Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I finally managed to obtain some old school D20s -- numbered 0-9 twice -- manufactured by Chessex, so they're well made and unlikely to wear down the way my first set of polyhedrals dice did. Now some might rightly wonder why I wanted to obtain these dice in the first place. After all, dice technology has come along way since the days of the dice illustrated to the left. Why would I want to go back to the old ways, when a D20 had to pull triple duty? It's a somewhat complicated question and answering it hits upon a number of points about my own approach to old school gaming.
First, let me say that, despiten appearances, I don't want to go back to the old days. Not really. I still have the first dice I ever owned and could use them if I wanted to. Better yet, I could buy new examples of these same dice, if I really wanted to. I don't, because those old dice were, frankly, terrible. I have absolutely no desire to use them, particularly if I'm able to obtain, as I was, more modern dice that replicate the experience of using the older dice.
But why replicate the experience at all? There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is nostalgia, pure and simple. I'm not usually given to huge bouts of nostalgia. In the case of polyhedral dice, though, I will confess to missing those early days when I first encountered these strange random number generators and was frankly baffled by how to use the D20 at all. As with so much of my early D&D education, I think it was my friend Mike's older brother who explained how you used the dice. For the longest time, I was baffled as to how to generate a "1," since I rolled two D20s and tallied the result, which meant a range from 2-20, not 1-20. My next set of dice, which were translucent, had little plus signs on half the numbers, indicating when to add 10 to the result of the dice roll. I have very fond memories of those early dice and I want to remember them in a concrete way.
The other reason is curiosity. Does not using a D10 make a difference to gameplay? I remember when I first saw a D10 -- when my friend Shawn bought the Moldvay Basic Set -- and I thought it looked "wrong." I knew nothing of regular solids at that point, but, on some level, I intuited that the D10 was a fraud and so it is. This didn't stop us from using it, of course, but I've long held the D10 in mild contempt and still do on some level. In any case, D&D thrived for many years before the advent of the D10 and I have to wonder if its absence had any effect on the way people played "back in the day." I'm not sure that it did nor am I sure, coming as I do from a post-D10 time, if I'll even be able to get into the mindset of gamers who knew nothing of the D10. Still, I want to give it a try and see if there's a noticeable difference.
Some will inevitably see this as fogeyism of the worst kind, but I don't. As I grow older, I have become more firmly convinced that there are many experiences and insights that we're in the process of losing -- or already have lost -- because our society is no longer structured that makes access to them difficult, if not impossible. Others obviously agree, which is why you see things like "Turn Off the TV Week" and the like. The central idea is that, by cutting onself off this or that modern "convenience," we might rediscover simpler things we've lost touch with. In some cases, I'm sure these endeavors do little or nothing. However, I'm sure they have an effect on at least a small percentage of those who participate and it's that kind of effect that I'm hoping for with this little experiment.
Another thing of which I grow ever more convinced is that roleplaying, as an activity, is an old fashioned one. It's from a different time, a different culture, one that was more broadly "literary" and less influenced by visual media. You can see this in the way OD&D and AD&D, for example, reference novels and short stories in their texts, while 3e's rulebooks did not include a bibliography at all and the few supplements that did so had more entries for movies and TV shows than for actual books. I suspect that a lot of the disconnect I feel with many modern RPGs -- D&D most of all -- is that they're products of a very different culture than the one from which the hobby sprang and into which I was initiated in the winter of 1979. I will forever associate D&D with reading certain authors and, while my understanding of "fantasy" has broadened since then, those early experiences remain foundational, just as my early experiences of play do.
And that play included D20s numbered 0-9 twice.