Slaying With Dice has been an on again-off again project for several years. It started out with the original intent of being a private gaming blog. Then I got involved in the ownership of Ettin Games back in 2014, and life got a bit hectic with holding down my teaching job, attending grad school, and help run a small business - PLUS organizing MAG Con (www.magcon.org) the primary fundraiser for the school I teach at.
FAST FORWARD 5 YEARS LATER!!! Ettin Games is going strong and 2019 marks the year I took over as sole owner of the business. I've decided to revive this project as Ettin Games' outlet for Roleplaying and Adventure Games. That means you can expect to find content on RPGs and accessories, plus information on Adventure games like Descent and Journeys in Middle-Earth....and really just about anything else that I think would be of interest to fans of these types of games.
The goal: provide content on a weekly basis; at least a written post, but I'm going to try and get a video out once per week. This may be ambitious, because my schedule hasn't gotten any less hectic. I hope you'll join me on this quest!
Recently my Sophomore World History class has been studying the Middle Ages. Every year as part of this I usually break out some wooden swords and bring them up to the school. I have several swords from Hollow Earth Sword Works that I let the kids spar with under strict supervision. It's an opportunity to learn about the different types of swords, their parts, techniques for use, etc. It also serves as an opportunity for the students to learn first hand just what a workout swinging a sword around can be. Most of them are quite surprised that they are panting after only a few minutes of play fighting. My hope is that by injecting a little fun into the subject that the kids might be a bit more interested in knowing more about the time period. In other words, I'm trying to show that history is more than just reading textbooks, doing worksheets, and aliens on the History Channel.
This year I decided to add a little project into the mix. I had a moment of inspiration when deciding what to do with some large cardboard packaging that was left over from a recent delivery of new whiteboards. I was hating the idea of simply tossing 4 huge sheets of cardboard - I just knew that they could be put to some use (yes, this is why my garage tends to accumulate junk). At the time, we were covering Ancient Greece and the thought came to me that we could make hoplons (large greek round shields). However, it was too short of notice to pull everything together and incorporate this into my lessons. Then I realized that very soon we would be covering the middle ages and that we could easily construct Viking round shields.
I chose Viking round shields for a few reasons:
1. I like Vikings
2. They are a simple design
3. Vikings are cool
After a little brainstorming and mentally working out construction methods, I began to gather the needed supplies.
The supplies needed:
1. A circular template. I was able to use a 25" diameter livestock feed bucket. Other options might include trash can lids, water heater drip pans, etc. I would recommend making a cardboard template - it's easy to work with if you are making several shields.
2. 3-5 sheets of cardboard per shield (the number used depends on how thick you want your shields to be). Keep your template size in mind when gathering your cardboard. Possible sources for large sheets of cardboard: home improvement stores, appliance retailers, etc.
3. A utility knife. Make sure it has a fresh, sharp blade.
4. A Sharpie or other good marker.
5. Elmer's Glue. Simple white glue gets the job done.
6. Cloth strips - 2 per shield. Approximately 1-1.5" wide by 18-24" long. I used an old worn pair of jeans and cut the legs into rings of cloth. Then I just opened it up by clipping out one of the seams.
7. Duct tape. The universal fixer.
8. Spray Primer. Just about any white spray primer will do (grey or black, if you anticipate dark colors or metallics). I got some Rust-Oleum primer that they had on clearance for $3 at the hardware store. You could also use a brush on primer.
9. Paint. I used oil based gloss paint, such as Rust-Oleum. You could use just about any paint you wanted. Acrylics have the obvious advantage of faster drying and water cleanup.
10. Foam paint brushes. Cheap and you can usually buy them in a bulk package. Plus you can just toss them when you're done. Any brushes will do though.
11. Drop clothes or newspapers. This is to protect other surfaces against that inevitable drip or spill when painting.
12. Heavy books or other weights. Anything that can be laid on top of the shield while the glue cures.
STEP 1: (Cue "A-Team" theme music)
Using your template and Sharpie trace all the shield pieces you will need onto your cardboard. If you are doing several shields, then take a moment to plan out how to most efficiently get the most out of your cardboard. I was able to get 24 shield pieces out of 4 sheets of cardboard that were just over 4'x6'.
STEP 2: Using the utility knife, cut out all the shield pieces. Be careful.
STEP 3: Have whomever will be using the shield lay their shield arm (usually the left) in the center of a shield piece. Then use the sharpie to make marks on either side of their open hand and either side of their forearm. Make the marks about the same width as your cloth strips.
STEP 4: Use the utility knife to cut out slots where you made each of the four marks.
STEP 5: Time to make the shield handles. Take the cloth strips and pull them through the slots. You should have one strip at the hand and one at the forearm. Each strip should be pulled through so that you have about even length coming out from the slots. Try to have the strips coming out of the side of the cardboard that is the cleanest (no packaging graphics, marks, etc.), as this will be the back of the completed shield. This saves you from having to worry about painting the backside, while still maintaining a relatively aesthetically pleasing appearance. Once you have the cloth strips positioned, put a little glue on the backside to help secure them. Make sure they lay as flat as possible.
STEP 6: Once you have the handles in place, it is time to begin the layers of the shield. Place a generous amount of glue on the back of the shield piece with the handles. Then take another shield piece and firmly press it into place on top of the layer with the glue. Continue adding layers of shield pieces in this manner until you reach your desired thickness. The shield should be at least 3 layers thick, but you might want to make it as thick as 5 layers for extra shock absorption.
STEP 7: Take the freshly glued shield and place it front first onto a flat surface (such as the floor). Then place several heavy weights on top. I used text books evenly spaced around the shield. Be sure that none of your layers have slid out of alignment during this process. Let the shield sit in this manner overnight.
STEP 8: After letting the glue cure for at least a day, coat the shield with a few layers of primer. Then let this dry overnight.
STEP 9: Once the primer is dry, then paint the shield. You can paint the shields anyway you wish. If you want some historical guidelines then a simple online search of "Viking shield designs" will provide numerous examples. Let the paint dry overnight.
STEP 10: Once the paint is dry, it's time to add a "metal" rim to the shield. This serves two purposes: 1. It looks better 2. It protects people from potentially nasty paper cuts from the shield edges. Take a piece of duct tape approximately 3-5 inches long and apply it roughly parallel to the shield edge. You should have it overlap the front edge of the shield approximately 1/4 to 1/2 and inch. Then wrap it smoothly and tightly over the shield edge and back. Then take another similarly sized piece of tape and apply it slightly overlapping the end of the last piece. Repeat this process until you have fully edged the shield in duct tape.
STEP 11: Stand back and admire your completed shield! Now go have some fun with it. My students and I found that they had pretty good shock absorption with 3 layers. Also, they could take a pretty good beating. The swords we were using are made of hickory and are pretty stout.
Book stores are a dangerous place for me, as my wife knows all too well. My friends who have seen my overflowing home library know it, too. I have been in countless new and used bookstores across the country. I am a moth to the flame of a business sign that has the word "Books" on it (the word "Games" has a similar effect on me). My wife gave me a little pillow that says "Lord lead me not into temptation...especially bookstores" - She meant it as a joke...I think. Suffice to say, I consider myself a bit of a minor expert on book (and game) stores.
So let's look at one my favorite book stores. Half Price Books (www.hpb.com) is a chain of book stores based out of Dallas, TX that specializes in used and overstock books. They began in 1972 with a simple principle: great products at a great price. As their name implies, products are traditionally priced at half retail price or less. It's great going into a Half Price Book location, because you never know what treasures await. Even though they are a chain each location has a different selection since a lot of their stock comes from the local community. This gives them a unique draw over other book stores such as Barnes & Nobles. Every B&N is pretty much the same whereas every HPB location has something different to offer, and thus is worth stopping in to check out. I spend a lot of time and money in HPB locations throughout Houston and other parts of Texas.
Now that I've given a big rah-rah, quasi-commercial for HPB let me beat them down a little. There are three sections that get most of my attention when I visit a HPB location: History, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Games. Traditionally, I've been able to find some good deals on used Games, especially RPGs. These deals have included both relatively new products and older, out-of-print items. Unfortunately, I've noticed a disturbing change in policy that happened sometime in the past few years. When I go into a HPB nowadays, more often than not, I find a lot of the games are marked above half cover price. Not only are they priced above half cover price, but often they have insanely high prices.
Apparently someone at HPB has decided that out-of-print RPGs and Board Games are now to be classified as collectibles and priced accordingly; i.e. the half price rule doesn't apply. Classifying them as collectibles isn't wrong, because often they are collectibles. However, collectibles are a tricky business. They usually require a fair amount of expertise on the part of the sellers. This expertise is even more important when you are in the business of buying collectibles for the purpose of reselling them and making a profit. You have to know what is truly rare versus just uncommon. You have to know what the general demand for the items are and have a reliable means to estimate market value. Items are only collectibles because the market has indicated that they are through prices that reflect excess demand for the items. The best determinate for prices are often auctions, because it is a very free market means to assess the value. In other words, you find out what people - "collectors" - are willing to pay for items.
HPB has decided to take a bass-ackwards approach to the economics of collectibles. Instead of basing their prices on true market values, they base them upon Amazon.com prices. People who are asking $50 for a 1st edition, 9th printing AD&D Player's Handbook (that has an actual market value of around $5-10) are now heavily influencing the prices at HPB. You can ask whatever price you want for a product, but you're only going to get what people are willing to ACTUALLY pay for it. Otherwise, I'd make a million bucks a year as a teacher (Come on, you know I'm worth it).
Now let us throw in another twist that is especially important to the business of collectibles: condition. Out-of-print games are just like comic books - the better the condition, or grade, the higher the price they can command. If you have a book with beat up corners, pages falling out, paint on the back cover, and it looks like somebodies cat peed on half the pages, then you aren't going to get anywhere near what a relatively pristine copy is worth. So those dealing with collectibles have to have some level of expertise in grading the items in question.
The problem for HPB is that they apparently have very little expertise in properly grading items they have bestowed the title of "collectible" upon. This is further compounded by an apparent total lack of understanding about how the pricing of collectibles works. The result is a situation that has several negative effects:
1. You take a simple business model - books at half price or less - that enticed customers to spend money and had them coming back to spend more, and you smash it. Why buy from HPB when I can find it cheaper on eBay? This factor has personally deadened my enthusiasm for visiting HPB. I used to have an incentive for dropping by my local HPB at least once a week (I don't have a problem...honestly), but now they're lucky if I go once a month.
2. HPB ends up with product that collects dust on their shelves. Storing up overpriced inventory doesn't pay the bills, so eventually this will effect their bottom line.
3. HPB ends up looking incompetent and greedy. Those who are looking to buy these "collectibles" see that HPB employees don't know how to grade products in general. Then they look at the prices and laugh, because they realize how overpriced the items are. This feeds issues #1 and #2 above.
Bottom line: HPB shouldn't try to be something it's not, because when they pretend to be in the "collectibles" business they end up hurting themselves. They need to leave the pretending to those buying and playing the games, and get back to what works: HALF PRICE BOOKS! It'll be a win-win for everyone.
Unlike the last treasure I reviewed, "Hunters of Dragons", 13th Age is a product that was on many people's "hot list" for this year. According to some sources, 13th Age was the most highly anticipated RPG for 2013. Let's look at why:
Just to lay this out on the table for starters: 13th Age is a d20 based system - essentially it's a modified form of D&D. This is no surprise since the designers of this game Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet were the lead designers for 4E and 3E respectively. So, the first things that might pop into your head are "Great, another lame-ass D&D variant that recycles stale ideas" or "I hate X edition of D&D and one those guys was responsible for it" or "Why bother with this? If I want to play D&D then I'll play D&D not some ripoff." STOP!!! This game isn't what you think. I admit that I was skeptical at first when I learned this was a d20 variant, but then I opened the book.
First, Pelgrane Press has produced a beautiful product here. 13th Age is a 320 page hardcover that is printed in full color. The $44.95 cover price makes this one of the most reasonably priced RPG products on the market. Full color maps of the Dragon Empire (the default campaign setting for 13th Age) adorn the inside front and back covers.
Second, The very first chapter is "Icons." There are no mechanics here. There is an overview of the 13 Icons in 13th Age (hmmm, what a coincidence). Each Icon has a page dedicated to it that provides their symbol, a quote, common knowledge of the Icon, allies & enemies, history, and the Icon's relationship with Adventurers. The Icons are the major movers and shakers in the world, people such as the Archmage, the Lich King, the High Druid, and the Prince of Shadows. They represent some fairly common fantasy archetypes. Player characters have both positive and negative relationships with various Icons, and these relationships help provide opportunities for story development. The great thing is that the descriptions are generic enough that you can customize them for your game and can even port them into other campaign worlds with ease. Also, you can come up with your own Icons. There are mechanics that are associated with Icon relationships, but these are explained later in brief. It is also handy that these mechanics could easily be ported to just about any fantasy RPG. The fact that the designers lead off with this chapter on Icons heralds that this is probably not a game that is going to focus on "crunch" and min-maxing.
Next, we move on to character creation. It begins with pretty stock d20 stuff: pick your race, pick your class, generate ability scores, etc. Then it starts to veer off course, but in a good way. Every player chooses "One Unique Thing" (their "Unique" for short) about their character. These aren't mechanics focused, but story focused. Examples given: "I am the bastard son of the Emperor", "I see dead people", "I am the incarnation of a hero who lived ages ago, and I'm sure that Destiny has brought me back for a reason", etc. These are items that provide the GM and players an opportunity to build a story, not add bonuses to combat rolls.
Icon Relationships come next. Players spend points to establish their relationships, both positive and negative, with the various Icons. At the start of each play session, players will roll Icon Relationship dice to help generate some very general story elements for the session. These act as a guide for both the GM and players. The rules actually encourage players to offer suggestions and take the initiative in playing out these story elements - essentially players can briefly take some narrative control of the adventure (with GM permission).
Backgrounds are handled next. Rather than have a rigid skill system, players put points into "backgrounds." Each point represents a die roll bonus for any skill checks related to the background. The backgrounds are very flexible as are the skill checks. You could have backgrounds such as actor, acrobat, soldier, cook, smith, farmer, etc. - anything you can think of. Then it is up to the player to justify using that background on a skill check during play: "I have some knowledge of X because I used to have to do that sort of thing all the time when I was a farmer (or sailor, or whatever). The rules encourage players to be creative in justifying the use of their backgrounds, but not in cheesy ways.
Feats are almost all class specific. In 13th Age, feats are one way you customize your Fighter, Cleric, Bard, etc. The other way you customize your character is through class talents. For example, a 1st level Fighter chooses 3 of the following talents: Cleave, Comeback Strike, Counter-Attack, Deadeye Archer, Heavy Warrior, Power Attack, Skilled Intercept, or Tough as Iron. The character classes are designed to be fun to play not perfectly balanced in terms of mechanics.
Combat is fairly streamlined. Roll a d20 and add your bonuses then meet or beat the enemies defense (AC, Physical Defense, or Mental Defense) - standard D&D stuff. No combat grids or maps, no worries about character movement, no tactical board game elements. Players only worry about general position in combat: are they nearby, behind, far away, or engaged. You can use minis but only to show relative position (OMG!!! No tactical encounter maps!! What will we do?!!) You have a standard,a move, and a quick action that you take each round. There are some special things that you can do in combat: haracters usually have special class-based maneuvers for instance. Of course, you also have mainstays of D&D such as criticals, fumbles, two weapon fighting, saves, shooting into melee, etc. However, there are two elements of combat that I think are particularly noteworthy: the "Escalation Die" and "Fight in Spirit" rules.
The Escalation die mechanic is designed to help speed up combat. 13th Age is not about 1-2 hour combat encounters. The GM sits a d6 out at the start of the 2nd round with the "1" showing. All PCs get to add +1 to their attack rolls for that round. Then at the beginning of the 3rd round the GM escalates the die to the "2" and all PCs get +2 to their attack rolls. This process continues until it caps out at the "6". Some players have special maneuvers that are linked to the escalation dice, either a minimum number or whether it is odd/even. Also, if PCs sit back and avoid conflict then the GM doesn't advance the die and he might even deescalate it. Some monsters can lower the die. 13th Age combat is designed to be fast and cinematic, not a simulation (simulationists would be particularly horrified with how 13th Age handles weapons and armor).
The Fight in Spirit rule is a great way to keep those players who are out of the action engaged in the game. Maybe they are paralyzed or maybe they went off to question someone at the inn. Meanwhile, the rest of the party has gotten into a combat. Rather than sit by and watch the other players have fun, the Fight in Spirit rule says that these other players can actively help their allies by providing a bonus of some sort each round. However, they have to come up with some story element to justify it. Maybe one character has been showing another some new defensive moves, so they can get a +1 to their AC that round. The key here is that it keeps people in the game and thinking about the story.
Character advancement is different too in 13th Age as compared with D&D and other d20 systems. First, there are no experience points (The horror!). How do you know when to level up? The GM simply decides. Now, there are some general guidelines to help out. After 2-4 good fights characters should get a "full heal-up" (basically, a rest). After about 3-4 full heal-ups characters should gain a level. This is all very loose. Different GMs may set the standard for leveling up however they like. Definitely more art than science.
13th Age also employs "Incremental Advance" rules. Basically, at each full heal-up characters get to choose a benefit or power that they would gain as a result up leveling up. Your character gradually improves over several encounters rather than all in one giant lump. I think this is a great idea that is a definite departure from the standard way in which D&D/d20 games have traditionally handled leveling up.
I could go on, but I think I've covered the high points. Those who want a lot of crunch and realism will probably not like 13th Age. Rules lawyers will not like 13th Age. Those who must have a combat grid will not like 13th Age. Min-maxers will not like 13th Age.
Those who are looking for epic story potential, fast combats, fun characters, and some collaborative storytelling WILL like this game. I think it strikes a fine balance in many respects. It has the simplicity of rules that old school D&D embraces. It has the characters as extraordinary individuals in epic stories that the new school D&D embraces. It has some elements that storytelling games embrace. It also has several new mechanics. I'm actually very excited to try out this game as it looks like a lot of fun. They already have organized play with their "Tales of the 13th Age" program, which is free to join. Also, several expansions are already slated for release. I think it is definitely worth owning a copy, because even if you decide not to play 13th Age it has several ideas that can be ported to other d20 systems. I can't be certain until I give it a whirl but 13th Age might just give D&D Next a run for its money (especially since Next is probably a year away from release), and it just might draw some interest from Pathfinder players. I highly encourage you to check it out.
You can find out more at www.13thAGE.com
p.s. - If your FLGS participates in the bits-and-mortar program, then you can get a free PDF of the game when you buy a hardcopy from them. If your FLGS doesn't participate, then they can sign up for free at www.bits-and-mortar.com
The hardcover printing of the book.
This is the first in a series of posts covering the many treasures I found at GenCon this year. I'm going to begin with an item that probably wasn't on anyone's "hot" item list.
Hunters of Dragons: The Original Dungeons & Dragons Collecting Guide is a nice compilation of history, interviews, and product information focusing on Dungeons and Dragons. The author is Ciro Alessandro Sacco, an Italian, put this together I think largely due to the great popularity of "Classic" D&D in the European market. AD&D has always been much more popular in the U.S. historically. This edition of the book is a translation of the original Italian edition and has been published by Chronicle City, a British game publisher. There are a few minor issues with language translation in the work, but nothing that really detracts from its value.
The book begins with a brief history of Dungeons and Dragons. I have played D&D since the early '80s and the "Red Box" was my intro to the game (thanks, Dad!). However, I'm ashamed to say that my knowledge of the game's history was a bit spotty. This book provides a relatively brief yet thorough overview of the history of D&D and TSR.
Some BECMI edition modules
Next, the book dives into products, beginning with the core rules. It goes through every edition of the rules and provides information such as who designed it, when it was printed, variants, rarity of all variants (from Common to Very Rare), description, and trivia. Also, the book has pictures of covers for every product listed. In my opinion, the inclusion of the pics is one of the coolest aspects of the book. The pics put a "face" on all the items and they help make it a handy reference for collectors who may have never seen a "Moldvay" box set.
This process of cataloging is continued with separate chapters on adventure modules, accessories, boxed sets, hollow world, other products (such as calendars, magazines, pinball machines, etc.), Unreleased Products, and Judges Guild. The adventure modules and accessories chapters are broken down by rules editions. The fourth edition of the game has by far the most products under its belt. This edition is often referred to as BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal after the boxed sets of the same names) and was the most popular version of the rules. In fact, BECMI D&D is still widely played today, especially overseas.
A sampling of Judges Guild products.
The chapter on Judges Guild begins with a brief history of that company and the many innovations they introduced to the RPG hobby. These innovations included GM screens, overland modules, fully realized campaign worlds, etc. I had no idea of Judges Guild's impact on the hobby.
The book wraps up with three interviews. The first one is a fairly thorough interview with Gary Gygax that sheds a lot of light on the history of TSR. The next is one with Dave Arneson. Finally, Larry Elmore answers some questions about what it was like in the early years of TSR and the industry. I found all three of the interviews entertaining and informative, especially the one with Gygax.
The book doesn't try to do everything; it has a very specific goal and it achieves it. It doesn't list prices or provide a price guide - that's not the product's purpose. The product is designed to give you as complete a catalog as possible of what is out there for Original D&D. I never realized that some of these items even existed. If you have an interest in D&D or RPGs in general, then this book is worthwhile. If you are a collector of D&D/TSR items, then I would go so far as to say it is essential for your library.
You can find out more info or purchase a copy of the book here: http://www.huntersofdragons.com/
Great custom table mats for demos
Sunday we broke camp at the hotel and packed everything into the truck before heading up to the ICC. We parted company about 9:30 as Sean went to go check into attending mass across the street at the lovely Catholic church, while Dan and I headed to a demo of the new Firefly Board Game in Hall D.
The components looked great and the game was shiny! We assembled crews and took on jobs to accomplish our goals in the 'verse. GF9 has done an awesome job with this one. I'm so happy that I picked up a copy first thing on Thursday morning.
Larry Elmore signing my D&D Red Box
Our demo finished up around noon. Dan took off to go check out some more games while I met up with Jon and headed to the auction house. Jon helped me close out my business there and haul some stuff out. Then I headed into the Exhibition Hall for one last mission.
After I had bought the D&D Red Box at auction on Friday, I had wanted to get it signed by the author and artist. I took the box to the OSR (Old School Renaissance) booth on Saturday to try and catch up with Frank Mentzer, but I didn't have any luck. So I headed back over there on Sunday and was able to catch him.
After a brief consultation with Frank about the value of the item (he is an expert on gaming collectibles), I decided to devalue it some by removing the 30+ year old shrink wrap. Some folks may be thinking I'm crazy for doing this, but for me this was something that is a personal memento. I decided that it was more important to have these signatures than to have a shrink wrapped copy.
I was like a ten year old kid again as I removed the plastic from the box. The contents were in pristine condition - it was something truly great to behold. Frank signed the inside of both books and he signed the back of the box. I thanked him for his time and I headed over to Larry Elmore's booth. Larry very graciously signed the cover of my box and the cover of my two books. He commented that he hadn't seen one of those in a while. He then flipped through the interior and reminisced about some of his interior art with me. It was a great moment, as I'm a huge fan of Elmore's art. I picked up a few 8x10 signed prints while I was at.
After saying my farewells to Larry, I met up with Sean and he took me over to see the large demo of Robotech RPG Tactics. The minis look great and we can't wait to get our copies of the game. Sean even plans on running some demos next year at MAG Con.
We then split up as I went to go make one last pass through the Exhibition Hall looking for any last minute treasure. On my way out, I ran into my buddy Jeremy Southard from Wastex Games. Jeremy is a game designer back here in Houston. He was helping out at the Third Eye Games booth.
I was late for the rendezvous at the truck and the guys let me know with a constant stream of heckling via text message. We headed out of Indy about 2:30 and made the long journey back home - tired but in generally good spirits. We finally made it back to Sean's place in Spring, TX about 8 AM. He was a real champion as he drove at least 12 of the 16 hours back home. We offloaded luggage and loot and parted company with vows of a return voyage next year.
Avid gamer, historian, teacher, organizer of the MAG Con gaming convention, and owner of Ettin Games and Hobbies.