Saturday, September 8, 2012, 4:38 AM
In my earlier blog entries I dared WotC (no, I believe I DOUBLE-dared them) to pull off a flawless launch of the second playtest packet. I have to say that, in my experience and in those around me, this was certainly achieved.
I just wanted to stop for a moment and say a huge WELL DONE AND THANKS to the WotC staff that made this possible. Now I can forget the horror of the first playtest packet launch....[shudder]
Keep it up for phase 3.
Saturday, September 8, 2012, 4:30 AM
So, as most of you reading this will have known WotC put out the second playtest packet a few weeks ago and they (thankfully) managed to avoid the mess with the distribution that dogged the release of the first playtest packet. Dutifully - no, EAGERLY, I downloaded the new packet and planned the next playtest session with the intention of seeing just how 'pick-up-and-play' the game could be. What follows is an overview of the players, the game session and some of the more important feedback that my playtest session created. Much of this blog post will be broken down and placed in the relevant forums later.
The character creation was a little chaotic with a lot of cross-referencing and some head-scratching as to why we’d gone back to rolling stats and where were the skill scores?
Session story set-upThe playtest session was still based on the Caves of Chaos module that came with the first playtest packet. The set-up was that the Prince and his retinue were visiting each of the kingdom’s provinces in advance of his coronation and the local lord was worried about some messengers and merchants being taken near to a known bandit encampment that the standing militia had cleared some months earlier. With all the militia and regular guardsmen deployed for the Prince’s security at townsteads and villages, it fell to mercenary types to go in and clear out any threats from the previous bandit hideout – whatever that may be.
In the first playtest the adventurers had gone in, encountered an Ogre, set about it with 4E aplomb and god their backsides handed to them. In the story I used this as a failed excursion where the Lord’s retainers didn’t know if the previous group had joined the bandits, been defeated by the bandits or had simply fled with the advance payment. As such an order to capture and return the previous group to the local Lord was also handed down for good measure.
With the adventurers given their mission and clued in to what they might find (and where the main dangers might still be) the group set off and got the lay of the cavern complex from the outside. Choosing a ground-level cavern entrance they started to explore some caves on the right – in this case, the Kobold lair. Handily, this was a nice easy area to begin with.
So, 5469 words to say just this: It’s not perfect yet but I like Next.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 10:57 AM
I'll keep this short and sweet tonight.
I last blogged about the reaction to the D&D Next playtest and defended WotC, asking gamers to effectively 'grow up' and stop giving us a bad name, lest we, as a community, suffer. Tonight I want to turn the tables in true devli's advocate form and give the same treatment to WotC themselves. I hope they're listening.
ANOTHER DIRE WARNING
While it is no excuse for the recent behaviour of some of the RPG community at large, the D&D Next playtest launch wasn't handled with expert execution. I'm sure there will have been an incident report produced by now and that the reasons for the issues felt when the playtest packet was released will be well-known within WotC.
Regardless of the actual problem felt, be it unexpected visitor numbers on the day, technical issues with server hardware, bandwidth or circuit problems, permission issues on the accounts or with the files, capacity on ancilliary systems, human error or what-have-you, Wizards of the Coast must be seen to handle the next packet launch more effectively. The community that buys WotC products needs to see that lessons have been learned and that the company can do it right.
So, here's the warning:
WotC run a very real risk of alienating potential players of D&D Next before it's launch if it does not now demonstrate the will and the expertise to get the playtest right.
Everyone was expecting me to say this, right? Right. I don't mean to be patronising at all and I'm sure execs within WotC already said this (or something remarkably similar). If not I firmly believe someone in WotC needs to get this on the corporate risk register - that's how grave I think this warning is.
MORE TRUTH, CONSEQUENCE AND A LITTLE DARE FOR GOOD MEASURE
The truth of it all is, people screw up. Tech fails. Gamers do the unexpected (for instance, how many players only signed up on the day of release? How the hell do you plan for those sorts of numbers??). All this is OK. It comes under Murphy's Law and it happens to us all.
Unfortunately this isn't the only truth - the other truth is the one that hurts and it's the one that hastens gamers to whine factor 9 and into the arms of the ever-waiting spider that is Paizo. This truth is: WotC has a reputation for less than stellar performance in the internet arena.
However fair or unfair the criticisms are the consequences of the difficult launch means that less people are excited, some people are turned off and faith in WotC has been damaged. There is, however, a good way to turn this to the advantage if WotC will just take the dare.
So, WotC, here we are after a problematic playtest launch. The packet was good but the taste soured somewhat for a lot of people. The feedback will come at a high price. I want to se you succeed in this. Many of us do. To this end I want to dare you, no - DOUBLE dare you to pull a flawless launch of the next playtest packet.
Bear in mind that communication is key and that with good communication a problematic situation can seem like no problem at all to your users. Go on, prove to us all that you do learn - the playtest itself seems proof of that in itself. Prove you can work with the internet effectively and make us hope that the electronic support for Next will follow an equally learned path as a result of your turnaround success.
There's a lot to be gained here - don't drive players off before Next is even ready because you let a few tech problems get in the way. For every challenge, there are many solutions. If D&D taught any of us anything, surely it was that?
Er.....and maybe that kicking down a door can result in stealing treasure or getting your face eaten off. I always mix those two up.
EDIT: Oh, by the way, NEVER sack Trevor. If not for his efforts and those of his team, you would have had more damage caused than you actually suffered. Communication is key, and Trevor was our only real line of it. Well done, Trevor!
Thursday, May 24, 2012, 1:40 PM
So here I am, back to my blog after a long silence while I was getting well. What brings me out of blog retirement early? The D&D Next playtest of course.
Like everyone else here I eagerly anticipate the playtest packet. My link doesn't work, the community servers seem to be performing inconsistently and all does not seem wwell with the tech at WotC tonight.
Still, I wait. Unfortunately my patience is tested by my fellow gamers rather than with WotC themselves. In fact, I'm downright disgusted by some of the reactions I have seen so far.
A DIRE WARNING
The reactions on the community forums and around the RPG sites on the internet has been a mixture of the excited, the calm and the furious. Unfortunately the furious are the voices making themselves heard the loudest right now and this reinforces a dangerous assumptive observation that is made about all of us. That observation is:
Gamers are petulant whiners that have an unreasonable sense of entitlement.
We know this isn't true. The vast majority of us are reasonable, calm, thoughtful and intelligent. We understand and appreciate the work others in our community do for our hobby. We get how much effort producing a game or a suppliment can be. We buy our gaming materials. We support our shops and sites. But still, the vocal minority manage to bring the community low and give us all a tarnished image.
So here's the warning: If those of us who love to be keyboard warriors don't grow up a little and start being a little more reasonable we will find less and less players joining our ranks, less producers making stuff for us to play with and we'll become the laughing stock of the hobby world. Think what happened in the 80's with all that D&D = satanism rubbish. Mud still sticks, and these days it's much easier to sling it.
TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCE
The ubiquity of the internet has spawned a generation of players who are predisposed to instant gratification, instant feedback, and faceless interactions where consequences do not appear to exist. The computer gaming world suffers terribly for these people and our own hobby is far from immune to their poison.
The truth is, the only cure for this is consequence.....before the consequences to all of us become irreversible. The time of the troll among our community must end if we are to truly stave off oblivion from the more immediate electronic interactions of the computer gaming arena. Problem is, a few flaming globes and a fireball or two won't help us win this one.
Together we must stand against the trolls, the furious entitled, the keyboard warriors and the internet munchkins. We must shield one another somehow and bring calm and reasonableness to our online arenas. Sure, it's OK to disagree and to argue your point. Hell, it's even OK to be upset about something and to have an opinion. Just don't belittle the effort of others or bring your fellow gamers into disrepute just so you can throw a tantrum or make yourself feel beeter by abusing other gamers with different opinions.
I hope I'm simply dabbling in the Doomsayer theme here but these days I feel that if trollish keyboard warriors don't think twice, they could be the failed saving throw of us all. I sometimes with I could cast 'Calm other' over our forums and help people just get on with enjoying the debate and discussion rather than engaging in fury and bile.
I'm sure this post will leave me in need of a 'protection from fire' spell so I'm off to find my old spell scrolls while waiting for the Next playtest package. I hope you all enjoy it once you've got it and urge you all to be patient and not add to WotC's problems - that way we'll all see it faster.
In my blog series Returning to RPGs after a long absence, I explored some tips and tricks to make it easier to re-enter RPG gaming. This time I'd like to move the focus squarely to the player's side of the screen and talk about the things that could make the biggest impact for players starting to play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time or for players returning to Dungeons and Dragons after a time away from the hobby.
I'm a long-time DM and don't really play on the other side of the screen. I was worried that my DM bias may have affected the way my original blog articles were written so to get a true player's perspective I interviewed my players about what made it easier for them to game again. The rest of this article is built up from their commentry and I hope that by sharing their thoughts with you I can help DMs understand the things that could have the biggest impact on making their players more comfortable with starting or re-starting a game and also to help players realise what to look out for when getting into, or back into, D&D gaming.
My gaming group is currently made up of only 4 players, 3 men and a little lady. They all have different histories and backgrounds as far as RPGs are concerned so to help you understand the relevance of some of their commentary I'd like to quickly introduce them to you. So that any blushes are spared I've used their common Internet tags to identify them instead of their real names.
Dee is a long standing AD&D 2nd edition player who has dabbled in Call of Cthulu and many tabletop wargames. He's been a part of my gaming group since I began and is very used to my methods as a DM. He's recently been involved in World of Warcraft and started with 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons at the same time as me. His gaming style favours powergamer tendancies.
Troll is also a long standing player from my past groups who started with AD&D under another DM. He's a keen Munchkin and Baldur's Gate fan but has little other RPG experience outside of D&D. He dropped in and out of my gaming group for a number of years before becoming a full-time member and has played with me for many years now. As with Dee, Troll has started on 4th edition D&D at the same time as me and is used to my DMing style by now. In-game, Troll is usually a force of chaos who rarely reads up on rules, instead leaving the mechanics to the DM to let him get on with having fun within the game. Many of our most entertaining (and some of our most frustrating) moments have come directly from Troll's actions over the years.
Yvos is relatively new to Dungeons and Dragons and hasn't played with my group for long. He played a little with me on AD&D 2nd edition before my enforced break and has rejoined us for 4th edition now. Like me, he has skipped 3rd edition altogether. He is a Xbox RPG and Heroquest player who has been teaching his kids the basics of tabletop RPGs. Yvos loves to have character concepts and tries to find the rules that fits the things he wants to do. He's quite vocal as a player and is always game for something a bit different.
Wigfried is the newest member of my group. She's had a history with a serious MERP group around a decade ago and is a very keen World of Warcraft player and Neil Gaiman fan. My return to gaming is largely her fault. Wigfried is an enthusiastic (but sometimes impatient!) player who is still getting her head around some of the core concepts with the Dungeons and Dragons game. Whereas my other players have a grounding in D&D lore, Wigfried hasn't and her insights can remind me that not everyone understands D&D instinctively - we all started somewhere. Wigfried is not used to my DMing style yet but is getting there fast. Despite being totally new to all this she plays a full part in every game we have and contributes to the success of the group.
Now that's done let's get to some of the things these four players have said when discussing getting back into gaming with me.
It's fair to say that character creation is usually the first part of the game players will run into when starting or returning to an RPG like D&D. When asked about how the character build and creaton process went for them my players had many interesting and insightful comments to share. Here is a selection of them:
Dee: "The online D&D tools are great to help you get into the game. The character creator is a big help in particular"
Yvos: "Yeah, it's good to be able to create and compare character options quickly and easily using the character creator. This actually helped me understand poswers and other mechanics"
Troll: "Why do you need to be on the Internet to use the tools? You should be able to download these. Couldn't you do that before? I loved Dragon magazine. Where's that gone?"
It's fair to say that all my players were impressed by the character creator tool and that they found it an aide to not just getting a character up and running but in actually understanding the process and the rules behind some of the powers. As far as I'm concerned the character creator is as close to an essential tool as you'll ever get for D&D - it really is an awesome product. This leads me to my first player tip: Get at least one DDi subscription for your group. Access to the Character Creator in particular will make your group's life a lot easier in a lot of little ways and the extra options in the online Dragon magazine are always welcome in a player's repetoire.
Off the back of this I do have another tip, aimed really at WotC's designers. I know you may be sick of hearing this but bring back the offline character creator and other tools. We don't all have access to our Internet connections at our game tables, guys. We're paying the subscription and this is obviously possible as you had it before. Personally I'd like to see the Characetr Creator's full functions restored to it. It really was a great tool and kudos to those that created it.
Wigfried: "I liked having characters created with the group in mind. Creating characters as a group helped make a more effective party"
Yvos: "Knowing what character roles the party were missing helped me to create something that the party needed. It's good to have my character useful to the group."
Wigfried: "Creating characters together made ist easy to communicate intentions to the others in the group so other got what your character was about"
Yvos: "The DM really should be involved in the character creation. Having the DM assist players in getting the concept for their character right really does help make a better character"
My players all agreed that creating their characters as a group rather than as individual players with competing ideas really helped them not only build a cohesive party but wade through the multitude of choices that 4th Edition seems to throw at the player. They said that their party was more survivable because they created the characters with the whole group in mind and at least one of my players liked the social occasion of everyone getting together to hammer out characters together.
This gives me my next tip: Create your characters with your group (or at least with the group in mind)
For character creation, try and get the players together and build the group as a team from the start. 4th edition can punish poorly built groups so if you aren't mindful of this fact players survival rates may drop. Use the first session as a creation exercise. Make it a social event. If you can't do this, at least share the character roles that have been covered with players when they are creating character to drop into the group.
One final tip here for the DMs among you: Get involved with the character creation. Steer your players to the options that work for their concepts. Understand what they want to do and get active in helping them get it. The benefits are three-fold:
1) You understand what their characters can do before you begin
2) The player gets a character they really want
3) You build trust with your players
All of these benefits are worth having and can be yours for very little effort as a DM. Get involved in this process and you won't regret it.
Troll: "The power sources were a little confusing at first. I didn't quite get their significance while I was worrying about the roles and classes"
Wigfried: "I like the power types. It helped me choose the type of character I really want"
Another tip aimed for the designers here, but thankfully one they've already followed to some degree. Organise the classes better so that the differences in power types is not just apparent but provides a clear definition between one group of character classes and another. Instead of these being just a line on the class description they should be really up front, like the old 2nd edition archetypes used to be.
Wigfried: "Really love the ability to change your powers if they aren't working for you"
Dee: "Power and feat retraining rules are very handy indeed. They make sure you always get the character you want, even when you make mistakes with choices as you level up"
My players liked the addition of the retraining rules to 4th edition. This has already had an impact for them and it's particularly important for beginning groups who don't always see the way a power or skill can be called upon until they've used it for a while. My players tip here is: Don't worry so much about your choices. Simply retrain what doesn't work for you as you rise in level. For DMs I'd say: Make sure you let your players know that they can swap powers as they rise in levels. Don't let them think that they are stuck with bad choices so they don't lose interest in their characters.
Yvos: "It's great to be able to come to the DM with a concept and let him take the ideas and suggest the correct character class and power setup to achieve the concept"
Dee: "The wealth of power and feat selections helps you to customise the classes and adapt things to your play style"
While I wouldn't say that anything is buildable with 4th edition's rules it's clear from the reactions of my players that they enjoy the number of options available. My tips here are: Don't let the wealth of power options overwhelm you, and never turn down a good idea.
4th edition's PHBs and 'power' suppliments have pages and pages of power descriptions. It can easily make you think that building and running a 4th edition character is more effort than it really is. Don't let the volume put you off - there isn't as many items to wade through as you may think.
On the good ideas front, this tip is really aimed at the DM's among you. Get familiar with the class flavours and the effects of the main powers in there. That way when players come to you with their character ideas you can point out the correct class/power combo to fit the concept. If a players has a whacky idea that cuts across classes look at the PHB multiclass feats or the PHB3 Hybrid rules to get what the player wants. Reflavour existing powers appropriate to the style the player wants and almost any concept is possible.
Learning to play
Once a character is created or at least once a concept is thought up most players will learn the basics of the game system. This is sometimes through reading (as with Dee) and sometimes through play only (as with Troll) but usually it's a little of both. All of my group had to learn to play again as for some it was a new system and for others it was an entirely new game. Here's some of what my players had to share on learning to play again:
Dee: "New rule books are easy to follow. They are laid out in the order that you'd most likely encounter the items in each chapter"
Although this has always been true of D&D rulebooks to some degree, 4th edition is arranged in an easy to follow, sequential format that reads perfectly when taken front to back. I do remember having to skip around rules chapters a lot more when playing 2nd edition and am thankful that 4th edition has improved this.
Troll: "Having everything on the D20 rolling the same way for all checks and attacks helps get to grips with the game easier. You don't have to count up for one thing, down for another and roll different dice depending on what you're doing"
Dee: "Having a single type of roll for averything is easy and helps learning the game. Counting up is a lot easier than subtracting [note: see the old 2nd edition THAC0 rules for attacks. I changed those rules for my home games anyway]"
The single 'core' mechanic is a joy in play, especially with beginners in the group. Don't underestimate how easy this makes 4th edition to learn. My tip here is simple: Know the core mechanic by heart. Drill it into your fellow players and if you are playing a previous edition consider taking a cue from this mechanic in your own games.
Troll: "I love having power cards. This makes it easy to have all of my abilities to hand so I can choose what to do next"
Wigfried: "I agree. Power cards are a great idea. They aren't always clear on what you need to do though"
Troll: "And the cards help me get used to my character's abilities and learn as I play"
My players like their power cards. The old school players among us were sceptical at first but during play they really do help make the game easier to play and give the DM an instant resource to look up. The tip I have here is simple: Use power cards.
Yvos: "Having all the rules and mechanics for powers and feats on the character creatior is really good. I can look stuff up and learn appropriate rules as I create characters or explore customisation options"
The DDi compendium and the integration to it from the character creator certainly helps players pick up on rules relevant to their character. Again, I'd urge any group to have at least one DDi subscription available to them.
As my group and I have been getting used to D&D 4th edition and getting on with the game, we've discovered a few things that have worked and a few things that haven't . While much of any commentry around gameplay is subjective there were some very interesting points raised by my players that would apply to any starting, or re-starting, game. Here's a small selection of what they had to say:
Wigfried: "It's difficult to choose your targets in combat as you have no real way of gaguing the relative power of creatures on the battle map or of seeing their HP totals"
Wigfried doesn't have a grounding in D&D lore so she doesn't know that a Goblin is typically more powerful than a Kobold and that an Orc is typically more powerful than a Goblin and so on. I battle she finds herself struggling to choose targets as she can't guage health status or threat levels. This can be resolved to some degree by the DM so my tips here are: Be descriptive about your monsters and use some method for marking bloodied characters and creatures on the battle map.
As the DM be clear on describing the relative power of creatures on the map. Do this from the character's viewpoint when you can (ask youself, "Does the Party fighter feel that he could take this nasty on himself?" or something similar to give you some idea on what to say). Also, use bottletops, coins, markers, counters or any other method to clearly denote models that have 'bloodied' status. This gives players like Wigfried a clear indicator on who's injured and who isn't. It isn't a health bar or HP total, but it's better than having to remember who's hit and who isn't.
Dee: "With powers really being just a dice roll, then damage and maybe an effect, sometimes it's easy to just choose a power on damage and roll the dice to announce hits and damage. This 'roll-playing' detracts from the game"
Dee and I had both spectated and played in games at a local hobby store and have seen a tendancy in long combats for players to simply look for the stats on their powers. This has the effect of degenerating combat encounters into this:
Although that's quick and efficient it doesn't tell a story or help suspend the disbelief. To me, that isn't exciting and my players seem to agree. Players just become dice rollers and stat selectors. DM's become stat comparison machines. There are better ways to play.
To avoid this pitfall and keep your players fully engaged in what their powers can actually do (rather than the stats and effects they pull with their powers) start with actually printing the power descriptions on the power cards (or power listings if you don't use cards). Next, make sure you reference the effect of your power as you use it or, as a DM, be descriptive about the combat going on around the players. The PHB and DMG go into detail on this topic so I won't go into depth here.
Of course, there are many ways to play D&D. If your group prefer to play the stats game during combat then that's absolutely fine as long as it works for your group. Playing combat like this turns D&D into more of a strategic skirmish wargame and less of a role-playing game, however.
Dee: "Weapon groupings [e.g Simple melee, military melee, simple ranged, military ranged] are a great idea. Managing proficiency in seperate weapons was a pain in earlier editions"
Yvos: "Yeah, it's good you don't worry about what type of weapon you can swing unless it needs some combat training to be effective."
Wigfried: "Surely if I can swing a big stick to hit someone it's no different to swing a club or a mace?"
All of my players used to 2nd edition's weapon proficiency rules agreed that 4th edition's take on who could use what was easier to manage and made more sense. At least one of my players questioned where the class flavour of allowed weapon selections had gone. My tip here is for older edition DM's: Consider making weapon group proficiencies the norm in your games or at least use the familiarisation rules (see The Complete Fighter's handbook, the weapon proficiencies chapter of the PHB and Players Option: Combat and Tactics for more on this subject).
Yvos: "It's good you don't have that massive list of skills [read: non-weapon proficiencies] to pick from any more. It was annoying when you needed one but you hadn't taken it."
Dee: "Especially for things like, 'Reading/Writing' and 'Swimming'!"
Troll: "Why have we got an 'Intimidate' skill? Surely you can try and intimidate someone anyway? Why do you need to train this to be good at it? Surely it's better just to look mean and threatening? [Note: Troll plays a very tall Dragonborn with a spikey Greatsword and a flaming attitude to match his breath weapon]"
Similarly with skills as with weapons, my players enjoyed the simplicity and universality of the 4th edition system. My tip for players here is simply: get to know the standard uses for each skill and get inventive as often as possible with your skills - they can do more than the letter of the rules suggest.
For early edition players consider having certain additional related class skills as free proficiencies or even on having all NWPs for your archetype that you haven't selected to have a base score related to the key ability score. Think of it as non-weapon proficiancy familiarisation.
Wigfried: "I like the fact that you don't have to be in-character the whole time. I want to play a fantasy game, not do acting all the time"
Wigfried's comments were echoed by my other players. Wigfried has been involved with LARP, with MERP and with WoW domains where you were expected to always be in-character or you were penalised. Now, this is legitimate play when trying to build a fully immersed atmosphere but it doesn't work for all groups. Most players will play-act the important bits but they want to get on with the business of being social and having fun as players the rest of the time.
My tip here is: maintain a comfortable balance of in-character and out-of-character interaction throughout your campaign. Don't get hung up on the whole in-character piece, even if you're playing seriously in-character most of the time in your game. Always keep in mind that this is a social game and allow the rest of the group freedom to enjoy the experience with you.
The levels of in-character play you have will always vary from group to group and that's perfectly fine. There is no limit to how much you should or shouldn't do here. Find the balance that's fun for you and don't blow a gasket if other players in your group don't strictly adhere to that level on in-character roleplaying during a session. Agree a general level of role-play all members of the group are happy with, provide a bit of leeway and have fun with it.
Dee: "Player versus player conflics are bad!"
Dee is getting at something I do sometimes introduce to the story as a DM. I include it here as there's perhaps a lesson to be learned for beginning groups here.
What Dee is talking about is that I sometimes set player objectives at odds to introduce some tension and some conflict that players have to work to resolve. While this can work really well when done sensitively and with thought, for players trying to learn a new system all it really did was introduce an additional layer of stress they could do without at that stage. The tip here is clear: make sure character's goals are aligned while players are (re)learning to play your RPG. I'd go one further here and say that you should only put player's goals at odds once you're really comfortable with the system, your player's personalities and trust that the players will have fun resolving the internal conflict that you've created.
Troll: "I don't wanty to hear about the game mechanics - please hide them!"
Although Troll really loves his power cards, he doesn't like 4th Edition D&D's more wargame-like aspects. He wants to see the cut and thrust of the battle in his mind's eye, not sit comparing dice rolls, working out distances in squares and looking up stats all evening.
The tip to keep those like Troll who crave interesting combat instead of strategic play with the mechanics of the game is: Keep your combats descriptive. As a player, describe what you want to do instead of picking powers and riolling dice. As a DM describe the outcomes of players actions and react with the monsters accordingly.
The PHB and the DMG both have plenty of tips about this and I wrote an article for Roleplayingtips e-zine many years ago on this subject (Johnn Four, bless you, sir) - it's easy and worthwhile.
Troll: "The battle map is a good idea. It helps me visualise where everything is in relation to one another"
Yvos: "The battle map is a great aide to memory. It's easy to get lost in combat. Also, for me seeing things on the map suggests my character has battle awareness of his immediate surrounding. Makes me feel like he's an experienced adventurer"
My players are getting used to using a battle map for all encounters. I have maps, tiles and a dry-wipe play mat with squares on it. I used to simply describe what was going on but all my players feel that the map helps speed play up - you can plan as people are playing.
The tips here are obvious: Get into the habit of using the battle map to represent evyone's positions. Plan your next move while other players are taking their turn. That way you're ready to act and you keep the speed of the game high so combat doesn't become a boring chore.
All of my players have had some experience with other game systems, both tabletop and computerised. here's a small selection of the comparisons they made between D&D 4th edition and the games they had been exposed to already:
Wigfried: "I liked the World of Warcraft descriptions that you [read: the DM. In this case, me] put to the roles. That helped me unsderstand what the 'job' of each class was."
The tip here is pretty straight-forward: Don't be afraid to use World of Warcraft analogies.
As WoW has become so prevalent in fantasy RPG culture feel free to use terms from the game if it helps people understand concepts. For instance, use the term 'Tank' instead of Defender, 'DPS' instead of Striker, liken encounter and daily powers to cooldown rates, threatened spaces to aggro circles, and threat generation to marks. Lots of paralells can be drawn if you're used to D&D 4th edition and World of Warcraft - just because the designers couldn't use Blizzard's terminology doesn't mean you can't at your own gaming table.
WoW isn't the only place you could draw comparisons with. Use any comparison with any other game system or computer game to help orient the players in your group. Help your fellow players to understand the game a little better and the whole group becomes more effective. Less downtime explaining stuff means more time for fun, too.
Wigfried: "D&D was certainly easier than MERP to learn and play"
Yvos: "It was easier than 2nd edition to learn, too"
Troll: "Yeah, definately easier to get into at first than early D&D even though there's a lot more you can do"
Dee: "Easier than Storyteller and Cthulu. Seems a lot more balanced, too. Especially at starting levels"
No tips here, just a statement. The designers worked hard on balance and ease of play and my experience is that it paid off. D&D 4E is a good choice for starting players and returning players, even in it's non-essentials format.
Wigfried: "Feels a lot more free than games like Warcraft and MERP"
Yvos: "I like all the different ways you can build your characters in comparison to earlier D&D games. It's certainly more free in that way"
Dee: "I think the DM's willingness to let us have freedom makes it really easy to play"
Wigfried: "My previous group always railroaded the party to fit to the story and events that were supposed to happen. This made it feel like what we wanted to do didn't matter"
My players certainly felt that D&D's new cosmology and design methodology behind building published adventure modules allowed them much more freedom than they'd been used to on other systems, particularly the big MMORPGs and subject specific game systems. My regular players (Dee and Troll) commented heavily on my own methods for weaving the current published materials into the ongoing campaign but that's more to do with my approach and less to do with the actual D&D system itself.
What I will add here is some of my own commentry about the quality of the published adventure modules I've seen so far. The design ethos is such that most modules I've seen have been easy to change a few item in and drop into an ongoing campaign without the players noticing they were on a pre-published adventure. This is no mean feat of design and is to be applauded. Unfortunately I've come across more than a few modules that totally waste oppertunities for making things more than just a series of linked combat encounters. My tips for the DMs out there on this are simple: expand upon the details in any published module to draw the players in more fully. Most players aren't here for just hack 'n' slash so 6 rooms with different monsters to kill doesn't stand up as a real adventure. Allow your players the freedom to roam and to investigate whatever takes their fancy. If the module makes nothing of the path they take or the item they've fixated upon, make something up or prompt them to move on to keep the game moving.
I'll probably return to this subject in a later blog and will expand upon what I mean here and the techniques you can use to make this easy. For now, just remember to give the players their freedom.
Wigfried: "I think I'm spoiled by the amount of damage I can cause in World of Warcraft"
Wigfried's comment points out a danger with playing D&D when you're used to other games. You may find youself a little confused when things don't work the way you're used to or when terminology is different. Don't worry about it - it's natural.
Although it is the progenator of most RPG systems remember that D&D is different to other games. If you are used to other games ask your DM or fellow players for comparisons that make sense to you (for instance, Level 85 WoW is really level 30 Epic tier D&D and where WoW has thousands of points of damage D&D has tens). Relevant comparisons can help you get comfortable with the game a lot quicker than normal.
From what my players had to say, I was able to draw out a few hints and tips to help other groups make it easy to get back into their game or to start a new game. Here is a quick summary of the points I took from my player's commentry:
So here we are at the end of another mammoth blog post. Thanks for joining me again and I hope that my players insights and opinions help you to make things easier for yourself and your gaming group. As always if you want to add your experiences to my group's own, please feel free to message me or add comments to this blog.
I'd like to give a huge THANK YOU! to all my players for allowing me to interview them on their experiences with our return to D&D. Their insights will help me to build a better game for them and I feel genuinely honoured to be their DM.
Until next time, happy gaming!
Play the game, not the rules.
Doug 'Wraith' Lochery
dlwraith is a DM with many years of suffering under the tyranny of players Dee and Troll. He desperately needs the artifact, 'DM screen of chatotic player action deflection +5' but has so far been unable to find one.
dlwraith also denies the charge that he is 'slimey' in his DMing or that he likes to mess with his player's motivations. The warpriest could have got his powers back, the Rakasta didn't really need to look hard to find his No Dachi, the Duke was never responsible for the Black Robes and Razorclaw shifters are supposed to be pincushions.
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