Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 12:56 AM
One-Hour Gaming and the Path to Constructive Responses
What does a new edition say about us?
One of the hardest times for any gamer is when a new edition is announced, and particularly when tiny glimpses of the upcoming changes are seen. This is the time when what we see becomes a mirror
. In the changes we see approval or rejection of our own interests - even though the designers clearly aren't writing the edition for or against any one of us.
That mirror is no nicer to us than it was to the queen in Snow White. Not only are we not the fairest of them all (not even close!), but we are just one of so many gamers out there. The reflection and what it says is often harder to take the closer you are to the game, the bigger a fan you are, and the more you have done for it. It can be so very frustrating: does the game to which I was so loyal not love me back? Are these other members of the community really so different? Are they traitors? What's in their pocketssesssss, my preciousssss?
The Dark and Light Side of Passion
I'm an activist at heart. Both growing up in Colombia and working in the environmental field I've seen how some passionate actions just don't translate into change, some really hurt progress, and others are very effective. The hardest action can be to pause and observe, but it can be invaluable if then creating an effective action.
Passion can run afoul of frustration. When we feel frustrated our words get twisted away from our intent (to positively change the game) and become negative (actually hurting our chances to make the game better). They also feed the frustration of others, especially thanks to the Internet. Both 3E and 4E saw plenty of loud frustrated voices, but few of those helped the edition in any way (usually they hurt the edition).
Those of us that are fortunate to have seen D&D next can offer no solace. Non-Disclosure Agreements don't allow for that. It is also very difficult to win these arguments. It is so very easy to look at a review purporting to be a leak and to become absolutely incensed - maybe to post our own negative thoughts. Like the Dark Side, this is the quicker more seductive path. It isn't more powerful than the positive Force, but as I'm sure Yoda would say, it is sure easier to blog and post about!
Analysis and Perspective
Negativity and frustration can blind us to alternatives. Everything becomes an obvious attack and we naturally want to fight back. A harder but more positive approach is to take that deep breath, analyze the options, and gain perspective. The more we can glimpse this point in time and compare it to others, the more we can study our table and compare it to others, the more we can understand an issue and the potential for positive change.
Playing through previous editions and blogging about them has helped me see that no single edition has been perfect. Each traded one aspect for something else. In looking at 4E, my favorite edition, it has many aspects that left gamers wanting. Across all the people playing we hear too many players and DMs saying their game lacks flavor and RP and story. Droves are saying it takes too long. Tons of DMs exclaim they don't know how to challenge their players. 4E can answer all those and other issues, and you or I may not experience some or any of these issues, but that is not the case at enough tables. We can see how this sustains and exacerbates the edition wars.
Progressing solely forward from 4E to a true 5E would likely be very harmful to the game. Even merely refining 4E would likely not be enough. The game can benefit by picking up some important pieces that were left behind. Reducing the edition wars is a worthy cause. The challenge is always in figuring out which bits are nostalgia and which ones really make for great gaming, while deciding which 3E and 4E innovations should be retained. This is why D&D Next's playtesting is so critical. To get those answers, painful questions have to be asked and reactions evoked. Also, time is needed. The playtest for 4E was by all accounts too brief - there was insufficient time for designers to properly react to the feedback and to iterate improvements. D&D Next clearly has a very different playtest process and an entirely different approach.
A One-Hour Game
The one-hour dungeon
is a really evocative concept. I suspect Mike Mearls could have chosen 3-hour or 2-hour and played it safe. However, 1-hour is an excellent choice to solicit reactions.
Let's break down a possible way of reacting. 1. What is our initial take-away and why?
Our first reaction is
very valuable. It can actually be very easy to forget it later, as we see other parts or hear the perspectives of others. Recalling that first impulsive reaction is helpful.
I'm an RPGA guy, and before that an "I don't need sleep" college guy, and before that a "I don't know what sleep is, give me more sugar" school kid. I love a 4-8 our adventure. I'll take a 24-hour adventure. My first reaction is that I don't want a 1-hour adventure. I don't even think it should exist, and it might be bad for the game, trivializing it.2. Historical Perspective: Why is this being asked?
In analyzing a D&D Next topic I like to think about why this came up. One possibility is as a reaction to reports that 4E play is dominated by very long combats. They can be incredibly long at some tables. Speeding up play could perhaps be more fun. Looking back, previous editions had far simpler and shorter combats, which allowed for those other pillars of play.
Another possibility is from the marketing perspective. Getting new players to sit down for 4 hours is tough. Completing an adventure such as Against the Giants (even a part of it) can be a challenge even for an established group. Completing a campaign can be legendary. 3. How does the extent of this problem compare across all gamers?
I run a lot of RPGA Organized Play games, I travel to large conventions, and I travel to work (often setting up games in other states or even countries). These games help me get a perspective on gaming across many different groups. I also read the accounts of others, which helps me hear different perspectives. Is the one-hour dungeon something that speaks to an actual problem? If so, how widespread is it?
The topic of 4E play being long and AD&D or Basic being short comes up often online. This impacts many gamers and is a factor in determining what edition to play. The underlying aspects that contribute to 4E's length (many of which I love) are often criticized independently (example: players spending too much time analyzing their power options).
I also take a look at the environment around me and the different demographics. My generation is aging. Many of us have bigger responsibilities. In my own home game, and it greatly pains me, some of my players wouldn't mind my shaving a half hour off the weeknight game. At PAX I see the success of the 1-hour delve and 2-hour intro session for bringing in new players. Those same new players did not try longer games as often. Encounters play (1-2 hours) may now be roughly the size of LFR play (4 hours, sometimes longer).
Looking at organized play again, we've lost players that prefer more time for story, exploration, and RP. Those players have switched to home campaigns and to other RPGs' organized play programs. It would be nice to have them back, because some of them are great promoters, authors, and people to have at a table.
I also see that for all the brilliance of the set-piece 4E movie-style cinematic encounter, it is a far cry from the fluidity we enjoyed in previous editions. If I spend 2 hours crafting a fight in a volcano, including awesome lava bridges and special terrain powers, I can't easily shift that to a different location if the PCs want to go left instead of right. In AD&D, I could more easily improvise - without having years of experience as a DM. I could also run 6-10 combats in a 4-hour session, plus RP, plus character developing spotlight moments, plus cool story moments, plus NPC interactions, plus explorations and choices - and all very fluidly if I so chose.
Take Keep on the Borderlands. I find the adventure boring as written. Where it excels is in potential. If you take each of those caves and create intrigue between them... then the fun can start cooking. It's the sort of adventure where the ogre in the cave can be a solitary fight, or appear when the goblins pay him off, or show up unexpected at a critical moment - even outside the caves. It is far harder in 4E to be that flexible, especially as a new DM.
I also have to think about what I and others think we might lose. Do monsters have to be very simple for shorter adventures? Do we lose character flexibility? Will we lose the awesome 4E terrain innovations? Listing these kinds of concerns can help me get a feel for what we want to keep.4. Re-assess the question
It is around this time that I like to go back and re-read the D&D Next topic. What exactly is being asked and offered?
Here is what Mike/Wizards is stating as a goal: a fulfilling
1-hour adventure. One hour where you had a pretty complete adventure and had a really good time. He isn't saying Ashes of Athas should be more like the 1-hour D&D Convention Delve. He is saying that in 1 hour we should be able to have a cool adventure that has opportunities for all the pillars of play and not feel thin. He also isn't saying all games are 1-hour games.5. Vision
I try to envision a positive outcome from these changes.
At the home campaign level, it wouldn't be bad to be able to run a side-trek or short adventure in 1-hour. It would sure make it easier for many to get home games off the ground, especially on weeknights. With a bit more time, say 1.5 or 2 hours, I could cover far more story and adventure ground than I do now. It would be nice to do more with each session, and to have more combats per session. When I think of 4 hours... could I get most of a story arc accomplished? That has potential...
For stores, people could actually play a home campaign at a store. That's really hard to do now, but if the game could be light and easy, maybe it could be. And maybe the store would serve beer (ours does) and could be more of a hangout.
Imagine if Encounters wasn't a single encounter, but more like a complete chapter. Maybe traditional organized play could be set up so adventures came in 2 parts... you could play all of it in 4 hours at a con, but also do half at a time at a store or other public location. Much easier to reserve that room at a school or other public place for 2 hours.
Imagine if the 1-hour delve at conventions actually also had story and puzzles and real interactive exploration. Imagine if a longer adventure did that and more - if you could complete real changes during organized/living play in a 4-hour adventure. Instead of 3 encounters, an RP encounter, and a skill challenge, imagine accomplishing the equivalent of a classic adventure. That's a compelling vision. Lighter and smaller combats would give DMs more capabilities to change up the adventure based on player choice. A 3-hour classic could really resemble the tournament scenarios of old. 6. Formulate my stance
Now I go back and figure out where I stand. I really like 4E. I really like the goal of a 4-hour D&D adventure. But, looking at the past, at how other tables play, at commonly voiced issues, and at organized play challenges... I can see where Mike is coming from with a 1-hour goal.
However, I want this to be an option. I find myself preferring the goal of a 2-hour adventure. Part of this is that those earlier visions (such as a richer Encounters session) are great, but likely come at the expense of some of the great innovations of later editions. It is fun to have more complex monsters with roles. It is awesome to have at-will powers and still have a spellbook. It rocks to have cool intricate combats with terrain. Yeah, a 2-hour adventure. That's what sounds right to me. Still, 1-hour isn't a terrible goal if we watch the other issues. PCs and monsters and combats should be simple enough to run quickly, but robust enough to be fun if I play for 8 hours.
That's what I like and what I'll offer as constructive feedback.
I feel much better. With proper playtesting, Mike and all the other fantastic staff at Wizards (and I mean it, they are top notch) will see what works and what doesn't. I am very glad they are asking this question. A less competent and aspiring company wouldn't recognize the issues in 4E, wouldn't see the problems 4-hours poses to some demographics, and wouldn't give the playtests the time to work themselves through.
Having gone through this thought process I lose my frustration and most of my concerns. I have a feel for the issues and I'm eager to be part of the discussion in a positive way.
Charting a course is easier when we ask questions,
provide constructive answers, and work together.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 12:51 AM
Dark Sun Book Review
Death Mark, subtitled The Dread of this Desolation, written by Robert J. Schwalb.
Dark Sun Novels: A Little History
TSR and later Wizards of the Coast have seen great success (and at times great failures) through their novel lines. For an excellent historical look at novels, I highly recommend Designers & Dragons
, A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry
, by Shannon Appelcline.
For the Dark Sun setting, novels have long been intricately linked to the campaign world's history. The most famous Dark Sun novels are the Prism Pentad, a set of five books that progress the story of the setting from the fall of Sorcerer-King Kalak in Tyr to the eventual defeat of the Dragon of Athas. The books were incredible in scope and breadth and did much to help gamers visualize the harsh world - making it richer and more interesting. Unfortunately, the books also took away much of what made Dark Sun unique. As Sorcerer-Kings and Sorcerer-Queens began to fall, so too did the world many had grown to love. The conclusion of the Pentad even saw destructive rain storms...
Other novels were released as well, though never as popular. The Tribe of One
series was popular, as was The Rise and Fall of a Dragon King
, though all the novels seemed to deviate from canon (sometimes horribly) and writing quality varied greatly. Still, every series has provided some depth to the world and all can help a DM or player enjoy their time in Athas more greatly.
With 4th Edition Dark Sun the Prism Pentad was re-released. In addition, two novels were released. City Under the Sand
is a decent read. It has a number of canonical issues, though some can be argued (the central figure is a metal-smith, which matches some canon but not the spirit of the majority of the metal-poor setting's canon). It does provide an interesting look at Nibenay and the idea of the buried city is compelling (even if various parts are hard to imagine playing out as depicted). Under the Crimson Sun
is part of the Abyssal Plague novel series and suffers in many ways. While both novels have some of the worst editing I have seen in WotC novels, the later is alarmingly bad - at times disrupting the reader's enjoyment every few pages. There are canonical issues, but also problems with the characters, the story, and the flow of the plot. My biggest grief as a fan of the setting is that the novels add little to the setting and miss the opportunity to reinforce what makes the setting so unique.
When I heard about Death Mark
I was both eager and concerned. Rob Schwalb is an incredible RPG writer, and his writing has strong narrative qualities. This guy is probably your hero, and certainly mine. But would this novel be better than the last two? Would it serve as a proper DM and player tool to help us better visualize and enjoy the setting? In a word, yes
So Much Anger, So Much Pain
I want to get out of the way what I didn't like, and it is likely a personal thing. I'm not much into horror and I'm not into descriptions of gore. While it is probably very fitting for the setting to include graphic details in combat and other scenes, I found it over the top and even disgusting at times. People didn't just die... they did so with some anatomically horrid detail I could have done without (eyeballs seemingly a favorite, but viscera are plentiful). I found it actually surprising - I wasn't aware Wizards novels would contain that type of description.
So, for me, this was a turn-off and it happened often. I didn't find the book scary, just more gore than I prefer. I still read it all, and I suspect it won't be a big issue for many gamers.
Beyond that, there were few negatives. Yes, there is a small mistake about erdlu (they aren't supposed to be ridden - that should be a crodlu) and 1-2 other issues, but they are incredibly minor. On the scale of Dark Sun novels, canon is extremely well handled. The novel's characters do get a bit confusing at times, especially when two female members of different houses come together and then their friends that help define them either separate or join the other woman. The amount of undead at one point seemed without proper explanation. While Athas certainly has tons of undead, the number appearing just needed an explanation. Portals to the Dead Lands, ancient battle and the necromancer had a tome describing it, anything to explain it and not make it so jarring.
Alternate and final artwork by Justin Sweet
As Beautiful as it is Brutal
That one major and other minor bits aside, this is an excellent novel. I highly recommend it for any Dark Sun fan, and for fans of this type of fiction as well. The story is really very good. The characters are well developed, they have interesting goals and motives, they are dynamic, and they interact in cool ways. The novel has many surprises, especially around how the characters come together and the choices they make - this is not a novel where you guess the ending (or even the middle) and that is a strong positive. The conclusion is both interesting and fitting for the story.
As a Dark Sun fan I wanted to highlight a few other positives, particularly as to the novel's utility for the D&D game:Merchant Campaigns
The novel features several major merchant houses, an aspect of the game that is detailed in the AD&D sourcebook Dune Trader
, but which sees only broad high-level treatment in the 4th edition Dark Sun Campaign Setting
book. Death Mark
does a lot to help us visualize the major houses Stel of Urik, Vordon of Tyr, and decadent House Shom. The novel does a great job of showing how these houses compete and how they market goods in a place such as Tyr. The treatment is sufficient for any DM to come up with several ideas around a merchant-centric campaign, and the characters in the novel make great NPCs (foes, allies, or both).
Dwarven Focus, Racial Differences
The Dark Sun setting turns traditional D&D races/species upside down. Elves are thieves, dwarves are beardless, and new races like muls and half-giants make the setting very different from traditional D&D. Death Mark
does a great job of portraying Dark Sun halflings, mul, half-giants, and especially dwarves. The character of Pakka is a traditional AD&D-style dwarf, with her focus a compelling central part of her personality. This is very useful for any Dark Sun fan and a lot of fun to read. In the interview on Athas.org (see link below), Rob provides an unofficial idea on how to weave a Dwarven focus into the game!Elemental Priests
4E stripped away some of the old AD&D emphasis on elemental priests. This novel brings it back in an excellent way. Pakka is much more of an AD&D elemental cleric than she is a 4E shaman. She brings back great memories of the sun clerics in the Pentad and really helps gamers get a feel for how primal/elemental forces can be wondrous, desirable, and feared on Athas.Basic Survival is a Gift
In contrast to how I felt about gore, I loved the tension in the novel. Friends can become foes and the other way around. Action is brutal and fast and furious, and everyone seems destined to die. Nothing is safe and from start to finish every character is struggling against a world that seems devoid of hope. Characters don't ever seem to win - except by surviving. That depiction is fantastic for the setting and invaluable to gamers as a reminder of how to portray Athas.Athasian Undead
A mixed bag. I thought the novel did a great job of reminding us how undead can play a role in the setting, through Under-Tyr or necromancers. But, I thought it could have done a better job of highlighting Athasian undead from old books rather than zombies and ghouls and Far-Realm variants. Tyr as a City-State
The novel is invaluable for getting a feel for a Tyrian-based campaign. From details of Shadow Square to the Golden Tower to Caravan Way and more, the novel really does a great job of making Tyr a robust and interesting part of the campaign setting. Numerous details are worth integrating into actual play, such as Torston's gang (which I already used!), the idea of what Tithian is doing with the iron mines, Under-Tyr locations and Yuan-Ti, various establishments, and more. Other locations, especially Silver Spring but also the mountains and rocky badlands near Tyr, see some valuable attention. War with Urik, and Fitting into Canon
The novel's focus on the war with Urik, and the way 4E reset the setting back to just after the fall of Kalak, all suggested this novel would conflict with book 2 of the Prism Pentad, The Crimson Legion.
However, Rob cleverly weaves a tale that works with both visions. This is fantastic, because DMs can take the best aspects of the Pentad and still gain utility (without conflict) with Death Mark
. This makes it much more valuable for any DMs that want to lead up to a possible war between Urik and Tyr. In fact, much of the novel's plot is useful as a campaign premise and does so better than the AD&D adventures that tried to mirror the Pentad.
This was an excellent read and deserves to be placed on the shelf next to the Pentad. Whether to insert it between The Verdant Passage
and The Crimson Legion
is a good topic for discussion, but it certainly deserves to be in every Dark Sun fan's collection. Where the previous two Dark Sun novels failed, this novel succeeds. It is a valuable resource for DMs both for helping to visualize the world but also as a source of campaign ideas. More importantly, it is a fun and well-written (and well-edited) book.
You may enjoy the following:
Actual cover, but I could not find a clear copy
Thursday, March 15, 2012, 10:32 AM
The toll of conventions, work travel, and writing for DDI sidelined my play a bit. Still, my plan to continue to run through the editions continues. We previously had fun discussing:
Since that time I've rested from D&DXP, written some fun DDI (Ecology of the Vegepygmy
was announced as coming out in April!) and continued working with the Ashes of Athas admin and author teams on fantastic adventures for Chapters 5 and 6! I've also been devouring as much old content as I can, as if the past could hold the keys to the future. It just might.
I'm also enjoying the discussion instigated by the D&D Next group and the Legend & Lore series (now back in Mike Mearls' hands). The first thing I always take from these is that D&D is in good hands. It would be easy to take 4E and want to go to solely forward to 5E, and to do so from the position of designers that "know" what to do. Instead, I see these talented designers turning to us for feedback on very key issues. The ideas are criticized, for sure, but we should realize that they must present an idea that is volatile enough so we react and provide feedback. Do the designers realize these are important issues and that the feedback needs to be considered? It sure seems so!
A clear case of that is when we see a part II to any post. Saving throws and the issues of dying (and challenge level) have earned that distinction. These are clearly tough topics, because they link to many aspects of the game. What is a hit point total without knowledge of expected monster damage? What is a save or die power without an understanding of expected frequency and even of overall lethality? What are leaders like and what kind of healing can any PC do? These issues are all related and will impact play... just as it has in every edition. Lets look at this, in part influenced by what DeadOrcs writes here
and Steve Winter writes here
Basic's look-up tables for determining a hit.
Sticks and Stones and Words of Power
Let's be clear. The only reason we are spending time discussing hit points, damage, and save or die is this: it is too hard for PCs to be threatened in 4E. What causes this? Why is this such an impediment for most, but not for all? Is the solution a return to AD&D or some other edition?
Our view of 4E lethality is sadly tarnished by the edition's initial damage math for both PCs and monsters. A typical straight PHB party (with a few exceptions) against MM elite brutes was a low damage and high hit point snooze-fest. You knew the PCs would win...just not how many hours it would take! (On the positive side, this really encouraged DMs to innovate their encounter design so fights would be exciting).
Over time we saw PC damage escalate substantially. Fullblade-style shenanigans and off-turn combos could see buckets of damage thrown at monsters. Nova, one-shot, we heard those terms a lot... for a while. A party of level 1 Essentials PCs can deal more than 130 points of damage if they have surprise and initiative! In contrast, monster damage saw few improvements at first. When I wrote organized play's first LFR paragon adventure I spent hours finding monsters that could properly damage PCs at that tier.
MMIII and beyond brought monsters that were a lot better - higher damage, lower defenses and hit points. Where tables of Living Forgotten Realms once asked DMs to please give them the high challenge option and add some extra difficulty on top, that same choice today in heroic is usually a TPK. I can't think of a low-mid heroic tier LFR adventure in the last year that wasn't an exciting combat that could have ended badly for us. Dark Sun monsters deal significant pain at all levels. And in Ashes of Athas we really can't go harder than level+2 encounters, especially since PCs have very few magic items.
Finally, there is a disparity across tiers of play. As discussed by DMG 42
, the damage dealt by monsters as a fraction of PC hit points actually declines as the level of play increases! In a soon-to-be-published blog by GoingLast
, they research how PC damage also scales poorly.
Simpler Weapons for Less Civilized Times
In comparison, OD&D's first three books saw every PC have 1d6 hit points (fighting-men get +1 at 1st level, but strangely lose it at 2nd level). It was easy for the wizard to end up with more hit points! All damage was 1d6, including from monsters, so you can see where this would take us... if something hit you, you could go down. Get hit twice, and you had to be really lucky to be alive. And, at 0 hit points you were dead. Dead!
Battles were basically about the luck of hitting (and everything usually missed) and whether your DM was kind (a random encounter could feature 100 nixies, all dealing 1d6 and having 10 charm spells... and charm ended only when dispelled... oh, and the nixies come with 10-100 fish that deal... wait for it... 1d6 damage). Players also did tricky things to avoid damage: 10' poles, sending mules and henchmen (or both) at trolls, throwing oil, etc.
OD&D's Supplement I, Greyhawk, added the rule of hit die type varying by class (d4 for magic-users, etc.) and fixed some spells like Charm. Gaining levels gained you more attacks and better spells, but as we discussed before it was a brutal game.
The Holmes Basic Set
The previous owner didn't follow the instructions for the special d10 (no true d20!) that comes with some versions of the Holmes set!
Our group took up the first Basic D&D
set, released in 1977 (three years after OD&D and two years after the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements). While AD&D is often seen as Gary's edition and Basic as Dave Arneson's, it was written by a freelancer: Eric Holmes. It pulled together the OD&D box, supplements, and its various fixes. You can purchase the 1981 version, by Tom Moldvay, here
Our group's first reaction was one of confusion. We really were not prepared for a book that was more
poorly worded than OD&D, but this actually may be. It is actually hard to tell whether elf and dwarf are a race or a distinct class, and the class features are never in one place. At the end of character generation we were pretty sure we had a few things wrong. Thankfully, the game is very simple. 9 pages contain the information for players. The rest is spells, monsters, items, and a smattering of info about running a campaign.
The included adventure is B1: In Search of the Unknown
. I had completely forgotten this, but it is one of a few adventures that teaches by dumping the work in your lap. A barebones description is provided for a room and then the DM should go to the monster table and pick something. I'm sure the vision is of a DM doing a lot of work up front, but they probably picked at the last minute, as I did, which vastly increases the illogical stocked dungeon feel of old.
Here is one of my favorite rooms, largely due to the wacky cat-bottle. Note the place they left for you to write in monsters and treasure!
To get back to the topic of damage, let's take a look at this table (click for a larger version):
B1 monster table, which you use to populate the dungeon.
We can see that most monsters do d6 damage (though several have save or die or other effects). PCs in Basic still have very few hit points (high con can grant up to 3 extra hit points, and a fighter gets 1-8 at first level). How many hits do you want to take when your fighter has no more than 11 hit points, and probably an average of 5?
The core truth of unforgiving monster damage remains in each Basic version and even in AD&D (with slightly more PC power). It is really only in Skills & Powers for 2E and then in 3E were PCs begin to accrue the building blocks toward reliable survival. And yet, it was only a start. Most 3E players can talk about a time when a monster took their PC from full HPs to death. Other monsters could cause an irreversible death, such as by dissolving the PC. And there were save vs death situations. While I like the potential thrill of these situations, far too often the result is disappointing - especially if we care about our characters.
Just read those categories and try not to laugh! Death Ray, baby!
Further hurting the old editions, healing was problematic. Healing was largely the cleric's job, and the cleric had to spend actions and get rid of cool spells to keep the party standing. It felt like a chore, which is why the cleric was often a role that was accepted like this: "fine, I'll be the cleric." In 3E organized play, it was customary to carry signs stating your desired party level while shouting "need cleric" (as everyone else in the room was doing). 3E also had wands and such, which further created a post- and pre-combat dynamic that was largely unhealthy.
Back to 4E
4E was designed as an antidote to all of these problems. Each of the solutions it brought forth was really good. A system (surges) by which PCs could heal out of combat and in combat (second wind) if there was no healer. A role, the leader, that could heal - meaning it wasn't the sole domain of the cleric. Leaders could heal with minor actions, allowing them to do stuff, plus their attacks often dealt damage and provided either healing or protection or helped reduce further damage (perhaps by bolstering an ally's next attack). Hit point totals escalated, as did damage, but on the whole the larger numbers provided insulation against a single lucky damage roll by a monster and allowed the narrative more time - it could now be the party's narrative! Healing was higher too. Where before a typical cure spell often seemed to just give us enough for another round, 4E healing could often be significant - lasting us longer than a single round of combat.
All of these innovations were excellent. They were just too much collectively. There are solutions (the simplest is to further increase monster damage while reducing their defenses). However, on the whole 4E has left far too many DMs feeling that they could not challenge their players and far too players feeling like the game was predetermined. Look no further than the reaction to Fourthcore
for the proof. An antidote to the antidote, it caused people to sit up, blink, and suddenly recall earlier styles of play. That we see a ton of WotC designers approving of it is thus no surprise.
Resisting Our Basic Instincts
When looking at D&D Next, it is tempting to follow this line of thought and discard all of 4E's advances. But, as we see, the invulnerability came from previous problems. And there is more than mechanics to consider.
Over the years, the baseline for how we play has changed. These days we expect far more story and connection from our play experience. Not everyone, and there are many styles of play, but on the whole we expect a greater narrative. Just as in the movies, we want the cinematic action to be surrounded by a compelling narrative... less The Beastmaster
and more Lord of the Rings.
Some of this comes from other RPGs. When we play Call of Cthulu with its investigation and horror, when we play Vampire, when we play Legend of the Five Rings, we come back with a desire for more story and RP.
At the center of the action are our characters. Today's author and today's DM is supposed to work towards a fun adventure that interacts with the PCs, including their personal story. We see this even in D&D Encounters. Players that spend time on backstory are rewarded as the game feeds off of them. Compare how Basic is written to the DMG and DMG2 in 4E. The PC is barely a point of emphasis in adventure preparation, and certainly not in adventure design. The Basic adventure is a fun delve, with barely any story. The reason Ravenloft was so critically acclaimed is the same reason Gardmore Abbey is the most likely contender for best 4E adventure.
As our PCs become important, they are less disposable. We want surprises but not gotchas. We want the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the knife's edge of a potential TPK... but we want it to feel fair. We want to go out in a blaze of glory for high stakes in a thrilling encounter, not a random spider bite in an empty meaningless corridor.
For those reasons, we want D&D Next to feel like a fair system. Ideally it removes the excessive insulation that hurts 4E, while keeping some of the safeguards that make it such a fun and balanced system and can allow a DM to use combat as a narrative device.
Similarly, our thinking about healing has also evolved. Do we want a return to wand healing, where we waste charges and gold and time to be able to keep adventuring? Do we again want to be at conventions or even our home groups, hunting for that player that actually likes playing a cleric... and then hope they actually are a healing cleric and not a battle cleric? Do we want the encounter to hinge on how much healing the cleric took, and whether they drop in combat? Do we want the cleric to spend time choosing cool utility spells, only to convert them to curing instead? Do we want the cleric to have to spend an entire round doing nothing but healing... when we may drop the very next round even when they do?
Closing the Lid
We closed the lid on the Holmes Basic set with a sigh of relief. Unlike OD&D, which felt so different from recent editions, Holmes Basic felt too much like a clone of OD&D (because it largely was). The game had offered too little. While we continued to enjoy the exploration and narrative space that was possible, our PCs felt limited, thin, and vulnerable - because they were. And this hurt our enjoyment of the game. Sure, we could work to make all of this better. I could take B1 and work on it to make it story rich, just as the PCs could work on their end as well... but in truth we would prefer to do that over a better rules layer.
4E provided immense innovation. In the realm of survivability, it went too far. For too many it is a system where the PCs cheat death. On the other hand, our experience in Basic was that death was cheating the PCs out of a good experience. It was possible to have a PC die 3-4 times in a game session... and that wasn't a fun story (though it pairs excellently with chips and drinks).
As I ponder the fantastic potential of D&D Next, I have high hopes. I yearn for an edition where the average DM feels the game is dangerous for PCs, but the players feel there is more than a die roll or two deciding their fate - especially that their actions will influence the outcome. Importantly, I hope D&D Next continues to contribute to the idea of a PC being part of a narrative and the adventure and DM working to further that. It has become one of the game's greatest strengths (and can always be removed for delve-style fun).
Addendum: Early Basic Products
One of the products I own from the era of early Basic is the Dungeon Geomorphs set. This links to that idea of a dungeon as a mess of rooms and corridors filled with monsters without rhyme or reason. The set contained a bunch of maps with the traditional blue ink (meant to prevent illegal copying - fear of piracy way back then!)
The other old bit I have is the Monster and Treasure Assortment, a set of regular paper (green!) printed with lists of random monsters and treasure. It is also telling about the game - random tables dominated the game!
Finally, look at the last page (again, these are just sheets of paper, no cover!). The product listing shows us how little there was back then.
While watching a game of the Holmes set was my first brush with D&D, I had never played it before 2012. Next time our gaming group will move into the edition I started with: the Moldvay Magenta
set! My memories can't be wrong. This must be the best edition of all, and practically perfect in every way!!!!
Thursday, January 12, 2012, 3:39 PM
OD&D and the Challenge of Pleasing Everyone, Part 2
In the first part
I shared how our group felt about exploration and open play. Our party was mapping, moving through the dungeon and bashing into doors to see what they could find. Surely fortune, but perhaps danger? With our table illuminated by my old lava lamp, we continued.
Of Trolls and Fire and Vicious Combat
The next door the party opened led to a room inhabited by two trolls. I described their warty grey-green skin, their long nose and round-ridged eyes, their long arms, and their stooped posture, rather than name them, but the players instantly knew what they were. (The room originally had four 6 hit die trolls, I changed this to two 3 hit die trolls). Lard sent his mule inside ("Ok, I guess you brought your mule into the dungeon...", I said), making a strength check to push it into the room. This would prove sound for all but the mule, as that mule later soaked up several hits by one of the trolls.
Combat raged as the trolls could attack three times and each PC only once. All damage was a d6, which led the players to have fun with unarmed attacks, throwing a crossbow bolt by hand, and other silly things that still do d6 damage on a hit. In general, combat was more descriptive. (Why is it that 4E's powers, so descriptive in nature, don't result in players being more descriptive? I would love to see D&D Next find a nice balance between robust options and imagination.)
Because the trolls had a lot of hit points and the party missed a lot, the combat eventually settled into the usual pattern of die rolling and calling out results. We had descriptions from time to time, but it had that grind aspect. Yet, it was perilous. The trolls regenerate. One troll dropped and the other was still strong when Magicuserelf began to parley. Eventually an agreement was in place - the party could adventure beyond but must give all their treasure to the trolls (the other one was alive again now) upon exiting. The PCs agreed, surely planning treachery. The trolls also kept the mule's remains as a (yummy) down payment.
The next battle was made easier by a decision to burn the furniture stacked inside the room. Now, most rooms in this very first adventure lack any distinguishing marks. I made up the stacks of furniture to add color. This room held some really horrid snakes hiding amongst the furniture, and the use of a flask of oil was a great idea and made the fight very easy. Of course, this was a huge judgement call on my part. These are six 5 hit die snakes, and I turned them into 1 hit die due to the fire damage. I could have been far more cruel (say 1d6 fire damage) and it would have been an easy TPK.
Through the combination of combat and gold, the PCs gained third level. Each level provided some hit points (1 for magic-users, d6 for clerics, and roughly d6 for fighters). Clerics finally gained spells and magic-users gained 2nd level spells!
Recognizing Later Edition's Advances
Despite having so little text, deciphering how OD&D combat works is a challenge. Monsters often have little guidance. It wasn't clear if the Nixies could only use Charm once, or if they could use it once per PC that approached. Monster powers are sometimes clearly unequal - one attack form might be clearly superior. There is no real balance, and clearly the adventure has no inherent balance. I am guessing Temple of the Frog is for characters that are levels 6-8, but really no level is suitable for the rooms with 250 guards!
It took several editions to really address these balance issues. Even 3E had wildly different threat levels based on what PC levels you gave monsters, had very uneven "special attacks", and the entire encounter design process was confusing and complex.
Because of this, only once did I contribute to 3E organized play with a monster "stat block". Many of us preferred to work just on story and found monster creation to be a chore. It really limited how much I contributed. 4E's encounter design has been a joy for many and is directly responsible for my writing entire adventures for Living Forgetten Realms (which in turn led to being an admin for Ashes of Athas and then to being published in DDI). I guess I owe a lot to 4E's design!
In creating D&D Next, a big question will be what to do with 4E's fantastic encounter design, which rests atop a layer of crunch that is very 4E-centric. If we want a more open play style, must we abandon 4E's innovation? To play AD&D style, will we need to leave behind those advances?
As Shawn Merwin wrote, these decisions are important. I'm a parent too, and when he wrote that D&D Next will be the edition our kids start with
and identify with as their version... that really struck a chord! *
Progressing further, the party encountered a room with several rooms formerly used as cells, some statues of people in combat, and stairs going down. It was no surprise for the players when the medusa attacked. (The room held 2, but I changed it to 1).
Part of the "fun" of a medusa is her gaze attack, which in this edition is just whenever a PC looks at her. (I noted as a DM that there is no attack penalty for attacking blind, but I came up with something on the fly). The combat began with her attacking Magicuserelf and the hireling. Falath valiantly fought while Magicuserelf bravely ran away. The rest of the party responded, though sadly Magicuserelf was killed by mistake when he ran into the dark room where Borkin was searching for treasure. Borkin couldn't see who it was and took him to unconscious. Technically, 0 hit points is death, but I house-ruled that this death took place at the end of the round. Borkin then stepped on him as he walked out the door, killing him for good!
Rukia, Falath, and Borkin engaged the medusa. Chucktesta cast Protection From Evil on Falath, which helped avoid some blows. Lard tried casting Sleep, but unfortunately the medusa's hit dice meant she was immune. When she attacked her snake hair was a major problem. Every attack required a save against poison or the person bitten was dead! One of the interesting bits in OD&D is that monsters attack a number of times per round equal to their hit dice. This medusa was making 5 attacks a round!
Poor Falath the hireling fell to poison. The remaining 4 PCs pressed their attack, finally bringing the wicked snake-woman down.
How Do We Heal Again?
At some point one of the players asked about healing. In OD&D you must rest a full day before you can begin to heal. On "every other day thereafter one hit point will be regained until the character is completely healed." As if to make fun of us all, the rules then add, "This can take a long time." Ha!
What it really means is that in OD&D you sleep in a dungeon to regain spells but you can't ever regain hit points. For that you must leave the dungeon and have a week or more pass. It isn't hard to see why the game has addressed that, providing different ways to heal over a non-combat day (AD&D), ways to charge up wands with healing (especially in 3E), and eventually leading to healing surges, second wind, and at-will healing (in 4E). 3E and 4E both made innovations to deal with this, but especially 4E. It will be interesting to see what is retained or furthered from these advances.
Raising the dead is only for high level spellcasters. However, through some strange humor Larp used a Knock (Up) spell to cause the spontaneous rise of a fully grown new PC, which replaced Magicuserelf. The details are... well, it involved a lot of laughter and several house rules.
Closing the Lid
It was interesting to note that in this session the problems of OD&D really came to light. We all saw how combat lacked variety, other than that which we chose to provide with vivid descriptions. Our characters were pretty similar, and the few differences felt arbitrary rather than balanced. We did enjoy that the game's form encouraged greater imagination and exploration. Role-play and story were really something for which we responsible (most gamers during OD&D days didn't do that much RP), though nothing impeded it and the open play lent itself to it.
I could see that while this second session was still fun, and the group would have gladly continued, there was also the sense that the game's shortcomings were a good reason to move on. Whereas last session they insisted in continuing with OD&D, this time they gave in. Next time we break out the first Basic D&D set! What advances will the game bring? What steps did it take toward a new vision for D&D?
No, I can't tell the difference either!
* Starting a month ago, my daughter really wants to learn to play D&D and to play with my current group. I kept my knowledge of D&D Next a secret even from my kids, just in case they might blurt out a question like "is this the new version?" and alert my players. I did, however, tell them we might want to see whether a new edition would come out before they started learning the current one. They are very excited about this coming version. My son helped roll my dice during the second OD&D session. They both did roll OD&D PCs, but my son cried when he realized he wasn't a very smart magic-user, and my daughter wanted some of the 4E powers she's heard me talk about. We took a break and spent the evening painting minis instead. I'm planning my own custom D&D version to make this more fun for them, plus to make custom adventures that are more of a story-telling exercise and feature combat more rarely. We'll see how long I get away with that...
Thursday, January 12, 2012, 3:07 PM
OD&D and the Challenge of Pleasing Everyone, Part 1
Last week I shared what I could about the playtesting of D&D Next and drew parallels to the experience of going back and running OD&D (the first "white box" version of D&D) for the first time.
The Original D&D "White Box" and Supplements I and II
One of my big surprises was how much fun everyone had during the first session. Sure, everyone came into it with a very positive mindset, but I still expected the weaknesses of the rules to pose greater barriers to our enjoyment. Later editions had added so much to the game. Would a second session provide different results? What parallels exist between this learning process and playtesting D&D Next?
The party continued through the swamp, following the directions given by the Nixies. They caught a glimpse of the bandit town outside of Blackmoor and its massive walls and swarms of troops, but continued until they reached an overgrown wall and a crevasse leading into darkness.
Perhaps it was the lack of rules or perhaps it was the lack of knowledge that caused the party to hesitate. What awaited within? If simple Nixies had defeated the party, whatever awaited within could be even more dangerous. The anticipation was palpable. (That's something that 4E, with carefully balanced encounters has often lost.)
Magicuserelf (clever name), ordered the hireling, Falath, into the darkness. The dwarf, Borkin the Broken, said he did not wish to enter. Cue Larp (his name later became Lard) casting Charm Person on Borkin and we all entered (along with Chuktasta, priestess of Ra (we briefly used the deities found in Supplement IV)). Rukia, the cleric, lit a torch. I silently noted that I had no idea what a torch did in this edition.
Within they found a stone door bearing a small indentation. Larp realized that the rings they carried afforded egress when pressed into the indentation. The door opened, leading them into the dark musky dungeon beneath the Temple of the Frog!
I asked who would be doing the mapping and handed a sheet of graph paper to the player of Borkin. This was an old school moment, and probably eye-opening for some. Players used to map their exploration. It has some benefits. You simulate the confusion that might take place when an adventurer tries to quickly map as they walk. You also create a sense of the unknown, because the blank space is so very apparent. A passageway not taken becomes a blank area and nags at the players.
It also has downsides, as it eats up some time, focuses on one player, and is fairly repetitive. (After the fourth 2x3 square room, the interest level drops).
It is fun to note that the paper we used for character creation, as well as that used for mapping, was the same paper I used to play with when I started playing Basic in the early '80s. I grew up in Colombia, South America, and brought my old gaming paper with me when I brought my books over to the US. That means these sheets of paper are older than some players!!!
We had some fun reading over the rules for doors and traps. Dungeon doors are always stuck, opening on a 1-2 on a d6. (Despite having polyhedral dice, OD&D sure uses the d6!). Traps activate on a 1-2 on a d6 whenever a PC passes over them (apparently all traps are on the ground). PCs can listen at doors, but humans only hear what is in the next room on a 1 (other races on a 1-2). All monsters have infravision, but lose it when hired by PCs.
And so began the process of opening doors. I had forgotten about this. The constant checks to see if you could even open a door! Wow. Several doors would be left unopened as no one could enter them. Imagine the impact on adventure design when you don't even know if PCs could enter the room with your important plot point! In some cases this was in their favor, such as when they did not open the door to a very nasty beast.
The Goals of D&D Next
D&D Next has the goal of acting as a universal rules system that borrows the best from each edition. Just the simple OD&D version presents real questions as to how that can be accomplished. Some might think the mapping of old was fantastic. It certainly has positives. But it also creates negatives. 3rd and 4th really moved into a situation where the map of the dungeon was far less critical than the rooms themselves. Exploration increasingly became entering a room or a situation: the encounter
. It is clear to most that this focus robbed us of some story. But in playing OD&D it is also clear why we moved away from older systems. There is a balance act here, and perhaps also room for innovation.
If Legend & Lore indications are true, D&D Next will have some modular aspect. That may be a way to marry these differences between editions and between gamer styles. That may seem like an insurmountable task, but it need not be. Wizards doesn't need to please everyone perfectly, just to provide options that are pleasing enough. Many of my friends run mapless 4th edition combat; it actually works really well. I mean, if we can abstract so many things in OD&D, we can certainly abstract a "slide 2" to have it still be meaningful. Being able to toggle the role of the map, of the encounter room, of the grid... this would be very powerful.
This is where I am really glad that Wizards will be using an open playtest
. I think playtesting is less about voting on what everyone likes, but rather in establishing patterns of responses and seeing what clever alternatives and best scenarios can be uncovered for the different audiences/demographics. I playtest very often and even a single adventure encounter will see four different experiences at four tables. I never expect to please everyone the same way, but rather to offer each aspects that will make this enjoyable on the whole. I also aim to provide the Dungeon Master with knowledge that can help them alter the encounter during play to achieve the desired result.
Some gamers may feel that Wizards is making a hollow promise to allow playtesting. I've in the past written how impressed I was in meeting Wizards staff. They really like playing D&D and they really want our game to be better through what they do. I think this has become increasingly true in recent years, with an emphasis on connecting with gamers. I sense genuine excitement when they say they want to design this edition with fans.
Now, let's be realistic. At the end of the day, they should also create the game they want to publish. They need to be passionate about their game. And there will be tough calls where they must use their sole judgment. This happens in any creative process. But what I hear is a true commitment to making this as collaborative as possible and to give the process the time it needs to properly collect feedback. I suspect this is in part possible because the market really needs a very good D&D Next and because 4th Edition is probably at its best right now. Recent releases have been innovative and of very high quality. They can deliver D&D Next when it is ready, rather than feeling intense pressure to deliver it soon.
In Part 2...
We will next take a look at combat and see whether the experience begins to fall apart for our players
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!