It may sound like a strange juxtaposition: hardened, tattooed offenders donning the cloaks of fantasy characters. Yet both former inmates and correctional officers agree: D&D is more common in prison than you might imagine. Most facilities have at least one game going. Some have a player in every cell block. According to Micah Davis, a former inmate and Dungeon Master imprisoned in Texas, "We had our own table in the dayroom. That's saying something. Aryan brotherhood table, Mexican mafia table, black guy table, and D&D table."
Some of the players are lifelong gamers, who would be doing the same thing if they were on the outside. Others hadn't even heard of D&D until getting locked up. But faced with a dearth of creative outlets, donning a metaphorical robe and wizard hat quickly became a welcome diversion.
D&D has become so widespread, some correctional facilities even have specific rules that address it. For example, if you are unlucky enough to become incarcerated in the Idaho State Correctional Institution, you are probably not going to be passing your time rolling D20's. From the correctional institution's 2014 Handbook:
The following activities are prohibited. Participation in any of these prohibited activities will result in disciplinary action.
• Gambling or games of chance
• Manufacturing of dice, dominos, chess sets, cards, or any other form of games
• Role playing games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons)
Even in states where RPGs are allowed, restriction on the use of dice can complicate gameplay. In an effort to crack down on gambling, most correctional facilities in America don't allow offenders to use or create dice.
Yet as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity and, as the case may be, boredom. In their efforts to circumvent the ban of dice, prison players have come up with a variety of ingenious ways to make rolls—everything from making the illicit dice themselves to designing intricate spinners out of batteries and paperclips.
When plastic dice are banned, a common work-around is to simply make one's own. Depending on the resources available, there are a seemingly endless number of ways to go about it.
or those with friends and family on the outside, the easiest way to get started is to ask a someone to send a dice template. A D6 template might get flagged in the mailroom, but a D20 template isn't likely to be something the CO's will recognize.
Joe, a former Massachusetts inmate went for the template approach: "We had origami dice patterns mailed in along with the trial 5th rules. Not having glue we had to improvise with the things we could get on canteen. Stickers on shampoo bottles are surprisingly useful. Maps were done on cardboard boxes we would get from inmate workers. On searches they would wreck our dice for gambling, so the templates were important."
"I never ran or played in a game where the PCs had to escape from jail or prison. Too on the nose. Come to think of it, we tended to avoid the trope of being in a dungeon filled with monsters as we were already in a dungeon filled with monsters." — Micah Davis
When glue's not available, there are plenty of sticky alternatives that can be found in prison, like jam or toothpaste.
"Jail toothpaste is cheap and turns to glue when it dries," says Joe. May Holmes-Roys, who spent time in the Washington State Department of Corrections, used a similar process: "We made dice out of card stock, toothpaste, and toilet paper. Rigorously tested, rolled right 85% of the time."
Origami dice perform best when weighted, but that can be its own challenge. Table salt and laundry detergent both make great fillers, as does sand.
A former inmate from Ohio who prefers to go by his Reddit handle "Pariahdog119," describes the process of making a sand-filled origami die: "You'll need the following: Cutout dice template, thin cardboard (saltine cracker boxes are OK,) fine sand (the finer the better, don't use dirt,) paints, glue, and for your hardest theft yet, clear poly coating from Maintenance. Cut out the cardboard using the dice template. Paint it and add the numbers. Fold and glue all sides but one. Let dry. Fill with sand. Tap make sure it's very very full. You don't want it rattling around. Close and glue shut. Add several clear coats to seal seams and protect your colors. Don't try to bounce the dice, you'll smash them. Roll them out the side of your hand or cup gently."
There are endless materials around the prison that can be carved into dice, like soap, aspirin, and deodorant. "Trying to remember which numbers go on which side is the hard part," reflects Gabriel R., a former inmate from Pennsylvania.
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