Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Economics of Dice

Lately, I’ve run into an interesting phenomenon, due to the peculiarities of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars line.  As noted previously, the system requires a set of specialized dice suitable only for the Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion games.  (When Force and Destiny releases next summer, that will make three game lines, even though they’re all generally playable as one system.)  The dice are available in packs of fourteen for about $15 per set, retail, or $5 for the phone app.  By my reckoning, a player generally needs two sets to be able to assemble the requisite dice pools.

Having gamed as extensively as I have, I’ve amassed a sizable collection of dice over the years.  This includes the old gem dice that I ordered through the mail for TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game, the decidedly sharp-edged D20 that came un-inked as was the fashion, and the various dice sets that I pick up at the different conventions.  I think nothing of acquiring a new set of dice when the whim strikes, and putting out some scratch for several sets of Fantasy Flight dice was just a side step in my normal habits.

It’s a safe bet to declare that I have over a thousand dice.  And most people I know acquire dice similarly.  Some have very specific requirements for new dice, making them match the products they’re using or specific ideas they have about a game in question.  This was much of the reasoning for picking up Q Workshop dice.  If you’re running Rise of the Runelords, get the officially licensed and properly thematic Runelords dice.  (I haven’t lapsed into this mode, personally, as it could get rather expensive to lay hands on the dice for each individual Adventure Path.  I did buy the Carrion Crown dice, however, but that path has stretched out over the course of three years.)  Similarly, I’ve seen brightly colored dice for superhero games, dark and moody D10’s for White Wolf games, weird green and black dice for Cthulhu and so on.

So, in some ways, it’s kind of funny to hear people whine about having to buy different dice for EotE.  And yet, it’s the common refrain for people who want an excuse to avoid the game anyway.  They can’t be bothered to pick up a set of dice for a game, even though the rule books themselves are factors higher in price.  If you’re willing to put out $250+ for the rule books, what’s $30 for a set of dice?  (This works on standard retail pricing and my contention that two sets are necessary for play.)

Part of it falls back to the specialized nature of the dice.  Outside of the core product, there isn’t much utility for the D6’s, D8’s and D12’s that make up the dice packs.  (And if you’re integrating the X-Wing Miniatures Game, the new D8’s that come with that.)  Logically, you could simply use the charts in the main book and convert your extant dice to the purpose of the new game.  And while this is possible, it’s not a wholly ideal solution, as the chart consultation is a headache and slows down the otherwise fast and loose aspects of using the new dice in the first place.

This argument doesn’t get very far with me, however, given my years of White Wolf and WEG’s D6 Star Wars.  The Storyteller System often required dice pools of a dozen D10’s (or more, if you were playing Exalted), and it wasn’t unheard of to need 20 D6’s for some games of Star Wars.  (There’s also the bizarre footnote of R. Tal’s Dragonball Z game, which technically required several thousand D6’s for a proper Saiyan battle, but there were a number of ways to get around rolling and tallying literal buckets-full of dice.)  And while it was technically true that you could re-purpose your Storyteller dice into an average D&D session, it was pretty unlikely.  If you were playing a game that wasn’t using a standard loadout for dice, you needed to buy dice specifically for the game, no matter what.  I have known people that keep specific dice for specific campaigns, to take it one step farther.

Over the years, my dice have ended up carefully segregated.  My Storyteller dice congregate in one specific bag, where I have another that is devoted to the plethora of D6’s I have amassed over the years.  There’s a bag devoted to D&D/Pathfinder dice of different sorts (mainly according to the specific colored sets), and so on.  My EotE dice have their own dedicated dice canister, as just another set of dice for a specific game.

What I found most interesting in the most recent whinge about having to buy new dice for a new game was that the person that was making the noise was one that didn’t have a lot of room to complain about spending too much on the hobby.  He is well known in the local area for his gaming excesses, between premium hotel rooms at the larger cons and booze to the level that it would cover a car payment.  He’s fully able to drop $4,000 on something like Gen Con, as it’s what he saves up for over the course of the year.  Another $15 for dice is hardly going to break the bank entirely.

And sure…  we all remember being 15 years old, when something like a core rulebook was something that was worked toward and greatly anticipated.  Back in those days, dice were something rare and particular, but that was just part of the overall value and novelty of the hobby at that age.  After a while, a groove is worn in, and there’s no longer any question as to the expense of the hobby.  It’s an expected truth, and for a lot of people, that means that they will concentrate on one game or aspect of the hobby to the careful exclusion of everything else.  Most people have a solid D&D or Pathfinder collection, where others pick up the necessary White Wolf offerings that they need to play.

For me, it means that I’m not going to spend a lot of money on cards or miniatures, since that would cripple my ability to maintain my library.  But then, I’m weird that way.

A Related Digression on Gamer Food

So, why did I spend so much time talking at length about Gamer Food?  Am I really that needlessly pedantic when it comes of the more tangential aspects of gaming?  Am I truly that concerned about the nutritional profiles of other gamers out on the web?  Is this all a lead in to some fascinatingly complex rules system that uses an ingredient label as a means to generate characters or adventures?

No, on all accounts.  Although, that last one could be interesting, in a sort of Rolemaster kind of way.

The reason I chose to devote an entry to the whys and wherefores of gamer food is because I’ve been burned pretty badly by gamer food over the years.  Too many times have I woken up the next day feeling immeasurably sick from the various excesses of the previous night.  More often than I can readily bring to mind, I have vowed never to make some specific mistake, only to find myself back in the throes of regret from falling back to the same poor food decisions at the gaming table.  Combined with the often late hours of gaming that have solidified as my personal preference, the physical toll can be notable.

Some of my earliest gaming memories are tainted by a condition I would term a ‘salsa hangover.’  Back in the day, I would find myself ill and lethargic, given to a mild headache through having binged solely on chips and salsa over the course of an eight to twelve hour gaming session.  I attribute it to the increased salt uptake from the chips, but I’ve never precisely pinned down the precise reason as to why I felt so miserable at the time.

Another time, there was the singular happening that we term ‘The Bismark Incident.’  (And the temptation stands for me to leave that notation unresolved and move on.)  This refers to a D&D game that I hosted one time in high school, where I had planned out a fairly lengthy game session and my mother had taken it upon herself to provide food.  For whatever reason, she had decided that pastries were a fine idea.  Which would have been perfectly fine, in moderation.

Let it never be said that my mother prefers moderation.  It’s much less amusing.

Imagine, if you will, the size of a standard bakery birthday cake.  This is what is referred to as a ‘half-sheet’, being about 12″ by 16″ in size.  This sort of cake will often serve 30 to 40 people.  With this in mind, a full sheet cake is 24″ by 16″ in size, with the accordant serving capability.

When my mother showed up, she was bearing a full-sheet cake box, packed to the edges with assorted flavors of filled bismarks.  (I can definitively say that the box was packed, since she also was carrying a normal bakery sack that had to be stapled shut, since it also was pushing the breaking point.)  Where I grew up, a bismark was the term for a filled yeast donut, with lemon, raspberry or blueberry filling.  In other parts of the world, they’re called jelly donuts, jambusters or berliners.  They’re not too far removed from the Polish Pączkis that show up before Lent in some area.

So, they’re not light and tiny things.

I’m not entirely sure what possessed her to buy the entire day’s supply of bismarks for our group, but I have the feeling that they offered her some insane deal to avoid having to rebox them as ‘day-old’ donuts.  Keep in mind, also, that there were only four of us, perhaps five.  There was no sane or logical way for the group of us to eat this many calories in a way that would be safe or non-detrimental.

But we tried, damn it.

It got to the point where someone around the table would look up blearily, deeply and irreversibly ensconced in a sick, sugar-fueled haze, reach for a bismark and momentarily try to think better of it.  Then they would offer one to the person sitting next to them.  That person would automatically look it, refuse the idea and after the space of a couple of seconds, resign themselves to their fate and accept.  At one point in the early morning hours, one of our number got up and wandered outside, availing themselves of a convenient bush to hide what was likely a lemon-scented pile of vomit.  (This draws unfortunate comparisons to another time, when one of my groups chose to drink heavily and game.  I had not known it was possible to throw up into a Pringles container without making a mess.  The person in question only discovered the reality of this the next morning, when he picked it up and found that the can of chips was mysteriously ‘heavier’ than it logically should have been.)

More contemporaneously, there were the bizarre incidents that put me in mind of thinking about gamer food in the first place.  Both of them relate specifically my newly minted Edge of the Empire game, as it’s a freshly put together group that still lacks coherent tastes.  (Actually, it would be three, if I included the strange instance of the Sweet Onion Salsa that showed up.  That’s not strange, in and of itself, but I can safely say that it isn’t my favorite of the particular brand.  What was strange was the characterization that one player gave it, namely that it tasted like ‘jalapenos and grape juice’ to his palate.  That was enough to put me off further sampling.)  And because the group hasn’t decided on a select taste profile that can mostly be agreed upon, there’s some bounce to the efforts.

The first incident was from a pizza order, where the website had offered a new option for toppings.  In particular, it had a selection for ‘breaded chicken’, which seemed safe enough from the surface impression.  I instantly assumed some sort of popcorn chicken, adding a new crunch to the other toppings.  I wasn’t completely sold, but another player seemed game enough for it.

The reality was something like generic frozen chicken nuggets, the kind you would expect to appeal to a pack of feral eight year olds.  For some reason, they were sliced in half, more or less diagonally, and inexplicably hidden underneath the pepperoni.  And the consistency suggested that they were thrown on the pizza frozen, with the expectation that the regular bake time would be enough to thaw them out.

It wasn’t a good choice on anyone’s part.  Although, to be fair, it was a good story to tell afterwards.

So, stinging from the hell of ‘chicken nugget pizza’ and all that entails, our host opted for a strange quiche experiment the next week.  Which wasn’t bad, all told, save for the weird details that crowded in around the edges.  Lacking an interest in actually making a pie crust, that role was taken on by flour tortillas.  And in the process of baking, the exposed edges of the tortillas turned into a vaguely ceramic material that was surprisingly brittle and dangerous in the aftermath.  This would have garnered more commentary over the course of the evening, had we not realized that it was a minor sort of affliction when compared to the cheese that would not melt.

All right, so I need you to visualize something for a moment.  Imagine, if you will, a quiche.  All of the expected kinds of ingredients; creme, eggs, Parmesan cheese, spinach, etc.  A normal, square block of foodstuff, even with the shards of tortilla hazard on one edge.  But as you’re eating it, you realize that it’s pretty much holding together some form of hash browns, a shredded potato matrix of a sort.

Except that’s not potato.

If had to testify to the contents of the quiche, without further discussion, I would have sworn that it was a potato and spinach concoction.  As far as I was concerned, for the purposes of that meal, it was potato that held the whole mixture together, and not Swiss Cheese, as was later claimed.  It had no tensile properties, no particular flavor, and there was nothing to indicate that it might ever melt.  And this was after going through the oven and a subsequent turn in the microwave, just to bring it back up to my threshold of temperature.

That said, it wasn’t a bad meal.  It was just weird as hell.

So that’s my story.  That’s the sequence of events that brought about deeper thinking about gamer food, for good or for ill.  I happen to think that there’s a lot that could be analyzed with the normal gamer diet (not counting the permutations of a video game player’s natural tendencies), and more than anything, I’ve merely scratched the surface for the time being.  I only know my own personal experiences, and I can’t say that they’ve given me a great outlook.