Wednesday, July 16, 2014

GM Wednesday! - How Much Is Too Much?

No, this isn't a post about character backgrounds or GM room descriptions. This is about stuff in general, the stuff we accumulate in our hobby, the ten-pound dice buckets,  and the miniatures collections that fill our basements.

On the one hand, stuff keeps rpg companies in business. Like collectible card games, they need to toss out products as much as possible, and the easier those products are to manufacture, the better. So we see a lot of pre-painted minis randomized in boxes, custom dice, card add-ons, and etc. And while I agree that these often do enhance your game, one day you wake up and you see something like this.

And you realize you haven't seen the cat in a month...

I recently watched a documentary called Tiny House on Netflix. It's about people who buy some land and build a very small house, very inexpensively, to live in. The entire footprint of the building could fit in one of Gygax's ten foot by ten foot rooms. It's a new movement in America and I'm thinking this is what I might retire into.

You may think the idea is a little nuts but there was one message that stuck with me from this show. You see, living in a tiny house forces you to think "What do I actually need?" I looked around at my stuff, all of my stuff, and realized that I had accumulated some pretty useless junk. I'm not a hoarder by any stretch of the word, but I did have things just for the sake of having them and all they accomplished was to take up space.

In this article, collection is used as a bad word and is italicized. Collection implies "having for having's sake" and can easily become uncontrollable. Don't wind up like the guy whose Star Wars collection takes up every room of his apartment, forcing he and his wife and children to live solely in the living room. Don't be that guy.


Let's get back to the ten-pound dice bucket. How many dice do you actually need to play an rpg? I get that dice pool systems require a lot of d6s or d10s, but I have seen people change out through 15 different d20's in their bag because the last one "rolled unlucky".

I swore that I wouldn't succumb to dice hoarding, but you know what? I did. Game Science dice. They are hard to find now because the man who made them retired, but essentially they were dice that retained the sharp edges as opposed to going through a rock tumbler to smooth them out. They rolled more randomly than Chessex dice in my experience but they came in some ugly colors. When I found out they were being discontinued, I bought more. I collected them. Now I have about fifteen sets of them and I don't even use them anymore. It's time I got rid of these.

Now I use Jumbo Dice. They don't come in all of the cool colors that Chessex dice do, but I like them for a few of reasons.
  1. When you roll, that heft in your hand just feels good...powerful. Mwahahaha.
  2. They are so big that the manufacturing of them allows the edges to be rounded in the casting, not a random tumbler. Thus they roll random as opposed to favoring certain numbers. At least that is my theory and I haven't noticed anything to the contrary.
  3. They are easy to read for both me and my players (I roll all my GM rolls in the open instead of behind a screen).
I bought three sets, two white and one black. I don't carry all three sets with me, I just needed it to build my optimal set which consists of 2d20, 2d12, 3d10, 3d8, 3d6, 3d4. Since my black dice are "the special dice", you know like a Wild Die or a Luck Die or just in case I am rolling two attacks but need to know which is the primary and which is the secondary, I keep the d20, d12, 1d10 (the "ones" die), d8, d6, and d4. The rest is filled out with the white dice. The two other d10's in white are percentile. Here's my setup...

That covers a lot of different games, except those that require specialized dice. I may have to reroll d6s and d10s in dice pool games but I don't play them very often. I have never found myself wanting more dice, only better looking colors. I think I'll dye my white ones some day.

Miniatures & Maps

So if you have seen some of my previous posts, you'll notice that I love to paint minis. However, looking at my roommate's collection of minis and hearing him ask me if I wanted to paint them all for him was ...let's just say off-putting. I vowed that I would never collect armies of minis. I would only buy and paint those I would use as my own characters (or do the occasional paint job for a friend). I do occasionally buy a monster or two if they are really cool and look fun to paint, but those are rare and I never buy more than one. However, I will probably sell these off soon. The previous sentences are sounding like excuses to collect.

I did buy the Pathfinder Bestiary Boxes and NPC box, however. I did it because they are well made, easily stored, I play a lot of Pathfinder at the moment, and because I can use a variety of the monsters in other games or settings if I want. There's also an added benefit that my girlfriend pointed out while playing: when the heroes are minis and the bad guys are figure flats, it's very easy to tell who the enemy is at a glance, even at the end of the table.

Minis do enhance the game play to some respect. It makes the combat more visual, and in some games this level of tactical combat is necessary because the rules are built around it. However, back in the old days of AD&D, we didn't have maps or minis. We had narrative combat. The action was all in our heads and that was cool. There was a trade off when minis became standard issue in rpgs, tactical combat replaced cinematic combat. Suddenly we were "moving behind the couch to get that +2 cover bonus" instead of "diving behind the couch while emptying both clips at the Specter Hit Squad". Both are valuable ways to play in their own right, but you should ask yourself what style do you want in a game, and what are your players able to handle. I have met tactical players that can't seem to think outside of the box when it comes to narrative combat.

Well if you feel destined to play with minis, here's a few things to keep in mind...
  1. You need representative minis. This has the danger of become a collection and taking over your living space as well as your finances and free time. However there are cheats, such as figure flats, or using generic tokens (which I will cover how to DIY in Free Stuff Friday!).
  2. You also need maps. Again, if you are buying pretty maps like Paizo's Game Mastery Flip Maps, this can easily become another collection. They claim they put out a new one every month. Honestly all you really need is a set of wet-erase markers and either the Basic Game Mastery Flip Map (my personal choice) or a Vinyl Battlemat. And check out D&D's Map Fu for some hints on how to bring some life to your hand drawn maps.
You could go Digital with your maps. There is a plethora of software out for tablets and computers that mimic the tactical combat necessities. I choose not to use them for some obvious reasons...
  1. The map choices are limited unless you make your own, and many times it just faster to hand draw something than to art it out in the software.
  2. To use the software, first you must have a PC or a tablet which is very expensive when compared to just shilling out $12 for the Basic Flip Mat. Also the flip mat is much lighter in my bag. 
  3. 9/10 you have to also purchase the software.
  4. Tablets aren't very big so it will have to be passed around the table. Not everyone will see the action at once. I suppose you could build a rig and hook it up to a projector and ...STOP! Nononono! More technology is not the answer. Put down the power tools.
Game On!

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