Archive for the ‘ Gaming ’ Category

How Zanzer Tem Got My Groove Back

Preamble: It’s been a rough time in the United States of America lately, a rough time reconfirmed yesterday with the Electoral College officially casting their votes. I’m not gonna lie — I don’t think this POTUS is going to be good for the country. I’m scared of what he’s going to try to do and what will be done in his name. I’m gearing up for a marathon of working to make sure the wheels of democracy turn for everyone, not just the already privileged and the hateful. I’m terrified, and already exhausted, and my mental health has been taking it on the chin since well before election day and only getting worse since then.

And that’s the thrust of it: I’ve been a bad friend for the last half a year, and while DJT is the catalyst it’s not an excuse. I totally dropped the ball on beta-reading for a colleague. I have been scattered and unproductive at my day job. The holiday one-shots I promised people I’d run basically all fell apart except for the few I got done before DJT sewed up the GOP nomination, and every time I think “I should run those” my mind turns to a dead radio station and I just hunch over my desk until the horror passes. Exercise has been difficult to make myself do (though the endorphins always really do help), and a lot of nights after work I get on the train and cannot focus on anything except doing my daily Duolingo lesson (I’m learning German, which is making me uncomfortable for historical reasons). Writing has basically been the only easy thing, and that’s great, but there are days that feels like fiddling while Rome burns. The tiniest thing will shatter my cool: a difficult-but-not-impossible work project triggered no fewer than six anxiety attacks over two weeks, and on Sunday I fell into a deep funk because we misjudged our time budgeting and I didn’t get to make Star Wars: Edge of the Empire characters with Sonya. I try to self-care and half the time it doesn’t work, because I inevitably come across something that makes me think of the election, something that isn’t funny anymore in context, something normal that I’m worried I won’t get to keep thinking of as normal or something horrific that I think might become all too common. And it’s not entirely getting better, though there are definitely moments, even sometimes whole days.

Some of this I can only do so much about. Some of this I have to handle as I have energy, not before, or risk making it worse. But last night, I got an unexpected shot in the arm courtesy of my wife’s Reddit Secret Santa gift.

When it arrived, it looked like a board game to me: long, flat, rectangular. She opened it while I was washing dishes and heating up dinner, and she told me it was two boxes of tea, which was great, but clearly not all that was in the package; I asked what else it was, and as I was washing, she suddenly said “Baby! Look!” And I came back into the living room, and I saw…this.

C0FpKESUkAATeL6

The 1991 “Easy to Master” boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons.

I started shouting. I nearly started crying. This boxed set was a tiny piece of my childhood in Los Angeles, a birthday present that carried fond and also sad memories. Fond because this came into my life when I was just starting to figure out this “roleplaying” thing, when I used to try to read the 2nd Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook cover-to-cover and desperately wanted any sourcebook my parents could afford to give me (an urge that also got me Paranoia, which is still a favorite, and Shatterzone, which is…less so). Sad because…well…I never got to play it.

It took me a lot of years to find my people; I had friends as a kid, but nothing that endured the way friendships later in life did (such is growing up, I think). And this Dungeons & Dragons set serves as a reminder of that in-a-crowd isolation: the set that I pored over, got excited about, but could never actually execute. The closest I got was an offer from a post-surgery relative who wanted to play with me but wound up (understandably!) too low-energy to do so, and a cousin who when presented with my attempt at an elevator pitch said “Why are you talking to me about this? I’m not interested.” (At least he set strong boundaries…)

So last night, looking at this battered but never-played copy of this game that some thoughtful Redditor sent to Sonya, I felt a chance to do something that it never occurred to me I’d wanted to do, that it never occurred to me I’d ever have a chance to do: I could finally run a party through Zanzer’s Dungeon. I could finally run the encounters with Dmitri, and Axel, and everyone else in that little box. I could actually play that D&D set that lived, loved but unused, in my many childhood closets, even if it was a different copy from an entire continent away.

2017 is likely to be as tough as 2016. Parts of it might be worse, as a person interested in tolerance and inclusivity. And it is likely to include a lot of triumph, too: The Imaginary Corpse will start going out to agents and markets next year, and I’ll mark three years of marriage to my best friend and favorite human, and I will get to finally unbox Sentinels of the Multiverse: OblivAeon and finish the game I started loving five years ago. But one of the things I know I can look forward to, one of the bits that will help me get through during the most slogging, bloody sequences of the year, is that I will finally deliver on a 25-year-old promise I hadn’t realized I’d made myself. In 2017, I will finally read the boxed text for Zanzer’s Dungeon to a group that is actually excited to have me read it. That’s a win money can’t buy.

So thank you, anonymous Redditor. You gave me hope, and you made us smile. And that’s what the holidays are really all about.

Gaming for Charity (Yes, Really)

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Hey everybody,

I am emerging from the word-mines with some news: Next month, November the 5th, I will be joining the Ace of Geeks team for the Extra Life charity gaming marathon!

For the detailed low-down on Extra Life, you can check out their website, but the tl;dr version is this: Every year, Extra Life gets together gamers like myself to participate in a worldwide gaming marathon. We all pick a day (official day is November 5th, but you are not held to the larger group’s schedule) and attempt to game for 24 hours straight. Games can be of any sort, from board games to video games to tabletop RPGs. 100% of the money raised by Extra Life goes to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

The Ace of Geeks will be gaming from November 5th to November 6th, 2016; exact schedule and details will go on our Extra Life team page when we have them.

I’ll be putting the donation link on the WordPress main page until the day has come and gone, but for now, if you want to donate, you can find my personal donation page here; if you want to sign up, click the “Join” button on their main page. Thank you in advance!

On The Other Edge

Why I’m At My Most Neurotic When Doing A Thing I’m Good At

(CN: The following is about gaming as much as writing, and contains discussion of my mental illness.)

Let me start with some self-indulgence. This weekend, I am running a one-shot for some very dear friends of mine, and I am excited and scared. While discussing it on Facebook with my friend Roo, she said:

I was telling a friend about your one shots…and found myself saying something incredibly true: you are on a very short list of people whose GMing skills and style are such that if I have a chance to play in a game you’re running, I will jump at the chance every single time. I adore playing your games and getting to spend these bits of time sharing the space in your head.

This is so kind of her to say, and it felt like a beautiful payoff for all the hard work I have put in getting better at running games (among many beautiful payoffs, but I needed one today especially). But the point of this post is not to sit here and pat myself on the head; it is to discuss the other side of that coin. My gaming stuff is good because I care about it a lot. And my gaming stuff is hard for me because I care about it a lot.

Writing is a fraught activity for me, and as a GM even more so than as an author. (I also have a lot of anxiety and angst about gaming as a player, and some of what I am saying here may be true for that end of things, as well.) This is something I am coming to grips with in my life right now, as part of my effort to understand myself better on both a macro- and a microscopic level — that I have a lot of anxiety about doing creative things well, even though I demonstrably do them at least pretty well (well enough to get lauded in the case of GMing, and well enough to get published in the case of writing), and that a thing I have chosen as a hobby causes me more stress than a thing that I do as a theoretical paying gig.

I put a lot of time, energy, and care into my creations. For fiction, that means outlining, editing the outline, maybe working on story beats before or after that if I think I need to worry about pacing (especially for things like comic scripts or flash fiction where I have a very restrictive format or a limited amount of space for the story to breathe); it means writing the zero draft, the rough draft, the first draft; it means alpha and beta readers; etc., etc., etc. For gaming, it means penning the scenario; figuring out what notes I need to write and what I need to let myself wing; selecting (or writing) stats for the various characters; parceling out the clues (for mystery stories) or big epic moments (for superhero stories) or monsters, traps, and loot (for dungeon crawls); finding ways to set the right mood (for literally everything). A lot of that detail work is done unconsciously, though I think more of it is conscious with game design, since you do not get the same kinds of second chances in GMing that you do with fiction.

And that’s half of it. What Roo said put the other half in stark relief for me, so much so that it gets its own separate paragraph for maximum drama — like she says, my creations are a walk inside my head. It’s only natural that seeing people taking that walk in real-time is harder than the idea people are doing it where I can’t see.

When I run a game, I am seeing peoples’ reactions to it in real time. When a moment falls flat, it falls flat right then and there, and I have to recover from the lack of impact in just as little time. When an encounter proves to be unbalanced, I have to fix it now, or at least decide how to prevent the game from either moving forward much quicker than anticipated or grinding to an unsatisfying halt. Even if somehow a total garbage piece of my fiction goes steaming and stinking out into the world, the worst I will see is a nasty review on a website somewhere. If my game is screaming-out-loud bad, I am in the middle, watching it happen.

It hurts to have a creation fail. I care about my stories, RPG and prose alike, and caring about them means I put a lot of time into it, and that loads things in a way that I’m not sure people outside my head always see. (And I wouldn’t demand they do so; it’s not their responsibility to take care of my feelings.) So when things fail hard, the first thought I have to deal with is not “How do I improve on that?” it’s “Oh God I’m a failure!”

That is manageable; anxiety is something I deal with every day, and while I am not perfect at managing it yet (and perfection is not a realistic goal anyway), I manage it well enough to see it coming eight times out of ten and not act out one of the other two times. But the thing is, because of the anxiety, there are things that set off the failure alarms that are not indicators of failure; and a lot of those need to be things I can roll with if I want to truly be in control of my anxiety.

There are gamers who are happiest when they are testing the boundaries of the narrative, looking for unorthodox solutions and trying to be clever. And that’s valid! But to anxiety brain, it can read as them trying to poke holes in my creation, which leaves me scrabbling to fill those gaps.

There are gamers who do not do a lot of external roleplaying, who roleplay through their actions rather than through facial expressions or tone. And that’s valid! But to anxiety brain, it can read as my emotional content failing to hit its mark.

There are people who come to a game just plain wanting a different thing than you were delivering — who were expecting a powered-up dungeon crawl when you prepped a diplomatic mission, or were going for personal horror in a game that is more about solving a murder, etc. And that’s valid! But to anxiety brain, it can read as a failure on my part to accurately set the stage for the game. (The subject of being explicit about the narrative, mechanical, and temporal goals of a game you are running is a whole other animal that I am not wrangling in the space of this post, but, that’s a thing, too.)

The list goes on. The point of this is to say two things: that GMing is hard, and that sometimes enlightenment comes from the most unexpected places.

I’m going to run a one-shot tomorrow, and it may not go quite like I intended. But thanks to today’s unexpected insight, I’ll be better equipped to deal with that than I was when I woke up this morning.

And even if that’s all I get from today, that makes today a victory.

On International GM’s Day

International GM’s Day, for this GM and this Writer

It’s International GM’s Day, as dictated by the folks at EN World and now adopted across the Internet, and I can think of no better day to talk about roleplaying games and writing.

I’ve never made any secret about playing roleplaying games. I cut my teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition; I made an ill-fated attempt at Paranoia as a young middle-schooler; I toyed with but never actually got to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness; and I had a pile of GURPS books I never used. Four different editions of D&D; the World of Darkness; the Chronicles of Darkness; 7th Sea; Legend of the Five Rings; Wild Talents; Unknown Armies; Eclipse Phase; so many more I do not remember or only barely flirted with. These were the tools of recreation during my childhood, my early adulthood, and now. More campaigns have died unended than ever been completed (I think my Changeling campaign, Roo’s Eclipse Phasegame, and the first leg of my D&D 4th Edition campaign are the only ones I have ever personally seen conclude rather than die the slow death — or get killed in a fit of drama and broken friendships), but all of it has stuck with me. All of it has made me who I am.

Through playing and developing characters, I learned to develop empathy for people who are not me; actually meeting people who had radically different experiences than I did was obviously necessary for me to bridge that gap, but it got me on the right track. Through running ongoing campaigns, I learned about communication, conflict management, and scheduling; through running one-shots and limited-run campaigns, I learned about navigating limited narrative spaces, and writing plots that fit into the time/space you have available. Through gaming, I learned how to write a plot that affected a consumer emotionally; how to take the germ of an idea and expand on it and refine it; how people interpret data presented to them, and how to both ensure the data is clear and manipulate interpretation to make a later revelation shocking or surprising; how to navigate the narrative tools of coincidence and convenience and ensure they do not turn into crutches. My understanding of storytelling structures, my comprehension of social dynamics, and unfortunately, even my ability to identify abusive and toxic behavior; all these things were refined by my time in the mental crucible that is gaming. None of them started or finished there, but my skill set and my personality are inextricably tied to my hobbies. They are a source of recreation; but they are also a source of creation. Hell, learning the difference between writing a story and writing an adventure for an RPG was one of the biggest moments in which writing “clicked” for me — and that, along with the message that everyone fails before they succeed creatively, is the most important lesson I have learned as a creator.

So, thank you to everyone I have ever gamed with. Thank you to the AD&D 2nd Edition, Mage, Changeling, and Vampire players in high school, for letting me just utterly reek at this whole thing so I could learn. Thank you to my Changeling players in college, for letting me really try something big, and for helping me struggle with the deficient parts of it, and for reminding me to this day that it was the best thing I had done at the time, even if seeing the ways I did not do so great helped me do better in the long run. Thank you to my D&D 4th Edition players, who helped me confront some anxieties I have about gaming and creativity and start to move past them, and who helped me try something a little weird (that may get weirder if we ever go back to it). Thank you to my Wild Talents players, who are part of my most ambitious campaign to date and who make me feel good about it every session.

Thank you to my high school GMs, for stumbling right alongside me and for giving me something to build on. Thank you to my college GMs: Josh, Kat, Tyler, Chris, Matt, the aforementioned Joe, all the Jasons, and Mo, for taking the time to run games and showing me both ways I did and didn’t want to GM, and for some golden moments that will stick with me forever. Thank you to Ted, Ralph, and Gary, my GMs in my grad school days, for showing me yet another different way and for pushing my boundaries. Thank you to Joe, my first 4th Edition D&D GM, who reminded me games could be fun again. Thank you to Sonya, for letting me come along on her first foray into GMing. Thank you to Matt, my current 5th Edition D&D GM, for helping me have fun playing again and helping me work through an awful Eeyore period with my dice. Thank you to the Alliance GMs, Brandon, Dan, Sarah, Jim, Sonya, Warlock, Madhawk, and Mike, for making me feel welcome and for trying some new things and some tried-and-true things, both with me and at me. Thank you to Terrance, my L5R GM, for showing me a different side of Rokugan and reminding me we’re here to have fun. Thank you to Nate, my recently concluded Mouse Guard GM, for showing me all kinds of tricks that may never have occurred to me. Thank you to the unnamed fellow GM who taught me it was OK to have anxiety about running games, and taught me we all work through it in our own ways. And thank you to the con GMs who have taught me a thousand little tactics that I could only learn by playing with total strangers.

Thank you to everyone. I needed all of you to become who I am today, as a gamer, as a writer, and a person. And the value of that is a price above rubies.

On 2015

I am 4.5 hours away from beginning the celebration that will put 2015 firmly in my rear view mirror, and therefore, it is time to reflect on the year.

“Mixed bag” defines most years in a human life, but in many ways this year has been one of extremes in that regard. I’ve had some of my lowest lows this year, but also some of my highest highs, and the latter often came as a result of the former.

Low point: Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a manageable disease, but still a disease, and a chronic one there is currently no way to cure, only to avoid being hurt by (and that partially with a little luck); having my wife, the most important person in my life, receive the same diagnosis a month before I did. Realizing both diagnoses only came because she went in to have something unrelated checked up on, and that if we hadn’t checked we would have kept eating in a way that was ruinous to our health and potentially deadly long-term. Dealing with the tide of internal and external fat-shaming, diet-shaming, and general feeling of screwing up that comes with a type 2 diagnosis, along with the feeling that somehow this was life laughing at me after I decided to take charge of my mental and physical health this year.

High point: Going in for our first quarterly check-ups on the disease only to discover we have them totally under control with diet and exercise, we have praiseworthy amounts of willpower and discipline, and barring a curveball we should be able to avoid complications for our entire lifetimes. People told us we were an inspiration, and we learned that we are capable of a level of courage, self-discipline, and mutual support that will serve us well in every aspect of our very long, very healthy lives.

Low point: After resolving to submit more stories and novels, batting a perfect .000 for submission acceptances from January to December.

High point: Learning that I’m not the only one who goes through fallow periods like this; the hardship forcing me to learn things about my writing strengths and weaknesses that I might not have seen had I met with even moderate success. I’m finding my writing voice in a  way that I never have before, and I’m relaxing into the act of writing in a way I never have before. I’ve also figured out how to set reasonable goals for myself creatively and, as a result, in other aspects of my life. While I am not a financially richer writer after this year, I am a richer writer in every other sense.

Low point: My anxiety went off the rails at the beginning of the year, with multiple explosive crying jags, only further exacerbated by the discovery of the diabetes issues.

High point: The explosions were finally bad enough that I had some conversations with Sonya about our relationship that were absolutely necessary and strengthened our bond as friends, partners, lovers, and teammates — there’s no steel without fire, as I think they say. From that came the decision to grab hold of my mental health as well as physical, and from that came a relatively saner Tyler; not one free of anxiety, because that demon is never truly slain, but one who can take a step back and assess his problems and deal with them rationally in a way he never could before.

Low point: I found a safe space for social justice-minded folk like myself, and promptly said something truly terrible and followed it up with a series of anxiety-riddled mistakes and outright bad behavior that ended in me needing to leave said safe space and in fact helped catalyze a general fracturing of it, losing myself at least two friends and leaving my Internet social media experience awkward to say the least.

High point: That huge screw-up and wrongdoing on my part forced me to confront problematic aspects of myself and my relationships, forced me to accept that there are consequences for my actions in a way that was frankly a little abstract before (being as I am a very privileged person), and took me down the road of learning a whole lot more about how to be less problematic and how I need to comport myself in public and in private. And I did keep a few good friends out of that, who though they are wholly digital right now, are an important part of my support network going into 2015.

High point: I rediscovered my love of comics, especially superhero comics, and broadened my artistic tastes in all fields.

High point: I navigated the waters of how to relate to my friends and family, and how and when and why to identify people who are unhealthy for me and keep them at the necessary distance.

High point: I celebrated a year in a fantastic marriage with Sonya, who has helped me learn to be a better person and has helped me learn just how happy I can be. I love you, sweetie. Hail Hydra.

High point: I recognized, eyes wide open, how truly lucky I am to have the life I have, and how valued my contribution to the world really is.

High point: I made mistakes and still have friends and loved ones. Forgiveness can be so important.

High point: I learned how to be diplomatic when angry.

High point: I got to hang out with my new nephew and niece (marriage grows families in the most unexpected ways) and watch them continue to be interesting and smart and engaged.

High point: I had a tweet liked by Squirrel Girl.

High point: There are way more high points on this list than low points.

2015 kicked me in the bojangles more than once, and it did its level best to get me on the ground and bloodied; but in the end, the scars left by this year are scars I can bear with pride. I’m a better person, a better writer, a better husband, and a better Tyler all around than I was last December, and that is a treasure that will never tarnish.

Next year’s resolutions:

Keep up the writing schedule.

Attend more cons, as a guest and as an attendee.

Keep working on excising problematic language.

Take time for self-care.

Go on more dates with Sonya, and recognize that sometimes, time at home quietly reading is the best date night of all.

Play more board games, especially ones I have not played before.

That said, play more Sentinels of the Multiverse and Red Dragon Inn.

Watch more wrestling that is not produced by the McMahons.

Go to more Fathom Events.

Have a really good beer when the carb count is available.

Love Sonya.

Love my friends.

Love myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, two friends and their wonderful son are coming over soon to hang out and play some, oh yes, Sentinels of the Multiverse. I cannot think of a better way to start saying goodbye to 2015.

I love you all. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Happy 2016,

Tyler

[Game Reviews] World Wide Wrestling

This is the first in what I hope is something of a series. This year, for Christmas, I gave out the “handmade” gift of running one-shot roleplaying games for my friends and loved ones, along with home-cooked thematically appropriate food provided by Sonya. (Yeah, we’re pretty cool I guess.) So in honor of that, and in honor of trying to stretch my brain in different directions, I’ll start chucking out some reviews of the systems we’re playing. Note that these systems are new to me but not necessarily new to the market, so don’t necessarily expect them to be topical to anyone except the game-curious. Anyway, without further ado…

The Game: World Wide Wrestling

Designer: Nathan D. Paoletta

The Fluff: World Wide Wrestling is, as the title suggests, a tabletop roleplaying game in which you are professional wrestlers, playing through one or more episodes of a professional wrestling show and the backstage/real-life drama that accompanies said show. It’s meant to be mainly focused on the usual stuff pro wrestling is focused on — people talking into cameras about who they’re going to fight next, people doing cool athletic maneuvers in a wrestling ring, and maybe the odd bit of comedy or bloody realism. The GM (or “Creative” as it is thematically branded here) is in charge of booking the, oh yes, scripted matches, and also given tools to give players who are having trouble deciding what to do next something to do. The intention is that as the game goes on, more and more of the “real” lives of the characters portraying the wrestlers will start to leak in to the game.

The Crunch: WWW is based on the Apocalypse World engine, and like (as far as I know) all games of that species, gives each player a set of Stats, rated from -2 to +3, which are added to 2d6 rolls to determine degree of success on tasks. Also like all -World hacks, rolls are meant to be much less frequent, and to have much larger implications than a single roll has in more typical tabletop RPGs. Wrestling character “classes” are called Gimmicks, and represent the broad archetype of wrestler your character is (e.g., the Monster is the huge guy who is powerful and intimidating, the High-Flyer is the dynamic athletic one who is a bit more fragile, etc.). Character sheets boil down into the four Stats — Look (your charisma and acting ability), Power (your physical strength and how imposing you are), Real (how good you are at bringing reality into the mix, both by using real-life events in your acting and actually getting violent with people), and Work (your technical capacity to execute wrestling moves) — along with Heat (a rating of how excited the imaginary audience is to see you interact with a specific character), Audience (how much the audience wants to see you in general), and your special Moves (the game’s term for things that cause you to make die rolls, which include a set of General Moves all characters can make and the Gimmick Moves that only the High-Flyer or the Monster or the Technician, etc., etc. can make). Characters can gain Momentum, as well, which is spent to activate specific Moves and can also be used more generally to add 1 to any roll you make. As characters gain Audience, they can add Advances, allowing them to add more special Moves or improve your Stats, along with some narrative effects you can add (like now having a Manager to interfere for you).

The Good: The system and game absolutely shines with love for the genre and the medium it is meant to represent, from the in-jokes used for the names of special Moves (“Excellence of Execution” really sticks out in my mind), to the way advancing your character encourages you to do things to develop a lot of Heat between you and opponents in order to gain you both Audience and so gain Advances. The way they handled the booking aspect of it (Creative does not reveal the ending until their sense of dramatic timing demands it) makes the game fun and suspenseful while still keeping true to the medium’s scripted nature. It’s a lot of fun for wrestling/gaming fans (and there are a lot of us) to play at wrestling without any of the physical risks involved, and the system really facilitates that in a way no other system I have ever seen could accomplish.

The Bad: Like all -World games, it suffers if you roll too often. Rolls have such massive impact on a one-for-one basis that too many of them in sequence can either cause a character to be dug into a narrative hole from which there is no escape (if they fail a lot) or advance far, far faster than is intended in the space of a few sessions (if they succeed a lot). It’s also very easy, with one or two Advances, to start breaking the system by making it just too easy to get highly successful rolls that then allow you to directly impact how easy it is for you to get more Advances, creating a vicious circle. In particular, my group found that the High-Flyer Gimmick, which has two different ways it can gain +1 Audience as a direct result of its rolls (as opposed to the one available to most Gimmicks) could easily be broken to become an Audience-farming machine with a total of 4 Advances, which in theory could be achieved in a single-digit number of rolls.

Obviously, the answer there is to limit how many rolls are being made in the course of an Episode, but the problem there lies in the instinct of gamers to roll for anything narratively significant at all, and the fact that the game is not 100% clear on how many rolls should be involved sometimes. “Cut A Promo” is one Move, and so obviously no matter what the promo, you roll that; but how many times do you roll Wrestling, or Feat of Strength, or Work Real Stiff, over the course of a match? After one session, we agreed you should probably have each competing PC make 2 or 3 rolls before you call for the finish, but narratively that can be unsatisfying.

That said, I think this problem is easy to address on a group-by-group basis; if the players all agree ahead of time about how many rolls a match should involve, and how many chances they should get to do other moves during a game, you can all advance at roughly the same pace barring dice luck (which no-one can control for, really). My second session of it would, I think, go much smoother than the first for precisely that reason.

Rating: 4/5 Crits.

On Dice

As of about a week ago, there is a large glass cookie jar on one of the shelves of our gaming bookshelf (slash bar), into which we have poured all the dice we are not using for an active RPG campaign.

Initially, the idea was one of convenience and aesthetics. The jar looks much cleaner on the shelves than a bunch of loose bags of dice, it gives us a place to put dice not currently being used, and it makes it very, very easy for people who come over and forgot their dice (or don’t have any) to know where to grab a few for the session. But as I looked at it and thought about it, and considered the fact that eventually the yellow d6s I’m using for Mouse Guard will go into the jar, I realized it’s something more. It’s an excuse to tell stories.

That cookie jar contains a lot of dice, random d6s and d10s especially, that I cannot track back to this game or the other. But it also contains the special “d’oh!” polyhedrals I got as a gift during the beta-test of Pathfinder, and that saw me through Joe’s 4th edition campaign. The teal dice Sonya used for her first-ever D&D character. The dwarven-rune dice I used for the first, now-shelved run at Sonya’s “Hammerhome” D&D campaign. The green dice Sonya used when we first playtested 5th Edition D&D; the pair of percentile dice that steered Ellis into disaster in Roo’s Eclipse Phase game; the speckled polyhedrals I picked up as an emergency, when my dice went missing (temporarily) right before I was slated to run “Lost Mine of Phandelver” from the D&D starter set. It even has the crystal-shaped d10s I used for my famous college Changeling: the Dreaming campaign. And some time soon, it will have the Lion Clan d10s that back up Ikoma Hanzo in our Legend of the Five Rings game, and the aforementioned yellow d6s, and whatever stormy color of polyhedrals I glom onto for Karai al-Amun in Matt’s run of “Princes of the Apocalypse”; and eventually, sad to say, the pile of d10s that I use for “Great Responsibility,” my Wild Talents campaign.

So any time I want, I can pick up that cookie jar, and I can tell you all about what stories I’ve gotten to take for a spin with the dice you might be reaching for to get through a difficult session.

“Oh yeah, those dice rolled the damage that killed Corwin the troll in the sewers underneath Los Angeles.”

“Those dice? Those were how I placed third in the Topaz Championship. Sonya got first.”

“Those dice were how Red Death nearly killed the New Firm during the Night of the Red Death.”

“I don’t remember any of the numbers that die rolled, but it was with Tome all the way from level 1 to 10…”

This is what gaming is all about, for me: a chance to talk about the successes and the failures, to remember a story we shared in a more direct, if also more mechanical, way than a movie or a book. A reminder of the great times I’ve had with great people. A chance to remind myself that for all it may not feel like much, I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. It’s just that some of it is fictional.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, that jar is a chance to hand off some dice to a new friend, or an old one returned to my life, or one I am glad to have around every day…or a pair of tiny hands, ready to carry a torch and fifty feet of rope into their first crypt.

It started out as something convenient, but it made itself into more. And really, I think that’s the best we can hope for with any part of our lives.