Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Dragonbone

Coming to us from issue #58 (February 1982) is this wonder of the modern age: Dragonbone!
In case it's not obvious from the ad, Dragonbone was an electronic dice roller. It was also very expensive, so, intrigued though I was by the idea of a "computer" -- that's what my friends and I would have called it back in the Dark Ages -- that generated random numbers for you without the need for dice, there was no way I was ever going to shell out $24.95 for it. I mean, FGU games typically cost $20.00 a pop and were widely regarded as way too expensive in my neck of the woods, so Dragonbone's price of admission was beyond the pale.

To this day I've never actually seen a working Dragonbone. I'm sure someone must have bought one -- or else all those ads DB Enterprises ran in Dragon for years and years really were among the most Quixotic endeavors in the history of this hobby.

26 comments:

  1. Nothing beats the clickety-clack of real dice at the game table; however, I must admit, I always wanted one of these.

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  2. http://vegasdecker.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/dragonbone-electronic-dice/

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  3. It's US Patent Number 4431189

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/4431189.html

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  4. The Dragonbone ad in Dragon I remember most clearly had a female Mage/Rouge holding it like a smoking gun/wand...

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  5. I've still got mine, it still works, and I still bring it to games. It's great for when one or two people get separated from the rest of the group and I need to pull them aside to adjudicate something, but there's no handy place to roll dice.

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  6. I always thought this was a bit of a rip-off. My calculator could generate random numbers -- we used to play D&D (very surreptitiously) in our 11th grade math class using it for rolls (circa 1984 or so). Who needs a $25 Wand of Beeping?!?

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  7. I was always curious about these things and never saw one. Neat memory.

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  8. "I'm sure someone must have bought one"

    I did. (A black one.) It was actually fairly handy, though some of my engineer-friends questioned how random it really was. I must still have it packed away, somewhere.

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  9. I actually owned one of these, and it worked great!The only problem was that GM's that I ran with would never let me use it: "How do I know that you're not using it to cheat?" was something I heard a lot.

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  10. Yeah, I wanted this.

    As an aside: Inflation-adjusted, $24.95 in 1982 is equivalent to $55.62 in 2010.

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  11. In the 90s, a friend of mine used one. Don't know if he still does--I don't live in Chicago anymore. It was pretty cool, but I like dice better.

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  12. Never owned one myself, but I did did get to mess around with it, at the only game store anywhere near me at the time, Complete Strategist in Davie Fl, which is lone gone. I was never impressed, rolling dice seemed so much cooler.

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  13. Yes, Joe. It is very cool.

    And you'd best watch it or some folks in the group might steal it from you.

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  14. I'll admit to having built one for myself, particularly when I needed a d14, d16, and d18 for one home-brew system.* Although mine actually used LED digit displays rather than plain LEDs.

    Although it was only a pseudo-random number generator. Most computational and electronic methods of generating random numbers aren't really all that random, although you'll probably never notice the difference.** If I were to build another I'd be tempted to try and make it as random as I could make it. Perhaps using the decay of a radioactive isotope ... <laughs maniacally> [Sorry, just the idea of nuclear-enabled dice appeals to my inner mad scientist.]

    [* Of course, almost three decades later I just used a prototyper/fabricator to actually manufacture these dice from a CAD image and cast my own exotic dice.]

    [** On the other hand, my doctoral project required the production of a large number of random numbers, which required me to go to great lengths to make them as random as I could, otherwise the results would be statistically affected by the lack of randomness inherent in most methods of random number generation.]

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  15. A friend of mine and I each bought one in '85 or '86. We got different colors and then swapped the back halves of the plastic case, so the one that I still have is ivory on the top half, and black on the bottom.

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  16. Ah the DragonBone. In the early days of the iPhone app store, there was a plethora of dice rolling programs. I thought of the DragonBone.

    Generally, however, RPG players like playing with tactile objects. So if you have a choice between dice or a gizmo, the dice are preferable. Where gizmos are nice is when you can use them to do all the other calculations and lookup for you -- particularly if you are playing something chart-heavy like RoleMaster.

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  17. There are three versions that I know of (in an assortment of colors - I think white, black, and red). The original is pictured in the ad. toddroe's link is the later version. I have both of those. The only one I've never actually seen is the Dragontooth - a shorter version of the original, that didn't have as many options (no % maybe).

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  18. Hmmm. My wife had a version. I wonder if it is still floating about in a box somewhere... Have to check. LOL.

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  19. My best friend Gordy still has two in working order. The guy who made them had a prototype for a new model at GenCon some years ago. Now we use apps for this.

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  20. Definitely brings back memories, and yes I always wanted one, but my local store didn't carry them, it never occurred to me to order one, and the price point was steep (two AD&D modules for the same price). From the above notes, though, they sound like a solid reliable piece of work.

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  21. I never had one, but I gamed with people at conventions who did.

    @ Reverence Pavane: Having used computer die-rollers, yeah, the lack of randomness is rather noticeable, especially when the same die rolls the same number 3 times in a row. Some of the best have a random seed you can change up every time. Though, I could just be hypersensitive to it, since I know how the computer generates supposedly random numbers.

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  22. I actually played an AD&D event with the creator of this device at GenCon Milwaukee back in the 90's. He actually supplied each player with one to use in the scenario.

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  23. I had one. Nice, if you like little flashing lights...

    -SJ

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  24. You can see pictures of what seem to be two different models of Dragonbones, along with the instructions, here (at least for a while):

    http://www.acaeum.com/forum/about10990-80.html

    It's the April 13 posting by TheHistorian, third picture in that posting.

    I hadn't heard of the "Pandora's Dice Wheel" which is in the same picture--has anyone else come across that?

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  25. Me wants one still. I wanted it when I saw it but could never manage the P&H costs then I went away from digital randomizers once I found out the program used was faulty. And, did not have the same tactile as a dice roll - which is why I don't own a smart phone with a dice rolling utility.

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  26. I had one a white one with the red writing, I still have it packed away somewhere...

    I used it as a gm when we were traveling or in someones backyard etc...

    They hated the "bone"... :)

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