Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Armory Dice - An Evolution

The Armory - An Evolution

To understand the importance of Armory dice you have to go back to Dungeons and Dragons. When it was released in 1974 there was no way to predict the popularity nor the explosive growth of the game. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had tapped into a subculture eager to expand on the fantasy world of middle earth. Because of this unpredicted popularity production of the original components of the game was strained. This was especially true of the dice which were included with the game. For the first time polyhedral dice were in demand.

Some of you might even remember the early sets of dice coming in small plastic bags. This bag contained a devilishly sharp yellow D4, an orange D6 with numerals, a medium green D8, a light blue D12 and either a white or pink D20. These dice were actually purchased from an educational supply company to be included with the early DnD game, they were actually marketed as Math Dice. But, at the time, there were no other sources for these strangely shaped dice and the DnD game system required the use of them.

As I have previously stated demand for Dungeons and Dragons was high. So high in fact that at a point the manufacturers inventory of polyhedral dice was depleted and TSR had to resort to including "chits" which were numerals on tokens which could be blindly pulled out of a bag to create the random results required to play the game. A coupon was also included with the game for a future set of dice. Please realize that this is a simplified version of the history as I understand it...there are rumors of a totally pink set of polyhedrals being included in some original sets but until I see proof I hesitate to believe these rumors. There is just enough credibility in them to make me continue my search for my own set but not enough for me to be sure I will ever see one. They are like Nessy...or Hobbits. I would consider anyone having seen one a crackpot but would eagerly investigate the sighting to determine if there was any chance they do exist. I want to believe.

Anyway...I told you that story to lay the foundation for why Armory dice ever came into existence. You see, anyone who produced polyhedral dice in those early days would have enjoyed fast and furious sales. The obvious company that comes to mind is Gamescience. Lou Zocchi was the founder of Gamescience, the first company in the United States to produce polyhedral dice. This put them in the enviable position of producing a product which was in short supply due to the enormous demand which was being created by DnD. Distributors of Gamescience dice could not get enough product. Everything they could get their hands on immediately flew off the shelves. A market with few suppliers and huge demand was attractive to several companies especially those already in the gaming industry. The Armory was a game store in Maryland(I think). From what I know of them and that is very little indeed they seemed to have an inclination for at least private labeling products and in many cases actually having products made for them. Dice were no different; in fact it seems downright logical they would get into making polyhedral dice.

I do not know the dates of production but in the early days The Armory produced dice like you see in the far left in the intro picture with the distinctive "A" replacing one of the 1s. We collectors sometimes call this 1st Generation Armory. The "A" was a branding attempt by the Armory to make sure players knew what dice were being used. What is interesting about this is that the dice were not of the highest quality and looking at it from my perspective I am not sure I would be proud to have my brand on low impact dice which had cock eyed 2s and fell apart. But hey...I am glad they did it now because "A" dice are fairly rare and very distinctive.

Directly to the right in the picture you see the next generation of Armory where the “A” no longer exists and the dice have assumed a more traditional look for the time with 2 sequences of 0-9. The player would then ink half the numerals to designate the number above 9 and thus achieve the desired D20 effect. The is called 2nd Generation Armory by many collectors. In fact all generations of armory dice after the “A” disappeared are referred to 2nd generations.

I am here to suggest these two designations are not enough. I now have enough of a population of Armory dice to start to discern patterns and I see 4 distinct generations of Armory dice. I call them, and you can follow along left to right in the picture above (ignore the D10 for now), 1st generation, 2nd generation, 3rd generation and multi co period.

I have already gone over the history of the “A” but two other obvious characteristics of both 1st and 2nd gen Armory dice are the Fat “O” and the check mark shaped “7”. Study the Armory dice on this page and you will begin to develop and eye for these traits.

When Armory dice evolved into the 3rd Generation the 0-9 system was dropped and a more modern 1 – 20 sequence was established. And finally on the far right you can see what I call the Multi Co dice. This was the period right before The Armory was purchased by Chessex and interestingly enough the dice began to reflect a different mentality. Gone were the sharp edges of precision dice, gone was the Fat”O” and the check mark “7”. The armory went over to the dark side and was buying dice from an offshore source (probably Chinese). These factories were producing dice for any number of other American buyers. I have inserted the D10 in the picture above to show a transitional die where The Armory attempted to reinsert the traditional ”A’ as a branding mechanism on these generic “Multi Co” dice in order to distinguish them from all the other companies buying these same dice.

See my entire dice collection at www.dicecollector.net/JB/

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