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Behold the World’s Oldest Known D20!

Behold the World’s Oldest Known D20!

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?Super old die


[HT: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

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  1. yo mama says:

    “In 2012 the Met put some pictures online” ….?  Is there any documentation of this, or is nerdist really just making up every story it posts?  The symbols look more like Futhark runes than the Classical Greek alphabet. Actually, it looks like an artificial blend of the two alphabets.

  2. Andrew says:

    Actually.. 20 sided dice with letters on it?  They were playing Scattergories!

    • Jay C. says:

      The Greeks used letters for their numerals. alpha (Α)=1, beta (Β)=2, gamma (Γ)=3,  delta (Δ)=4, etc. Kappa (Κ) was 20.

  3. pete says:

    We need replicas now!

  4. Mark says:

    The D20 is one of the platonic solids. Knowledge of the platonic solids was considered a matter of national security in parts of ancient Greece, and unauthorized knowledge of them was punishable by death.

  5. Spookichik says:

    Nyarlathotep’s Shining Trapezohedron? Roll SAN.

  6. tater says:

    Ah it all makes sense now … the last Pharaoh rolled a 1 …

  7. whip says:

    This was first posted online on numerous sites in NOV 2012, 2.5 years ago.
    Way to be totally contemporary Nerdist!  Nothing like “breaking” a story nearly 3 years late.  Way to farm those clicks.

  8. Chris says:

    I’m guessing it was a divination tool, like casting runes. That or they liked to gamble.

  9. Michael says:

    Just to be a nerd about it, the “D20 System” that is used in everything from Gamma World to Mutants & Masterminds didn’t exist until 2000

  10. Slaughtra says:

    Look at how clean those lines are! How did they cut the letters in? It almost looks like a stamp, but how could that be so clean on a stone? I love this and really want to know what they did with it! 

  11. brent koazk says:

    they should get this 3d scanned and make a whole set. i would buy it

  12. Jennifer says:

    I’m pretty sure they had a much more complicated version than “To Hit AC 0”