Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

The Dice of Generations

When it comes to geek “cred,” you either have it or you don’t have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as “geek cred”. That’s because the very concept of receiving peer social approval by being able to intelligently speculate on the origins of Boba Fett or recite Monty Python sketches verbatim was only rewarded by a very select crowd, and this was lore spoke of in hushed tones, hurriedly while we were looking over our shoulders to make sure nobody was listening. Lest the jeering start.

Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

So.. when I reference these objects, I’m sure there will be people in the readership of this blog that are going to recognize them. They will know their origins. They will sigh wistfully at the rounded edges, the scratches, the almost vanished grooves where numbers used to be.

It is altogether fitting you should be wistful.  These are the very first commercially available D&D dice, designed specifically to play that game.  I’m not sure of their provenance, but it is likely they were manufactured around 1980 or so.  Sure, they are (technically, an Octohedran, a Dodecahedron, a cube, a pyramid and two Trapezohedrons, but to an earlier generation, these were the spiff.  Dice MADE to play D&D with.  They were a huge hit.  Everyone who played had a set.  So what if they were crappy dice?  So what if the ink had to be reapplied with a drafting pen, until the edges got so warn and rounded you weren’t sure if it was worth repairing?  So what?  These were D&D dice.  These opaque beauties weren’t much to look at but this is “how we rolled” when we were nestled in Jay’s basement, or my basement, or Pete’s house.  I never got rid of mine, but I did put them in my old 16mm film can, and stored it on top of a bookcase in my study when we moved into our last house in 2000, and there it stayed undisturbed.  When a tree fell on my house last October, we had a flooded basement and had to pitch everything.  Including my bookcases and tons of gaming stuff.  I didn’t give it any thought, but the can (and everything else in my study) was gone.

(going back in time for a moment): Many years ago, my son, then in 5th grade, came home all excited.

It’s this game we play at lunch time, dad.. one person sort of navigates with words, the other people kind of go through adventures, by calling them out and then we draw maps… it’s really really fun!

I realized my son was describing Dungeons and Dragons to me.  His very first game of it.  I had never pushed him into playing, or even really talked to him about RPGs.  He wandered there all by himself, and thought he was cool because of his great discovery.  He’s played D&D on and off since then, not every week but on a semi-regular basis.  Now that he’s out of high school, he’s got his first job at a Summer Camp for scouts, as a blacksmith.  I recently got an urgent call from Garrett.  There’s no internet at camp, no cell reception, and he’s bored and so are all the other young men down there.  Would I send him the D&D 5 edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s handbook?  I was tickled, and said, sure, why not, I can think of worse diversions.  Then I texted him back– “need anything else? Do you have dice?  You need special kinds”  He texted back.

“Got that covered. I found this when they were tossing all your stuff in the rollaway”

And he sent a picture of a little steel film can, full of crappy D&D dice from circa 1980.  And a few of the sturdier, cooler Lou Zocchi dice, too, from the same period.   I was speechless.   I realized, then, that these were the dice of generations.  They were kind of rounded and old and probably needed a re-inking, but my son, by himself, had wandered into the same hobby I had loved when I was his age.  He was having the same kind of fun we did back then, with paper, pencils, a good DM with some imagination, munchies… and a can of crappy old dice.  Some things don’t have to be the latest and greatest, when you have an imagination.

He texted me later asking “Hey, I didn’t ask, I just saw them throwing stuff out and the can rolled out.. it is okay for me to use these?  We don’t have a game store near here” I texted back… “Of course it is. That’s YOUR dice collection, now.”

Postscript: Garrett sent me a photo of him setting up for a D&D 5th edition game at the Summer Camp he works at. Note the little 16mm film can full of original TSR dice goodies, still giving good service, 40 years later.


RPGs: Old School Meets a New Technology

I played many a RPG when I was a youngster, and even a young adult.  Back when I had not much to do with my young post-graduate life but having fun, concerning myself only with getting up, going to work, paying bills and whatnot.  In those days, it was not at all uncommon for my friends and I to convene an AD&D game on Saturday day and play literally all the way around the clock, getting up to go out on Monday mornings with all the clean-suited commuters gazing in wonder at this gaggle of bloodshot, haggard looking youngsters going out for pancakes on a Monday morning while they were going out to  their jobs.  Gradually, girlfriends became wives, jobs became more demanding and serious, children started showing up, and we weren’t playing RPGs any more.  Why?  The time it took, mostly.  A single combat could take most of an evening.  Rolling up characters could do the same.  We played AD&D a lot back then, Dungeons and Dragons (old version) being the game most of started with and were still very comfortable with, but also Traveler, Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Paranoia, Dragonquest, Runequest, etc.  We usually came back to AD&D in its assorted flavors, usually 2.0.  I’ve seen lots of chatter on the web about roleplaying over the years but I’ve not been that eager to jump right in again, being mostly a boardgamer and miniatures player.  And yet.. and yet…

The phenomenal growth of “Old School” gaming in the last few years (in response, I suspect, of the dumbing down of major commercial RPG products like D&D 4.0) has created some interesting alternatives for an “old School” player like me.  Games like Pathfinder and Labyrinth Lord are more familiar to me than anything TSR/Wizards of the Coast has released in the last ten years.  There’s a whole host of more specialized, narrow focus niche RPGs that have come out in the last decade, as well, and some of them are really quite clever, like Fiasco or Munchausen.   Many of them intrigue me, certainly the two I just named do.  I guess I’m just a sucker for the classics.

When Boardgamegeek introduced the notion of Virtuacon recently, I admit I had some interest.  The idea behind Virtuacon is to play in RPG games using collaborative technologies such as Google Hangouts, and the Roll 20 virtual tabletop service.   RPG Geek, the RPG arm of BGG, is sponsoring a wide variety of RPGs over the next month or so, in the attempt to get momentum going behind playing RPGs via collaborative (free) technology.  I have to say I’m behind this idea.  I love the “garage band” feel of this effort.  So what the heck, I browsed the choices available and selected a game called Labyrinth Lord.  This is essentially the old school D&D of my youth resurrected with some new covers and concepts to avoid the publishers getting their asses sued off.

Labyrinth Lord (or L&L??) has a nice visual appeal, which pulls my nostalgia strings:

Labyrinth Lord Cover, the 80s called, and they want their art back!

Labyrinth Lord Cover, the 80s called, and they want their art back!

Inside, the tables and interior illustrations are DEFINITELY old school

Inside, the tables and interior illustrations are DEFINITELY old school

So I’ve joined a special Google plus hang out and tonight we ran the technical checks to see if I could connect. My creaky PC doesn’t have the capability to video camera anyone, but I could connect audibly, and the run through on D20 worked like a charm.

Google Hangout Connect. This is what we'll be talking into, and some will video cam in too.

Google Hangout Connect. This is what we’ll be talking into, and some will video cam in too.

The adventure is called BARROWMAZE.  It's a MEGA dungeon in the Labyrinth Lord universe, and a commercial product.

The adventure is called BARROWMAZE. It’s a MEGA dungeon in the Labyrinth Lord universe, and a commercial product.

Drilling down to the portion of the map where the party enters the dungeon, going over the D20 app interface.

Drilling down to the portion of the map where the party enters the dungeon, going over the D20 app interface.

All of the technology works fine, more or less. My Snowball microphone, which works just fine with this computer, worked as the input device and my flip phones were the earphones. I’ll post more as the campaign actually opens up. I’m liking this!

Snapshot from the earliest days of Dungeons and Dragons

Steve Jackson (the UK, tea-swilling and crumpet munching GW pioneer Steve Jackson, not Munchkin Pimpin’ Steve Jackson) wrote a small snippet about this odd new hobby game that had come across from the other side of the pond.  It was a bold new experiment in gaming that had grown out of miniatures games.. called Dungeons and Dragons. The snippet appeared in Games and Puzzles magazine (1).  In 1976.  I always had believed that D&D came about in 1974. From the text of Jackson’s article, the game had only been around for less than a year and had already achieved a trans-oceanic following.  That’s refreshing. Even in these days of the Internet, it’s hard to develop a buzz that quickly.  And D&D came around in an era that had no Twitter, no Facebook, and there really weren’t any trades around (yet) to promote new games with.  So D&D got all that momentum going for itself… in roughly ONE YEAR, by word of mouth.  Not bad at all!

Games Puzzles

Games and Puzzles Magazine, ca. 1975

Here’s some of the text of that article from 1976.  The Dungeons of the Ground Goblins was a sample dungeon written by Steve Jackson for the article.

by Steve Jackson

Dungeons of the Ground Goblins

Dungeons of the Ground Goblins map

(partial: only one level described)

Partial Transcription (from page 4 of the flier)
1: Entrance – base of hollow trunk
2: Well with bucket and rope. No special significance
3: Fountain guarded by two giant spiders. 100 silver pieces in fountain
4: Stairs down to level 2
5: Five Berserkers, each carrying 25 gold pieces. Leader carries ‘+1’ sword
6: Ten Gnolls guarding chest 100 gold pieces. Secret bottom contains Ring of Protection
7: Empty room
8: Stair down to level 2
9: Gorgon guards chest containing 1500 gold pieces, Boots of Levitation, Crystal Ball, Bag of Holding and Curse Scroll
10: Dungeon caretaker – will answer questions for fee
11: Endless passage
12: Ten Goblins – one carries Staff of Commanding
13: Secret door leads into space warp – transports to level 4
14: Goblin’s lair: 30 Goblins each carrying 5 gold pieces will answer questions if cornered
15: Four Zombies. No treasure
16: Six giant rats guarding chest containing 400 gold pieces and 200 silver pieces
17: Pit – sheer drop to level 5
18: Ghoul: 300 gold pieces scattered round room with ‘+2’ War Hammer and ‘+2’ Shield in one corner
19: Sloping passage leading to level 3
20: 15 Orcs guard chest containing 250 pieces and Potion of Speed

After applying all sorts of tests to the stick, the Magic-User gives up, but puts it in his backpack anyway, expecting to be a wand of some sort.
Venturing further down the passage, the Elf checks for secret doors and discovers one after 50 ft or so. The party enters but immediately feel themselves ‘lost in space’ unable to see or feel anything clearly. They eventually come to rest in a large square chamber. On each of the four walls are three doors. Which do they choose?
MAGIC-USER: ‘I pull out the stick and wish we were back at the crossroads with the old man!’
GM: ‘Nothing happens.’
ELF: ‘I check for secret doors and traps.’
GM: ‘You find none.’
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I charge the door in the south-east corner.’
GM: ‘The door bursts open. The room inside is 30ft square. There is a large chest in the far corner and standing over it is a green dragon.’
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I slam the door!’
GM: (Rolls the dice) ‘It does not close.’
MAGIC-USER: ‘I command the dragon to stay put.’
GM: (Noting that the Magic-User is still holding the stick). ‘The dragon becomes still and silent.’
(Jubilation in the party!)
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I approach the dragon – very slowly! Does it move?’
GM: ‘No.’
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I plunge my sword into its neck.’
GM: ‘It bleeds dragon blood but does not move.’
GM: ‘It eventually drops down dead. You have 450 Experience Points.’
The party rush into the room and open the chest to find 1500 Gold Pieces, 1000 Silver Pieces, a Potion and a Scroll. They are rich beyond their wildest dreams!
But they are also lost in the Dungeons of the Ground Goblins.

This is an interesting piece of nostalgia which I thought might be fun to share.  If you want to read the rest of the Snippet, it is shared out here.

I got a chuckle at the very end of the article, where Jackson wrote something like: “One hears that TSR is contemplating putting out a monthly magazine called THE DRAGON dedicated to this D&D hobby.  I think we’ll be hearing more of them in the months to come”

(1) After reading about Games and Puzzles magazine’s colorful history and wonderful depth and breadth of articles, I am saddened that this periodical has not survived to the present day.  GAMES is the only publication like it, and that should really be called “Puzzles with Games Reviews”.