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.


  1. I really want to play Essentials. One of my biggest complaints about 4e is that they inundate you with so many options that it becomes difficult to imagine how a character might look so far down the path. I like the Essentials approach as it breaks down the best options and gives a rationale for making each choice. It provides some structure and stability while still giving accessible options.

  2. It's always a good sign when your group can get a running joke going! I enjoyed reading this. I haven't played the Encounters yet, but I have class on Wednesday nights. This really makes me want to though.