Saturday, October 26, 2013

What I Want Out of D&D Next

I've been following the D&D Next playtest lately, and while I've been prepping for a Play-by-post D&D Next game, I've been thinking quite a bit on what I want out of D&D Next.

First off, I want a boxed set to make it easy for new players to get started. Whenever I've introduced new people to the game, I've always had problems explaining that, if they wanted to be able to run the game like I did, they'd have to drop nearly a hundred bucks on the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. A boxed set would fix that nicely. Essentially, I want a beginner's set that supports play from level 1-5 and includes everything needed to play. Dice, monster/player tokens, at least one adventure included (though I'd prefer two or three, to take players up to level 5), and DM/player guides. Ideally, this boxed set would only cost around $30, to make it cheap enough for new players to pick it up without worrying too much about cost.
Some of this...

For the boxed set, I also want it to be completely compatible with the full core game. Players should be able to build identical characters with the boxed set and full game (though I would expect the core game to have more options). This was my big problem with the 4th Edition Red Box: if you wanted to go from the Red Box to full 4E, you had to rebuild the characters from the ground up. That, to my mind, is a mistake.

For the full game, I like the standard format of the three core books. Ideally, I'd like to see some content that was either cut from or not included in the playtest packets, most notably the Warlock and Sorcerer classes. Given D&D Next's promise of modularity, I'd really like to see some sidebars with house rules or optional rules included, similar to how the playtest packet includes point-buy for ability scores as an optional rule.

I really want to see the tier system from 4E come back. I wouldn't mind having the core books only go to 20th level, but I really would like to see an expansion that takes the game all the way up to 30th, with all the epic-level adventures that 4E had.

Art-wise, I want to see a wide variety. I love the 3.5 aesthetic, but I also like a lot of the classic art from previous editions. Honestly, I'd like to see different art styles for different supplements: more classic, old-school illustrations for books that support that style of play, and more of the modern style art from the 3.5/4E aesthetics for books like the tactical rules expansion. Similarly, I'd like to see unique art styles for whichever different settings Wizards ends up publishing.

That brings me to my next point. I want to see more settings. Wizards seems to really be pushing the Forgotten Realms as the flagship D&D setting. While I occasionally enjoy a Forgotten Realms novel, it is far from my favorite setting, and I've honestly never been super interested in playing a game set there. So for D&D Next, I want official support for a wide variety of settings: Eberron, Dark Sun, the Realms, the Nentir Vale/Points of Light setting, Dragonlance, and possibly a new setting or two.

...and some of this.
Along with settings, I want high-quality adventures for D&D Next. I want adventures that are like The Sunless Citadel, The Forge of Fury, Keep on the Borderlands, and The Temple of Elemental Evil. D&D Next has to compete with Pathfinder's Adventure Paths, and those are, for the most part, very high quality.

So, here's what I want, in list form:
1. A boxed set compatible with the full game.
2. Core rules that go to at least level 20, with expansions going to 30.
3. A lot of setting support.
4. Good adventures.

I don't think that's too much to ask, right?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

All Things Arcane - Making Magic Your Own

D&D's basic descriptions of arcane magic, at least in the later editions, have all been pretty generic. Fireball creates a ball of fire, Magic Missile shoots arcane bolts, Ray of Frost shoots a beam of cold, and so on. Magic-Users all use generic spellbooks, and scrolls or wands are fairly common. So how do you distinguish one Magic-User from another, especially when they have a tendency to die horribly? Easy, you personalize their magic.
That guy is actually casting Mage Armor.

Fireball, for example, doesn't have to be just a big orb of orange flame. Change up the description a bit. Maybe one Magic-User's particular Fireball just superheats the air with no real visible effects, scorching the skin and lungs of those in its area and spontaneously igniting flammable stuff. Or maybe it's a tiny green ball of fire at the center of the area that fires jets of flame unerringly at everyone in the area. If it's a Magic-User with a particular theme, go with it - how about a arachnid-themed wizard whose Fireball is a giant spider shooting flaming webs at anyone caught in the area?

How about Magic Missile, you ask? Even easier. It's not just a Magic Missile, it's Falor's Magic Missile, and it fires tiny blades to slice the victim. Or it's Allara's Arcane Shot, and it's a miniature dragon that claws at its target? Same spell effect, same mechanics, but a unique look/description. This goes for other spells as well - one Magic-Users's Stoneskin spell might give the mage the appearance of a rhinoceros, while another's might cause actual slabs of stone to grow out of the mage's skin. Again, the spell effects remain the same, but the description is all unique.
Now that's a unique Fireball spell.

Moving on, here's some ideas for alternate spellbooks. A specific sect of mages might inscribe their spells on faceted crystals instead of leather-bound tomes. Diabolic sorcerers may be known to carve their spells into their skin, ensuring that their "books" can't be easily stolen. Similarly, some wizards might use tattoos to record their spells (or even scrolls, if they so choose).

Similarly, magic items should be unique and interesting. A standard wooden wand is classic, but not particularly interesting. How about a "wand" that is instead a round or faceted gem that glows more brightly the more charges it has? Or a "potion" that's actually a rope infused with magic that needs to be cut rather than drunk to release the spell?

Not every mage or magic item should be outlandish and strange, however. The classics are classics for a reason, but every now and then it's good to throw in something unique, even if just to remind the players (or the DM for that matter) that magic should be magical. It's arcane, it's otherworldly power, and above all, it should be interesting.


Images from Wizards and Paizo.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fill In This Map!

I drew up a map a couple days ago for an adventure I'm working on, but I'd also like to put the blank map out there for anyone to come along and fill in a room. It doesn't have to have any particular level or game, but it should probably fit with the general theme of a low-level dungeon crawl for D&D-style games. If this goes well, I'll definitely be doing this again with caves, castles, or maybe some large hex maps.

It's a hand-drawn map, but I went into Photoshop to clear it up a bit. It's a dungeon built into a hill (at least in my adventure), but aside from that, I'll leave the contents up to anyone who wants to come along and contribute. There are twenty-eight rooms (plus the outdoor area leading to the dungeon), so plenty of space for area to be filled in.

Hand-drawn on graph paper, just like I made maps back in high school.
Once the whole thing (or most of it, at least) is filled in, I'll repost it here with the key and descriptions.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

D&D Next - Rolling Up a Character

So in addition to my Swords & Wizardry game (which, sadly, may not happen because of scheduling conflicts) and my Dark Dungeons play-by-post game, I'm also prepping to run a D&D Next play-by-post game on the forums, running the Mines of Madness adventure that's included.

I'm using the last playtest (October 2013 version) packet, that you can pick up here. I've flipped through most of the files in the playtest, but I'm holding off on a full review until I can get some actual playtime in. However, I created a character so I'd know what my players were getting into and so that I'd have a better idea of what these characters can do.
I really hope my players end up fighting this dwarf-golem thing.
Picture from the podcast page on

First up, here's some of what I like about character creation:

  • Feats are optional. I love that there's no massive feat list to comb through at first level and that it's very easy for a DM to just say "nope, no feats in this particular game."
  • Ability scores can either be rolled, bought with points, or chosen with a standard array. I like 4E's tight balance, but it required a point-buy or standard array for ability scores. The default of rolling for scores makes D&D Next feel a little more old-school (though we'll see if actual play changes that).
  • It's fast and simple. Even being mostly unfamiliar with D&D Next, I still was able to create a character in about fifteen or twenty minutes.

Now, some stuff that was not quite so good:

  • The more traditional races (dwarves, elves, and halflings) have more diversity than the "unusual races." Most of the unusual races (drow, half-elves, half-orcs, kender, tieflings, and warforged) don't have any subrace or similar choices. Dragonborn and gnomes have some choices (draconic ancestry and gnomish subraces), but the other races, for whatever reason, do not.
  • I couldn't find any concrete rules on tool proficiency overlaps. For example, the paladin I created got proficiency in Mounts (Land) from both his background (Soldier) and the paladin class, but I couldn't find any rules on how that would work in-game. I assume it would be similar to skill proficiencies where you can choose an extra tool to have proficiency in, but if the rules are in the playtest packet, I can't find them.
I'll have a more comprehensive post (or more probably, a series of posts) once I the game gets going for a while. It's a play-by-post game, so it won't be a particularly fast game, but once I get through a few encounters, I'll have some more information to post. Setting-wise, I'm going with the Nentir Vale for simplicity's sake (as I've already got that info for the S&W game I'm trying to get rolling), but I'm throwing the party in at the dungeon, rather than have a long, drawn-out "everyone meets up at a tavern" style scene (since that takes a long time in forum games).

So, how does my experience so far with D&D Next stack up with yours?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

S&W Nentir Vale Campaign - More Campaign Prep

In my last post, I talked about a Swords & Wizardry White Box game I've been prepping to run for some players new to D&D (and RPGs in general). Unfortunately, due to some schedule conflicts (mainly mine), I didn't get to start the game this week as I'd planned. On the upside, that gave me a little more time to prepare, which I've spent scouring Dragon articles and the Internet for more info about the Nentir Vale and Nerath as a whole. Fortunately for me, I found an awesome map that Wizards of the Coast put in an article on their website for the Conquest of Nerath boardgame.

Holy shit, right? This map is bitchin'. Click for large version.
I've also written up a list of rumors that will lead to some pre-made adventures (both mine and published) that I can run for low-level groups. 

  1. Townsfolk have been disappearing from the town of Nenlast, to the northeast past Hammerfast. Gnolls have been seen roaming in the forest near Nenlast. (Obsidian Hall – homebrew module)
  2. Several children from Falcon's Hollow have gone missing. Falcon's Hollow is to the west of Fallcrest. (Crown of the Kobold King – Pathfinder adventure)
  3. Orcs have been raiding Fallcrest over the last few weeks. Supposedly, the orcs have been coming from a cave system nearby known as the Shadow Caves. (Shadow Caves – homebrew module)
  4. A scholar named Parl Cranewing is offering a sizable reward to anyone willing to investigate and map an old ruined keep near Winterhaven. (Keep on the Shadowfell – 4E adventure)
  5. Kobolds stole a trade cart on the King's Road on its way to Fallcrest. Teldorthan Goldcap, an armorer in Fallcrest, is offering a sizable reward for a cured dragon hide that was in the stolen cart. He intends to create a suit of armor from the dragon hide. (Kobold Hall – 4E adventure in the DMG)

Each player is going to get a rumor, and I'll keep one in reserve in case none of the rumors sound good to the group. I know that Keep on the Shadowfell has a really bad reputation; I haven't played it, but I'd really like to try and liven it up a little. Switching it from 4E to Swords & Wizardry will hopefully alleviate some of the “combat all the time” nature that 4E can get sometimes. All of these adventures will, of course, be converted over to S&W. I don't expect there'll be a whole lot of issue converting stuff, and if I don't get it all finished before the game, I don't foresee any problems converting on the fly if I absolutely have to.

After every adventure, I'll give the players some new rumors, and they can choose to either follow up on those or one that I've already given them. Some of the rumors won't lead anywhere though; if they don't get there in time, it's going to be assumed that someone else goes and takes care of the problem.

I'm also working on some pregen characters so that we can get straight to playing. I expect that, as characters die (and I'm sure they will), they'll start to roll up their own, but for the first game, I'd rather get right into gaming. In my experience, sometimes character creation puts off new players, so I rely on pregens a lot when I introduce people to gaming.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Swords & Wizardry With Newbs - Campaign Prep

I'm starting up an online game this weekend, probably via Skype or IRC, for one semi-experienced D&D player and three complete D&D newbies. As I've mentioned before, I love introducing new people to D&D. I prefer to do it face-to-face rather than online, but at this point, I'm going with what I've got, and playing online can be a great way to game.

So, here's some of the game specifics:

Swords & Wizardry White Box - I'm using S&W White Box because it's fast, simple, and it's fairly straightforward as far as objectives go: get gold to earn XP and level up. There will be some plot stuff and interesting setting info, but above all, this is going to be a dungeon crawling game in true old-school fashion.

Four players - One player has played D&D before (but only 3.5, I think) and the other three are completely new to the game. That's part of why I chose S&W White Box; it's very simple with plenty of room for me to add new, more complex stuff later as the game goes on and the players become more familiar with the game.

Setting - I'm going to be using 4E's default setting, the Nentir Vale. I really like the "points of light in the darkness" theme, and the multiple fallen empires (Arkhosia, Bael Turath, and Nerath, at least) provide a ton of adventure fodder and interesting locations to explore. It also means that I can more easily add in dragonborn and tieflings later on, and they've already got a connection to the setting. I'll probably start them off in Fallcrest and eventually move on to either Hammerfast or Winterhaven.

I hope to make this a proper hexmap to email to my players as they explore.

Dungeon Crawls - Much as I like the roleplaying aspect, lately I've just wanted to play dungeon crawls with players/characters motivated by loot. Fortunately, that's perfect for new gamers. I can point out to them that it's a game first and foremost, and ease them into the roleplaying and plot-heavier style that I typically run. To that end, I'm going to be running a lot of simple dungeons (I've got one called Obsidian Hall that I'll post as soon as I can get a decent PDF made up) and probably a few TSR modules like B2: Keep on the Borderlands.

As soon as the game starts (our first session is on Sunday), I'll get up an actual play report written up. Until then, I'll be working on adapting some of 3.5's and 4E's more interesting (though not necessarily mechanically outstanding) classes to S&W, and I hope to get one of those posted here either Friday or Saturday.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Module Review: The Tomb of Rakoss the Undying

The first product from Mischief, Inc., The Tomb of Rakoss the Undying is an adventure for characters between 4th and 6th level that is written to be compatible with most old school systems. The text doesn't refer to any specific system, but it does include monster stats that, while not exact to any specific system, are written to be reasonably compatible (though they may require some small tweaks) for most old school games. It is a location-based, dungeon crawl-style adventure.

This would fit right into any old-school module collection.

The adventure is sixteen pages (eighteen if you include the front and back covers). There is a Table of Contents that, despite being fairly brief, is perfectly adequate. The Tomb of Rakoss the Undying is, at the time of this writing, listed as Pay What You Want on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. The PDF is bookmarked for all the relevant sections, but it is watermarked.

After the Table of Contents, the book has an Introduction that includes an explanation of the monster stat blocks, then moves into the Adventure Background, Getting the Players Involved, Default Narrative, and Alternate Plot Hooks. The background includes setting information, though the very next section, Getting the Players Involved, has some advice on how to tailor the adventure to a GM's individual campaign. The Default Narrative section is basically a plot hook and introduction for the players that the adventure assumes is used, though the next section, appropriately named Alternate Plot Hooks, provides some alternate means for the GM to get the players interested in the adventure.


Getting into the meat of the adventure, the next section, entitled Getting There, deals with the party moving on from whichever city or town they start in to the actual adventure site. There's some basic information on an attack on the party from a roving band of ogres, but the details of the encounter (aside from the number of ogres) are left up to the GM. After that follows all the different rooms and encounters that the party may encounter within.

Most of the encounters in the adventure are fairly short, but interesting. The dungeon map is a standard 10-foot grid, and the module also includes a good hex map of the surrounding area (if the GM chooses to use the default module setting). The hex map features mostly terrain features, and is large enough for a GM to add plenty of additional dungeons or other challenges to the area.

The dungeon features multiple secret doors, though how difficult these doors are to discover is mentioned in vague terms like “difficult to discover” rather than explicit numerical values. This isn't a bad thing – it allows the GM to adjudicate for a variety of systems with multiple different methods of finding secret doors.

The necromancer the dungeon is named for, Rakoss, is not present in the module. Rather, the PCs have the opportunity to find a phylactery (which may or may not be real, according to GM preference) that could easily lead to more adventures related to the ancient necromancer.

Overall Impressions
Looking over the entire adventure, it's immediately clear that The Tomb of Rakoss the Undying has taken a lot of inspiration from old TSR modules and other old school adventures. The art is good; most of it looks like art that might have been in an AD&D module. Similarly, the boxed text for GMs to read and the simple page styling hearkens back to the aesthetics of classic modules like B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Some of the adventure's features are left vague or left to the GM. For a module designed to be broadly compatible with multiple game systems, this is just fine. Specifics like environmental effects on unprotected adventurers are explicitly mentioned to be up to the GM; rather than describing specific effects, this allows GMs to insert weather or exposure rules from whichever system they choose to run this module.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this module to any fan of old-school play or dungeon crawls. The cartography and art is solid, and the writing is clear and concise. The setting information is basic and provides just enough information to give context to the dungeon, while still being open enough for a GM to use the module in just about any fantasy setting. I would give this module a solid 4 out of 5 stars, and I'll be using it in the near future for sure.

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day Thirty - My Favorite Thing About Playing D&D

My favorite part of playing D&D has to be DMing. I've DMed since I was first introduced to the game. I've introduced probably ten or twelve people to D&D, though some of them haven't continued gaming. I love running games. I love creating new adventures, running memorable villains, and showing people why D&D is such a fun game.

To break it down further, my favorite part of DMing has to be introducing new people to D&D. There's nothing like seeing a new player roll a critical hit, come up with an interesting solution to a puzzle or obstacle, or become invested in their character. Some of my best times behind the screen have been with new players, particularly when their characters are in a tough spot and they're starting to feel tense when they're rolling the dice to get out of it. There's nothing like introducing someone to this awesome, amazing game and watching them have a blast with it. I love gaming, and getting new people involved in the hobby has, in my experience, always been a rewarding, worthwhile experience.

It's amazing how much fun you can have with a sheet of paper and some dice.

Note: As with the last two blog posts, I changed the topic of this post as well. Originally, it was “The Best DM You've Ever Had,” but I'm a DM far more often than I'm a player. Most of my games, aside from some online games, have been with me sitting behind the screen. Because of that, I switched things up a bit to talk about why I like DMing.

And that's the end of the D&D 30 Day Challenge! Thirty days, thirty blog posts, all about D&D. This challenge was a lot of fun, and I'll probably look into finding another gaming-themed challenge in a couple months to try it again.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine - The Best Game I've Run

The best game I've ever run was back in 2007. I was running a 3.5 game for a few friends once a week or so for two or three months, and everyone except me was brand new to the game. I ran through the Scourge of the Howling Horde module to start off. It was a pretty basic “go kill a goblin bandit group because they're raiding our town” scenario, but the whole twist (SPOILERS) is that the goblin tribe is led by a young black dragon (though I changed it to a blue dragon, because a black dragon felt out of place due to a lack of swamps in the area).

Another great first adventure for new gamers, incidentally.

The whole time I was running the module, every time the goblins talked about their leader (the party took a few goblins prisoner and interrogated them), the goblins only ever said “Noak is the leader,” never mentioning that Noak was a dragon. I never claimed Noak was a goblin or hobgoblin; I just conveniently never revealed that it was a dragon. I even threw in a clue or two that there was a dragon somewhere in the goblin lair (cast-off scales, for example). Eventually, they finally made it to the boss encounter, the dragon's lair, and their goblin friend (who defected to the PCs when he realized the tribe was getting stomped by these guys) dropped to his knees and yelled, “Almighty Noak!”

It was the first, and so far only, time I've had jaws literally drop at my table. There was a solid three seconds of silence where my players were just absorbing it, and then one of them (I think he was playing a paladin) just said, “You glorious bastard. None of us saw that coming!”

Best. Game. Ever.

Note: As with yesterday's post, I changed today's topic. The original topic, "the number you always seem to roll on a d20," didn't really fit as, for the most part, my d20s are all acceptably random. The only time I ever had a d20 roll a particular number more often than any other is the story I wrote about in this post.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight - Favorite Kind of Adventure

With all the different styles of adventures out today, my favorite is still the classic dungeon crawl. It's tough to beat a straight delve into some kind of underground cave, ruined citadel, or abandoned wizard's tower.

Time to go exploring!

Dungeon crawls have a lot going for them. There's the exploration aspect, where the party is finding new places and filling out a previously-blank map, the loot aspect from plundering the dungeon, interaction/combat with NPCs or monsters, and world-building and other adventures from finding interesting items in the dungeon (a treasure map, an ancient scroll describing another adventure location, an evil artifact that can only be destroyed in a specific way, etc.). It's just very interesting to me in a way that most city or plot-heavy based adventures just aren't.

Plot-based adventures can be fun, especially if you've got a good DM that has several plots available to give the players a choice on which to follow up on, but nothing beats a good hack 'n slash dungeon crawl for me. “Go into the dungeon, slay some monsters, and grab some loot” is how D&D started, and 40 years later, it's still a damn fun way to play.

Note: In the original D&D 30 Day Challenge, Post Twenty-Eight was supposed to be about a character I'd never play again, but I don't really have characters I would never consider playing again. There are a few characters I've had that died, but most of those were one-shot PCs and none were really memorable. So, I changed the topic to something I feel is slightly more interesting.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day Twenty-Seven - A Character I'd Like to Play

There are plenty of characters that I'd like to play but have never rolled up, but I'd really like to play more warforged or dragonborn characters, or characters of classes I've never played, like a 4E Battlemind or 3.5 Druid.

So for this post, since it specifies one character I'd like to play, I'll go ahead and choose a human artificer of House Cannith in an Eberron campaign. Much as I love Eberron, I haven't gotten to play in that setting very much, and House Cannith is one of my favorite setting elements. So let's see, a human artificer of House Cannith, and if I had to set some sort of goal for that character, it would be to go on an expedition to Xen'Drik to find information on the ancient warforged of the old giant civilizations.

I know I could write up a longer story for this character, but that's plenty to get started. If I ever do make a Cannith artificer, I'll tailor it to the campaign rather than having a pre-written character already worked up.