#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 9 – Favorite Dice

One year ago today, on #RPGaDAY, it’s Your Favorite Die or Dice Set.


How am I going to get 500 words out of that?

Over on my desk, I have my dice bag. It sits flat when open and can hold slightly more dice than a Crown Royal bag. Inside are four different sets of polyhedrals: a dark blue die set that includes a d30 (which I accidentally used one D&D game session instead of a d20 and didn’t realize until I rolled a natural 24), a green set (that I use when the blue set misbehaves), the remnants of my smoke set (nearly clear, but slightly grey dice) I used during my earlier years that is in the dice bag to share their wisdom and train the other dice to roll well, and a smaller set of clear polys in a smaller bag that my wife got me for Father’s Day last year. Also in the bag are the d10 sets I used when I ran Blue Planet. Ten dark blue (like the primary polyhedral set), ten medium blue, and three lighter blue. When the players were in a lot of trouble – in over their heads – I would roll the dark blue d10s for the “deeper waters”. Easier tasks got lighter colored d10s. I don’t think anyone noticed at the table, but I thought it was cool.

All my fudge dice (and the three dice for Happy Birthday Robot – fudge/Fate dice are great for HBR) are in another bag, downstairs in the game room. There’s the garish-colored set of fudge dice in there, along with the Dresden Files fudge dice. No Fate dice in there.

14 - 1Next to the monitor I’m typing this on, I have a one liter glass stein with almost all of my other dice. And now that I’ve written this far, I realize that my favorite die is in that stein: It’s the Ghostbusters Ghost Die.

The only bad thing about this die is the Ghostbusters symbol – the 6 on the die – was printed on a blank face (I think all the pips for 1-5 were painted on, too). All that’s left to discern that it’s the Ghost Die are two reddish smudges on one side.[1] You included this die as one of the dice in every roll you made.

What I liked about the Ghost Die is every six rolls of the dice, something interesting was bound to happen.

Let’s say your Ghostbuster wanted to eat a phone. Beat the difficulty number and no ghost? You eat the phone. Good job. You ate the phone. Miss the difficulty number and no ghost? You can’t eat the phone and look like an idiot. Ah. But if you beat the difficulty number and roll a ghost? You eat that telephone but forgot to unplug it from the wall – this was the 1980s – and it rings, giving you a nasty shock. Fail and roll a ghost? You’ve got some very expensive and embarrassing dental surgery in your future.

It was really neat and made every roll in Ghostbusters potentially hilarious.

My favorite die: the Ghost Die.

So, do you still like the Ghost Die a year later, Thomas?

You know, I do. It helps that it’s a silly thing from a silly game that makes things even more silly. But I think it has some competition from the boost and setback dice in Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars line.

The way the various FFG Star Wars games work is you assemble a dice pool with green d8s and yellow d12s, which have good symbols; and purple d8s and red d12s with bad symbols; and you roll them all at once, cancelling out good and bad symbols until you find the result. It takes a bit of practice deciphering the symbols on each die’s face, but it’s an interesting system.[2] The boost and setback dice are blue and black six-siders that are awarded to the player making the roll for things in the fiction that help out.

They’re also a great tool for filling in the gaps when the GM doesn’t know the exact rule and wants to keep play going. You’re doing something cool? Grab a boost die! Shooting at an exhaust port without your targeting computer’s help? Go for a setback die!

Easy, peasy.

I was running an Edge of the Empire game at Gen Con two years back and we had a scene were a player was shooting at a bad guy that was all tangled up with one of the good guys. Although I had run this scenario before, we didn’t have this particular thing come up.[3] Wanting to keep the action flowing, we just chucked a setback die at the problem and went on.

These dice are also great for rewarding coolness at the table. Jumping off the ledge, doing a somersault in midair, then shooting at the bounty hunter as you touch down? Instead of upping the difficulty (swapping a bad d8 to a bad d12), recall that you’re trying to emulate heroic action in the movies — give them a boost die for sticking to the spirit of the genre.

Man, they’re great little cubes.

My girl likes superheroes and I want to get her into a cool supers RPG; we’ve got a few possibilities here, but I was thinking of hacking something together that’s simple. Simple is the key. One of the first things I thought of grabbing were those boost and setback dice. That’s how neat those little dice are.
So yeah. Still love that Ghost Die. But FFG’s boost and setback dice are making their way up there.

Honorable Mention: Fraternitas, from John Wick, as featured in Thirty and a few other of his little games.

  1. West End Games had a few other games where symbols were printed on the faces of blank dice. My copy of Assault on Hoth has several dice with blue smears on two faces and black smudges on two others. []
  2. For instance, the 7 face on the green d8 shows two symbols: a success in the task and a minor thing that makes things better in the fiction. []
  3. And I didn’t own the EotE rulebook, so no time to look up the rules beforehand. There was an EotE rulebook provided at the table, but I had no idea were to look that up. []

#RPGaDAY2015, Day 5: Most Recent RPG Purchase

See? I was going to answer this at the bottom of the Last Year, Day 4 post, but the question is asked again this year as its own topic.

So, what was the last RPG I purchased?

Oh, man, what was the last roleplaying game I purchased? Geez.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I haven’t really been playing RPGs, and those that I have been playing are older games. If I go with the most recent accessory, oddly, it would be a set of dice to play FFG’s Age of Rebellion! I picked those up about two weeks ago, because I really like the boost/setback dice concept.[1] It’s crazy innovative and a great way for GMs to quickly come up with plausible rulings in the game. Shooting a blaster at a bad guy that’s tussling with one of your friends? Crap, I don’t know the official rule for “firing into melee combat”. Hey, just toss in a setback die.[2]

I don’t seem to buy games right now. But that’s because I’m doing so much RPG layout work, most of what I want to get, I’m the one working on it.

You know, I’m going to have to go back to Kickstarter, but I really haven’t purchased games there, I’ve backed games. Sometimes they’ll give me a PDF or physical book in thanks, but let’s see…

Bulldogs! Fate Core Edition, I only threw in a buck because I’ll be laying that out, but that hasn’t been delivered, and I don’t think I really purchased anything other than access to the backers-only updates. Same with Blades in the Dark (well, I’m not laying that out): it’s not due to be delivered for several months and I really got that to get access to John Harper’s .indd files, not the actual game. Feng Shui 2? Yeah, I guess I’ll go with that.


fs2So Feng Shui 2: Action Movie Roleplaying Game is done by Atlas Games and Hal Mangold did the layout on this book, and that’s why I backed it to get the PDF. The bad thing about this is Feng Shui is a game whose subject just doesn’t interest me at all.[3] Given a chance between playing this and another game, I’d probably pick the other game. But the book is so beautiful. So skillfully laid out. It’s one of the best graphically-designed games of the past year.

Tell you what, gentle reader. You’ve read 1000 words about the layout of FFG’s Age of Rebellion earlier today. I’m not going to go into the layout of Feng Shui 2 right now — I’ll go into it in another post once #RPGaDAY2015 is over — but what I’ll leave you with is a promise: if you like books that are masterfully laid out, either of the two books in today’s post are well worth looking over.

  1. Plus I was going to borrow that for a homebrew superhero game to play with the girl. []
  2. And later, you look up the actual rule: you’re supposed to boost one of the difficulty dice. Oh well, you were pretty close and the player sweated a bit. []
  3. For gaming, I’ll point out. I don’t particularly care for the genre as a thing to play, but the movies? Yeah. They’re pretty cool. []

#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 4 – Most Recent RPG Purchase

Finally! Done with the reposts of first games I’ve played/run/purchased. On to new stuff! Let’s see what the most recent RPG I purchased was last year, then let’s dig into this year!


#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 4: What was the most recent roleplaying game you purchased?

aorThat’s Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Age of Rebellion from their incredibly profitable line of Star Wars roleplaying games. While I’m tempted to take this time to write about Star Wars’ lineage in gaming[1], or how FFG has really monetized the Star Wars line.[2] One thinks other companies would have the base game, then a criminal underworld sourcebook, followed by a rebellion one and a Jedi one – not three separate game lines backed by dozens of support products.[3], or how it sucks that FFG isn’t releasing PDFs of the line[4], or my personal journey through various Star Wars games and how I fell out of love with the series[5].

But I’d like to write about the graphic design of the FFG line.

The books are absolutely fantastic. As a layout designer, there is a lot to learn in just the Age of Rebellion core book. Original illustration – not just publicity stills and movie shots as provided by the IP holder, as you’d see on most licensed games – fill the book. I estimate that there is one piece of artwork every three pages. Most of the lines I’ve worked on suggest one every five pages. And these aren’t small illustrations, either! There’s an illustration of an X-Wing pilot removing her astromech droid from the crashed ship while far above, nearly lost in the sky by atmospheric perspective, the battle continues, just outside the atmosphere. This illustration takes up the entire page, with the composition allowing for the copy of the game text to flow normally on this page. Yet, with all this artwork (and copy overflowing the art in places), the book is nice: legible and readable. Why?

Headings! Apart from chapter headings, the books are laid out in a tightly-controlled number of headings. Three headings, with that last one used sparingly. (A nice change from a recent job that had six levels of headings, all of which were used differently by writers working on their own sections.)

Typeface choice! The typeface used (ITC Symbol, it looks like) has an elevated x-height and is well crafted, giving the letterforms room to breathe. For a game book, where one has a great deal of copy to reference during play, this is essential. The layout of the body copy is a bit jarring, as the template designers have the paragraphs both indented and with space between paragraphs. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Indent or space before, not both. The copy presentation is almost perfect. I could forgive the paragraph spacing issue if only they aligned the copy to the baseline.[6]

Overall, the typeface treatment works, even with the justified copy. There are very few places where the copy looks cramped or too airy due to auto-scaling, the bane of justified paragraphs. Why? Because they weren’t afraid of hyphenation. The key thing to remember with InDesign’s hyphenation rules is the default settings are crap. Here, FFG adjusted them to improve readability – even in a column with twelve hyphenated words, they do not appear jarring. (This is partially because of the look of ITC Symbol’s hyphens.) The shortest word I have seen hyphenated in AoR is six letters, so I’m assuming they changed the defaults to that minimum length with hyphens no sooner than after the first three letters and no later than before the last three.[7]

Tables are clean and easily-readable, as are the use of dice glyphs. The basic page layout emphasizes the feel of both games in the line so far: you’re dirty scoundrels/rebels trying to make by. Everything around is dirty and grimy.[8] The texture on the background pages subtly conveys that.

That’s a lot of words so far, and I’ve got to get some real work done today, so let me leave you with this: Age of Rebellion is a fantastic-looking book.

What about this year, Thomas?

Oh, well, you’ll see in a few hours. (The same question is this year’s day five.) Hint: the design of the book is as stunning.


  1. Did you know that West End Games made up quite a bit of Star Wars’ non-movie lore in an era when there were just three movies, Splinter in the Mind’s Eye, and the Han Solo/Corporate Sector trilogy to draw from? []
  2. Three separate game lines based on the focus of stories you wanted to tell and selling beta versions and “beginner boxes” for $30? All of which are well worth it, for production value alone. []
  3. It’s also odd that FFG didn’t start with the galactic civil war, which is what I think as what Star Wars is all about — I mean, heck, it has the word “Wars” in the title — as the setting for the game is just before Empire Strikes Back. Instead, they start with the Han Solo book, so you’ve got Shadowrun in Space as your default Star Wars setting []
  4. PDFs are electronic products, so they fall under a different licensing agreement with Lucasfilm. FFG can produce PDFs that they will never charge for, like the Under a Black Sun adventure or pregenerated characters that aren’t in the starter kit. []
  5. West End Games’ d6 Star Wars was the backbone of one of my favorite campaigns. Wizards of the Coast’s Saga Edition I never played because I hated, hated, hated the d20 system. FFG’s, I’ve run a few times and absolutely enjoyed the times I played it. []
  6. The book’s second typographical sin. Most of the time the designers get lucky because the number of paragraphs and headings sort themselves out, even if the middle of the page gets mis-aligned. Having lots of graphics and having the text wrap around them also helps to disguise the lack of baseline alignment. []
  7. InDesign’s default is five letter words and two letters from either side. This is as bad as turning off hyphenation completely when using justified copy. []
  8. When I think of the Rebellion, the texture I associate with it is grease from ball bearings or working on an old car. It gets everywhere. []