The bulk of my adventures in RPG mail-order were carried out through Games On Call, a Texas-based firm that advertised heavily in Dragon Magazine. A phone or mail inquiry would net you a free copy of their current catalog, a meticulously categorized newsprint directory containing all manner of ludographical treasures available for purchase.
The selection was mind-blowing to our specialist shop-starved selves, and the members of our little gaming group would pass the catalog around and compile wish lists of all the things we planned to (or simply dreamed about) buying. Ordering was a group activity, with each of us tossing in specific requests and the requisite amount of cash to meet the minimum purchase threshold and defray the S&H costs.
And when it came to our first order, it was all about the dice.
Forget painted miniatures or cardboard screens or graph paper. Nothing can dethrone a set of polyhedral dice as the signature visual-physical artifact of the RPG hobby. The oddness of their forms and specificity of their use imbued them with a strange allure. Up until that point, I had gotten by with the mass-market plastic jobbers that came packed in with the TSR box sets, supplemented by an assortment of d6s purloined from more pedestrian sources.
I envied the more fortunate souls who possessed fistfuls of the more upmarket polyhedral number generators and would cart them around like a collection of precious gems in a repurposed Crown Royal satchel.
The back pages of the Games on Call catalog offered a wide variety of dice for sale — both singly and in sets — and I delved into it with gusto. Opaque or translucent? Numbers of symbols? Sharp-edged or rounded? The color of the markings and prestige options like vari-colored swirls or embedded glitter also factored into the agonizing decision process.
This was important stuff, after all. We were selecting the means by which the fate of characters and kingdoms would be decided. Yet for all that angst and effort I can only specifically remember a handful of my mail order dice purchases — an opaque black d20 with crimson numbers, a translucent purple d8, and a smoky-clear d30 that I bought for coolness’ sake then attempted to shoehorn into actual use.
I never managed to score a Crown Royal bag, either, as the small contingent of my family who weren’t teetotalers considered domestic beer in bottles to be the good stuff. My polyhedral beauties were initially kept in a gray plastic office tray I bought at Staples before getting transferred to a vinyl Star Blazers pencil case Lil Bro found at the Asian import place next to JC Penney on Winn Street. That was fine enough for me, as my growing punk rockitude had killed any urge to lean into the prevailing geek cliches.
That bit in “Brassfist of the Gore” where Neil insists on inspecting Otto’s dice? It was based on a real event, where my anal-retentive dungeon master in college went over everyone’s dice with a jeweler’s loupe before each game session. That’s why I still remember the translucent purple d8 mentioned above. It didn’t make the cut due to some purported “microscopic flaw.”
The current whereabouts of my old gaming dice are unknown. I know I didn’t toss them out, so they’re most likely buried in some corner of my attic in a box marked “shit to sort after the move.” I trust they’ll remain there until a legally designated heir has to inventory all my crap for the inevitable estate sale to come.
I did order a starter set of translucent orange dice off Amazon during a bout of nostalgic reverie a couple years back. They’ve seen some use rolling up Ultimate Powers Jam assignments, but mostly they collect dust in their little case on my computer desk.
Every so often I’ll take them out and roll them around in my hand or hold them up to the light to see if I can feel any trace of the old magic. I almost always do.