It turns out that there were nerds back in ancient Egypt. In 2012, the Metropolitan Museum of Art put some pictures online of the oldest known 20-sided die and shook the Dungeons & Dragons community to its core (not really, but we are going for dramatic effect here, people). The d20 was certainly popularized by the pen-and-paper RPG, but it’s worth noting that these things have been around for thousands of years. Literally millennia, guys.
For most of the world, the d20 probably didn’t become a household term until the 1970s when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson unleashed their epic fantasy RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, on the world. Since then, the d20 System, as it came to be known, has been used in everything from Star Wars RPGs to Gamma World. Since then, the d20 has become a staple of the geek world, a must-have in anyone self-respecting nerd’s utility belt. It’s a symbol of the nerd landscape, a critical hit to the heart of nerds everywhere. Maybe I’m over selling this, but dice-based RPGs have been such a huge part of my life, seeing this glorious and ancient little guy gives me goose bumps.
The museum dates this 20-sided die back to the Ptolemaic Period, which would put it sometime between 305 BC and 30 BC. The faces of the die are inscribed with Greek letters and it’s made from a Serpentine rock. From the pictures, it appears to be in remarkably good shape, certainly better than my original, plastic d20 that I got with a copy of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. Sadly, the museum currently doesn’t have this bad boy on display, so we’ll just have to look at photos and imagine ancient civilizations rolling critical hits. Wonder if those guys used the THAC0 system?