Saturday, September 29, 2018

Dice Delve: Double Six, Triple Four


A lot of people re-invent the wheel, and just as many will occasionally pretend the wheel is broken so they can "fix it." I've seen a lot of game aids over the years designed to correct a problem that I never in my life saw as being an issue; the hobby's equivalent to the Slap Chop.

Not all innovations are bad, you know. We all hate how D4 dice don't roll, are hard to fish out of the tackle box, and become weaponized when they fall on the floor. And yet, there isn't anything we can do about it, is there? Well, is there? 

Don't be so silly. Of course there is!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Movies of Dungeons & Dragons – The Ray Harryhausen Playbook



While the current crop of fantasy and sword and sorcery films were hit and miss in the early 1980’s, there was at least one library of cinematic wonder we could all reference for both style and substance. For many members of the Dungeons and Dragons crowd, their first exposure to the magic of Ray Harryhausen was Clash of the Titans (1981), which turned out to be his last movie. Side note: they had planned a follow-up to Clash which was to be all about the Norse myths: Thor, his chariot pulled by goats, ravens, the Midgard Serpent, Fenris Wolf, the giants…I can’t even fathom how cool that would have been. I just can’t.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dragon Magazine Was Our Internet


It’s difficult to get teenagers, or even twenty year olds, to care about things that happened four decades ago. I get it. Forty years in the modern world might as well be a hundred, and the speed with which we develop continues to its inevitable terminal velocity. Talking about anything more nuanced and complicated than the music of the 1980s will send most Millennials screaming from the room.

But it’s interesting to me because—and this is a micro-example of the larger questions being posed to mass media today—our sources of information were extremely limited. We had three or four channels, if we were lucky: ABC, NBC, and CBS. There was also PBS, in case you needed help with your reading. And you probably did, because there was a lot more of it. Magazines and newspapers were still everywhere. What’s worse, you had to BUY them. With MONEY.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dice Delve: Kung Who? Kung FU!


You don't notice lettering in comic books until its done badly. Same thing with editing in movies. Those things are invisible to the untrained eye when working as intended, and raised to an artform for the initiated. It's the same with graphic design; you don't "see" what a good job someone did until you see what a bad job another person did. 

In this vein, there are a lot of people out there in the Artisanal Craft Dice arena who have a basic understanding of Adobe Illustrator, enough money to order a bunch of raw materials, and they are off to the races. I see a lot of mediocre to bad dice being sold on Etsy and other online sites. To quote Tyler Durden, stuffing feathers up your ass does not make you a chicken. But there are some people out there who are doing it right. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Movies of Dungeons & Dragons – Primary Sources


In the 1980s we had an embarrassment of riches when it came to printed material; everything from stacks of paperback books, comics, Frazetta posters and print books (and other artists, as well, but c’mon…FRAZETTA), and even maps that we could hang on our walls for inspiration.

Another thing happened in the 1980s and that was this: special effects took a quantum leap forward. Now it was possible to put stuff on screen that would have required Ray Harryhausen to pull off. This was entirely because of the astronomical success of movies by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and given that back then it took four to five years to make a major motion picture, 1977 plus 5 equals…1982. Prime Zeitgeist Real Estate for giant fantasy films and also the perfect sweet spot for wooing a horde of eager D&D players to the movies. Sword, knights, barbarians, magic, monsters…we were there, man. Even if we had to sneak in (or wait until HBO picked it up and ran it into the ground).

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My Unasked-For Thoughts on 5e



Well, they certainly solved the question of
scale. That's a second-level cleric.
I kid! I kid the Player's Handbook.
It's really a third level cleric.
It’s obvious, I think, to everyone reading this blog that I’m currently playing and creating in the fifth iteration of Dungeons & Dragons, or 5e, as the kids call it these days. Part of this was an economic convenience in that it’s what’s out right now, and also one borne of necessity, i.e. that’s what all of the content is aimed at. But it doesn’t HAVE to go down that way, right? I mean, there are a metric shit-ton of Old School inspired systems out there, all using some version of the Basic/Expert edition of D&D or the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Or, if I wanted something insanely commercial, there’s Pathfinder, which is D&D 3.5 re-skinned.  Oh, who am I kidding? There’s no way in HELL I would inflict Pathfinder on anyone. I’m not a monster.

But that brings up another factor: I have been running games for newcomers to tabletop role-playing games. Twelve new players in all, spread over several games and campaigns, each one of them familiar with the subject matter, but have never rolled funny-shaped dice before in their lives. Is the current version of D&D a good “first RPG” experience for newcomers?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dice Delve: The Power of Clarity


Today I'm going to pick a slapfight by tipping a sacred cow. I'm old, and my tastes run to the old, the vintage, the decrepit. You know, like stuff from 1985. The Dark Ages. When Dinosaurs roamed the Earth. And speaking of dinosaurs...

Lou Zocchi is one of the longest-running manufacturers of RPG-based products. He may be THE longest-running, and good on him for doing so. And like most people who've been in business since the 1970s, he's had his share of ups and downs. GameScience is currently the Elder Statesman of the Artisanal Craft Dice Movement. These should be the dice I prefer, since I'm crunchy and crusty, right? Let's just see what the current batch of GameScience dice looks like.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Playing Games, Part 8: Just When I Thought I Was Out...

Nobody does Pacino from Godfather 3. They all do
Silvio doing Pacino from Godfather 3. 

Several years ago, I was employed by a homeschooling family as their creative arts teacher for one of their kids; a smart, funny, creative young man who was a little shy and needed help with his verbal and language skills. When he was younger, I was initially reading comics with him, which we both got a kick out of. Now that he was older now, he was into video games and Skyrim and all of that stuff. So, I thought, let’s kill a few birds with one stone and try Dungeons and Dragons first edition. He really took to it, and I re-discovered, I did, too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Playing Games Part 7: Games I Wanted to Play (But Never Did)


How cool is the artwork in this ad?
At my most geekiest, most gamiest, there wasn't a game I wouldn't try at least once. And I did, too: BattleTech, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Space: 1889 (the birth of SteamPunk gaming, kids),  Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, Rolemaster (AKA "Chartmaster") and so many others got a afternoon's delight from me and then I was off in search of new thrills. And like any thrill-seeker, I had targets in mind. Oh, yes, there were games I wanted to play so very badly. But that was the problem with RPGs back in the day: they were a team sport. I personally think it's a big part of the reason why computer gaming was able to compete for the tabletop gaming dollar so successfully: you play by yourself, and go online to find others like you.

Not back then, of course. Computer games used to suck. And if you wanted to play them, well, you'd better learn the rudiments of how to make friends, or you'd be at home, cheating your way through a stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Thankfully, I had players, and occasionally, got to play. Here are a few games I wanted to play and never got to.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dice Delve: The Power of Theme


I'm starting my dice reviews, and I'm sure I will do game reviews soon, as well.  I'm going to post them on Saturdays, which means this little blog is getting updated three times a week. It may not seem like much, but for me, it's huge.

Here are two sets of recent dice from wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns. Both of them lean heavily on their theme to be successful. And both of these companies made bank, with follow-up Kickstarters planned and executed. And while they both nailed the theme, how well did they make the dice?


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Artisanal Craft Dice 6: A Baseline Review


I’ve dropped a lot of dice talk these last few weeks, so today I’m going to do a little show and tell. Here are some dice that live in my ridiculous and chaotic collection. I’ll show them to you, give you as much detail as I can about them, and then grade them using the criteria I’ve outlined here (link to part 5). That way, you can see what I’m on about, and also get a sense of what I value and what I hate. It’s important to understand where a reviewer is coming from, so you can get the most out of said reviews. I’ll talk about what I like, what I don’t like, and what doesn’t work below. You’ll get the hang of it.

Remember: if you want me to review your dice, drop me a line at Finns Wake at Gee Mail Dot Com. I won't promise that I'll love them, but I will promise to give them a fair shake. And a fair roll. Hah! Dice humor! See what I did there? Okay, let's get on with it.

Reviewing Art & Arcana

You have probably seen or heard about this massive tome on The Internets or maybe seen a review on The YouTubes. Art & Arcana is a gi...