Thursday, September 11, 2014

DCC Donnerstag: "I Refute It Thus," Funky Dice Edition

I know that yesterday I posted a relatively contentious post about naming monsters, ending with the thought that I'd dive back into the topic soon. Well, now is not soon enough, since it's DCC Donnerstag and I've got some bad arguments against the DCC RPG to chop to ribbons. 

Today, we're talking about funky dice, obviously.

You know the argument by now, right? "I don't want to have to buy all new dice just to play DCC. I've had all the dice I've needed to game since the 80's and shouldn't have to buy more for just one game!"

I'm sure that the serious grognards out there have heard something like this before. "Why would we need new polyhedrals? I've got all these six-sided dice, and that's good enough! Who needs icosohedra? Tetraheda? Octahedra? Dodecahedra? Madness, I tell you!"

Hopping in our own gamer Wayback Machine, we know that in the dawn times wargames, at least in the US, were all played with d6s. That was the way of things because those were the dice available. Gradually, German wargamers (unlesss I'm mistaken) started to introduce the d20 (really a d10, numbered 0-9 twice), which eventually made its way to American shores along with d4s, d8s and d12s. These dice were slowly adopted by the wargaming community to one degree or another, but their greatest acceptance was in the nascent field of rpgs.
Image not related, just neat

But not everybody felt that way.

In fact, if you played D&D the way it was written without any "optional rules," using CHAINMAIL's combat resolution system, you could get away with playing D&D with just d6s. Really, the then-funky dice were optional. D&D's first real competitor, Tunnels & Trolls, only used d6s. Many systems afterward (GURPS, WEG's Star Wars, Ghostbusters and d6 Systems, HERO, etc) all eschewed the by-that-time ubiquitous polyhedra and went with the d6. So yes, this has been an issue in gaming for a long time and some modern gamers might be surprised to know that there was ever any bad sentiment toward their beloved d12s.

Not that I empathize with that sentiment, but I understand it.

And so, I can understand the folks who are against the funky dice.

In fact, I'll let you all in on a little secret: I used to be one of them.

That's right, when I first became aware of the DCC RPG, I was very much dead-set against the use of the d14, the d5, the d24, the d16 and even my favorite, the d7, and for no reason other than the fact that I didn't think I should have to buy new dice just to play a new RPG.

Not-So-Secret #1: You Don't Need Funky Dice

In the DCC Core Book (and it's right there on page 17), +Joseph Goodman gives us the ultimate "try before you buy" method for approximating the funky dice using your standard polyhedrals without -- and this is the important bit -- without skewing the probabilities. Want a d5 result? You can just roll a d6 and ignore the 6. Want a d16? Roll a d20 and ignore 17 and above. There are slightly more sophisticated methods for determining the d24 & d30 roll that I'm a little shakier on in my understanding, but it roundly satisfies the funky dice critics: You don't need to buy the funky dice to get the funky dice results.

This measure sold me on giving the DCC RPG a shot, since I didn't need to invest in more dice if I just did things a particular way. Right, sold, I'll try it. I actually played DCC for a few months without the funky dice, just using Goodman's approximations. As time went on, I found myself wanting the funky dice themselves, if only for the fetishistic reasons that one collects crazy amounts of dice in the first place. And then, the day my first GameScience 12-dice set came, I faced a glory unlike any I had seen since my first Red Box.

Not-So-Secret #2: Dice Nostalgia?

Disclaimer: Yes, I'm going to talk about gaming nostalgia for a moment. This is not an invitation to new school gamers to start throwing around accusations of "you only like old school stuff because of nostalgia" or other such nonsense. I love old school gaming for many reasons, one of which is nostalgia, but there are many others. Screw you if you can't figure that out. I also like many new school games (fuck yeah, Dungeon World!), despite the lack of a nostalgia collection, so take your head out of your ass there, dude. Anyway, on to the meat of this thing.

Remember that first set of dice you bought/received as a gift/found inside your first BX or BECMI box? That was a magical feeling, wasn't it? What are these small plastic objects and how do they work? Remember when you learned how to read a d4 or how to sort out percentile dice? It was exciting. It was new. What strange shapes those dice were. I'm looking at the bottom edge of the die rather than the top. The blue die is the "tens place," the red die is the "ones place." I think most of my youthful fumblings with game design were really just reasons to roll more and different types of dice all at once because, quite simply, dice are freaking cool.

Eventually, though, the shine wears off. Polyhedra become the standard. It's now noteworthy if a game doesn't use them or uses only one type of dice. We've seen it all before, done it all before.

When I got my first set of GameScience funky dice, I got that old "just cracked open the Red Box" gleam in my eye. +Kathryn Muszkiewicz saw it, she can confirm. I want to use d5s and d7s for everything, just like I used to want to use my d4s and d12s. I am now on the hunt for a precision d30 (I have a few of the strange Armory ones numbered 0-9, -0 - -9 and +0 - +9). There is something to be said for recapturing that same old feeling as back in the day when I bought my first set of polys (white pearlized Chessex dice) from Ryder's Hobby on 28th St. in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

So yeah, there's some nostalgia that, at some point will fade, but for now? It's still badass to have funky dice that I'm still finding new and fun things to do with.

It's Just A Money-Grab

Apparently, some folks suspect Goodman Games of colluding with dice manufacturers and that requiring people to buy new dice just to play DCC RPG (which they don't have to do, see Not-So-Secret #1) is an attempt to grab as much of that sweet, sweet gamer loot as they can. There are two major moron moments with this line of thought.

(A) Goodman Games does not sell dice (yet), and when the DCC RPG was released you had to get your dice from either GameScience or Koplow. Now, you can get them from Impact! Miniatures. None of these companies are subsidiaries of Goodman Games or are a parent company over Goodman Games. Nobody's giving any kickbacks here. Yes, Goodman Games will soon have some specially-packaged DCC dice available (made by Impact! Miniatures), but until that time, Goodman makes no money off of dice.

(B) If Joseph Goodman really were trying to make as much money off of gamers as he could, would his game have as remarkably high a production value as it does? Look at that thing. The DCC RPG is a huge tome that is filled with illustrations from the leading contemporary rpg artists and legenary figures. Art costs a lot of money, and even then it costs less than it probably should. There is no way that the "money-grubbing bastard" argument stands up in the face of the DCC RPG core book alone. For what you get, you pay $40. What you're buying is worth way more than $40 in art alone.

I'm glad we shot that idea dead where it stands. Frankly, it's remarkably short-sighted and not very logical.

I hope these "I Refute It Thus" articles are worthwhile to you, dear DCC enthusiast, as you steadily work to face the game's critics. If there are any specific criticisms you're having trouble countering, please, let me know. All those years of being a Philosophy major have to come in handy for something.