Monday, April 16, 2012, 8:50 AM
Part II - Goals As Guides for Campaign Design
Last time, I discussed the three guiding goals that I set for my Weavers’ Loom campaign. I set three goals which are both things that I want to accomplish with the campaign, but also benchmarks of priority by which I’ll measure the appropriateness of any given element that I consider adding to it. Here are the three goals again for those who missed them last time:
#1 - Design a fun campaign
#2 - Tell a good story driven by the players’ decisions and their characters
#3 - Do something in the campaign I’ve never done before.
Originally, I intended for this post to cover all three design goals but, as I started going in-depth with them, realized that I was going to take up a lot more space with each than I had planned. As such, this post is going to concern itself with our first design goal which, of course, is the most important.
Design Goal #1: Design a Fun Campaign
Being my #1 goal makes this one also my #1 priority. Breaking this goal down with my criteria for “what makes a goal” from my last post on this topic, I have an end result that I want to accomplish (the fun campaign), specificity (this campaign has to be fun for me and my players) and a measurability (are we having fun?). Now, let’s look at what I can do to make sure I accomplish this goal, remembering that every time I think about adding something to the campaign, it first has to pass the “will it be fun” test.
As it stands right now, I’m considering three different dimensions of “fun.”
* Design Fun Encounters
* Make Sure Everyone Has A Part To Play
* Engage All The Players
Let’s look at these in detail.
Design Fun Encounters
Of course we all want every encounter to be fun, but how do you ensure that an encounter WILL be fun? Without any doubt, there are a few things that mean an encounter will not be any fun at all. Fighting the same monsters for the billionth time. A long, drawn-out slog of a fight. Traps that don’t give you a chance to survive. Fights that the heroes can just breeze through without thinking twice. Fights that are so ridiculously hard that no one could survive. None of these things are fun. So, how do we keep encounters fun?
Break up the types of monsters being used, even if it doesn’t “fit the story” (it’s your story, after all and you can always write in a story reason for there suddenly being a different sort of enemy as your PCs cut their way through the bandit camp). Include “outs” in encounters so that not every encounter is about defeating the enemies, but rather about accomplishing goals. If a fight is taking longer or is harder than you had intended, introduce a new element to the encounter that pushes it along faster (such as a zone of damage that hurts both heroes and villains alike). Similarly, if the heroes are having too easy of a time with a fight, have some units in reserve, ready to be put into action at a moment’s notice or have a template ready to go to make your enemies more powerful once they’re bloodied (the “overdrive when bloodied” ploy has been one of my favorites). PC-killer death traps should be changed to massive damage traps that a series of player decisions can avoid. Vary your encounter environment so that not every fight is happening in the same room with the same terrain; invent new and exciting places for the heroes to fight the baddies with lots of terrain effects for them to put into effect.
But how to plan for all this stuff? I’m going to use my own design process as a starting point here. When I’m designing encounters, rarely am I designing them one at a time. Normally, I come up with a string of encounters that I design as a group and I’ll bet you do, too. I try to make sure that each encounter has something -- or several somethings -- different from the other encounters around it. If you’re designing a dungeon, you don’t want to stock the same two or three types of orcs in each room; you’ll want to add an ogre here, a forgotten shrine to Gruumsh over there (with a fantastic terrain property), a gelatinous cube down the way, etc. When I designed my first few encounters of my current campaign, while they all involved goblins in one way, I added elements beyond just “fight some goblins” to make each encounter feel different. In the first encounter, goblins attacked a tavern, so the heroes had to defend the townsfolk in the tavern (and the kegs) while driving off the goblins. In the second encounter, the goblins attacked the bar, so the heroes had to keep them from running off with kegs of ale (which the goblins also used as mobile cover). In the third -- and final -- encounter of this group, the PCs tracked the goblins to a hilltop base camp, where the goblin commanders had a tactical advantage (high ground) and a few nifty terrain effects (pushing PCs off cliffs, into fires, etc.). Once the PCs realized that pushing goblins off cliffs and into fires was an effective way of controlling the little buggers, the fight went from “just plain tough” to “pretty damn memorable.” While I was planning this group of encounters, I kept an eye on what was going on in each, and how the others in the group could be similar and different.
You may be designing a group of encounters, like I just discussed, as a chain of events. Or, you may be designing them in the old fashioned, classic dungeon environment. In either case, grouping encounters offers you a great opportunity: you can design extra elements common to all of them (and making sense for all of them) that you can drop into any of them at a moment’s notice. Oh, is this fight going too easily? Well, here’s that unit of reserves we talked about above (and you only need to design it once for the entire group of encounters). Need to beef up a baddie really quickly? Add this “overdrive template” that we’ve planned for use somewhere in this group. Fight taking too long? Well, we can add this terrain element anywhere in the group that suddenly does 10 damage to everyone starting their turn within it. Stuff like that. You might not have to design extra features like these for every encounter, but having a plan for them while you’re designing a group of encounters is a great idea.
The long and the short of this idea is: plan for everything to be fun and plan for how to deal with an encounter that isn’t fun. Remember that “kill ten orcs” doesn’t usually make for a fun encounter; “save the townsfolk from the ravening tribe of demon-worshipping orcs in the middle of the lava field before they sacrifice the townies to their dark master” does.
Make Sure Everyone Has A Part To Play
Or, “give the fighter a job.” Or wizard. Or whatever. Players sitting around not doing anything while they wait for their turn is a recipe for disaster; on that I think we can all agree. What’s even worse is when a player sits out an entire encounter because there’s nothing cool for his hero to do. It’s important to design encounters around what your heroes do and do well.
Martial characters tend to be more physical. Running, jumping, climbing trees. For rogues and rangers, this usually includes sneaking around, too. And, of course, rogues always have the option of traps or skill challenges that let them show off their nearly-exclusive skill, Thievery.
Divine characters have a more diverse set of skills and capabilities. You can count on nearly every (if not every) Divine-powered character to be trained in Religion, so there’s always room for some of that. Divine characters tend to have access to skills like Insight and other social skills, so adding social aspects to challenges can be useful as well.
Arcane characters are the ultimate knowers. Wizards have access to every lore skill in the book and many of those use Intelligence as their basis. Warlocks, artificers and sorcerers aren’t far behind, so adding long lost lore to an encounter works out well.
Primal characters often combine the athleticism of martial characters with a love of the natural world (and the Nature skill). In order to play up their connection to the natural world, remember to add nature spirits, monstrous beasts and threats to the natural world to campaigns including Primal characters. Aberrations make great anti-nature threats, especially if the heroes get a chance to see how much damage aberrations can do to nature.
Psionic characters are sort of a cross between Divine and Arcane characters with a dash of Martial thrown in for good measure. Lots of thinkery with a dash of action mark Psionic characters; well, some of them. The thing is, Psionic characters are a mixed lot and it seems like it makes sense to suss out traits of your Psionic characters themselves rather than try to force a “one size fits all” sort of label on to all of them.
All in all, it should be fairly easy for you to analyze what sort of abilities each hero has and design encounters that emphasize them. In addition, it’s a very good idea to come up with ways for characters to use what they’re good at in situations that don’t directly involve those things. For example, the barbarian in my campaign isn’t much good during a tense negotiation, until you notice that she is trained in Nature and Perception and might be able to notice stuff that the other heroes miss. Similarly, the group’s paladin might seem out of place in a lore-based skill challenge (especially since his Religion is far lower than the group’s cleric’s), until you add in an element that allows him to act as a martyr and take damage or lose healing surges on behalf of the group. When you’re designing an adventure element, it’s a good idea to run through your list of heroes to make sure that each of them will have something to contribute and that no one’s standing around waiting for their turn.
While we’re on the subject, it’s likely that you’ll have a player or two or three who’s more experienced with D&D than the others. Sometimes, these players just sit around getting bored while the other players take ages to decide what to do. My wife is one of these. Our last session, she ended up getting terribly bored and I found her playing some game on her cellphone while waiting for someone to take their turn. We’ve since had a conversation about why she was bored and it turns out that she had never considered trying to help another player puzzle through what he should do on his turn. Now, she’s partnered up with another player and they’ll be discussing tactics while the spotlight is off either of them. This is more of an in-game sort of call to make, but if you can plan to have your experienced players ready to help out an inexperienced player from moment one, you’ll be in great shape.
Engage All The Players
This design sub-goal dovetails nicely with making sure everyone has a part to play, especially the information about what sorts of threats each type of character reacts well to. This goes beyond simply making sure each player has something interesting to do each round of an encounter and spills over into the game at large. Make sure that there are design elements throughout your campaign that directly relate to each character. Here are some quick suggestions.
Martial characters might get involved with a local militia, army or other legitimate military body (mercenary companies can be legitimate, right?). Rogues might want to be involved with a Thieves’ Guild. Rangers might be loners, but could get involved in these sorts of organizations and structures just as easily (or be motivated similarly to Primal characters, below). Tying organizations like these into your campaign will give Martial characters a key point of reference and an understanding of the role that characters like them might play in the story.
Arcane characters often feel a need for some place to study. A library, a college or other sort of repository of knowledge can suit your arcanist’s needs well. Organizations of arcanists can also provide either support or excellent foes for Arcane characters. Remember that many Arcane characters will be Ritual Casters (or Alchemists) and need training in new rituals (or alchemical formulas) and if you’ve provided an in-game source for those, learning them will feel more natural.
What is a Divine character without a deity to champion or a temple to defend? Think carefully about the role of your Divine characters’ deities in-game and have at least some basic ideas about the temple(s) they’re associated with. In my own campaign, I knew that I was going to have a follower of Sehanine (our cleric) and a follower of Ioun (our paladin), so I made sure that the temple in town represented both deities. These player choices not only affect some basic elements of the campaign world, but also give you the opportunity to establish threats to the deities as threats to the party (such as the conflict of Vecna vs. Ioun in the case of my campaign).
Primal characters are in some ways the most and least demanding when it comes to designing campaign elements to interact with. Least because usually, you won’t have to design complex societal structures or rigid codes of conduct, but most because the sorts of things that drive Primal characters can be more nebulous and less intuitive (at least for many modern gamers) than the other power sources. For example, many Primal characters interact regularly with the primal spirits of the world. Sure, you could easily design a “tiger spirit” or a “boar spirit,” but it’s much cooler and more memorable if you invent “Usket, the Rage that Stalks” or “Tuskmother Yushka of the Squealing Wallow;” while nature spirits seem simple, it’s important to remember that they, just like any other NPC, will have motivations and personalities that go beyond “protect the natural world.”
Psionic characters often need some sort of like-minded group to be a part of, such as a monastery (for monks) or a secret society of similarly-powered individuals. Since psionic magic tends to be more subtle than other forms, intrigue often suits Psionic characters well. I’ve found that players of Psionic characters tend to focus on more mental activities and conflicts, so including
Other considerations exist as well. Race, origin and social background will always come into play here. If a character comes from a noble house, it’s important to tie that noble house not only into the campaign’s background, but also give it a role to play in the campaign’s future. Does a player design her hero to have an implicit mystery? Make sure you find a spot in the campaign for her to discover its meaning or recover her lost memories. If a character has a strong elemental connection (such as being Genasi or having taken one of the themes from Heroes of the Elemental Chaos), make sure that this important character choice is reflected in the campaign somewhere. Fey characters, such as elves, eladrin or wilden, should have some sort of tie to the Feywild, even if that connection is set off a ways. The decisions that your players make about who their characters are can give you a lot of fodder adding new and exciting plot elements into your campaign.
Next time, we’ll look at my other design goals and see what sort of stuff I’m having to bear in mind when determining the “best fit” of future campaign elements.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 9:04 AM
So, I'm taking a little longer with my next post on campaign design goals than I had originally planned. In the mean time, I thought I'd provide an update on how the tutorial quests I mentioned in my first blog post here a few weeks back are shaping up.
In the session when I introduced the tutorial quest (the same session I introduced the concepts of quests in the first place), I had two players finish off their tutorial quests. The group's warlock managed to have two stacks of the Fate of the Void buff at the same time (his quest) and really saw how it paid off when he traded them in for +2 to hit on his next turn. The group's cleric healed 50 points of damage quickly and easily. The next session (which happened this past Sunday), the group's paladin marked his sixth enemy, completing his quest, as well.
Since completing their quests, the players have gone on to continue to do the things that their tutorial quests taught them to do. The warlock likes to spread his curses around so that the deaths of mooks help him take down the bosses. The paladin has learned to effectively use his dailies to "turn on" his Divine Sanction class feature, marking lots of enemies. And, of course, the cleric has continued to heal.
What's Not Working
Okay, give me a minute, this is the part where I need a cup of coffee before I move any further forward.
The group's shifter barbarian is a Thunderborn Wrath build. As a shifter themed toward were-tigerishness, she liked the idea of growling really loudly and having that do damage. Okay, cool. We can work with this. Her Thunderborn Wrath feature activates when she bloodies an enemy, causing Con mod Thunder damage to every enemy adjacent to her. So, what is the quest I come up with? Damage ten enemies with Thunder damage. Sounds simple, but it's not working out to be.
Furthermore, my lovely wife, the group's wizard, is having some problems completing her quest. Her quest was to force movement of enemies ten times. That sounds pretty straightforward for a wizard, right? Well, the problem with this one is that, at level one, her accuracy isn't fantastic. Maybe it's her dice rolling (that's what she believes), or maybe it's that she's at +4 vs. (whichever defense) for all her attacks, but it's hard to see exactly why this one's not filling up as quickly.
What I've Learned
I think I made the cleric's quest far too easy. I'm not sure how to do this (I need to do a bit of research here), but I'd like to reward her for helping the group save vs. conditions or something of that nature. The paladin's quest felt exactly right in terms of difficulty and length of time it took; so, doing something to six different enemies seems to be a good benchmark for Level 1. The warlock's quest felt pretty much right, but I think, were I to write it again, I'd change it to "have two stacks of Fate of the Void on two separate occasions;" he set up the dominoes for the first two stacks pretty easily so I'm sure he could have done it twice.
Our barbarian's quest was a mistake. I focused on the wrong thing. The player is brand new to tabletop games and is still learning a lot. By tying her quest to doing Thunder damage to her enemies, I tied her quest to a consequence of something that she's trying to do. She's trying to do damage to her enemies and if she does enough, she bloodies them. If she bloodies them, she does Thunder damage. The planning for earning credit on this quest is several steps deep and requires a lot of tactical thought, which I can't really expect from a new player. The quest I should have given her would read: "Bloody six different enemies." Then, she'd be focusing on doing lots of damage and she'd be seeing her extra damage happen just as a consequence of doing what she should be doing.
The wizard's quest to force movement ten times should be working, and I thought at first that maybe the wife just needed some coaching on how to make it work. Turns out, she's working really hard at making it work, but her problem is accuracy. A +4 attack bonus vs. non-AC defenses at Level 1 really isn't that bad (it could be better, but it's not that bad), especially when you consider that she's often targeting multiple enemies. And yes, forcing movement is one of the hallmarks of the wizard. So, how could we have written a quest that would work better? A wizard's accuracy is lower than, say, pretty much any striker. Why? The wizard is going to be making more attack rolls against more foes due to the fact that she targets primarily close or area effect spells. Why not reward targetting based on fitting as many enemies in a blast or burst as possible before the attack rolls are made? Something like, "target 10 creatures with close or area effect powers." Here, 10 might be too low since success is not required.
If you're considering adding tutorial quests, I suggest you consider both the strengths and weaknesses of your heroes before getting too far along in the quest design process. Be sure that the quests focus on the strengths of each hero and don't end up displaying a weakness. Furthermore, keep every quest on the "surface level" of mechanics, at least at first; things such as "bloodied" or "marked." If you involve more complex class mechanics, make sure they are ones easily trackable and with a direct (and again, easily trackable) effect like the warlock's Pact Boon (oh, that happened then this happens... once).
My next round of quests will start up next session, where the heroes will get their first round of group tutorial quests so everyone can contribute and help "build combos" to accomplish them. Since our next session is in just over a week, you'll probably get to see these quests before the players do.
In a final final word (because I realize I have more time to write than I had originally thought), I'd like to let you know a few of the other D&D related projects I'm working on:
#1: Skill challenge cards - In order to make building Skill Challenges less challenging, I came up with a system using cards to allow me to "deal out" a skill challenge to help with prepping my game. I plan on showing these off as soon as I bother to take pictures of them.
#2: More Training Wheels ideas for my new players.
#3: More information about the Weaver's Loom and how I'm (slowly) inventing it and making sure it fits with my campaign design goals.
Saturday, April 7, 2012, 7:49 AM
Yesterday morning, I wrote a long and hilarious post about the lengths my brother went through to get a seat in the Couples’ Night D&D game. I got within a few sentences of finishing it off when *BAM* the real fault of the WotC community pages exploded in my face: there is no ability to save pages before you publish them (and there is consequently no auto-save feature). After thinking long and hard about how to replace that fantastically well-written and immeasurably funny article -- and you’ll have to just take my word for it at this point -- I decided that the best way to compensate you for your terrible loss was to write something completely different. And so, on to how I set goals for campaign design.
Have you ever noticed how every DM likes to relate a part of their own professional experience to the art of DMing? You’ll hear programmers use programmer-talk about DMing and DMs who love the theater will talk about themes and … other theater-y stuff. Bartoneus over on critical-hits.com, being an architect, even writes regular articles that relate concepts of architecture to DMing (unless I’ve horribly misread him). So, you can expect me to bring my own professional experience to bear on the topics of DMing. Me? What do I do? Well, I’m a business guy; specifically, a marketing guy. Don’t be afraid, this will all make sense shortly.
Goals and Goalsetting
Before I go any further, I want to talk about goals. When you think about goals, you may be thinking about something different than what I am, so let me get the air clear. Goals are how we know we’re succeeding at whatever we’re trying to do. A goal, for lack of a better definition, is a specific measurable result. Specific in that it is explicit in what it’s trying to accomplish. Measurable in that you can figure out a way to measure whether it’s being accomplished (often within a particular time frame). Result in that it is the desired end of a particular process. A DMing goal could be “build a character-driven plot with input from my players” -- it tells you what we’re going to accomplish, includes benchmarks for success (degree of character and player involvement) and implies an end-result status (that the goal is the end result of a process). A goal would not be “be a good DM” -- it is not explicit in what “good DMing” means, it’s probably not too measurable (ask your players if you’re a good DM and they’ll either suck up to you or tear into you) and there is no real result; you’re just being something, not accomplishing something.
As I work on designing a campaign, I try to establish three goals for myself for the story. These goals help me determine my priorities when building the campaign itself (in Marketing terminology, they function as relevant criteria). What are three things that I want to accomplish in the campaign? When I get a crazy idea about something to include, how do I determine if it’s a good fit for the campaign? What are three commitments I can make to myself and my players to prioritize before all others, in order to guarantee a game that we’ll all enjoy? (Side note: I’m a grammar nazi, but I always spell “guarantee” wrong. I spell it like that Cajun chef pronounces it: “gar-AUN-tee. ” )
Campaign Design Goals: The Weavers’ Loom
So, before I had a name for my campaign, I decided that I needed goals for it. Sure, I had some bits of narrative floating around in my noggin, but I wasn’t sure where it would all go. Nor should I have been; I didn’t have a solid idea yet of what would be important in the campaign. As I moved along with spitballing ideas at myself, I realized that there were certain thoughts that kept coming back to be. These thoughts ended up becoming the core assumptions of what I wanted to see in the game and helped me establish clear goals. “Will my players think this is fun?” “I’ve got a lot of new players, what monsters and enemies can I throw at them that’re quintessential D&D?” Stuff like that. I needed a way to distinguish between a good idea and an okay idea, and idea that fit the campaign and one that didn’t. After writing down every possible criterion I could think of for the campaign, I ranked them in order of importance and fleshed the top three out a bit further.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 12:05 PM
The continuing stOOOooory of a quack who's gone to the ... wait, no, that's "Veteranarian's Hospital." This is the one about the group of three couples who decided to play D&D together. Right.
The first time we met, the group worked on the players' heroes until ... well, until it was bedtime for our more "grownup" members of the group (read, gainfully employed), so Session 1 was going to be the group's first chance to actually play the game. But first, we needed to print the character sheets & power cards off of the Character Builder; this process held up the game for no less than an hour (and possibly more, I lost track of time), and here's why: for some reason (and this may just be a flaw of the Builder's programming), I was completely unable to print the power cards pages separately from the first three character sheet pages. I tried and I tried, but I could NOT get these pages to print the way I wanted them to.
Short aside, but the reason that I wanted the power cards printed separately is because (a) I wanted to save on ink, printing the first three pages in BnW and (b) I like to print power cards on card stock, making them actually FEEL like CARDS. I usually laminate them after printing, using those adhesive laminating sheets, but I think lamination may be over for me: the character builder's "automath" printing on the power cards means that either we'll have to physically change the card each time the math changes or we'll have to print new ones each time the numbers change. Laminating cards will get super costly with either process. Thus, I'm working on a new solution (that I'll talk about in another post).
The one encounter we got through went well, even with the delays. The heroes were able to control the goblins I threw at them. I started to see the beginnings of in-game strategy forming in the minds of the players (all of whom were out of water in one way or another: two players being totally new to tabletop and only one player having played 4e before but as a different role).
What I Learned
The character builder, while being a super-useful tool, does not do EXACTLY what I want it to, so I shouldn't waste game time by trying to make it be what I want it to be. Print sheets and powers a few days before game time, even though I had hoped for a more "print on demand" sort of logic.
Looks like we might be having a pacing problem, but I'll talk more about that later.
The first session's big time waster was character sheet and power card printing. Session 2's big time waster was pizza. A group ruling was made that we wouldn't try to start playing until after (a) the pizza got here and (b) we ate it. This slowed things down a lot; if I'd have realized that we were going to have this problem beforehand, I would have made arrangements before we got to the table.
This was the first session that I tried out my "tutorial minor quest" cards for (see this post) in order to guide the players on how their heroes' abilities worked. Session 2 saw one encounter only, but two of the heroes completed their quests: the warlock spread around curses to have two stacks of Fate of the Void at the same time and the cleric shot holy healing light all over the place, quests got completed. Some progress was made on the other quests as well, and the heroes are likely to complete them next session.
Again, we only got through one encounter but it was a pretty long one and the players had a bunch of time on either side of the encounter. If we'd had a lot of time after that first encounter, I might have tried to push the story along, but there wasn't really enough to complete another encounter, so instead I introduced some important NPC and more story got woven in. Some fun intra-party RP was had (the wizard caught the warlock "underrepresenting" the amount of gold on the goblin corpses and contfronted him) as well.
What I Learned
The players are getting a strong sense of how their characters work and the game is moving along well, but I'd really like to get some more encounters in each session. But really, do we need to? My initial sense is that we're moving too slowly, but after thinking about things, I'm not sure we are. We have two players completely new to D&D who likely need the time to get acclimated. My wife has payed D&D 4e before, but none of the other players have, so they've got to get used to this edition, which is going to take some time, as well. Finally, Katie, while she's played 4e, has never played a controller, so she's learning how to move stuff around the battlefield. So, everyone has some learning to do and I can't really expect too much in a night. I would like to keep non-game stuff from interfering with game stuff. So, if we're ordering a pizza, I'm making sure it's ordered before people start coming over.
Oh, and the tutorial quests were a hit. Folks were doing what they needed to to accomplish their quests, sometimes without explicit thought to accomplish the quest.
This last Sunday, we had our first non-D&D Game Night. Katie had to work, so it was everyone but her. We ended up playing 7Wonders & Dominion.
7Wonders: very neat Euro-style resource management and building game that reminded me of the CIVILIZATION franchise. You start as one of the classical-era city states and work toward out-awesoming your competition by buiding a wonder, advancing your civilazation or military conquest. One of the neatest conceits of this game is how it handles geography and proximity: to represent that some city-states would be closer to or further away from others, the effects that you put in play (including building your army) can only target the player to your right or left. This limitation provides a real sense of the finity of the classical world in a way that most similar games leave out.
Dominion: Dominion is awesome. This deck-building game approximates the building of a kingly domain and involves lots and lots of strategy. I'll admit that I have yet to win a game of this, which reflects the fact that every time I sit down to play it, I have a flawed strategy in mind. By the second hand, I've usually corrected for this flaw, but so has everyone else. I really enjoy this game as a standalone or with its expansions and look forward to playing a lot of it in the future.
So far, I haven't introduced the group to any new games, but I think that for our next "just games" night, I'm going to try to introduce folks to BANG! or Three-Dragon Ante. I'm sure Katie will want to play Apples to Apples or Scribblish, as well. After reading all of the great reviews for Lords of Waterdeep, I'm thinking about trying to find a copy of this on the cheap.
That's all for today. Next time, I get to share with you the single greatest moment of Couples' Night so far: a tale of lies, deceit and sheer awesomeness.
Monday, April 2, 2012, 8:49 AM
In my last post, I talked a little bit about the "couples' night" game group that my wife and I started with some of our friends. The idea was that we all love games (duh) and that a few of us had discovered that our significant others had never played D&D (which made the rest of us sad). Every time we'd hang out (we're all members of the same non-profit organization, so we see each other a lot), we'd end up playing some new game that someone different had brought, talking about games that we had never played but always wanted to along with the inevitable rumblings about D&D campaigns past. I realized I had a mission: I wanted to build a D&D group out of our non-profit, but wanted certain players involved (and yes, NOT certain others). Knowing this would involve teaching brand-new players (a challenge I always love), I came up with the idea of the couples' game: one week, we'd play D&D in a friendly atmosphere of partnerships and then the next week we'd play all those other games that we've been meaning to. So far, it's been a blast (as you can expect), but we've had a few rocky bits.
Session 0: Build Night
For our character creation session, I thought I'd make a point of everyone making their characters together, so the new folks could see how it was done and get some ideas about how to design their characters. My initial plan was that the building would take at most two hours then we'd move on to play a very short introductory combat. Four hours later, we were just finishing up the fourth out of five PCs (Katie, my wife, decided that she could wait until after everyone had left to make her hero). All in all, there's nothing wrong with that. For my own part, I start thinking about pacing and want to move things along faster when they're taking longer than I anticipate. For this session, I had to ignore that drive because I didn't want to say "hurry up and make a decision!" Really, though, folks did not have problems making decisions when they were on the hotseat, there were just a lot of decisions to be made. Before we started the number-crunchery, I asked the group a number of questions to answer as a troupe (and some to answer individually) to figure out how each player would fit into the group and preferences in a campaign. Some people had been thinking about their answers before the session, so I kind of knew how this was going to go, but we ended up with some neat bits of information. Ben wanted to blast enemies with arcane power, is a big Cthulhu fan (Star Pact warlock anyone?) and is the person most likely cause trouble for the other heroes (and he's never played D&D before). Katie, my darling wife, had played a controller in City of Heroes before and wants to give it a shot in D&D; she's also a big Doctor Who fan (thank god!) and the idea of a multiple-lifetime-spanning character with sudden flashes of inspiration really spoke to her; thus, she's playing a deva wizard. I'm not sure how Ashley came up with the idea for a weretiger-inspired Razorclaw shifter barbarian, but the idea of charging into combat seemed to really get her excited (and has proved a successful strategy for her since). When we started kicking around the idea of the Couples' Game, Alissa immediately asked "Can I play a kender?" I had to answer "no" (I personally hate Dragonlance about as much as I hate Forgotten Realms), but suggest she try out a (post 2e) halfling; she turned this around into playing the group's leader, a halfling cleric of Sehanine. Lastly, we have Rad, who decided that he was going to fill in whatever role no one else wanted to fill; this ended up being the Defender. How Rad decided that his Defender was going to be a wilden paladin of Ioun, obsessed with brewing, I have no idea. It sounded fun, and Rad had answers to the questions that I asked about it, so we're running with it (this also ties him into some of the NPCs in the campaign nicely).
Next time, I'll give a few more details about the D&D campaign as well as talk a little bit about our first (non-D&D) game night.
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