Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Guest Post: Which Dice Do You Trust?

Justin's Note: In my post about Gen Con, I mentioned that Jess wanted to write a guest article for my blog about Louis Zocchi. I mean, I greatly enjoyed Mr. Zocchi's panel at Gen Con, but Jess? Considering how obsessed she is with dice, she was absolutely blown away. I swear to God that Mr. Zocchi didn't pay her to write this or anything. She just loves GameScience that much.

As an aside, Jess makes these awesome pieces of jewelry out of dice with a little electric drill. She does earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and keychains, and they must be pretty fashionable, because people keep asking her to make them some. She says the d4 is the hardest to drill, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, I'm glad she's here to share her enthusiasm with us. Without further ado, here's some cool stuff written by my best friend and favorite person.

Which Dice Do You Trust?

Before I go answering that question for you, let me tell you a little bit about myself. Growing up I never knew much of what I was into. I knew that I loved math in school and I always looked up to my brother. He is 7 years older than me and was a kind of cool guy, to me anyway. He loved video games and loved playing D&D. He had friends over from time to time and I got to sit in and watch them all throw those nifty little dice around and tell awesome stories. With my math skills I could add, subtract, and keep track of things fairly easily. I ended up being a mini human calculator for certain situations, so I became useful from time to time. It was fun and sometimes challenging to me. However, I didn’t have many friends of my own who knew about D&D, let alone how to DM. Heck, I didn’t even know what a “DM” was or have any books or knowledge myself. So, when my brother moved out, that part of my life disappeared.

But a few years later, I met my friend (now husband), Justin. We have been together for almost 12 years and married for 2. During the beginning of those years we learned a lot about each other. We hung out for hours, sometimes days. And when you do that, you need stuff to do. We were always at his house so his belongings were the things we had on hand to use. After hours of video games, some time for lunch and dinner, out came the D&D supplies. I was so excited when he showed me he had the supplies AND knowledge to bring back the awesome story time that, my brother and his friends used to be able to entertain me with! And its moments like these that let you know, you have the right guy. (Mental note- NEVER LET HIM GO!) Anyway, after years of playing and bringing in a variety of friends and stories, I started to gain an interest in those little colorful things that we threw around, dice.

Dice are beautiful things. They roll around and give you that tiny bit of excitement while you wait, hoping that they land on the numbers that work in your benefit. It adds some extra thrill to that story being told while you try to figure out your next move. But let’s be honest, you have to wait for that result before you know for sure what to do next. Even for those who don’t play D&D or any other RPG (role playing game), they come in handy for other games and even decoration! Adults will gamble and little kids will play even the simplest board games with them. So, I highly doubt that dice are going to “go out of style” anytime soon. Which make them a good collector’s item. But which ones should you collect and which ones should you actually play with?

I have been collecting dice for roughly 5 years but, I bought my first set to play with about 10 years ago. I have a large variety of “sets” or dice and a ton of individual dice. I make jewelry, magnets, key chains, picture frames, you name it. And of course, I play with dice too. After playing D&D for a long time I would notice that some numbers come up more often than others on certain dice. I loved messing around with numbers and I was good at noticing patterns. I didn’t think much of it and figured it was just an interesting coincidence. I kept playing and using different sets of dice just to see how they roll and learned that I liked certain sets over other ones. Then Gen Con happened and I learned that my pattern noticing wasn’t just a coincidence, it was a very important piece of information that I needed to pay more attention to!

Gen Con is a very large convention that is full of outstanding events and amazing works of art. And I mean a VERY large variety of art! It takes hours to get around and is full of fun and information. There was an event that stuck out to me, so my husband and I decided to go. It was an informative speech about dice. Louis Zocchi was the man speaking and before this, I knew nothing about him. I walked in and sat wondering what exactly he was going to talk about, except maybe how they were made. And that’s what he did. He certainly fascinated me!

Louis Zocchi is a very intelligent man and was able to give me enough information to know that the smallest difference can make the largest change. He invented the 100 sided die, the zocchihedron! Louis Zocchi is a gaming hobbyist, former game distributor and publisher, and maker and seller of polyhedral game dice. He has made dice since 1974 and personally hand inks every die you will ever purchase from him. He also files down every die by hand to help keep them precise. He has run countless tests and experiments to make sure that the dice he creates and invents will roll with precision and chance. He, and other people running experiments (myself included), have shown that his dice roll the best with the closest to even chances of any particular side coming up. He showed how stacking other companies' dice, one on top of the other, will not always come out the same height with the same amount of dice. And with that bit of a difference, you can get one number coming up more than another.

When dice are made, plastic is placed in a mold to create the shape of the dice. When this is done, they are then cleaned and painted. Once that is complete, they are put through a “tumbling” process to polish the dice, round the edges, and take off any spare pieces the mold may have left. (If you want more details on how dice are made, check out this site- https://www.awesomedice.com/blog/64/how-dice-are-made/) The problem with doing it this way and “tumbling” them through a machine is that they don’t get tumbled evenly. One edge or side may get more "sanding" than another. This causes one side to weigh more and be a different size than another. Therefore, the dice are not even. This is why Louis Zocchi will take the time and file down each and every die he makes, by hand, instead of letting a machine do it.

Now, some people have had an issue with a small piece that shows where the dice mold had once held onto the dice. He does file this down as well and as crazy as it might sound, that has less of an effect on changing the amount of chance of a roll than, the amount of the die missing from tumbling in a machine.

This can be proven in another experiment that has been done. This experiment is called the “salt water experiment”. It is done by placing a different amount of salt (depending on the weight of the die) in a cup of water and flicking the die around a bit. If the die comes up on different numbers and doesn’t come up in a pattern every time, it is a good and faithful die. A large variety of peoplehave tried this experiment with different sets of dice, and it seems the only trustworthy company is GameScience, the company owned by Louis Zocchi. There are other companies that will sell GameScience dice as well, but you can buy them directly from www.gamescience.com. Every dice set or individual die he sells is filed and inked by hand and made with care. Even some of the ones that seem like they wouldn't be fair, like the D5, are made to give fair results.

So, when it comes to which dice I trust, I trust Louis Zocchi’s GameScience dice! They are handmade with care, precision, and plenty of math put right into the dice themselves.

If you would like more information, or would like to listen to Louis Zocchi himself, check out the links below.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUlbD71RsII&t=594s (jump to about 5min)




I would like to thank all of my friends who play D&D with us, my brother James Densmore for introducing me to D&D years ago, and Louis Zocchi for showing me the truth in dice. I especially need to put a HUGE thank you out there to my Honeybee, Justin Stewart. I love you, forever and always.

-Jessica Stewart, April 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

I Definitely Married the Right Person

ME: Hey, if I run a campaign of Stay Frosty, would you rather play Aliens or Doom?
JESS: Oh, that's a hard one!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A to Z VG RPG Inspiration - B is for Blood


B is for Blood


In the film Sin City, Marv utters the line "I love hitmen. No matter what you do to them, you don't feel bad." Replace "hitmen" with "cultists," especially of the Cthulhu-worshiping variety, and suddenly you're speaking MY LANGUAGE. Want to give your Call of Cthulhu players something they can actually maybe kinda-sorta kick the ass of in actual head-to-head combat, but without making the monsters less dangerous, and with fun legal complications if they get caught? Cultists! Need some individually weak but numerous and highly-motivated minions for your party of brave adventurers to slash to ribbons, but you're tired of the old standbys like goblins and orcs? Cultists! Run out of hamburger patties for the BBQ? Cultists! It's not unjustified religious oppression if they're actually pure evil, right? Okay, not a realistic trope, but it doesn't have to be.

The great thing about Blood is that it's gleeful. Just because the subject matter is morbid, macabre, or Gothic doesn't mean you can't be cheerful about it. Not everything has to be about serious drama or realism or weighty themes. Sometimes you just want to kick a zombie's head around like a soccer ball. It's okay to play that kind of game if you want. If the DM and the players are all on board, sometimes (I would even say often) it's okay to play that kind of game even in an otherwise serious campaign. Tabletop games are often episodic in nature, so you can explore different tones and themes and styles within the same "story" over the course of different episodes if you want to, right? Episodes can be like miniature, self-contained stories within a larger framework. Variation is an advantage of episodic storytelling.

And hey, would you look at that, Blood is divided into different episodes, like a lot of shareware-era games, and those episodes are divided into levels, of course. Blood will have you shooting up a funeral home full of zombies and cultists one level, then a train full of 'em in another level, and then a twisted carnival featuring Jojo the Idiot Circus Boy in another. (WE WANT JOJO! JOJO! JOJO!) Blood has got an Overlook Hotel replica, a Camp Crystal Lake replica, and demonic mountaintop monasteries above the clouds. Blood has the entire extended family of Ash's killer hand from Evil Dead II, zombies with kickable heads (as mentioned previously), cultists that scream real nice when they're on fire, legions of gargoyles, and some kind of screaming ghost or something. Blood has awesome improvised weapons like a pitchfork, a flare gun, and the ol' hairspray-and-lighter combo. Blood has a Tesla cannon, napalm, sonic electronic ball breakers. It's got voodoo dolls, dark magic, sharp sticks. My point is, Blood has two things that go a LONG way when trying to run a good game, video or tabletop, two things that should at least help ensure that a game is memorable: variety and enthusiasm.

Blood has plenty of individually gameable ideas too, of course. A demon-god who suddenly betrays its loyal lieutenants, prompting one of them to seek revenge on the former object of his worship. An undead cowboy with a charming voice and a matching personality. A setting that is basically the real world, except haunted by monsters and set in a vaguely early-20th Century time period, carelessly anachronistic in an endearing way. A special language just for cultists. Fun with improvised weapons. Fun with weaponized voodoo. Fun with fire. Show tunes. "Real world" architecture with illogical, maze-like layouts and secret areas galore. Cerberus, but with a head missing for some reason, with puppies. An obscure and intriguing (though sadly unexplored) reference to Slavic mythology.

But perhaps most importantly, Blood has a mixture of all of the above. It wears its references and inspirations on its sleeve. It's the remix as its own art form. It's greater than the sum of its warm, gore-soaked, still-twitching parts. If you're getting stressed over trying to come up with a complex, original campaign, maybe consider taking a break from that and unwinding for a little while with the Blood approach. Take some shit that sounds fun, scramble it all together, and serve it with a smile. "Let's boogie, Boogeyman."

Monday, April 3, 2017

A to Z VG RPG Inspiration - A is for Amnesia: The Dark Descent


A is for Amnesia: The Dark Descent

SPOILER ALERT for all of the games I'm discussing in this series, by the way.

In terms of aesthetics and tone and plot devices and setting and all that, Amnesia is a pretty obvious choice in terms of dark/weird fantasy inspirational material. I probably don't need to go on at length about the look of the castle, the game's horrifying torture-based alchemy, the Lovecraftian elements, the monster design, etc. If you dig that kind of stuff, Amnesia will probably give you some obvious inspiration on the "fluff" front.* But how about the mechanics, the "crunch?" Anything under the surface we might want to consider including in our tabletop games?

Well, one major lesson in Amnesia (and from what I hear, in its spiritual predecessor, the Penumbra series) is that the monsters or enemies in your game don't have to be conventionally "beatable," at least not in straight-up combat. Speed, stealth, and cunning are Daniel's only real defenses - I think the implication is more than just "Daniel is kind of wimpy and these monsters are big and strong, so Daniel doesn't stand a chance in combat, thus there's no attack button." Considering the line in the beginning of the game about Daniel being young and fit and more than a match for the old man he needs to kill, as well as all the heavy stuff he lifts throughout the game, I don't think this comes down to a simple matter of strength (or even martial prowess - the monsters aren't exactly kung-fu masters). The monsters are supernaturally invincible, unkillable. They're not cannon fodder, existing to MAYBE drain some resources and then be mowed down heroically. They're there to put pressure on the player in a different way - you have to know your hiding spots and your exits, or else be able to find them quickly, and you have to exercise caution and self-control with your light and noise levels. Besides, even if Daniel could take out some random shuffling horror with a lucky barrel toss or something, the Shadow is coming for him. Fighting that would be like trying to fight a tornado.

This kind of thing isn't unheard of in tabletop games. This is old hat in stuff like Call of Cthulhu, in which straight-up combat against monsters is almost always a bad idea unless you want to die hilariously horribly, and players are better off looking for a creature's specific weakness, or else running from it or otherwise dealing with it indirectly. But in D&D-style games, I think the idea of using "invincible" or combat-resistant monsters could maybe be utilized a bit more. Granted, if your game has fighters in it, you probably don't want to design an entire campaign centered around "unfightable" enemies without warning your players first, but not every problem needs to be solved with a sword or a fireball, either.

And the monsters don't have to be completely immune to damage or whatever - I don't think you should railroad the players into only being able to deal with a monster in one highly specific way, but you should be able to limit their options to make things more tense and interesting. Narrow the range of options while still allowing flexibility. The classic werewolf is a good example. Let's say it can ONLY be killed by silver, and there's no silver for miles. The low-level party of PCs isn't going to be able to stand toe-to-toe with this thing, but that leaves many options. They could try to avoid it in a million ways, with stealth or distraction or just by beating feet. They could try to come up with an alternate way of taking it out instead of "killing" it - drop it down a big pit and bury it, or trick it into stowing away on a ship and then sinking it, so even if it's not dead it's at least busy for a while. They could try to bargain with it or charm it somehow. They could travel to a different region and get some silver to even the odds. And once they get that silver, there are so many choices in how to USE it. Bullets? Blades? Molten metal?

But you know what? Why not throw something actually unkillable at the players at some point? Not as a cheap "gotcha!" to rack up an easy TPK, hopefully - even the killer bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail had plenty of warning signs for the knights to fail to heed - but as an interesting challenge, and as something SCARY. Make your players feel harried, hounded, preyed upon. A monster like this can add even more time pressure than a limited supply of torches and rations if you make it pursue the party slowly but implacably. Go all Terminator on their asses. Their ingenuity in survival tactics might surprise you.

And that whole unstoppable-force-of-doom-coming-for-your-ass thing reminds me of another aspect of Amnesia that could work wonderfully in D&D: The only way out of the dungeon is THROUGH the dungeon. The old D&D video game Eye of the Beholder did this, too, by having the dungeon entrance collapse behind the party once they enter. You can have multiple ways out, of course, and I think you should certainly make the dungeon itself non-linear in design so the players can make meaningful choices about what obstacles are worth contending with and how they should be defeated, but preventing any kind of easy backtracking out of the dungeon can be a great way to build a sense of claustrophobic terror, I bet. Especially if your route back isn't just cut off by a passive obstacle like a cave-in, but by some kind of crawling god or something.

In one of our D&D 3.5 games in college, my friends and I were playing through Rappan Athuk, and you know what kept on working its way into our conversations? A supposedly invincible monster made of dung, of all things, on one of the upper levels. It wasn't particularly dangerous, since it was easy to avoid, but due to a curse we couldn't leave the area unless we purged the dungeon of all evil, and guess what? "Dungy" lit up when Detect Evil was cast (or at least that's how I think its alignment was discovered, since I wasn't there for that particular moment). It because this major puzzle in the back of our minds throughout the whole dungeon: how do we kill this invincible piece of shit? Unfortunately, we never got to finish that campaign, but I bet we would have come up with something cool if we had enough time. "How do we deal with Dungy?" was our great mystery. It was our great brown whale.

Amnesia is also interesting because of the moral compromises Daniel has to make (or thinks he has to make) in order to survive the onslaught of the Shadow that pursues him. Maybe there's a second, much easier way to kill that werewolf, but it involves a child, a stone altar, a big bowl, and a knife. Maybe the PCs have more to worry about than just immediate survival, like their reputation in the community, or their immortal souls...

If any of this stuff sounds appealing, I would definitely recommend checking out The God That Crawls, Broodmother Skyfortress, and Deep Carbon Observatory for some fantastic and frightful material in this vein.

*Brennenburg Castle WOULD make for an awesome megadungeon. When I first played the game, it felt like it just kept going down, and down, and DOOOOOOOWN...

A to Z VG RPG Inspiration - Intro

I'm late to the A to Z Blogging Challenge party, but I figure "Better late (and half-assed) than never."

I'm not following the rules of the official challenge because I dance to the beat of a special snowflake or whatever. I'll probably post more than once per day and/or post on one or more Sundays in order to either catch up or work around my meatspace schedule. I might finish up in early May. (Heck, since I'll be out of town in early May, I might finish in late May. Who knows?) I picked my own category instead of anything off of the website because I think my own idea might prove fruitful. I'm not tagging anything or applying for any official lists because I don't want to, although I am thankful for the inspiration provided by the official A to Z website linked above. If any of this makes me an asshole, I apologize in advance.

Anyway, I decided to talk about video games that I think would serve as good sources of ideas for dark fantasy RPGs. I specifically have Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other dark or horror-oriented D&D-type games in mind (including regular old D&D, if your group likes to explore that kind of subject matter). However, some of the things I discuss might be useful for games that aren't part of the D&D family, like Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Dread, Kult, World of Darkness, etc. If it's a scary or dark RPG and it involves supernatural elements, hopefully you can find something useful for it here.

The List (Updated as I post and subject to change)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Chakan: The Forever Man
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
King's Field
Legacy of Kain
Ninja Gaiden
Pathways Into Darkness
Realms of the Haunting
Town of Salem
Vagrant Story
X-Men 2: Clone Wars
Yume Nikki
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link