Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 7:06 AM
I wanted to post a blog and describe the horrifying (and secretly delightful) experience that was the first session of D&D Encounters with my family. Let me lay out the cast of characters first (I’ve listed characters followed by the actual ages of my family members):
Me: DM, 32 years old
Wife: Eladrin Hexblade (Warlock), 28
Son: Kobold Scout, 13
Dad: Goblin Wizard (Illusion school), 63
Mom: Human Slayer, 63
(You’ll notice the party has absolutely no healing power.)
Now, those of you who have played the first session of Web of the Spider Queen know that the first session plays out something like this:
1. The party comes to Shadowdale and arrives at the Old Skull Inn with the vague goal of “exploring in the Underdark.” They’ve heard a rumor that there’s an entrance to the Underdark under the inn and by asking the innkeeper, Ghessla, they might be able to gain access.
2. The party is expected to roleplay with the NPCs in the Old Skull Inn for the night: Ghessla the innkeeper, Old Dogsbreath a frequent patron, two dwarves who are tourists, and a young female knight.
3. Ghessla may offer the PCs the opportunity to enter the Underdark for “no less than 100 gold pieces” the following morning. The following morning never arrives, because…
4. During the night, the inn is attacked by drow, and the PCs have to fight them off, leading to a communication from Elminster that they should go to the Twisted Tower and protect the Pendant of Ashaba.
Now, here’s what happened:
My wife is a fairly calm player, so she spent most of her time trying to talk Ghessla into giving them a discount into the Underdark. My son decided that he and my father (a kobold and goblin) were a travelling magic show. They proceeded to put on a show for the patrons and made some coin (especially off the dwarves). This was really creative, and scored them major kudos from me.
My mother was a different story. Here’s how her night went:
After talking to Ghessla and realizing she only had 9 gold pieces (not 100), she proceeded to end her negotiations and tell me she was going to simply waltz into the basement. I told her the hatch was locked. She attacked it with her greatsword (against my advice and that of the rest of the party) and broke the lock. Ghessla was shocked that someone was breaking into the basement with no attempt at secrecy and summoned Thrad (the bouncer) to stop her. She proceeded to attack Thrad, injure him, and make her way down the ladder anyway.
At this point, I had to stop her. She broke into the inn’s basement in full view of the proprietor and all the patrons and attacked an employee in the process. Ghessla sent a barmaid running for the town guard. In order to stop my mother from running through the basement before they arrived, I had to do some quick thinking. I had Ghessla summon Elminster via a secret sending broach she had (I obviously was winging it) and Elminster arrived to tell my mother to stop her foolish actions. Through history checks, my mother (whose character is from Shadowdale) realized this was the greatest mage in the Realms. She didn’t care. She attacked him anyway. Elminster put her to sleep.
My wife came down the ladder at this point and begged Elminster and subsequently Ghessla for leniency. She told them my mother was confused and maybe a little drunk. The town guard arrived (I scrambled for miniatures to represent them) and escorted my mother to her room upstairs in the inn. Elminster left. Ghessla told my wife’s character that as long as my mother stayed in her room, she wouldn’t have her arrested. She gave Thrad a heal potion. He was grumpy.
The night went on. My wife continued to haggle Ghessla down to 50 gp to enter the Underdark. My son and father talked to various patrons and received accolades for their magic show (which they actually acted out – it was impressive). My son came up with the idea to ask Ghessla if he could put a trap on the hatch to the basement to secure it from further intrusion. His plan was that he would put a fake trap on it (he was a trapsmith) and I made him roll both thievery and bluff checks to do this. He passed with flying colors. His plan was that the party would sneak down at night and go through the hatch that now had a broken lock and a fake trap on it, essentially leaving it unlocked. I thought this was pretty brilliant. They explained this to my mother. She didn’t feel like waiting.
She walked her PC back downstairs - as the table collectively groaned - with the intention of going back through the hatch (again, with everyone watching). She even threatened to attack my son’s character while he was laying the fake trap. Obviously, I wasn’t going to let this happen.
Thrad came back and the town guard was again summoned from outside. My mother attacked Thrad again, wounding him severely this time. Dogsbreath and the young female knight came to his aid and, with the town guard, chased my mother back up the stairs. She wouldn’t relent. She attacked all of them and was finally taken down after almost killing two guards. In the process, she drank her only heal potion. (Yes, before any real combat would take place.) She was manacled and arrested. I thought my mother was going to get up and leave at this point, as she was beside herself about how “unfair” I was being as a DM. Everyone else was looking at her like she was crazy. (I should probably stop here to point out that my mother is a 63-year-old retired math teacher who enjoys hobbies such as knitting, reading Jane Austen, and playing Majong, but apparently when put in the role of a 19-year-old Slayer with a greatsword she transforms into a cold-blooded killer.)
I had to do some quick improvising again and told her that since the jail was full with all the town festivities going on, they were going to lock her in her room upstairs with a guard posted outside. Just to make things more difficult, while everyone was distracted, my normally conservative wife snuck through the hatch and down into the basement. She rolled well enough to discover the secret door therin and proceeded to head into the Underdark. Once Ghessla discovered this, she sent three guardsmen down after her. My wife failed to close the secret door behind her. The guards gave pursuit. Despite every attempt on my part for her to turn back, she decided to run, run, run, deeper and deeper into the Underdark. She was a lightly-armored Eladrin. The guards were humans in full armor. Of course, she outran them. I had no choice at this point but to make her run smack into the drow raiding party who was waiting to attack the inn that night, and they quickly filled her with poison-tipped sleep arrows. She was bound and dragged along with the raiding party.
My father and son headed up to bed. (Who knew that the goblin and kobold would be the most reserved.) My mother was chained in her room and my wife was bound and being dragged through the basement by the drow who were preparing to raid the inn. Remember that at this point, the actual encounter hadn’t even begun!!!
Luckily, my 13-year-old son showed the most poise, waited until the guard was asleep, picked the lock on my mother’s door and picked the lock on her manacles, setting her free. (He rolled a natural 19 and a 20 on his thievery checks before bonuses were added.) The drow invasion began and the three of them went down to confront the attackers. Eventually, my wife was able to free herself and join the fray after rolling a check to free her hands from their bonds and eldritch-blasting her (minion) guard to bits.
I’ve DMed a lot of quests over the years, but never, ever, have I had to improvise so much in my life. I think everyone was shocked and amazed at the end that I managed to get the train back on the tracks and get them headed to the Twisted Tower. I can only imagine what lies ahead for this troubled group. My mother was still mumbling at my son and father that they didn’t help her kill Ghessla and all the inn’s patrons and just go down into the damn basement. I explained to her that her alignment was “good.” Attacking innocent townsfolk and breaking into basements wasn’t “good.” This was lost on her. Her only reply was: “Is Thrad still around? I’d like to finish him off.”
Ah, the joys of a family campaign…
Wednesday, February 1, 2012, 6:07 AM
Just like many of you that love D&D, the recent announcements about D&D Next have been sending me through multiple emotions on the full spectrum from excited to furious. I’ve been playing D&D since 2nd edition and fully embraced 3rd, 3.5, 4th, and even Essentials. I’m an Insider, and I spend quite a bit of money on everything D&D offers from game product to novels, miniatures, and board games.
Let me first say this: I really like the direction D&D has been headed. The board games are great, they’re making a return to miniatures soon, and products and articles are generally more interconnected and focused on story than in the past. I felt like things were finally moving in the right direction. Then the red dragon came and burned my village!
OK, OK, I’m going to try and keep the tone of this article out of too much doom and gloom. I’ve done my share of ranting on the forums in the days after the announcement, and I’m pretty much over that. I’ve read the articles and watched some of the Q&A sessions from Experience. I’m actually pretty pleased with the changes the designers are talking about making to the game. I really feel like they are trying to evolve the system to something better, which is what I was hoping for when Next was announced. I’m not even that upset that the new edition sounds different enough that most of my 4th ed. books will have to start collecting dust with my other editions. I understand that Wizards has to make money and you do that by selling product.
Here’s what’s really keeping me up at night. I want to get excited about D&D Next. It sounds like it would be fun to play and a new edition always brings a fresh perspective to the game. But 5 years… 5 short years is all it took to reboot 4th. And I made a significant investment in 4th edition. I really felt like it was going to last for 10 years before this all started over again. I’ve gone along for every ride that D&D has been on since it became Wizards’ property, but this is the first time I feel like stepping to the side. I mean, why not just wait 5 years and see what 6th looks like, right? OK, there I go again. I really don’t want to sound like one of the negative nellies, but I feel like Wizards needs to talk to the gamers like me and give us some reassurance that they’re going to invest significant effort in changing their product strategy so it doesn’t require completely rebooting everything every 5 years. I feel like I’ve got battered DM syndrome or something.
So I’m throwing down the gauntlet. If this is really the “one edition to rule them all,” the edition that will “heal the rift” and “put a tent over all D&D players,” then address the real issue. Tell us that what you’re saying isn’t just marketing mumbo-jumbo. Tell me you’re not just trying to sell me the latest potion off the cart and then skip out of town. Tell us these are going to be the rules now, the rules for more than 5 years, the rules for the future of D&D. Then I’ll get excited and come along for one last ride.
Friday, November 4, 2011, 11:58 AM
I've decided to start occasionally dropping some ideas on the blog here in the hopes that Wizards staff who are bored at work are trolling around the boards and implement all of these super wonderful ideas.
Anyway, here are three to kick around:
1. Mobile Apps: This seems like a no brainer and is probably already in development, but let me say that they really need a mobile version of the character builder. I'd most prefer an app that let you easily display, reference, and update your character sheet. I think the character builder is great. It's by far the top reason I subscribe to Insider, and yet I still have to print out a new character sheet each time I go up a level or make significant changes for when I actually play, unless I want to lug my laptop to the game. Right now I'm running a campaign for my family and I end up printing out four different sets of character sheets each time there's a significant character upgrade. If I could just look at my character sheet on an iPad or even my phone, that would be much preferred (and allows for a lot of cool possibilities where you could click on things to see rules, explanations of powers, etc.)
2. Encounters/Game Day/Living Campaign Quests: In the aforementioned family quest, I'm running the Encounters Inverness campaign from a season or two ago. It's pretty awesome and came with all the maps and things I need to run the quest. You don't want to know how much I paid for it on eBay. You really don't. I don't have a game store that runs Encounters anywhere within a several-hour drive, which means all these awesome things Wizards keeps putting out in game stores, I never get to see. And then I have to read about how awesome they are every time I come to the website. Now, I'm not saying give away the quests while they're running. I get Wizards is trying to drive customers to game stores to buy product. Cool. My proposal is to post the quests six months or one year after they've run. What else are you going to do with these old quest files? Post them on Insider for members only. I'd love to get more bang for my buck, and I really believe some of the best quests Wizards has put out in the past few years have been part of their organized play events.
3. Let the People Be Heard: I really like the increase in polls and playtests that Wizards has been doing lately. They're starting to listen more to the customers, who are very passionate and would love to be a part of helping create the products they buy. My suggestion is to up the level. Here's a few examples for the new miniatures game Wizards is developing. Why not let the community vote on a faction or particular miniatures? I'm not saying let them pick every piece, but maybe two or three to start. And if the minis are going to be painted (which I sincerely hope they are based on the proposed price point), why not post a few paint schemes and let the community vote on which one they like best, especially if you're going to use old scupts we already own.
OK, that's my two... er three cents for now. Let me know what you all think or if I'm just crazier than a gnome barbarian.
Thursday, September 15, 2011, 6:00 AM
If you're not already aware, our Community has it's own Wizards Book Club:
It's moderated by Wizards author extrordinaire Erik Scott de Bie. One of the special things that goes on in the Book Club is the discussion of Wizards novels with the author being part of the discussion.
We've had authors like Erik, Erin Evans, Don Bassingthwaite, Bruce Cordell, and Jaleigh Johnson so far, who give great insights into the writing process and into the worlds they're writing about.
This year, we're going to try something new, and instead of voting on each and every book we read, we've come up with a schedule for the next six books in order to let all of you plan a little better to participate and let us advertise better.
So, without further ado, here's the first draft of the schedule:
Sept. - Nov.: The Shard Axe, Marsheila Rockwell
Nov. - Dec.: Shadowbane, Erik Scott de Bie
Jan. - Feb.: City of the Dead, Rosemary Jones
Mar. - Apr.: Circle of Skulls, James P. Davis
Apr. - May: Brimstone Angels, Erin Evans
June - July: Mistshore, Jaleigh Johnson
All of these authors have graciously agreed to participate as well, so this is a great opportunity to pick the brains of your favorite Wizards authors. Our next discussion will start September 26th with The Shard Axe, the first Eberron book we've discussed. So pick up a copy and stop on by and check it out!
Thursday, November 18, 2010, 11:25 AM
So, for anyone who is interested and hasn't heard yet, Wizards has cancelled the Heroscape line to focus on their core brands. You can read more here:
The Death of Heroscape?
Now, I'm not going to even pretend to fein anger here, because if you couldn't see this one coming a mile away, then you probably need to brush up on your divination skills.
In reality, I'm kind of thrilled that Heroscape made the transition to D&D and came out with a core set and three expansions. Not only that, but it's provided several repaints, out-of-print miniatures, and most recently three molds that were never used before for D&D minis. They even remolded the Heroscape bases to match the D&D bases in more recent releases.
I think the Heroscape community will undoubtedly be bummed, but just bringing D&D to Heroscape now makes it possible for the fans to custom convert any of the hundreds of old D&D miniatures to Heroscape units and have them feel natural in the game.
And honestly, all financial considerations aside, how long could this have gone on? It was, at best, still confusing to fans of both games, as the two worlds don't really merge effectively. Heroscape is much more than just D&D creatures and PCs, it's robots, secret agents, X-men, aliens, spartans, WWII soldiers, etc. (actually, Wizards probably missed a great Gamma World opportunity there). D&D worked best in Heroscape as what it ultimately has become - another set release for Heroscape (albeit the last).
The best thing that can happen? Hasbro sells Heroscape or leases the license to another game company that will be able to spend the time and money to properly develop and market the game. My only real complaint about Wizards/Hasbro is that they did ZERO marketing for Heroscape after the transition, not even updating the website. The new releases were really a secret to anyone who wasn't in touch with the Heroscape community, and Hasbro had to lose sales because of it. That said, I was shocked that Wizards even agree to take it on in the first place, and more shocked that it didn't die after the first set release. It's a real testament to the fans of Heroscape that the game survived as long as it did.
Ultimately, it will be better in the hands of a company that can develop sets that are not restricted by D&D minis molds and can instead look at the full range of possibilities for Heroscape units, which really is what the strength of the game is - the ability to take any monster or military unit from any world or time period and make it fight. It's the ultimate fantasy battle scenario.
I'm sad to see Heroscape go, but ultimately I think Wizards/Hasbro held onto it as long as it was financially viable. Yes, they could have done some things better, but Wizards really didn't need another battle game to spend development and marketing resources on. My only real fear is that the end of Heroscape might be a portent of the end of D&D miniatures for good as well. They've already seen a decline since the game ended, Star Wars minis ended, and Wizards failed in their own original minis game. I hope they can continue to find ways to put out the pre-painted plastic miniatures, because I'll be honest, I've always sucked at painting small plastic soldiers . . .
As for Heroscape - I've got boxes of minis and terrain to keep me occupied, and I hope the fans will keep it alive and well.
Thursday, October 28, 2010, 5:43 AM
I wanted to post a blog to bring attention to the Wizards of the Coast Book Club group that exists here in the community. If you're not a member yet, check it out:
Wotc Novels Book Club
The book club features articles by and about Wizards authors and novels, including Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and others. It is currently moderated by Realms author Erik Scott de Bie, who has been posting some great interviews lately about new releases.
One of the newest things going on within the Book Club Forums is the reading group. The first book selected and read was Erik's own Downshadow, and members discussed the novel in chunks each week as they read through it together. Erik also participated in the discussion, and it was great to get the author's point of view.
The newest book chosen by the club for discussion is City Under the Sand, the first 4th edition Dark Sun novel published.
If you are interested in reading along with the group, you can start participating whenever you like. The good news is discussion for the new novel hasn't started yet, and won't until November 1st, so there's still plenty of time to pick up your copy. Let us know you'll be participating by dropping in on this thread on the forum:
Book Club Discussion - City Under the Sand - Introductions
If you would like to read a little about the novel first and a great interview with the author, Erik has provided it here:
Delving City Under the Sand: Jeff Mariotte on Dark Sun
This is the perfect time to get introduced to Dark Sun and join the book club in discussing the novel, so come on over!
Wednesday, September 15, 2010, 11:57 AM
I recently picked up the new Ravenloft board game, and if you (like me) were ready to dismiss it as watered-down D&D for beginners, you may want to think again.
There's three reasons I shelled out the cash for this: (1) I love Ravenloft. (2) I love board games, especially ones with lots and lots of pieces. (3) My son is 11. He's still a little young for full-blown D&D, especially since we don't really have a "party" to play with, at least not a group his age.
The third one was most important for me. I recently returned to Magic and my son loves that. It's something we can play just the two of us, and it's right up his alley (being raised in the Pokemon generation). We've also dabbled with Heroscape, and more recently carting out a blast from the past and playing several levels of Heroquest. Perfect for him. Combat and little role playing. Not a lot of stats and abilities to keep track of.
So in comes Ravenloft. Honestly, I bought the game hoping he'd enjoy it, and maybe I'd enjoy the homage to the setting and find a use for the minis. I didn't have high hopes. OK. I was wrong.
This game is set up differently than anything Wizards has put out previously (to my knowledge). It's D&D without a DM. That's right. No Dungeon Master! Everyone gets to be a PC. Now my son and I can be on the same team. Each player gets a character with limited abilities and a small selection of power cards. It has the flavor of D&D, while being simplified enough to be workable. You could roll this out with friends on a Friday. (No matter what they say, rolling D&D out with friends who have never played before is just difficult. The character generator makes it a lot easier, but still, very difficult.) Each "turn" consists of moving and attacking with your hero, followed by adding to the dynamically-built dungeon or drawing an encounter, and finally taking a turn with the monsters and villains. Yes - everyone controls a good guy and everyone gets a turn with the baddies. They have tactics on their card that tell you exactly what they do. You kill them, you get treasure!
When we took this out of the box, I thought I'd be stuck DMing and my son would have to run at least 2 characters, probably 3 or 4 to stay alive - much in the way D&D has failed for us. (You can't really play D&D well with 2 people.) But this allows us to play on the same team, and the game is equally as difficult with 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 players. Adding another player makes the game exactly 1 player more difficult. The mechanics are really set up nicely.
The icing on the cake is that they went all out providing extra tokens, tiles, minis, etc., that can be used to create 100s of varieties of quests. It's a very, very nice package.
So let me be the first to say, if you were going to dismiss this as nothing more than simplified D&D, you're dead wrong (or undead as the case may be). This game is fun. And in many ways it captures the flavor of 4th edition D&D better than D&D itself these days with all the complexity of a full-blown edition. It got my son to put down the video games for the entire weekend. We're already looking forward to the next board game they release.
Friday, May 14, 2010, 6:26 AM
After a long hiatus (over 10 years), I recently decided to buy some Magic cards. I was never a diehard Magic player, really only playing with my brother and a few friends back in my teenage years. I liked the cards more for the artwork and the flavor text than the actual game. Piecing together the text to uncover the story was always the most fun. I got away from the game after I went to college, and since then I've been way more into D&D and the collectable miniatures.
Something about the Zendikar sets brought me back. Maybe because my son was interested (he's really enjoyed being introduced to Magic now), but more likely the storyline and the art of the cards interested me more than the past sets.
It got me wondering - why has there never been a Magic/D&D crossover? There was the recent Heroscape/D&D minis experiment, which I think was a good idea, and its puzzling why these two games have never overlapped. It seems it would work either way - a Magic release with D&D monsters or even a world like Forgotten Realms, or a D&D campaign guide focused on a Magic world. Imagine something like Zendikar being the next D&D campaign setting. Seems pretty cool to me.
I'm sure Magic and D&D have different fan bases. A lot of the players from one probably don't play the other, but there's got to be enough players that enjoy both to make it worthwhile, right? And it would seem like a great way to introduce Magic players to D&D and vice versa. Magic and D&D are like Wizards' peanut butter and jelly, aren't they? Why not eat them together!
I've adapted Magic to D&D myself in the past. I ran a 3.5 campaign based in the Fallen Empires setting (my favorite Magic set) that was a lot of fun, very interesting, and not as hard as you would think to adapt. (Turning things like the Necrite and Thallids into D&D monsters was great.) I've talked to a lot of DMs over the years who have tried similar things, usually with good reactions from their players.
I'd be interested to see if others think this would be a success or failure for Wizards, and why.
Friday, April 30, 2010, 9:34 AM
This is completely random, but I just bought the "Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum" novel, and I wanted to mention the physical book.
(NOTE: If you're not fascinated by tiny book design details that may or may not affect sales, and have no interest in the marketing of books, you should probably stop reading this and go read something more interesting.)
Wizards used a different material for the cover that has a very interesting tactile feel too it - a little sturdier, somewhat grainy, nice on the hands. It's similar to the cover material they used for Salvatore's Thousand Orcs trilogy and The Citadels series, but a little bit grittier.
I'm sure it probably cost a little more than your standard, smooth, paperback cover, but let me tell you - I don't even read Magic novels (I'm more of a Realms person), but I picked this one up in the store, and once I had it in my hand I couldn't put it down. (The plot also sounded pretty interesting, which tipped me over the edge into buying it.)
I think that cover design, cover art, layout, color choice, etc, are very important to book sales (this book scores high in those areas as well), but this was a good example of how switching something up a little in the physical design of the book could make a big difference in the actual bookstore experience (obviously the tactile feel doesn't come across online.)
Next time you're in your local bookstore, browse over to the fantasy section and pick up the Zendikar book, and pick up a standard smooth cover paperback in the other hand. Then tell me it doesn't tell your brain "buy me, read me!" just a little bit more . . .
Monday, April 12, 2010, 6:50 AM
So it occurred to me the other day as I was looking through the Wikipedia entry for Realms novels just how much ink has been spilled on the Realms. It's pretty staggering. I counted over 200 novels/story collections, and that doesn't even touch on game material.
The question presented itself - Has there ever been a fantasy setting as "written about" as the Forgotten Realms? Is the Realms the most expanded setting EVER?
The only other settings (and these are technically more Sci-Fi) that rival it would have to be Star Wars and maybe Star Trek, especially if you were to factor in the TV/Movie content, but let's limit this to your typical sword and sorcery fantasy. I own a lot of fantasy, and I can't think of anything off the top of my head that even comes close, mainly because most other worlds were written by a single author, and so the books are limited to under 50 in most cases. Dragonlance has a lot of novels, but the Realms seems to have surpassed it in sheer volume, especially in the last 10 years or so. Maybe I'm missing something obvious.
Perhaps Wizards needs to start thinking about advertising the Realms as "The most expanded fantasy setting of all time!" I mean, it seems kind of historical, doesn't it?