Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tales of Tabletop Gaming: The Dice Boot

Like most all hobbies, the world of tabletop roleplaying games looks pretty strange from the outside. While the lingo and rules of most RPGs are confusing enough to those not in the know, it is the usual trapping that festoon a gaming table cause the most confusion.

The weirdest and most esoteric gaming table accessory is as mythic as the tarrasque and no less grosteque. Towering above piles of polyhedral gaming dice, empty bags of Doritos, and bottles of carbonated, sugary beverages looms the strangest and most polarizing tabletop gaming accessory known to elf dwarf gnome man.

Enter, the dice boot:

As much as I dislike dice boots, the one on the right (from Blue Panther) at least looks cool.Dice go in the top, roll down the plinko-style baffles, and come out at the "toe".

Looming over the barren wastes of character sheets and pewter minis like a rogue orthotic device of a long-forgotten god, the dice boot's very existence is reviled by most gamers as it serves only to remind us of mankind's baser nature.

We humans like our games, and more than games- we humans like to win. When the prospect of winning seems beyond our abilities, we are seemingly programmed to cheat. Tabletop gaming is no exception, and when the dice are trying to kill you(r character that you spent years developing), a player can almost be forgiven for wanting to fudge a roll with sleight of hand or misreport the results of a critical and hastily rolled ability check.

The rules clearly state that you're an asshole

To combat this all-too-human temptation, many groups institute house rules after they suspect a member of cheating. Most dungeon masters/game masters start leniently; insisting that all dice rolls are done in the open or only after they are called for. From there, the usual progression is to have a designated area of the table that all official rolls are rolled on before- out of desperation- the DM/GM forces all players to roll their dice in the the lid of a cardboard box like common back ally thugs rolling for five dollar bills instead of initiative.

The dice boot is the most extreme way of controlling dice rolls at a gaming table. Rarely, a player will voluntarily bring their own dice boot to a gaming session in order to make a show of how honest and rule-abiding they are. More commonly, the presence of a dice boot at a gaming table suggests DM/GM does not trust players to not tamper with the results of their rolls.

A random encounter with this fantasy novel cover art combined with the libido of my 11-year-old self was responsible for propelling me down the path to roleplaying games. True story.

Dungeons and Dragons was my first introduction to fantasy escapism and as such I have a great many fond memories that were formed at the gaming table. Whether this table was a plastic coffee table of indeterminate origin in my college quad or the heavy, wood affair in my friend's customized basement dungeon gaming room, the fun had at each made the tables themselves immaterial.

Only once in this gaming career did I run across a mandatory dice boot which a friend-of-a-friend DM insisted everyone at the group use to discourage possible cheating. As an outsider to the group, this draconian approach did little to ingratiate him to the close-knit group of gamers and while I recall little of him personally, I remember staring at the lexan plastic monstrosity with a mixture of apprehension and confusion vowing to never inflict its shame upon my players.

While I have been tempted to recant and use a dice boot to curtail some of the more flagrant cheaters that have come to my gaming table, I prefer instead to employ the oft-forgotten tactic of public ridicule. Cheating at a game of cards with money on the line is one thing, but cheating to save your elf fighter/mage a couple of hit points is just plain sad.