Oct 21, 2010

Second Wind Option in My Campaign

My current D&D campaign uses the 3.5 rules. At the same time, I'm interested in the new 4.0 rules, but don't have a lot of experience playing it (other than a few D&D Encounters sessions at my FLGS).

While reading up on the new system thanks to the Rules Compendium for 4.0/Essentials. When I came across the detailed description for Second Wind, I realized that this was something I could easily incorporate into my 3.5 game.

One of the things that makes it easy to use a Second Wind-type mechanic is that my game already uses the Reserve Points optional rule (from Unearthed Arcana). I use this option since for most of the campaigns, I didn't have a full party, and even now, the group doesn't have a healing cleric. Since there isn't a steady pool of healing magic available, I think Reserve Points nicely fills that gap (and allows players to play what they want, instead of someone feeling like they must play the walking band-aid).

Since players have this Reserve Point pool that they would normally draw from between encounters (assuming a short rest), adding a Second Wind draw on Reserve Points during an encounter seems like an easy choice, and shouldn't upset game balance too much.

So, here's my write up for this option. If you are familiar with the 4.0 rules for Second Wind, you'll notice that it doesn't follow that mechanic exactly.

Second Wind (of Reserve Points)

This action can only be used when the PC is bloodied, and only usable if the PC has unused Reserve Points.

By spending a full round, the PC can immediately convert a number of Reserve Points to hit points equal to 1/4 of the PC's max hit points (round up). Unlike the normal rules for Reserve Points these are converted immediately to hit points and can be done during an encounter. During this time the PC is considered to be using the Total Defense action.

Second Wind can only be done once per encounter.

If the number of Reserve Points the PC has is less than 1/4 of the PC's max hit points, then only those available are converted.

Between combats, the normal rules for Reserve Points are still in effect, possibly providing additional hit points to the PC.

If you have a moment, please review and comment on this rule. I haven't used this yet in my game, but based on your feedback, I may be adding this option starting next session.


Aug 13, 2010

Gen Con Aftermath: New Products for 2010 and 2011

Sadly, since I had to cut my Gen Con trip short, I wasn't around for the Saturday seminar where the folks from WotC announced a bunch of new products for 2011. But I did eagerly follow every Twitter link and blog post I could find.

I had some initial reactions to the announcements, but decided to sit on them for a while before writing down my thoughts, and I'm glad I did, since some of my initial reactions changed the more I thought about it.

One thing that didn't change was my sub headline for this blog post:

2011 - The Year Everything Changes

Technically you could say that things are changing right now with regards to D&D 4e, but it wasn't until I saw the product list for 2011 that I realized that what we'll be seeing in the upcoming months from WotC for 4e sets the stage for the "new normal".

What I'm specifically referring to are the game changes that will be part of the new D&D Essentials line. We've known about the Essentials line for a while now, but only recently with several online previews (and a significant general rules update) were we getting details on what to expect. As I point out in my post on the Gen Con Delve I played, I like many of the changes that we'll be seeing in the new products, and look forward to picking up at least the new Red Box starter set (and if you don't already know, that starter set will only have this "throwback jersey" design for the first printing. Additional print runs of the set will have a cover treatment more in line with the other Essentials products).

Looking at these changes, I see a significant shift in character mechanics, as compared to their 4e counterparts. At this point I'll add the obligatory mention that Essentials does not render previous 4e materials obsolete (as the 3.5 launch did to 3.0 materials), but 4e characters can be played along side Essentials counterparts. Time will ultimately tell how much support the new and old continue to receive.

And looking at the new products for 2011, I see a similar shift in what is being developed. Not appearing on the 2011 schedule is anything like PHB4 or DMG3 (though I read somewhere that their might be an Epic Level DMG in 2012). Instead there's going to be an Unearthed Arcana-like options book for Players and DMs (Champions of the Heroic Tier) and a magic item book with more detailed items, possibly for more role playing value (Mordenkenian’s Magical Emporium), along with a name change for the yearly monster book (Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale).

Clearly there is a shift in the product names to move away from the bland "book #" format, to titles with more evocative and interesting names, and I certainly applaud this minor change. These names are already more inspiring than Martial Power 2 or Monster Manual 3.

Another interesting change in the upcoming products seems to be the inclusion of more cards into the game. The Fortune Cards, along with the Despair Deck (from Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond), not the mention the granddaddy of all card decks, the Deck of Many Things (available in the Madness of Gardmore Abbey mega-adventure) look to add new elements of randomness and variation into the game.

As for the Fortune Cards, I'm not sure what to expect, but it seems like we've already seen this type of product before. Will this be more like the new Plot Twist cards from Paizo, or the older Atlas Games Dork 20 cards for D&D 3.5? The only difference here is that these will be sold in booster packs instead of complete decks, a decision I don't approve of. While WotC says these aren't meant to be collected, I can image more than a few people eager to get a complete set regardless.

The other major shifts we'll be seeing next year are more Box Sets, something we haven't seen in quantity since the days of 2e. Supposedly, Box Sets were very expensive to produce and had a higher return rate over books as they would dent more easily and major book store chains would return large numbers of damaged product. I for one am happy to see the return of the Box Set and mega adventures with plenty of maps and tokens and space for my own hand written notes and additions.

Also making a comeback is a setting specific print product, specifically the Neverwinter Campaign Guide for the Forgotten Realms. This marks a change from the previous position that each setting will only be supported by two books. I like the idea that a given setting might need more than the two book limit, so long as it doesn't open the floodgates of old. What I don't want to see is half a dozen FR or Dark Sun books coming out in a given year.

Something new we'll be seeing next year are a few books in a 6 x 9 softcover format. I like softcover books and for some time thought that WotC should have a cheaper softcover version of the PHB available for cost conscious players or as a second travel book for players and DMs. It now looks like I'll be getting this with the new Rules Compendium. I hope this is priced accordingly and turns out to be successful.

Lastly, one of the products that I was initially bearish about was the new campaign setting, Ravenloft. While I like the setting, the news that this new version would feature playable vampire and werewolf characters wreaked of pandering to the Twilight/True Blood/Vampire Diaries crowd. After thinking about this for a while, I changed my position. Plenty of d20/3.x products allowed players access to these iconic monster types, and if it helps bring new players to D&D (as Vampire did to the RPG hobby in general), I don't see this as a bad thing.

Certainly I don't want to see the overall mood of the Demiplane of Dread altered into a teen angst setting, but I have enough trust in WotC to find enough game space in the setting for all kinds of play in the Gothic horror tradition.

2011 certainly looks like an interesting year to be a fan!

P.S. This will be my last post-Gen Con article. While there is much more I could comment on, I'm sure other people have already made mention of this or that aspect of the con. I now return you to your regular blog...

Aug 11, 2010

Gen Con Aftermath: The Delve

Besides Castle Ravenloft, one of the other games I played this year at Gen Con was the Dungeon Delve. This was a short event, where a party of pre-gen characters goes through about two encounters in a one hour time limit.

This year the pre-gens were all built using the upcoming D&D Essentials ruleset. For this very reason, I was greatly interested in trying this out to get a taste of how these characters would behave. For the one game I played (due to other commitments, I didn't have time to play the delve more than once), I chose to play the slayer (fighter).

If you haven't already read about the slayer, check out the preview article posted on the official site.

The one thing I really liked was the new Stance ability. This allowed me to modify my basic attack with either a stance that gave me +1 to hit, or one that granted +2 to damage. I think this is much better than the previous at-will powers, which effectively negated the need to ever use a basic attack. Also, the lack of daily powers all makes sense for fighter types as well, "Once I do this maneuver, I can't recall how to do it again till tomorrow?". Once thing I really want to see is how Essential characters, particularly the fighters, stack up against PHB fighter builds.

The delve itself was rather simple, as we entered one room, there were a pair of creatures waiting to attack (and a few others that sprung up a few rounds later), and when we entered the next room, more of the same. In each room, at least one player was close to getting killed, but lucked out in the end and everyone survived. I had heard of other tables yielding TPKs, or characters being killed before even getting their first action--that's what I call a long way to spend an hour!

By the way, I'm not trying to criticize the game, format, or time limit. I think this was a great way to show off the new character builds and throw in some quick combat to "kick the tires".

The other nice thing about the delve is that you earned points each time you played, and those points could be used for items that you could bring back to the delve at a later session. After one game, I was able to get upgrades to my armor and weapon. If only I had the chance to go back later!

Aug 9, 2010

Gen Con Aftermath: Castle Ravenloft Board Game

Having been home from Gen now for two days (I had to cut my visit short as I had family obligations on Saturday), I thought I should jot down some of my experiences, and thoughts.

Originally I planned to draft a long post covering all the things I saw, played, and thought during the three days I was there (from early Wednesday through late Friday), but rather than one catch all post, I've decided to write up a number of short posts, all under the "Gen Con Aftermath" title, on various topics related to the convention. Up first was the first game I played at the con... the new Castle Ravenloft board game.

The first thing to note is that many of the game mechanics are based on the D&D 4th Edition game. Heroes are based on the races and classes from D&D--for the game, I played a Dragonborn Fighter, while the other players had similarly familiar races and classes. Each character had a stat card (on very thick card stock--the same as the dungeon tiles sets). On one side were stats as a first level character, on the back, stats for a 2nd level version. I started out at 1st level, but a mechanic in the game allowed me to advance to 2nd level during the session.

In addition, I had a number of ability cards to review and select at-will, utility, and daily powers. This is just one of the ways that the game is customized each time you play. Another way each game can be unique is that the box offers several different scenarios to play.

The box includes several scenarios, setup instructions for each, decks of cards for encounters and monsters, miniatures with molds reused from the D&D miniatures line (though these minis are unpainted and made with cheaper plastic), and cardboard tokens for hit points, items, and condition markers like slowed and immobilized.

In addition to all that, the game includes a stack of connecting tiles that represent the rooms and corridors of the castle. When a player token is about to walk off the known game board, a random tile is pulled from the pile and added to the board. This is another way that insures the game never plays the same twice, even if the same players go through the same scenario.

The random tiles also determine if random monsters, encounters, or other events occur when a new area is first explored. Thought the victory conditions are the same for each scenario, the route to get there, and what is encountered along the way, are unique with each game play.

For our scenario, we had to retrieve an item from the castle chapel and kill all the monsters in that room. There wasn't a boss monster in this one, unlike some of the other scenarios which features hags, werewolves, and even Count Strahd himself.

As we moved through the castle, we encountered creatures like rat swarms, zombies, and a kobold in one case. Combat played out like an abbreviated version of D&D combat--use one of your at-will, utility, or daily powers along with a d20 roll to hit. If you exceed the monster AC, it died (there were a few monsters that took two hits to kill). As players defeated monsters, they received treasure cards that could be anything from a potion, to a magical enhancement to a weapon--and treasures could be shared among the party for maximum effect.

For monsters attacking PCs, things were a bit different. Each card had a series of conditions; if X condition, then the monster would do Y (allowing the monsters to have basic behavior without the need for a DM). For example, if there was a player in the same tile, it would move to the closest one and attack. If the monster's attack roll hit, it would do hit point damage that the player would keep track of.

None of the encounters were so hard that any of the characters died, though we did have to use one of our two group healing surges to keep one player alive. The final encounter had the potential to be lethal, but the group was strong enough for everyone to survive.

Overall, I thought the game was very enjoyable, with a fast pace that would allow a few scenarios to be played during an evening around the table. I also think the D&D rules lite mechanics makes it easy for any current player to dive right in with little preparation. I think this would make a fine addition to any gaming bookshelf, a great thing to pull out one evening when the whole group can't get together. Lastly, since the minis and tiles are compatible with D&D minis, creative DMs could use this during a regular D&D game.

Aug 3, 2010

Gen Con Prep

For the first time in a few years, I'm heading out to Gen Con. Thinking back, I realize that the last time I was there, was the release of 3e.

But more than that, I realize that this is the first time I'm going to Gen Con in the social media era. Last time I went, there were plenty of email threads and web pages for this and that, but as I get ready this time, I realized that I'm looking at a variety of sources, from blog posts, and Twitter feeds, to YouTube videos and finding a wealth of ideas and suggestions that I hadn't thought.

And not just the variety of info, but the ease with which I can go from a tweet, to a blog, to a podcast or video really made planning and prepping this year much easier than in the past.

I don't know if other people are leveraging all the great info out there, but I certainly am, and I for one thank everyone who's posted a suggestion, or link, or video... see you in Indianapolis!

Jul 21, 2010

Where, oh Where?

One of the few things I miss about the recent D&D groups I've been in or pulled together versus the first ones I started with, is the lack of female players. When I first started playing, I was lucky enough to be in groups that had such a great range of players, from experienced and new players, young and old, and male and female players.

And while some of the female players were the typical "another player's girlfriend", just as many were players in their own right who left their boyfriends/husbands at home once a week to roll dice with the rest of us. Regardless of their motivation, I always found the female players brought a different perspective to the table, just like new players brought a unique outlook with them as well.

Now that I'm pulling together my own group, I'm looking for players from a couple of online sites (EN World, Pen & Paper Games, and a few lesser known places on the Internet), but I haven't heard from any female players...

So where do I find female players? And how best should I approach them?

Jun 23, 2010

DM Tools: The Screen's the Thing

It's been a while since I did a Tools article, but during the last game session, it struck me how often I rely on this simple, but very handy device for bits of data at my fingertips.

When I first started DMing, I only used the screen for it's most common function, to hide the adventure notes and roll dice. Now I find myself relying just as much for the information available on the screen as well.

And right now, my favorite screen is the 3.5 DM screen from Goodman Games. What I find more surprising is that while I'm running a Dragonlance Campaign, I rely more on the Goodman Games screen than I do on the official Dragonlance 3.5 Screen. I've even tried the 3.5 screen from a Paizo-produced Dragon magazine.

Interestingly, I never tried the office 3.5 screen from WotC, I never liked the idea of the panels being on their side, especially since I usually tilt the darn thing to read what's at the bottom on most screens. I actually wish screens were taller than their current height, not shorter as the WotC screen tried.

Maybe it's the layout, or how wide it can be--since it's actually two 4 panel screens, the whole thing can stretch wide enough to take over an entire end of a table (at least most tables I've played at), but I find that whatever info I'm looking for, I can easily find on this version of the screen. Not only does it list what actions are move or standard (and which can provide an attack of opportunity), but also what the penalties for various effects are. When the mage cast a spell that "dazzled" the hobgoblin, the Goodman Games screen detailed what that meant in game terms. That's mighty handy to me in the middle of a game, especially in the middle of a combat.

So, for all the DMs out there, are you just as devoted to one screen over another, or is this just another form of my OCD rearing it's head?

Jun 2, 2010

Dwarves, HammerTalk, and Morse Code in Your Game

One of the things I really like about the Dragonlance setting is the wealth of detail the various developers put into the setting from it's earliest 1e days, all the way through it's 3.5 days (and for all you 4e players, your PHB3 Minotaur character owes more than a nod to the Dragonlance version going all the back to the 1e Adventures book Weis and Hickman co-authored).

Case in point, when TSR created the War of the Lance sourcebox, the definitive 2e document for the Dragonlance setting, they added a lot of seemingly 'fluffy' details that had almost no game value. One thing along that line was a dwarven language called Hammertalk.

The idea of Hammertalk is that dwarves, in their mountain cities, can communicate by using their hammers to bang out messages that can be heard over great distances. For me (and I'm sure I'm not alone), the first analogy I thought of was Morse Code.

More recently, for my own campaign, I've been thinking of building a treasure map with a secret message embedded in the artistic border of the map. Since I don't want to build elaborate ciphers or cryptograms, the idea of leveraging Hammertalk (and Morse Code) popped into my head.

The next puzzle piece that made this even easier to implement was the fact that thanks plenty of enterprising people, there are a number of Morse Code translators available online. These pages allow you to enter a string of text and generate the Morse Code message for it (shown as dots and dashes).

The dot and dash output is really great because you can copy and paste the output into your favorite word processing program, and with a little search and replace use whatever symbols you want, like circles and triangles, or open circles and filled circles, or--you get the point!

I'll post some examples in a future update.

May 28, 2010

Blackwater Keep: The King (part 5)

As the party listened to the offer put forth by the jarak-sinn shaman, Jesswin asked the question everyone was thinking.

"Why do you want this?"

"His pride threatens all the 'folk. I want our tribe to live, Shukak only wants power for himself," the shaman confessed.

Jesswin talked quietly with the other party members before speaking again.

"We may be able to make a deal, but we need one other thing from you?"

"What do you need 'soft-skin'?"

"You must leave the area and never return."

After some time mulling it over, the shaman replied, "We will leave."

As the party moved to free the prisoners in this room, they could see no female, let alone a wizard among them. The shaman added, "Shukak keeps the female in his chamber."

The party continued to tend the prisoners in this room as as Jesswin continued speaking with the jarak-sinn.

"Where is his chambers?"

"Just down this hall," the shaman indicated. "He has several guards in there too."

The party made their way down to hall as quietly as they could. Looking inside, they could see Marzena tied up in a corner while the massive form of Shukak talked with one of his warriors. In addition to the shining bracers and amulet the king wore, parts of his body were covered in mottled patches of black scales.

Everyone rushed into the room and were able to surprise the guards (the one they saw and another unseen one in a far corner of the room) along with king and the other jarak-sinn.

Fanning out, the party split up to engage all the jarak-sinn at the same time in an effort to prevent them from organizing a counter attack.

The guards proved to be the easiest opponents and quickly fell to a combination of blade and bow, while the king and the other warrior held out longer--the warrior using his bare hands while Shukak effectively wielding his trident.

As the party rained their attacks on the two jarak-sinn, it was apparent they had no plans to surrender as the increased their ferocity against the party. Eventually the both fell to the unrelenting attacks.

Afterward the party was able to rescue Marzena, and leave the lair with the rest of the rescued prisoners. The two day trek back to Blackwater Keep was uneventful. Once inside the keep, the prisoners were tended to by healers and the party got to enjoy cooked meals and dry, warm beds for the first time in days.

May 24, 2010

Blackwater Keep: Deals with Devils (part 4)

As the jarak-sinn made his threat, the party watched the sleeping, helpless form of Adow prone under the large sharp claws of this brutish leader.

"You move; he dies!" the lizardman repeated. The blood from his earlier wounds covered his body in an inky sheen and left the creature weakened.

Unsure if they could subdue the jarak-sinn before he attacked the mage, they kept talking; stalling.

"What do you want?"

"Leave here," the lizardman rasped. As he spoke, the party could see Adow had awakened but was unable to move from under the claws of the beast looming above him.

"Ok... let us just take our friend and we'll leave..."

After a few tense moments, the hulking jarak-sinn took a tentative step back. The party, in response, relaxed and began to sheath their weapons. Soon the jarak-sinn had retreated and the party was able to help Adow up. They quickly made for the exit and out for the lizard folk lair.

Once outside, they retreated to a safe spot in the swamp and tried resting for the night. While the most injured in the party slept, the others took watch. The night passed by without any major incident and after a brief meal, they set off to return to the liar of the lizard folk. The party had one goal, to rescue as many captives as possible, hopefully including the wizard Marzena.

As they returned to the lair, the party scouted the area for a while and after seeing no activity in or around the lair, they ventured inside again. The first few areas they went to were empty. Many seemed to be communal living spaces for smaller groups of jarak-sinn, perhaps based on some tribal pecking order. Gear and valuables were easy to find, but the inhabitants were gone.

As the party moved through the complex, there were no signs of the abducted soldiers or mage from Blackwater Keep. Moving down a main hallway, they heard noise coming from around the corner and soon found themselves face to face with jarak-sinn warriors waiting for these intruders.

The battle was swift and brutal, with the lizard folk fighting to their last breath. In the end the party was victorious and continued down into the bowels of this lair.

The next clearing revealed a smaller group of lizardmen warriors, including a smaller one clad in robes instead of armor and wielding no weapon. The party could see, at the far side of the room, a few prisoners, but the lack of light made it hard to see if Marzena, the wizard, was among those still alive.

The party raced into the room fanning out to take on different attackers. This way, it was figured, no one jarak-sinn would be able to threaten the lives of helpless prisoners. After taking down several of the warriors, the jarak-sinn shaman spoke up.

"Truce!," it called out in a fair approximation of the common tongue. "We can bar-gain."

Everyone halted a moment as Jesswin spoke for the group, "We only want the prisoners."

"I can give you them, but you do me a boon."

"What do you want?"

"I am but servant to Shukak, king of this tribe. If you want to leave the swamp alive, you must kill Shukak. Otherwise, he will hunt you before you reach dry lands."

Apr 20, 2010

D&D Comics News - The Old and the New

There's been some recent news regarding D&D Comics that not everyone may have seen.

Recently, there was a post on the blog Das-Ubernerd. The post included scans of some very early TSR (those were the folks who made D&D a lot time ago, go ask your parents or the old heavy set guy at your local game store) ads. The ads were for the Dungeons and Dragons game and appeared in the form of a full single page comic.

Subsequent pages would continue the story of a band of adventurers in a dungeon. The artwork is awful, as is the dialog and plot, but I think these are the earliest D&D "comics", not to mention a great look into what the hobby was like back then--each ad includes a little order form to be sent through the mail to receive a full-color catalog; a far cry from the flash-movie, order-now and get next-day delivery world we currently live in.

The other bit of comic news is much more recent. It seems as though IDW, a leading comic book publisher, has the rights to do new D&D comics. They plan to do a Forgotten Realms book, a core world book (whatever THAT means), and a Dark Sun book. Additionally, there's rumor that the comics may also be made available for the recently released Apple iPad, giving me one more reason to break my resolve and get a Pad before a 2.0 version of the product.

I'm excited for the new comics, especially Dark Sun, which is the new campaign setting that will be released later this year, but I'm also a bit sad that they won't be picking up where the Devil's Due Publishing left off--they were in the middle of the Legends trilogy, as well as adapting various story stories for the Worlds of D&D comic.

Hopefully IDW will have better success, and (more importantly) a better run company, allowing Dragonlance comics to return to print in the near future.

For the old-school ads/comics, check them out for yourself on the Das-Ubernerd blog.

Apr 5, 2010

LEGO Inspiration for a Dungeon Master

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of LEGO, and on more than one occasion used LEGO elements in my game, from scenery pieces, to my LEGO centaur, as needed.

A few months ago, I attended Brickfair, spending a lot of time in the "castle" area and taking plenty of pictures. While many of them did not turn out as I hoped (I'm a better DM than I am a photographer, at least I hope so), I did pull a few out that I think I'll be looking at again as inspiration.

This person's layout was huge! I could have shot several dozen photos trying to capture all the elements, for example, the forest leads into an agricultural area, leading into a city, castle, port, ocean... you get the picture.

I took pictures of the trees because that's one Lego element I like to incorporate in my games. As much as I like dungeon tiles and terrain maps, for trees and rocks, and other obstacles, they don't convey the full scope of the battlefield the way 3-d elements do, and LEGO trees, like the ones seen here, should be easy to make, and can be made various sizes and foliage depending on the type of forest needed.

This photo I include for a different type of inspiration. Instead of just looking for common 3-D elements I want for my game; this scene, with a huge battle wagon and undead minions fighting a group of knights is a great inspiration for the finale battle of a module or whole campaign.

Just looking at this scene, I can start to see key elements of battle, such as the small, riderless flying creatures around the battle wagon--are they air support for the undead, or allies of the forces of good? and the fire behind the death head symbol, is that a mass projectile or just the rallying symbol for the troops... and what's inside, powering this vehicle, a team of ogres? a giant? a dragon? It's all up to the DM to decide...

... and it's good to be the DM!

Mar 31, 2010

Adult + D&D = AD&D?

There's a new video series that recently started on The Escapist (www.escapistmagazine.com) called I Hit It With My Axe about a group of folks playing D&D.

Since there's already plenty and plenty of YouTube clips chronicling this group or that in video format as they play their game, the hook here is that most of the players are also involved in the adult entertainment industry. That aspect has no real bearing on the series, other than the same "pique my curiosity" effect that keeps The Bachelor or Steven Seagel: Lawman on the air (for reasons that completely elude me).

Right now there's two episodes available for viewing, each lasting a little more than 6 minutes. The video is not from the "set up the camera and record everything" style, but in fact is heavily edited with personal interviews mixed within the context of a game session. With that said, clearly this is shot in someone's cramped dining room (a non-player can be seen hanging out reading comic books on the nearby couch).

Overall I like the series so far, though I wish the episodes were a bit longer and had a bit more game content. The jump-cut style editing is fine, but it moves around a bit too much and by the time things are getting started (in the second episode), with a medusa and her retinue bargaining with the PCs to criminal records in exchange for locating and returning her missing daughter, the episode is over.

I don't think I'll be waiting breathlessly for each new episode, but I'll check back from time to time to see how things progress for this unlikely group (in addition to the careers of several of the players, everyone is a girl except for the DM) and hope they can kick some assumptions about just who plays D&D!

Mar 26, 2010

When 4E Met 1E

This summer one of the new D&D products coming out will be a new Starter Set, another in a long line of attempts to help bring in new blood to our favorite hobby.

But this time I wonder if the goal is to bring in new players to the D&D fold, or bring BACK old players.

Cover art for the new starter set doesn't have any of the art treatment we've seen for 4E products and instead, features a cover that doesn't just hearken back to a previous edition, but in fact is a direct swipe of an earlier product.

Compare below, the art for the new starter set and the art for a 1e set.

New Starter Set

Previous Basic Rules Cover
Other than the product title and the company logo, it's exactly the same. I'll be interested to hear how this product does and how many old school players just might pick up the dice once again.

Feb 17, 2010

A Little Cave Time (Inspiration for a DM)

As I've mentioned previously, inspiration for a DM should come from everywhere.

So I recently came across a couple of links that got my DM senses tingling, and I thought I'd share some with you.

Here's a link to an article about a huge cave covered in all sizes of crystals: http://news.discovery.com/earth/naica-big-pics.html

It immediately got me to start thinking:

  • Maybe a frost giant lair, with the huge crystal "logs" as the building blocks for structures in the cave.
  • Or a lair where the crystals are difficult terrain for the PCs, but not for the flying creatures attacking them
  • How about the erratic patches and crystal logs serve as cover, or obstacle. Maybe the attackers are well trained to use the formations to their best advantage--attacking from up high and sliding down a log and engaging in melee in the next round.
  • Lastly, what if the crystals are highly reflective, disorienting the PCs by providing a natural equivalent to mirror image.
Looking at these caves, I see new ways of thinking about a cave encounter, and hopefully a new challenge for the PCs.

And if that isn't enough inspiration, here's some other cave pictures that hopefully get you thinking... http://science.howstuffworks.com/cave-pictures.htm

Feb 1, 2010

A Year's Worth of D&D

Big thanks to WolfStar76, who attended the 2010 Products Seminar at D&D Experience and jotted down some notes on what's coming out this year.

2010 Product Seminar Notes

Some things have already been released, like Dragonborn and Underdark, but there's plenty of new items on the horizon, including all of the previously announced hints at GenCon 2009.

Since I'm still running a 3.5 game, my biggest interest is in the tile sets, particularly Harrowing Halls, the first 3D set, as well as the Dark Sun tile set (we can all use more dessert sets!), but I'm also interested in the Hammerfast location/adventure book and The Slaying Stone, a new 1st lv adventure. Maybe I'll be running some 4e before year's end...

What new products are you looking forward to? Is there anything that's more interesting now that you might not have been so interested in before? Leave a comment and let me hear from you.

Jan 19, 2010

Book Review: The Dungeon Alphabet

The other day I was in my FLGS, looking at the New Stuff rack. It's the first step in my ritual which usually takes me around the store, looking at d20, 3.5, and 4e books (in that order) before finishing up at the miniature rack with all those great Reaper minis that I don't have the time, or talent to paint.

Anyway, while looking over the new products, I was pleasantly surprised to see something called The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis. It was new product, but had a great old-school cover (and I'm talking Erol Otus-old, not Jeff Easley-2nd-edition-old), and an even older-school price tag. At $9.99 for a hardback book, I certainly had to check this out. The store shrink wraps everything meaning I had to wait to get home before paging though it and also putting a strain on "F" of FLGS.

The book clocks in at 48 pages, with a couple used for the TOC and other product advertising, and features a color cover by Erol. The interior is black and white with a ton of old-school-styled illustrations. But nostalgia aside, the book is chock full of tables, like 100 different book titles, 3d20 different magical devices, or 30 different traps.

All the info in the book is system neutral, so it can apply to any edition of D&D (or, dare I say, any non-WotC/TSR fantasy roleplaying game). As a DM, I might see myself using this at the game table on the spur of the moment, but I see the greater value in using this as inspiration during planning. I know the next time I start fleshing out a dungeon, I'll be looking over my copy of The Dungeon Alphabet for fresh ideas (wow, sorry for the cover-blurb).

Hopefully this will be the first in a line of similarly inspired books. If so, I know I'll be back for more!

Jan 15, 2010

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 27) - The Gathering (Part 2)

Eron's Keep

the gathering part 2It's been a while since my last comic review, so you might want to take a moment and read the synopsis for part one of this arc before continuing.

This issue opens with a cleric, Bishop Trandemere, talking with his god, Hith about a silver dragon hatching ground, and the hope that they can get to the eggs before Erestem or Paladine.

Meanwhile, Riva awakens in a cave, having a nightmare about the recent storm (see last issue) and finds that everyone is safe and accounted for, including her dragon. Ktarrh tells Riva that he was summoned to this location, the silver dragon hatching ground, to convince his brethren to hide their eggs in more than one location for the safety of the silver dragon species.

Riva then asks the same question I had been wondering, how they survived the shardstorm (again, last issue). Ktarrh mentions that they were brought here by Eron, someone Ktarrh wants her to meet. Elsewhere the rest of the crew works on repairing the ship while Griffin and Skrum explore the cave they're in.

When Ktarrh, Riva, and the tiger clan elves arrive in the main hatching chamber, they find a group of dragons and elven "keepers" (including Eron) in deep discussion. Clearly the keepers think the silver dragon eggs should be kept in one location (based on ancient tradition), while the other dragon races (I think brass and copper) are offering to help move the eggs to a variety of locations. Seeing the party arrive, the dragons end their talk and take flight. Eron greats the party.

Elsewhere, Griffin and Skrum run into a group of minotaurs sneaking up on the party. Griffin fights of the legionaries while Skrum runs back to the dock for help. He returns with Riva, the elves, and a bunch of people from the ship.

As the two sides parley, the minotaur leader is willing to leave if the escaped prisoners, Griffin, Skrum and Riva, are handed over. Rather than hand them over, Hester (the minotaur from the ship) fights his cousin in single combat. Meanwhile an earth quake opens a new passage into the hatching chamber, allowing a horde of ogres to swarm in, with only Eron and Ktarrh to protect the precious dragon eggs.

Elsewhere, Hester kills his attacker as Riva hears screams coming from the hatching chamber. Leaving everyone else behind to deal with the other minotaurs, she runs toward the chamber. Riva arrives to see the ogres destroying the eggs in wanton slaughter while Ktarrh attacks nearby ogres with his breath weapon and Eron and the other keepers transform from elf to silver dragon. The combined effort of the dragons eliminates the ogres, but the damage is already done; most of the eggs have been destroyed!

Later Hester burns the body of his cousin, in minotaur tradition, while the silver dragons, especially Eron, realize how his pride almost doomed his species.

Back in Thenol, Hith appears before Bishop Trandemere and informs his dark cleric that most of the eggs were destroyed, denying him his dreamed of draconian warriors, but also keeping the eggs out of the hands of his great enemy, Erestem


Story-wise, this issue was a complete mess. The framing sequence with Bishop Trandemere and the god Hith would have been more interesting if they did more in the middle. Also, Hith seems so interested in getting the silver dragon eggs, but does nothing more than send a bunch of ogres to pop in to the hatching ground and smash them up, with the pretense of at least keeping them out of Erestem's or Paladine's hands. That would be great, but I wanted to see at least an attempt to actually steal them first.

I also didn't like that the issue skipped over the apparent cliffhanger from last issue. I would rather see storm rage, and the escape from the other ship than all the head talking, most of it pointless, that filled up the issue.

Lastly, I didn't like that the party doesn't really do anything. They wake up and wander around without affecting anything. Riva meets Eron, but doesn't say a word to try to change his opinion. Riva races to the the hatching chamber in time to do absolutely nothing, at least let her and a dragon work together to save the last egg. Then you have the themes of teamwork, hope, etc.

Then there's the minotaurs... there's no explanation of how they survived the storm (at least have them look a little bruised and battered). All they really do plot-wise is give story to the minotaur shipmate Hester, who didn't really do anything last issue and who we probably won't see after this issue.

All said, this arc should have been three issues, with the missing issue about the two ships in the storm--we could have gotten more background on Hester, seen Hith do more, and seen Riva and the companions do more.

As for the art, things weren't so bad in this issue. The scenery was nice and there was a lot of detail on the creatures, but on the other hand, all the minotaur legionnaires looked the same, all the ogres looked the same, you get the idea. I'm also realizing that while there's a lot of detail in the art, there wasn't a lot of creativity in panels and angles. It all come across very serviceable, but very mundane.

Overall, a big disappointment. Maybe the next ish will be better.

Jan 13, 2010

How Do You Like Your D&D? Basic Or Advanced

I've been seeing a couple of different blogs, posts, etc about people's game space, from professional tables, like The Sultan, to decorated rooms, like this functional game room, or this decorated game room, to incorporating the latest hi-tech, like this finished tabletop projector, or this beta tabletop projector project.

My question to you is: Are a lot of people using these elaborate setups? Is everyone now armed at the game table with a PC, open to your favorite e-character sheet, or Power Attack calculator and a steady stream of Twitter comments and photos?

As a DM, I did go through the phase when I had a laptop at the table to track HPs and init, and auto roll for the monsters, but the software was way crappy back then, and my typing skills sucked so it took me a long time to enter info into the various screens.

Most of all, I grew out of the computer phase because I simply missed the feeling I had when I first started playing. The sound of real dice rolling, scribbling on my page when I took damage (which seemed to happen a lot in the games I played back then), and rubbing holes into said same character sheet when the goodly cleric would crack open a couple of those precious Cure Light Wounds spells.

Nowadays, I use computers, the Internet, Photoshop, and whatever else I can get my laptop to point to when I prep for a game, but when the actual session starts, it's dice, notebooks, and pencils, along with minis, battle maps and the occasional piece of LEGO scenery (so I'm not completely old school).

Anyway, how do you like your D&D, basic (low-tech) or advanced (hi-tech)?

Jan 5, 2010

When the Games' Not in Town

Here's a question for you:

When you can't or aren't playing any D&D (for an extended time), what do you do to get your D&D "fix"?

I've been thinking about this recently since I had to put my own game on extended hold while I took care of some real life issues (and then a whole bunch of other things came up that look to delay things even further). In the last few weeks, I've been wishing to roll the dice for a bit but I didn't have the time or any game to run for my current group.

I guess it's not too surprising, but I've filling the itch with some video games. Right now I'm playing the D&D Tactics game for PSP. It was actually a gift for my last birthday (almost a year ago now), but I'm just getting around to seriously playing it... as serious as you can with the game; the interface is maddeningly frustrating and I would have given up earlier if I had a real game to run/play.

I've also been catching up on my reading--not fantasy novels, they never fill the same spot as a good game--but catching up on rule books I haven't read thoroughly, modules I'm thinking of running, etc. They at least let me imagine a game where I'm using this rule or running that encounter and allow me to decide how to customize something for my tastes.

Lastly, I find myself following the #dnd thread on Twitter and reading more of the game posts and looking at combat pictures, with their hand drawn encounter areas and minis spread out in mid action. It's not with a little longing that I wish I were at one or two of these tables.

Hopefully I'll be getting my game back up and running soon, and then I'll be the one posting pics for everyone else to read...

Jan 1, 2010

New Year - More Posts

Just want to send a big Happy New Year out to everyone.

I know I haven't written in a long while, unfortunately some really serious things have come up that I was NOT AT ALL prepared for.

Here's hoping the new year will be better than the last one, and I should be able to get back on a regular posting schedule, as well as a regular playing schedule!