Monday, February 1, 2010, 1:45 PM
My DDXP highlights:
It was a blast to meet so many of the people I have traded posts and e-mails with over the past months. It felt like a big family was gathering to play. Getting to know people in real life that I had met online was one of the highlights. The LFR community is a really good one.
I'm a huge DS geek, having run a very long campaign in college, owning just about every product, and having been the Dark Sun list moderator during college. It would be easy for me to not like any changes, but I played the DS preview and enjoyed it tremendously. They have done a really great job of converting DS over to 4E and capturing all of the flavor. The adventure was really cool and fit the setting in all ways. (I think it can be played at PAX Boston, PAX Prime, Origins, Comic-Con, and Gen Con). Our DM (thanks, Wes) was fantastic, getting the arena crowd going and keeping us awake in our Sunday slot despite extreme sleep deprivation.
Mechanics include PC templates (Gladiator, Templar, Psionic Wild Talent, etc.) that provide an encounter power and other bennies along a themed line. My gladiator's encounter power did 2W, pushed the target back into his buddies, knocked him prone, and slowed him and his buddies - resembling a bar-room brawl type of move. Weapons are usually non-metal and can break on a 1: if you roll a 1 you can choose to re-roll, but it will break. Iron weapons can be re-rolled but a second 1 will break it as well. Thri-kreens and Mul are the new races. Other races use reskins, like half-giants (goliaths). Classes included a Psionic Defender that seemed pretty fun. DS strongly encourages using the inherent enhancements rule by which you apply +x bonuses to normal items instead of needing to find a magical weapon. Preview PCs can be seen here. (Chris Tulach clarifies that the "thri-kreen’s Fortitude and Will defenses are a little wonky. They should be 13 and 16, respectively. Also one other typo – the battlemind’s crystal longsword basic is NOT ranged.").
DS will have excellent product support in the form of one 224 book in August, a creature catalog with templates and more, desert tile set, at least one adventure, minis as part of general minis offerings, monthly DDI articles, 3-4 Dungeon adventures per month, and the second D&D Excursions will feature 12 weeks of Dark Sun.
From all I could tell, my favorite setting is back with excellent support. Compared to Eberron and arguably even the Realms, DS is getting a lot of emphasis.
LFR Battle Interactive
As some may know, the BI was being written down to the last second (for various reasons) and yet was still a tremendous success. For a lot of players that did not play LG, this was an eye-opening experience and many reported that it was the best thing they had ever experienced. For LG veterans, it was a solid to great BI. There were a ton of very interesting encounters where the combats had creative ways of achieving victory. The story was very good and there were several cool decision points where the sum of what tables did directly impacted the story and the mechanics of the later encounters. Players experienced "changes" as they entered the plagueland and as they made certain decisions. The BI was a bit easy at the paragon levels for many tables, but a healthy amount of freedom was given to judges to exercise judgment and exceed normal DME in order to bring a strong challenge. The judges for Paragon were all strong judges that did a good job in bringing a good level of challenge. Deaths were rare but present. A neat mechanic was the option the table had for each encounter to accept the challenge to fight additional "monster reinforcements" and each encounter provided this in different ways. The ending leaves with a cliffhanger that is to be resolved via an upcoming P2 Core that resembles a Special Mission from the LG days. If I could criticize one single aspect it would be that there was little incentive for tables to interact with one another.
Special awards were available to one random player at each tier. The reward was a cert with a special chunk from a monster. If they can play with other people that have the same special cert, they can then get something special. Pretty cool idea - a special quest for them. I think judges could also receive this, but I am not completely sure.
The BI is ADCP2-1 and thus available for public (not private) play - it is best done at stores or conventions with several tables that can pool results. The BI scales for all current levels of play (1-17).
All-in-all, a huge step forward for the campaign and the credit rests largely on Sean Molley for a huge success despite some pretty big logistical challenges.
Core Specials and Core adventures
The Cores and Core Specials were very well received. This is a huge testament to everyone involved, as the logistical challenges were significant - authors and admins pulled together to really make these happen. As noted earlier, the Specials (and CORE2-1) all had a plot connection and began in Elturgard.
Judges (I think just judges) had an opportunity to randomly receive a special Divine Boon. (I don't know at this time if everyone had the same power). I was fortunate enough to receive one as a judge and the power seems cool but balanced (Divine Boon magic item minor healing daily power coming from Amaunator, see Pelor's Sun Blessing in DMG2 p141).
I wrote SPEC-1 P2 and I ran 4 slots of it at the con (and 3 before the con). I was really happy with how it played. Players seemed to really dig the adventure, all while helping me learn about what could have been better - I will take a break from authoring and in the meantime jot down a lot of notes. On the plane ride I couldn't help but think through what might be a really fun way to start an adventure...
Overall, a strong success here as the adventures were really good and seemed to offer a good challenge. I think it was really a huge plus for the convention to have all the adventures feature interwoven plots.
CORE2-1 and 2-2 were both really well received overall. I am a huge fan of CORE2-1, a fitting sequel to QUES101, but I also enjoyed 2-2 a lot.
I had to skip something, and the only regional I could play/read was the Impiltur one. It was very fun and very challenging. Our DM was excellent and had cool cardstock 3D terrain that made the battles super-fun.
Speaking of Terrain...
John Dubois has a friend, Chris Chivers, that makes terrain from cast molds. Naomi's Workshop provided John and I terrain specific for SPEC2-1 P2! It was awesome to have real ruined stone, bridge posts, and columns. You can see the terrain in action here (click on full size image).
You can check out his store here. He has really affordable stuff (bunch of crates for $2, bridges, up to small keeps). Use code DDXP2010-TA by 2/28/10 for a $3 discount! I can't recommend it enough!
The old delve program is being replaced with a Wednesday (suggested day) gaming program called D&D Encounters. It is a 1-2 hour short play experience that runs for 12 weeks each week. You can bring your own PCs. The first is set in Undermountain and at the end the PCs can enter LFR (but LFR PCs cannot enter the Encounter program). The second 12 weeks will be Dark Sun! You can read about the program here.
Information was provided on a host of upcoming products. Beyond Dark Sun, Gamma World will be released in October as a mix of 4E-based Sci-Fi RPG play and collectible card-game. The people I spoke with could not share details due to NDAs, but all seemed to really like the playtests. (Global admins and a few others tried it out). From the seminars it sounds as if the game will play fine without buying the collectibles and that they may offer a template you could use to make your own powers. GW is supposed to be light enjoyable play, for short sessions rather than campaigns. An expansion comes out in December.
The Castle Ravenloft Board Game sounds fun and uses simplified 4e rules in a delve-style cooperative (like Pandemic and other recent games) play setting. There will be at least one other D&D-themed board game coming out (Dungeons of Dragonfire Mountain). The Heroscape D&D line will continue to expand. They clearly are providing gateway products to get more gamers to check out D&D via more means. That some of these offerings will fit in at the local toy store is a clear benefit for them and Hasbro, and hopefully for us.
The concept of the "Red Box" is being provided as well. The Red Box is the first part of the "Essentials" line, an interesting approach to provide a specific line of products at new players. The RB will pull all the simple concepts together plus, and this is the key, provide new options. So, they might include just the basic classes and races, but offer new builds. This allows for something cool for new players but for the old ones as well.
Minis have been delayed until August, and they have learned that the visible sets result in people buying one package but not others. Thus, no more visible minis. The set is called Lords of Madness.
Tiles will continue to come out as sets (Dark Sun, etc.) but there will be a master set that includes the same tiles from earlier sets plus new ones. There will be more than one master set, such as one for cities and one for outdoors, with each one being continually reprinted.
New books will continue to drain our wallets. Demonomicon, PH3, Psionic Power, etc. will come out over the course of the year. DMs received Martial Power 2, which so far is an excellent read and has the typical (perhaps even more) drool-worthy stuff (dwarves can immediate interrupt with their second wind, rogue build for ranged rogues to get CA almost all the time, etc.).
You can get notes from Dustin Snyder on the product overview session: docs.google.com/View?id=dftrw6m8_77g8hz8...
WotC has provided podcasts and other information on D&DXP information here.
Also, those with iPhone or similar phones may be interested to know that iPlay4E has been upgraded and provides a better format and direct viewing of DDI information.
Friday, January 22, 2010, 11:06 AM
Get cool mod visuals and terrain for Scout's Honor!
I am the author for SPEC2-1 Scout's Honor, a Living Forgotten Realms adventure for 14th-17th level (P2 tier) PCs.
During authoring I learned that we cannot include artwork or pictures. To do so would create possible copyright/ownership issues. However, I was told I could share such things unofficially as a fan add-on.
Thus, I offer here a link to an unofficial and optional set of images that can be used to show what the PCs will see in some of the encounters. All of these images were taken by me during a recent trip to the amazing Angkor Wat temples/ruins in Cambodia. (This is a trip I recommend any gamer take - Cambodia is fantastic and safe, the ruins are an amazing experience. Tomb raider was filmed here).
Here is the handout file. Note: This is for DMs only. It doesn't have huge spoilers, but the adventure plays better if you see these as your DM provides them and at least one bit of text is a bit of a spoiler.
Separately, I worked with John DuBois to get some really cool terrain for the run of Scout's Honor at D&DXP. The terrain is made from custom molds and an example can be seen here at the owner's web site, Naloomi's Workshop. The terrain was really well received by my tables. You can see the terrain in action here. You can use the code use code DDXP2010-TA by 2/28/10 for a $3 discount!
Finally, I have both a list of suggested minis and pdf maps. If you are a D&DXP judge and need either, please PM me.
Thursday, January 14, 2010, 3:24 PM
In an earlier post in this blog I asked if LFR difficulty overall was adequate. We have been discussing Paragon play in threads such as this one.
What do you think, is the LFR Paragon Play too easy, too difficult, just right, or something else?
Tuesday, December 29, 2009, 10:02 AM
I argue in this post that minions are best left unadvertised. What do you think?
--- In email@example.com, Jason Gartland wrote:
> As a DM I don't want a player, that may not be as savvy, to use a single target daily on a minion, especially if I then have to remind them that a miss, even on their half dmg daily, never kills a minion. The player just ends up feeling stupid.
A DM can always make an exception, especially for a new player. As a general rule, I find it more destructive to group enjoyment to advertise minions than it is to periodically have an inefficient use of a power. I'm totally fine with people seeing it a different way. While the rules lack a mechanism by which a player/PC would learn that something is a minion, a DM could choose to communicate that. DM choice.
I will again note that the information can already be deduced (rolling monster knowledge to gain powers will often hint at something being a minion due to the minion usually having only a very simple single attack). And, players can already deduce the presence of minions based on the number of creatures on the board, if not the minis used. Do players really need more than these two things already provide? If I'm at a table and there are 8 monsters on the board, one of them very different than the others, four roughly similar, and the remaining two looking like something else, would it be at all likely for me to use a daily on one of the four similar creatures? Or even one of the remaining pairs? The smart money is on hitting the individual creature with the daily, or at least testing the waters with a different power first. Giving out more information for free just removes a whole layer of tactics.
Both mechanically and in play, I find that the game is more fun if you actually try to hide creatures being minions (outside of very challenging encounters, where the minions are necessary for balance - CORE1-2 is a good example of an adventure where I advertise minions because this is best for a proper challenge level across the adventure).
> Would this player's 9th level Fighter character have made the same mistake to target the minion with the daily power? AÂ grizzled veteran warrior with multitudes of combat experience doing such a cast overkill on a creature that'sÂ threat level to the fighter is dubious at best?Â Probably not.
Mechanically, the minion has a level. When you are 1st level, you might face a 1st-5th level minion. When 11th level, you are facing paragon-level minions, at which point they are actually really strong compared to what you faced at 1st level. Those minions are fast, strong, wear good armor, etc. They just aren't as strong as the other things in the room.
If I think of most novels or movies, combat is fluid and dynamic and escalating, but seldom drab and predictable. The party might face zombies, seemingly the most horrid thing they can ever face, and then have some big undead thing crawl out of the ground... and that's now the most horrid thing they can ever face. Another example is the threat of 'minion' orcs/goblins in Lord of the Rings. There is no such thing as a minion, really, but rather foes that, while threatening, can be overcome more easily and in great numbers. That doesn't mean that the party should only use at-wills on them or automatically know the optimal power to use. "Minon" is not something learned in a book (aka a knowledge check). It is a hidden quality of the game, rules-wise, combining various story aspects (heroic PC qualities, horde qualities, player feel-good moments of triumphing easily, etc.).
Now, with this alone, I would agree with you, because in general players like knowledge and want to use powers efficiently. The problem between fantasy and mechanics is that the construction of the encounter has predictable patterns. Those patterns already tell us a lot about an encounter. Ignoring that mechanical side is really putting on blinders to a big part of the game.
With minions, we already have a suffering part of 4E mechanics. Minions consume 1/4 of an equivalent level monster, but seldom are as effective as 1/4 of that monster. They often play as story objects or terrain 'speed bumps' rather than foes. Their XP cost simply doesn't match their threat, meaning that any encounter with minions is likely less challenging. Rob Heinsoo acknowledged this at GameStorm in Portland and several developers acknowledged this on podcasts. They have worked in MM2 to improve the way minions are made, and in DMG2, and minions can certainly be used in challenging ways. But, overall, if you look across LFR mods, 75-90% of encounters with minions would probably be more challenging if they did not use minions.
> Role-playing isn't just a one way street where the player helps the hapless, dumb character that has no enima. There needs to be a reverse of information where the character is experienced enough to "remind" the player that the character is experienced enough to know better. Or in another frame of reference, do you wish the player's to see the battle through the map and mini's you pick, the cold eye's of a character that is never more than a piece of paper, or a lively character that can influence and shape the world for the player? I choose the lively character.
Sure. But the information should be acquired as it is experienced. In this excellent article, "Game Transparency", www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/d... Andy Collins feels that an RP-driven player should likely prefer the story to override the mechanics, not the other way around. The RPer may prefer to experience and learn as they go, not to have the game so mechanically laid out (I certainly do). And, even the optimizer may yearn for a challenge that would otherwise be lacking if minions were laid out (I do).
On the other hand, Andy goes on to write that for minions, it is in fact acceptable (under the Brute approach) to go so far as to tag each mini with a sticker to indicate it is a minion - this way your players always know instantly which creatures are minions. For the Subtle approach, Andy offers the idea of using more common minis and simply describing them as weaker. "This lets the players immerse
themselves in their characters’ perceptions; after all, orc drudges don’t wear “Minion” name tags." He adds that you might consider letting a player regain a daily used on minions if an at-will could have achieved the same thing; in LFR it is probably more appropriate to let the player know before they use the power.
Stepping back, I would suggest that DMs and players try out both types of approaches and see what they like best, then communicate that preference at the table. For example, I'm a fan of cluing in players on defenses as they fight a creature. It is something I picked up from that article and decided to try out. Some players don't like it when I help them learn the reflex defense with "you realize you just missed him" or the AC "only her shield prevents your blade from connecting and drawing blood." The majority do enjoy it and it adds to the tactical complexity because it helps players think about power choice. I don't find this type of transparency to make combat much easier, because the dice are usually more important than the knowledge of a weak defense. With minions, my experience just keeps saying to keep their presence hidden.
> It is is horrible analogy, but one that can be understood. Who are the last kids to be picked for the kickball teams?
Hey, I didn't want to play that stupid game anyway! :-)
Monday, December 28, 2009, 8:19 PM
This is an old post (July '09) of mine I ran into that I thought was worth capturing here. The conversation had been about controllers, initiative, and melee PCs, centering on whether a controller should feel compelled to drop AoEs on allies that close with their targets.
I offer a themed guide on how to work with other PCs to handle cases where other
PCs might have a reason to harm other PCs.
1. The Tao of Tactical Positioning
Every PC has a role. Based on the role (and possible choices within that role,
such as a class feature or choice of weapon/powers), that PC has an ideal way to
position themselves and their powers within the battlefield.
In particular, tanks/defenders tend to rush forward to engage the enemy front
line. Often these move slowest, weighed down by armor and heavy weapons, allowing others to strike over their heads. However, at times they can be fast, reaching the enemy with blinding speed. Strikers tend to either hang back from range or engage the midline or rear ranks. Controllers generally hang back or in their midline, using AoE to get as many foes as possible. Leaders generally operate from the rear, but some engage the front and mid-lines, positioning so as to maximize the benefit of their (short) healing range.
With few exceptions, each PC has a specific ideal operating range. Working
outside of that range is inefficient (lowering their offense) or risky
(subjecting them to too much or too little damage; too little shifts the damage
onto other PCs, weakening the party).
These different positioning requirements may seem contrary to one another, but
they actually are ideal. The Tao is achieved when each PC's disparate
positioning works together, complementing one another. To deny the defender
access to the front line is to allow brutes and soldiers to engage your midline
and backline. To deny your controller options is to allow your foes to surround
you and operate at their peak effectiveness against you. A rogue that prefers to work up close faces a dilemma as well. If they act too quickly, they become the focus of the enemy. Thus, their daggers often work best from afar at first, then up close only once a foe is engaging a defender.
2. Sharp and Precise Brush Strokes Upon Clean Canvas
Communication is the key to the battle. Because one's allies change from week to
week, and because each PC is built differently, one cannot assume that one
understands another PC's tactical positioning requirements, nor that others
understand one's own.
In general, the burden of communication falls upon the shoulders of the most
complex combatant. The controller has a myriad of options, while the defender or
melee striker generally has a few logical and straightforward approaches. The
Dark Pact Warlock has unconventional tactics that, at a cost to an ally, can
have greater impact on a foe. Thus, the most complex PC must help guide other
allies through clear communication. The shaman's spirit is a tremendous boon
when used effectively, a wasted resource when ignored.
Communication should be fluid and constant. When the defender could move five
feet to the left and allow the controller maximum effect, the controller must
ask this. When the shaman can offer free healing to allies adjacent to the
spirit, the shaman must explain this. This communication must be both polite and
clear. The defender or melee striker, fulfilling their role, must have clarity
of why they should sacrifice their ideal positioning. At the same time, the
controller must understand the danger of the defender allowing a route to the
midline and backlines and of any ill effect upon that melee PC.
Some tales describe the lone wolf who prefers to work alone, on their own terms. Or, perhaps, the story of the contrarian, who shrugs off their stated role and does the unexpected. These rare combatants bear an even greater responsibility to communicate their methods. Being different is no excuse for failure.
3. Time is Short, Friendship Endless
In the thick of melee, the time for communication is short. Thus, in the case of
a disagreement regarding positioning, readying, delaying, and the like, the PC
currently acting must make the final decision. All allies share the
responsibility to understand this and not to harbor ill will for that ally's
decision. Perspective is not without fault, and harboring ill will only
strengthens foes and weakens the enjoyment of battle.
4. Ying, Yang, and the Cost of Harming An Ally's Soul
Sacrifice is often the key to victory. To achieve a harmonious victory, at times
it is effective to draw the blood of one's own allies. Certain classes, such as
the Warlock and various controllers, have capabilities that may be stronger when
an ally takes damage.
For a proper balance and harmonious result, the damage inflicted must be
permissible to the allies involved. Without their support, the damage simply
cannot be inflicted. The burden falls upon the PC inflicting the damage to
explain the benefit, but also to live with the ally's decision and to maintain
inner peace with their response. Warriors and battle are both complex. Thus,
though it may seem foolish for an ally to deny your request, it is equally
foolish for us to discount that they may have superior reasoning.
5. Humility is No Excuse for Ignorance
Though we may believe our skills insufficient, and respect others above ourselves, that does not mean we should not communicate nor be a part of the team. Even the youngest and least experienced bears responsibility for effective strategy. While humility may be a virtue, it should never become a liability. The youngest warriors still bear a responsibility to know their potential, understand their powers and weaknesses, and find their place within a team.
Learning never ends. From the weakest to the mightiest, all are fools if they do not learn from each combat. Observe the moves employed by allies. Note the comments others make and their requests of you. Understand the rules of warfare. Ask questions. Observe the Hand of the Heavens (the DM) and learn from their response to your presence. Above all, do not carry a heavy soul - enjoy the journey and the very process of learning. A mistake should result in contemplation, not anger, whether your own or that of another.
6. Arrogance Harms the Self
Throughout battle, it is easy for a combatant to deride the decisions of
another. This, however, only weakens the group. Further, it harms the self, for
it is possessed of arrogance and pride.
The sin of arrogance can blind the striker who thinks their damage is most important, the leader that believes all should wait for them, or the controller that thinks their allies should dance to their tune. None is superior.
A true warrior understands that battle is fickle, ally capabilities diverse and
complex, and that there is no single way to defeat enemies. A true warrior is
humble, honoring their allies and considering options as the tides of battle
change. A decision by one ally is understood and respected and never erodes
one's appreciation for them, or for the role of the self.
When battle is complete and the foes punished, only then can one spare the time
to review what has transpired and, still with humility and acknowledgment of the
danger of perspective, communicate such that the team become more capable for
Friday, September 18, 2009, 9:40 AM
Most players feel the first set of LFR adventures were too easy. How do you feel about the LFR adventures released in the last, say, 4 months?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 11:10 AM
The easiest answer is: I have no idea. The more true answer is: I'm trying to figure it out, and I'm having fun doing so.
In the realm of D&D, women often want an emphasis on different aspects of the D&D game. I've had the opportunity to play with many women over the years, even mostly female groups. Each one is, of course, different. And, you can find many gamer girlz who are truly just "one of the boys". But, if I were starting a campaign that was for women, as Shelly Mazzanoble is discussing here, I would do several things differently than I would normally.
Story and Setting
For women, the story and setting are often more important than they are for men, especially for players new to the game. When it comes to those first few games, raw combat and rewards will win over a lot of guys... and give many women a solid bout of yawning. An engaging story, on the other hand, is more likely to captivate the female mind. It is important to note that heavy use of story may in turn be boring for men, or it may intimidate some men (especially if RP acting is involved).
Setting is really important, the same way context is really important for women when it comes to critical and organizational thinking.
The typical D&D campaign for new men can include a dungeon, monsters, and lots of swords. This conjures up a feast of childhood fantasies and is a crowd pleaser... for that crowd. While many women share some interest in those topics, the stories that captivated them in their youth likely involved a bit more of a fantastic element, focused on characters that were endearing and engaging (probably with cute friends/sidekicks) and involved encounters that are a bit more alike an Ewok village than the dungeon. (Men, admit it, you love Ewoks too!)
So, cutting to the chase, if I were starting a new campaign for women, I would use a setting out of childhood tales. A sleepy village upon the edge of a wild forest, just a day or two from larger civilization, but on the edge of rugged land and dark forest. The forest would be home to elves, with whom the village trades only on a few sacred days. The edge of the forest would have ancient markers, telling us that there is an old history to the place, one forgotten by all but the village elders. There would be a campaign emphasis on seasons, holidays, and sacred days. The deities in the area would favor aspects such as the hearth, forest, hunt, craftsmanship, protection, love. There would be a few interesting characters in town, such as a human-elf pairing.
The PCs would be just coming of age, suddenly becoming aware of just how interesting this place is... they have lived here their short lives, but now suddenly realize how much there is to learn... it is new again.
The forest, it is said, has fey.... and perhaps something else. Each PC has heard different stories... one of a faerie prince, one of a golden swan, one of...
And then there are the dreams each PC will begin to have. Pleasant dreams of elves and fey, but also of a tree. A dark and twisted tree and a gash in the ground, leading deep below.
That setting tries to capture one of the easiest themes with which to please women: faeries. Faeries can be funny, cute, and engaging, but also dark, mysterious, conniving. They evoke lots of childhood tales and capture many female fantasy elements. They naturally call for quests that are of greater interest to women, emphasizing puzzles and creative thinking over simple hacking and slashing. Now, that's not to say (as friends of mine have commented) that all women will like fey or that's the only option. You can run a great campaign for women based on nearly any theme. But, an eye towards themes many women enjoy (such as murder mystery) can be helpful. The final choice should really be based on the particular individuals and not on a stereotype which may or may not be accurate. And, if you went fey and you suddenly realize your party wants something else (more grit, less fantasy!), you can bring that into the campaign via an antagonist.
In general, women prefer fewer mechanics to their game. Many women I know do not really care much to level their PC, read all the feats, pour over all the powers... they would really just like to think up something cool and have someone (male or otherwise) tell them what mechanic makes that possible. "I want to fly. Surely something in this book lets me do that!?!!!"
And, in general, women enjoy rolling the dice but do not care much for the deep intricacies of the game. They are the least likely to be rules lawyers at the table and the most likely to lose interest if everything they do is a reminder that they have not memorized fourteen sourcebooks. As a friend of mine said, "few, meaningful dice-rolling stretches, and lots of choice-based role-playing for the rest".
Because of this, a looser hand DMing is often better. Let them try things, roll with a creative interpretation of the rules, and use a gentle hand when making rulings. You could possibly add some sort of element, such as Action Points being applicable for more things and gained through good RP or cool ideas (swinging from a tree branch, taking a turn to do a non-combat option to set up another action).
When it comes to difficulty, I would aim a bit lower, with mostly at-level encounters, and gauge the interest for more challenging stuff. While everyone enjoys an epic struggle, many women express greater interest in other areas, especially since a hard combat can focus on the mechanical things you bring to the table (feats, powers, synergies reliant on a deep mechanical understanding). In general, i would aim for the challenge to be one of story and decisions rather than numerical brawn from feats, powers, and raw combat. Sure, that foe is dangerous, but the really tough thing is the table with 15 keys on it, and only one opens the cage that is slowly descending into the silvery pool, with that sweet pixie bound and gagged inside... the keys have patterns... a puzzle!
The first sessions are always really important. If I were running a game for an all-women table, I would have the first meeting be about sharing the setting and concept, give some handouts, and then spend time talking about what kinds of PCs they want and how they want (or don't want) to know each other. I would assess how comfortable they are with the rules and encourage them to work together to build PCs. I would a lot of time for building the PCs, allowing them to focus as much on backstory or on mechanics as needed. I would leave flexibility as to whether they want someone else (me or another more mechanically inclined player) to finish their PC build or if they want to take the PC home and finish it or if they want another session to finish building.
Depending on how new they are to the rules, I would have a very short trial encounter, featuring a combat with some simple story, so they can become familiar with the rules. I would have a number of pregens available so they can try out classes and races. And, I would make a note of what happens because later I would reveal this combat to have taken place a long time ago and to be central to current events.
The point of this first (or first two) sessions is to give everyone a good chance to become comfortable with the game, for them to enjoy the idea of what they will play and who they will play with, for everyone to become interested in the setting, and for me to assess where they are with rules and mechanical knowledge/interest.
For men, antagonists are often dark and deadly. For women, the best antagonists are often scoundrels, turncoats, and dastardly characters. Think more rogue and wizard than fighter or priest. More dark unseelie fey than Beholder.
I would likely plan for the antagonist to be a surprise, perhaps hinted at and part of the puzzle the players/PCs have to unravel. Someone in the village is responsible... but who? Similarly, the Greyhawk model of wheels within wheels is great. Having one bad guy be just a machination of another more dastardly bad guy works great, extending the relationship the PCs/players feel.
It is very important to have friendly NPCs, but especially in all-women games. Relationships matter, and women will likely feel the setting is more interesting and more realistic (in a fantasy way) if they develop opportunities to talk to a wide variety of NPCs and to befriend some of them. The village elder, the druid out in the forest cabin, the handsome hunter who insists on taking long walks alone through the woods despite the danger, the visiting wizard (and his cute familiar) who claims to be friends to the elves... these are really important for all-women games. And, sad as it may make them, the game will be a lot more personal when that protagonist is captured/disappears/dies due to something the antagonist(s) did. Sigourney Weaver doesn't react the way she did to the Hive Queen without Newt...
If I had to pick one source to mine for ideas, it would be the Fey series of mods written by Eric Menge for the Geoff region of the RPGA's Living Greyhawk campaign. These adventures are no longer available via the ordering system, but may be something your area gaming friend has. (And, there are people out there still running LG online that have the modules). These 6 adventures had a strong faerie theme with a lot of great aspects that would be of interest to women. They could be mined for ideas pretty easily, wrapped around a different meta-plot. Here is a list of the adventures:
- GEO1-03 Gifts Of The Fey (A shorter version is available as GEO Intro1 Gifts of the Fey)
- GEO2-06 Summer's Passing
- GEO3-06 Rite of Eternal Spring
- GEO4-03 Grace as Pure as Snow
- GEO5-02 Love as Bright as Blood (though many feel this one is a bit story/backdrop heavy and has less PC/player choice)
- GEO5-08 Sorrow as Deep as Night
One of the really nice things about those mods is that they are very light on rules. This makes them really easy to convert to any edition or even a different system.
GEO4-05 Vision of a Lighted Path is also one worth considering. In the current LFR campaign, I like AGLA1-1 Lost Temple of the Fey Gods and DALE1-4 The Lady In Flames as sources you could use for ideas.
Another possibility is to draw from stories (the six adventures above draw heavily on children's tales), even asking the players for their favorite stories and why they liked them.
The Common Thread
While there are differences, it is important not to focus on them. No one wants to feel like this is D&D light or some weird forced attempt to please the table. It needs to be something you enjoy and a collaborative effort. Broken down and stripped of title, this is, like any other game, a group effort where it is important to make sure the game is fun for everyone.
If you have personal experiences or ideas, please do leave comments. I'll amend the article with feedback.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009, 3:36 PM
D&D 4E gamers are always trying to figure how best to capture the many conditions and marks that the game imposes. Marked, Divine Challenged (itself a mark), Cursed, Oath, Quarry, Ongoing, Dazed, Restrained, Grabbed, Slowed, the list goes on and on!
We usually start with just paper notes or our memories and find that dissatisfying. We find we forget what is affecting our critter (our PC or, if we are the DM, our monsters). And, it is really easy to forget what we did to others.
We then usually come up with some marking system, such as miniature clothespins, soda screw-top rings, wooden tokens, and so on. But, we then often find that too much marking becomes its own level of clutter. With so many marks, we can lose track of everything. A creature can be dazed, bloodied, slowed, have a -2 to attacks, have a power bonus to damage, and be suffering from two types of ongoing damage.
Of late, I see two sound techniques.
Whiteboard and Reference
The first is to have a reference system linking back to something that holds all the info. For example, use something to mark figures with a color. Then, on a separate place, such as a whiteboard, track all the details for all the creatures, separated by the colors. So, you have a mini and it is tagged blue. On the whiteboard, it reads "Marked by X, ongoing 5 (S.E.), slowed (SE), -2 atk" or something similar. This can work. The board needs to be near the DM and close to everyone. Ideally, you develop a system to minimize writing, such as using a magnetic board with tokens for common conditions or having some shorthand everyone learns.
Marking Bands for the big effects
This is my current approach. Here, each PC (and foe) that can mark something in some way as part of their class gets their own color. The paladin might use white, the warlock grey for curses, the warden brown. The DM has a few colors for common conditions important to the encounter. For example, a fight with a green dragon might necessitate stunned, poison 5 and slowed, slowed, poison 10, -2 atks. DM simply explains the key as they deploy the bands. "Ok, guys, the dragon has breathed. Everyone with dark green is slowed and has ongoing 5 poison. When you save, I'll give you the light green, showing you are slowed."
You generally don't mark minor things, such as conditions from a power that will not be used over and over again and which will only last until end of the next turn, since those can be remembered well enough.
For marking, I started being cheap and using the rings that are left around the neck when you unscrew bottles of soda, but some players felt they obscured the minis too much. I've switched to their method of using Goody's elastic hair bands. They come in various sizes. The medium is about the radius of an index finger and work great for medium minis. You can use the small ones as well for many minis. The large ones work fine for larger minis. They have multi-colored packs of 160, which are more than medium-sized rings for all your needs. I bought two packs, one of each color combination. The colors are a bit pastel, but this actually works well since the bright color contrasts with the paint of most minis.
A word on responsibilities
Especially with the above system, it is important to place responsibilities appropriately. Everyone should take responsibility for remembering what they have done to others. That is generally the hardest part to remember, so it makes sense to place the responsibility on the inflicter. If you placed a Rattling effect on two foes, you should remember that! Some effects can be pretty specific/conditional, so it makes sense for those knowing the rules to be in charge. Secondly, you try to remember what was done to you, but this is a safety valve and not your main responsibility.
For example, we might mark that the dragon is dazed with a marker, but not that it has a -5 to attack the invisible rogue. The rogue's player is the one that tracks that, since it is an infrequent power and the rogue can best track it.
By using a few rubber bands for the big things and having the responsible parties track the other conditions/effects they grant/inflict, the game becomes much easier to monitor and time can be spent on better things (such as describing IC what you are doing to that poor solo monster).
What do You Use?
Edit: Sly Flourish has a video blog on options here.
Friday, August 28, 2009, 3:22 PM
If you know me, you know I absorb ideas easily. I'm not saying I can't come up with ideas, but a good deal of what I do well comes from others.
A friend of mine in Portland came up with the very cool idea for making inexpensive AoE templates for D&D.
All you need is a quick trip to a craft store to get 18-gauge wire. They sell it for working on floral arrangements. The wire needs to be straight (not curved), but can be in several small sections.
Then, from a hardware store, purchase Spline, which is the rubber black ridged stuff that is pushed into the border of a screen door to hold the screen in. The .125 diameter works well with the 18-gauge wire.
Take your first wire and stick it into a section of spline. Now bend the spline to make a right angle. Measure this on a battlemap (or 1" grid) and guess where you should cut the metal so you end up with the total distance desired (a total of 3" for a burst 1 template, including the curves). Once cut, cut the spline. Now repeat for the remaining sides.
Keep in mind that a blast 3 template is the same as a blast 1, so you only need the following:
- Blast 3 / Burst 1 (3'x3')
- Blast 5/ Burst 2 (5"x5")
- Blast 7 / Burst 3 (7"x7")
- Blast 9 / Burst 4 (9"x9")
- Blast 11 / Burst 5 (11"x11")
I made two of each template except for a single of the largest with one pack of metal rods.
The templates are really useful for zones, for quickly establishing what can be affected, and even for measuring ranges.
Friday, August 28, 2009, 2:34 PM
I'm no expert, but I have a lot of fun painting minis. With some regret, I increasinly turn to plastic pre-painted minis. It does save a lot of time, which is in sort supply.
But, it is nice to spend a little of zen-like time enhancing D&D or other painted minis. The easiest way to do this is to add something to the bases. There are two ways to do this.
Separating the Mini from the Base
In this method, you separate the mini from the base, set up the base (see below), then add pins into the legs of the mini, then re-join the mini. I did this a lot at first, using modeling "paper-based" clay to make all sorts of neat features, then pin the mini in with super glue. But, I found they often came apart. Thus, I do this sparingly. I prefer knowing the minis will not come apart than working on this level of detail.
One nice thing about this method is that the shoes of the mini will really be on top of the terrain/base, which is more realistic, and you can do things with poses, different angles (sloped terrain, mini is charging, etc.), and so on.
(The mini on the right was pinned down onto paper clay, which was modeled to look like flagstones and then dry-brushed)
Adding Flock to the Base
The simplest method is just to add something to the base and keep it intact. This generally is confined to adding "flock" to the base, though you could first separate the mini as above. You generally can't do anything too drastic because you would cover up the mini's legs and it would look strange.
Flock comes in many forms. Static grass can be purchased, and is fake green grass that you can add. Static electricity keeps it standing up until the glue sets. You can also use real grass with some care around other materials. Grass needs to be small to look right.
Sand is super-easy. Find fairly fine sand, such as from a beach. Ideally it has several different sizes, not just a single grain size. You can also take something like playground sand and mix in really small rocks. You can also start by gluing a few small rocks, then add more glue and pour the sand on top. You can see examples in my photo Gallery.
Generally, I just pick a few small rocks, turn them around on the base, figuring out where I want them. I use normal craft glue and stick them in place. Generally 2-3 is enough. Then I wait a few minutes. Then I add glue over the rest of the base and then sprinkle sand over the glue-laden base. I press gently with my fingers, then before anything dries I use something small (the point of an exacto knife works well) to pull away any grains that are on clothing, too close to the feet, etc.
Once the sand has dried, you can add a bit of dark-colored wash. I use a darker color than what I intend the base to be. After it dries, use dry burshing with very little paint on the brush and with increasingly lighter tones to make the surface look natural. This painting effect often makes the mini more realistic than the natural sand alone. Gray can actually make a pretty good dungeon-like floor, looking like broken flagstone/rock.
Taking the ideas here, I tried his technique on some minis for an adventure I was running. Basically, you take one part glue, one part water and then mix baking soda until it is a really thick consistency. You want it to really glop on there so you can form peaks.
Once you finish, you can sprinkle some dry baking soda to make the surface look a bit more like snowfall.
You can start the process with small rocks, branches, and so on to add more to the base. It can also be a good idea to paint the base so you have an underlying color other than black. Finally, you can paint with silver or light blue to simulate melting water.
If desired, you can add snow to equipment and/or use a light blue-white to make a mini or its gear look like snow fell upon it. You can see the snow troll to the left below, as well as how I added snow to both troll's gear.