Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons Encounters: My First Game in...Many Years

Dug this guy out of my old minis...
I think I'll use him.
One of the more interesting ideas that Wizards of the Coast has had to promote D&D is the weekly D&D Encounters game.  The idea is simple:  local game stores run a weekly D&D game from a set package that covers one encounter per week.  This results in a game of about 2 hours or less.  The games are designed such that a player can come when they have time, but missing sessions is no big deal.  This sort of schedule is very convenient for those who would like to play, but just don't have the time to be involved with a regular 4 hour game group.  It's also a great way to get into the game if you're a new player who doesn't have a group yet and hasn't met any local gamers.  The Encounters sessions run in seasons which seem to last about 2 months.

Doing a very minimal amount of research (namely going to the D&D Encounters page and putting in my zip code to find the games available in the area), I discovered that not only was there a weekly game at the Arsenal Game Room, which is about 5 minutes from my workplace in downtown Indy, but a new season was about to start.  The new season was an introduction to D&D Essentials running a rewritten version of The Keep on the Borderlands (re-imagined by Chris Sims, @chrisssims who I follow in twitter).  How perfect is this?  First, I wanted to get back into playing with 4E style rules, but I had no idea who the local gamers near me are.  Second, I just won the red box essentials starter set.  Finally, Keep on the Borderlands is the adventure module that came with my original box set, and the very first adventure I ever played.  This was too good to be true, yet there is was.  I signed up to play.

I cleared my schedule by taking three hours of after hours work on Monday of that week.  This let me get out of work two hours early on Wednesday so I could go home, take care of my pets, grab some dinner and head back to the city for a night of D&D:  My first in 12 or so years.

The Arsenal Game Room is a decent sized place just outside of downtown.  It's basically a cafe that caters to gamers.  There's a full kitchen, and small section that sells games, dice, and such, and tables or private rooms to game in.  I'm not sure how they stay afloat in this city, but I hope they do.  It's a great idea.  The game selection in the store is small, but it's clearly not their primary business.

For this night, there were seven players, so we decided that we'd form one large party rather than split up and hope others came.  Turns out that was the correct decision.  Five of the players were very similar to me:  They were looking to play 4E, but had not done so yet.  Some had not played since 1E, just like me.  The other two were the dungeon master's children.  Yes, we had a group with ages ranging from 10 to over 40.  This could have ended very badly, but it turned out working very well.  We all got along and worked well together.  The adults made special efforts to make sure the kids got included, and the kids were polite and knew how to have fun with adults.  I was going to play either the cleric or the wizard from the pre-made characters, but we ended up short of fighters, so I played Quinn the fighter.

Things took a few minutes to really get going, as is normal with a totally new group of players.  You need to figure out who the others at the table are and how they play.  We were clearly not a group of hard core RP types, but some very fun role playing occurred anyway.  Right from the start several of us horribly missed a skill check and determined that the keep, controlled by a powerful good paladin, was infested with evil.  This became a running role playing joke as we took every opportunity to question the motives of the inhabitants of the keep and the surroundings.  Some fairly absurd and incorrect conclusions were drawn, always with the excuse of "..because of, you know, the evvvilllll."  Having that inside joke really help cement the group and made us play together far better.

When we got to the actual encounter for the evening, we had a rough time of it.  I joked on twitter later that our dice rolls were worse than Lindsay Lohan trying to make diplomacy checks.  We couldn't roll well no matter how we switched dice and modified our tactics.  In the end though, we made just enough rolls to come out on top without losing any characters.  Sure, we blew through our action points for the day, and some of our daily powers, but we made it.

I had a great time, and it was a wonderful way to get back into the game.  Essentials is a pared down set of rules, so that made relearning easy.  The hardest part of the whole system was trying to remember all the bonuses and negatives that applied to each dice roll.  I think next game I'll be better at that, now that I know what to look for.  Chris's interpretation of The Keep on the Borderlands has so far been both challenging and fun.  It hasn't really triggered any memories of the original yet, but we're only one encounter in.  If it never looks familiar, I won't care...I'm having fun.

Wednesday will now be a regular D&D night for me.  My roommate is fine with my playing one night a week, which I was concerned about.  It's all worked out well, and I look forward to continuing with this season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters, and playing in future seasons as well.  I'm also keeping on the lookout for local gamers to eventually form a full 4E group with.  By the time Gen Con rolls around next year, I think I will be very comfortable with the 4E and Essentials rules and I'll be ready for the con.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First D&D Game in12 Years

I'm all lined up to play D&D Encounters at my FLGS tomorrow night, and I'm damn excited. It's been about 12 years since my last game, and that was 1E. I'm even more excited because the timing is so good. Tomorrow marks the opening game of season 3 of encounters, which will be Chris Sims' reimagining of The Keep on the Borderlands. KotB was the adventure module included in my very first basic box set, so it feels a bit like coming full circle.
I took my first look at the pregens a few minutes ago, and I'm thinking I'll try for either the human warpriest, or the eldarin wizard.
I'll update this soon with my experiences from the game. As long as I get to play, it'll be a big step in prepping for Gen Con next year.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons "Red Box" Starter Unboxing and Review

A couple of weeks ago I was checking my twitter account, and noticed a direct message I had missed.  In short, @Dreadgazeebo (author of the excellent Dread Gazebo blog at had a contest where he would give away a Red Box set to one of his twitter followers chosen at random, and I was the lucky follower.  How cool is that?  I actually won a twitter contest, and I won something cool!  I got my address information to him, and shortly my prize arrived.  I have to say here that he's a really great guy with a very informative and helpful blog going.  I really shouldn't say have to...I just want to because it's true.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I started on the blue/gray boxed set.  The original red box was 2 sets past that, but I remember when it came out.  Since I haven't played D&D in more than 10 years, I thought it would be really neat to be able to unbox a new basic set and compare after so many years and editions.  My initial reaction is best summed up by watching I think:

Like I said in the video, these were my initial impressions.  Some of them were wrong, but I think I was generally on track.

So what's the set like when you dig a little deeper?

The Players Book is the starting point.  The more I think about this book, the more I like it for a truly new player.  First, it's done in the "choose your own adventure" style, where you bounce around numbered paragraphs depending on the actions you decide to take.  The book guides you through the very basics of the game by actually getting you into a very simple encounter and teaching you character creation and basic game mechanics while you're playing.  One of the really nice things about this is that a new player will get a feel for the game right off the bat without having to have other people to play with.  Further, there's not a lot to read and learn, so it's not intimidating.  It stresses play over rules and concepts over details.  I know I would have loved this when I started playing.  The mini-game is simple and not very exciting, but it does develop a good feel for how play works.  The one problem I did see by the time I finished the book was that it does take the how-to-draw-The-Tick method.  In issue #1 of The Tick (the comic), there's a one page guide to drawing The Tick.  The instructions are: 1) Draw an oval, 2) Draw a line through the center of the oval, 3) Now draw The Tick holding the oval with the line through it.  Similarly here, the book introduces one very basic concept at a time until the last part, then it throws the entire combat system at you.  Sure, it's not that hard to learn, but it's kind of a shocking break for a new player who's been absorbing one rule at a time up until that point.

This does bring me to some of the other contents of the box.  First, a full set of good quality polyhedral dice is provided.  I guess this is no big deal now, but I wish I had these when I started.  My basic set had chits:  Cut out squares with numbers that you drew from a cup to simulate a die roll.  Chits two ways about it.  I really appreciate that Wizards of the Coast included dice here.  They also included tokens for a variety of characters and monsters and a nice fold out map to play on.  Fourth edition D&D is a very figure oriented game compared to some of the previous editions, and it's nice to have a something to start with.  The tokens are printed on both sides, and the players have a red side to indicate if they are bloodied.  This will help a new player a lot with visualizing the action, and I think will end up selling minis pretty quickly.  The map has several sections for the included adventure, but they can be mixed and matched to generate other dungeons and outdoor areas.  There are also power cards included.  These are super handy for new players, as it gives them the full details of what their characters can do in a simple, easy to organize way.  No more flipping around a book to figure out what you can do and what the mechanics are.  Very smart.  The cards are a little hard to get out of their pages as they are pre-cuts that need to be punched out and the cardstock is not very thick.

The Dungeon Master's Book is where all the meat is of course.  Still, it shortens the game down to a small number of pages.  This makes it clear that the overall thrust of the box is get-out-there-and-play.  I think that's great, and I think the box succeeds for a very modest price.  The Dungeon Master's Book fleshes out the remainder of the needed rules in 19 pages, and then continues the adventure that the Player's Book started.  The idea is that now anyone who bought this box will have found the other people needed to play, and can graduate to having a dungeon master.  The adventure occupies a good portion of the DM's book, and seems aimed at teaching the basics of DMing while staying simple enough that both players and DMs spend more time playing than wrestling with rules.  It's not just hack and slash either....there are puzzles to solve and situations that require a non-combat approach to survive.  Playing through this, you'll get a little taste of a lot of the aspects commonly found in an adventure.  The last portion of the book gives the budding DM a cast of monsters they can use to create their own adventures as well as a small area that is suitable to set a campaign in.  It also provides advice and guidelines on designing stories, adventures, and encounters so the players and DM can move forward on their own.

Finally, there is the download code for an additional adventure in the same setting to keep things going.  It's interesting that it's a solo adventure in the style of the Player's Book.  This means a player will have something to do if they can't find a group right way.  Doing it as a download means Wizards of the Coast can offer this without having to increase the production cost of the box.

When I think the package over as a whole, I have to say that I think it's really well put together for the purpose it's suppose to serve.  It's not for players who know the game well, it's for brand new roleplayers.  It gives them all the tools to play without overburdening them with the full weight of all the rules that really make up Dungeons & Dragons 4E.  It's a starter, not a tome of all knowledge, and it whets the appetite for more.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Off Topic: Daemon by Daniel Suarez, A Really Good Read

I've seen a lot of friends out there looking for recommended books to read, and today this one just happened to pop into my head:  Daemon by Daniel Suarez.

While this book is not about games or gaming or Gen Con, it heavily uses elements of MMORPG gaming in the plot.  If you're a hacker, computer geek, futurist, or electronic gamer I highly recommend picking this up.  The short synopsis:  When a genius game designer dies, the appearance of his obituary in an online publication triggers a program (daemon for those technically minded) that begins to take actions that change the face of humanity.  I don't want to give away any more than that.

The really cool thing about this book is that the author really knows his stuff, and doesn't black-box his computing.  The hacking and programing techniques he employs are very real today...they just haven't been used in this way yet.  When his hackers hack a system, he describes how it occurs using valid, real methods.  When computers interact with the physical world, the systems they use are described (and they exist today).

Towards the end of the book, things do go a little off the deep end, and it starts to get a bit more improbable, but I think that can be forgiven considering how plausible his initial scenarios are.

Anyway, the book is available at major online retailers in hardback, paperback, e-book, and audiobook formats.  The links below are not affiliate links...I'm sharing, not making money. (for Kindle)
B& (for nook)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Elf Park Lives!

It's been a month since Gen Con 2010, and the infamous Elf Park is still a feature of downtown Indy. Hopefully they never get around to fixing this. :)
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