Wonder Woman Transmog

I loved Wonder Woman so much that I decided to try my hand at putting together a Diana-themed transmog. Here’s what my protection paladin is sporting now:

It may not be perfect, but I’m pretty happy with the results.

Here’s a link to the set, if anyone’s curious about the pieces. Anybody got any better suggestions? I’d love to see someone else’s take on it!

(And, of course, she has a horse.)

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Roman Dice Tower

People have been playing games with dice for a very long time, and for as longs as we’ve been playing with dice we’ve been worrying about how to make sure we (and everybody else we’re playing with) get a fair throw. One solution to this problem is the dice tower, a box you can toss your dice into and have them rattle out the bottom. Dice towers are nothing new, either. Here’s a Roman version.

Dice tower, photograph by Rheinisches Landesmuseum via Wikimedia (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn; 4th c. CE; copper alloy)

This tower was found on a villa in Germany, near the Rhine River. Dice tossed in the top cascaded through a series of baffles to randomize them and then down a series of steps a the bottom. On their way out, they would have knocked and rung thee little bells (only one of which survives).

The Latin text on the step face reads: “The Picts are defeated. The enemy is destroyed. Play in peace.” This text helps date the tower to the fourth century, when the Picts first emerged as a power on the Roman frontier in Scotland. The Rhine was an important trade route that connected across the North Sea to Britain, so it is no surprise that people in the German provinces might want to celebrate a victory over the Picts with a game of dice.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Artifacts and Transmogrification: Arcane Mage and Elemental Shaman

When I last shared some of my transmogrifications, I talked about how I transmogged over my guardian druid’s fist weapons and adapted my holy priest’s look to suit his new staff. Sometimes, though, you just get lucky. With my arcane mage and my elemental shaman, the artifact just happened to fit nicely with their existing look.

Here’s the shaman. I was going for a nature-y, raindrops-on-leaves look, with a brown and green base accented with blue gems. The artifact fist weapon and shield go nicely, each having a big shimmering blue center.

170223shaman170223shaman2My mage has been rocking a purple set with turquoise accents for a while now and the purple crystals in the arcane staff go beautifully with it.

170223mage170223magesideSometimes, things just work out.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Ancient d20s

If you’re a role-playing gamer, you probably recognize the profile of a twenty-sided die, or d20, right away: the collection of triangles making up a bumpy sphere by which we invoke the capricious god of random numbers. This shape (technically known as an “icosahedron”) has been in use a lot longer than Dungeons & Dragons has been around. Here’s an example from Roman-period Egypt which has the names of Egyptian gods marked on its faces in demotic, an Egyptian script.

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Dakhleh die showing “Isis” face via Martina Minas-Nerpel, “ A Demotic Inscribed Icosahedron from Dakhleh Oasis,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 93 (2007), 137-48 (Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt, currently Valley Museum, Kharga, Egypt; 1st c. CE; limestone)

Here’s another example from Egypt. This one has Greek letters on each of its faces.

Icosahedron via Metropolitan Museum of Art (Egypt, currently Metropolitan Museum; 2nd c. BCE - 4th c. CE; serpentine)
Icosahedron via Metropolitan Museum of Art (Egypt, currently Metropolitan Museum; 2nd c. BCE – 4th c. CE; serpentine)

It’s possible that these dice were used for some kind of game, but more likely they were used for divination. The die with the names of gods may have been used to determine which god a person should pray to for help. The Greek letters probably corresponded to a list of pre-written oracular responses: ask your question, roll the die, and consult the table for the answer, sort of like the ancient version of a magic 8-ball.

Some might say the uses of the twenty-sided die haven’t changed much in a couple thousand years.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Artifacts and Transmogrification: Guardian Druid and Holy Priest

Legion, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, has a new feature: artifacts. Instead of replacing your weapons with more powerful weapons as you level up, you get an artifact weapon that increases in power as you play. Artifacts put a new wrinkle in the transmogrification game.

(Quick primer for those of you not playing World of Warcraft: as you play the game, your character acquires new gear—weapons and armor—which make your character more effective. They also appear on your character’s model in the game. Transmogrification is a system that lets you change the appearance of your character’s gear so you can make your character look how you want.)

The artifacts all have brand-new, unique models and its clear that a lot of time and design effort went into them. In some cases, the results are beautiful. In other cases, not so much. Some are real works of art, but they may not fit your character’s aesthetic. I find I react very differently to artifacts on different characters.

My guardian druid, for example, doesn’t like her new fist weapons, not one little bit. On the left below is what her gear looks like in its natural state. Her artifacts are now transmogrified to a pair of colorful, jewel-like weapons and I’ve built the rest of her set around their colors.

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My holy priest, on the other hand, loves his new staff. His previous set, on the left, was based on dusty reds and bronzes. With his new artifact staff on the right, he’s totally getting his blue on.

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I’ve got lots more characters in different specs with different styles still to level up and get transmogged. I’ll drop some more pictures when I get there. Are you using the artifacts? Transmogging over them? Transmogging in response to them? Share your thoughts.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Why Wouldn’t Playing Games Get You a Job?

This wall ad by the Finnish game house Remedy deserves wider circulation:

NYT Jussi Pullinen Remedy Wall Ad

“Mom always said that playing games won’t get you a job. From Espoo with love since 1995. Thank you Remedy crew, friends, families, Finnish dev community, fans and gamers around the world. This one is for you.”

Remedy (of the Max Payne and Alan Wake fame) designed this ad to celebrate their April 05, 2016, launch of a new game, Quantum Break, reportedly the most expensive entertainment production ever made in Finland.

The ad’s irony at one’s own expense sounds very Finnish to me. In Finland, it’s a little embarrassing to be successful or rich, and Finns don’t tend to draw attention to their achievements. At the same time, as a Finn, it’s very satisfying to see Finnish game companies grow up into mature businesses with large, world-wide audiences.

It’s also high time for people to recognize that storytelling is an integral part of human nature and that games are just as viable a medium for telling stories as are myths, songs, novels, image-based art, and the like.

Image by Jussi Pullinen via Nyt.

Disclosure: A friend of mine works at Remedy, but this post is in no way compensated or even requested by them.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Gamer Girls ca. 330 BCE

Image: via Esther MacCallum Stewart
Two girls playing knuckleones via Esther MacCallum Stewart

Not that this should come as any surprise to anyone, but girls have been gamers for over 2,000 years.

Here’s a statuette of two girls playing knucklebones from ca. 330 BCE. In the ancient Mediterranean, the heel bones of sheep (commonly, though inaccurately, called “knucklebones” in English) were used for playing a variety of games, as they still are in many parts of the world today. They could be rolled like dice or gathered up in games similar to jacks, which is what these two appear to be doing.

Knucklebones crossed the whole spectrum of ancient society. Men and women, girls and boys all played. The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes mentions them as the toys of poor children (The Wasps 295) while Suetonius quotes a letter by the Roman emperor Augustus enthusiastically recounting his gaming exploits (The Deified Augustus 71). It is hard to think of a pastime that is so widely shared today.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

The “Sheer Dumb Luck” Table

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Sometimes the tools you use the most are the simplest ones. This is one of the simplest things in my arsenal when I run a role-playing game, but I use it all the time.

Your players will often ask you questions that you didn’t think of ahead of time. Is the guard wearing gloves? Are there any pine cones lying around? Does this planet have any beryllium deposits near the surface?

Of course, if it matters to the adventure whether or not the guard is wearing gloves, then you have your answer and you go with it, but often either yes or no will do, you just have to pick one. It can be exhausting to always be having to decide, so you can just flip a coin, but not everything in the world is a fifty-fifty chance. If you’ve already established that it’s a cold night, the chances that the guard is wearing gloves are pretty high.

That’s where the table comes in, which, in honor of my favorite Harry Potter character, I have dubbed: The “Sheer Dumb Luck” table.

150922luck

Simply pick the descriptor on the list that sounds right for whatever your players asked and roll 3d6. Is the guard wearing gloves? Very likely. Are there any pine cones? Somewhat likely. Any beryllium? Virtually impossible. If you roll equal to or under the number given, the answer is yes. If higher, no.

  • 4–Virtually impossible
  • 6–Very unlikely
  • 8–Unlikely
  • 10–Fifty/fifty
  • 11–Somewhat likely
  • 12–Likely
  • 14–Very likely
  • 15–Virtually certain

And the best thing about this table: sometimes, once you’ve rolled, you realize that the opposite answer is actually better. One way or another, you’ve answered the question and the adventure can keep rolling.

Like everything, it’s a tool, not a rule. Not everyone likes to leave as much up to chance in an adventure as I do. Use it if it helps, ignore it if it doesn’t.

Images: Books and dice by Erik Jensen; “Five points…” via rosereturns.tumblr.com

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Garrisons: Solving the Wrong Problem

Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into solving a problem, only to realize that you were coming at the problem from the wrong angle and your solution doesn’t actually fix anything, or even just makes things worse. (Or at least I do. I do this all the time.) It’s what I think of as “solving the wrong problem.” Blizzard Entertainment, creators of World of Warcraft, has been solving the wrong problem in the latest expansion, and garrisons are the manifestation of that mistake.

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The Aliance garrison, where I’ve spent entirely too much of my gaming time.

It’s not that there aren’t problems to be solved. WoW‘s player base is getting older and a lot of us have less time to play, can’t sit down and play in long sessions like we used to, and aren’t as interested in investing lots of time and effort into chasing big goals, but we still want to play and enjoy the game. Garrisons were, in my opinion, a good-faith effort at solving this problem, but they came at it from the wrong direction.

This weekend is Blizzcon, Blizzard’s big event when they talk about what’s coming for their games and we’re going to hear all about the next expansion for WoW. I hope we hear something that addresses what garrisons got wrong.

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The Rumor Table

150910rpgSo, you’re game-mastering a tabletop role-playing game and your player characters decide to spread out around town and see if they can pick up any useful information about their current quest. How do you handle it?

There are lots of things you can do. If there’s some info you need to dump on them, now’s the time to hand it over. Or if you want them to just head out into the wilderness and figure it out as they go, you tell them that no one knows anything. You can always just make stuff up off the top of your head. Like with most GMing tasks, as long as your players have a good time, there’s no wrong way to do it. Here’s a tool that might make your job a little easier, though: the rumor table.

When I’m planning an adventure and I know that my players are going to have a chance to snoop around and ask questions, I like to prepare a rumor table for what they might find out. The table is a mix of true and false information that is more or less helpful. I plan it for a roll of 2d6 (you can make it bigger or smaller depending on your needs, but I find a 2d6 table covers most cases). For the numbers 2-12, come up with the following tidbits of information:

  • 2 – False, and potentially disastrous if the player characters believe it
  • 3 & 4 – False
  • 5 & 6 – False but with a grain of truth, such as true information that has been garbled or misinterpreted
  • 7 – Equal parts true and false
  • 8 & 9 – True
  • 10 & 11 – True and probably helpful to the characters at the moment
  • 12 – True and very important

Suppose your campaign is The Lord of the Rings and your characters are meeting for the first time at the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. (I mean, imagine a world in which The Lord of the Rings isn’t a famous novel and movie trilogy that your players already know but is your campaign that you wrote and they are playing through for the first time.)

Here’s what your table might look like:

  • 2 – Saruman is secretly on the side of good
  • 3 – Elves from Lothlorien have been attacking outlying villages on the borders of Rohan
  • 4 – Moria is abandoned and free of orcs
  • 5 – Smeagol has been sighted in Mirkwood heading east towards Dale
  • 6 – Rohan pays a tribute of horses to Sauron for the ringwraiths to ride
  • 7 – Denethor of Gondor has a palantir but he refuses to look into it
  • 8 – The Dunedain rangers were searching for Smeagol not long ago
  • 9 – Saruman has ordered the destruction of Fangorn forest
  • 10 – Wargs have been spotted in great numbers in the wildlands south of Rivendell
  • 11 – Theoden king of Rohan has become weak and listless and lets his advisers make most decisions
  • 12 – A balrog lurks in the depths of Moria

There are some advantages to using a rumor table. For one thing, it takes some of the pressure off you to come up with the perfect responses in the moment. Like mapping a dungeon ahead of time, it lets you prepare in advance. It’s also a convenient way of rewarding your players for good role-playing or taking the characters’ advantages into account. If the PC has a charisma bonus and the player does a good job role-playing the asking around, you don’t have to puzzle out just how much better information they should get; it’s easy to just give them a +2 on the rumor roll.

Another good thing about using the rumor table, if your players know that you have one, is it short-circuits the “it must be important or the GM wouldn’t have told us” metagaming. Your players have to think carefully and evaluate the information they get, just like their characters would have to do.

Now, of course, it’s a tool, not a rule. Use it with discretion. If the character your PCs happen to be talking to wouldn’t know (or wouldn’t say) the answer you roll, don’t use it. Either go up or down the table or make up something different. If there are things that your characters really need to know at a given point in the adventure, then that’s what you give them. (You can always roll the dice anyway, so they don’t know when they’re getting plot-critical stuff.)

Happy rumor-mongering!

Image by Erik Jensen

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.