Wednesday, August 31, 2011

D&D Encounters: Creative improvising vs. pre-designed storytelling


So, finished up Session Four of D&D Encounters: Return of Jafar. It consisted of some royal negotiations, followed by being ambushed by bandits, then meeting up with an old friend/nemesis (of my own design). A bunch of new players at our table this week, so things were good.

Also, there's D&D Lair Assualt...which is a thing, I guess. It looks kind of cool in a purely tactical/board game kind of way.

I had to run this session without a camera operator, so once again no footage was taken (I was away for session 3). So my video episodes on YouTube are gonna be taking a bit of a dive this season.

Episodes 2 and 3 will be up on YouTube soon (Have had to put them off again for work reasons), and If I'm lucky, I'll have a solution for Episode Four soon.

I'm thinking of making a bunch of illustrations, then posting them here along with a full text recap. The YouTube episode would consist of a link to the post here. It would be a lot like what Derek Myers does over at Dungeon'sMaster.com, only with funny doodles/pictures like the ones above.

Let me know if this is a good/bad idea, and if it's the latter, give me some suggestions for other creative solutions.

ON TO SOMETHING IMPORTANT!


So when I started D&D Encounters, it got kicked off with an intro adventure 'Gates of Neverdeath', which I stripped down and re-wrote in the interest of having a fun adventure instead of a cliched mess. You can read about it here.

In that, I introduced the plot device that all of those players that participated in it had characters who'd had a week of their memories stolen. This carried on into The Lost Crown of Neverwinter, where it turns out all of the PCs who's memories were taken had committed a grievous crime that they could not remember (robbing a bank, killing an innocent family, sleeping with the open lord's wife, etc).

All of these events are also tied to a recurring throwaway NPC Seldra, who's a half-elf spy aiding the lost heir. To the memory-addled PCs, Seldra isn't just a random person they need to converse with; she may be the key to how/why they're missing an entire week of their lives, and why they've done something terrible they can't remember.

All in all, I thought it was a clever story twist that the pre-written adventure didn't provide.

But here's the problem: I applied it ONLY to the PCs who'd taken part in the special Game Day event. All of the other players just have whatever generic backgrounds they're provided with, or stuff they've come up with themselves. This creates a both a player entitlement issue, as well as a story problem due to the nature of the D&D Encounters program.

You see, Encounters is set up so that you don't have to show up to every session if you don't want to. It's sort of a Laissez-faire 'drop-in drop-out' story where you just kill a bunch of monsters/bandits every week. Introducing a solid bit of continuity for a group of players (and not others) seems unfair to a lot of players. Likewise, some of the PCs who have the 'missing memories' plot thread, feel they shouldn't have to share something that was unique to them under special circumstances.

I'm not sure what to do. Do I accommodate everyone with a 'missing memories/wanted for random crime' plot thread (which would be a hassle, given that players drop in and out frequently), or just say 'Tough Shit' to those who weren't a part of the original group to receive such a plot thread (despite that by the time the finale rolls around there may only be one player at my table left who even has any connection to it).

By no means is missing memories or wrongfully accused PCs the main focus of the whole Season (the main focus is discovering the identity of the lost heir, also punching people in the head), but it's a nifty story thread that a few of the players really dig.

Just don't know what to do. As always, I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

D&D Encounters: Episode 2 & 3 delay (Also random alien d20 table)


Hey, remember how I said I'd be uploading new D&D Encounters episodes every weekend...for reals?

Yeah, I'm a dirty liar. Though, on the plus side, when I do update, it'll be in a bunch. Both episodes 2 and 3 of D&D Encounters will be up on Monday night, August 29th, EST. The delay is because I'm finishing up some real work for a company in Toronto.

I love D&D, but I love being employed and earning cash money more.

To make you feel better, here is a table I've cobbled together for sci-fi themed games:

Random Alien Species d20 Generation Table:

It's mostly cobbled together from memories of Star Trek, Babylon 5, and an assortment of old sci-fi films I'd seen as a kid. Use it in your Traveler, Doctor Who, GURPS, assorted other future outer space role-playing games (Even Rogue Trader if you're feelin' nasty). Enjoy, let me know if it's useful (or not) in comments.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Constantcon game this Sunday!

I'm running a D&D-esque game for Constantcon on Sunday, August 28th, 2011 at 7pm Eastern Standard time.

It'll be using the game Lamentations of the Flame Princess (though any retro clone game will do). If you've never played it, no sweat. At the bottom of this post are a few pre-gen characters.

Here's all the info you need to know:

Game: Lamentations of the Flame Princess (though any retro clone will do)

Time: Sunday, August 28th, 2011 at 7pm EST

Duration: 2-3 hours

Adventure: "Into the Maw"

You wake up in a dingy bathroom. A dingy bathroom deep underground that's part of a dungeon complex known as 'The Maw'.

People are put into The Maw to die. No one is supposed to escape, but you've heard rumors of one person who has. Also, there are monsters, traps, demons, and foul magic about.

Your goal is to escape, though it won't be easy. You'll most likely die. Though, if you do die, you'll die splendiforously.

Level: 1-3 (FLAILSNAILS characters welcome)

Where to play:
Google+

How to contact: Email me at kielchenier@gmail.com

Then, Add me to your friends circle (Kiel Chenier on G+), I'll add you to the D&D Game circle. I'll send you an invite.

Pre-Generated characters available:


Cleric

Fighter

Dwarf

Specialist


POST ANY QUESTIONS IN COMMENTS

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When it rains...

...it pours...also the rain is acid. Save vs. death by acid rain.

Some family trouble is keeping me from my usual D&D related shenanagans. I missed the third session of D&D Encounters. It's okay though; I'll have an impromptu episode up for it this weekend, along with Episode 2.

Hopefully by next week things will be a little more stable.

In the meantime, why not sign up for a game at Constantcon! You can find all the info on how to sign up and play here. When things are stable again, I'll be running an LotFP game on Sundays, which you can sign up for and play in the near future.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Coffee Break Podcast: Zak S. and Constantcon

Listen to the Podcast here.

This afternoon I got a chance to chat with Zak S. of Playing D&D With Porn Stars about Constantcon, a new way to play D&D online with friends using Google+.

Show notes:

-Everything you need to know about Constantcon can be found here.
-The online white board I mentioned is Dabbleboard. You can find it here.
-A bunch of times in the podcast I say 'generizate' when I mean 'generate'. This is because I'm known to have brain problems.
-I love Zak's baseball metaphor for the understanding of D&D. So much so that I made the jpeg above.
-The intro song is from Tim Hortons' 'Roll Up the Rim 2011' TV spot that I worked on several months back for 567vfx. When in want of a kitschy, Canadiana sounding tune, it was the first that came to mind.

I'll have the file up as a proper podcast with an RSS feed soon. I'll update this post once I do.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old School 4th Edition: Pros & Cons


So I think I'm going to make this sort of thing a constant feature for this blog. One of my main focuses with Dungeons & Donuts is to make the current edition of D&D as easy to play and get into as possible. Type IV D&D has a lot of strengths as a game 'mechanic system', as well as a number of weaknesses when compared to previous iterations and other games.

Here's a list of pros and cons for Type IV as an RPG game system and as a 'Dungeons & Dragons' game:

Pros:

1) Combat works really well
-Combat is sort of fourth edition's biggest draw. Being the first version of D&D to rely on miniatures exclusively, it presents combat as being flashy and larger than life, while still working almost perfectly on a mechanics level.
2) Powers make every race/class unique and interesting to play
-Time was that nobody wanted to play a cleric, because all they did was heal. In 4e, cleric is my favourite class. It combines on the spot healing with a variety of attacks. Almost every class has a unique feel to its abilities. Never are you stuck in a stiuation where all you can do is 'hit with sword' over and over.

3) Roleplaying is mechanized
-Some will view this as a flaw, but for new players who don't really care about 'roleplaying', 4e is great. Skill challenges, rituals, and a wide variety of concrete player options basically take the place of 'having to think of a way to solve a problem using real world dynamics'. Now, you can solve almost any problem with a few dice rolls. Also, rather than come up with a backstory or history for your character, player options like class, race, theme, paragon path, etc, provide all that 'flavour text' for you.

4) Every rule works
-4e is a solid system, with almost no grey areas in terms of descriptions of spell effects or types of attacks. Gone are the days of arguing over the meaning of a rule or effect. The rules and mechanics of the game are very concrete and precise, with almost no room for error or misinterpretation.

Cons:

1) Lack of immersion
-Because 4e is so combat heavy and focused on encounters rather than moment to moment play, it can be difficult for people to really 'get into a game'. Outside the box thinking isn't emphasized or focused on, making the game feel more like a glorified combat simulator or an older RPG video game. This is the one version of the game where the worlds presented actually have 'invisible walls' to what players can and can't do.

2) Too complicated
-This edition relies heavily on its digital counterpart, D&D Insider. Without this online tool, character creation takes forever and is an absolute clustercuss, as well as playing without miniatures. It feels very much like playing an analog version of a video game, and as such, has a specific 'right/wrong' approach to how it plays out. All of its effects, powers, bonuses, additions, and buffs become a jumbled mess. It seems to have more in common with something like WotC's Magic: The Gathering because of all of its rules and specific rule exemptions.

3) Too easy
-Old school D&D fans will tell horror stories about how easily one could be killed in old D&D games. Not so in 4e. Characters are extremely overpowered, growing exponentially more powerful as they gain levels. For some, this is perfect. It allows them to engage in a superhero-like power fantasy. But to many, this isn't what D&D is all about. Some might balk at the idea of welcoming character death, but the bottom line is that if a PC never feels threatened or afraid of the unknown, the game becomes stagnant and boring.

4) Exploration, Discovery, Improvisation are all gone.
-Again, the game's real draw is combat. Anything else is a secondary activity. The game allows for characters to do interesting things (light enemies on fire with oil, use their environment to their advantage) but it works contrary to what the rules specify. It has become the exception instead of the rule. This was a fundamental part of old D&D, and its a shame that it sort of falls by the wayside with 4e.

So, with all of these in mind, I've been trying to come up with a good mixture of old school and new school; a series of rules hacks and house rules to combine the best of both worlds. I know other gaming blogs have covered this topic before, but what I'm proposing is something a little more...drastic.

I'd like to take Basic D&D (ie, from the original Red Box) and tweak it to make it more palatable to an audience used to Type IV D&D.

All of the old school mystery and danger of the original game mixed with the grid-structure and style of 4e combat. A game that focusses on roleplaying and creative problem solving, but allows for the use of 'powers' and 'second winds' and 'combat advantages'. A game that plays like fourth edition, but feels and looks like Basic D&D.

I want to have my cake and eat it too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

D&D Encounters Season 2, episode 1 is up (also rant)

So Episode 1 of the new season of D&D Encounters is up on YouTube. Watch it here. Not a bad start to the season. Episode 2 should be up sometime Sunday night. Finishing it up now.

Hey, DMs, tell me how many times you've said this phrase:

"So, you all know each other"

I run a ton of published adventures, and almost all of them begin the same way. The party is in an inn somewhere, or are traveling together, or something else. Always, without fail, they already know each other intimately enough to adventure with each other (despite the fact that, often at public events or cons, the players themselves are strangers and have no idea who each other are).

Is anybody else but me fucking sick of this trope/cliche?

I understand its usefulness. If players are playing with characters with opposed goals, alignments, duties, backgrounds, etc, it's hard to fabricate an impromptu reason why they should be adventuring with each other. It's just easier to say "You all know each other from before". Far easier to brush characters' back story and history under the rug for now so that they get started fighting goblins and bugbears and derpy derpy doo. It's done for convenience and ease of play. Not everybody cares about their 'character' outside of the fact that it's a sword-wielding avatar of themselves so that they can engage in a power fantasy.

Poppycock, I say!

I prefer to start an adventure out with the phrase: "You have no idea who these people before you are. They're total strangers"

though I usually follow this with, "...but they all seem pretty awesome".

The whole idea of characters knowing each other previously seems lazy to me. Plus, a bunch of the fun of the game (at least to me) was always about getting to know each other's characters. Developing those in game friendships/rivalries through shared experience. I've always held the opinion that if an adventure hook isn't compelling enough to get total strangers to work together towards a common goal, it's a pretty lame adventure hook.

My advice to other DMs starting out a new adventure or campaign. Let your heroes be total strangers, but have the adventure emphasize cooperation. This is easiest with the whole 'wake up in a dungeon' style of intro (my personal favourite) but can work just as well as 'you all meet in an inn' (my least favourite).

If you still want to use the whole "You all know each other" style of getting a party together, do what Wil Wheaton did for his one dungeon delve he did for some convention.

Or, use this handy d10 table I just made to see how each character knows one another:

d10 random starting background connection table:

(number your players off, then use a corresponding dice (d6 for 6 players, d4 for 4, etc) roll to connect each player to one another. ie, roll a d6, get a 3, roll a d10, the background you roll is tied to player 3)

1. Ran a business with the character in the past. You both ran it into the ground.
2. This character saved your life once.
3. You saved this character's life once.
4. You are siblings by marriage. Both have daddy issues.
5. You are siblings by birth from different fathers. Both have mommy issues.
6. You were once this character's mortal enemy. You worked things out.
7. This character knows your darkest secret and has sworn to keep it a secret.
8. You went to school with this character and always kind of hated their guts as a kid. Now you respect them, if nothing else.
9. Your mother warned you about this character. You were never sure why.
10. You two have slept together. Whether you want a relationship is up to each character.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Old School 4th Edition: Fixing the Red Box

I've been awake for nearly three days straight. On the plus side, the D&D Encounters videos are almost done. Also, instead of sleeping, I'm gonna rant on this blog.

So in my last post I bashed the WotC Red Box a little. I'd like to clarify that I don't hate it. Most of the criticisms I have of it are nitpicky at best. It's labelled as a 'Starter Set' and it definetely gets the job done. Plus, at its $20 asking price it's a bargain (It comes with a double-sided poster map, 2-sheets of character tokens, character sheets, dice, and rules books). Despite its flaws, at such a low price, it's hard to argue.

My biggest beef with it is that I think it does a poor job of making the game accessible to new players, which I assume is its primary purpose. It doesn't explain how to simply 'make a character' without reading through the entire 'choose-your-own-adventure' booklet again. There's not enough room on the provided character sheets for all the character info (and don't get me started on the Power Cards).

After reading over all of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and seeing how another good introductory product can be done, I've gotten to thinking about how the new Red Box could be improved and simplified for speed and ease of use. How can it be stripped down of all its flab while still remaining recognizable as Fourth Edition? Also, how can I make it more palatable to Old School D&D folks (aside from already having the Larry Elmore cover)?

Well, I'll start by brainstorming. What can I remove or simplify from the existing Type IV character while having it still be functional?

Here's a list (outside of things like 'name', 'weight', etc) of things every Type IV D&D character has. In comments, let me know what you think should be ditched and why.

-Race
-Class
-Abilities (Str, Con, Dex, Int, Wis, Cha)
-Ability Modifiers
-Ability Modifiers + Half Level
-Skills (17 in total)
-Speed
-Initiative Bonus
-Armor Class (AC)
-Fortitude Defense
-Reflex Defense
-Will Defense
-Attack Bonus (Melee)
-Attack Bonus (Ranged)
-Attack Damage (Melee)
-Attack Damage (Ranged)
-Hit Points
-Healing Surge Value
-Healing Surges per day
-Racial Bonuses & Info (list)
-Class Bonuses & Info (list)
-Paragon/Epic Destiny Bonuses & Info (list)
-Feats (list)
-Powers (list)
-Equipment (list)
-Magic Items (list)
-Wealth (list)
-Pages of Power Cards (1-3 pages)

Crikey, that's a long list. Now, what can we get rid of?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

5 Reasons you should go buy LotFP: Grindhouse Edition right now!


Usually, I play Type IV D&D.

It's the version I've learned to DM with, and its the one I'm the most comfortable with. That said, I don't think it's prefect or the best version of the game available. I mean, I started this blog because I felt that it could be improved with a few DIY touches.

But now, after reading through James Raggi's game Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Grindhouse Edition, I'm very, very tempted to just up and ditch Type IV D&D all together in liu of his game. Let me give you five reasons why I would. Also, why you should pony up the money and buy it:

5. It's inexpensive!

As of right now, you can go to lotfp.com and pick up a copy of the game for only $47.00 CAD (plus shipping).

Now you may be thinking "Wait, that's not inexpensive at all!". Well, considering what you're getting for that amount (read below), it's a bargain compared to other games:
-Type IV D&D Essentials books of same info ($71.99 CAD)
-Pathfinder books of same info ($138.99 CAD)

Plus, if you're tight on cash, you can pick up the versatile PDF copy of the game for a scant $15.00 CAD. That's the best deal in the roleplaying game business!

4. It's Old School!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is often referred to as a 1st Edition D&D clone like Labrynth Lord, OSRIC, and Castles & Crusades. To clarify, LotFP ISN'T a 1st Ed clone, but it definetely owes a lot of its pedigree to old school D&D.

The game is rooted in the bygone age of wandering adventurers and underpowered heroes exploring the vast unknown of the world, with little more than their wits and experience about them. In order to succeed in Lamentations, you need to be clever, innovative, and creative. The game isn't about escalating one's powers or magical items; it's about delving into deep, forgotten dungeons and contending with the unknown, living to tell the tale of how you survived truly overwhealming odds.

The game also goes back to the 7 Classes route of character creation. Instead of choosing a race and a class, you choose from seven classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic User, Specialist, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. With the bonuses given to the three 'monster races', you won't really miss not being able to customize them further. It keeps it simple.

Plus, if you want a map, you'll need graph paper.

Suck it up, bitches. That's how this game rolls.

3. It's a better Red Box than the new Red Box!

For those of us too young to have played the original 1983 Mentzer Red Box, we have Wizard's of the Coast's new iteration of the product. It comes in the same big Red Box with the same Larry Elmore cover, and contains starter rules for 4th Edition.

It's a good product, but as a true intro into what a roleplaying game is, it leaves a lot to be desired. Lamentations picks up the slack in every way possible.

The little box comes with a Tutorial Book, a Rules and Magic Book, and a Referee Book. All of them include all of the info needed to play the game. No expansions, no errata, and no additional purchases required (Although James sells a plethora of amazing adventures. Especially Death Frost Doom). The Tutorial Book is especially useful, providing three introductory methods of play, teaching you the rules and mechanics of the game in a few interactive story bits. Almost no D&D related product has done something like that in the past 10 years!

Plus, it comes with 10 printed character sheets, and a set of the cutest little dice imaginable! Seriously, these things are adorable!

2. It's bloody disgusting (and that's awesome!)

The art style and atmosphere of the game is horrific.

Every single piece of art in all of the books is meant to shock, disgust, and reiterate that playing this game is like playing a fantasy horror movie.

I mean, just look at this art!
Now, whether you keep this pervading sense of gloom in your games is up to you as a DM, but to play this game as is, straight out of the box, is like playing an RPG version of a Hammer film. It'll be chock full of foggy moors, Lovecraftian terrors, chilling atmosphere, buckets of blood, and Peter Cushing.

Another blogger (who's name escapes me) said the game was very reminiscent of Captain Chronos: Vampire Hunter.

He wasn't wrong.

1. It's dirt simple, yet profoundly deep!

I hate games that are needlessly complex or verbose with their rules. I like things that are simple, efficient, and elegant. As Zak Sabbath often quotes Clutch, "Efficiency is beautiful, efficiency is art".

This game fulfills both of those things. It's crazy simple in its design, easy to pick up and play, yet its potential for depth and creativity is limitless. This is a game that limits a player's mechanical choices and options, but allows him or her the freedom to do almost anything they want. Heck, there's a first level summoning spell that (if you roll poorly) could unleash a horrible Cthulhu-like onslaught onto the world. It's all up to chance and character choice. That's awesome.

Lemme give you some examples of Lamentations being simple/awesome:

-An encumbrance system that actually works! (you fill in dots per amount carried. Too many dots and you can't move).
-Easy to check skills (Using a d6 roll, comparing to figurative skill notches in your belt).
-3 set weapon types instead of over a dozen individual weapons (what's the difference between a greatsword, a bastard sword, a maul, a greataxe, and a swinging mace? Fucking nothing! They're all a d12, bottom line).
-Easily tracked magical advancement (again, fill in dots on a magical symbol, easy-peasy).

But you wanna know why a simple game like Lamentations is best (in my opinion)?

If your character dies or you need to roll a new one, the process of rolling up a new character takes LESS THAN 10 MINUTES! You decide what kind of character you want, you roll some dice, you pick some equipment, you're DONE! After it took us over an HOUR to roll up some Type IV D&D characters back on Game Day, having a simple, easy to use, intuitive system for making characters is a godsend.

So that's it. My recommendation for Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Grindhouse Edition. It's a very well made game and an impecable product. I've only gotten a chance to play it a few times, but the results have been fantastic. Maybe with more play I'll find some real criticisms for it. Until then, I'm just gonna keep gushing on and on about it, drawing crayon pictures of me and James Raggi hanging out with a heart-shaped border.

The only other RPG book or product I've liked nearly this much is Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. Oh, wait, that's published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and available through their store too.

James Raggi, is there anything you can't do?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

D&D Encounters: Neverwinter Trailer

Check it out.

Episode 1 and Episode 2 of the new season of Encounters will be up on YouTube on Saturday, August 20th.

Now, I'm off to go participate in episode 2.

*Edit: The original cut of this trailer was blocked for featuring music from 2Cellos. The link goes to an alternate cut with 'The Sundering' by The Sword.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

'Aint no effect like Mass Effect

So I'm editing the first episode of D&D Encounters: Electric Boogaloo. I'm doing Photoshop busywork with art and have a 'Hey Ash Whatcha Playing?' podcast on in the background. A few minutes in Ash and Anthony start reminiscing about Mass Effect.

I am almost immediately overcome with euphoria, nostalgia, and good vibrations.

Mass Effect is one of those games (series) that I'll vehemently defend whenever ignorant people say things like "All video games are reprehensible violent shooters" or "video games cannot deliver narrative stories as good or as emotionally impactful as films can".

If you've never heard of these games before, let me give a brief explanation of their appeal:

Imagine the original Star Wars trilogy never existed. Its sprawling science-fantasy story was never told, and its cultural impact was never felt. Mass Effect, as a sci-fi trilogy, could fill the void left by the absence of Star Wars, and match every single one of its achievements.

It's that good.

Storywise, it's sort of like the best aspects of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Read: the best Star Trek); an intrigue-filled sci-fi world brimming with narritive and artistic creativity. Also, since it's a game, you have the freedom to make your own moral choices and deal with the repercussions.

In Mass Effect (and ME2), I've sojourned across the galaxy, overthrown alien tyrants, fought across a sentient machine ship, and rained down fury against the most terrifying monsters. All of that's pretty rad, but they pale in comparison to the countless little things I've done in Bioware's world:

-Reunited families torn apart by years of conflict.
-Convincing a military scientist to release the body of a soldier to her grieving husband instead of keeping it for study.
-Walking into a hostile hostage negotiation, and walking out with both sides at peace, not a drop of blood spilled.
-Saving entire colonies of people with words, not guns.
-Getting my inane medical scientist alien friend to reveal he sings Gilbert & Sulivan.
-Headbutting a Krogan.
-Defending a friend and crewmate in a trial (and winning).
-Idly joking with my pilot Joker (Seth Green).
-Displaying random acts of kindness, like helping an alien woman resolve a indentured servitude contract.
-Putting a sleazy reporter in her place.
-Also, decking said sleazy reporter. Like a boss.
-Being able to play as my Commander Shepard, a charming, redheaded female version of Captain Picard (voiced by Jennifer Hale), saving the galaxy, and winning the hearts of exotic blue alien women.

That's why I love these games.

The best part about them is that all of the above choices I'd made, other people have made differently. No two people's game experiences are alike. There are black Shepards, Asian Shepards, goth Shepards, Shepards who weild jedi-like force powers, Shepards who are more akin to Dirty Harry in space.

There's even male Shepards...y'know, if you're boring.

Check these games out if you haven't.

*Next post will be D&D related. I promise.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Those deep seated feelings of shame

I play D&D unironically...most of the time.

That is to say, when I play D&D with friends I play the game with the understanding that what I am engaging in is a ridiculous, cringe-worthy spectacle that the layman would think laughable and stupid. Even still, I thoroughly enjoy it and every nerdy aspect of it.

However, whenever I play D&D (particularly in Organized Play events) I can't help but feel a bit ashamed of what I'm doing. That playing it is a shameful display.

Let me explain:When I was really young my favourite movie of all time was Robot Jox. I'm not kidding, I adored this film, thinking it was a masterpiece. So much so that I started thumbs-up fist bumping my dad, my friends, and even strangers using the pilot's classic catch-phrase "Crash and Burn!".

Later on, I discovered films like Star Wars, Jaws, Blade Runner, Alien, etc. Still, as a little kid, I un-ironically thought Robot Jox was fantastic.

As a young man I loved Pokemon. All throughout junior high I was equally obsessed with those lovable pocket monsters and all of their paraphernalia. I also remember avidly watching the Pokemon TV show, along with its Fox Kids counterpart Digimon.

These were different, though. I was no longer a starry-eyed youngster enamored with giant robots. I was a 'teen'. I knew which things were cool and which things weren't. I understood that one needed to be dismissive of something before giving it approval. I was one of those kids who desperately wanted to be thought of as 'mature', not just by his peers, but by his mentors. Most of all, I think, I understood that anything I was watching or consuming, my parents would inevitably watch and judge.

They would see what I was watching, and judge me based on said programming. My 'maturity' would be gauged against what I was 'into'.

Say what you will, but Pokemon was the farthest thing from 'mature'.

So I felt I had to watch it, play it, and obsess over it in secret. Sure I loved it, but I also understood that it was something 'not meant for me', so my enjoyment of it could never really be outspoken. To be caught watching Pokemon, with its bright pastel world, childlike protagonists, and all of those 'cute' anthropomorphized animal monsters (about which there were multiple sing-a-long rap songs, damn those were cringe worthy, even then), was something shameful. Anytime my parents would walk into the living room while an anime character shouted "Bulbasaur, I choose you!" or "Prepare for trouble~", they would roll their eyes at me, or give me this questioning look.

This look that just seemed to say, "Really? You're watching this?"

As much as I enjoyed it, I was felt ashamed for enjoying it. A teenage boy (I forget how old...I was probably 12 or 13 or so, maybe a bit older) shouldn't be obsessed over something so juvenile (and in retrospect, Pokemon was an especially juvenile exercise).

I have similar feelings towards Dungeons & Dragons.
At its core, it is a game intended for young adults to play make-believe using a rule-set intended to make it feel more 'mature'. That's partly how I view it now, and its definitely how I viewed it back when I was first introduced to the game (I was 15 at the time, just starting high school).

Still, I adored it.

I gobbled that game up. I made every excuse I could to play it as often as I could at friend's houses (never at my house, of course). I poured over the Player's Handbook (Type III D&D), made dozens of characters with pages of back story. I even remember drawing a multi-page comic to somehow immortalize the exploits of my characters in their latest adventures fighting demons and winning the hearts of busty maidens (When you're 16 and making comics, there is little else on your mind other than busty maidens).

But anytime I was asked about it by my parents, or by anyone else 'above' me, I told them it was no big deal. That I wasn't really all that into it. It was just another stupid thing I was doing.

I understood that any time spent playing D&D, drinking pop and laughing with my friends, was time that could have been better spent. Spent on studying, or looking for a part time job, or anything else more productive than D&D. So I felt ashamed.

I was playing a 'make-believe' game instead of doing something actually important.

Lately I've been feeling a lot of this 'D&D shame'. I'm a 23 year old adult, starring down the barrel of student debt and bills. I work in film/television, so a bulk of my work is job hunting. It seems like any time spent playing D&D could be 'better spent'.

Not only that, but the shame of how ridiculous it is still exists.

Not long ago, at freelance tape operator job I'd filled, I used the office printer to print out some character sheets for use in a game the following week. One of them got left in the nearby recycle bin, where the receptionist found it.

She began calling people over, asking about it. "Who's is it?" "I dunno" "lol. Who would play this?" "Oh, it's probably Kiel's". I hadn't made a secret of me rolling dice on occasion. Rather than just come forward, explain, and shrug it off, I was embarrassed. I felt just as ashamed as I did when I was a kid caught watching Pokemon.

It's not a cool feeling.

These days, disastrous things like Robot Jox and Pokemon are fine...if they're enjoyed ironically; enjoyed in a mocking, referential way with a "so bad it's good" mentality.

I do that with D&D too, but mostly I enjoy it for everything it is: silly, ridiculous fun. For that, I still feel a little bit ashamed.

So, my non-rhetorical question for you to answer in comments is this:

Has anyone else ever felt this way about the game? Obviously D&D has always had a kind of 'illicit' history, but coming out as a card-carrying geek seems to have less and less of a stigma these days. Am I the only one who still feels this way about the game as a whole?

What say you?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Neverwinter Pre-Generated Characters






Here's six new pregen characters for this season of D&D Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter.

They are, in order, an Eladrin Avenger, a Half-Orc Druid, a Dragonborn Warden, a Human Warlord, a Halfling Thief, and a Human Mage.

Enjoy em. If they're well received, I'll make more.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Neverwinter NeverNeverLand NeverAdventures...Never.

So yesterday I ran the WotC adventure 'Gates of Neverdeath' adventure to group of familiar faces at Dueling Grounds in Toronto. There were seven players, three of which had never really played D&D before.

One of the guys playing, the most experienced Type IV D&D player there, said as we were all rolling up characters "This is a terrible idea. Why are you doing this?" to me, about having people roll up characters from scratch.

He wasn't entirely wrong, either. I know that rolling up a Fourth Edition character from scratch is hard. Really hard. Especially if you're brand new to the game. I expected this, so I made a few tools to help the process along, but even those weren't enough.

The adventure suggests that rolling up characters should take about 30 minutes. I'm not sure if the playtesting people from WotC are naive or just too steeped in the game, because 30 minutes isn't nearly enough. It took us almost an hour for everyone to have their characters ready to go. My biggest criticism of WotC's D&D products is how inaccessible they are to new players, and this new 'introductory' adventure hasn't changed that criticism. I admire what they were trying to accomplish, but the fact that their Essentials products are so obtuse and unintuitive makes everything harder to accomplish.

Still, we made it through that with seven functional characters (their names being the most awesome thing about them), and proceeded to adventure.

The Adventure: Gates of Neverhuh?

People are often hard on WotC's pre-made adventures. They're typically formulaic, cliche, and uninspired. I happen to like them, but I usually inject every adventure with my own trappings to give them a little bit more flavor and life. That's the job of a DM.

Unfortunately, 'Gates of Neverdeath' needed a lot of work. Here's the introductory flavour text. Tell me if you've heard this story before:

It's your first job as a group, and the best part is that you get to travel to Neverwinter free of charge. You've been hired by a half elf female named Seldra to be her bodyguards on a voyage from Waterdeep, then off the ship and into Neverwinter.

I received the adventure an hour before we were set to play. I saw that the heroes would be fighting zombies, skeletons, and an evil necromancer (because there are no good necromancers for some reason). Turns out Seldra is also guarding a crown that is supposed to be important.

Why are they all together, guarding a crown? Because they all met on the ship together, and the job pays money, says the adventure.

Why do they care about Neverwinter and getting back there? Why should they care about the crown? Because their character themes say they do, said the adventure, Also, don't let your players ask so many questions. It doesn't help the story.

So I rewrote the better part of the adventure. All the NPCs stayed the same, but their motivations and so on were different. Read this intro and tell me what you think:

This story begins, like so many great stories do, with a hangover. Your hangover.

All of you regain consciousness and notice your hands and feet are bound with rope. You're tied up, all of you. You all see each other. All of the faces before you are familiar, though you can't place their names. The wooden deck you're on lurches back and forth. You can hear shuffling footsteps above. Worst of all, you cannot recall how you came to be here.

You're certain of only two things:

1) You are tied up with a group of people you're pretty sure you know, in the hold of a sea-faring ship.

2) You cannot remember the past week of your lives at all. You have a terrible suspicion you've done something very, very wrong.

So that's what I came up with. The players seemed to like it, and it worked well with players who wanted their characters to super virtuous or somewhat evil. They spent the adventure trying to piece together what happened and how they came to be tied up on a ship that was run by skeletons.

In the end, after beating the necromancer and finding the jewel-encrusted crown coffer, they opened it up to reveal a note from Seldra (a half elf woman they seemed to remember doing business with). It said:

I'm sorry you've been deceived. If you you've opened this coffer, it means I was right that you couldn't be trusted with the crown. I've taken your memories. If you want them back, meet me at the [major inn] in Neverwinter. -Seldra

Now the players are really pumped for D&D Encounters. Instead of just protecting some macguffin that they have no vested interest in, the adventure is now personal. Throughout the game, I gave every player a few flashes of memory of things that they might have done; all of them despicable. It made them squirm and really want to know the truth.

I will say that Free D&D Gameday: Gates of Neverdeath was abundant with swag. Every player got a black bag filled with all kinds of goodies (character sheets/themes, big poster of Neverwinter, other cool stuff). Compared to past events, this one was swaggeriffic.

Bottom line: The adventure could have been better, but everyone had fun and walked away with a cool bag full of stuff. I guess that's all you can really hope for.

D&D Encounters: Raiders of the Lost Macguffin

That day I also got my copy of everything for the new season of D&D Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter.

After running The Dark Legacy of Evard for something like a dozen weeks, I've grown pretty damn tired of this game. D&D Encounters is an exhausting rigamarole for DMs and I don't think it provides a whole lot for players except an excuse to kill monsters every Wednesday. I haven't played any of the past seasons, but I figured that after Evard there wouldn't be much to look forward to.

I read through Lost Crown of Neverwinter on the subway/bus ride home and was pleasantly surprised.

There's a lot to look forward to in this season. The biggest thing is a good story. You heard me right. A GOOD story. This 14 week long adventure is filled with intrigue, twists, lovable and hatable NPCs, some really interesting and dynamic fights, and lots of room for DM input and improvisation.

The whole adventure seems to take cues from Bioware's Dragon Age II, which most people will agree is a good (even great) city-based RPG game. It's known for its story and great characterization, which Neverwinter takes in stride.

Plus, you fight not one, but two dragons. Actual DRAGONS!

Plus, the whole memory loss plot point I introduced in the free game day works even better with this season. My impromptu D&D solution might actually make a for some serious 'roleplaying' in this season of Encounters. It makes me happy.

I'm looking forward to this Wednesday. You should to.

Also, at some point I'll be making some new Pre-Gen characters to go with this season of Encounters. The ones they provided are the old ones from several seasons ago. Nuts to that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What to expect (when you roll dice with nerds)

Tomorrow I'm hosting a D&D game at 12pm EST, at Dueling Grounds in Toronto. It's a free event open to the public. Anyone can come. That said, lemme talk about people who play D&D for those who've never played the game before.

Everyone I play the game with is a nerd in some fashion or another.

The people in high school I played with were (and are) nerds. Physics majors, robotics students, and high art geeks, all now geniuses in their respective fields.

The people I play with for fun and leisure are nerds. They're also wicked clever, savvy, and fun. Also, they are my wife, and wife's friends.

The people I play Encounters with on Wednesdays for business are nerds. They may be the most hardcore players of the game, but they're also an awesome, diverse lot. Just watch these episodes.

So, in short, if you're new to the game, you have to expect to play with some nerds.

If you consider yourself a nerd, relax. You'll most likely be in good company.

If, instead, you believe yourself to be a normal person who shops at Abercrombie & Fitch, goes to spin classes, watches How I Met Your Mother, is tanned, and cannot recite Ghostbusters or Monty Python's Holy Grail verbatim*, relax. There's something in this game you too will enjoy.

Take whatever part of the game suits you best and embrace it. Competitve? There's a spot for you. Like the spotlight? You'll shine the brightest. Just wanna fuck around with stuff? Go for it and be an instigator. Just want to watch? That's cool too. Just like to watch idiots froth at the mouth? Well, you'll always be in luck at a table. There is something in D&D that people from all walks of life can enjoy.

Also, if you're over 19 (in Canada) there will probably be drinking. The game is always better with alcohol.

As for playing with nerds, if you're lucky (and you will be) they'll be awesome people like this, and this, and definitely this.

Either way, give it a try. Who know, you might like it.

*Note: all of the above 'normal people' things I listed are things that I, a not-normal person, don't do. Perhaps my life would be bettered by partaking in some of these activities. I can't be certain, but I'll keep an open mind.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Essentials 3 Page Character Builder Guide (ver 1.0)




Update: Errors Corrected, plus refined Equipment list added

I just couldn't get it down to two pages. I tried. I really tried.

This is for all you crybabies who need help making characters with the two new Essentials players books (Heroes of the Felled Labyrinths, and Heroes of the Funky Kitchens, respectively). Personally I'm not the biggest fan of Essentials. I understand it's another entry way into the game for new players, and I dig that. However, its whole design philosophy seems to be about 'simplifying the game' while actually making it more complicated for new players.

To each their own. I hope this helps people out. Let me know in comments if there are any glaring issues.

BTW, if the formatting is weird, its because the pages are formatted to be the same size as the actual Essentials books, so that this guide can be slipped in/glued into the existing book.

Custom Neverwinter Character Sheet

So here's a quick custom character sheet I cobbled together this morning for the upcoming Neverwinter Game Day this Saturday.

The official WotC Neverwinter Character Sheet is prettier, no doubt, but lacks room things like power stats and such.

That's really my biggest gripe with Type IV D&D character sheets. There's never enough room to write down all the info you need with Powers. All they ever give you is a small text-box and expect you to cram in the info. Hopefully this new sheet makes it at least a little easier to write those details down.

The only thing that got scrapped on the sheet is a 'Character Notes' section. I'm a big fan of those
boxes that allow you to write down NPC names, plot details, and little doodles. Then again, like most people with physical character sheets, I'll probably suggest that you write those things down on the back of the sheet. One big empty canvas to scrawl on.

Enjoy. Let me know if any improvements can be made in comments.

*I'm also working on an Essentials 2-Page character builder guide for all you people using the two D&D Essentials books. It should be ready for Saturday.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I can haz magik missul?


So this is a picture of my wife's best friend's cat interrupting our D&D game from way back when. I posted it on the D&D Facebook page to mixed response.

I've got about three posts drafted at the moment, one including a 'Random Alien Species Generator table', but it needs more tweaking.

Been wicked sick this week, hence the lack of updates and lack of D&D Encounters Episodes on Youtube. They're all filmed now. Just need some final touches and edits. I've given myself the deadline of having them all up and finished before D&D Game Day this Saturday.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2 Page Character Builder Guide (ver 1.0)

Download these pages, print them out, and affix/glue them into your D&D Fourth Edition Player's Handbook 1. It'll guide you step by step on how to make a character from scratch.


Download these pages, print them out, and affix/glue them into your D&D Fourth Edition Player's Handbook 1. It'll guide you step by step on how to make a character from scratch.

When I run a D&D game, it's usually spur of the moment.

It's also usually at the request of friends/family who're new to the game.

Typically, it's also while away from a printer or internet connection.

Oh, and everyone involved has probably been drinking.

So, with this in mind, I usually have a few D&D books, some dice, and if I'm lucky some character sheets, minis, etc. However, here's the problem...

Wizards of the Coast's layout for every single one of their character sheets for Type IV D&D is broken. Just plain broken. Almost every little box they include for 'Powers' is WAY TOO SMALL to write down all the necessary info for a character's many powers.

The reason all of their character sheets are broken is because WotC expects players to use their Online Character Builder software. It prints out all of a character's powers on seperate 'Power Cards'. These cards are handy (if a little difficult to read), but they're not included in any format outside of the Online Character Builder. If you're not making your character with their software, you're outta' luck.

Rolling up a Type IV D&D character from scratch is almost unheard of now since it's so difficult. However, the upcoming Free Worldwide D&D Game Day on August 6th actually requires players to roll up a character from scratch before beginning. The new character sheets they've provided are pretty, but not as functional as they could be.

Bottom line, if I'm gonna be DMing a game where my players have to roll up a character in a short amount of time, I'm gonna make a tool to make it easier on them*. Making characters from scratch and pouring over a bunch of rulebooks isn't condusive to a tight schedule. Hopefully this'll help.

This is the first draft, so please leave feedback in the comments. I'm going to be using this tool on August 6th, and would to streamline it further, if possible.

*A similar guide was available in the D&D Type 3/3.5 books. I took the overall outline and buffed it up for Type IV.

UPDATE: Few people have commented that 'Skills' are missing from it. They're pre-selected under '3. Choose a Class'. Each class has 3-5 trained skills listed.