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Let’s talk about dice. Less about the mechanical use of them in Coyote & Crow and more about the physical objects. Specifically, I want to talk about accessibility, availability, prices, and our company goals. This is a bit of a deep dive so content warning for deep level nerdery.

When I first started designing Coyote & Crow, my decisions for what dice to involve had implications. I didn’t just pull all d12s out of my backside. There were serious considerations involved. First off, a portion of the audience I’m trying to reach doesn’t have easy access to or common knowledge of d12s. Early in my process, I strongly considered making my game based around d6’s only. I’m not just trying to reach an experienced gamer crowd. I’m also trying to draw in new players from Indigenous circles, who might be totally new to role-playing games. The d6 could even be scrounged from old classic board games if necessary.

But the further I got into the game, the more I realized that I wanted something that felt like it stood apart from traditional game elements and systems. I didn’t want to coddle my players, but energize them, challenge them. I wanted them to look at a d12 and think, “Oh, this isn’t going to be anything like Monopoly.” Going with the d12 was a thematic choice (the in-world duodecimal system is important to the people of Makasing) and also a personal one (I’ve always loved the d12 and the range of options it supplies).

It also meant that if my game was going to be successful, I’d better have plans for everyone to be able to get their hands on d12s. Even hardcore gamers often only get a single d12 in a set and I knew that many of them wouldn’t have twelve d12s available. That’s the number we settled on as a good starting amount for a player to have. While many of your rolls in the game may only require 2 or 3 at a time, it’s good to have the larger supply when you need it and not have to re-roll the same dice or borrow others for those bigger checks.

Once we knew it was going to be a set of d12s for each player, I knew that we had to overcome two hurdles. One, we’d need an actual set of dice to offer game stores, otherwise a single C&C group might wipe out a game store’s on hand supply of loose single dice. Two, I had to make sure that the donated copies of the book and the copies purchased by folks who are new to role playing games had some option to be able to play the game that didn’t rely on a local game store.

That’s where the mobile app comes in. It’s part one of our plan. Free to use, always. Full of good information. And a fully functional dice simulator that allows you to do everything you’d need to do in the game, right there on your phone. All localized so once you’ve got it on your phone you don’t need to have wifi or signal. That’s a big chunk of the issue solved.

But here’s where we get to the larger issue. I strongly feel that the gaming industry needs to be moving toward more ethical, sustainable, and forward thinking production and materials. We don’t have all the answers yet and there are technological and financial constraints on many of the things we’d like to do overall. And when it comes to dice, there are a world of possibilities out there. So before I dive into what the options are, I want to give you a bullet list of everything I’m considering when approaching the prospect of official dice for Coyote & Crow:

  • They need to be reasonably priced – accessibly priced.
  • They need to be able to be produced at a scale that fits our budget and timeline.
  • They need to visually and materially fit into the aesthetics and concepts of Coyote & Crow (I’ll get further into that in a minute)
  • They need to be usable in a variety of settings and environments (again, more on that below)
  • They need to be durable and functional (this isn’t as obvious as you might think)
  • They need to be ethically sourced and good for the planet (or at least not causing further harm)
  • They need to be able to be shipped in a manner that is both cost effective and has minimal risk of damages during the course of shipping.
  • They need to be made in a way that benefits Indigenous owned companies along the way.
  • They need to be produced as close to the primary user base as possible to avoid excessive shipping distances (in this case, North America)

So this list represents everything I want for the dice for Coyote & Crow. And you know what? I’ll never, ever, get everything on this list. It just does not exist in any way, shape, or form from one source. What’s more is that I can’t really get more than about half of these together into a single product.

The fun bit of info, tucked deep into the middle of this post is that we’re very close to to going into production on some custom dice for Coyote & Crow that will be part of our next Kickstarter. We’re moving forward on them well before the Kickstarter even launches because current production and shipping times are so far behind everywhere across the globe right now that if we don’t get moving on them, you might be waiting until 2023 or 2024 to get them (No, I’m not kidding).

Those dice, from a well-known company, are coming from Europe and they’re made from standard high-end plastic. No Indigenous folks (that I’m aware of) will be involved in the process prior to them getting to us. As you can see, these dice don’t match up with a number of things on my list from above.

Choices had to be made though. These are nice, distinctive dice, that aren’t overly priced. They’re being produced on a timeline and budget that is the best we can do under the circumstances. They visually fit into the world of Coyote & Crow, even if they don’t fit materially. They’re usable in a variety of settings and environments, they’re durable, and they’re being shipped from Europe to our US warehouse in a single shipment and there’s minimal risk of damages from our warehouse to all of you.

Let’s come back to materials. I mentioned that the dice we’re making don’t fit into the world of Coyote & Crow materially. In the game world, people use bio-based fuels for 3d printers called gats. They’re far more efficient, precise and environmentally conscious than anything we have in the real world. I really wanted to be able to emulate that in our dice.

Currently there are two ways to do that: Bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics (two separate things, although a few companies can do both). The problem is that these are cutting edge processes and there are simply too many hurdles for it to be a reality at the moment. No companies that I spoke with would be able to produce these dice in a consistent format where they would pass quality assurances and consistency tests needed for dice. The plastics are just too soft.

There’s also recycled plastic. And if we can’t use better plastics, using recycled seemed like an easy choice. But the reality is that the availability, consistency, types, colors, etc. aren’t viable. They’re often mixed together or offered in bulk. We wouldn’t be able to promise anyone that two dice would feel, look or even roll the same.

Some folks have suggested wood, metal or ceramic dice. There are some incredible people out there doing dice work in these materials. The problems ramp up fast though. First, wood and metal present problems thematically for Coyote & Crow. Metals aren’t commonly used in the world of C&C and wood not only doesn’t push the sci-fi aesthetic we want, it also reinforces some negative stereotypes. But more than that, all of these alternative materials really fail some major hurdles. They wouldn’t be reasonably priced, they can’t scale effectively to either our budget or timeline, they can cause shipping issues, they are known to variously dent and ding other surfaces, as well as chip, and wear themselves. The most important issue though is that the pricing would effectively make the dice (and therefore the RPG) less accessible to folks new to the hobby. And that just isn’t a condition I can overlook.

So, for now, we’re going with the best we can do. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t what I ideally want. But it’s a start. And on the plus side, I’m keeping the conversations going with some of these various companies and we may indeed get to a point where we can run a Kickstarter for bio-based, biodegradable plastic dice. I’d really like that to happen. And the more Coyote & Crow continues to succeed, the more we’ll start getting some of these other companies to invest their time and resources.

I’ll also say this: If you’re a plastics manufacturer or dice manufacturer that wants to partner with me to really push the envelope, please get in touch. I think we could do really great things together.

I hope you found this peek behind the curtain informative. It’s important for me to convey that while we’re a fledgling business, with one official full time employee (moi!), we’re also aiming high. Not just in terms of what we want to do with our games, our products and the platform we’re hoping to build for Indigenous creatives, but for how we might help alter trends in the overall hobby games industry. We’re striving to be a force for positive change and your continued enthusiastic support is truly a fuel for that fire.

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