Category Archives: News, Reviews & Culture

Dungeons and Dragons, Edition 4.1

With the Essentials line on the horizon, a new era is coming for Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition.  Wizards has made it clear that this will not be edition 4.5.  The new content will be compatible with the old, and the new versions of the fighter, cleric and wizard will be alternate builds rather than brand new classes.

At the same time, the presentation is aimed at new players, and I’ll bet that the mechanics of those new class builds will stay on the simple side.

With the focus on online content via the DnD Insider, Wizards has been able to fix mistakes, clarify wording and even alter 4th edition rules since the beginning.  In a sense, those of us who keep up with the errata haven’t played 4e for nearly two years.  We’ve been playing 4.01, 4.02, etc…  and this is good.  We haven’t had to wait to get the rules updates.

This resembles software patches.  With The World of Warcraft for example, Blizzard has been able to resolve bugs, improve the interface and add content all along the way.  WoW players didn’t have to wait for Burning Crusade to enjoy game improving adjustments.

It’s disingenuous to say that Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition in September will be exactly the same game we played in the summer of 2008.  At the same time, it’s not the drastic reboot gamers experienced with 3.5.  All the little changes are moving toward something notable with the essentials line, especially with the Rules Compendium.  I like to think of it all as D&D 4.1

Now if they’d only revise those first two Monster Manuals to include the later math changes…

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Filed under 4e D&D, Legacy D&D, News, News, Reviews & Culture

Buzzed Gaming

There are no two ways around it:  I’m simply not as smart after I’ve had a drink as I am before.  It’s more difficult for me to track details, to follow processes, remember small things and to be creative.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good beer and some bourbon as much (and maybe more) than the next guy.  However, the facts are irrefutable at this point.

I noticed it most during a game of Robo Rally (a wonderful board game that you should play) last month.  Normally, I’m pretty good at this game.  My mind tends to compartmentalize information easily, and I can usually think pretty fast.  Early in the game, I rushed out to an early, dominant appearing lead.  Then I drank a beer.  My little robot started rolling in random directions, and my lead dwindled to almost nothing.

Then the buzz wore off, my mind cleared and I won handily.

I am acutely aware of this limitation when running a Dungeons and Dragons game.  Since I only DM about once a month, I don’t really have much experience, and there’s simply too much to track.  I need to stay sharp.  Normally, adding  a drink makes almost every good thing a little better, but that isn’t true when I’m running a D&D game.

I usually ride my motorcycle to my weekly game, and I have a strict, self imposed, zero drinking and biking rule, so I don’t know if that applies as a D&D player.  I do know that a cocktail or two goes just fine with most other board and card games.  Flux and Munchkin are casual enough that a buzz doesn’t hurt game play, as is Ticket to Ride.

What do you think?  When does alcohol add to your gaming experience, and when does it take something away?

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Filed under 4e D&D, Culture, Group dynamics, life meets game

Birthday Haul

I had a birthday last week and received a gift certificate for Paizo Publishing (thank you, Zobmie!).  Much of Paizo’s recent efforts have been in support o f their Pathfinder Role-playing Game, but they sell many kinds of gaming goodness.  Since my group is strongly (and happily) entrenched in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, I steered away from the Pathfinder stuff and took it as an opportunity to take experiment with some other kinds of items.

I ordered Issue 3 of Level Up magazine by Goodman games and Issue 13 of Kobold Quarterly by the Open Design folks.  I was a long time subscriber to Dragon Magazine in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and have been curious about the current generation of gaming magazines ever since I returned to the hobby with 4th edition.  I also purchased a Game Mastery Map Pack: Ancient Forest set.  I have some of Wizards of the Coast’s Harrowing Halls and Fane of the Forgotten Gods Dungeon Tiles and was looking for something I could use for outdoor encounters.

I’m pleased with my haul:  I had forgotten how nice it is to have a gaming magazine to leaf through and read at leisure.  I appreciate what Wizards is doing with their online content, but I miss a Dragon Magazine that’s an actual magazine.

Kobold Quarterly has a notably higher print quality than Level Up, with an expectedly higher price point:  $7.99 and 3.99 respectively.  Kobold Quarterly covers a variety of games, mostly of the 3.5 and 4E spectrum, while Level Up is 4E specific.

The Game Mastery Map Pack will definitely suit my needs.  The pack is made of 18 different 8” by 5” cards.  The cardboard isn’t as thick as Dungeon Tiles, but I think that’s okay.  How thick does it need to be?  These cards come ready to use: none of the perforation punching and associated waste that you’ll find with Dungeon Tiles.  The colors in this set are a little dark and muddy; I wonder if something was lost during the design translation process.

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Filed under 4e D&D, Other Systems, Reviews, Third Party Publishers, Tools

For the Cat

“The first pancake is for the cat.”  I first heard this saying from a podcasting friend of mine as he described his initial production effort.  It was a new format for him, with a new team and new equipment.  While he wasn’t especially pleased with the outcome, he also wasn’t that disappointed or surprised.  The first pancake of the batch is never quite right, so you just plan it as a write it off.  Do cats even eat plain pancakes?  Bing and Google both failed to connect me with the original saying.

This sentiment holds true on both sides of the dungeon master’s screen in Dungeons and Dragons.  The most obvious example is in character creation.  Whether you use the DnD Insider’s Character Builder or stick with the books, there’s no way to really know how it’s going to come together until you play through an encounter or two.  Many powers have nuances that are easily overlooked; others work best in conjunction with the abilities of other characters or against certain monsters.  Sometimes things seem more fun on paper than in actual play.  For this reason, in my games it is common for new player characters to experience some retooling after their introduction.  Just last night I realized that my new druid’s magic staff’s item daily only works with arcane magic.

There are many analogous elements on the DMing side of things.  Describing environments, running encounters and negotiating the rules are skills that get better with use, and no one is as good at it initially as they will become with practice.  At the same time, most players are usually just happy to have someone DMing the game, just as cats are happy to get that first pancake.  This is what makes the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle so attractive.  Nothing is ever perfect at first, and almost everything has room for improvement.

With that in mind, it’s wise to focus on expanding a few skill sets at a time.  If you’re brand new to D&D, consider using a pre-published adventure initially.  When you start designing your own encounters, keep it relatively simple at first by limiting the number of different creature and terrain types.

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Filed under 4e D&D, Advice, Advice/Tools, continuous improvement, Culture

Who is on Your Team?

In a role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, a group of players will sometimes coalesce into more than a group:  as I (and others) have described, they will form, storm, norm and start performing as a team.  Once a group has survived those early stages by aligning around a purpose and sorting out who is in charge, they can start playing at a very high level.  This is when characters start synchronizing attacks, players have learned who knows the most about the skills rules, and the group – or rather, the team – has developed ways of resolving tactical disagreements.

D&D presents an interesting dynamic because often times, the players don’t feel like they’re on the same team as the dungeon master.  Conventional player wisdom believes that the DM’s job is to create obstacles and challenges.  He has a screen that hides die rolls and limits information.  The group’s purpose is to overcome those challenges; the DM is their adversary, not their ally.

There is another way to think about these relationships:  the purpose of the gaming group is not to overcome obstacles, the purpose is to create interesting stories and to craft a fun and satisfying play experience for everyone involved.  While the player characters are certainly on different teams than the DM’s monsters, the players are on the same team as the dungeon master.  We’re all in this together.  We’re all trying to navigate the rules, have a good time and tell a good, exciting story together.

It’s much easier to resolve interpersonal conflicts after you begin with the premise that the DM and the players are on the same team.  Should a DM make an encounter too difficult, it’s much easier to forgive him when you begin with the premise that you have the same primary goals.  Naturally, the DM’s job is different from the players’, just as a baseball pitcher’s job is different from the first baseman’s and a striker’s is from a defender’s.  That just means we have variety in the roles to play in our pursuit of challenge and fun.

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Filed under 4e D&D, Advice, Advice/Tools, continuous improvement, Culture, Group dynamics, life meets game

Creative Teamwork

I haven’t been gaming much lately, and I’m a smidge under the weather, so this will be brief.

When playing any role playing game, either as player or game-master, keep an eye out for bits of creativity from your fellow players that you can hook on to. If a group is going to create a world that feels developed and real, it will take all of your brains and all of you will need to participate. Otherwise, you may wind up with five completely separate and parallel stories surrounding your adventure. There are certainly worse things, but if you find ways to interweave your creative minds, you’ll find that it all hangs together in a more satisfactory way.

Along with the idea of hooking on to the stories of your other players, support your other players when they want to add content to a story that you’ve created.

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Filed under Advice, Advice/Tools, Character, continuous improvement, Culture, Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Group dynamics, Inspiration

Podcast Round-up

Here are the gaming related podcasts that I’m following, in alphabetical order.  All are worth a listen.

  1. Atomic Array – well produced, general hobby gaming podcast
  2. Dragon’s Landing – focuses more on the creativity side of role playing games
  3. GeekNights Tuesdays:  Gaming – fun duo who talk about the gaming that interests them at the moment; mostly video games, but with board gaming (especially German Board Games) and card games too.
  4. Dungeons & Dragons Podcast – from Wizards; features interviews, product previews and the occasional live game play sessions in connection with the fellows over at Penny Arcade and friends.
  5. Open Design Podcast – focused more on mechanics and game design and making gaming better.   Includes third edition content.
  6. The Power Source – solid 4e podcast, with great guest hosts
  7. Radio Free Hommlet – consistent 4e podcast, well thought out with a focus on mechanics
  8. The Tome Show – Well produced podcast that provides a good balance of 4e product reviews, interviews and advice with frequent guest hosts.  This is probably my favorite.

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Filed under 4e D&D, Inspiration, Podcasts, Reviews, Tools