, and as you become more familiar with the stories and ideas connected to the runes, you will find it easier to recall the meaning when you look at them. Or, you can make a nice reference book and consult it when you roll your rune dice!
Bagua dice are another niche divination die. Bagua are a set of eight symbols (trigrams: made of three lines, either broken/yin or unbroken/yang), which represent the foundations of reality. Now you might wonder how these eight symbols are represented on the six sides of the dice, but there are two ‘pairs’ of symbols that are the inverse of each other (a single broken line at the top, or the single broken line at the bottom), and so all eight symbols are represented, you just need to orient the dice to see which one those sides are showing.
These type of dice can be read independently (roll one and see what comes up), but they can also be rolled in pairs, to come up with a hexgram (the combination of two trigrams). The resulting 64 hexgrams and their meaning are explored in the I Ching or “Book of Changes.”
Now, so far we’ve looked at divination dice that are aimed towards people looking to explore divination outside of a game setting. But there are some options that are within the RPG world as well. Like these rune dice, which come with a little flier that lists a keyword for each symbol (and includes a meaning for whether the bar on them is up or down).
The great thing about symbols is they have layers of meanings. So the die in the middle has the meaning of find/loose (depending on which side the bar is on), and this could mean that you will literally find something, but you can also get creative. The leftmost die has the meaning of forest/desert, and together you might end up with something like, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” which combines the ideas of ‘find’ (discovery) with ‘forest’.
This type of interpretation comes through linking similar thoughts. What does ‘find’ make you think of? What associated words or concepts come to mind? Are there phrases you can think of that include the word find (or an associated word/concept)? Do you have a memory that involves finding something? The answers to these are all things that might be included in your interpretation of the dice rolled.
And really, for this type of divination, picture dice work wonderfully. Pictures activate the creative part of our minds, and so seeing a picture of a clock might make you think of time, or it might make you think of a rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland). A lock could be a secret you are keeping, or a mystery to be revealed, or it may be a reminder to think of your safety.
Your intuition plays a big role, and like many things, intuition is a skill to be developed. Learning how to use dice for divination is a process. At first, you may only get a few simple thoughts, and you might struggle to connect them together. What do a pyramid and a parachute have in common? Maybe, you need to start building your path to your goal step by step, but when you get to the top you have to trust that the work you have done will carry you safely down again.
Thinking of the story told by what you roll can be very helpful, no matter what type of dice you are rolling. Instead of thinking of each die result as independent, clump them together and see what comes to mind. This helps bring a reading together, it builds the meaning behind the symbols, instead of just being a jumble of words (or images).
But maybe you want something much simpler. A lot of people might flip a coin for a yes or no, but we can roll a die! Of course you could simply assign yes to evens and no to odds, but maybe you want a little more than that. Fate dice are a neat way to get a quick answer, like these fate d6’s from the Divination dice set. They are marked with a yes, no and ? (maybe/unclear).
You can also create your own divination system, using any standard dice you like. Let’s say you have four choices of action, and you want to know which might be best to take. Write them down, and roll a d4! Whether you believe that the die will show you the ‘right’ choice or not, using dice to help figure out which path to take is a popular idea. A lot of people use this type of decision making to help them avoid decision fatigue (the idea that your brain can only process a certain number of choices in a day, and at some point you start getting tired of picking things). With a die in your pocket, you always have a way to make a choice!
While all of these methods can be used in your personal life, they can also be translated into a game world. Many game systems include spells or magic that lets a player peek into the future. Often, how this manifests is left up to the GM, with a suggestion to ‘make it mystical’ and not just tell the player what will happen. Using one of these divination methods allows you to give hints but also let the players figure out what those hints mean.
As a GM, you can either plan your story ahead of time, and then use what you know to inform the divination reading you give to your players, or you can roll a reading to give them and then create the story based on the reading. Either way you go, it can be very helpful to write down what you told your players (or take a picture of what you rolled), so that you can reference it later. The more you include connections to the reading you gave the players, the more interesting your in-game divination will be.
Whether you want to pick up a dedicated set of divination dice or make your own system, whether you are wanting to explore divination for yourself or to enhance your RPG gameplay experience, there is a lot that can be done with just a few dice. Don’t be afraid to play around and see what you come up with. Remember, the more you practice, the easier it will be and the more depth you will be able to create!
There are plenty of other sources for divination dice out there, but if you are interested in any of the sets mentioned in this article, you can find them at the links below!
Tarot dice (I got mine from Amazon, they go in and out of availability it seams)
Astrodice (this is the set I got, with the tin and booklet)
Futhark Rune dice (mine were made for me by a friend) you can get similar sets on Etsy though
Bagua Dice (you can find them on all the major sites: Amazon, Ebay, Wish, Aliexpress)
Rune Dice (from Flying Buffalo)
Divination dice (by DougOutCrafts) I don’t think you can get the 3d6 set anymore (it was from their kickstarter), but the normal poly set you can get on their Etsy