Part two of a series on the accessibility of roleplaying games.

The first post on this topic looked at the accessibility of game rule texts — a vital and important component, but possibly the area in which most of us have the least ability to influence things. We’re not the game designers (well, maybe sometimes we are), and we really can’t retype or rewrite the entire rulebook easily.

For most gamers, the accessibility issue is more personal — it’s at our gaming table. In this post, we’re going to take a look at what sort of physical artifacts are used in many roleplaying games and what the implications are for accessibility. Also, I’ll give a few suggestions as to how accessibility hurdles can be overcome — not the only solutions, by far, but some seed ideas for how we can make gaming more accessible.

Randomizers (e.g., Dice)

Nearly all roleplaying games use a set of dice: the traditional D&D spread of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20; a handful of d10s; a bucketful of d6s; or some other combination of chunks of plastic you pick up and drop again, then look at to read the result.

So, right off the bat there, you can see there’s one possible problem: reading the results.

Tactile DiceMost traditional six-sided dice may be tactile enough that someone who can’t see could feel the result. There are also special “Braille dice” available for not that much more than premium gaming dice; they’re more properly called tactile dice since the faces are traditional die pips and not true Braille numbers.

So, blind players can probably get their hands on accessible d6s, but to the best of my knowledge there are no tactile dice made for any other types of dice. Champions, anyone?

This is one of many times that a laptop computer at the gaming table can come in handy, in addition to reading electronic rulebooks. It’s not hard to find or create a die-rolling program, and with an earbud to listen to the results, a blind player or DM can roll any size of dice needed, without having to worry about buying tactile dice.

Aside: Some of you may be saying, “Wait, why doesn’t the blind player just roll her dice and have a friend next to her read out the result?” Okay, sure, that could work with some gaming groups. But it may also establish a hierarchy in which some gamers at the table are dependent upon others, and we’d really rather have everyone equally independent and gaming on their own terms, right? Also, in many games the Gamemaster will need to make secret die rolls at times, and a “dice buddy” system makes it much harder for a blind gamer to be the Gamemaster.

Dice can also present problems for low-vision gamers if the pips are too small or the dice colors aren’t contrasting enough. Gamers with limited vision will probably bring their own dice to the gaming table. It’s not hard to find a set of larger polyhedral dice, or high-contrast dice such as black pips on white, or white pips on dark blue.

Dice may also be hard for some gamers to roll if they’ve got physical restrictions of their hands. Most of us take it for granted that we can pick up a die, lean over a table, and roll it, but some folks may lack that ability. Computers may help here, or maybe electronic dice — which, again, are available primarily only as d6s.

Not all games use dice, or use only dice; some may use playing cards as randomizers. If they’re a standard deck of cards, large print and Braille packs are available. Specialized cards, not so much so. You might be able to find a way to use someone else’s Braille embosser — a “printer” for Braille — at a nearby university or school for the blind, but buying your own embosser probably won’t cut it as they’re price from nearly a thousand up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Update: In comments, Jennifer adds the following; thanks, Jennifer!:

For brailling playing cards using a “playing card slate” which are available for under $20 from specialty stores that sell adaptive products makes much more sense than using a braille embosser. Most embossers would not be able to accept playing cards because they can only use tractor-fed paper.

For cards that don’t have much information it’s easy to use this slate to braille directly on the cards. For cards with too much information to fit you can braille some sort of identification code on the card itself, and have a longer document that lists all the cards and complete information for each.

For cards that you don’t want to braille on directly (e.g., if the blind person doesn’t own the game), you can braille onto those clear plastic card protectors and put the cards inside them (although that might make shuffling a bit tricky), or even construct a completely alternate deck of cards on index cards that mirrors the regular deck, to be used only by the blind player when they need it.

I had some great feedback from gamers, including games with disabilities, on the last post, so I hope to hear more from you readers about how you’ve played D&D or similar games! Next post in the series will be about miniatures and battlemaps.