Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Good News Everybody!

There's a so-called Lone Wolf Multiplayer Gamebook coming out soon from Mongoose - it's essentially the Fighting Fantasy RPG (as reviewed on FightingFantasist) but with Joe Dever's Lone Wolf combat system and Magnamund world and aimed at the same level as the original orange book. Superb news but probably only 20 years too late. Are there really any potential RPG initiates who know what Magnamund is? It's a wee bit like the problem I raised with the 4E Red Box a few weeks back - does this mean anything at all to your target market?

Combat in LW was relatively simple as I recall. You subtracted the enemys COMBAT SKILL from your own to determine the difference (which might be negative if you were outclassed). This was cross-referenced against a d10 roll(*) on a table which told you how many ENDURANCE points you lost and how many the enemy lost. Rinse and repeat until somebody croaks.

Sadly though, I bet it isn't illustrated by Gary Chalk. I started refusing to buy Lone Wolf books when Chalk handed over art duties to Brian Williams, my mental image of Magnamund was so formed by Chalk's distinctive style (and his attention to detail with costume, arms and armour, heraldry and architecture) that I could never take to the later books. Don't like the re-release covers either.

Ironically enough, Williams was Dever's first choice to illustrate Lone Wolf so clearly the later books are more in line with what Dever felt the world looked like. It's just that by this time I didn't agree with him.

Will I buy this and all the proposed supplements?

Yeah, of bloody course I will.

(*) LW books included a page with a large grid of numbers from 0-9 with the idea being that you blindly put the pencil down and discovered which pseudo-random number it had come down on. I never used this and just substitued the d10 which I fully believe Dever expected you to do anyway.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Weekend Gaming

OK, we all know that the reason that every 11 year old child (like me) picks Spess Mehrens is that they need no tactical nous whatsoever because they have 3+ SAVE!!!!!1111

Tactics, such as they are, revolve around that 3+ SAVE!!!!!1111 and laughing as your opponent's best shots all bounce of 3+ SAVE!!!!!1111

Except that if for some reason beyond the very ken of man your dice for saves only roll 1,2,5 and 6, well you may as well be fielding Space Marines in Flak armour. Or guardsmen.

Combat Patrol Friday. Again. Three games. Again. Complete failure to make more than 2 or 3 armour saves in a game. Again. Sums it all up when I roll five 2s in succession to pathetically attempt armour saves against cruddy Space Elf Guardians (playing against another refugee from the Old Skool who even has the Space Elf Musician With Bagpipes model, so we don't call them Eldar - none of this modern rubbish thank you very much...). Also sums it up when all the other 7 players were noticing how bad my saves are. Out of 9 combat patrol games that I have played, I have been crippled in 7 of them with an inability to save Mehrens, my sole victory on Friday against Alex's Witchhunters came from the cunning tactic of NOT GETTING SHOT by facing an army that couldn't shoot - i.e. a fluke of a game in which one of his units of Veteran Stormtroops ran off PDQ.

In fact in one game against Blood Angels I was wiped out to a game (all 398 points of them) by just two Death Company marines that were free and, if mathematical probability, should have just been an irritant in assault for the first couple of turns being before being killed off.

So, what to do? I have no idea. I'm clearly not a match for the other guys (experienced veterans and in two cases guys who only play 40K) but when the Marine strength doesn't work what do you do? It's getting to the point where I'm considering another, lesser armoured army, just so I can play with something that isn't getting hammered because the saves they are supposed to make just keeping failing and frankly, ruining the game for me.

Facing imminent retirement/abandonment/melting down for fishing weights.

Saturday at Waylands Forge was Bog-A-Ten. I've tried several times to succinctly explain this cult game from the UK show circuit of the late nineties/early noughties but failed each time so go off and read Malcolm Randle's account of his game over at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Wargamers Society site.

Put as simply as I can this was a strange game hybrid of a Victorian wargame, Cluedo/Clue, H.G. Wells' "Floor Game" and something with card-driven random encounters like Talisman. In the original, players explored a huge lagoon in steampunk boats visiting islands to search for "clues", basically Jokers to help disarm traps in the central temple. Get as many clues as you think you need, race to the central temple before the other players get there and hope that you have the right colour coded clues to disarm the random colour-coded traps. Do this, grab the Idol gee-gaw and escape from the lagoon. All the time the GM is pulling a playing card for each player and a face card is a random encounter. Encounters consist of a single round of combat, in the original these were all dinosaurs.

Malcolm recast the game as exploration of a desert with pulp-style characters in motor vehicles. The rules are abstract and boardgame like enough to do this, also with all vehicles being identical and all adventurers being identical, the design was strong enough to support all manner of weird player groups such as Nazis in Kubelwagens, Nazi Zombies in Schwimwagens, Indian Army Sikhs on Elephant-back and yours truly with more traditional Pulp protagonists in a Model T Ford.

So why the odd name? It's from Road to Bali where it was a giant squid. In the original lagoon setting the Ace of Spades drew out an attack by Bog-A-Ten upon a random player. For our rematch Malcolm borrowed Wayland Forge's mightly Heroclix Fim Fang Foon - a hugely impressive model that looked very intimidating towering over weedy 28mm figures and their pre-war cars.

I bought a copy of the rules and think that with the rules being so abstract and clearly able to be used in a unmodified state for many a setting I think there could well be potential for a Bog-A-Forty-Thousand game with a sci-fi setting, perhaps at Christmas as a one off game.

Medinet Habu Part 2

More of my shots of Medinet Habu, hopefully influential for dungeon design.

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

Awesome, just like a statue left by a long-lost alien civilization.

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

More Star Wars-like stuff.

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

More original paint on ceiling. There's not a lot of this left as exposure to the elements (mostly abrasive sand) has stripped most of the paint and plaster but this is how the whole temple would have looked once upon a time.

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

One of the more Star Wars-like shots.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Medinet Habu Part 1

Last year's holiday snaps? On FightingFantasist?

Yeah, but we aren't in "here's Muriel and I having a cream tea in a lovely tea-room near Abergavenny" territory here. This is the Theban Necropolis in Luxor, Egypt. Real-life dungeon bashing! Admittedly I kicked in no doors but did have to decide "Fight or Flee?" several times when confronted by random encounters of uncertain belligerence who were after all my gp.

Hopefully lots of stuff useful and inspiration for dungeon/mortuary temple design. And it has the word "Necropolis" in it's title. What could possibly go wrong?

This is Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Rameses III. The son of Rameses II, he basically copied his old man's mortuary temple and claimed much of his military successes as his own as well. He sort of got away as his old man's temple was built in poor ground and collapsed (which was the subject of Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" and will be subject of another FightingFantasist post later on).

All pics are clickable to the originals on Picasaweb which then allow for zooming and link embedding and all that Web2.0 crap.

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

The first pylon

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

The Migdol, the fortified gatehouse. A copy of similar gatehouses found on contemporary Asiatic fortresses.

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

(Ceiling shot showing intact paint)

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

From Medinet Habu, Egypt

(While I was looking back at these last two shots I had a flash of inspiration as to why Ancient Egypt has always appealed to me - Star Wars. The colours of the stone, the brilliant blue sky and the strange alien-culture that the hieroglyphics and damaged statues suggest reminds me of the early Tatooine scenes and I suppose that for me Egypt appeals to the same escapist "space opera" streak within me as Star Wars did. North Africa is essentially a Star Wars planet dumped down on Earth just across the Med.

In a similar vein I blame a childhood viewing of Carry On Up The Khyber for causing my lifelong longing to go to India. Strangely enough it didn't fill me with a deep-seated need to go to Snowdonia where it was actually filmed.)

More later...

Other posts on FightingFantasist that might be of interest -
Giovanni Belzoni and real-life Egyptian Dungeon Bashing

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Another Dice Brick In The Wall

I quite like the approach of Zak's Another Brick In The Wall random dungeon generation system, but not having a deck of tarot cards to hand (and noticing that it would cost £15 to get a set from eBay...), I quickly ported his system to good old-fashioned polydice.

So roll a D4, a D6, a D8 and a D10 all at once. The D6 is just a control die, if it comes up "top of the die" (i.e. 4,5 or 6) add 6 to the results of the D8, giving effectively an evenly-weighted D14.
The square brackets indicate the original card/suit of the Minor Arcana that produces this result under a tarot card system. With cards, obviously a card can only come up once in a design session. You can either ignore this and allow a result to come up multiple times or, just check your new rolls against the existing ones and reroll if required.

D14 (D8 + Control Die D6)
1 [2] Minor Obstacle
2 [3] Dead/Ruined/Broken
3 [4] Hidden
4 [5] Standard, level-appropriate, site-appropriate, dangerous
5 [6] Funny or Weird, plot-irrelevant
6 [7] Standard, level-appropriate, site-appropriate, dangerous, useful if overcome
7 [8] Has a clue on how to treat a Knight
8 [9] Has useful information about a Queen
9 [10] Is related to or is of the same nature as the Queen, possibly a minion
10 [Page] Noncombatant, plot-relevant, minion or possession of Queen
11 [Knight] Fairly big deal, could be a benefit or a hazard, depending on how the PCs play it
12 [Queen] Major, bad, plot-relevant
13 [King] Major, bad, plot-irrelevant, unless there are no Queens on the table, in which case it's plot relevant
14 [Ace] Beneficial (major)

D4 (Suit)
1 [Coins] - Inanimate Feature/Object
2 [Swords] - Person/Monster + Inanimate Feature/Object
3 [Wands] - Person/Monster
4 [Cups] - Overrides the D16, just empty

D10 Orientation
1-5 Upwards
6-10 Inverted

In Zak's original scheme, each card represents a single room with neighbouring cards that are orientated identically being linked, i.e. having some form or portal between the two. I prefer the idea of each card representing a small area of the dungeon (for example a geomorph tile) and then the linked sections instead represent areas that have something in common - for example they are all subsided, the patrolling area of a Giant Gelatinous Cube or the "turf" of a Goblin tribe.

Other FightingFantasist posts that might be relevant
100 Themes for Dungeon Levels
200 Items of Dungeon Dressing for my proposed Hypogeum megadungeon campaign setting.

Monday, 22 March 2010


I'm thinking of splitting this blog down into two different ones.

The reason for this is that over the past year, I've blogged about two totally separate sections of the hobby and I'm not sure the two sit well together. On one hand there is the OSR stuff, lots of thinking out loud about xD&D and a bit of Fighting Fantasy stuff, on the other hand there's all the figures-and-tape-measures stuff like 40K and Future War Commander. I'm not sure that people are interested in both and perhaps having to wade through half a blog's worth of stuff that is of no interest is hiding stuff that would otherwise be noticed.

If I split, I think FightingFantasist will keep the RPG stuff, something else will house the figure games. Maybe.

Axles and Alloys at West Midlands Military Show

Report and pics over at my other blog.

British Arrogance At It's Very Finest

Wonderful way to sell your magazine!

Dear Cousin Jonathan,

You know fuck all about history since your benighted little ex-colonies have none, we have loads to spare do you want some?

The Mother Country.

Even back in the day (this is from Dragon The Dragon 91 from November '84 which is just the first one I found from my Dragon magazine PDFs that has the advert in it) I thought this was breathtakingly arrogant.

Next issue - Dragon Magazine attempts to sell Britgamers some long roads and decent-sized mountains.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Talking Down To Players

From Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG, Players Guide page 6.

"You’ll have no doubt seen the small cubes with dots or numbers on them that you have in copies of Monopoly, Risk or Ludo. Anyway, those cubes are six-sided dice (cause they have six sides)."

Your game is aimed at intelligent kids who are fans of geek TV drama. There's absolutely no need for this level of talking down to people.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Topology not Geography

Once upon a time, whilst I was still at school and it was the 1980s I did a fortnight's works experience at a local architects. Some of this involved standing at the other end of a tape measure while an architect measured up to draw plans of a factory unit in Wolverhampton that was commissioning extension plans. It was deathly dull and took ages. It also stunk of fish as some form of industrial scale fish-gutting was going on and, being an less enlightened age, the staff rooms stunk of stale cigarette smoke which was visible as an ever-present blue haze up by the stained ceiling.

Coop is not now an architect nor does he still wish to become one. He also no longer eats fish fingers.

Why do we give players architect's plan levels of detail about their immediate surroundings?
It's an accepted thing and normal practise but why?

Go back to the source material and you will never, ever find stuff like this.

"Stormbringer in hand, Elric stalked down the stygian corridor for another 40 feet. He then came to a left turning which he carefully poked his bone-white head around. The corridor went on for another twenty feet with two doors on opposite walls. Beyond the two doors, the corridor extended for another 60 feet and then there was a T-junction. Elric got out his tape measure and theodolite, carefully measured the corridors and ascertained that the corridor maintained a constant 10 feet width and checking against his lodestone showed that the corridors remained orientated to the orthogonal directions, north, south, east and west. As he drew out the map on parchment, Moonglum interrupted;"

"You've drawn that wrong, doomed friend. That's 20 feet you've scaled it down to 15 feet."

The AD&D Dungeoneers Survival Guide (a book I otherwise find very influential) even has a picture of a party drawing their map with a fucking set square!

Here's a quick exercise for the reader.

Knock up a map intended to get somebody to your front door from the nearest motorway (or freeway) junction. If you live within spitting distance of the nearest motorway junction then knock up a sketch map from your front door to your place of work or similar.

Come back when you've finished.

Now look at it. It's perfectly functional and fit for use, fits the paper it's drawn on rather than real life, is amazingly out of scale, does not bother about bends and winds in the road, lacks street names for minor roads, relies upon landmarks to indicate where to turn off or just to be reassured that the map user is on the right road and is heavily annotated. There is no compass rose, roads are not orientated towards each other and much the alignment depends upon which road you started drawing first. You probably ran out of space at one point so that a whole section of it is artificially squashed or you had to draw two detached maps on the same sheet of paper and point out where one finishes and joins the other.

This is a map. Not an architects plan.

If you are underground and want a route back to the surface and the environment is hostile, this is the map you draw. Straight lines for tunnels, you don't care about mapping their width or minor turns. Rooms in rough alignment, not precise.

One of the most best map designs ever is that of the London Underground. It's purely topographical and that's why it's a design classic. The genius behind it is the realisation that scales and distances don't matter. All that matters is the order in which stations come and which stations straddle two or more lines. Do you care that the stations don't line up to their exact orientation and relationships to each other "on the ground?". No, of course you don't. It would be less functional and less clear if they did.

So how do we achieve this and stop the game being a surveyor's expedition?

1 - Drop compass roses. N/S/E/W doesn't matter in the slightest. If we use it, we end up with everything running parallel to those four orthogonal directions. Everything instead should be left, right, in front of you, behind you. When people build or excavate they do so to the lie of the land. DM's draw their maps with the entrance pointing north so they can say "The tunnel leads in northwards". This is lazy and unrealistic.

2 - Vagueness. You have to tell your players roughly how far away the corridor turn is, but only roughly. Make sure that when you say "50 feet" you mean roughly 50 feet and the players know that. No promise it's 50 at all. It's dark underground and shadows are confusing. The darker it is, the more hazardous the area and the more the players are being rushed, the more inaccurate this should be. Evenly spaced pillars along this hall? Makes it easier to guess the length. Being chased by Grues through rock grottoes with poor sight lines? Very difficult. Those evenly spaced pillars up to the ceiling? Probably narrower at the top than the bottom to create an illusion of height - an old architects trick. Difficult to estimate the ceiling height.

3 - Irregularity. Lord Akoz of The Netherpit built his mausoleum tomb 25,000 years ago in an area of tectonic activity and yet his tunnels are still all as accurate and perfect as the boring for the Channel Tunnel. Coop Towers is getting on for 150 years old and doesn't have a single straight wall. The kitchen ceiling is higher at one end of the kitchen than the other and the nature of a building designed to "breathe" and settle means that this changes from day to day. Just down the hill from Coop Towers is a pub originally built to be offices for a coal mine that has subsided and shifted so much that snooker balls appear to run uphill. (They don't actually do this of course - it's just that one of the window sills is at such an angle that it appears to do this because you can have used to standing and sitting at an even more extreme angle. )

It's an irregular layout players. If you want to spend four hours with surveyors tools drawing out this cavern to scale you'll have to provide more light and hope that the Wandering Monster patrols don't find you. I've told you it's roughly oval with uneven walls if you want more, it's time to get the theodolite out and ask yourself if this really matters.

4 - Drop entirely the idea of inviting players to locate secret doors because their accurate maps suggest that there is suspicious "hole" in the map. This is why the players are surveying in the first place. Make sure they know that this isn't the style of game we are playing. Secret rooms will be discovered because the players looked behind the bookcase or moved the arm on the suit of armour not because of some "bit missing" on the plans.

5 - Drop miniatures. Why give the players the sudden, jarring and ridiculously helpful benefits of a permanent blimp-cam? If you are going to use miniatures then you need a perfect plan. Even if what you put down on the battle-mat isn't 100% there, it essentially is now. If you draw a wavy line for a cavern wall and a PC shelters in a niche, itself just an artifact of the way you waggled the pen when drawing it, that niche is really there. So it doesn't even matter if you try to be vague and approximate with the battle-mat, it becomes exact and precise.
Think of the last time you tried to get around an unfamiliar location (without sat nav), a pedestrianised city centre, a shopping mall, a new workplace). Imagine how easy to would be with the blimp-cam. We are three hundred feet below ground in a maze of twisty tunnels all alike and things are lurking in the darkness and we give the players the blimp-cam view? That's a joke that is, it really is.

6 - Fudge it, it's fluid. Miniatures advocates always state that's helpful, nay essential, to know who is in the blast effect of the fireball, who is closest to the spiked board springing from behind the cobwebbed archway. No it isn't. It really doesn't matter. It's never mattered to me. If you need to know randomise it. Use your judgement. Bias the dice dependent upon what you think the situation is. Nobody has a blimp-cam view.

Ever heard of the concept of Situational Awareness? It's the edge that divided the Aces flying above the Western Front from the cannon fodder. It's an understanding of where everyone in a fight (or a football match for that matter) is even when they are out of your field of vision. It's related to spatial awareness and is probably more of a male trait than a female one and might be why women traditionally can't park cars. Very few people have excellent situational awareness. The likes of von Richthoften, Ball and Mannock did and they killed lots of men who didn't. Most people cannot track everybody in a melee. If they could they wouldn't get struck down from behind. When it comes to relative positioning in a melee you really may as well make it all up and by that I mean throw the dice to decide.

You don't need an accurate plan and more than that, you shouldn't be providing one. Did you ever get frustrated when reading a fantasy novel that the author didn't give you the measurements and spatial data that a DM is encouraged to? No, because it really didn't matter.

EDIT - Had accidentally pressed POST when I meant to just save. Now spell-checked and with a link I meant to add to it added.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Red Box Thunder Stealing

Lot of buzz going around about this...

...which might look like this in it's first printing.

(I don't think it's a particularly good idea to do this and it certainly seems a bit confused - who is it aiming it? Original buyers of the Mentzer version? New gamers who won't recognise the artwork anyway? But I get a warm inner glow when games companies just decide to do things because they liked the idea and thought it would be rather good fun as opposed to doing it because a focus group or evil masterplan told them to do so).

Unfortunately for the people at WOTC who have finally got the message that if we want to grow the hobby we need a Red Box-style boxed set I walked into Wayland's Forge on Saturday and saw this...

Which is essentially the same thing for a different game. Thunder well and truly comprehensively stolen.

I don't know anything about the game, nor it's world background which is apparently from a PC game. I do know that this sort of thing is long overdue. Forgetting for a moment my opinion that 4E isn't really any form of D&D as I would recognise it, I can think of nothing better for RPGing than a great big pile of cheap slim boxes (Rumour mill suggests a £15 RRP in the UK which would be excellent if the price can be kept down that low in these dark and dismal days of weak Sterling) stacked up in places like Toys R Us, Waterstones, WHSmiths and the Christmas gift displays in department stores such as BHS and Marks and Spencers with the words Dungeons and Dragons emblazoned all over them.

I think the worst thing the RPG industry ever did was to go over to large format books for the core rules. Not for worldbooks and supplements, they can stay in book form, but chasing the book trade's retail channels and shelf space in high street retailers was a move that should never have been made. I highlight two main flaws with RPGs-as-Books.

Firstly, an RPG-as-Book breaks the age-old link with the item being a GAME. Games come in boxes. Parents who don't understand RPGs can still look a box for a box game, it has DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS on it, it has fantasy art and little Johnny likes this stuff doesn't he, all Dragons and World of Warhammer or Fatal Fantasy XIII or whatever it is he plays on his XStation 360 (and since we're in the modern age, I'll add little Janey and her love of unicorn posters and wimpy sparkly vampires to that) and it's a GAME and it will keep him quiet on Christmas Day afternoon. Parents buy GAMES in toyshops. Parents head to toyshops for stocking fillers and birthday presents.

RPG-as-Book doesn't have that. In a high street store it is hiding away in the ghetto of the sci-fi/fantasy section (increasingly the science-fiction/fantasy/vampire romance section, and increasingly getting smaller if my local Waterstones is anything to go by) and it isn't obvious to the untrained eye what it is. Large format book, lurid artwork? Hardbound comic book? Book-of-the-making-of-the-film? Coffee table fantasy airbrush collection? Not clear.

Secondly, I blame books for rules-bloat. Rulebooks in box games are slim pamphlets so they have to be concise and therefore end up being legible and digestible. People expect slim rulebooks in boxed games, they groan when they see thick books. Red Box books were easy reads and a good balance of monochrome art, good layout and ease of reference. They also looked like the sort of thing that came in boxed games.

The problem is that when you put the game out in large format hardback book, it's value for money becomes judged alongside that of other books and it has to justify it's own hardback form and price. It then bloats. It has to grow to match it's size. This is why we end up with horrors like 4E. If it can't do it with the rules, then it has to do it with the settings and huge, rich settings pretty quickly stop becoming helpful and rapidly become overbearing and intimidating to use. An RPG-as-Book carries flab that it doesn't need and effectively just works against itself.

Books. Worst things evar. :)

There is a small part of me that wonders if the proposed WotC Red Box will be large enough to hold my copy of Swords and Wizardry, and if it does then I'll be happy to spend £15 on a themed box to hold that and a small bag of polydice. The original contents can go on eBay.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Dice Fetishism

I love dice and am an unashamed dice fetishist.

Fetish is itself an interesting word in the English language as it generally describes two quite different concepts. The most commonly used sense is that of sexual fetishism, often loosely and inaccurately defined as an attraction to a item or practise (shoe fetishism, leather fetishism etc.) but more accurately as a condition where the item or practise is more important to the viewer/participant than is the individual to whom they relate. The other, older use is of more primitive spirituality and religion whereby a physical totem provides a tactile link to a metaphysical or religious concept - for example a idol or crucifix, the holding or veneration of which allows the worshipper to feel a greater communion with a difficult to grasp non-physical concept.

From a humourous viewpoint people like myself with a collection of several thousand dice and an inability to walk past the Chessex stall at Games Expo without the wallet flying open are often described as fetishists of the first (inaccurate and loose) kind, but in reality we are the second kind.

Dice are ancient. Much like the suits of a deck of playing cards they betray their antiquity by being designed for the pre-literate and the pre-numerate. Six-siders have spots, they do not have numbers so they are neither tied to numeracy nor an specific alphabet. (Six-siders with numbers are aberrations and were not made as dice in the first place - they were mathematical instruction aids showing the number of faces of a platonic solid. No real dice fetishist could ever love a d6 with numbers).

When we pick up that six-sided cube and see which of it's six ancient designs comes to the fore we are not simply generating a random number. We have a tactile link to the games played by men and women all the way back to the dawn of civilization. By picking up the d6 and casting to the fates it becomes that fetish. We touch the thread of history tying us to every gamer who ever threw a die or knucklebones. We curse the bloody thing for throwing low and praise it for throwing high and put this down to it's little plastic capricious ways but older man had deities of luck and randomness and their puissance and whim flowed through the little cubes of ox-bones and ivory and their attendant superstitions.

And they feel good in the hand. Yes, your mobile phone can produce a pseudo-random number (even though it does it by unromantically seeding a slice through the registers with it's current timestamp) but that is so purely functional that it has no soul. Hold two solid six-siders that clack together nicely in the palm, loosely close the fingers and shake. Never just throw a dice off-handedly or with no effort. They disapprove and will punish you for it. Like brewing tea or drinking chocolate or rolling a cigarette, enjoy the comforting satisfaction of ritual.

Every six-sider is a item of religious and historical veneration. When you roll one or buy one or curse one or bless one or purge it "pour encourager les autres" you are part of that skein of gaming history and outrageous fortune. And it's a beautiful and uncluttered, functional design classic.

Irregular, worn polydice with badly cast or painted numbers are irritating. They are poor quality tools that can't be trusted to do a decent job. But irregular, mis-cast cheap six-siders have personality. They aren't perfectly random, they are vicious little bastards or affectionate helpful friends that might roll high or might roll low or might flip-flop between biases with little warning. In many ways, a wonky six-sider is a more perfect die than a high quality one. They are more true to the nature of luck and randomness than something that really is random.

But then there are ten-siders.

d10s are soul-less little creations, the brainchild of the accountant sort, the personality that thinks that in a decimal world, the 10-sider is somehow more logical, more correct and proper. It isn't of course, and in a perfect world, the d12 would take it's place. Advocates of a so-called dozenal numeric system point out that 12 can be divided equally into 2,3,4 and 6 whereas diving 10 into 4 gives us fractions and 3 and 6 just leave us with the mathematical frig of recurring decimal places. The d12 deserves to be held in higher esteem that it currently does.

d10 systems are competent but somehow lack that magic. They are cursed by being tied to that strong streak of sensibleness. If they were people they would be dull and sensible Daily Telegraph readers living in a semi in North London, the sort of people who decided that they needed to own a people carrier and have an ISA and shift their mortgage around to get a preferential rate so that they can carry on their dull, disapproving lives with a slightly larger bank account. Every d10 system is at heart a d6 system that has suffered from the sensible and dreaded onset of middle age, a feeling that six sides aren't granular enough and ten somehow suits the decimal nature of our numeric system without really ever expressing why this is such an advantage. It's lost touch with it's younger d6 self that grew it's hair and didn't give a shit.

There are dog people and there are cat people and there are d10 people and there are d6 people even if the d10 people don't realise this.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Russ Nicholson Love

Let's have some appreciation of what the Old School looked like in Britain - here's some Russ Nicholson stuff. His illos for The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos stopped me in my tracks when I first encountered them and showed me what a world of heroic (or anti-heroic) fantasy looked like.

I only wish I could find a scan of the infamous Zombie illo from Warlock - still amazing to think that a picture that gruesome could end up in a children's book.

Nicholson is the reason why we can forgive the Fiend Folio.