The other day I was searching online for generic colored pawns to use for a Maid RPG scenario (and whatever else they might come in handy for), and I stumbled across all kinds of neat stuff for board game supplies.
I wound up ordering not only pawns, but a whole bunch of other stuff from Great Hall Games. I also came across the website of a company called Rolco, that does all kinds of molded plastics, albeit mainly in bulk. However, they have a “Kits & Bits” page where you can order, amongst other things, a “Game Inventor Kit” ($19.99) that includes a blank board and box, and zillions (well, about 170) of different plastic pieces. eBay also has a category for “Game Pieces, Parts,” where you can find stuff like this as well as replacement parts for mainstream board games.
Anyway, here are some specific game components, and thoughts on how they might be useful:
- Pawns: Pawns are a very generic way to keep track of location. I decided to buy some because of the Maidenrangers of Love and Justice scenario for Maid RPG, in which you build up a “board” out of playing cards that represent both a room and the random event that happens there when the PCs enter (which also has the benefit of making sure random events are never repeated). Pawns also come in different varieties, and there are little plastic stands for cardstock figures as seen in many commercial board games. There’s also stuff like the Icehouse pyramids, which are colored, vary in size, and are stackable.
- Boards: Boards might be a little harder to make, though I think it would be relatively easy to, say, print our two pieces of cardstock and tape them together to form a decent-sized board. Boards can contain a crapload of information, and can provide locations (physical or otherwise) and information on them. Also, boards can be modular, either used at different times (like how there are wargames with a strategic-level main board and a tactical-level “battle board”) or assembled together to form a map. I’m thinking of putting together a Maid RPG scenario that involves a board representing the mansion, and my concept for that “Black Hole Girls” game involved making a board representing a neighborhood, which would affect certain things in the game.
- Cards: I’ve posted about cards before, and I’m working on three different games that use them in different ways, so I won’t retread all of that here. Regular playing cards are even more readily available than six-sided dice, and cards in general can contain all kinds of information, including text, colors, and pictures. On top of that you can do all kinds of things with placing, stacking, holding, and shuffling them. Also, apparently Guild of Blades has indeed launched their POD cards service (while I wasn’t looking).
- Spinners: The only RPG I know of that used spinners was TSR’s Bullwinkle game (and I have a copy I got off eBay for about $12 BTW). The thing about a spinner is that as a game designer you can use it as a random generator for pretty much anything. You can throw together a template in Illustrator in minutes, print it out, paste it to cardstock, and attach a spinner that costs 50 cents or less, and you’re good to go. You can put numbers, symbols, colors, pictures, and so on, and you can put more than one kind of thing in the same spaces or in concentric circles.
- Play Money/Poker Chips: I’ve never seen an RPG that uses Monopoly money (or a Cheapass equivalent), but there are games like DeadLands that have used poker chips to keep track of certain things in a game. Play money feels more like you’re dealing with actual money, while poker chips have the advantage of being available everywhere. When I went into a drugstore the other day looking for something I might be able to salvage for generic pawns, I saw packs of poker chips.
- Sand Timers: Using real-time stuff in an RPG is tricky, but if you do it for the right reasons it could be neat. I’ve noticed that for whatever reason FLGSs often stock small sand timers.
- Scrabble Tiles: The wooden chips from Scrabble are like playing cards in that they contain multiple kinds of information (letters and the frequency numbers), and on top of that you can form them into words. One of /tg/’s flashes of brilliance was the idea to make a superhero game where you form scrabble tiles into “POW” and whatnot for extra power.
Using this kind of stuff in an RPG would be a turn-off to some people, but sufficiently creative uses would more than justify the effort. Some of these are things where it’s a toss-up whether gamers would have them on hand, and they’re just enough out of the way to be a little annoying to get a hold of. I know I don’t have a roulette wheel or a Jenga set on hand, and with spinners you have to either order from a specialty shop or raid a very kiddy board game for parts. Looking at boardgamegeek.com, I stumbled across Piecepack, a sort of public domain standardized collection of parts, made by a few different manufacturers. It’s meant to be a board game set similar to a pack of playing cards in that you can buy it and use it for tons of different games, and along with the aforementioned Icehouse pyramids and Stonehenge (which looks like it’s a good deal more elaborate).
Although it’s almost certainly impossible to change the hobby in such a way as to make more board game components a standard in RPGs, there’s a lot of unexplored territory here, and apparently if you know where to look it’s dirt cheap to explore it. (Manufacturing might be another matter entirely, but still). There’s always going to be the risk of people calling the game a “gimmick.” Of course, you’re going to get that just for doing anything remotely interesting with dice anyway, but it is good to ask the question, “Does this do something that more conventional materials can’t?”
Lastly, some other places that sell neat stuff:
- Koplow Games
- Wholesalers USA
- Meeple People
Update: Some more nifty things.