Jan 26, 2015

Another GenCon Housing Fiasco

Another year, and another fiasco trying to get a GenCon hotel room.

This year, they claimed to have a new solution (read, untested) that was supposed to alleviate the issues of last years mess. Sad to say, all it did was create a whole new set of issues for people.

I'm sure you can read all the gory details elsewhere, but here's my story:

I got my 4-day badge on Saturday, with no issues, not that I've ever heard of any issues getting badges. According to the website, I was to come back to the housing page around noon (I was on the page 15 minutes early) and at noon, I would be assigned a time to be able to get in to housing.

I was assigned a 15 minute wait time, and figured I was pretty lucky. It would be the last time I would think that...

The page had a nice countdown clock and as soon as the time passed, the Reservation button was active. As soon as I clicked on that button, I got an error message.

STATUS : ERROR StatusID : 3 GUID : 14b0354fcdf:-70ee48 ERROR : BRIDGE_142 : Invalid BridgeID ?!?

Now I started freaking out. I clicked the reservation button again and got the same error. I reloaded the page and as back in a queue, waiting another 3 minutes. When that time passed, and I was able to get a Reservation button, I again got the message above.

I tried other browsers; tried logging out and back in. At this point I was really upset, as this was the second year in a row that the housing app screwed up my ability to get a downtown room.

I called customer service and they weren't even answering calls.

After an hour of trying to get in to the system, I just had to give up, or loose my sanity. So it seems like once again, I'll have to work other options to get a downtown room for the convention.

So, rather than just let this post devolve into a personal rant, what Lessons Learned can GenCon hopefully take from this:

1) Customer service isn't just for every other day of the year. You know that the first day of housing registration is crazy, even under normal circumstances (not that I've ever experienced a normal housing registration day). You need to have your customer service number on and fully staffed, or over staffed as in this case.
     And as soon as you have an issue, you need to update your agents with details and actions they can take to alleviate customer concern.
 2) You need a better housing system. One where people register for their badges weeks in advance. Then based on the day (not hour or minute) they register, they get access to a hotel form, where they enter their top three (or 5) choices, then the forms are processed at a more leisurely pace so as not to overload the system.

3) Offer some kind of credit for not registering a hotel through the system. It's certainly more expensive to book hotels outside of the convention, but if I choose to do it, and you give me a rebate, then I might be a bit more likely to do it, thereby reducing the amount of impact on the housing system.

Hopefully one or more of these ideas will resonate with the GenCon team, and next year we'll have an easier experience.

Jan 8, 2015

GenCon 2015

You might think it's a bit early to start thinking of GenCon--unless you work for GenCon, who probably starts working on the next GenCon the day or so after the last one ends--but there are a couple of important dates just around the corner and some important notices.

First off, this year GenCon is a bit earlier than before, running from (Thur) July 30 to (Sun) Aug 2. If it's your first trip to the con, consider getting on site that Wed. Each year more and more official and unofficial events keep popping up the day prior to the actual con.

Along with the change in dates for the actual con, a couple of other dates have moved up. Badge registration starts on Friday January 23 and Hotel Booking starts Sun January 25 at noon. The Hotel Booking date is very important because if you want to get a room close to the Con (1-2) blocks, you need to get in the queue as fast as possible. Last year, the prime locations all booked up in less than 20 minutes.

GenCon promises more information shortly on changes to the Hotel Reg procedure this year (probably due to overwhelming complaints about the last year), so stay tuned.

Oh, and one other date change. If you want to submit an event for consideration, you can start doing that NOW! So what are you waiting for? Head over and submit an event to help make GenCon 2015 even better than last year.

Here's the link for Event Submission: link (you'll need to have an account with the GenCon system to submit)

Dec 19, 2014

Game Session: When Kobolds Fly! (Part 2)

After the last session, Duncan and Ataraxia found themselves in an empty cave, having cleared out the bat swarm that lived here. In a small make-shift cell, they found a young human male, who had been gagged and his hands and fingers tightly bound.

After freeing the thankful young man, he said that his name was Embreth, that he was a young apprentice wizard, and had been taken prisoner recently by the kobolds while in route to Saltmarsh (he was on the same road carriage that Erik Frause was on). In addition to the kobolds here, the leaders of the tribe were actually a nasty hobgoblin called Crookneck, and a few other hobgoblins who served as his lieutenants. Embreth also mentions that two other humans he had been traveling with were somewhere else in the cavern. Embreth was isolated as Crookneck clearly discerned that the young man was a mage. Though Crookneck took the mage's spell book, and most of his spell components, Embreth still had enough components to cast a few of his lesser spells.

After arming Embreth with a small dagger--it was the only weapon they had on hand the young mage could use--the three set out to explore the rest of the cavern. Down one twisting and turning hallway, they found another room where the bats in the area nested, and beyond they found, not another jail cell, but the living quarters, such that it was, for the kobolds of the tribe. While the kobolds outnumbered their hobgoblin leaders, they had no loyalty for Crookneck or his ilk. Since the party was willing to leave the rest of these kobolds alone, including the women and children of the tribe, the kobolds were willing to stay out the heroe's way.

Down another corridor, the party was able to sneak up on a hobgoblin guard. The guard was half asleep at his post and they were quickly able to subdue the hobgoblin before he could alert anyone. From the hobgoblin, Embreth took a spear that he could wield instead of the small dagger.

With surprise, the party burst into the room to find two more hobgoblin and a lone gnome. The gnome is chained to a heavy chair near a set of work benches. One of the benches displays all manner of chemicals, oils, and liquids, while the other table shows small mechanical devices in various stages of build.

After fighting and defeating the hobgoblins, the party was able to talk to the gnome. It seems the gnome, who's "human" name is Sparks, was captured by the kobolds months ago. He was a member of the Mt. Nevermind gnome's Guild of Fences and Defences. He would have been killed, but Crookneck saw the gnome's plans for various inventions in his journals and spared the tinkerer so long as he created useful devices for the tribe.

Sparks also told the party that there were a few other humans still alive in the caverns, based on talk he overheard from the guards. Embreth was able to scrounge through the supplies in the room for the spell components necessary for the few spells he could still recall. Equipped, the party headed back into the hallway, to explore further into the caverns.

Down the main hallway of these caverns, they came across a pair of hobgoblins who've set up a defensive position. After hearing some of the commotion nearby (the party wasn't as stealthy as they'd hoped to be), some of Crookneck's top guards started investigating and after finding the mage missing, they knew something was amiss.

The hobgoblins launched a few volleys of arrows at the party before retreating. Embreth was able to hit one of the guards with the spear he had been carrying. The guard was wounded, but made it back to their fall back position behind a nearby door. The party pursued, and after listening, knew that their were just a few hobgoblins in the next room.

With a coordinated attack, the party burst into the room, which was better decorated than any other place in the caverns. Inside there was one wounded guard, as well as his unharmed partner. Also in the room, giving orders was clearly the tribe leader, the one others referred to Crookneck. With everyone in clear view, Embreth cast one of his spells. Soon missiles of magical force flew unerringly toward the various targets wounding each of the hobgoblins.

After than, Ataraxia rushed in pummel the wounded guard while Duncan went after the other guard. Crookneck was just out of reach, but he soon rushed in to gang up on the cleric. In short order, Duncan, Ataraxia, Embreth, and even Sparks defeated the leader of the tribe and his personal guard.

In the room they found some valuable treasures, including several bags of coins of all types, a handful of precious gems, and a few rare and valuable books. Mostly importantly, among the other books, Embreth was able to find his personal spell book. From Crookneck, Duncan was able to retrieve the leaders enchanted long sword, and a set of keys, for what, the cleric did not yet know.

On the other side of the room, was another door, but instead of leading to another hallway, this was a dark and narrow stairwell down, deeper into the bowels of the earth. Heading down, with sunrod close at hand, the party soon found themselves in the makeshift dungeon. In here, they were able to find the two remaining prisoners, shackled to the walls. One of the keys Duncan retrieved from Crookneck undid the locks. The young men were in fact Oswald and Hubert Fastralli, as Erik Frause has mentioned traveling with on the the road carriage. After freeing the young men and tending to their wounds, all minor, everyone made their way out of the caverns.

Behind the Scenes: As you may have guessed, Embreth was supposed to be a new ongoing character in the campaign. Unfortunately, shortly after these sessions, the person playing him he had to drop out of the game.

Dec 5, 2014

Building D&D 5e Encounters

With the lack of D&D 5e modules currently out on the market, I find myself running more older edition modules, and convert the creatures up to the latest version.

Two new websites I've recently come across help greatly with the problems and issues that come out of conversions.

First, why the new Monster Manual is a great resource of your 5e game, and chock full of all the classic monsters you could be looking for, not everything from past editions is in the book (nor could it be, without ending up looking like the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.

So if you're older edition module calls for a creature not yet stated in 5e terms, or you have your eye set on a particular monster from an old favorite book, what can you do?

With that in mind, I offer the following web page:

http://brentnewhall.com/games/1e5e.html

Here, the author has set up a nifty little utility for converting 1e and 3e monsters into their 5e equivalents. Fill out a few fields and you get a easy to copy and past stat block in 5e terms. Note, the conversion guidelines are unofficial, and you may need to do a little tweaking, but this is a great start.

Secondly, now that you have your 5e monsters, you should probably re-check your encounters, just to make sure you didn't accidentally create a deadly encounter when it should have been easy. As we know from The Angry DM's youtube video about 5e encounters, they can be a little more tricky than previous editions.

Thankfully, we have a great website, Kobold Fight Club where you can define the number and level of your PCs, then build out an encounter. The result is a calculation for the experience points for the encounter, and the adjusted XP for determining the lethality of the encounter.

http://kobold.club/fight/#/encounter-builder

The site also allows you to search for monsters from a number of sources (D&D Basic, MM, etc) and filter by various criteria, such as CR range, monster type, and environment.

Not only do I use this for checking converted encounters, but also for brainstorming original encounters as well. The site also allows you to save encounters for later reference.

Whether you're running older modules, or original content, these two sites can greatly speed up your prep time. Hope you find them as useful as I do.

Nov 20, 2014

The Lego / D&D Project: Part 2

Last post we looked at some simple Lego ideas for chairs. As a companion to that posting, let's look at the next logical piece of gaming scenery -- the table.

A table can be just as simple as a chair, all you really need is some size brick and a slightly larger plate (or tile).

You can make small tables using just 1x1 bricks and 2x2 plates, and thankfully these pieces come in almost every possible color you could want, but I find this structure is usually top heavy and doesn't stand up well to the casual dings a gaming table can take during a game session.



If you really need a small table like this, consider using a Scala Base brick, as the "feet" on the bottom of the piece provide a bit more stability.

But more common tables are 4x4, 4x6, or 4x8. And with these, you have some options for the table base, either just a simple brick (like a 2x2 or 2x4 underneath the tabletop, or 1x1 bricks for legs, 1x1 round bricks, archs, or even stacking 1x1 round plates for effect.



Leg options for tables

Like we did with the chairs in the last post, you can use tiles to make the tables look less lego-y. In this case, you can use 1x4 tiles to make the top look smooth.



And for longer tabels, you may want to consider benches, instead of chairs. As you can see, benches are much easier to build than chairs.

Plates (2x6 and two 1x2)

Plates (two 1x2) and Tiles (two 1x8)


Also, if you visit the Citizen Brick website, you can get printed 1x4 and 1x6 tiles that look like wooden boards.
Note: Citizen Brick is a third party company, so while their products look like Lego, and are 100% compatible, they are not official Lego product (not that this should matter for our purposes here).
Next time, we'll look at some really simple ways to dress up our tables.

Oct 30, 2014

Dungeonscape Undone

Seems tis the season for projects to go belly up. Last week the UpWorks KS was shutdown, with a note saying that it would probably never be revived. 

This week is word that Dungeonscape, the Dungeons and Dragons 5e online toolset from Trapdoor Technologies, was cancelled by Wizards of the Coast, and that the existing beta would be shut down shortly. Dungeonscape, originally announced as Project Morningstar, seemed to be on track for a 2014, or early 2015 release, and while they only had a character creator available for the beta, the application had received high praise from those who used it. Prior to this announcement, there was no indication that the project was in any jeopardy of being released. 
This marks yet another failure of Wizards to release software in a timely manner for their table top games going all the way back to second edition. Second edition software, released manny years after the hardback edition of the rules, was plagued with content bugs and included a stripped down Campaign Mapper program, instead of the more popular (at the time) Campaign Cartographer. 
Third edition included a Character Creator that was supposed to preview a full featured character creator/campaign manager tool. Several years later, e-Tools was released, eventually moving from one development company to another, and never having the all the features originally promised. 
For Fourth Edition, once again the originally promised feature set never arrived. It took years before a virtual tabletop was available as well as web based (and therefore Mac usable) tools. 
Dungeonscape was shaping up to be the first time D&D tabletop software was going to ready in a timely manner, with a full feature set, and be web and tablet ready out of the gate. Sadly, with today's announcement, fifth edition is shaping up to be just like previous editions (but not in a good way).

Oct 24, 2014

Monsters!

Monsters are the life blood of any good Dungeons and Dragons game. How many past stories do you tell that hing on encountering the imposing dragon or the horrific lich?

There are plenty of Monster Manuals and Bestiaries available for you to choose from, but every so often you may want something original.

For new monster inspiration, I often look to Animal Planet and other nature channels and websites. Recently, I can across a web channel Earth Unplugged and a great video about Bizarre Animals.

Check this out if you want some ideas for easily tweaking animals for your next adventure.

Some of my favorites include the pig-nose turtle (possibly a companion to an underwater ranger, the pig-noose granting some bonus to perception), the thorny devil (lizard with thorny/sharp hide) and the blue dragon (sea slug).

For the blue dragon, I envision a monstrous land based slug with tentacles (which naturally include grapple capabilities) and maybe an ability where if it is hit with poison, not only is it immune, but then it's next attack includes poison damage.

Check out the video here.