Tag Archives: rpg games

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.

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.

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.

Using Props to Jazz Up Your Role Playing Game

Last month for my birthday my wife surprised me with tickets to a play at our local community playhouse. The theater has always fascinated me and I have the greatest respect and admiration for actors and actresses as they move about the stage reciting their lines with ease. Alas poor Yorick, I know me well and I know I’ll never have the chops to make it on the stage (me acting? it’s painful just to think about), but I believe I could be a decent director. A director’s purpose is to see the big picture and control the creative aspects of the play — everything from the players blocking, to lighting, to set design, etc. In many ways, a director envisions and creates the world the players act in — just like a Dungeon Master or Game Master. And like a good director, a DM needs to bring his world to life and create a vibrant environment his gamers can play in. There are many ways to accomplish this, but for the purpose of this post we’re going to examine the use of props and how they can be used to jazz up a role playing campaign.

Release your inner Batman with a towel cape

When you were a kid, did you ever play “cops and robbers” or “army” with your neighborhood friends? If so, you were role playing — and you didn’t even need to use funny rpg dice or character sheets! My favorite game was Batman. Sometimes my kid sister was Robin (but more often or not it was Scuppers — the family dog). The game was sweet, but what made the game even sweeter was when my mother pinned a bath towel around my neck for a cape. It didn’t matter if the towel was ratty, or pink, or had a floral design printed across it, because for that brief moment in time the towel was a cape. I was given the simplest of props and my imagination did the rest…

The point is, your props don’t have to be elaborate. It would be super cool if everyone at the table had a theatrical costume to wear (can you imagine playing the Star Wars rpg and everyone had Jedi robes or Storm Trooper armor? Brilliant!), but a Hollywood wardrobe just isn’t practical (or affordable) for game night. Just presenting your players with a simple prop is enough to nudge their imaginations and will do the trick nicely. For example, in a few weeks I’ll be running a Serenity rpg campaign (science fiction role playing set 500 years in the future). The PC’s are all crew members of the Hard Days Knight (a dilapidated freighter ship) and they will be presented with the following:

  1. Dog tags they can wear around their necks, personalized with the ship’s name (this is probably the most elaborate of the props, and it set me back $30 or so on eBay, but I thought it cool enough to warrant the expense). The dog tags help to reinforce the fact that the PC’s are all members of the same crew. Like the towel I wore as a kid, the tags will give the players’ imaginations something to chew on and make the world they explore more real.
  2. Nothing like cold, hard cash to pique the imagination...

    Colorful currency used to purchase goods, weapons, etc. I thought about simply having the PC’s keep track of money on their character sheets like I do in most rpgs, but the thought of using printed bills as a prop just seemed more natural in this particular game. The only thing harder than making a buck in Serenity is keeping a buck, and having printed script the players can fold and keep in their pockets will help everyone visualize the hardscrabble universe they’re gaming in. I could have designed my own bills, but luckily there’s a strong Serenity fan base and gamers more talented than I have created beautiful money to be shared and printed with a color printer. Check out the gorgeous work showcased on the CS|RPG fan-based site as an example.

  3. Maps, licenses, ship’s documents, etc. Again, like any good prop, maps, licenses and papers for the Hard Days Knight will give the PCs something tangible to hold onto and present to authorities at the appropriate time. The PC’s are adventuring in a universe hamstrung by government bureaucracy. Nothing like paperwork to help illustrate that “The Man” has his eyes on you at all times. Think IRS, but think bigger.

These are just a few personal examples of props that I’ll be using for a specific game. I’ve known DMs to use costume jewelry, old trunks, silk scarves and all sorts of odds and ends  for Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Attics, basements and rummage sales are great sources for props. Remember, items don’t have to be elaborate to jazz up a role playing game and it goes without saying to forget about real weapons — knives, swords, etc . Keep it simple (and safe) to inspire your PC’s imaginations. Peace out and keep gaming!

Have you ever used props to jazz up a role playing game? What have you used? Share your ideas 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.