I met Jeff Berry aka Chirine KaBal when my daughter participated in a game he ran on Free RPG Day. Forget OSR or OD&D, this game was older than old school (ironically without dice). Although, not one of the more famous names associated with the history of role-playing games, Jeff has been part of it for a long time. If you ask him, he says that he’s never played Dungeons & Dragons. However, he has played Blackmoor, Greyhawk and Tékumel. He’s played before there were even rules written down. He helped play test those early games with Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax and M.A.R. Barker. The way RPG games were played at the beginning would probably be unrecognizable to someone today who is used to having to haul around thick hardcover books.
Obviously, he has a lot of really good stories to tell about gaming and the pioneers who invented it. Especially when it comes to the lesser known contributor to RPGs as they are today, Tekumel creator M.A.R. Barker, also known as “Phil”. Jeff is also an awesome resource when it comes to painting miniatures. He and his wife, Janet, created impressive suits of Tékumel armor. These costumes, made before cosplay became common with all the resources that exist today, were even worn during some gaming sessions. Yet, what I’m writing about today is: these dice.
Jeff has a large collection of dice that includes the very first dice he received up to the very last ones he received. I noticed, one day at the game shop, this particularly beat-up pair of dice, which are his very first dice straight out of the original boxed Tékumel: World of the Petal Throne game set from 1975. These dice don’t look as sturdy as modern versions. That’s because there weren’t any dice making companies then, like there are now. These are basically not that far off from the math educational aids found in a school supply catalog by Gary so long ago. They weren’t meant to be thrown around and yet, here they are. Of course Jeff played Tékumel before the boxed set was officially released, but these dice have played with Gary, Dave and Phil.
Then there are the very last d20s Jeff acquired. Pristine and better made, they represent a sort of bittersweet chapter in gaming. The beginning and end, representing a lifetime of gaming and the history of roleplaying games in general. These dice were given out to attendees of Dave Arneson’s funeral.
To read more about gaming, Tékumel and the early days of RPGs, Jeff writes a fascinating blog which hints at the adventures these dice have participated in. The lesser known personality of M.A.R. Barker is given due credit on his blog. Barker’s world of Tékumel is highly developed to Tolkienesque levels of detail and richness. If you’ve ever looked for old school style RPGs not in a generic European setting, Tékumel may be what you are looking for. I plan on spotlighting more of Jeff’s stories and collection in the future. He still owns the box set those beat-up d20s came in!