Monday, September 16, 2019

Minimalism in RPGs part 1: Dice

TLDR: You don't need any more dice. Love the ones you're with!

I have a lot to say on the topic of minimalism in RPGs and why I think it is an optimal zen-state for gaming. So I'm going to break it all up into short (ha!) posts. I have two things for today.

Inspiration

The first is this cool little video from a DM showing off her minimalistic kit. She's zeroed in on the stuff that matters to her and her play style, and that's incredibly cool. It's an interesting watch.

My Minimalist Dungeon Master Kit

I will share more of these as/if I find them.

The Ups and Downs of Buying (More) Dice

The woman in the video, in my opinion, gets it exactly right. Three sets of polyhedrals is all you need. Of course it depends on the game you play the most, but let me just say...

You don't need any more dice. 

You know it and I know it. You buy more dice because they are attractive and, most of the time, relatively cheap. They are a great impulse buy. You tell yourself that you want to match the dice characteristics to the game or to the character you are playing, and maybe you actually follow through on that. You tell yourself you are buying extras for players who may not bring their own. You tell yourself lots of things ... but let's not fool ourselves. After you buy about three sets of polyhedrals, more dice is gratuitous and all that stuff you tell yourself is consumer rationalization.

Is that bad? Well. It's wasteful. There are probably better places to spend your money. Let me ask you this, do you spend a lot of time with your dice – picking out just the right set, sorting them, "punishing" them, etc? If so, then I think you are in a zone where more dice really do matter to you. (There's still a sane upper limit, mind you!) If you have dozens of sets sitting around in drawers, have ever accidentally bought the same set twice, or occasionally think about "paring down" the collection, then you are probably just spending to spend. 

Some Things to Think About

Well-made dice get better with age. You memorize their characteristics and can find them/sort them out quickly. Some even take on a kind of patina (but mostly these are older plastics). Your dice gain that indefinable psychological quality of "stuff" where your stuff is worth more than everyone else's stuff, for no better reason than because they are yours. Ever have a favorite old pair of sneakers? Or a car that, even though it starts acting up, you can't bear to trade in for another? If you don't feel that way about your dice it's because you change them out too often. Of course cheap dice that don't feel good in the hand or roll non-randomly .... those are shit and you should get rid of them. Buy quality dice to begin with and then hold onto them! The exception? Dice given by friends or kept since the early days are awesome, even if they are quirky or poorly made.

The best dice are easy to read, durable, feel good in the hand, and inexpensive. Speaking of quality... There is a kind of sweet spot in the current dice market. Dice that come in bulk sets on Amazon and cost $4 or less per set are usually terrible – inconsistent in size, poor rollers, poorly inked. On the other end of the spectrum are dice that cost more than $20, collector sets made of rare materials or with funky symbols or unique to a particular brand of game. A good set of polys should be around $5 to $15. My personal favorites are the Chessex basic opaque dice. But I'm "boring." 

Side note. In 1975 TSR announced in The Strategic Review #2 that the price of dice were going up by 35% to $2.50 a set! In 2019 dollars that's just a bit over $12.  

If your game needs special dice or tons of dice, you've been "had." Games that force you to buy all kinds of dice, especially dice with special symbols on them, are operating in that cycle of artificiality that drives consumerism. This is how financial leaders in most industries operate; they lock you into a closed system. If all of your dice (miniatures, maps, etc.) are keyed to a particular game, then you are probably also locked into buying from just a few suppliers, maybe only one. Which in turn allows those suppliers to set market price for their goods. Avoid these games. The "hit" from them will be short-lived and in all likelihood one day you'll look back and realize that all that money you spent has no lasting value. For every $50 Magic the Gathering card you have in your closet, there is a pound of Dragon Dice (or something similar and probably even less valuable).

Minimalist Dice Kits and Selection Techniques

For the typical RPG gamer, you need one set of polyhedrals with some extras in specific sizes. It's better if you can easily differentiate between them, so that you can quickly find your d20's, for instance, without accidentally grabbing a d12 or two first. The woman in the above video (sorry, I couldn't find her name) had three sets of polyhedrals in three clearly distinguishable but complementary colors. Good choice. My personal carry-around kit is:

2d20 Color A 
3d6 Color B
6d6 (minis) also Color B
1d10 & 1d% Color C
2d12s, 2d8s, 3d4s Color D 

If you don't care about color differentiation, I highly recommend the expanded sets from Roll 4 Initiative. They contain 15 dice (3d4, 4d6, 2d8, d10, d%, d12, 3d20) tailored to D&D play. Not sure why they put in a third d20 over a second d12, but whatever. These guys make great dice that are slightly larger (25%) than typical polys. They are attractive, easy to read, and don't feel at all bulky in the hand or the bag. 

My own rule for picking out dice is that they should have either a common ink color or a common plastic color (within a range). This is my kind of "Garanimals" approach. (If you don't know about those, they are clothes for toddlers with animals on the tags. Like animals "match" – or at least they used to be that way. Helpful for kids who are learning to match clothes or who are color-blind.) 

Here is a great set a friend of mine, Guillaume Jentey, posted the other day. He keeps only purple dice. Notice how they are all different and yet they look great together? Also, in choosing "only purple" he has effectively limited his consumerism!



Take-Aways

I hope the take away here is that you should be more aware of your dice buying practices. Avoid rationalization. "Love the ones you're with." (Do-do, do do, do do, do-do...) Make some rules for your purchases that give your personal collection a coherent look and help you curb your spending.

Until next time, travel light!



1 comment:

  1. Love it. I'd argue that you probably need way fewer RPG books than you have, too. You've got an imagination: you don't need to be told what to do, what to think. Get the basic tools, then expand on it yourself and make it your own. That's not to knock good RPG books - I have a few myself. But if I can do without, I do.

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