Thursday, March 22, 2012

100 Campaign Starting Adventure Hooks (1-10)

*This article is mostly for dungeon masters and people considering being dungeon masters.

So coming up with a campaign is tough. Really tough.

It's fraught with complications and problems, and overall it just takes so freakin' long! I don't got time for THIS!

If you're like me, you tend to do a great deal of thinking about a campaign world, its NPC denizens, and what kinds of adventures the player characters might have. If you're also like me, you might fret a lot about whether or not your players will enjoy the world of story you're presenting them with.

A good D&D game is one where your players are free to make the characters they want to, and have adventures that are meaningful and related to their character's motivations, backgrounds, and play-styles. However, these kind of games typically aren't the ones that you or your players get to have right away. They usually happen after one or two adventures.

Starting a campaign usually involves an adventure, quest, errand, or skirmish that both introduces the player characters to one another, and gets them to forge a group dynamic or friendship that will hopefully endure follow-up adventures.

A good starting adventure will make players feel good about playing with each other's characters. A great starting adventure will ensure players want to keep adventuring together in the future.

That said, coming up with these kind of adventures is tough. Whole campaign worlds require a lot of thought and preparation, especially if you're making it all up yourself. If you're falling back on a pre-published campaign world (Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, Nentir Vale, etc.), don't expect it to be any easier. Pre-published worlds still require a good deal of research, and there's always the possibility you'll have a player who knows that world better than you (which can create narrative issues at the table).

So if you're in a pinch, and need to run a starting adventure without a lot of preperation time, I'm making a d100 table with campaign starting adventures/adventure hooks to get you started. Each is designed to introduce the players to each other and get them working/fighting/thinking.

These first 10 are designed around all of the player characters growing up in the same town:

1. (Shared heritage) The PCs grew up in the same small northern town. It's been a year since they all left to seek their own fortunes. They agree to meet back home after one year in the local tavern to catch up.

2. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up in the same small southern town. Their mentor figure (A cross between Obi-Wan and Aragorn) has gone missing.

3. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up in the same small eastern town. One PC's mother has been kidnapped by goblins. Said PC (determined by 1d4/1d6 roll) needs the help of the other PCs.

4. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up in the same small western town. The town's coal/iron/diamond mine has collapsed, trapping several friends/relatives of the PCs. They must rescue them.

5. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up together. They're leaving their home town for the first time, answering the call for sell-swords in a distant western city. The route is fraught with gnoll activity and ambushes.

6. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up together. The village/town/hamlet's elder reveals a terrible secret to the PCs about their home's yearly sacrifice to the gods/spirits. He/She urges the PCs to stop the sacrificial ceremony.

7. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up together. The town's crotchety, doddering arch-mage has locked himself up in his expansive tower. The mayor requests that the PCs break in and coax/force him out.

8. (Shared Heritage) The PC's grew up together. A mutual friend of the PCs has been acting strangely as of late. In addition, sightings of undead have become more frequent. PCs must venture after the friend, as he might be a necromancer.

9. (Shared Heritage) The PC's grew up together. They return home to find their town in ruins; ravaged by barbarians. Relatives of the PCs (as well as old possessions) have been taken.

10. (Shared Heritage) The PCs grew up together. They return home after a year to find their town has been taken over by a local mercenary group; now operating as tyrants. PCs may choose to liberate their home or side with the mercenaries.

Another 10 of these hooks will be released soon, each 10 of them will focus on a specific theme of introduction. The next theme will be "Wanted: Heroes".

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Whippersnappers who game

*NOTE: The following article is predominantly opinion. It also may be considered a bit agist. If you disagree with any of this article, please post in comments.

So I've been playing a lot of Mass Effect 3. I'm enjoying it immensely, and it's providing me with pretty much everything I could ever want in a space opera/sci-fi adventure. Bioware makes great RPGs, but their games are often criticized by a fair amount of people because of their streamlined nature and lack of emphasis on game elements that people often associate with roleplaying games.

The same could be said for the criticism of Fourth Edition of D&D. In many ways it is quite unlike many of the iterations that have come before it, and those differences have alienated a good deal of D&D's original fan base. To many 'old school' gamers and RPG enthusiasts, many modern innovations in roleplaying games (both digital and analog) don't jive with their sensibilities on how and why games should be played.

A great deal of this has to do with experience, but I would hazard a guess that it may also have a lot to do with age. D&D is, and always has been, intended to be a game for young people. I get the feeling that many people don't like to admit this.

Let me give you a personal example:

-At the time of writing this, I am a 24 year old male living in Ontario, Canada. I grew up in the 90s and 2000s.

-I've never lived in a house where there was not a computer available. I had an email address before I had a driver's licence.

-I played digital RPGs long before I gave analog ones a try. Up until 2001, I didn't even know paper and dice RPGs existed. My first roleplaying game experiences ware Final Fantasy VII and Pokemon Red.

-I watched The Fellowship of the Ring before I read it (though I corrected that with the two other books). I've never seen any of the Star Wars films in theatres (unless you count the special editions re-releases).

-I didn't see Conan, Krull, Willow, Ladyhawk, or anything by Rankin Bass/Ralph Bakshi until well into adulthood. I think my favourite cartoon growing up was either Batman or Sailor Moon. Let's just say it was Batman.

-I never read Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms in junior high, and am only starting to give them a sideways glance now. They're enjoyable, but feel very pastiche and stereotypical, reading them as an adult.

-I refuse to play most games (digital and analog) that do not allow for one's avatar to be female as well as male.

-The first comic books I read were originally published in Japan. I've never understood the appeal of Superman.

-Fourth Edition D&D was my first "real" edition of D&D. While I've played some of each edition, 4e is what I learned how to DM with.

-I've never owned or felt any real desire to own anything published by TSR.

-I never played anything written Gary Gygax, nor have I read a great deal of his musings.

-I find the separation of 'story games' and 'dungeon crawl games' to be baffling. For me and my friends, D&D has always been a combination of the two. They are one and the same.

-Our original games and campaigns weren't aping Tolkien, Weiss/Hickman, or Leiber. They were aping stories from Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, and Legend of Zelda.

-I've never been to GenCon. I really have no real desire to go to GenCon.

-For me, and this is still true today, video games have always been more engaging in narrative and in terms of gameplay than most analog RPGs. This is because I grew up experiencing video games when they were really finding their legs when it came to storytelling and engagement.

-I've never experienced a TPK as either a player or a dungeon master.

-Every D&D game I've ever run or played in has always had at least one woman playing. If there are no female players at a D&D table, I find the experience lacking.

-To this day, I still don't fully grasp what a 'rules lawyer' is.

-I've never read The Order of the Stick. RPG-centric humour is the bane of my existence as a wannabe cartoonist.

-I've never read or owned Dragon/Dungeon magazine while it was in its print release format.

-While I can aesthetically enjoy the work of Larry Elmore, I don't necessarily connect it to D&D in any way emotionally.

-I've never been adverse to playing a cleric.

-I would rather play with people who've never touched D&D before in their lives as opposed to veteran gamers.

-I'd take a DM with a good sense of humour over an expert in rules any day.

-I love Dungeons & Dragons, and feel that the game is truly my own.

Overall, these were my gaming experiences growing up. They are informed by the media I consumed at the time, just as older gamers' experiences would be informed by the media of their time. While some of some of said media might be considered 'timeless' and universally appealing to gamers, I imagine a great deal of it is not.

Almost none of my influences are terribly in line with the influences of a great deal of D&D players who grew up in the 70s/80s. I'm aware that this is a generalization of the tastes of D&D fans, but from what I can tell from listening to the folks at WotC and on other gaming blogs, these generalizations still ring true.

Still, my tastes were also the tastes of the people I grew up with, and their influences when coming to play D&D. Most people in my age bracket grew up with video games and manga, not paper & dice and comic books. Our exposure to games as a digital medium helped shape the streamlined nuances of Fourth Edition, as well as its emphasis on tactile rules and power progression over flavour text and open-ended rules.

Some people my age balk at the idea of playing D&D without miniatures or maps or powers. Others really take a shine to older iterations of the game for their flexibility and emphasis on imagination. We can certainly benefit from experiencing past versions of the game, but ultimately the games most recent to us will usually be the ones we prefer.

"Dungeons ampersand Dragons" is for young people to inherit and shape to their tastes.

As I write this, I have a younger brother who is 11 years old. For him, Dungeons & Dragons is an online RPG he plays on his parent's laptop, and that is all it means to him. His favourite cartoon is Ben 10 and he loves to play Halo: Reach. He will probably never read The Lord of the Rings.

By the time he's interested in analog RPGs, Hasbro may have discarded D&D as a property due to lack of profitability, or it might be played exclusively through an online network on Facebook, where players can give each other 'Twitter buffs' via their iPads. Perhaps polyhedral dice will have been abandoned in favour of customizable decks of cards, or holographic display minis that sync to a plastic play mat. The idea of "Vancian" magic will be as unknown to him as it was once to me.

Either way, "Dungeons ampersand Dragons" will belong to him if he chooses to inherit it. It may be in a form that I, as a gamer, find confusing and repugnant. It doesn't matter, because by then the game will no longer be about me or for me. It will be for him.

If you have any thoughts on this, and are a gamer young or old, please post in comments.

Friday, March 2, 2012

D&D Encounters ONLINE

Are you living outside of North America with no gaming group? Does your local hobby shop not support D&D Encounters? Are you never able to make it out on Wednesday nights at 6pm?

I've got a solution for you: (Click on the image for Full View)
All the info is in that poster image. If you can't access it, here's the gist of it:

I'm going to be hosting this season of D&D Encounters online through Google+ hangout. The games will be a part of the Constantcon schedule which can be viewed here (*NOTE: times are currently not available).

I'll be hosting each encounter multiple times in multiple time zones. If you live in various parts of Asia and Europe, there will most likely be a time slot that will work for you. I'm going to try and be as flexible as possible, and will take many people's schedules into account.

When is it?

Once I have enough players on board for multiple sessions, I'll work out a series of set game times. These game times will be available here on my blog, as well as on the Constantcon blog calender. I'm planning on starting up the first session some time in the middle of March.

What do I need to play?

First, you'll need a Google+ account. They're free and pretty easy to set up.

Second, you'll need a webcam and microphone. Google+ hangouts is an audio/video service. In a pinch, just a microphone will work, but it's recommended that you have both video and audio at your disposal.

Third, you'll need a D&D character who is level one. While I'm not usually picky about race, class, etc, it's recommended that you stick to what WotC suggests you use for D&D Encounters here. If you don't have the ability to make a character you can use one of the many pregens that others and myself have produced here, here, and here.

No prior experience with D&D is required. D&D Encounters is a great way to play the game for the first time.

How can I sign up?

If you're interested in playing, you'll need all of the things listed above.

Send an email to The subject line must read "Want to play D&D Encounters Online". If you do not send an email to, you won't be eligible to play. You must also include the following in the body of your email:

-Google+ account contact (name, email, etc)
-Brief description of character you want to play (class, race, one-two sentences of backstory, etc. Nothing major)
-Your availability (ex: Wednesday 6pm-1am PST, Saturday 8pm-12am EST)

You must include your time zone in your availability, or I won't be able to schedule everyone properly.

Once there's enough interest generated in the game, I'll release a schedule for gaming sessions that works for the majority of the players.

Updates can be found right here on this blog.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Don't be a dick

So Ameron over at posted a list of advice for people playing in the new season of D&D Encounters: The Elder Elemental Eye. While his advice is definitely sound and certainly true, I think a few more tidbits might be merited (especially after having played in the first session this past Wednesday).

For Dungeon Masters

1. Remember you're on a time limit

One of the appealing things about the D&D Encounters program is that it's a single encounter worth roughly two hours of playtime, which can sometimes extend to two and a half if things are running long. It's a short and sweet bit of dungeon delving and adventuring during the work week.

Keep that time frame in mind, because for many players, it isn't something that can be stretched or broken.

Often at our local game store, we have a large amount of young adults and kids playing (most of them under 14 years old). These kids often have their parents waiting in the sidelines, ready to pick them up when they're done (not unlike waiting for karate practice or music lessons to wrap up). It's a school night for them, and though they might be having fun, they do need to get home on time.

For the adults, many have work or school in the morning, and perhaps husbands or wives waiting at home (perhaps even children). Their free time is at a premium, so please, PLEASE don't waste it. Keep an eye on the clock and know when you should be wrapping up. You owe it to your players as a respect for their time.

2. Simplify combat (as the night progresses)

This is something a lot of new DMs learn after running a few sessions. Combat in Type IV D&D can often become tedious and a slog as it drags on into several rounds. Often this is caused by players rolling very poorly, which is something that can happen. Whole rounds can fly by without players hitting a single target.

If it looks like things are taking a bit too long, or that the players seem to really be having trouble, here are some quick and easy solutions:

-Decrease monster's hit points (If the book says they have 34 HP, maybe reduce it by 10 or 12).
-Have set damage amounts (a monster deals 1d8+4 damage? Make it an even 6 damage every time. Less dice rolling means saved time).
-Have enemies surrender when bloodied (the heroes can question/interrogate/kill them at the beginning of the next session).

All of these things will save you and your players time, while not making the combat feel 'easier'.

3. Let your players prompt the story

This one's a bit tougher for new DMs, but when hosting a public game it will become an essential skill. All it takes is a little listening and prompting.

Not everyone at the table will be interested in roleplaying or being a part of a story. Most will just want combat and to earn XP and magic items. On the other hand, there are always a couple of players who don't care for combat: Their way of having fun will revolve around playing a character and chatting up NPCs. Striking a balance between these different kind of players can be tough.

The most important thing you can do as a DM will be this: Keep asking them "What do you want to do?"

If the majority of them seem interested in an NPC, location, or event, that's your cue to get to the provided, read-aloud flavour text, or to continue with the story at hand. If most of the players seem more stoked about fighting things, then it's probably best to skip things ahead to combat (the story can be imparted to them during combat through trash-talking with enemies and monsters).

As a DM, you might care about the grave tale of the Elder Elemental Eye, but your players might not. It's always good to keep this in mind.

4. Talk directly to each player (and use their character's names)

The worst players are often bored players. They'll get distracted, take out cell phones, spin their dice around (dropping them on the floor), chat amongst themselves, and generally not pay attention.

If you notice this happening, snap them out of it by addressing them directly. Again, you can ask them "What do you want to do?". This is even more effective if you address them by their character's name (which you should write down and keep handy).

Players who like to roleplay will often steal away the attention of a DM. They're the ones who want to be invested in the story, so they're often the easiest to play with and cater to. While it's tempting to tell the game's story bits exclusively to them, PLEASE DON'T. If you notice other players are losing focus or seem disinterested, start talking to them, asking them what their character would like to do. If they aren't sure or don't seem to care, give them a couple of options ("You could try to make a skill check to notice something OR tell the party how your character feels about this"). If you talk to them directly and prompt them to make a decision or roll some dice, you'll bring them back into the game and make them feel a little more involved.

While you might not have time to continually try this with every player, it's best to try it with every player at least once per encounter or session. Your players will appreciate it.

Also, write down every player's name and character name (if you're at a table, write them all down in clockwise seating order to keep track of everyone). Players will always respond better to you if you know their character's names.

5. Stay Organized

It cannot be stressed enough that organization is the key to good dungeon mastering. Every moment you spend looking up rules, NPC names, or statistics is a moment your players aren't paying attention.

The best way to avoid unorganized play is to prepare beforehand. Read over the session pages for your week's encounter at least a couple of times before you come to the table to play. If you use a DM screen, apply sticky notes or something with important info on them to the back of the screen (things like NPC names, monster abilities/resistances, and XP or treasure rewards for when finished).

Keep the initiative order clear as well, as it's something that can become confusing very quickly (especially when you're with a table of strangers). The easiest solution to this is to have 'round-table initiative: The person with the highest initiative roll goes first, and the initiative order proceeds clockwise around the table.

Take a look at this previous post about how to make dungeon mastering easier.

For Players

1. Show a little respect to the DM

This is especially important for inexperienced players.

Being a dungeon master can be a little stressful at times. The person running the game is there to make sure everyone has a good time. Sometimes that's not an easy job. While it's true that you (as a player) have to keep track of a lot of things with your character, your dungeon master most likely has to keep track of ten times the amount of stuff that you do!

The best way to make it easier for her/him to run the game for you to enjoy is to show them a little respect by paying attention to the game, listening to what she/he has to say, and asking her/him questions if you are unclear about anything.

They'll feel more willing to help you or accommodate you and your character if you respect their time and patience.

2. Show a little respect to other players

This is especially important for experienced/expert players.

Everyone plays D&D differently. Everyone has a different idea of what the game should be about and how it should be played. With that in mind, it's easy to become impatient or frustrated when playing with inexperienced players or careless players.

While playing, it's best to keep these two things in mind while interacting with other players/characters:

-"What can I do to make the game more fun for the other players?"
-"What can I do to make the game easier for the entire party?"

These two points encompass being polite, playing generously, healing others, aiding people in combat, letting others speak, working as a team, and much more. Both of them are focused on enhancing and improving play for other players and the party before focusing on one's self.

If you respect the other players, they'll usually feel inclined to do the same to you.

3. Please don't play an evil character

There's a time and place to play black-hearted mercenaries, callous rogues, and outright assholes. D&D Encounters is not the time or place to play them.

The game operates under the assumption that the majority of the characters in play are decent people who are willing to fight for virtuous causes out of the goodness of their own heart, or at the very least willing to do so for money. While you might think it would be 'awesome' to try out your Undead Assassin or Revenant Vampire, the rest of the party and your dungeon master will not.

Characters who are evil or malign by their very nature (or because of their race/class) will clash with a party of all around do-gooders. You might think it's cool to play a badass evil guy who does evil things, but unless the rest of the party is playing similar characters, you'll only be making things more difficult (and annoying) for everyone. Teamwork is an important part of the game, and now is not the time to be anti-social (even if you're trying to justify it under the guise of 'roleplaying').

If you absolutely have to play a darker, more evil-bent character, the very least you can do for the rest of the party is play along with the story and help your fellow players. If it helps, remember that true villains are almost always master manipulators, willing to work with heroes to advance their own stations in life before they reveal their evil plans.

4. Remember that you can't always get what you want

During a game, you might have a fantastic idea you want to implement, or a scene you really want to roleplay, or a magic item you really want to buy/acquire. Chances are you won't get to do any of those things.

Play time is limited, and the dungeon master is limited by the resources and time available to her/him. If she or he says no to one of your ideas or pleas, do your party a favour and don't push for it.

You will get your moment in the sun eventually. It might not be this session, but it may be the next session. No one likes someone who tries to hog the 'roleplaying spotlight', or squabbles over who gets the magic item or treasure at the end of the encounter. Don't be that person. If you don't get what you want, remember that there are always more encounters in the future, and you will get your chance to shine.

5. Do your own math

D&D involves math. It's a very reasonable amount of math, usually made up of simple addition and subtraction. As a player, you're expected to do your own math quickly. Other players and the dungeon master are waiting on you. If you're having trouble understanding specific rules or powers, don't be afraid to ask another player to explain things to you (most will be eager to help).

If you're a younger player (ages 11-14), D&D provides great practice with simple math that will be invaluable later on in life. It's in your best interest to become better and faster with your addition/subtraction.

If you're an older player (age 14+) and are still struggling with the math involved with D&D, then you should seriously reapply yourself to learning basic workplace math. It's not that hard. Please don't make me weep for the state of today's school systems.

Do your own freakin' math.

For everyone

Bottom line, don't be a dick.

Wil Wheaton is always saying it, and it is always, ALWAYS true.

The best way to make sure you have a good time at D&D Encounters, and that everyone else has a good time too, is to not be a dick.