Tag Archives: D&D

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.

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).

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 🙂

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!