Interview: Abraham Neddermann, the Dice Creator

People get very funny about their dice. Some believe that they’re imbued with some mystic power. I have a friend who will regularly throw away d20s if he gets a bunch of poor rolls because he honestly thinks it’s cursed. If he got his hands on some of the dice created by Abraham Neddermann from Dice Creator though? I’d steal them off him. These miniature pieces of art are amazing – and totally usable. I recently caught up with Abraham to talk about his work.

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Let’s begin with the dice that you create. What first inspired you to make these wonderful things?

A friend wanted a gift for another friend of his, a 13 sided die. At the time I already owned a mill and a lathe, so I offered to make it (although it was a pain to do!). After that, I got curious about how I could make a D3, D5, D7, D9… pretty much all the odd sided dice. I know I could watch tutorials and videos online, but having things in your hands is always better than just seeing pictures. One thing led to another… a big collector saw some on eBay (as I didn’t “need” all the ones I had made) and thanks to his purchase and a few others, I wondered if this could become a viable job, or at least something I could do to pay for my hobbies!

I must add that until recently, I didn’t see it as more than a hobby (or at least a way to delay the search for a “real” job). However, lately, I was thinking that if made an effort I might be able make it into a job. And that’s where I am now!

Strange and beautiful

So what’s the process you have to go through to make a die? Is it all designed on a computer then you let technology take over or is it more hands-on than that?

It depends on the die but they all require handcrafting in one way or another. For the printed dice I can just print the images to transfer paper using a heat press, but then I must carefully “sand” each face with a nail brush and water to finish them. My wrists always hurt after that!

For the laser dice it’s a bit easier. You do the design on the computer and then the machine spends between 5 and 20 minutes doing each face. However, the machine can’t change the faces, so once it finishes on I have to pick up the die, change it to the next face and start again. Once the whole things is finished, I then have to paint the die. It’s not too much trouble and only takes a few minutes – then I wait for it to dry and give it a slight sanding to finish off.

The metal inlaid dice are without question the most troublesome. I have to transfer the designs to the brass sheet and etch it with acid, keeping an eye on it to not over-etch and ruin the work. Meanwhile, each die face is sanded really flat and then, using heat and skill, I melt the metal into the die. It’s a slow process but the results are worth it.

As for my lathe and mill, they are not computer controlled, so I spend a lot of time in front of the machines! Let’s say that I have machines to help me do the job, but ultimately all dice require a human touch in one place or another. It’s hard work, but I’m ok with that.

These dice you’re playing with are not made as a big series, but are part of a limited quantity made by a fellow gamer, an artisan. It’s like having handmade dice bags or your own homemade dice tower. Of course, that makes them way more expensive than a bunch of standard dice, but I want people to feel that someone saw the birth of that die, then carefully wrapped it with soft cloth and sent it your way for you to take over their RPG life.

Élegance (ridiculously lovely)

Actually, I did want to ask about that – how limited are they? Do you have a stock built up or is each one created individually on demand? 
Except for when it’s a specific “Limited edition” series (like the Space shuttle dice, where there is only one die for each year the space program was active), the actual limit on the dice is about either ten lasered dice a day, or ten printed dice, or five metal machined dice or 5 metal inlaid dice – but that is if I’m working at high speed (especially with the metal inlaid and metal machined ones).
My production rates compared to big companies are abysmal!As for having stock, I tried in the beginning and was able to do so because I had few types of dice. However, as time has passed (and now that I have 120+ different designs) it’s not feasible for me to have stock as the materials get expensive and the shop doesn’t make enough money to cope with that. However, for most orders, I can make them in one or two days so people doesn’t have to wait too long. That way I can arrange suplies as needed (divert power to shields!) and I don’t have unsold dice that might never go out. I think it’s a fairly common practice with artisans and craftsmen.
What’s your favourite creation so far? Which one have you done that (when you’ve finished it) you took a step back and thought “Perfect”?
Easy: Structural Integrity.

Structural Integrity - an ACTUAL work of art

Not only is it a die that looks awesome, but it’s fabrication is complex (drilling the die with walls so thin is quite labour intensive) so each time I make one it’s a special moment. I always get the newborn into the sunlight and appreciate it for a while, then I put it in the protective box and off to the step-owner it goes.
I love how you see each one of them as a child, being set free into the world! That die is utterly beautiful, it must be said. Would you say that is the hardest one to make? Are there any others that are challenging?
Hmmmm, yes, I would say that it’s the hardest to make. Certainly the hardest that I have actually made more than one of, or I’m willing to try.The hardest one ever by far was this one:

Looks innocuous, actually evil

Not only did I underestimate the cost (a lot!), but it also proved extremely challenging – check this out:

Don't try this at home. Not that you all have this kind of gear.

At that moment the milling head and the rotary table were less than 5mm away from each other. That is a very uncomfortable situation. But as I said, that is an exception – one which I am never willing to go through again!

A challenging die – other than Structural Integrity – is the carbon fiber one. You can read about it here: http://www.dicecreator.com/2010/02/05/carbon-fiber-aluminium-die-2nd-part/

It is an elaborate process, but at least this one is quite enjoyable.

These are incredible! The amount of work you put into them is evident, but even you must have come up against a challenge you couldn’t complete. Have there been any times you’ve just had to give up on an idea? Are there any dice that are just plain impossible to make? 
 
A challenge I couldn’t complete? Depending on how do you interpret that, there have been a few, or none.As always, money determines what we can and can’t do.
Once I was asked to do a Structural Integrity (and it’s brother Élegance) in titanium and coloured “carbon fiber” (it’s really fiberglass, but for people to imagine it, let’s say that). The fiber had to be water cut and the titanium was not cheap. So, a set of four dice was going to go for €800 (or perhaps a bit more, I can’t remember how much. It was expensive, but could be done).
 
Another time, I was asked to insert a magnet inside a D6, and leave it with no traces of modification but at €130 it was too expensive for the person. At least this one could also be done.However, now that you mention it… yes, there is a set of dice I was asked for that -even now – I could not make: a Tungsten RPG dice set, all platonic solids. To machine tungsten you must use special grinding wheels and tools which I don’t have. You don’t use cutters! Of course, if I were paid enough, I could buy the necessary tools – but you would be NUTS to pay for that…Getting in touch with reality though, I prefer to just stay on the boundaries of what gamers like (and what I can acquire). From time to time I still like to go wild and spend a couple of days just creating… One day I’ll come up with my “Jewel In The Crown”, a full carbon fiber D6 with no visible seams made in a single, hollow piece. Ahh, dreaming is so fun!
 
It’ll happen one day, I’m sure! So, where can people get their hands on these wonderful things? And how would they go about asking for special commissions? 
 
I have a little shop on Ebay : http://stores.ebay.com/Unconventional-Dice – In the future I’ll have a standalone webshop on the same address as the blog itself. When it launches I’ll make sure to promote it as much as I can, once we’re about to move from one shop to the other. The best way is actually not bother about which shop is active – just go to the blog and click on the “cart” icon. It will send you automatically to the active shop, whichever it is.For special commissions, there is a small guide on this post: http://www.dicecreator.com/2010/05/31/custom-dice-prices/
 
But everyone is welcome to write me an email to dicecreator@gmail.comand ask anything they want to know, to get a quote or just to say hi. Just remember: I’m an artisan, I can’t do tons of dice! There are plenty of big companies to do that…

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As an aside, Abraham also has a group of Facebook (of course) where he’s giving away three prizes. If you’re looking to get something special for nothing, have a look: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Unconventional-Dice/118705028170406 – or just go and buy one of his stunning creations!

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1 Comment

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One response to “Interview: Abraham Neddermann, the Dice Creator

  1. ginginer

    i love the structural integrety dice! i agree it would sit well in an art gallery!

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