Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Gamers & Their Toys: Of Dice & Men*

The cliché of the frustrated golfer chucking his putter into a water hazard after a missed “gimme” or wrapping his wedge around a sapling after yet another shanked chip-shot is fairly well known. Archers discard “arrows that miss” (as though they maliciously acted), and anglers will leave an expensive lure hanging in a tree “… cuz it wasn’t catchin’ nothin’ anyhow”.

There is a very old saying that goes something like “It is a poor workman that blames his tools.”
But we gamers do it a lot. Gamers want to feel a mystical connection to their dice; that their dice are “with them” and provide good numbers when needed.

Gary Gygax was quoted several times about dice and our connection to them. The gist of his comments had to do with DM’s rolling dice more for the sound they make than anything else. In OD&D, that can certainly be true. I have often picked up a couple and ostentatiously rolled them to get a quibbling party of adventures re-focused.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I wrote a completely tongue-in-cheek article about dice lice. The wee, tiny critters live in the spots or numbers of dice. They live on dead skin cells and dust, with the occasional comfit of felt or velvet lint. Too much direct sunlight could be deleterious to their continued well-being, so games were better played at night or in the basement. If you were “feelin’ the same vibe”, they would give you the number you need. If you had angered or neglected them, well, whatever happened, you had it coming for the callous treatment of your platonic solids.
While I am not saying it has never happened, I will say that I have never known a bowler that named his ball or an angler that named a lure, nor a carpenter that named a hammer. Hold that thought.
We might have a favorite hammer or driver, or have confidence in a given lure type or color, but that is a preference usually arrived at over time in most cases.

Fishing lures and dice have a lot in common. For one thing, they rely on eye-catching colors. There is a saying amongst us fisherman that new lures first have to catch the fishermen; it requires testing to see if they actually catch fish. The manufacturer only cares that it is purchased. Fair enough. The same is true today about dice; they come in a zillion colors and combinations and are made to various standards. I myself own only one set of dice that I absolutely trust to be accurate; a trio of icosahedrons certified to be accurate by the Japanese Standards Association and manufactured in the ‘70’s.

Lest you think that these weird fetishes are the purview of RPG’ers alone, let me assure you they are not. I used to play Fight in the Skies (now re-titled Dawn Patrol) a lot, and only flew if I had my three FITS dice: two black with white spots and one orange with black spots d6’s. I still favor black dice with white spots and numbers; pouring all those sinister dice out on the table at the beginning of the game is a big psych-out sometimes (along with my thoroughly deserved reputation for TPK’s at cons; it’s like letting the condemned see the axe beforehand).

In Jolly Blackburn’s delightful comic, The Knights of the Dinner Table, the protagonists are sometimes slaves to their own dice and dice superstitions. They name some of them; certain dice types (colors, speckles, streaks, etc.) are considered to be intrinsically classier or better or more reliable, which we all know is bunkum. Don’t we?

What happens when a given die, usually the overworked and oft-maligned d20 (icosahedron), goes “sour” and starts delivering horrid results? I have heard of some rather interesting rituals designed to get back the die’s mojo or punish it.

Sometimes at cons you will see a single die, more often than not the d20, sitting forlornly in the center of an empty table. This is a severe form of “dice-shaming”, as though being exposed to all the con for providing poor numbers on crucial rolls will somehow rectify this behavior. Alternately, they could have been purposely abandoned so as not to infect/curse the rest of the dice in the bag.
Then there are those that resort to capital punishment by drowning, being smashed to smithereens with a hammer and death by microwave radar. The first is pretty much self-explanatory; chuck the offending die into a large body of water. Insofar as drowning, how exactly do you drown something anaerobic? Just askin’…
I have met several gamers that claim to have done variations on the second; some refer to it as decimation, a not-quite-correct usage of the word. The tales go generally that all the dice are lined up/taken out of the bag, the miscreant is isolated and subsequently smashed with a mallet or hammer. One guy claimed to put a few shards back in the bag to “serve as a reminder”.

Not solely limited to SF gamers is death by microwave, wherein the die is bombarded with energy waves until it forms a puddle. Make sure that speckley die contains no metal flakes; they can arc-out the magnetron (according to one tale I heard).

Oddly enough, I ran across a third method to enact dice reform that does not involve any dice losing their existences. The big question for you to answer is: Do you believe bad dice can be rehabilitated? A company called Etched It has presented us with a more humane option; their Despicable Dice Dungeon. https://www.etsy.com/listing/249858884/despicable-dice-dungeon?ref=shop_home_active_1&campaign_label=convo_notifications&utm_source=transactional&utm_campaign=convo_notifications_010170_10683759063_0_0&utm_medium=email&utm_content=&email_sent=1443461274&euid=ZO1vWioH9hRON_3t-5susWXrs_fx&eaid=31138463749&x_eaid=bc279336ff

Disclaimer: I have not met these folks and have no financial interest in their operation. But if you want to tell them you heard about it here, I'm cool with that.

What a clever idea. Perhaps a few days in Dice Jail will bring them round. For serious failures I could see where two weeks in solitary in the bottom of the bag might just do  the trick. Would it not be better for “Ole Rosey” to get a second chance after a stint in the cubical hoosegow than be melted to a puddle of goo? It would certainly be cheaper, because as we all know, if you have a set of “matched” dice, e.g., a 4-, 6-, 8-, 12- and 20-siders all of matching material, the remainder of the set becomes sort of superfluous once it is incomplete.

With all of our harsh reactions when the dice let us down, this offers a more temperate response. Come on, it’s not as though our  dice are inanimate, unthinking platonic solids of various material and compositions incapable of any actions on their own, is it?

*I salute all the ladies that play; you weren’t in the book title I am parodying

1 comment:

  1. We have a rather odd die rehabilitation ritual in our gaming club. The offending polyhedrons are handed to one of our lady gamers, who then rub the dice down the middle of their shirts.

    Sure, it sounds silly, and borderline sexist (the ladies, my wife included, get a kick out of it) but consider the following tale:

    Young Justin, 16, was playing his first tabletop historical miniatures game at Millennium Con in Round Rock, TX. His infantry was having rotten luck, despite holding a very nice piece of ground atop a hill. His dice repeatedly failed to generate a telling effect. He was becoming frustrated, and deciding that historical minis weren't for him - he'd stick to D&D and Shadowrun and Battletech. His brother Josh suggested he try having one of our lady gamers "bless" his dice. He went and found our friend Dixie at one of the RPGA tables, and she graciously performed her blessing on his handful of D6s. Justin rushed back to the table just in time for a French regiment to charge his position.

    The referee informed Justin he had the opportunity to fire a volley before the French reached contact with their cold steel. Justin tossed his handful of dice... and was surprised when all but one of them showed a 6. Not only did he inflict casualties, he broke the charge and routed the oncoming charge.

    You can tell most of our members that dice superstitions are silly... but most of them secretly cling to the traditional Royal Dragoon Dice Blessing.