Game: Dice and Dramatics
Publisher: Ultramyth Design
Review Dated: 22nd, February 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
There can be a lot of snobbery amongst gamers. There are some gamers who’d freely mock the “roleplaying” abilities of the average d20 gamer (or their perception of one) but they’re also the sort of gamer who wouldn’t be comfortable being called a gamer. I think, perhaps, we’re talking about Interactive Communal Story Tellers or something.
I don’t agree with them (there’s no such thing as an average gamer for one) but I see where they might get their misconceptions from. It just so happens that the most popular, most widely spread, most easy to find in the shops or be introduced to by a friend gaming system is also going to be the one which most newbies find. It’s also going to be the system with the widest spread of gaming styles. Dungeons and Dragons evolved from a war game and although the rules might still carry that conflict resolution bias it was the desire to roleplay /in addition/ to strategy and dice rolling which inspired the game in the first place. I don’t think that’s the problem. I do think, however, that many supplements are geared towards veteran gamers who don’t need to be talked to about characterisation or the difference between in game knowledge and out of character information. Supplements written with new players in mind also tend to concentrate on helping them into the game or helping them through the mechanics.
Now we have Dice and Dramatics.
Dice and Dramatics is written for newbies and experienced gamers. Dice and Dramatics is written with the d20 system, specifically Dungeons and Dragons, in mind. Dice and Dramatics is a guide to roleplaying. In its own words “A d20 Guide to Better Role-Playing For Beginners and Veterans Alike”.
Okay, Make a Will saving throw. You failed? Your character is angry. You have to shout “Grr” as you attack Fiendish Dire Elemental Half Oil Beetle.
No. I’m joking.
The PDF takes it easy to begin with and starts slowly. Basic terms are defined, basic terms like meta gaming where, of course, a player gives his character some special insight due to game knowledge. Need we define this? I think so. I’ve met people who’ll claim they know the difference between OOC (out of character) and IC (in character) until they’re blue in the face and then who’ll roleplay a scene where their character battles a monster they’ve never seen before, avoiding all the ineffective weapons and sticking the Monster Manual prescribed weaknesses. In fact, some have argued that Challenge Ratings assume characters tackle the monsters with a meta-game knowledge of their weaknesses. A reminder of the basics, I think, is absolutely necessary.
The first “real chapter” in Dice and Dramatics is titled “Know Thyself” and continues in that almost Old Testament preaching style with the sections; Know You Race, Know Your Class, Know Your Skills, Know Your Feats and Know Your Alignment. Ah yes; the d20 / Dungeons and Dragons emphasis of the supplement becomes clear. These five core sets are important and as with the glossary definitions they seem too basic to bother mentioning but they need to be. If you discount the almost comic clichéd dwarf roleplaying style (now with Scots accent ™) how many dwarves are exactly the same as a human? It could be argued that playing a fantasy race – now so familiar and yet still alien – is the toughest roleplaying challenge in a Dungeons and Dragons based world. I don’t think so. I think roleplaying under the default alignment system is much harder and although Dice and Dramatics does well to remind us what the core precepts of each of the alignment nodes is – I don’t think it makes the roleplaying any easier.
The sister section in Know Thyself is Fleshing Out Your Character. We dabble into such influences as religion, vital statistics, looks, personality and background. Vital Statistics, thankfully, doesn’t mention cup sizes once and instead looks at body types; ectomorphs (tall and thin), endomorphs (evenly distributed weight) and mesomorphs (athletic and muscular). I don’t know if these are made up terms (but Word seems to recognise endomorph as a word) but I felt this relatively simple observation gave the whole supplement a welcomed touch of professional panache. Oh, okay, vital statistics does look at other issues to; hair style for example and there’s even a table to roll on if you can’t decide on a hair style for your character.
We move onto Role-Playing In-Game and once again run through fairly basic stuff. Know the rules, be aware of the game etiquette – don’t interrupt the DM – and roleplay hooks based on mechanics. How would it feel to come out from under the influence of a mind effecting spell to discover you’ve done something horrible? Roleplay it! Personally I really enjoy games where the other characters screw up their noises in disgust when the group’s wizard casts a simple Charm spell. As with the first chapter these points do seem obvious but after reading Dice and Dramatics I also feel that each benefits from being pointed out and discussed.
We’ve already had a quick look at the challenges of roleplaying a fantasy race. Dice and Dramatics revisits this in chapter three. Dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs and Halflings, the core races, have a section on their own. Space is limited in the supplement, in fact it feels very tight, so we only look at the most common perception of these races. I suppose it would be pointless to start to look at alternative, non vanilla D&D flavourings for these races since the possibilities are endless. Dice and Dramatics finds something better to do with their limited space. It looks at roleplaying some of the more common savage races. We have roleplaying tips for centaurs, gnolls, goblinoids, kobolds, lizardfolk, minotaurs, orcs and troglodytes. The poor Savage Species gives you the WotC mechanics for rollplaying these creatures but Dice and Dramatics actually helps you roleplay them. If you’re into the exotic then there is more good news as there’s also roleplaying tips for popular template races too. Asimar, half-celestials, half-dragons, half-fiends, lycanthropes, tieflings and the always popular vampires are all given the Dramatics treatment.
If you’re worried that Dice and Dramatics would only live up to half of its title then fear not. There are dice. Well. There is crunch. Dice and Dramatics’ fourth chapter is chock full of new magic items, armour and even spells. Eh? No. Really. These items look at the low power but extremely practical magics such as “Aura of Dryness”. Good stuff. Surely there’s nothing magical about the sorcerer if he gets as wet as the warrior in the storm. I think Dice and Dramatics as veered a little off topic here, not fatally so and I doubt many people will find.
The supplement finishes with a chapter aimed at helping the DM. Role-Playing as DM whistles through a series of short tips and observations. Use voices, use cut scenes, think about props, consider cinematic play, and that sort of thing. Similarly there are discussions, sound bytes really given the size, on how to portray henchmen, cohorts, experts and those typical DM only challenges.
Dice and Dramatics isn’t quite one of a kind. The GM Mastery series from Roleplaying Tips and RPGObjects is very similar. As useful and as established as that series is I’m glad to see Dice and Dramatics on the scene too. Competition encourages innovation and subtle differences in style in this sort of supplement have a huge effect on whether the resource is useful or not to individual gaming groups.
Give it a go. Dice and Dramatics is one of those products. Its appeal might not be obvious at first and you may not think you need it but most people will find something worth reading.
This accessory speaks volumes for UltraMyth. I can’t be the only one looking forward to seeing what else this new publisher has to offer the community.