Tag Archives: dungeons and dragons

Dungeon Tiles

As a Dungeon Master, I have a love / hate relationship with Dungeon Tiles. I love the simple fun they add to an encounter, and the detailed artwork inspires encounter design. I love how my players interact with the artwork, and I love the nice clean surface they provide. There are no odd curls for miniatures to get stuck on, and they typically make it very clear which squares can be occupied and which are blocked.

I hate preparing dungeon tiles. It starts with a box of randomly disorganized tiles which I have to fidget with until I put together something suitable for the encounter I have in mind. Often this leads to some mix and matching (which I also dislike). I try to minimize mixing dungeony tiles with village or foresty tiles, because that just looks janky, and if you’re using dungeon tiles, it shouldn’t look janky.

When possible, I try to have the tiles laid out prior to the session; I then cover them with a wet erase map to preserve the surprise. That works pretty well, but sometimes I have to move the tiles in when an encounter begins, or else build the encounter anew, in the moment. Either way, there is a disruption of play that I don’t love.

Later in my 4th edition campaign I started using poster maps more often (following Michael Shea’s advice from Sly Flourish.), and I always had my trusty wet erase map at hand. When I had a specific vision for an encounter, I found the wet erase map, sometimes combined with tiles, to be the best tool.

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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

Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar

Like many adolescent geeks, I fell in love with my first computer game back when I had lots of time and very little money.  I mowed lawns for many weeks (probably around 12) to save up for Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar to play on my Commodore 64.   The game came on, I believe, four five inch floppy disks, and a nifty metal ankh and fabric map were included in the box along with two instruction books.  I felt like I’d got my money’s worth.

The object of Ultima IV is to live well and in accordance with eight virtues:  Honesty, Valor, Honor, Compassion, Justice, Spirituality and Humility.  This leads to becoming the “Avatar” of those virtues and positioning your character as an example to the rest of the world.  I was just impressionable enough to invest quite a lot of myself in the game’s core principles.  I took it so far that I stopped reloading at previous save points, when I made a mistake and lost some rating in the virtues.  A simple typo when dealing with a blind vendor would cause me to lose ‘an eighth’ of my avatar hood.  One cannot be the avatar of honesty if one rips people off.  It wasn’t a terrible hardship:  even if you took a step backward, you could always redeem yourself, though this took hours.  I probably added 50 hours of game play by compensating for typos provoked by an interface that I wouldn’t tolerate for ten minutes today.

After I completed the game, naturally I took my tricked out party back and slaughtered town after town.  At that point even the town guards presented little challenge.  After all those weeks spent tightly following a path of virtue, it was quite a relief to just go evil for awhile.

This reminds me of life in a long term Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  I like playing and developing the same character over long periods of time, but sometimes it’s fun to change things up by creating a character who thinks a less and cares little for authority.

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Filed under Character, Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Inspiration, life meets game, Other Systems, Play, Third Party Publishers

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

Magic Item Resource Management

I take a decidedly lazy approach to magic items in my monthly Dungeons and Dragons game.  I award the player characters gold, and let them buy what they like off screen.  The economics are standard; they can sell existing items at 20% value and they get the appropriate parcels of value for their level.

While there is something lost for the players since they are never pleasantly surprised when a sweet item comes their way.  On the other hand, they aren’t disappointed either.  They can simply get the item that best suits their character without the roundabout ritual of giving me a wish list.

A controversy arose during last session about the best way to manage the financial resources:  one player suggested that the group pool its money, in order to get higher level items quicker.  The other player wanted to divide up the gold evenly and let each player manage his character’s finances separately.  None of the other three players expressed preferences.  Since I had abdicated magic item control to the players, I very intentionally stayed out of it.

I wonder, is there an advantage to giving one character a high level item rather than a few characters something of lower level?  I have contrary intuitions:  on one hand, it seems that you should get powerful items as quickly as possible.  On the other, the economy seems designed to work out evenly.

Am I (or my players) missing something?

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Filed under 4e D&D, continuous improvement, Group dynamics, Play

Last Session’s Nuts and Bolts

June 2010 Session

Days have passed since the attack of the Shadar-Kai.  The PC’s can spend the time as they wish.  Presumably they found the camp, gathered the loot, got their reward and have arranged for re-equipping and upgrading.

One midnight, Nightcloak escapes and his group kidnaps a child from the village:  Jeff’s daughter.  The sheriff puts Drale on the case.

Shortly after, Clintok sends a messenger – a crow-mask wearing halfling.  He would like to see the group immediately concerning the missing child.

  • Fortified, wooden wall, stone building
  • Salvador Dali art
  • Everyone wears a mask, Clintok wears the Ibis

Clintok wears an Ibis mask – “what did you do before the Zain-kin came?”  “Before we talk business, let’s have refreshment…”

  • Gives exotic fruit, liquor, lemon water.
  • Warriors draw weapons and attack – See Clintok’s Rangers Encounter
  • Clintok does not engage unless absolutely forced.

“Congratulations, you passed the audition”

For parcel 1&2 and whatever salvage, pursue the bandits and bring their treasure to me to examine.

They’ve gone into the 100 Acre Forest, you’d best leave immediately.

Gives a magic compass that will track The Egg.

Arcana check to use the compass
Any Point in direction
Medium success or better See through eyes
Hard  success Know limited thoughts of Egg’s owner

  • Shadowcloak has The Egg
  • Hates the PCs
  • Hates Westfall
  • The new boss will give him new power

The woods are dark, weird, sprites flitter about 15 miles (three hexes) from town, the sprites coalesce into a swarm and Doc and his pets attack the intruders.  See Outside the Hag’s House Encounter

The thick forest leads further to a house of gold, platinum, copper, jewels, magical knowledge – all of the dreams of player characters.  When the PCs approach the door opens and a beautiful, elderly elven woman in a fine gown appears.

Clintok’s Rangers

XP #
1250 1 Clintok
38 5 Burly Halfling Sellsword
38 5 Halfling Slinger
1630



***********

Outside the Hag’s House


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Filed under 4e D&D, continuous improvement, Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Information management, Play, Tools

More about the Game within the Game

At last, I used folded index cards to help track initiative.  Or, rather, I used the cards to communicate the initiative order to my players and they used a bottle cap to note whose turn.  Players’ names were in pink, monsters in green.  I kept my own electronic tracking in the Excel spreadsheet I wrote about previously.  All in all, it was a great success, and I understand why DMs swear by the method.   Since I only use my DM’s screen as a reference, I set the cards in front of me, as table tents.

The other fun experiment arose when my sprite swarms used their rechargeable, close burst Darkwave to create a zone.  We’ve struggled with the best way to mark zones with mixed results.  Pipe cleaner boxes get tangled with the minis; placing a dice in the middle of the zone works reasonably well, but feels unsatisfying to me.  I don’t like having to count to remember the zone’s size, even if I only have to count to one.  We’ve also placed small stones in the zone’s corners.

The battle had begun in earnest, my monsters were getting busy and I had to hurry and figure out what all the power does in addition to creating the zone.  I glanced around my living room frantically when my eye fell on a small dish of toothpicks, probably left over from a recent dinner party.  Eureka!  I bent four toothpicks in half and placed one at each corner of the zone, like little brackets.  Since toothpicks are small and discrete, they don’t interfere with the minis.  They visually contrasted nicely with the battle map, and bend into the nicest 90 degree corner that I can remember.

Here is a pic from our recent game.  You can see the things I wrote about above, plus the world level hex map, our robust use of pipe cleaners and the map tiles, all fully in action.  You can even see the gold coins that we use to incentivize good play.

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Filed under 4e D&D, continuous improvement, Information management, Play, Session Debrief, Tools