Mar 26, 2015

DM Tools: Cites of Mystery

Last post, I talked about rediscovering an older 2nd edition product, and how, after re-reading it, found it's almost as useful today as it was back then. After that realization, I decided to go back and dig up the companion product to Dungeons of Mystery, Cities of Mystery and give it a second look.

Cities of Mystery actually came out before Dungeons of Mystery, but I didn't buy this when it first came out, so these reviews are actually in purchase order, not release order. Turns out Cities is, like Dungeons, almost as useful now as before. Of the 64 pages of content, the only useless material is the few monster stats the book provides in the City Adventures section, and that's only because they are in 2e format. The other 99.8% of the book is just as relevant today.

Like Dungeons, this book provides a top down look at cities, from such broad ranged topics as where to locate them, to what types of governments and rulers run the city. This is great if you have no idea in mind, just look through the pages and let your inspiration wander. If you have some details already in mind, the next level of book gives you a bit more detail, what types of historical events affected the city and what type of defenses does the city have -- from nothing all the way up to city walls, friendly monsters, and air patrols.

For even more detail, it offers ideas on handling taxes, special events, and kinds of work the PCs can find in town. One of the most useful sections I found were the handful of charts to quickly roll up and detail what shops are in the city, are its wares high quality, and what's the demeanor of the owner. These can easily be used at the table for existing towns that might need a bit more fleshing out, when the PCs end up staying longer than you planned.

Lastly the book offers a sample city (but it's not really that impressive), and a collection of adventure outlines. You'll still need to do some considerable work to flesh them out, including making interior maps for the building they visit. All of the adventures (not surprisingly) take place in the city and make use of one of the major draws of the product, the maps and fold up buildings. And if those few adventures aren't enough, the very last page includes a dozen more adventure seeds, each one a single paragraph that can easily be worked up in to a single game session.

As for the street maps and fold-up buildings, they (since they came out before Dungeons of Mystery) set the standard that didn't deviate in the follow up product. The maps are all modular, and the buildings mostly different versions of square and rectangular spaces.

But there are a number of difference that make the fold-ups better in some ways and worse in others. First off, all the buildings have roofs. so they hold their shape and are easily recognizable. There's a good variety of building shapes and design styles, from a stone structure to something more like a peasant home.

The buildings also have some noticeable downsides. Most are too small. A simple 10' x 15' building only has six 5' squares. Depending on how many PCs are in your party, some may be waiting outside if you go in to talk to a shop keeper. Secondly, the buildings have no internal details, so you can't remove a roof and play out an indoor fight. These are probably better for outdoor city scenes where the PCs may be chasing someone who ducks behind a building and seemingly disappears, or is just trying to lure the PCs into an ambush by the thieves' guild members perched on the building roofs.

One last thing to mention. If you look at the product, you'll notice the Forgotten Realms logo clearly above the product name. There is NO specific Forgotten Realms content in this book. Even the sample city, Sauter, is generic with no FR hooks in it's history or description. In fact the sequel product, Dungeons of Mystery (which just had the generic 2E logo), had more FR content, since one of the adventures was FR specific (but one was also DL specific, so the generic label was warranted).

As for Cities having the FR logo, I'm sure some marketing guy came along and said "If it's labeled FR, it'll sell more copies."

That bit of marketing aside, I whole heatedly recommend this product. It's overall more useful since the fold-ups are better than those in Dungeons, and the city content is useful in many different ways. Of course, if you don't run city based adventures often, the value of this product diminishes greatly.

Sadly, neither Cities nor Dungeons are available on D&D, so you'll need to check second hand resellers for a copy of either book.

Mar 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Dungeons of Mystery and the Pinwheel of Death

I was going through some old gaming materials, part of my 2e collect, and came across the remains of this little gem: Dungeons of Mystery.

This was one of a number of products that came out in the second edition days to help facilitate using miniatures in your game. This set focused on dungeons (not surprisingly) and provided a number of dungeon themed maps that could be flipped and turned and pieced together in different ways to make each time you used the maps unique.

The product, a skinny boxset,  typical of many other similar 2e releases, also included fold-up cardboard rooms that you could use to build out a dungeon lair. The set did come with a variety of room sizes, and a few other flourishes, like stairs and an alter set up for key encounters. Also there were "doors" that you could attach to the fold-up walls anywhere to show where the door would be for a given room.

I remember building out some, or maybe even all, of the "rooms", but these were really nothing more than 1 in high squares in various dimensions, and all with the same bland stone pattern. To build out a dungeon, you were supposed to use paperclips to attach rooms together. So, for instance, you would attach a 20x20 fold-up with a 10x30 fold-up, and add the door piece to show there was an opening between the two. For me, the biggest issues were how bland the walls looked, leaving all the rooms generic and uninspiring, and the fact that none of the rooms held their true shape. None of the corners were 90 degrees and all of the walls bowed out in the middle. In the end I chucked the cardboard but saved the rest and I'm glad I did.

The book that comes with the product is a great find. It covers a lot of area for DMs to think about with regard to their own dungeon creations, such as what was the structure originally, who's there now, how the ecology of the lair inhabitants "level out". Each topic in the book gave me plenty to think about and new ideas that I want to incorporate in my next dungeon build.

The book runs about 64 pages, with just under half of the book being a system-agnostic essay on dungeons. The remainder of the book is filled out with instructions on the fold-ups, and three scenarios using the fold-ups and maps. It should be noted that all the adventures are second edition, and if you have a good working knowledge of 2e, you can easily convert them to 5e.

Lastly, the boxset also comes with what I call the Pinwheel of Death. Aligning any of the monsters by matching color (green, blue, yellow) gives you any instant snapshot of who in in your dungeon, from the boss monsters, the minions, and the vermin. You use this as a way of quickly generating a dungeon on the fly, or to just give you an idea or two in the planning stages.

So, in finale, Dungeons of Mystery, turns out to be a great product, and one that I'm moving from my 2e back pile to my ongoing reference/inspiration books on my 5e bookshelf. Check it out and you may end up doing the same thing.

Mar 9, 2015

A Tale of Two Kickstarters - Where Dwarven Forge Meets Dungeon Decor

A couple of months ago there was a pair of competing Kickstarter projects, one from UpWorks and another similar themed one from Miniature Building Authority. Sadly, through no fault of the projects competing against each other, the UpWorks project went belly up.

But today I'm happy to report on two Kickstarter projects currently running that are so complementary that backing one almost necessitates backing the other.

First up was a nice little Kickstarter project called Tavern Dungeon Decor. This KS gives you a bunch of accessories and dressing for any number of public places, like taverns, temples, or libraries, just to name a few. The KS provides everything from a variety of chairs and tables, to bookshelves, books, plates of hot food, and even a bunch of seated patrons to dress up your city based encounters. What the KS doesn't provide are the walls or rooms for said buildings.

And that's where the second KS comes in. This is the latest Dwarven Forge Kickstarter, Dwarven Forge's City Builder System. This KS, in less than 12 hours has already raised over half a million dollars, and like previous projects from DF, is probably on track to raise several million. Their project still has a long way to go, and plenty of stretch goals and add-ons still to be revealed. This staggered reveal of goals and add-ons really helps keep the excitement alive, not just for non-backers waiting for the tipping point to jump on, but for existing backers who (like me) often have to start searching couch cushions for extra cash for that must have add-on.

On the other hand, the Tavern Dungeon Decor, almost feels like a third party partner to the DF project, since the Tavern project only has one pledge level, and has already outlined all their expected stretch goals and add-ons. It takes no time to figure out what you want and pledge (which can run as low as just $35 without any add-ons).

If you are interested in ether project, do yourself a favor and check them both out (if your wallet can stand it).

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:

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.

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.