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(I asked this question recently on reddit, and got a mixed assortment of not-quite answers.)

Most gamers pronounce, e.g., 'd20' as "dee-twenty", or '3d6' as "three dee-six". But a certain contingent of (mainly older) gamers pronounce them "die-twenty" and "three die-six", respectively. Does anyone know when and where this nomenclature arose? My suspicion is that it comes from old-school wargaming, but I'm not certain. (I realize this is a little tangential to RPGs, but that's the one topic I can think of that it is tangential to.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've been playing since the late 80s, and have never heard "die 20"! Is it a regional thing? \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Oct 6 '20 at 4:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have heard a few people in my area say "die-twenty" now and then. I wouldn't say it's commonplace or particularly related to a specific age of gamer. But I have heard it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve-O
    Oct 6 '20 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are we sure that this really about pronunciation, I would have assumed it’s a preference to not speak in abbreviations? The D is short for the word “die” after all, right? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 '20 at 21:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HåkanLindqvist: Yes, but in English, there are no fixed rules. Every one says "etcetera" when they encounter "etc.", but no one says "exempli gratia" when they encounter "e,g." \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Oct 6 '20 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I knew gamers (in Upstate New York in the '90s) who deliberately adopted the "die" pronunciation so as to distinguish, e.g., 4d8 from 48. \$\endgroup\$
    – Micah
    Oct 7 '20 at 5:25
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It appears to be an idiosyncratic reading which spread after D&D's release.

While I haven't read every possible miniature wargame, sources suggest that the dice notation was an invention of Dungeons & Dragons after its release, and that the varying "dee" and "die" pronunciations arose thereafter.

According to Playing at the World, a book which details the history of D&D, most wargames before D&D used either readily available six-sided dice, or twenty-sided dice marked 0-9 and used for percentages (e.g. Tractics (1971)). Full sets of polyhedral dice (d4, d6, d8, d12 and d20, but not d10) were sold in 1973, and their use was pioneered by Original D&D (1974), but the dice notation was not yet used.

The specific term "die (number)" was used in the original D&D to refer to a result of a roll, not a die type. For example, the bandits listing in Monsters & Treasure (1974), p.5:

If there are over 200 bandits there will be a 50% chance for a Magic-User (die 1-4 = 10th level, die 5-6 = 11th level) and a 25% chance for a Cleric of the 8th level.

TSR's Fight in the Skies (1975) (video) used percentile dice, but not the "d20" type notation. The need for such notation was likely derived from the high variety of dice used by D&D. "Fight in the Skies" says in places "roll two dice", without notation. Even the AD&D Monster Manual (1977) did not yet use dice notation.

The earliest use of dice notation that I'm aware of is Dragon #7 (June 1977), What To Do When the Dog Eats Your Dice, by Omar Kwalish, an alias of Tim Kask. Here he refers to six-sided dice as "D6", printing a table from Fight in the Skies to allow d6s to simulate percentile dice (suggesting that polyhedral dice were still uncommon). In his recent YouTube video series, Kask does not use the pronunciation "die", suggesting perhaps that it was never standard pronunciation at TSR.

The Player's Handbook (1978) introduces dice notation, but does not define a pronunciation. For example:

The cleric has an eight-sided die (d8) per level to determine how many hit points (q.v.) he or she has.

The AD&D 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide (1979) uses the term "die (X)" in two tables: on page 172, referring to a result of 6 or 7 on the die; and page 206, where "die 20" refers (presumably) to a roll of 20 on the die, i.e. a critical hit. We might infer from this that Gygax himself did not pronounce "d20" as "die 20", otherwise the term "die 20" would not make sense here.

However, the pronunciation "die 20" is used by Len Lakofka, early D&D contributor who gamed with Gygax and had influence on AD&D, though he did not work directly at TSR as Gygax and Kask did. "Die 20" doesn't appear in any official work, but it does appear in Lakofka's self-published free work Devilspawn (2009), pp.98-110:

Roll six die four and bring them in based on that die roll.

In the event of an encounter, roll a second time on die 20 and consult the table below:

In other words, it's likely that Lakofka is among the earliest influential inviduals to pronounce "d" as "die", for which it is ultimately an abbreviation. Similar idiosyncratic pronunciations of words sometimes occur in the D&D community, particularly pre-Internet, when one has only seen obscure terminology written, and only heard it spoken within the D&D community.

My educated guess is that it arose at some point during the development of AD&D between 1976 and 1979, perhaps linked to Lakofka's involvement or arising independently in the D&D community, and spread by word of mouth despite not being formally defined in any official TSR sourcebook.

For more information from sources who were there at the time, you could contact Tim Kask, who has a good chance of responding to comments on his YouTube channel (such as on his latest video); and on the Dragonsfoot Forums, an OD&D forum where Len Lakofka himself sometimes posts.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your regional estimate strikes me as true. On the East coast I never heard "die twenty" but the "roll a twenty" or "roll a twelve" or "roll an eight" was common in some of our groups. Some of us kept saying "roll an eight sided die" until the d4 d6 usage picked up more momentum. (I am thinking early 80's but that's a guess and I was living in the South at that point) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 '20 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a thread on Dragonsfoot where 20% of people polled said "die", with 3% saying they only use "die" and not "dee". \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 '20 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wonder if they are all from the Chicago area? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 '20 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I knew the answer to this question would come from Quadratic Wizard :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Nacht
    Oct 7 '20 at 12:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your post here might answer this question at bcg.se: Why do people call an n-sided die a "d-n"? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 27 '20 at 20:48
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I grew up in Minneapolis and shopped at The Little Tin Soldier in the early 80's where Dave Arneson himself was known to play. A quick survey of my old gaming buddies all produced the same reaction: "DEE? Who ever said DEE? Do you roll deece?"

So, yeah, maybe it's regional. I've never heard the usage of anything but "DIE".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just as a contemporary comment, I live around the Minneapolis area now and I've never heard someone say "die-20" here (or anywhere) until coming across this question. I'd bet there are regional differences, but clearly there are also temporal ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Oct 6 '20 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I second Upper_Case's comment about temporal differences. I'm a much younger TTRPG player myself and I've never played in the Minneapolis area, but I have played with people from more than a dozen different countries and from many parts of the US, and I've never heard 'DIE' used for this notation, only 'DEE' (or 'DOH', or 'DAY', or however the local language/dialect refers to 'd' as a letter). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 '20 at 22:29
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    – V2Blast
    Oct 7 '20 at 3:06

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