Friday, 5 September 2014

For the Love of Dice

A visit to Kingston to spend quality time with friends and family is never complete without a visit to the Kingston Gaming Nexus, the store that will always be my favourite FLGS. There's never a shortage of the newest and shiniest game books there, usually more than my modest budget can manage, and this trip was no exception -- I snapped up a copy of Weird Wars: ROME from a display of recent Ennies winners, and could have gone home with many other tasty gaming confections.

What else did I get? Dice.

These ones. Pretty. Green (my favourite colour!), dark translucent blue, and purple (my wife's favourite). Sweet!

I already owned a nice set of Fate dice, the "Winter Knight" set inspired by the Dresden Files game. That one has fiery orange-red dice, icy translucent light blue, and opaque dark blue. Also sweet. (I also have a set of Fudge dice that have fallen behind a large, heavy piece of furniture which I need to extract at some point when my back is feeling up to it.) I didn't strictly speaking need a new set of Fate dice, because I'm not actually running Fate as an ongoing game right at the moment.

There's just something about dice.

Gamers of my vintage know the maxim You can never have enough dice. Back in the day, they were actually somewhat hard to come by, and the quality has improved exponentially over the years. The earliest dice I owned were the crude "mud dice" that were included with my first Basic D&D set; ugly brown and orange dice with rough edges. You had to use a crayon to fill in the numbers of those proto-dice, wiping them clean with a Kleenex. Still, in an age when polyhedrons with more or less than six sides were rare, they got the job done.

Later, we got an assortment of more aesthetically pleasing opaque and translucent dice in plastic tubes, in a wide variety of colours. The collections of dice that we proudly carried with us to game day in a repurposed Crown Royal bag or a peanut butter jar began to have real variety. At a certain point, it wasn't enough to just have a set that you could play with, you needed a particular set. Colours that spoke to you. A certain mojo you could feel when you gave them a roll.

They were like a handful of gems scattered across the kitchen table. Magical.

All dice were not created equal, of course. There was the hated d4, the lamest of the damage dice, which could paradoxically inflict great pain on your feet if it managed to secret itself somewhere within the folds of the carpeting. There was the seldom-used (but very nice-looking) d12, the almost-as-lethal-as-a-d4-caltrop d8 (which always seemed to be in short supply), and of course the workhorse d20. Everyone back in the day had a good mittful of those, with a few special favourites they used for specific tasks or when the chips were really down.

And the d30. The golf ball-sized cold sore of the dice-slinging world, whose usefulness eludes me after d30+ years of gaming.

d10s have their own special importance, the alternate workhorse to the beloved d20 for games like Call of Cthulhu, Wild Talents, and the White Wolf titles. I like me some d10s, though they don't quite have the same satisfying hand-feel as a d20 when you're making a roll. d20s may bring more randomness to the party, but baby, they roll just right. Maybe that was one of the reasons I loved Mutants & Masterminds so much -- every roll depended on the die that I loved best.

Modern dice are not just more precise and aesthetically pleasing than the neanderthal dice of the 70s and 80s, they've made the leap to full blown art object. One of my players collects obscure kinds of dice, and he has sets of d6s made of heavy marble and volcanic rock. I've also seen metal ones with sharp edges that make those early foot encounters with plastic d4s look like a mercy.

I like a lot of games that use playing cards as a randomizer, and a fair number that use no randomizer at all. But dice are still my favourite. Sometimes I'll buy a new set to go along with a new game I'm running or playing (I got slick gold-with-black swirl d6s in celebration of my pulp game), and sometimes I'll buy a set just because they're cool.

Maybe they're a symbol of a bygone era of gaming, when things were simpler and dungeon crawls went on all day long. When there was no problem so great that a longsword +2 and a lucky roll couldn't carry the day.

Rolling your dice was where the drama began.

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