Saturday, March 12, 2016

Do all these ornate dice signal the beginning of the end of tabletop gaming?


I still have a lot of dice collected over the years that I rarely use but still am loathe to throw away..

  
Believe it or not, my most prized gaming possession is not my copy of the 1974 D&D, or any other RPG or boardgame, but my original d10s I bought well over 30 years ago.



I love these two dice.. They were with me during the golden age in the 1980s of RPG. Even when I switched to Gurps in the late 1980s, I hung on to them. Even when I moved to another city, I took them with me for no reason.

A boy never forgets his first dice love.  My friend Craig lamented once on the loss of his blue and white 1980s d10s to a house fire. Nothing else that he lost in that fire was mentioned, like say, furniture or family heirlooms.

My d10s seemed so futuristic at the time compared to the crappy pips on a d6 you would find in a monopoly game. It seems d10s were introduced at Gen Con in 1980 despite being patented in 1906

I am surprised though, that d20s have been around for thousands of years as the The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art holds in it's collection a 2,000 year old d20 with Greek writing on it. 




Anyways, the d10s, d20s, etc were new to everyone back then and that for most of the 1980s, you had to wax in the numbers yourself believe it or not. I still have an unwaxed die..

My unwaxed die..

Hell, some wargames did not have the new fancy-pants dice at the time and you had to do a lame chit-pulling procedure. Though a d6 example, my copy here of Avalon Hill's Robin Hood, required chit-pulling in case you didn't have the dice.



There was a simplicity to the dice, despite their futuristic and transluscency (in some cases) look to them. Function rather than form ruled the day for many years. There was thus no change I think for decades for the most part, though I noticed new 00 facing on d10s which I dislike (call me old school) as well the placement of the d4s numbering changed sometime these last 30 years.


Now, it seems form is trumping over function. There has been a shift these last 10 years to an explosion to more and more elaborate dice. Elaborate in their look and in their composition.. Metal dice, dwarven writing, vampire glyphs, you name it.. You can't read the numbers easily and metal dice damage your table, but still this stuff is being churned out.



The elaborate dice seems to be going into overdrive, like these these $100+ "thorn" dice.



Some dice in general being churned out are now also becoming more pointless and seem to be a self-parody..



Let's not forget dice-rings



and of course, all the only-in-this-boardgame symbols that you see with say, Attack Wing, X-Wing and such being churned out.

A roll from an Attack Wing session I did
The market is now even catering to outside-of-gaming-sessions stuff, appealing perhaps to us old gamers who have some disposable income and are nostalgic for the good ol' carefree days..




Yeah, yeah, you could say, this is just companies trying to make a buck as well as stretching their 3D printing muscles. Companies are always tweaking and pushing the envelope on every product under the sun.

You can also say this is typical of the post-modernist society we're living in.

I think however companies are tapping into something in the hobby.. an inkling perhaps of new restlessness and perhaps, ennui with tabletop (RPG, boardgame and miniature) play. Is our collective consciousness starting to get bored, or at least, impatient, with tabletop games that we need to give ourselves gimmicky or quirky dice?

You see over and over in history simple ideas, processes and cultural norms that lasted for a long time morph into elaborate and gaudy displays that signal the high-water mark of something, prior to it's decline.


Maybe now that the tabletop industry has gone mainstream and is meeting up with millenial kids and casual gamers, we're finding something lacking to appeal to them as the hobby stands now. Maybe these kids and casual gamers are a bit bored and restless with slow-as-molasses "meatspace" games and need these gimmicky dice to attract them.

Gimmicky dice and nostalgia products also keep the geek chic and mystique going for older gamers as well by allowing them to become more invested money and identity-wise with ornate dice to stay in the hobby longer.

The last 20 years of computer gaming and internet surfing have taken their toll, no doubt about it.

You could see also a bit of the restlessness in all these new boardgames with hundreds of minis offered to stem the tide. There is something desperate about offering a boardgame with 100s of minis to play, but that is a topic for another day..

Are these elaborate dice also a little bit of the last gasp spit-in-the-face to all these cheap $1 dice apps that can be found on our phones?  "Real" gamers use real dice...
 
There is a quiet shift beneath our gaming feet and these new dice are the smoke signals.

It will be a slow decline I think, decades in the making.. and one day even these ridiculous dice will give us a shrug and a meh!, but that is the way of things. Nothing last forever of course. I think the physically throw-pieces-of-plastic thing to generate a random number to be applied to a table on a piece of paper to interpret outcomes will slowly, ever so slowly, be supplanted first by Apps and who knows, maybe a holodeck experience in the decades and centuries to come that does away with all that.

They'll look back at us the way we look back at cavemen rolling pigs' knuckles and medieval people engaging in bear-wrestling.

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