By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 18 July 2018
It’s no small secret that I’ve been trying to streamline my RPG kit over the years. From buying gimmicky dice bags to bags designed for organization, to having long conversations with fellow convention GMs to building a budget GM kit, I’ve been striving to find that nice balance of practical storage solution with at-the-table practicality.
Meeting Max from Thinking Monk added a new option to consider. I met Max at CharCon this year, and we found ourselves in a conversation regarding exactly what I’ve been trying to find an answer to all these years. By the end of it, he asked if I would be willing to take a prototype of his Nomad’s Armory to put it through the paces.
Obviously, I said yes, and I am sharing that experience with you.
Writer’s Note: This review is for a prototype of an upcoming product. What I have in hand and what will be available at the time of release will have a number of differences and improvements, such as smoothed out boxes, better magnet placement, and fewer “imperfections” caused by development and experimentation.
The Nomad’s Armory is pitched as a durable, easy to carry kit for your tabletop gaming needs. The Armory consists of a box to store dice (and/or minis, depending on selected options), which is stored into a larger box that transforms into a dice tray.
It is meant to be a sort of all-in-one kit for the player on the go, with various options to customize your own kit (25 woods, 4 pocket cuts, 12 inlays, and laser engraving options), as well as add-ons to make things more convenient to transport it or your gear.
==What You Get==
The Nomad’s Armory I was handed is made of oak with a leather liner for the dice tray, and a lid to ensure it remained closed when not in use as a dice tray. The dice box that rested within was set with the “side-by-side” style cut, with each side designed to hold a “set” of dice: d20, d12, 2d10, d8, d6, d4.
Both the dice box and tray are equipped with powerful magnets to allow for a strong connection while still being convenient to change from one for to another. Additionally, the dice tray is lined with leather to soften the sound of dice landing, while the dice box is lined with foam and/or leather (depending on options) to help secure whatever you store within it and keep it safe.
The wood was treated with tung oil to ensure it would survive the rigors of basic use and to protect it from unexpected spills from the beverages of choice at the gaming table.
Each tray and box is custom made based on the specifications selected; wood type, cut type, inlay designs, etc.
With a product like this, I wanted to put it through its paces as fast as possible. Part of it was to get a review out, of course, but partly because I really wanted to know what was going to happen once I got started.
As I’ve done with other peripherals, I wanted to know how durable it was. While I started with the usual bag abuse (throw it in my bag with a bunch of gear for game; it passed with flying colors), the real concern was the drop test.
The dice tray was dropped a few times while it held the dice box and two sets of metal dice. The first few drops onto carpet resulted in the tray simply coming apart as though I was transforming it into the tray; there were no signs of additional damage beyond the “travel abuse” and “prototype imperfections.”
Not wanting to stop there, I decided to up the game by dropping it onto the hardwood floors I had at home. A few drops here yielded the same result, so I went to an extreme: concrete basement floor, falling from a 6’ shelf.
Yes, this was extreme, but as a GM with cats, these things happen more often than I care to admit.
This resulted in a small dent in the wood that really did nothing more than round out the sharp edge, but otherwise no visible cracks or other signs of damage. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Of course, the testing didn’t stop there.
For the dice tray, I opened it up and started to throw dice in, specifically my sets of metal dice. Even when I was trying to cause problems by throwing the dice harder than expected, the magnets held everything in place, and both the wood and the leather resisted the damage. Once again, I was impressed.
I also found that the tray was conveniently sized. Many of the other dice trays I’ve seen made from hardwoods (as well as my own tray) are a bit deeper, making it harder to readily see the roll if it lands in a corner. I wasn’t running into that here, and I thoroughly enjoyed that after having a weekend of that very problem at CharCon.
The dice box had a rather simple test: it was filled with two sets of my metal dice, held on one side, and given a few hard shakes. It did not budge in the least.
While I am uncertain if it was due to the lip or the magnets, it was still impressive to see this box withstand the weight and not come flying apart. I’ve also been assured that there is a new setup for the magnets to compensate for new design changes, so the finished product may somehow do even better than this.
I did notice that there were a few minor scratches on the strip of untreated leather that was used as an insert, but I was assured that the finished product will use a treated leather that will survive better (but may still see scratches over time, of course).
Even though I have a small concern about the thin edges of the sides of the dice box, the newer prototypes/finished products have resolved this issue, so any concerns I have about potential cracks or splits from bad falls should be alleviated by this update.
==The Accessories and Options==
One of the perks of seeing these in person and talking to the creator was the opportunity to see everything that is planned for the product line personally. This included seeing various woods, inlays (all of which are gorgeous), and more importantly, the accessories and other options.
My favorite option, which I feel should really be part of the core design, is the Nomad’s Lid. This takes the standard, flat lid and adds a bit more depth to it which better secures the dice box within. Of course, that’s just an added bonus, as the real treasure is what the lid holds: a pair of writing utensils and a stainless steel sheet.
The sheet is perfect for wet or dry erase markers, and it can attach to the side of the dice tray to act as a name plate. As someone who frequently uses dry erase index cards to tally things or note things to the party, this is a wonderful tool.
Another fun accessory was the option of a mechanical pencil. These are hand turned in the same wood of the box selections, and add an extra bit of beauty to the box.
In the end, I’m a sucker for storage and carrying options, so the idea that they have developed a holster to carry this box around on your hip instead of in a bulky bag is a moment of brilliance.
The first major plus for this is simple: it is a product that is built to last. I’ve had my fair share of things breaking at the gaming table, from dice trays breaking because of a fall to dice bags tearing within the first week, and I’ve learned how to stress test just about any product I’ve been handed. Short of taking this into the shop and hitting it with hammers, or running it over with a car, I’m pretty confident it will survive many a game for years to come.
I’m also a huge fan for the design and portability, honestly. Looking at it the first time, I wasn’t really expecting much. To be perfectly, I wasn’t entirely certain I was going to like it as I couldn’t tell if it would survive or if it would be too gimmicky.
Instead, I found myself enjoying the design. Without the dice box within it, it’s got some storage capacity available, and combining it with the holster (or just packing it correctly), you can have everything you really need as a player inside of this small package. Seriously; looking at this and my most recent D&D character, I discovered I could put my dry-erase cards and markers, pocket notebook, character mini (in case!), a few dice sets, and a couple pencils inside of it. While I am wary of folding up my character sheet and the stack of spell notes that go with it (a part I was trying to make digital due to playing a spellcaster), it was still an option for me to travel light.
Finally, this product does it’s job, and it does it well. As previously mentioned, I’ve abused it in the short time I’ve had it, and I haven’t run into any major problems with it yet.
From a player perspective, what more could you want?
If I were being honest, I could want more, but that is also because of what I look for to fulfill my needs as a GM, and not as a player.
It’s not a secret that I am usually locked in as a GM, and any time I get to be a player, it’s a rare opportunity (and usually at a convention). For me, I need to make everything I carry count, because otherwise I’m hauling a wheeled suitcase full of materials, and there’s no point in going mobile or trying to reduce the weight at that point.
The Nomad’s Armory barely scratches the surface of what I’d need as a GM. The dice tray is nice and reasonably practical, but it just becomes another box in my kit at that point. I like that it can be used to store things and then turn into a dice tray, but again, in a bag, it’s just another box.
I also feel that the Nomad’s Armory is incomplete without the Nomad’s Lid. Those two extra spaces for writing utensils are worth their weight in gold if you have favorite pencils or pens that are worth protecting, and it is sad to see that it’s an add-on instead of a default, because it is absolutely wonderful, and I feel that some may be missing out on it because of being an add-on (and the nature of calculating costs in this Kickstarter).
The dice box in general is a moot point for me due to my standard of bringing enough dice for all players, and depending on the game and character levels, the box isn’t that useful. In D&D, a fighter can get away with two of each die, but a wizard will need piles of dice. If you are playing any dice pool game (Shadowrun, Cortex, 7th Sea, etc), the dice box will not be useful for you except as a means to store your mini (depending on your box cut, of course), and in a mono-dice or dice-light game (Warrior, Rogue, & Mage, Fate, etc), it’s a lot of wood for so little to store. It could work for a pair of minis, but again, price point does make it a bit outlandish, all things considered.
Again, these are picky notes from the GM side of things, which essentially means that the Armory isn’t ideal for a GM, but parts (specifically the dice tray) may be worth it for the GMs looking to cut down on space in a bulky kit. For players, mileage may vary based on the type of game, of course.
==The Price Discussion==
I avoided mentioning the price earlier as I cannot say if it is necessarily good or bad. If anything, I feel it is better to tell you what’s here, and then compare it to the competition.
A complete Nomad’s Armory starts at $80 for the base product made out of oak. This is just the dice tray and lid (at $50) with a single dice box ($30); this doesn’t include the Nomad’s Lid (which I would suggest; $23 in oak), laser etching, or any other customizations. While this is pricey for an RPG accessory, one needs to consider the alternatives.
A cheap dice tray from Ultra Pro will cost you $15. It will be made of plywood, flimsy, and gods help you if you spill anything on it (speaking from experience: don’t). It also won’t fold up, making it an inconvenience to tote around, and again, it is rather flimsy.
You can also make your own, as I did last year. Like the one from Ultra Pro, it will probably be plywood, and it will take time and extra materials to get it right, not to mention requiring costs upfront for the various tools. My cheap box ended up running me about $20 in “new” materials, and did not include the tools, hardware, or fabric I already had on hand, nor does it factor in the cost of your own time (and when you’re GMing all the time, that’s in short supply).
Dice trays from Eldertree Gaming/Kentucky Sawdust will start at $30 and climb to about $50 for just the dice tray. Like the ones from Ultra Pro, they are locked in at the size and shape, which leaves you with a deep tray and limited carry options. They are durable and lovely to look at in person (I was guilty of gawking at them recently), but for a gamer on the go, they just aren’t practical without spending extra on specialized towers that store dice that can fit within it.
Elderwood Academy sells their Scroll Rolling Tray at $60, which is nothing more than a few walls and a bit of leather to roll on. While they don’t take much space in a kit and look beautiful, they just aren’t practical due to the soft bottom and the lack of secondary uses. For the more practical side, you’d be looking at their Spellbook line, which is an amazing resource for storage that converts to a dice tray…at the starting price of $105.
Hrothgar’s Hoard, a shop I have purchased various smaller accessories from, carries a pair of dice trays that are already set with dice towers that fold for easy storage, and they begin at $89. These are lovely as well, and I love the feel and look of them every time I see one, but once again, there’s the storage issue as it simply folds on itself to be thrown into a bag and doesn’t do much else.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Wyrmwood. These have kind of been a gold standard for wooden gaming gear, and the company has been making licensed products for some time. Sadly, these items are extraordinarily pricey; their smallest personal dice tray starts at $60 (and again, locked into shape), with their dice vaults starting at $25 (which stores one set of polyhedral dice).It may be cut to be ready to rock with their dice towers, but the idea of paying an additional $100 or more for a peripheral just seems a bit daunting.
At this point, I’d rather pay a bit less than Wyrmwood for a product that is more portable and has additional storage options, but that is the opinion of this convention attending, GMing-on-the-go NPC. I find the pricing to be more than competitive, and look forward to seeing what’s next from them.
While what I have in hand is only a prototype, and it is not ideal for what I do during events, I have to admit that I am impressed by this. With that, I am giving it a solid 4 buns.
The Nomad’s Armory is a solid resource for the nomadic gamer. Rugged construction, excellent materials, and well thought out designs leave us with a gaming accessory that should be able to withstand the test of time and many a slain dragon, eldritch horror, or other beastie, while still looking good in the process.
That said, the Armory as a whole may not be ideal for certain games, and even though the tray is compact, it may not impact a GM that already has a large kit enough to warrant the investment. The price point may also be a turnoff for some, but considering the alternatives, it is very competitively priced.
The Nomad’s Armory, in a “basic” oak model, starts at $80 and increases based on add-ons or other options. They can be purchased via Kickstarter, with an expected delivery in December. The goal has already been funded, so everything from here on would be stretch goals. You can learn more about Thinking Monk and see their other products by checking their website.