Digital dice vs physical dice

All the TTRPG games I'm currently playing in are run online. I make extensive use of digital tools like Owlbear Rodeo and Notion to run my games. And yet, I keep coming back to physical dice. I usually just let my players pick what they'd like to roll with as it really just comes down to personal preference to each player. But for me personally, its physical dice all the way.

The simplicity of digital dice

Digital dice have an obvious advantage when it comes to games that are played online. They can integrate with character sheets allowing for player rolls to be simple button presses. Automating rules and bonuses makes it easy for new players and faster and simpler for everyone.

Another advantage is that everyone sees the dice rolls. While some VTTs let you hide them for private rolls or DM rolls, by default normally everyone sees the results. No needing to repeat roll values, no fudging, everyone's on the same page.

Why I don't like digital dice

Ok, “don't like” even feels a little strong here, and this is some really minor nitpicking. I am fine with digital dice, I use them in one game as a player and some of my players use dice rolls integrated into D&D Beyond character sheets. However I do find them lacking in capturing the same magic of rolling bones in real life. Maybe its the digital coldness of buttons in a web app.

While I am not a stickler for my players to “know all the rules by heart”, especially in a very crunchy and complicated game like D&D 5e, I do find the character sheet integrated dice to be a bit of a crutch. And I really don't mean this in a gatekeepy way, if you prefer rolling from integrated buttons in a sheet thats totally cool. But the times when a VTT service is down or we've tried hybrid games with some players rolling in person, it becomes clear players who only use digital dice don't know where bonuses come from or how some basic mechanics work. This goes for myself as well! In the only game where I'm a player, I use D&D Beyond with Roll20 and I definitely gloss over how my various rolls add up sometimes. Going from digital to physical makes me feel like I'm relearning the core mechanics of the game over because the “Cast Firebolt” button isn't available and I'm is lost as to what dice to roll or bonuses to add.

As for 3D simulated dice roles… I personally don't care for “simulating” what we do at the table. I don't like complex 3D maps for similar reasons. I personally just find 3D dice kind of a novelty and not really better than physical or even just printed out results. I do understand that with the physics simulations in services like D&D Beyond, you can get statistically more fair rolls over a crudely implemented simple random number generator, thats totally a plus. That physics simulation comes at a cost though. I've run into issues with players on lower end computers not able to run the complex 3D simulation, causing slow dice rolls that take upwards of 30 seconds to complete.

The magic of physical dice

I like the clatter of the dice when you shake up a few dice before a roll. I like shaking a handful of dice into the mic to let my players know a big damage roll is coming. I like my players hearing an unprompted d20 drop in the background breaking the silence. Hell, I even like not being able to find the right dice and hunting through a pile of plastic shapes for that darn d10.

That's really what it comes down to — its just more fun for me.

Even in otherwise digital-only online games, I like the feeling physical dice adds. I don't think 3D simulated dice, sound effects, fancy visuals, or even the automation of integrated character sheets can be good enough to take the polyhedrals out of my dice goblin hands.

It's totally personal preference, but ultimately the reason I use physical dice is that to me nothing beats grabbing physical dice and tossing them into a dice tray. Both as a player and as a GM I love keeping that part of the game physical even though all my games are run digitally.