Stories & Dice: Erika and Teagan

Diceball MachineIn December 2013, my wife gave me a gumball machine filled with dice. There’s a little space at the top, and rather than fill it myself I decided to turn to you. I want you to send me a die and a story. It could be a story about the die itself, or just about you: who you are and why you play games. Traveling around the world, I’ve found that gamers cover an amazing spectrum – teachers and students, celebrities and children, strippers and soldiers. Everyone has a story, and I’d like to share yours.

ErikaTeaganDieI met Teagan and Erika during my recent trip to LA. Erika is an actress; Teagan is the Technical Art Director at Naughty Dog, a video game developer that’s produced a few obscure titles you’ve probably never heard of (Uncharted, The Last Of Us, Crash Bandicoot). Their home is filled with games, custom miniatures, and more NERF guns than I’ve ever seen in one place… and I’ve seen a lot of NERF in my time. They gave me a remarkable die that Teagan had actually made himself. I’ll let him tell the story.

Perfect gifts sometimes only happen when everything falls into place. We’d been hard at work on a custom miniatures startup “Hero Forge” we planned on Kickstarting come the new year. We’d received a few test prints back already so I was pretty familiar with the process of sending 3D models off to get 3D printed. I turned to finding a Christmas gift for my lovely and vivacious D&D partner and girlfriend Erika Ishii. It needed to somehow compensate for how absent I’d been putting so much work into the Kickstarter! A custom made silver D20 that could be worn as a necklace was the perfect intersection of beautiful jewelry and functional nerd culture. The 20 was replace with an E&T encased in a heart. Cheesy but… “critical hit to the heart cheesy” according to Erika. She was ecstatic, and insisted on wearing it nearly all the time. By the end of our New Year’s party she had bruises where the dice was around her neck from all the hugs she’d been getting!

The dice I’m sending you for your dice machine is a test print before I ordered it in full silver. It’s the exact same material we’re printing our Hero Forge miniatures in! 3D printing is going to bring so much personalization and meaning that was just not possible before. We’re very excited about what the future holds… although Erika might want to avoid wearing the necklace during celebrations where there’s frequent hugging.

Erika Necklace

Teagan started playing games at an early age, but there were religious restrictions on what his parents would allow in the household. As a result he made his own games, crafting books of puzzles and mazes. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was a defining experience for him, drawing him into a new and magical world. While video games have played a central role in his life and career, tabletop roleplaying has only become a passion in the last few years. In his own words: I discovered just how engaging and exciting it is to collectively tell a story with your friends while face to face. There’s a power there that video games just aren’t advanced enough to provide. Seeing the emotion in your friends’ faces and participating in the back and forth. It’s powerful stuff!

By contrast, Erika’s first brush with roleplaying came as a sophomore in high school, when a friend handed her the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook and said it was the game she was meant to play. Apparently he was correct. Erika was captivated by the game and read the PHB cover to cover, and generated a host of characters. This continues to be one of the most compelling parts of the gaming experience today. She’s not a min-maxer or rules lawyer, but she puts a great deal of time and effort into developing elaborate character backstories and roleplaying her characters’ tics and motivations… even when they aren’t beneficial to her as a player. More than anything, what she loves is the experience of collaborative storytelling… hearing and shaping living, organic stories with her friends.

Both Erika and Teagan have plans for the world of gaming. Teagan is especially interested in finding ways to blend technology and tabletop, building on the virtual tabletops that exist today and finding more ways to merge virtual aspects with the tangible… ways to maintain the vital experience of being face to face with friends even when it’s impossible. Erika would like to have a hand in making games more inclusive of women and minorities; in her words, “I think the miniature market could stand to have a few tiny people of color on the shelves… and Josh and Teagan have promised me that Hero Forge will give you the option of creating a female miniature that doesn’t have giant breasts, which is extremely novel.”

Today Teagan is in the midst of his Hero Forge campaign, and the 3D printer is churning out new figures. Erika wears the silver die on a chain around her neck, while the prototype rests at the top of the gumball machine… a symbol of love of games, but more important, of their love for one another.

Do you have a story and a die? If you’d like to take part, send both of them to Keith Baker, PO Box 13250, Portland OR 97213. Make sure to include contact information so I can get in touch with you for follow up questions!

Stories & Dice: Ed Hurtley

In 2009 I wandered around the world playing games in exchange for a place to stay. One of my goals was to meet gamers from as many different places and walks of life as possible… to break the stereotypes of the gamer and find out what drew different people to the table. I stayed with students, strippers, executives, prison guards, teachers, soldiers, and more. It was a fascinating experience, and I wrote about a few of my stops for The Escapist. Eventually, however, the real world caught up with me. It was a cheap way to see the world, but not a free one; sooner or later I had to settle down and get back to work.

In December 2013 my wife Jennifer Ellis gave me an amazing gift: a gumball machine of dice. However, there’s still space in the machine, and that got me thinking. I may not be able to get out to hear people’s gaming stories in person… but perhaps people would be willing to share. So I posted a request, asking people to help me fill the machine by sending a die and a story. Who are you? Why do you play? What moments has this die seen? Ed Hurtley was the first to respond.

The year was 1985, and Ed Hurtley was a Boy Scout. The Boy Scouts had just instituted the D20 Merit Badges, and Ed needed another level of rogue to get the Multiclass Achievement Badge.

I’m kidding, of course… though you’d think the Boy Scouts might support Pathfinder. There really is a Game Design merit badge, but that’s a relatively recent development. In 1985, Ed had never heard of roleplaying games or D&D. He just knew that some of the older scouts were up to something. He heard shouts of triumph and groans of despair coming from the tent where the boys were gathered. He pushed his way into the tent, watched the game unfold, and he was hooked. Next campout, the kid who usually played the Thief didn’t show up. Ed swears he had nothing to do with this absence, but he took the seat at the table and picked up the dice. He’s been rolling those dice for over twenty-five years. Now he’s got hand-carved stone dice and a twenty-sided that blinks when he rolls a critical hit. He’s got two Crown Royal bags filled with dice. But he’s always kept his first set from his days playing the Red Box, and those are the dice he gave to me.

Ed was born in Portland, Oregon and he still lives there today. As a Boy Scout (and a Thief) he thought he’d grow up to be an aerospace engineer or an Air Force pilot, but along the way he discovered that he knew how to use computers and that people would pay him to do it; he dove into the world of Tech Support and has been living there ever since. He collects vintage computers, and has nearly a hundred different systems in his collection; his daughter loves playing Apple II games. He’s still playing in a regular weekly RPG group, bouncing around between D&D, Rifts, Pathfinder, and other systems. He’s been playing with three of the people in that group for nearly fifteen years.

That’s one thing I found when I was traveling around the world: gaming is something that holds people together. Back in 2009, my Scottish host John McLintock said that what he loved about gaming was that it created a “personal mythology” – a shared set of stories that his friends still told decades later. What I love most about roleplaying is the collaborative aspect of it. It’s a story I create with my friends, and even when I’m the game master I don’t know how it will end.

I’d like to thank Ed and everyone who’s shared a story or rolled some dice with me. If you or someone you know would like to take part in Stories & Dice, my address is PO Box 13250, Portland OR 97213. Please include your email address so I can follow up with you! You can also catch me at a convention, though I don’t have anything scheduled for the next few months.

Thanks for reading, and I hope I’ll hear your story soon.

Stories And Dice

A few years back I told Jenn “You know what would be awesome? A gumball machine filled with dice.” I forgot about it… she didn’t. So meet the newest addition to our house. It’s just as awesome as I expected, but it’s not a small machine. Jenn included a few pounds of dice as part of the present, and I’ve added in all the loose dice I had around the house, but that’s still left us with a significant amount of room at the top. And that gave me an idea.

As gamers, dice are our faithful (and sometimes treacherous) companions and tools. We have our favorites, we have superstitions, we have memories of amazing critical hits and tragic fumbles. One of my favorite experiences during my Have Dice Will Travel tour was the story of how D&D came to Bulgaria… in particular, how for many years it was very difficult for Bulgarian gamers to acquire dice. A set of dice was a relic to be treasured by a gaming group. At one point the first Bulgarian gamer had to sell some of his dice to raise rent money. Stop and think about that for a moment: you need some significant cash, fast, so what do you do? Sell some dice, right? At the end of my trip to Bulgaria, my guide Stefan gave me one of those very dice (both pictured below), and that little grey die is one of my regulars today. It’s not much to look at, but once upon a time it was one of the only dice in Bulgaria.

Dice aside, I love hearing people’s stories about how they started gaming, why they play, or favorite moments. It’s especially great to hear from people who have enjoyed something I’ve done – to hear YOUR stories of Eberron, Gloom, or anything else. Last year at Calgary Expo I met a pair of newlyweds who’d met in an Eberron campaign; the year before I met a soldier whose unit played Eberron in Iraq using dice made out of toilet paper.

So I have a diceball machine with empty space at the top, and thousands of people out there whose stories I haven’t heard. I could just buy another two pounds of dice, but I thought I’d do something different. I want you to send me a die and a story. It doesn’t have to be your favorite die, and it doesn’t have to be an epic story; just tell me something about you. Why do you game? What was one of your favorite moments? If you played in Eberron, what’s the most awesome thing you did there? I’ve made a layer of white at the top of the machine so I can tell where the story dice begin, and if we get enough I’ll drain it from below. Perhaps someday every die in the machine will have a story.

If you’d like to take part, send your die and your story to:

Keith Baker

PO Box 13250

Portland, OR 97213

… or catch up with me in person somewhere! Let me know if it’s all right to share your story with others, and make sure to include your email address so I can follow up with you. And please pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested.

As long as I’m talking about the stories of dice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Bones, an anthology assembled by the brilliant Will Hindmarch. The Bones includes stories from Kenneth Hite, Matt Forbeck, John Kovalic, and many others… including a more detailed account of my time in Bulgaria.

In the days ahead I’ll be writing about Phoenix, Gloom, and the many exciting projects I’ve got lined up for 2014. I’ll be back with more Eberron Q&As. Until then, I hope you’re having a fantastic holiday, and I hope you’ll share a story with me!