Monday, January 9, 2012, 6:13 PM
From OD&D to Playtesting New Editions... and Back Again
Several months ago I was at my favorite local gaming shop and I happened to see a copy of the magenta/purple box of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. This was the version I started with. I picked it up. And when I got home, turning it around in my hands and slowly opening it up to look upon its old contents, I had this great flood of memories.
Those memories continued to stick with me the next few weeks. With all the talk of Red Box I decided to buy the original one, which came out after the magenta box and was thus the 4th version. (OD&D is the original White Box, after which TSR created both a Basic and Advanced game. We consider AD&D and various Basic sets to all be 1st Edition but give those Basic boxes versions to keep them clear.)
And then I just kept buying the versions I didn't have or no longer had, like the cheapest copy of OD&D I could find, the Expert Set, and so on. Like a sage within the game, I poured over the tomes. I found a lot of reasons to laugh, a lot of memories, and a clear desire to run the games again.
At around that time, something unexpected happened. I may have been preparing tea when it happened, though likely coffee.
You don't have to be a hobbit to desire adventure, nor to be more than a bit worried about what change will bring. The last 15 months have involved a lot of change for me as a gamer, and I'm immensely thankful for all that has come.
Becoming an admin for the Ashes of Athas organized play campaign has been an incredible opportunity to pay forward the countless benefits I've received through RPGA/Organized Play. While I'm a bit closer to insanity, I have also been overwhelmed by good feelings as I get to work with my fellow admins on the vision and then see so many enjoy it. Partly because of these efforts I was also asked to write for DDI. Being able to do something lasting in Dragon and Dungeon is a kid's dream come true.
Leaving the Shire
Nothing prepared me for this past December, when I was asked to visit the offices of Wizards of the Coast to discuss Organized Play. I'm a consultant in my mundane life, and an opinionated fool by choice, so this was just about as incredible an opportunity possible. And then I was asked to try D&D Next. Wow.
The way an NDA works is that we can't disclose confidential information until it becomes public, so I can't share details. What I can do is say that the group that was called together to provide feedback was a great group. You likely recognize many by name and we all took the task very seriously and with gratitude. We realized how fortunate we were, we knew others could have been here in our shoes, and we worked to speak for the community as a whole.
I've now been able to playtest the next version twice. I can only say that the positive playtester comments on Forbes, Escapist, CNN, NY Times, EN World, Critical Hits, and other sites mirror my own. And I'll be running D&D's Next version at the upcoming D&DXP convention. (I'm already hard at work on the three awesome Ashes of Athas 4E adventures premiering at the con).
But I can share that when WotC says the goals are to create an edition that speaks to the soul of D&D and that takes the best from every edition, that is absolutely the goal I saw in play.
And Back Again
I opened that old white box cover not as someone seeing an old friend, but as Indiana Jones, discovering finally what I had heard in rumors and read in places as obscure as musty listservers from eras long past. Within I found... well, some of it was pretty cool. And some of it was downright laughable. I mean, seriously, every weapon does a d6 damage? So what if the wizard can only wield a dagger... d6! For hit points, a "magic-user" and a "fighting-man" both roll d6, but the fighting-man gets a +1? As for initiative, I don't know... does everyone go at once if I don't use Chainmail?
The list of outdated stuff is extensive, including in adventure design, since I wanted to run the very first TSR adventure of Temple of the Frog, included in Supplement II: Blackmoor. The temple is more of a setting, except the intention is clearly for PCs to explore this place... and yet it has things like 500 guards/soldiers on just one level. I think one room has 250 soldiers in it. And that's still kinder than the other obvious way in! As I prepared for this I found myself very proud of how hard we've come in adventure design. I'm not even going to mention the space stuff, like how the main bad guy came from another planet and wears totally broken power armor. Not going there.
There were many positives. It was cool to see just three classes (the third is the Cleric) and just Dwarves, Humans, Hobbits (or Halflings in later prints), and Elves. It was cool to see these old spells that so closely resembled AD&D. And very quickly Supplement I: Greyhawk and Supplement II: Blackmoor add lots we recognize: different dice for HPs by class, different damage by weapon, bonuses to hit from abilities, corrections to spells, monks, druids, thieves, etc. But I wanted the raw experience. There are those, after all, that claim OD&D is only Original if you use the first three books (there are also those that play a revised version called OSRIC Swords & Sorcery*, and then Judges Guild (oops) Wee Warriors was the Paizo-like company that published the first OD&D self-contained adventure before even TSR... why does it feel like history repeats itself? Ahem. Anyway.).
I gathered my gaming group together. Most had started on 4th edition. A couple had tried 3.5. Several had played Pathfinder. I alone had played AD&D and Basic. Two were women, both often finding issues with the game's emphasis on crunch. Three guys that really like to optimize. Edit: Two guys that really like to optimize and a third that does it unconsciously while selecting languages including Esperanto, Flumph, Balrog, Pig Latin, and because he had to, Elf.
Playtesting the Oldest Edition of Any RPG Ever
We began with character creation. We stuck to the rules as written, but in the case of any questions I, as master of the rules (ha!) made up a ruling to great fanfare. (This was part of the fun: to point out how often this was necessary, and it was very often).
In true old school fashion, I rolled a character to use as their hireling. The human hireling Cleric, Falath, had the following stats: Str 7, Int 10, Wis 8, Con 5, Dex 13, Char 10. Awesome. I don't think anyone really fared that much better, though the next night my two children (ages below 8) would roll up characters with far better stats. The future is clearly in our children's hands.
We chose spells. I delighted in letting the two other clerics know that at level 1 they get 0 spells. Ha! The wizards chose their one spell. Elf was clearly identified as obviously broken (cast spells in armor, wield weapons, gain languages, spot secret doors... wow!). We wrote down our saves against things like wands and breath weapons. We bought equipment (and it really felt like it mattered).
Character introductions took us straight to the issue of player "ingenuity". Ian of the Going Last podcast, largely held to be a cheese monkey, cast Charm on my hireling. He then told my hireling to kill himself. Checking the rules, they had not yet added the errata to stop this. Ok, I figured I would let this one happen. Now Ian asks about XP. Sure. They get 100 XP, plus 100XP more for his equipment (since in these editions you get XP for gold). Well played. I made a note for later.
To begin play we began by having a random encounter. Given how hard Temple of the Frog is, I thought this might be a good slow start. Ha! I rolled on the table in volume 3 and came up with Nixies. Here's all it says in volume 2: "will always seek to lure humans beneath the waters to enslave them for one year. For every 10 Nixies that appear there will be one Charm Person spell being cast at any person within 3" of their lair. Any charmed character will immediately proceed underwater and remain there until the year is up when he is freed." Oh, and there are 10-100 Nixies (I went with 10) and if in water (when aren't they?) they are accompanied by a school "of the largest and fiercest fish"... 10-100 of those... (I went with none).
We began with a single Nixie sunning herself upon a rock in a tranquil pool. She said hi, and began to talk. When Ian's PC kept walking forward, she hit him with Charm Person. He failed his save against Spells, so he was gone from combat and began walking into the water (I made a ruling he could now breathe underwater). We did, of course, keep up the RP with him during this time. Then we had combat, with a lot of missing. We had some fun ideas, like two PCs using rope to try to lasso Ian's PC.
With five PCs (one charmed) and 10 Nixies, the result was a TPK. And yet, we were all laughing and having a blast.
Remember that thing about DM control? The PCs came to underwater, in an air pocket in the Nixies' lair. After some fun interaction they allowed the PCs not to serve them for one year, and instead they had to go to the Temple of the Frog and end the threat. They were given magic rings to get past the worst of the wards and told of a secret entrance. (After all, I had to give them a way past those 500 guards...)
We ran out of time at this point. I asked the players what they wanted to do. Move on to the blue box, for the second version of AD&D? No way, they said. Both women said it was the most fun they had ever had with D&D! The optimizers, used to crunching lots of numbers? These guys also wanted to keep playing and experimenting. These are guys that before the session said on their podcast "I expect to not enjoy the game at all". They were amazed by how great a time they had. So, yeah, more White Box this week! After that, my hope is that we can continue to climb the version and edition ladder.
We had gone from expecting to just ridicule OD&D to actually having a lot of respect for how D&D started. More incredibly, we wanted to play more. Some of the playtesters have been allowed to share that they see the versions of old in D&D Next. And they are having a lot of fun. I can say that I had a lot of fun playing this next version.
And as I look at my bookshelf I see tons of old friends. How cool would it be to easily run the Desert of Desolation series for my group with D&D Next? I have a number of classic adventures I never ran. Will D&D's Next edition let me do that? Will it give me the best of open play while allowing for 4E's great innovations? This is what D&D Next could offer that would be incredibly compelling to a lot of players - even new ones. They just don't know it yet - until they walk through that door and onward to the Next adventure.
But What About Ashes of Athas, Where Does This Leave 4E?
The AoA admins will have more to share later, but you can expect that Ashes of Athas will remain on course this year and into 2013. 4E will, by all accounts, be getting lots of support in 2012. Hey, I've seen Heroes of the Elemental Chaos... and all I can say is you want it! 4E remains what I will be playing this year, as often as I can get it. I'm excited for the future but I'll be writing 4E DDI articles, adventures, and playing 4E as often as I can. After all, I'm playing 4E and OD&D - surely I can enjoy 4E while playing the next version!
One last comment. My sincere thanks to everyone that helped me have these amazing experiences. You know who you are. I can't thank you enough.
Far prettier up close than the version in
Logan Bonner's Gamma World adventure.
This series is continued:
OD&D and the Challenge of Pleasing Everyone, Part 1
OD&D and the Challenge of Pleasing Everyone, Part 2
* = As clarified by Specterofmarx below, "OSRIC is a clone of the AD&D 1st edition rules. Swords & Wizardry most closely mimics OD&D and Labyrinth Lord is closest to the magenta box Basic D&D set. There are lots of others as well."
Thursday, January 5, 2012, 10:40 AM
Making Silt Horror Tentacles!
The finished project: Silt Horror Tentacles!
This all started when the awesome The She DM posted on her blog with instructions for making tentacles for a session of Encounters. I love projects like this, avidly following groups like Roving Band of Misfits (who just finished their water effects version of the tentacles here) and Ben's RPG Pile (they play a lot with mini conversions and terrain and worked on lava tentacles here). Usually I just watch from the sidelines, wishing I had the time to do what they do. Loving Dark Sun, this time I jumped on this project. It was actually really easy. I shared my work here, but I thought I should capture it in a blog so it is more accessible.
What is a Silt Horror?
Silt Horrors are one of the more feared creatures on Athas. They live in the Silt Sea, which is deadly in and of itself because you cannot walk nor swim through silt but can still drown/choke in it. The Silt Sea does get deep, though it often has narrow pathways (with gaps for fun) in some areas. You can also travel on vehicles (either using huge wheels and lots of labor to move them or using psionics). Just the voyage is perilous, but becomes all the more so if a silt horror attacks. The creature lurks under the surface, suddenly reaching out with tentacles and sucking the heroes down into the silt and eventually into its mouth. The original Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix I provides white, gray, and brown silt horrors and the image below.
The second AD&D monster book, Dark Sun Monstruous Compendium Appendix II, expands to black, magma, and red silt horrors. Here is the black silt horror's depiction:
4E updated the silt horror, now a single type that is a level 12 solo lurker that constantly generates minion tentacles of several types. It is a very fun monster and depicted with this excellent artwork:
Particularly for the 4E version we want to have multiple tentacles and a central base.
I purchased the same octopus The She DM used after a search for it on various online stores. I cut the tentacles as she described, using a wooden base (I happened to have a bunch of these 1" round wooden bases from the local craft store).
Here is the unsuspecting initial toy:
(Clicking on any of the pictures should lead to the full-sized image.)
Here is the sad octopus. I will eventually place this on a huge base should I need it, probably using the Water Effects tip from Band of Misfits:
I used the hot glue gun as she described, but right after gluing I placed them in a small container and poured some small grit sand over them, pressing the sand down lightly into the glue. This meant the glue's surface was covered in the sand and hardened that way.
Picture of this stage, no paint yet:
Yes, that is a bit like a demotivational poster...
I thought about adding a washer to the underside of each wooden base to keep them from tipping, but they actually stand up ok. A key to this was cutting them so that the weight was pretty centered. Depending on the cuts you might need to add washers.
You might think sand looks ok as-is, but strangely enough real sand almost never looks real on a miniature. It is necessary to paint the sand to make the textures and appearance match that of a miniature.
Once dry I gave each mini a wet base coat of a somewhat dark brown, applying it liberally where the glue met the base to try to fill in any gaps (the hot glue tends to apply in a roundish manner... I probably could have pressed the sand in harder to shape it a bit and it might have been better to cover the entire base).
Here is the initial paint job:
When that dried I gave it a few dry brush treatments with a sand/tan color and a more normal painting of the base. I was pretty happy with that. The color actually seemed to stick ok to the tentacle, but I imagine the rubbery nature would make it hard to paint the actual tentacle itself. They work fine in that pinkish color, I think.
Here is the finished version:
My thanks to The She DM, as this would not have happened without her. I highly recommend her blog. She's a DM in my town and awesome on too many levels to count!
In addition to the blogs to which I linked above, I recommend checking out this silt horror custom project using insulation foam. You can also see this really cool silt horror here (as well as flumph minis and an incredible Demogorgon!). The later project uses Sculpey clay. I like that both projects let you put a mini into the mouth of the silt horror. That's excellent!
While at some point I will mount my toy octopus head on a base, I'll use that for actual kraken/octopus fights. For Dark Sun I think I will use one of the two methods above.
Yes, I said flumph. Band of Misfist worked with the person above to make additional flumph minis, and ended up talking about the history of the poor flumph and writing a set of flumph monster statistics for 4E, and that led to the Band of Misfits making a short flumph adventure. Bring back the flumph!
Dark Sun Blog Index
Dark Sun Sea of Silt, by Steven James
Thursday, November 17, 2011, 10:36 AM
A Gallery of WotC Poster Tile Maps
The excellent Sly Flourish came upon the kind of organizational idea we often have but seldom execute. He took pictures of each of the poster tile maps in a 3E or 4E product he owns and uploaded them so he had a handy reference. He can look at the gallery and see all the maps he has when planning for a gaming session. Need a desert map? How about that poster map that came with the Blue Dragon? Need a river running through underground caves? Several RPGA/organized play posters can fill that need.
I loved the idea, but I wanted to make two changes. First, I downloaded them and renamed them so each file has the name of the map. That way I easily know the product on my shelf that has the map. I can also work with the thumbnail viewer mode in Windows to easily see the pictures very quickly without having to connect on the Internet.
Secondly, I have several adventures that weren't included. I took pictures of them in similar fashion and added them to the collection. Now I can easily have my collection represented (Mike owns a few things I don't, such as the Fantastic Locations series, so I put those in a "Don't Own" subfolder to encourage future shopping).
I'm offering the files as two downloads, since one really came from Mike and I don't wan't to misrepresent that. It was his genius that started it! You can thank him by visiting his site (and if you don't have an FLGS you can support then consider using his click-throughs to buy stuff so you support his site). I've also added a gallery of Dungeon Tiles based on an EN World thread and a gallery of Lair Assault based on images captured by Ameron of Dungeon's Master.
Download Sly Flourish's Maps, Renamed
Download my additional Maps
Download a gallery of Dungeon Tiles sets
Download a gallery of Lair Assault maps
How to Use the Maps
Download the files and create a folder on your computer. Set the folder to display thumbnails, and make them as large as possible. Now you will see the maps without having to open each image file.
You may want to create a sub-folder for products/maps you don't own and move those images into there (or delete them if you won't have a use for them).
When preparing for a gaming session, head to the folder and take a quick look to see if any poster tile maps fit the session you are planning. Maps like this can often provide good inspiration and often can fit your needs.
Consider adding tiles from tile sets onto the map so it fits your needs better, or just for a change of pace (especially if you have used the map before). Keep an open mind, such as adding a tile for a staircase and adding a separate second level. If you own any 3-D set pieces, such as the Mage Knight terrain mentioned and shown here, or Hirst or Dwarven Forge bits, or even things from a craft store, those can really make a map excellent. Consider doing things like raising up some of the terrain. Craft stores sell 1" wooden blocks that can fit the bill easily (just use enough so it is still stable). In fact, mirroring the poster map but showing elevation is a pretty fun trick:
Here is another example from my Community gallery.
Add Your Own!
Do you have a product Mike and I don't? Snap a picture and add it to your folder. Please send me a message to let me know so I can add it to my collection (and if you share the picture then I can udate the download files)!Edit:
Last update Dec 10, 2011, adding HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass to the Additional Maps file. Then again to correct two maps in the Sly Flourish file - they should have been labeled as Seekers of the Ashen Crown.Edit:
Last update Feb 27, 2012. Added the Haunted Map Pack from Sly's latest update to the Sly Flourish zip file. Added Gates of Firestorm Peak, HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass, amd Scepter Tower of Spellguard to the "Additional" zip file.Edit:
Last edit on leap day, Feb 29, 2012. Added Book of Vile Darkness maps I had left out from the Sly Flourish zip file.Edit:
Added a new zip file above containing galleries of Dungeon Tiles, based on the work by Thanee on EN World.Edit:
Revised Additional file to have Halls of Undermountain. (Pictures by Icosahedrophilia).Edit:
Revised Sly Flourish file to contain the new Vaults of the Underdark map pack. My thanks to Sly for adding these gorgeous maps to his gallery. I highly recommend this map pack - really fun maps! I also moved the Halls of Undermountain pictures to this file, though I kept the ones by Icosahedrophilia because they are a bit sharper.Edit:
Sep23, 2012. Changed to Dropbox, updated Additional and Tiles files to have Encounters Council of Spiders and DN6 - Castle Grimstead.Edit:
Oct 1, 2012. Added new zip file for Lair Assault maps, using images provided by the awesome Dungeon's Master
! Also, added thumbnails from the Gen Con 2012 Open championship - a good way to get a feel for what is used in the competition.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 12:59 PM
A Few Tips for DDI Article Submissions
I feel really fortunate to have written a few articles for Dragon and Dungeon (an article on sparring and other contests called Step Into the Ring, an Asian-themed adventure The Five Deadly Shadows, an article for DMs providing Dark Sun wilderness lore and encounters with Traveling the Athasian Wastes, an article on classic monsters with The Ecology of the Vegepygmy, and an article on a villainous secret society in the Dark Sun setting with The True). I know many of you share the dream I had of writing for Dragon or Dungeon. To that end, I want to share a few good links and tips I picked up.
Useful Links for DDI and RPG Freelancing
I bookmark any link I think might help me write for D&D. I organize my bookmarks so I have a category for just the links specific to writing:
Do I Have the Basic Skills?
Through my work with organized play I sometimes meet people who have fantastic ideas but do not have the best writing skills. Sometimes that's okay with organized play - an admin may be willing to do the work to clean up the writing. I wondered whether Wizards felt differently. At Gen Con 2012 I asked a panel of Wizards' staff whether being a good writer was a requirement. They thought it over, and in the end said it was.
This means you want to have a native-level understanding of the English language, of grammar, and of how to communicate with the written word. If you aren't sure whether you have this, ask someone you can trust to be honest to review something you write. An old high school English teacher, a college professor, or someone who has been published can all be good evaluators. In the end, you want to feel that you can write well enough to produce the quality you see in current issues of DDI.
If you lack the skills, all is not lost. The Wizards team encouraged someone in this situation to partner with someone who has them. This is a great way to still contribute to DDI. Collaborating is also a fairly safe way to see what another person does to communicate your (and his or her) ideas well.
Deciding What to Pitch
Dragon generally covers player content or setting/rules that appeal to both DMs and players (though that might change, keep an eye on each issue of DDI). Dungeon is largely around adventures and setting info that appeals to or is used by DMs. Become acquainted with the types of articles in each and pitch accordingly (different people are involved, so you want to pitch correctly). I recommend reading the latest two issues of each magazine in their entirety.
For Dragon, be especially mindful of what has been done before. If you want to write powers for a certain class, take a look at what already exists and get a feel for whether the kind of proposal would be accepted. Most articles add new builds or new aspects to a class so that the class has greater depth. Most recent articles add only a few powers and have a strong lore component. Know what is typically accepted and use it as a guide for your pitch. You can certainly take a different approach, but you may want to note that and explain why you are taking a different path and why you think that will work well.
Setting work usually is shorter on word count and adds something discrete to the established setting or updates older content to 4E. Take a look at the "Eye on" articles.
In terms of adventures, it can be helpful to consider the key appeal behind the adventure. It might speak to a classic adventure and be cool because it is an archetype. It might be innovative in some way. It might use a recent setting or published material. In general you want that pitch to feel good to you - both as something you want to write and which you would want to run or play. Look at the first page of each adventure published in Dungeon for the last three months and see how your pitch compares to the adventure summary. If you read your own pitch, you should feel that a broad audience would respond with "I want to play that adventure!" You want the adventure to reflect your strengths. If you are particularly good at sandbox adventures, skill challenges in combat, open story and RP, challenging battles... let that guide what you pitch.
Always be aware of what has come before. Do some research so you don't duplicate what has come before. Better yet, feed off of it. A setting article or adventure that feeds off of an earlier setting article can be even better than if it stood on its own. It could extend the depth of what DDI offers.
Crafting the Pitch
Some of the links above have examples you can emulate. Keep your pitch succinct. You want to prove you can write well and be brief. You want the person reviewing your pitch to feel like they will get a high value per word that you write, not a lot of rambling. (I'm an expert at being wordy, so I have to really work hard on being succinct in my pitches). Do things like identify the least useful sentences in your pitch and see if you can combine, eliminate, or reword so they are better. Make sure your writing is compelling and flows well. If you took a writing course in college, go back to those basic concepts. If not, pick up a book and review the basics. Consider having an honest friend who is a good writer read over your pitch.
It isn't a bad idea to come up with a few pitches (even some alternate pitches for the same article!) and read them out loud. Which ones sound better? Can you read them to your gaming group and see which they like best?
Article word count matters. If in doubt, go with a shorter word count. It reduces the cost to Wizards and increases the chance your article will look like it adds high value. A smaller article may also look like a more reasonable task for a first-time author. To guess the word count appropriate for your article, find a similar article. Highlight all of it and paste it into Microsoft Word. Word will display the word count in the bar on the bottom left of the program. If you have an older version you can usually get a word count through the File -> Properties menu path, on the Statistics tab.
How Many Pitches?
Edit: GoingLast asked how many pitches a person should submit. Update: per the April 2012 article, the limit is 10 articles. Beyond that number, you do not want to overwhelm the reviewer nor to weaken your stronger pitches. I suggest working on as many as you want, then ranking them in order of how much you like them. Cut out any that seem weak. Take out any that you suspect may not be chosen. You may be tempted to select a high number, but my gut tells me that after five you are reaching a pretty high number if you are a first time author and not known to WotC through prior work (like Organized Play). If you choose to submit more, you may want to group them somehow, present them in order of interest, or have some of them be options "in case". That lets the submission be more manageable to a reader. You can also divide them by "magazine", since they may be reviewed differently. You may wish to communicate how many you want selected. For example, submitting 10 articles seems overwhelming to me, but can be more realistic if you say "6 are for Dragon and 4 for Dungeon. I have ranked them in order. I am interested in writing up to one article for DDI in any given month." If you have a track record for being able to publish a lot each month, make that point. In my own experience, more than one article a month can be difficult to juggle unless you have a very open schedule and are an experienced writer.
Stay Positive, Stay Hungry
My most ardent advice is to always pitch something you love. Yes, you want to feel that others will like it, but you need to be jazzed to write this... you will be spending many hours on it if you get the assignment! Enjoy writing and the pitch process. Many now famous designers say they had their first pitches returned to them, but they learned from the process and honed their craft. Unlocking a pitch that meets the desire of DDI isn't easy, and becoming disheartened won't help you reach your goals. Be realistic about the challenge of getting published. Treat the pitch as you would any formal business interview. Self-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, work on your "resume", practice and learn, and be professional wherever your future employers may see your work.
Be realistic about the work involved. A very large number of authors that sign up to write organized play back out when they get a taste of the challenge involved. It can be a good idea to go through the process on your own. Write a blog with sample encounters or powers and see how it felt to create that. Will you have the energy to work twice as hard on that, and perhaps to then go back and make revisions? Having example work on a blog is also a good way to show in your submission that you can produce good quality reliably. For example, if you can say you have written three organized play adventures, that shows your ability to deliver quality...
How Organized Play and Other RPGs Can Help
I encourage aspiring authors to participate in Organized Play and to play different RPGs. Involvement with Organized Play gives you a view of how the game is played across a wide audience. You will write a better adventure if you have read, DMed, and played dozens of LFR adventures. You will learn even more about adventure writing and the editorial process if you write for an organized play campaign. DDI issues have recently seen a lot of authors that came from LFR, LG, Ashes of Athas, and other organized play programs.
Exposure to different RPGs helps broaden your approach. Dice-less or low-rules RPGs help you gain a better feel for open adventure design. Games with rich setting help you understand how to create that kind of feel. Different mechanics show you how to tinker with assumptions and different approaches to representing the game world.
Edit: On Twitter a friend asked whether you should include a cover letter or gaming resume. It is my guess that if you have a relevant background, it makes sense to open with that. WotC staff truly are busy, so I would keep it to a paragraph if possible and no more than two. Focus only on the relevant bits. It doesn't matter that you are active on the Shadowrun forums unless that is directly relevant. For example, if your goal is to show you can really write 5 adventures for Dungeon despite having no prior experience writing for DDI, then I think stating that you have headed up a Living Greyhawk Triad and written and edited many adventures under pressure is absolutely worth mentioning. If you have never written for Dragon but your blog has custom powers for special fey-themed powers, stating that and providing a link is a great way to show your ability to deliver and can make a difference.
If you don't have a gaming resume, don't fret. Consider building one through organized play, but for the time being just focus on your pitch. Everyone starts somewhere and editors do like seeing new blood!
Good luck! If you enjoyed this article or have questions please use the comments below.
The first issue I owned, Dragon #89.
Friday, August 12, 2011, 1:35 AM
Gen Con Report
Part 2: Why I Love Gen Con
As I mentioned in part 1, there is so much to talk about I have to do it in separate posts. In this post I want to talk about why I can't comprehend a life where would not visit Gen Con each and every year.
Eaten by a Beholder!
How it All Started
My first Gen Con was in 2005. I was introduced to Gen Con by my Washington DC-based RPGA Living Greyhawk group, the adventuring company known as Gryphon's Wrath. Made up of experienced gamers, they visited every year. After hearing their recounts I had to try it out. It was clearly awesome and clearly I needed to attend to achieve some sort of gaming milestone.
I had no idea.
The Wonder that is Gen Con
Nothing really prepares you for being surrounded by thousands of gamers. While PAX is bigger, PAX is a different demographic (tons of young video gamers). This is a massive horde of serious gamers. RPGs, board games, LARPs, CCGs, etc. - tons and tons of people that love their gaming. The horde takes over the downtown, filling every hotel, restaurant, and tavern in a 5-block radius. You walk around and just see gamers. From airport to restaurant to convention hall you hear the sounds of gaming and people talking about games. It is a gamer's Meca, their true home, their sacred place.
If you haven't been to Gen Con, and you are serious about games, you owe it to yourself to make the pilgrimage. As my friends write here, you can keep costs down if you plan carefully. The easiest way is to judge for Baldman Games and the RPGA hall.
Attending With Friends
Attending Gen Con with a crew of friends, or even just a close friend, is highly recommended. It is really nice to have someone with whom to share a room, eat meals, explore the exhibit hall, and play games. If attending alone, however, you will still have a lot of opportunities to make friends and find mates with similar interests.
For me, Gen Con is a yearly get-together with my old Washington DC friends. We reunite in Indy to play our favorite games, trade stories, and recall the way it used to be back when we had no kids and gamed several times every week together. Because these are such great gamers, it is also a chance for me to go a bit deeper with RP and to try out new and different game styles. Gen Con is a great place to try out LARPing, take a board game to a tavern (there is a place that loans out board games, and join a new living campaign.
One thing I do little of at Gen Con is interact with friends I have made within RPG companies, the blogging community, the RPGA authoring community, and the online forums. That is something you can certainly do... but I try to keep this con all about my old DC crew. There are many opportunities for rubbing shoulders with gaming gurus, though I personally like D&DXP (a smaller more focused convention) best for getting to meet WotC employees and online personalities.
What I Did at Gen Con
Ashes of Athas: As one of the admins, the weeks before Gen Con were all about hard work and deadlines. We absolutely worked our tails off for this convention, creating the third chapter that closes out the 2011 story arc. The end result is something of which we are really proud. One of the best parts of working on an organized play campaign is seeing how it is received. I ran three sessions of Chapter Three for my DC group and also spent some time watching other tables and speaking to DMs. The reactions to the work truly revitalized me.
Running Ashes of Athas
Shadowrun: My group had little experience with Shadowrun, though I've played every edition over the years (some of them very extensively). This is a cyberpunk and magic game currently in its fourth edition. My gaming group finally gave one of the Shadowrun Missions scenarios a shot. I played my Rigger Rocker (drone piloting musician) and everyone else tried pregens (we also had two other guys at the table). We had an absolute blast. The author, interestingly, is a guy we had seen many times at Heroes of Rokugan games. Shadowrun missions have really been of great quality of late. If you like sci-fi and cyberpunk, you should try Shadowrun at least a couple of times.
Drek's gonna fly, Chummer!
Living Forgotten Realms: LFR keeps getting better. At this con we played the Calimshan series of adventures. This is an Arabian nights type of setting in the Forgotten Realms and the authors (great people I have had the pleasure of gaming and hanging with at other cons) did a great job with the series. I also played SPEC3-3, which had a really dark Cthulu type of feel. All of the adventures had a high challenge level and the players we met at the table were all great.
Life-sized Drizzt looked awesome!
Eclipse Phase: I love the mechanics of this transhuman sci-fi RPG. It uses percentile dice, with some neat rules (such as spending a point of Moxie to flip a 62 into a 26 and make it a success, or critical successes/failures when you roll the same number on both dice). The rules work well with storytelling, stimulating both player and DM to describe what they are doing and think in non-linear fashion. And, I love the story and setting. The idea of downloading your self into any number of bodies, exploring far worlds through alien gates, and being an uplifted octopus that fights with a blowtorch... yeah. It was easily the highlight of Gen Con 2010. The scenario was not as strong this year, but was still very good. I enjoyed playing a neo-avian (uplifted parrot). Gotta get more Eclipse Phase. Oh, and they follow a cool open source model that is worth checking out. (What other RPG supplies its own torrents and sells hack packs that let you modify the product to your liking?)
The DM used the map to capture what tasks we
were doing around our off-world archeological camp.
Mistborn: I really like Crafty Games' Spycraft game, and one of us was a big fan of the Mistborn novels (Victorian setting with magic gained through consuming metals), so we had high hopes. We weren't thrilled, to be honest. The scenario seemed good but our DM was rather slow. He hadn't quite lost us before he listed every one of 30+ rooms in a mansion, but he sure had after. We decided to have a bit of fun. One destroyed mansion later we felt a lot better. The scenario was good, the DM not good, but the rules... hard to say on a first play. Overall we wondered if the mechanic of rolling 5 or so d6s and looking for the highest pair of same-value dice was good enough for an RPG. It seemed to suggest some mechanical limits. We also saw little balance between metal-using and non-metal-using PCs. I think we could give it another shot, especially because we like Crafty Games so much.
Free preview/demo book was a nice touch at the
demo booth and linked to the actual adventure.
Legend of the Five Rings / Heroes of Rokugan: Though I'm more than a bit tired of this game, some of our crew took part in this Asian-styled living campaign. It is a very good RPG and the new living campaign has been well received. I like that each adventure furthers the plot and often changes the balance of power between clans.
The dealer's room is almost a con to itself. You can easily spend two 4-hour convention slots on your first visit to Gen Con, especially if you like a variety of games. All the major companies and a lot of medium and small companies are here selling board games, minis, RPGs, clothing, used and new books, CCGs, collectibles, clothing, software, and more. Even after a handful of years you probably want at least one slot here, with some flexibility in your schedule to come back for more. The experience can be made more enjoyable if you spend some time pre-con figuring out what you want to see, especially new games you might want to demo.
When not playing these games, we ate at restaurants, hung out with friends, went to bars, gawked at cosplayers, watched wacky stuff like the pictures below... oh, and tried to get at least 5 hours of sleep a night (up significantly from earlier years!). A couple of our group went to an AEG party (coming home at 4 AM), and those kinds of things can happen if you ask around.
An annual favorite: the towers constructed from
the CCGs found in swag bags!
Someone made a huge Robo-Rally game mat with
by LEGO Minstorm robots. You actually could play,
programing the robots per the board game rules!
What We Didn't Do
We usually use the service where you can borrow a board game, but did not do so this year. We also did not do any LARPs this year, though we have in the past. One of our crew has done well with the Settlers of Catan board game, but did not enter the competition this year. Beyond that, there are tons of games to be had. Deadlands, Spycraft, more LFR regions, CCGs, open play... there are just endless types of play we could have tried. There are also special events like True Dungeon or the puzzles that span the convention. In the end, we did a lot and loved Gen Con 2011!