Epic Fantasy Reborn?

Hey everyone! Mac here from Dark Elf Dice. I hope everyone had a great holiday and had a chance to spend time with family and friends and perhaps do a little gaming. We’re just winding down from our holiday sales rush and are busily working at restocking the shelves with some of your favorites and some new game accessories we hope you’ll like. Stay tuned! We’ll be doing some product reviews on our Game Night blog shortly.

I for one had a very nice time during the holidays, and I was pleasantly surprised when my wife gave me an Xbox 360 game for Christmas. I should mention that when I was younger I played video games a lot (much to the disapproval of Mrs. Mac), but with added work and family responsibilities over the years, video games gradually took a backseat in my life. A few years back though, I bought an Xbox 360 (mostly for the Beatles Rock Band game), and dabbled a little in video games when I found some free time. So instead of receiving slippers or a new sweater for Christmas, I received The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim game and a player’s guide as thick as a Milwaukee phone book. Cool!

Is that a dragon or a seahorse?

Surprisingly, as much as I used to play video games, I didn’t play much in the fantasy genre. In fact, the last fantasy game I used to play with regularity was Atari’s Adventure. Man, back in grade school I would spend hours searching for the enchanted chalice and slaying dragons! Needless to say, my fantasy video game experiences were a tad dated (I showed my teenage daughters a YouTube video of Adventure and they just laughed). In Skyrim I’m still able to search for enchanted chalices and slay dragons, it’s just better. Better graphics, better game play, better sound effects, better everything. But is Skyrim, a game that bills itself “Epic Fantasy Reborn,” better than a good old fashioned table top game like Dungeons and Dragons or Castles and Crusades? Therein lies an interesting question.

Dude! That ain't no seahorse!

As I’m playing through Skyrim, I can’t help asking myself how the game compares to traditional role playing. I can honestly say that I’m thoroughly enjoying this video rpg and the open-ended fantasy world I can explore and adventure in at will. Skyrim really does a fine job capturing certain role playing elements exceedingly well (fascinating quests, unique magic items, powerful spells, engaging level and skill advancement, etc.), but I do find one thing lacking. Namely, playing Skyrim is a lonely adventure, whereas Dungeons and Dragons is not. When I play Skyrim into the small hours of the morning, I really do have a good time, but I can’t help but miss the camaraderie of friends sitting with me at the kitchen table, rolling dice and laughing over pizza and Mountain Dew. For me personally, this is why table top rpg games will always be superior to video games. With table top role playing, I can engage in the adventure with other people — people sitting right next to me that share the same imaginative experience. I’ve concluded that searching for enchanted chalices and slaying dragons is fun, but it’s much more fun to do so with a group of friends you know and love.

Click on comics to enlarge


An ENT By Any Other Name

Cheers everyone, Mac here from Dark Elf Dice. The other night I had an opportunity to chit-chat with my sister-in-law from Seattle. JoAnne is a doctor, and she had called long-distance to speak with my wife about gardening. I answered the phone and had a chance to talk with her about the new house she recently purchased.

“So how’s the neighborhood? Are you getting to know the people on your block?” I asked.

“The neighborhood’s great, but I really haven’t had a chance to meet my neighbors. Between work and moving it’s been crazy. The only person I know is an ENT who works with me in the clinic twice a week.”

This is not the ENT you're looking for.

Eee-Enn-Tee… ENT? What the heck was she talking about? I admit that I’m not the sharpest sword in the sheath when it comes to medical jargon, and all I could picture was a giant, talking tree. “So, they have ENTS in Seattle?”

“Of course.”

I scratched my head, more confused than ever. “I suppose the Pacific Northwest weather agrees with them. What with the heavy rain and all. If I were an ENT that’s where I would like to live.”

There was a long pause before JoAnne said anything. “You have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

I admitted my ignorance and JoAnne patiently explained that an ENT was an “ears, nose and throat” doctor. This made sense, but I have to say that I felt I twinge of disappointment that there weren’t any real ENTS in Seattle.

After turning the phone over to my wife, I reflected on the use of acronyms and abbreviations and how we use these unique terms as a matter of convenience to simplify phrases or names. Take for instance FAQ (frequently asked questions) or DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) — these are common acronyms that we’re all familiar with and that I’m certain we run across from time-to-time. Things get fuzzy though when acronyms or abbreviations are used by different groups of people — terms can take on entirely different meanings. Is a CD a “compact disc” or a “certificate of deposit?” I suppose it depends on whether or not you’re speaking with a Beatle’s Fan Club member (check out the fab bootlegs!) or a bank manager.

Game night just got a lot more interesting.

In the world of RPGs (“role playing games” — not “rocket propelled grenades”), we use a lot of acronyms and abbreviations to help facilitate game play. See if you can decipher the following:

On Saturday, the gang headed over to Gandalf’s house to play D&D 4e. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against this latest edition, but I’m an old school gamer and still pine for the days of AD&D. I didn’t want to start a debate over which game was better (the WotC version or the classic TSR version), so I kept my yap shut.

Once we arrived at Gandalf’s, Frodo volunteered to act as DM. I had to suppress a groan — Frodo was always losing things (even the gold ring his uncle had given him), but no one else stepped forward for the job. I suppose if he didn’t lose his DMG we’d be all right. The rest of us acted as PCs, and I rolled up a dwarf fighter. I wanted to be an elf fighter, but Legolas insisted on being the elf, so I let him (besides, my DEX score was pretty low and I’d make a miserable elf). I briefly toyed with the idea of being a druid, but I didn’t like the idea of starting a first level character with a low HP number (not to mention a low AC as well). So a dwarf it was. My STR was a 17 so I received an awesome BtH modifier.

Our PCs began their adventure in an inn named the Prancing Pony. Almost immediately there was trouble. We ran into a group of nasty trolls looking to bash a few heads. Unfortunately, our party was outnumbered and I was expecting the worst. Luckily for us, a NPC who worked at the inn helped us sneak out a back door through the kitchen. Once we escaped the inn and tasted the cool, night air I thought our troubles were over. On the way out through the kitchen though, my dwarf ate an entire plateful of salmon mousse (unknowingly made with canned salmon) and I had to use a d20 to make a saving throw against poison. Fortunately, my dwarf survived (just barely), but our party gained no XP for our hasty (and inglorious) retreat.

Could you find and decipher all the acronyms and abbreviations? Good for you! Give yourself a pat on the back and a 100 gp bonus. You deserve it. If you want to see more unique gaming acronyms and abbreviations take a look at this cool list. This is a fairly exhaustive list and there’s a lot here I’ve honestly never used or seen before. Also, check out this week’s installment of That’s How We Role. Until next time people!

Click on comic to enlarge

The Golden Age of RPG Games

Hi gang, Mac here from Dark Elf Dice. Last Friday I was busy counting inventory for a new shipment of dice we received when Calvin (one of my cheeky employees) referred to me as the “old man.” At first, I didn’t know who he was referring to. I stopped my counting and looked over my shoulder to see if someone else had walked into the room. No one had of course. It was just me, Calvin, shelves loaded full of rpg dice, and a nickname that I didn’t think I’d ever hear in my lifetime…

I hear it all the time, but I'm NOT He-Man!

Now don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing the matter with growing older or being considered old for that matter. It’s just that I’ve only had one other nickname in my life. In grade school I was known as “Lightning” because I could run faster than my classmates and won all sorts of ribbons for track and field (I suppose you could say my agility score was a natural 16 — not bad for a gawky kid who had no greater ambition than to play Atari 2600 after school and watch Thundarr the Barbarian on Saturday mornings). I have to be honest though — it’s a little hard jumping from “Lightning” to “Old Man.” To make matters worse, I read that Mark Hamill just turned sixty years old this week. Somehow, I just can’t wrap my brain around Luke Skywalker being sixty. It’s like an evil Sith Lord mind-trick…

Oh well. As Calvin stocked the shelves, grinning to himself at his perceived cleverness and listening to his iPod, I realized that he was correct in some ways. Even though I’m only in my forties, in his teenager eyes I am the “old man” and always will be. I also realized that I felt a little sorry for Calvin. He may not realize or appreciate it, but he missed out on one of the greatest decades ever — the 1980’s.

Take heed 'cause he's a lyrical poet

All right, I fully admit the 80’s weren’t without fault (Vanilla Ice and parachute pants anyone?), but if you were a gamer the decade was righteous. Dungeons and Dragons became a part of our very culture and literally hundreds of companies (both large and small) were creating role playing games and unique gaming accessories. Just flip through a back issue of Dragon magazine from this era and take a look at the obscene amount of companies advertising not only their products, but gaming conventions as well. The 1980’s were in fact the golden age of tabletop role playing games, and I’m afraid we’ll never see the like again.

Which brings me to something that I wanted to mention. Much of the success of role playing games (both from the 1980‘s and today) can be attributed to Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s safe to say that Dark Elf Dice wouldn’t be in business today if it wasn’t for the creative genius of this one man. It was with pleasure then that I learned that a Gary Gygax memorial is in the works in his hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The project is moving along and the memorial will be placed in Donian Park. Stefan Pokorny (founder and chief sculptor of Dwarven Forge) has volunteered to sculpt the memorial (apparently the design will include a castle turret with a bust of Gary on top and possibly a dragon wrapped around the turret). You can read more about the project by going to the Gygax memorial website.

Until next time faithful readers! In the meantime check out this week’s installment of That’s How We Role and our blog poll.

Click on comic to enlarge

That’s How We Role

Hi everyone, Mac here from Dark Elf Dice. We’ve been missing in action for the past few weeks, but believe me it’s been for a very good cause. Everyone here has been working feverishly to put the finishing touches on the Dark Elf Dice website. Five months ago, we began a complete website redesign with the customer in mind. When we first started the project,  I thought it would take thirty days or so to jazz everything up. Boy, was I wrong! Once we started making improvements we had a hard time stopping. Not only have we made the site easier to navigate to find what you’re searching for, we’ve literally added hundreds of new rpg products. Some of the new products that I’m personally excited about include our even greater selection of rpg dice (including the d3 hybrid dice and metal dice), our expanded dice bag collection, and the addition of more role playing game books and board games (including a game I’m really psyched about called Castles and Crusades — I plan on writing more about this game in a future blog post). If you haven’t had a chance to test drive the new website yet, take a look when you have some free time. We think you’ll like what you see.

Also, during the last few weeks we secured the talents of the up-and-coming cartoonist, Jordan Smith. Jordan has created an exclusive weekly comic strip for our Dark Elf Dice blog entitled That’s How We Role, a comic about the adventures (or should I say misadventures) of Marco the Mysterious, Princess Serenity, and Boris Warmaster. Jordan is an avid gamer himself (no posers here!) and his work has recently been published in the Zenith newspaper (a comic strip called Candance ‘N Company). We’re excited that Jordan has come on over to the “dark side” and joined the Dark Elf Dice team. So with that, I’ll leave you with the first installment of That’s How We Role. Enjoy this week’s installment and keep on gaming!

Click on comic to enlarge.

Moonstone Dice Contest Winner

Happy Labor Day weekend! I just want to take a moment and thank everyone who entered the Moonstone dice giveaway. We had a lot of fun this week and recorded a total of 97 entries. I wish we had enough Moonstone dice to give to each and everyone of you, but alas, there can only be one contest winner.

And that winner, as decided by random selection at Random.org, is…

Karla Pickford

Congratulations Karla! You now have a brand new set of rpg dice to use on game night. We can’t guarantee that you’ll always make a successful savings throw or perception check with the Moonstone dice, but we do guarantee that they’ll look fantastic as you roll them across the table.

Thanks again everyone! We had so much fun that we’ll do it again next month. If you follow us on Facebook you’ll have an opportunity to pick the dice we giveaway. Stay tuned!

Indigo -- The Newest Moonstone Color

One last thing: if you think you just can’t live without a set of Moonstone dice we recently added two brand new colors on our website: red and indigo. For the next week you can save 10% off the sale price of these dice by using the coupon code MOONSTONE.

Moonstone RPG Dice Giveaway

Moonstone Dice

Moonstone Dice

All right! Hang onto your pointy wizard hats because it’s time for another Dark Elf Dice giveaway contest. We ran a poll on our Facebook page earlier this week asking our fans to choose between three sets of rpg dice for the prize. The hands down favorite was a set of eerie, translucent Moonstone dice! As always, we have super quick and easy entry rules for this month’s contest and you can earn 2 entry points + 1 super cool bonus point for a maximum total of 3 entry points. The more entry points you have the better your chances of winning this month’s giveaway, so here goes.

Entry Points for Non-Blog Subscribers

Not a Dark Elf Dice Game Night: The Blog subscriber? You can earn up to two entry points by doing the following:

  • Leave a comment for us on our Dark Elf Dice blog (Earns 1 Entry Point): You can earn one contest entry point by simply leaving a comment on this blog post. Just go down to the bottom of this post and click on the comments section (located directly below where it says “Rate this”). Your comment can be as zany as you’d like, but it must have the words “Moonstone dice” in it. Some examples: “I’d like to enter the Moonstone dice contest,” “Give me some Moonstone dice,” “My grandparents went to New Jersey and all they got me were Moonstone dice,” etc.
  • Subscribe to our Dark Elf Dice blog (Earns 1 Entry Point): You can earn a second contest entry point by becoming a subscriber to our blog. Before you subscribe we encourage you to take a look around. If you like what you see, sign up at the top right hand side of the page where it reads “Email Subscription.” Once you sign up you’ll receive notifications of new blog posts by email (roughly once or twice a week). WE HATE SPAM MORE THAN LIVER AND ONIONS and will ABSOLUTELY NEVER use your email address for spam. Our blog subscribers are our friends, and friends don’t treat friends like garbage.

Entry Points for Current Blog Subscribers

Already a current Game Night: The Blog subscriber? Cool! You can earn two entry points by doing the following:

  • Leave a comment for us on our Dark Elf Dice blog (Earns 2 Entry Points): You can earn 2 contest entry points by leaving a comment on this blog post. Your comment can say anything, but you must use the initials “BS” (the “BS” stands for “Blog Subscriber”). Some examples: “I’d like to enter the contest BS,” “Really cool dice BS,” “This contest is total BS,” etc.

Super Cool Bonus Point

This bonus point can be earned by both non-blog subscribers and blog subscribers. All you have to do is:

  • Share this contest with others via Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, Press This, Reddit or Google+ (Earns 1 Entry Point): Share this contest through any of the sites listed. Simply click any of the social bookmarking buttons below this post. To get credit for your entry you just need to tell us in your blog comment that you shared the contest.

The Moonstone dice contest runs from August 27 through September 3, 2011. During this time we’ll collect each individual’s entry points (remember, you can earn up to 2 entry points + 1 bonus point) and the winner will be determined by random selection at Random.org. We’ll announce the winner on Sunday, September 4 on our blog . Best of luck everyone!

A Closer Look at the Crystal Caste BattleTop

Hey guys, Calvin here from Dark Elf Dice. We’ve been adding hundreds of new products to the Dark Elf Dice website and I’ll be showcasing new and interesting items from time to time on the Game Night blog.

Will it raise your game to the next level?

Out of all the products we’ve added so far, the one that really piqued my curiosity was the BattleTop by Crystal Caste. Why this particular product? Well, if any of you know me then you know I’m a miniatures freak. I collect them, paint them, and most importantly (for me at any rate) game with them. I have a difficult time role playing the old school “pen and paper” route; I really need to have miniatures in play to visualize my character and surroundings. There hasn’t been much innovation in the realm of player aides for miniatures for years, so naturally the BattleTop caught my eye.

So what exactly is the BattleTop? Basically, it’s a portable game table that sits on top of your playing surface (my playing surface is usually the dining room table). When unfolded, the BattleTop measures 24″x36″ (the perfect size to hold a medium sized Combat Mat which, incidentally, is included with the BattleTop). When you’re finished playing, the BattleTop folds up and latches closed. It comes equipped with a heavy-duty carrying handle that makes the table easily portable.

An open and shut case.

The concept seems relatively simple enough — a small miniatures game table that sits on top of your game table, but it actually took Crystal Caste years to develop the actual product. Why so long? Well, if you’re familiar with Crystal Caste products you know they build quality stuff and are sticklers to details. The BattleTop is no exception and it appears to be made of the same materials used for the company’s signature BattleHive carrying cases. I suppose if you were into accessorizing you’d have it made, because the BattleTop goes with a BattleHive like a pair of Ed Hardy jeans goes with a Ed Hardy hoodie.

All right. So we have a well-made miniatures gaming table that looks good and took years to develop, but how does the BattleTop work in an actual game setting? One of the cool things about my job is that I get to test out new products that we carry on the Dark Elf Dice website, so Saturday night I used the BattleTop in a Dungeons and Dragons game I’m currently running. I had the BattleTop set up beforehand and actually placed it on top of a large Combat Mat to give the players two dimensions to game on. This in itself was something totally new for me (gaming on two planes) and the setup reminded me somewhat of Star Trek tri-dimensional chess (even though I only had two dimensions, the concept was similar). The BattleTop was our “main” gaming area, and the underlying, large Combat Mat was the secondary area. In the midst of a battle against a frost giant and minions, I transported half of the player characters and minions to the secondary gaming area via a hidden dimensional door (yes, I know… I’m a nasty DM!). We then had two battles going on at once in real game time. In order for this to work though, I had to turn the BattleTop 90 degrees and slide it over some so we could play out the battle on the large mat (you really can’t see what’s going on directly beneath the BattleTop). The use of the BattleTop really added a layer of excitement to the game (pun intended) and the players had a blast!

Besides multiple gaming surfaces, the BattleTop offered us a unique visual perspective when looking at our miniatures. Typically, when you game with minis you have an aerial view of all the action and you’re looking down on top of the models’ heads. The BattleTop literally raised the playing field so we were better able to view the miniature’s painted details. This gave the appearance of being “closer” to the action and I have to admit was pretty cool.

Here then is my final take on the BattleTop:

Pros: Neat concept. Well made product. Easily portable. Comes with a medium Combat Mat. Allows for multi-dimensional gaming. Elevates gaming surface to bring miniatures closer to eye level.

Cons: Cost (even on sale at $74.69 + shipping, the BattleTop may be outside of some gamers’ budgets). Rubber feet (the BattleTop has five folding legs capped with rubber feet; the feet are not permanently attached to the legs and must be pressed into place before the table is set up — not really that big of a deal, but I’m kind of lazy).