Archive for D&D & Me

D&D and me part 7: This Is Not OK!

Sorry that I have been so quiet lately.

At first I was kept away from by sheer laziness and then a few things in my life became less than awesome and I did/do not feel like sharing them so I just went all CyberHermit.

A few ideas have been percolating in my brain during this time, and one of them was a post on the title/word/label of Gamer, what it once meant to me and what it had come to mean recently. It has been simmering on a back burner for months.

A conversation I had today coincidentally followed by a post that several of my friends have been passing around ignited something and cut right through my malaise.

Words Needed To Be Said!

So this is going to be a bit long and probably it will wander, such is life. Shall we?

LOAD”*”,8,1

I think I have commented before on my mixed feelings RE: the surge in popularity of things that once were obscure.

When I was a kid, even knowing what an Orc was could get you mercilessly teased, and now World of Warcraft is so mainstream it might almost as well be football… or at least rugby. I was talking to a co-worker about this, and about how much easier kids have it these days with nerdiness being kind of hip in general, and more specifically the acceptance of role playing games and the diversity of the players available. Even more specifically the fact that Girls Do Game.

When I was a kid this was an insane idea, even bringing up D&D to a girl was a guarantee of a dateless existence at best, and now I do not know anyone at all who plays in a male only gaming group.

I told my co-worker as much and she mentioned that in high school her friends would not let her role play because she was a girl. This was a concept I found crazy buckets. While I will admit to a prejudice when it comes to women in role playing games, it takes the form of assuming they will be playing an interesting character with emotional depth. (not that plenty of men don’t, but in my experience [and in my prejudice] nearly all women do) I have been proven wrong only a couple times in this, and I am generally very excited when I have a good gender mix in a game.

It was a fun conversation while the business of the day was gotten to. We both moved on to other things, many boxes were lifted, much lettuce was crisped.

Then, at lunch, I found that several of my friends had simultaneously referenced This Post.

I was horrified.

Now I was aware of some incidents of sexism, racism, and other negative behavior that had occurred at game conventions I had attended, but these were usually things a friend or a friend of a friend had witnessed… or stories of the Bad Old Days. Tales from another time or place or involving people who were relics that had somehow survived into the modern age like pleisosaur hiding in the depths, only to emerge for conventions.

I have spent a lot of time today thinking about this.

I am a White Male Player of Games, which means I live on one side of a filter that I rarely have to be aware of. In addition to this filter I swim largely in a bubble of carefully selected comrades (this metaphor is getting out of hand) so there is a lot I will never see. If I am aware of this handful of incidences, then how much is going on that I never see? Tips of icebergs and all that.

Notice I did not call myself a White Male Gamer… This relates to the post I was going to write originally and that needs to be touched on now.

The term Gamer used to have two real meanings. One was that you were a gambler, this term had no relevance to my life so I will just drop it and move on. The second meaning was that you played role playing games, board games, war games, or other tabletop games. The use of Gamer to describe people who played video games came a bit later, but there was a big overlap so using the Venn diagram of “Gamer” was still pretty useful. When a Gamer met a Gamer they had common ground. Both probably had interests the other could relate to and share as well as both being somewhat outside of what society called normal or even acceptable.

Pretty much from second or third grade on I have identified myself first and foremost as a Gamer.

In recent years a few things have happened to make me step away from that term. For one thing, it has come, in the public eye, to mean much more someone who plays video games. And while I do certainly do that, I mostly play one or two older games and generally think the industry stopped producing many worthwhile or fun games with the obsolescence of the Super Nintendo.

For the other big reason I have to bounce back to my misgivings about the increased popularity of things once obscure…

The title of Gamer has become Something Ugly.

By distancing myself from that world I could ignore the rotten elements that had been festering there… or so I thought.

Part of my conversation with my co-worker was about how inclusive the role playing, board gaming, and the like communities were. My perception was that We Were Better Than That.

And we should be.

Gamers, Fandom, Cosplayers, Anime Nerds… People who read too much, people who collect things, people who spend hours poring over obscure information for no reason other than they love it. We should be 100% inclusive and enthusiastic towards anyone who shares our loves and obsessions just our proclivity to have such loves and obsessions! This is true even if they don’t look like us, don’t talk like us, or have the same plumbing we happen to have! The world is full of hate and exclusion and horror, we should be the ones to take care of our own. No Matter Who They Are!

Our hobbies/ways of life are not damaged by the inclusion of others, they are strengthened and improved. Exclusion breeds stagnation and eventually death.

My eyes have been opened, I am going to keep them open. I challenge you all to do the same. If I see this bullshit I am going to act. If you see any of this in the way I treat others, please slap me the fuck down.

Lets play some games.

D&D and me part 6: My New Dice

Previously I talked about the loss of my special dice and how I had never since had a set that I really cared about.

for all these years my dice have been a semi-disposable tool, a means to an end that I enjoyed but never really connected with. I bought them in bulk and used whatever fell to hand. I didn’t love them.

a couple days ago my holiday present to myself arrived… And I have learned to love again.

image

After a long search I found these guys at DnD Dice at a very reasonable price. They are a good size, very heavy aluminum, and despite a few nicks and flaws that I forgive utterly, very well machined. The D4 might be one of the deadliest things I own, I dearly hope I never step on it.

My only criticism of these is a personal one rather than a practical one, and again it is utterly forgivable.

On many dice a small dot or underline is used to show the difference between a 6 and a 9. This makes perfect sense of course… Unless it is on a D6… Where it the only way to roll a 9 is to tear reality as we know it asunder and fling your die into some non-euclidean dimension where a solid shape can have a variable number of sides.

Other than that, I love them!

D&D & Me part 5: Dice Magic

Dice have had giant buckets of ritual, ceremony, and superstition since before there were dice. I have no doubt that cave-men were blowing on their knucklebones before tossing them into a circle of goat entrails and that roman soldiers were rubbing their dice on whoever was winning to pick up some of their luck.

Gamers are no different and despite the fact that many gamers are rational people who understand things like probability and the most basic physics of tossing a geometric shape onto a hard surface, we have created a whole lot of our own.

Here are a few I have personally witnessed:

Priming new dice by rolling them with the old ones… Sort of an initiation to your collection.

Never mixing new dice with old… I’m not sure when new dice become sufficiently old to join the general population.

Only use dice for their particular game… Never use your D&D dice when playing GURPS.

Never letting these sets of dice see each-other in case they got jealous.

Placing dice with the most desired result face up and keeping them that way until the roll.

Placing dice with the worst possible result face up and keeping them that way until the roll.

Rolling dice for ‘practice’ before playing.

Not rolling dice when not needed so you don’t use up the good rolls.

Rolling the dice a whole lot pre-game to use up the bad rolls.

Switching to new dice when one is rolling poorly.

Removing dice from your collection when they roll bad so they don’t infect the rest.

Not letting anyone touch your dice.

Making someone else use dice that are rolling poorly so they change their luck.

Buying a new set for each new campaign.

Keeping sets of dice for different purposes within the game… one set to roll stats, one set to make attack rolls, maybe even a specific die for a specific skill roll.

Rolling different dice of the same type to select the ones that roll best for that nights session.

Destroying poorly performing dice in front of the rest as an example… I knew one person who had a special sledgehammer specifically for this purpose.

Pleading with your dice while shaking them.

Threatening your dice while shaking them.

Kissing or blowing on the dice before each roll.

Having a pretty girl/boy kiss them.

I even knew one person who convinced a priest to bless his dice, no mean feat in the 80s when a lot of people thought that D&D equated murdering your friends while worshiping Satan in storm drains.

I had one superstition I tried to get started at one point, but it never got much traction… Touching your dice to a published game designer, the bigger a game line the better your dice would do. This may or may not have resulted in one or two people tagging Gary Gygax at conventions. I had managed Mike Pondsmith myself.

In short; People are crazy, gamers are people, therefore gamers are crazy.

D&D & Me part 4: First Games

As promised in Part 1.

My first tastes of Dungeons and Dragons (aside from puzzling through the rules and stumbling through making a couple of characters) was in a solo game run by my friend Wolfgang. We sat down and I made a character, a fairly basic fighter as I remember, I have no recollection of his name at all. I entered the dungeon with no plot and walked through a series of rooms, each full of treasure which I had my character put in his backpack with no regard for basic physics. At the end of these rooms was a staircase down. Wolf had me roll a die, whatever I rolled was not good enough as my character fell down the stairs and died.

The end.

This was not entirely satisfying, I strongly suspect Wolf’s understanding of the concepts involved were about as rudimentary as Mine was.

The next try was with Wolf again, as well as our friend Noah and at least one other person. I am pretty sure this took place at Noah’s house, but it may have been Wolfgang’s, it’s a touch hazy. I do know that we were now using Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, bigger books, more stuff, very exciting. I think the person running it was someone I did not know well but that had run games for the rest of the players before.

I rolled up a Bard (name also lost to the mists of time) and we began in a town. This time I got to roleplay doing a little shopping and purchasing a bit of meat on a stick and some pastries. This was much more satisfying. But the rest of the players pushed on to the matter at hand and we headed off to murder Tiamat… a foe a touch more than a match for a group of first level characters. We had been given some artifact level magic items though and I, at least, didn’t know any better so off we went.

The encounter consisted of us throwing a magic item that turned into a giant iron tower when the command was spoken. Mid air we shouted the command and the tower landed on Tiamat’s tail.

A pissed off dragon god then turned us to a fine red mist.

The End.

Still not terribly satisfying, but I was starting to get it. Reading the rules (AD&D now) made a lot more sense and between this experience and what I read in Dragon Magazine I could see the experience I wanted out of this mysterious world I had stepped into.

It was right about this time that Wolf and Noah and, well, pretty much everyone else I knew suddenly reached a point in their lives where they needed someone to pick on. I was a pretty weird kid and fit that bill nicely. It was the last game I played for a while.

Poignant memory that should go in any movie made of my life: School field trip, the last one of whatever grade I was in and at one of those “important” shift between grade levels that always bewildered me. All the D&D kids at one table playing, and me at a table nearby with my books rolling up characters I would never use. I find this memory equal parts horrifying and hilarious.

Other poignant memory that should go in any movie made of my life: Halloween, We all dressed up as an adventuring party. I made armor out of cardboard. We gathered at my house where I was promptly ditched and wandered around alone the rest of the night. This one is less hilarious.

All was not quite so gloomy however! Next time I will talk about my other life 200 miles away where lots of gaming started to happen.

D&D & Me part 3: A New Campaign

In the midst of the insanity of the oncoming winter and NaNoWriMo and work and life I have begun a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign with the shiny new 5th edition rules (Which I like quite a lot, more on that another time).

I am working on a Wiki that will detail the world as it develops. I’ll link to it next time.

The first two games were very heavily weighted with character creation and development and introduction, but enough actual play occurred to get some very interesting plot rolling. I’m feeling creative in a way that I haven’t felt in a couple of years and that makes me very happy.

The players are an interesting mix. Three of them are from work, a fourth is a friend of theirs who plays board and computer games and wanted to see what this was like, and the fifth is one of the first three players father.

The new player has been giving it a chance but is not terribly into it. I have been trying to keep him engaged but he’s not in love with the format of the game and is likely going to bow out. I suspect he might actually have enjoyed 4th edition more, the plot and character stuff does not seem to interest him as much as tactical combat… which is perfectly fair.

The Father and Son duo are who I want to talk about right now. Both are kind of dream players to have in a sandbox game of this sort. They develop deep backgrounds to their players, are very interested in the world and their place in it, and are just as happy or more interacting with the townspeople as they are bashing goblin heads in.

Also: The father worked for TSR, Pacesetter, and Mayfair games. He wrote and designed for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Chill, Star Ace, Gangbusters, and Marvel Superheroes. He also designed Wabbit Wampage which I used to sell.

He is one of the people responsible for how the hobby I love took shape and has played with many of the greats…

Was I  touch intimidated going into that session? Yes I was.

Did he say that I was a fantastic DM, better than most of the people he used to play with back at TSR? Maaaaaaybe.

Am I feeling kind of badass at the moment? Yes.

D&D & Me part 2: My Dice

A bit of an aside after a few days off…

Gamers (and by this I mean role players, war gamers, and board gamers… I will have something to say on other uses of the word soon I imagine) have a very odd relationship with their dice. They (and by they I mean we) have a lot of strange rituals, habits, and superstitions surrounding our dice. Some day soon I will discuss some of these…

But first… A short (ish) history of my dice.

As I mentioned previously my very first game used coins instead of dice. Specifically I am pretty sure I used pennies. I lusted after the cool dice I saw other people using and that were for sale in dragon magazine, but with a weekly allowance of probably .75 to 1.50 they were a world away from me at that moment.

For my next few games I liberally borrowed dice from the board games we had laying around… Most often Risk which had a lot of them and since my mother and her friends only played it (according to my memory) on occasional camping trips, they wouldn’t be missed while I was using them. I may or may not have eventually absconded permanently with those dice, I do not recall.

The first dice that were really mine though, we’re the dice that game with that red box D&D set. Those cheap dice are often called ‘waxies’ because of the feel of the plastic, they had a slight give and translucency that made them almost seem like particularly hard fruit chews.  If you wanted the dice to be readable you even had to fill in the numbers with a crayon because they hadn’t been inked at the factory. The game used to come with a sort of off grey crayon for that very purpose.

I carried these dice everywhere with me, and like most of those dice they became battered and rounded, the cheap plastic wearing away. Eventually I needed new ones.

I vividly remember buying my first set of gem dice. This was an official set sold through waldenbooks and other stores, they came in a blister pack and were clear, multicolored, and had startlingly sharp edges and corners.

I used to haunt waldenbooks at that age. I was reading Zalazny and Ursala K. Le Guin and a whole lot of Pierce Anthony and I probably pestered the clerks there on a weekly basis about new releases. The dice hung to the right of their science fiction section… Drive by the Cars was playing. To me the dice glowed like the sun and were pure treasure.

I added a few more sets of dice to my collection over the years, and eventually I was given a metal set of dice that became the central jewels of my dice bag…

Which I should mention was made of chain mail from a kit I ordered from the back of dragon magazine… A kit made by the father of my fiancé as it turns out… The world is a scary place sometimes.

Those dice (and the bag) were solen in my senior year of high school and I still mourn them. I have my suspicions but nothing was ever proven.

i bought other dice, and some were very nice, but I never really had a special set again. I used whatever fell to hand, and Since I was now playing GURPS and Champions I accumulated enough six siders to supply a small merchant vessel if they needed improvisational cannon shot to drive off pirates… That never really came up… But the point is I had to carry the bastards around in a big box… Which I did… Along with a couple of decks of magic cards, counters, small notebooks, and in later years a flask of something unspeakable.

One year at a local game convention I discovered a very dangerous thing. Chessex (a major manufacturer of gaming dice) had a cauldron of misc. dice. Some were misprints or mold tests with weird mixes of plastic. The rest were just colors or styles that did not sell well. You could give them 20 bucks for a coffee mug or 30 bucks for a beer stein, and scoop up a random helping of dice. Very soon my box was entirely full and very very heavy. I not only owned more dice than I could use at any given time… I probably owned enough dice to equip the entire game convention for every game currently being played… This had gotten a little out of hand.

A couple years ago I spent a few days separating the dice out into sets. I gave a lot of them away to friends and a couple very confused strangers on the bus. For the rest I sewed some simple dice bags and was intending to sell them as horribly ugly dice for people to use at conventions without fear of losing them or having them stolen… I think some of them survived the move… I may have them for sale soon.

so now my dice are a fairly random selection from that mass of dice. No particular style, color, or importance. If I need a D20 I grab one, there are no favorites, no particular memories… These dice are tools, nothing more.

I find that after all these years, I miss having special dice. Dice with personality, stories. I think it’s time to go shopping for dice.

D&D & Me part 1: The first tastes.

This is the first in a series of posts where I will meander and muse on gaming, life, and D&D.

A lot of this happened a long time ago so exact dates and ages may or may not be entirely accurate, and the exact order of things is as best I can recreate through the filter of memory hazy from years of life and mojitos.

So away we go!

As I prepare to run my first campaign of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (and my first RPG in well over a year) I have been thinking about my gaming career in general and my relationship with D&D in particular. It was not technically my first game, and over the years I have been far less than its most vocal supporter or biggest fan… but D&D is the foundation of the hobby by which I have largely defined myself for most of my waking life, and I am very excited to be re-entering the fray.

The beginnings:

1: Somewhere in the vicinity of 1979 somewhere near the Russian River in California. I was 9ish, my little sister was 7ish and it was summer.

We were there with our dad for a jazz festival that we had little or no interest in. I am sure we were being absolute pains in the ass, and in an attempt to shut me up for one precious moment dad took us into a game store. I fell in kid-lust with the Avalon Hill Starship Troopers, but dad vetoed what was probably a $20 or $30 game. After what was likely a horrific outburst of whining he got me Metagamings R.I.V.E.T.S. instead. A little pocket game about less than intelligent robots battling it out in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I barely understood it and had very limited success explaining it to my little sister, but we played anyway.

2: Sometime the same year, It was third grade. My school was made of hexagonal buildings which should have been an omen.

I saw other kids playing some game with little cardboard gladiators and lots of dice. I am not entirely sure what this game was (Arena maybe?) but it was exciting even though I had no idea how it worked. These same kids started playing dungeons and dragons later that year and I remember my friend Justin and I making fun of the arcane language and jargon they used. In my memory these kids all have beards and fedoras… that is likely not entirely accurate.

3: Shortly after… maybe that year or the next. I discovered our local library had copies of Dragon Magazine. I studied every issue intently each month, and used my allowance money to photocopy articles, adventures, and the occasional Tom Wham game (who is my first game design hero).

During this period I wrote my first RPG. It was called Lab! and was a game of scientists trying to kill the horror they had just unleashed on the world before it escaped the lab. I had no dice so I used coin flips for random outcomes, and it would be very generous to say the rules were intensely vague. They filled a paragraph and a half or so with a random potion chart and a map of the lab drawn in marker inside a manilla folder.

I probably convinced a total of three people to play and none of them seemed at all to understand what I was trying to do.

4: Then a magical thing happened. My step-mom picked up a copy of Basic Dungeons & Dragons (the red box edition). She was, as I remember it, curious about this thing she had been reading about and thought it might be a fun thing to do… but after one look at the rule-book she closed the box back up and handed it to me. I finally had rules, and dice! And I barely understood them at all!

I managed to get into a couple games run by other people but in retrospect they understood the rules less than I did and they were not terribly fun or satisfying games. I might talk about them another time.

I continued reading my rules and the magazines and I put the core books for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on my xmas list… or maybe I asked for them for my birthday. In any case, by some miracle I got them! Looking back that was something near $150 in modern earth dollars, and we were never terribly well off.

5: In the meantime. Closer friends began to discover games and my friend Elden introduced me to Car Wars by Steve Jackson (my second game design hero)… we played that game for hours and wrote giant robot rules and used them to play a simple RPG with complicated combat rules. I got into the occasional D&D game but nothing regular. During this time I wrote my next two games, Spies! and Star! (my naming conventions were complicated and subtle). Neither system was much more than a few stats and a list of weapons, but we explored role playing using those two systems for months before we started venturing again into published systems and writing our own more complicated games.

D&D was pretty much out of the picture at this point. I craved games with giant robots, laser guns, and space ships. I played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my friends in Fresno and mostly home made games with my friends in Marin. I was a bit of an awkward social outcast as a kid, and moving schools right when I was building a strong circle did not help at all, so my gaming was sporadic and all over the map… until High School.

Well that was me from Birth until 14 or so… I’ll fill in some bits here and there if they seem interesting enough, and enough happened in High School for me to blather on for days… but those are for another day.