Favorite Gen Con Memory

Gen Con Indy 2011, the world’s greatest gaming convention was held this week in Indianapolis. If you’re a fan of rpg games you really owe it to yourself to go at least once in your life. It’s like Christmas on steroids. There are hundreds of the industry’s best game designers and manufacturers showcasing their latest wares and demoing new products. There are art exhibits, writing exhibits, and of course games. Lots and lots of role playing and board games hosted and run by fellow gamers from around the world. Gen Con truly is the four best days in gaming.

My favorite memory of Gen Con goes way back to 1987 when I had just graduated from high school. Gen Con was held in Milwaukee at that time, and would be until the convention became a victim of its own overwhelming success and simply grew too large to be hosted in Wisconsin anymore. My best friend Mike and I chugged north along I-94 in my beat-up Ford Pinto (hey, at least it was paid for!) and we arrived early for the festivities.

My favorite Ral Partha minis painted 1987

In 1987 I didn’t actually play in any of the hosted games. I did however contribute an original Dungeons and Dragons adventure co-written with Mike and hosted by a mutual friend titled “The Tesseract and the Abyss” — a far out adventure whose main focus was to challenge a player’s sense of reality while being trapped inside a vast, four-dimensional hypercube (oh, to be young and creative again!). Instead of playing at Gen Con, I spent a lot of time exploring and shopping. In those days I collected Ral Partha lead miniatures and I spent a lot of time at the company’s huge display looking for new figures. I was like Sinbad stumbling upon a huge treasure — online shopping didn’t exist back then and my local hobby store only carried a fraction of the minis on display at Gen Con. So it was with pleasure that I blew two week’s pay and filled a shopping bag with blister packs of elves and dwarves and still had enough dough left over to score a prerelease of West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game.

The game that launched an entire industry.

My friend Mike was more careful with his money. Instead of shopping at the vendor exhibits he saved his cash for the live auctions held on the second floor of the convention center. Even then he only bought one thing, but man it was cool! I can’t remember what he paid, but Mike won at auction a 1974 first edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game in unbelievable condition. The game’s first printing was simply an unassuming white box holding three softcover booklets. The game looked completely alien compared to the hardcover TSR books I was used to.

By the time the auctions were over it was getting late. Before leaving Gen Con though we decided to take one more run through the exhibits. As it turns out our decision to hang around a little longer was brilliant, because Mike and I had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Gary Gygax at one of the publisher booths. By this time Gary had achieved worldwide fame with Dungeons and Dragons and had left TSR to promote his new company, New Infinities Productions. We chatted for a good 20 minutes about the history of role playing games, D&D, and his new creation Cyborg Commando. During our conversation I was truly impressed at how genuinely nice Gary Gygax was. Here was the co-creator of the greatest and most commercially successful rpg franchise in history taking the time to talk with two gawky (and admittedly starstruck) teenage boys. Gary was as intelligent as he was soft spoken and in my mind he was the Gandalf of the role playing universe. Before we left he signed my convention program and Mike’s first edition D&D booklets. More importantly though, looking back these twenty-four years, Gary gave me my best memory of Gen Con that quite honestly will never be topped.

Did you attend this year’s Gen Con or do you have any favorite Gen Con memories? Post a comment in the reply section below and share your thoughts with your fellow gamers.


Don’t Game On An Empty Stomach! 5 Quick and Easy Snacks

Hi everyone! Jackie here from Dark Elf Dice. Mac is off this week so I’m guest writing this week’s Game Night: The Blog post. Mac told me to write about anything I wanted. “Anything” is a pretty big field, so I decided to narrow the post down to two things I really enjoy: role playing games and food. I love exploring dungeons and I love to cook. Who knows, maybe I’m part hobbit. So here it goes…

Even Stooges get hungry!

It’s game night, and you’ve invited some of your friends over to your place for a good old fashioned role playing game. You’re totally psyched and can’t wait to start playing. You have the game mat laid out, the miniatures, your rpg dice and everything is all set….suddenly, there’s a knock at the door. Your guests have arrived, and you all settle down for a great evening of fun. Then Moe comments offhandedly, “Man, I sure am hungry.” Your other friend Larry nods in agreement. “What’ve ya got to eat??” he asks eagerly. “I hope it’s something good,” says Curly.

You stop to think a moment, realizing that you don’t have anything in the fridge worth sharing, and you’re quite frankly too embarrassed to offer everyone some old KFC leftovers….

As silly as the above scenario sounds, I contend that snacks are an important part of gaming. It’s hard for your friends to fully appreciate the fighting prowess of your elf warrior taking down a band of owlbears when your stomach is rumbling so loud it sounds like a freight train. So, here are five quick and easy snacks to have on hand the next time you invite your buddies over.

Chips Ahoy!

– Chips. I think chips are the most common snack set out during game night. Everyone likes them, especially if you have dip, but there IS a downside to this flavorful snack. No, I’m not talking about the recent Harvard study that says potato chips are one of the culprits of steady weight gain throughout life (like it takes an ivy league professor to figure that one out!). No, I’m talking about the seasoning and grease that coats your fingers and runs the risk of messing up your wonderfully painted miniatures. Not only that, but if you’ve got four or more people crunching on chips during your game, it can be unnerving and make it difficult to hear what’s going on. Still, chips are always a popular choice (even with the downside). Just make sure you have plenty of napkins available. For a less messy alternative, try pretzels or nachos.

– Cookies. I don’t think anyone can pass up a good cookie. Cookies are another nice snack to put out for your guests during game night. Chocolate chip is probably the most popular, but if you want to try something different, peanut butter, sugar, and double chocolate cookies are very good, too. In fact, we have a recipe for double chocolate cookies right here on our blog.  Just make sure you have a gallon of milk handy! Nothing sadder than eating cookies without a cold glass of milk to go with it.

– Veggie tray. Okay, I know what you’re thinking…why a veggie tray? Isn’t game night a great excuse to eat junk food? While chips and cookies taste good, a veggie tray is a nice healthy alternative. Carrots, celery and whatever else you can think of make a nice veggie tray. Pretty much any vegetable tastes good with ranch dip, or even by itself. Nicely arrange your cut veggies on a serving plate and your guests will be impressed!

Say cheese!

– Cheese and crackers. All right, I’m from Wisconsin. If I didn’t mention cheese in a post about food I’d be violating at least three state statutes. Wisconsin is the dairy state and we wear wedges of cheese on our heads (yeah, I know is sounds crazy, but it actually is sort of fun!). Take it from this “cheesehead”: slices of colby, cheddar, or monterey jack are an awesome snack when parred with your favorite crackers.

– Pizza. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like pizza? I didn’t think so! It doesn’t take long to heat up a few frozen pizzas for a group of hungry gamers. No frozen pizzas on hand? No worries! Just call your local pizza joint (most deliver). If everyone ponies up a couple bucks you’ll have enough cash on hand for a large pizza or two with extra toppings. Just remember the napkins — pizza is another snack with the potential for disaster. Nothing like pizza sauce dripped on the pages of your Dungeon Masters Guide to give it character.

Do you have a favorite snack for game night? Leave a comment in the reply section below and share your ideas with your fellow gamers 🙂

Oblivion Dice Contest Winner

To the victor belong the spoils.

I want to thank everyone who participated in July’s Dark Elf Dice giveaway contest. We had a total of 33 entries. And the winner (as decided by random selection at Random.org) is… Justin Leroy Bell. Congratulations Justin! You just won a set of Oblivion orange rpg dice. Now go out and slay some dragons with your new lucky dice. Happy gaming!

4 Great Sources for RPG Character Names

What’s in a name? – William Shakespeare

Whenever we start a new role playing game the thing I look forward to most is rolling up a brand new character. A new beginning is always exciting, not to mention the element of chance that exists when you roll a handful of rpg dice across the table and hope for high attribute numbers (life is  good when you roll 18!). I enjoy all the creative aspects of crafting a new character — everything from selecting armor and weapons to writing a character’s backstory. One thing that proves difficult for me though is coming up with a character’s name. Sure, I got me a brand new Barbarian complete with leather armor and battle axe, but what do I call this sucker? When it comes to naming characters I need a little help. Here then are four great sources I use when picking a character’s name:

You take the high road & I'll take the low road.

Atlas. When I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons years ago the atlas was my best friend. This was way back before you could Google information on the internet, but even today I keep my trusty atlas on the bookshelf next to my role playing books. An atlas is not only a collection of maps, but is a great source of names. Just pick a country and browse through the names of cities, towns, lakes, etc. For my barbarian I studied a map of Scotland and found two towns with names that I liked: Brechin and Stonehaven. Put ‘em together and you get Brechin Stonehaven — a mighty fine name for a rpg character. If you don’t have an atlas, you can find a good collection of world maps at siteatlas.com.

Novels are a great source for names.

Novels. It goes without saying that novels are a great source for names. If you love reading I’m sure you have copies of your favorite books near at hand or stored on your Nook or Kindle. I’ve always enjoyed the Shannara novels by Terry Brooks. When it came time to name our first child, my wife and I chose “Brin” for my daughter’s middle name (named after the  main character of The Wishsong of Shannara). I don’t necessarily advocate naming your children after characters in fantasy novels (Smeagol anyone?), but Brin worked for us and would easily do double-duty as a rpg character name.

Baby Name Books.  If you can get your hands on a baby name book I dare you to place it on the table the next time you host a party (put the book right next to the chips and dip). I guarantee your guests will pass the book around and have a blast reading through the lists of different names and their meanings. Why? Because people love names (especially their own names and those of their friends). Not only are baby name books entertaining, they’re a great resource for finding names for rpg characters. Take a look at babynames.com for inspiration.

Name Lists and Generators. The internet abounds with good websites that help gamers discover character names. If you’re looking for a list of unusual names check out the huge collection of fantasy name links at Fantasy Land. The site has tons of links to character name lists — everything from elves, to monsters, to Sesame Street characters (Elmo the Barbarian???).  If you’d prefer not to browse through lists of names for inspiration, you can randomly generate character names by using an online generator. My favorite is the Fantasy Name Generator. Simply select what type of name you’re looking for (short names, long names, consonant heavy names, mushy names, etc.) and click the button. The site is fun to play around with. Sometimes the results are zany, but you may just find the perfect name you were looking for.

Do you have any good sources for RPG character names? Post a comment and share your ideas with your fellow gamers!

Oblivion RPG Dice Giveaway Contest

Tiger, tiger burning bright.

All right! 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 overwhelming favorite was a set of orange Oblivion dice. These are gorgeous halloween-colored rpg dice that look like tiger stripes. We have super quick and easy entry rules for this month’s contest and you can earn a maximum of three entry points. The more points you have, the better so here goes:

  1. Subscribe to our Dark Elf Dice blog (Earns 1 Entry Point): You can earn one contest entry point by becoming a subscriber to the Dark Elf Dice blog (Game Night: The Blog). To subscribe, simply visit our blog’s main page by clicking the link here. 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. NOTE:  we will ABSOLUTELY NEVER use your email address for spam. Our blog subscribers are our friends, and friends don’t treat friends like garbage.
  2. Leave a comment for us on our Dark Elf Dice blog (Earns 1 Entry Point for current blog subscribers): Why should new blog subscribers have all the fun? If you’re a current blog subscriber we don’t want to exclude you from earning an entry point. If you’ve already subscribed to the blog (prior to 7/20/11) simply leave a comment on this giveaway blog post indicating that you want to enter the contest.
  3. Leave a comment for us on Facebook (Earns 1 Entry Point): Please visit our Facebook page and leave a comment indicating that you want to enter the contest. It really doesn’t matter what you say in your comment as long as we know that you want to enter the contest. Some examples: “I wanna win some Oblivion dice!”, “Please enter me in your contest!”, “I’d rather win a new car, but Oblivion dice are still nice!” etc.
  4. Share this contest with others via 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 and then leave a comment saying that you did so in the giveaway post.

The contest runs from Wednesday July 20 through Wednesday July 27, 2011, so spread the word and tell all your rpg friends about it. During this time we’ll collect each individual’s entry points (remember, you can earn a maximum of three) and the winner will be determined by random selection at Random.org. We’ll announce the winner on Thursday, July 28. Many will enter and one will win. Good luck everybody!

RPG Gamers and Stereotypes

Sorry this week’s blog post was a little late, but I recently returned from a family vacation to Chicago. If you’ve never been to the Windy City you should definitely consider going some day. I saw a lot on my trip (Museum of Science and Industry, Soldier Field, Sears Tower, etc.), but what really blew me away was how nice everyone was. Being a tourist in the big city (and a geographically challenged tourist at that) I spent a lot of time squinting at maps and bus schedules right there on the sidewalk. I can’t begin to tell you how many people stopped and asked if I needed any help — teenagers in Slipknot t-shirts, men in three piece suits, you name it — people from all walks of life. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the kindness of strangers.

So what does all of this have to do with role playing games and Game Night: The Blog? Please bear with me, because I have a salient point to make:

Stereotypes aren’t cool. When I first arrived in the big city I assumed that people were going to be pushy and rude. You know — the hustle and bustle of people going about their business at a pace of life I wasn’t accustomed to. Boy, was I mistaken! My stereotype of a Chicagoan was flat out wrong. People were kind and more than willing to help a stranger.

Chicago is my kind of town!

In a similar way, I feel that gamers are stereotyped by non-gamers from time to time. Gamers are “geeks,” “nerds,” “brainiacs,” “losers” and so forth.

Sometimes the stereotypes are worse.

When I was a sophomore in high school my buddies and I approached our school principal with a proposal to start a gaming club. The idea was that a group of us would stay after school and be given one of the empty classrooms to play Dungeons and Dragons in (heck, our school had a lot of organized clubs, so why not us?). Our idea was shot down immediately. Regrettably, our principal held the stereotype that gamers were social deviants. Never mind that we were good students and that Dungeon and Dragons would allow us to use our imaginations, we were social miscreants if we played role playing games.

Thankfully, none of us suffered the brunt of our principal’s moral panic and we proved him wrong. My “social deviant” buddies all grew up to be outstanding citizens (two own their own businesses, one is a marine biologist, one is a teacher, and another is an IT manager). Role playing games are a fun hobby enjoyed by all sorts of people from diverse backgrounds. A gamer is no more a “geek” or “nerd” than anyone who enjoys reading novels, watching movies, writing blogs, etc. As humans we tend to categorize and lump people into groups. Problem is that we’re often times wrong and our stereotypes create all sorts of misperceptions that may harm our relationships with one another. Like I said earlier, stereotypes aren’t cool. After my vacation I’ve learned to be careful in how I think about groups of people. So if you’re from Chicago I heartily salute you! You live in a beautiful city and have a lot to be proud of. Peace out!

5 Best Retro RPG Games You Should Play At Least Once in Your Life

The office game closet is overflowing and it’s Saturday night! Now is when the gang at Dark Elf Dice forgets the cares of the world and has some fun. Role playing games are escapism in its purest form, offering enjoyment through creative expression. If your group is like ours you have your favorites — D&D, Pathfinder, World of Darkness — the list goes on. There are many rpg games to choose from on today’s market, but if you’re looking for a little variety you might want to take a page from the past. Check out this list of five retro rpg games you should play at least once in your life:

Twilight 2000

Nothing like a nuclear war to ruin your day.

No, this rpg isn’t about a teenage girl and her brooding vampire boyfriend. Twilight 2000 is the masterful post apocalyptic rpg set during the aftermath of a nuclear war between NATO and the Soviet Union. A little bit Mad Max… a little bit Red Dawn… and a whole lot of fun. If you played this game when it first came out in 1984 it spoke to you in ways that Dungeons and Dragons and other popular role playing games couldn’t. D&D was based on purely imaginative fantasy. Twilight 2000 was based on the very real Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union and played upon the fears of nuclear armageddon. In the game you and your fellow role players take the parts of military personal stranded in Central Europe after the bombs. The world is in chaos. Will your military unit continue the war? Will you fight to get back home? Perhaps you’ll become marauding mercenaries and simply sell your services to the highest bidder. Whatever your choice survival will be a struggle.

Boot Hill

Git ready to draw, pardner!

Time to cowboy up! Boot Hill is a role playing game set in the old west. The game was TSR’s third release, co-created by Gary Gygax. While never coming close the overwhelming popularity of Dungeons and Dragons, Boot Hill is still a fun game that allows players to take the roles of gunslingers in a world populated with ranch hands, sheriffs, piano players and hangmen. The old west may be limited in scope and geography compared to the fantasy worlds that exist in D&D, but the setting still makes for great role playing. Will you and your posse save the stagecoach, or rob it? How about protecting the town from a gang of desperadoes? Or maybe you’d rather join the gang instead? Either way there’s going to be a gunfight, because both you and I know this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness
Palladium Books

No goofy cartoon characters here.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Who wants to play a role playing game based on a kids’ TV cartoon from the 1980’s? Well, before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were transformed into goofy cartoon characters who shouted kowabunga! whenever they weren’t stuffing pizza in their mouths, they were the heroes in their own indie black and white comic book. Palladium’s rpg was licensed before the Turtles franchise went ballistic. This makes the game unlike others whose sole purpose is to cash in on a hot commercial property. The TMNT and Other Strangeness rulebook features original art and illustrations by Eastman and Laird (the Turtles’ creators) and allows PCs to play any number of mutated animals who adventure in our modern world. That’s just the beginning though. Later supplements to the game deal with everything from space, time and trans-dimensional travel as well as post-apocalyptic survival in a devastated earth. The themes are mature and have nothing to do with the childish cartoon Turtles plastered on lunch boxes and backpacks.

Heroes Unlimited
Palladium Books

With great power comes great responsibility...

Seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t like superheroes? Spider-Man and Batman are two of Hollywood’s biggest movie franchises ever and have grossed so much money that if all the dollar bills were stacked one on top of the other, even the Hulk would struggle to lift the huge pile above his head. Heroes Unlimited taps into our love for comics. The game is a classic rpg where superheroes fight supervillains and incorporates just about any power and skill you can imagine. Do you want to role play a super-strong alien with psionic powers? No problem! How about an ex-Navy seal with projectile wrist blasters and the ability to phase through solid objects? Got you covered. There’ve been other superhero rpg games released on the market, but Heroes Unlimited stands the test of time due to its character creation and experience point system. Characters can choose between a myriad of powers and skills, but they still remain vulnerable and have to think their way through situations — not simply smash and hack. The game is also compatible with TMNT and Other Strangeness as well as other Palladium products to add even more possibilities to the role playing experience.

Top Secret

Shhh! Don't tell. It's a secret...

Top Secret allows PCs to play the role of secret agents in exciting espionage stories. The game mechanics differ from Dungeons and Dragons and other d20 properties in that all character attributes, combat, etc. is determined by d10 rpg dice and percentile rolls. Top Secret is heavily inspired by James Bond and other spy thrillers. Like Bond, characters have access to special weapons, gadgets and gizmos to assist in their undercover activities (make sure to equip yourself with the .22 caliber ball point pen — you never know when it will come in handy!). The game is a lot of fun to play and GM. Missions range from a commando raid on an enemy stronghold, the rescue of a highjacked cruise ship, the undercover investigation of events at a resort/casino and much, much more. Just make sure not to blow your cover and have your martinis shaken, not stirred.

What other retro rpg games should have made the list? What games have you played? Share your thoughts in the comments section to inspire your fellow gamers. Also, if you like this article please rate it and share the love by Tweeting, Digging, StumbleUponing it, etc.