The Tabletop of My Childhood

Brewhouse Bash

Paul Dean’s recent recounting of a childhood spent playing Advanced Heroquest over on SU&SD got me thinking and reminiscing about the tabletop games I played growing up. Part of me thought that my recent obsession with board games and RPGs stemmed from them currently being in a golden age of sorts. But my trip down memory lane prompted by Paul’s article made me realise that my childhood is steeped in tabletop, more so than I originally remember…

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Eurogamer Baldur’s Gate Retrospective

Link: Eurogamer Baldur’s Gate Retrospective

You will be seeing a fair few look backs at the Baldur’s Gate games as we approach the impending Steam release of the second game and this teasing website that promises future forays (or at least an update/remake of the first game) into the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons. The two main Baldur’s Gate games made by BioWare are an important part of video game history, for me at least and Paul Dean who has written the Eurogamer article this post links to seems to agree with me on this too. 

There were the first games I came across where the world seemed to be an actual living breathing place. There was adventure and intrigue around every turn and no matter how long it took or how many quests you battled your way through it never got old. The brilliantly written companion characters kept things fresh and the attention to detail put into the games is still amazing by today’s standards. The you had the D&D rules of the time implemented in to some surprisingly solid game mechanics that have left their mark on RPG design ever since. The EG article is worth a read for a nostalgic look back and as an introduction to people who have never heard of the franchise. Baldur’s Gate is the blueprint for what BioWare has continued to do with every game they have made since. From continuing save files across multiple games to providing rich characters in detailed worlds with the majority of the number crunching common to RPGs hidden under the hood of the game quietly rolling dice in the shadows for you. Baldur’s was the starting point for all these ideas and they are two games worth playing no matter how old they are.

As for the teaser website that popped up this week? While a new game would be great, I feel that its magic might be lost among the methodology of modern RPG design. It will be a good game for sure but it just wouldn’t be the same. So I find myself rooting for a HD remake of the first game or both games updated and released as a single epic. Not just on PC mind because a game like Baldur’s Gate would work brilliantly on the iPad and maybe usher in an era of fully-fledged isometric RPGs for the device.

All I’m going to say is that the website was discovered this week and on the 7th March Apple are unveiling their fancy new iPad 3 and now that Steve Jobs is sadly no longer with us, Apple can concentrate of the games market a bit more aggressively if they wish. They need a game apart from Infinity Blade that shows the iOS as a valid gaming platform rather than a heaven for casual games and games “inspired” by popular core console titles, and Baldur’s might just be the game to do it.

Go check out the article and remember fondly the days of yore!

Learning to Dungeon Master: Tactical Gameplay and Switching Roles

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done one of these posts but to get back into the swing of things I’m going to kick things off with a deluxe edition of Learning to Dungeon Master! WOOOO! The post is neatly divided into two parts the first (sadly split over the jump due to length) detailing the end of The Twisting Halls and the second for the epilogue to TW and messing with the players’ heads! So if you are skim reading this please skip to the Kill the Messengers part because that is where things get….interesting!

The first session I will be covering happened two weeks ago at this point (which I forgot to take any pictures of yet again!). It was fairly straightforward as the players ventured further into The Twisting Halls. Except for this session they where down a player and that player was the Cleric, Lucant, he was struck down by the dreaded and deadly man flu! Even without a healer the group bravely continued on. To make up for this I gave them all an extra Action Point and Second Wind to spend during encounters. It seemed to balance things out nicely and negated the need for me to adjust the difficulty. There where a couple of moments were it looked like things could all go horribly wrong but the players always stepped up and eventually overcame the challenges. The two encounters the players battled through where encounter 5, The Hidden Shrine and 6, Storage Area from the Twisting Halls adventure that comes with the Red Box Starter Set.

I approached encounter 5 as a normal battle that quickly escalates. The escalation came from the addition of skeletons, lots and lots of skeletons! To the pre-made adventure to adjust the difficulty. Then things twisted a bit once the Doppelgänger switched sides part way through the encounter which kept the players on their toes. Despite the steady stream of skeletal minions flooding the room the players held their ground and slowly whittled down their numbers. This session also saw the group’s wizard, Engine, step up and deal some serious damage flinging spells across the room. In the next encounter the players figured out what Kurrash the Bugbear would be doing for his grande finale and got the wizard to pick him off from a distance with everyone else standing ready to move in if needed. I decided to use one of the more menacing looking Warhammer Orc miniatures I had made to stand in for Kurrash and he was a big hit with the players. 

It was a good moment of teamwork and tactical play on the group’s part. The group has quickly moved from the initial confusion of learning the ropes to being able to quickly assess a situation together and come up with plans on the fly. Which is all good in my book! It also means that I can start making encounters a bit more tactical which is cool. I will slowly ramp it up though because even though they performed well there were a lot of cases people entering the dying state, quickly. Still it means I can start making things a bit tougher for them.

Continued after the jump!


One thing I picked up on and the players mentioned was that the rooms on the battle map for the Twisting Halls are a bit too tightly packed for the size of our group. With a couple of players having to wait multiple rounds before they can move out of a room’s starting position and into the fray. I have tried making the movement rules a bit looser to allow the players to get into combat quickly and around the rooms with little trouble. With the odd skill check thrown in to keep things interesting. It has actually made me a fan of random skill checks and using them regularly. It is a simple and easy way to add an extra element of chance to an action or encounter. It is something I will be incorporating more into further sessions. As for the overall room size issues I had an opportunity to combat them head on in this week’s session. (Which I remembered to take pictures of!)

In the planning for this week’s session I realised that the room for the final encounter was way to small for the number of players and the additional monsters I would need to add to make the battle challenging enough for the players. If I stuck with it the encounter would have been disastrous, mainly because both the majority of the players and monster would get stuck waiting multiple rounds before being able to do anything. So I turned to my shiny new Dungeon Tiles for help after I realised on of the tiles was actually an exact copy of the main area of the room on the battle map!

So I spread things out a little bit more added the extra tomb area to the room. It worked well and spread out the encounter splitting it into two parts. With hindsight I would have brought Malareth and his guards into the fray a bit quicker but overall it worked well. The Cleric, Lucant was back for this session so I returned the healing and death rules back to normal, sadly one of the fighters, Corvus was unable to make it but while he missed out on the action and adventure he will still get the XP for the encounters run so that he doesn’t fall behind.

The players quickly dispatched the minions and the Hulking Zombie. They also dealt with Malareth easily with Engine turning him into a frog for most of the encounter. They then surrounded and beat the crap out of him in one turn to finish of the encounter and their first adventure. The only things they had trouble dealing with were Malareth’s skeletal guards. Here be their stats that they had trouble overcoming:

I increased their numbers from 3 to 5 to increase the difficulty of the encounter but it was their 19 AC that proved to be their most annoying feature with the players routinely missing them. I get that because it is the final encounter of the adventure it should have an element of challenge to it but the 19 AC define by Wizards is a bit to much for level 1 players I think. After a long time they managed to dispatch the skeletons, with one of the fighters, Mithrandir, acting as the world’s luckiest battle medic picking up the other players as they dropped to their skeletons’ weapons.

After the fight was over the players explored and looted the room and then we went through the levelling up process detailed in the adventure. There was a bit of confusion but we got our heads around it in the end and the players seemed happy with the ability choices on offer. We also decided that levelling would be counted as an automatic extended rest so all the players’ health, healing surges, action points, etc. would be restored. Once everyone was ready and after a brief break I started the epilogue to The Twisting Halls.

Kill the Messengers is a short encounter (which you can grab here) that neatly wraps up The Twisting Halls. It also provided me with the perfect opportunity to set up my first custom made adventure which the players will be going through for the next few weeks before moving onto the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure included in the Dungeon Master’s Kit. The other big change that made this encounter unique was that I wouldn’t be DMing this one!

Early on when we started putting the group together one of the players, the cleric Lucant, expressed an interest in DMing an encounter or two. Instantly a plan was formed in my brain. It would be the perfect opportunity to start introducing the larger story ideas I have for the players and to give the game a go from the player’s perspective. The key to the plan was to make a few changes to the Kill the Messengers encounter and to, more importantly, keep it a secret from the other players. I’ll be detailing the changes to the Kill the Messengers encounter at a later date once the players have finished the adventure it sets up. The basics of though were simple, me and Andrew (Lucant’s player) wanted a novel way to swap places on the table rather than just swapping seats and carrying on as if nothing had happened.

I came up with the idea of having Lucant disappear in a sudden flash of light and being replaced with my character. The process would be staggered and scripted to begin the process of messing with the players’ heads. It went a little something like this:

(DM spoken text in Italics

You all look around the cave where you first started your adventure as the sounds of rain and thunder echo through the dark. As you all start making your way towards the entrance Lucant stops in his tracks, looks down at his body and says…

[Andrew] “Guys, something isn…..”

A blue light surrounds him and goes in on itself disappearing out of existence with a loud and unearthly pop. [Andrew stands up]

Suddenly, there is another pop and a flash of a blue light. [Callum stands up]

[Andrew and Callum swap places]

(Andrew starts reading out DM spoken text)

A confused looking halfing appears where Lucant was previously standing and says, 

[Callum] “What do you mean, spell of transfer?”

From that point on Andrew was the DM and I was Crukal Milltall of Many Spells! Halfing mage of wonder, mystery and mischief!

I tried my best to stay in character as much as possible and to take a back seat to the groups’ choices seeing as I knew what was coming. I started dropping hints at the upcoming story I have a loose plan for the players and allowed them to get acquainted with Crukal who will be a recurring character they will be bumping into on a semi-regular basis. The rest of the encounter played out well and Andrew took to DMing like a fish to water. The genuine shock and confusion around the table when the switch happened was awesome and turned a standard session into the best game to date for our group! 

Aside from all the surprise and story based stuff it was a very useful exercise for me to play as a player for a change. Mainly because I haven’t played as a player since I first encountered Dungeons and Dragons many years ago. It certainly gave me food for thought. Mainly on how to handle turn lag with a group the size of ours. It was something I was aware of but now that I have experienced it I will be trying various ways and means to keep my players involved in the game when it is not their turn. I got the worst of it when I rolled a 1 for my initiative roll so I was in pretty much dead last in the turn order for the encounter. While I took an interest in what was going on it was hard not to switch off and start stacking my dice to occupy my time. As DM you are constantly having to do something. Wether it is controlling creatures, setting the scene, dealing with rule issues, etc. etc. The players typically have their turn then have to wait a long time before they get to do something again. I now have a new found respect for their patience during the game and I am already planning a few things to keep them occupied between turns. Although it might take me a few weeks to actually put these ideas into practise. Also if anyone has any suggestions feel free to drop them in my Ask Box.

At the end of the encounter me and Andrew wrapped things up with me giving brief explanation and hook for the next session then ending with a reversal of the swap sequence to close things off. It was a great encounter that re-lit the magic of Dungeons and Dragon in both myself and the players after a couple of weeks of just running the pre-made encounters. It has galvanised me into action. I have several surprises in store for my players now. Even the thought of them makes me excited! They are going to to love it!

Learning to Dungeon Master: Increasing the Difficulty

This week’s session was all about me experimenting with the rules a bit more, tweaking the creatures the players where fighting and giving them a greater challenge. I wanted them to work a bit harder to finish their encounters! Not to put the fear of god into them (….yet…) but to see how far they could be pushed before things started to fall apart.

Picking up where we left things last week the players entered Encounter 3 of The Twisting Halls – Vesting. For this encounter all I did was increase the XP budget appropriately for the number of players and then add in extra creatures (an additional dire rat and two more goblins). It was still a level 1 encounter so it was easy enough for the players to get through quickly. It refreshed the basic combat gameplay once again and also at the end, when one of the players finally stepped on it, traps! When I called “stop!” to go through the trap’s attack all the players reacted with a mixture of surprise and humour mainly saying,”What have you done now?” because the triggering player was Warnstone, who had attempted to intimidate a horse in the previous session. Although he managed to avoid the trap it still served its purpose, to keep the players on their toes. 

Encounter 3 also allowed me to plant the first seeds for my first self-made adventure by using the message hidden behind the minotaur statue. It is a nice little addition to the details of the encounter that the Wizards D&D team put in to teach me where and how to start introducing these sorts of things. So I figured, why not use it?

More D&D goodness after the jump!

After a brief rest the players elected to head onwards onto Encounter 4 – The Trial (which I only remembered to take a picture of right at the end!). It was here that I thought would be a good time to test their abilities. Initially a level 2 encounter I multiplied the XP budget and increased the overall difficulty to level 3. I increased the number of knights and rooks while powering up all the pieces a little bit to make them harder to kill, except for the pawns of course! The results were entertaining.

Firstly the two characters who you would expect to pass the Arcana Checks to work out the enchantment on the chessboard floor completely failed them. Leaving it up to the halfling fighter, Mithrandir, to figure out the conundrum! Once the players worked out they had to move like chess pieces the wizard promptly ran up to on of the rooks and activated it, starting the group’s toughest challenge to date. It was wondrous! Players dropped into the dying state left and right as the chess statues dolled out high damage roll after high damage roll. With the two Rooks proving to be the biggest annoyance, apart from the Queen. Who the players managed to nearly kill on their first three rounds getting her down to 5HP. After that they repeatedly missed every attack roll against her until near enough the end of the battle, as she continued to dominate the board with her Queen’s Swoop move.

Every time one player was healed and back in the fight, another would drop, but very slowly the group whittled down all the chess pieces and were triumphant. It was fun, especially when the group could have easily moved pass all the chess pieces and into the next room without any fear of being chased because the pieces have to stay in that room! (I’m sure one or two of my players who just read that facepalmed!). They stuck it out and the reward was a little bit of an XP bonus. If anything they are starting to think a bit more tactically as a result of the encounter which should pay off in the next few encounters as they travel further into The Twisting Halls. 

This week also saw everyone having a miniature to represent their characters due more people receiving the ones they had ordered and our helpful rogue, Sir Valadir, bringing his Decent Minis along with him for people to use. Every agreed that minis add an extra element to the game and help make it seem more lively. Which is good for the players because they only have to buy one or two minis each! For me it could be very expensive seeing as Wizards of the Cost are currently refusing to bring out any new mini sets causing all the out of print ones to reach crazy prices online. So I’m currently shopping around and seeing if I can find any good deals to add the odd mini to my arsenal. I’m going to be relying on tokens a lot over the coming months because while I could buy more Warhammer and other build’n’paint it yourself miniature kits they can be stupidly expensive! Still I have managed to secure one or two for future use for a reasonable prices (one for an exceedingly reasonable price that it almost felt like theft!). But I can’t go into detail on here yet out of fear for spoiling the surprise for my players!

We also had a video camera on hand for this week’s game too so we have got a couple of long videos to sift through and pick out the good bits. This might take a while but hopefully I can find one or two good bits to put up online for you all to see. Just don’t be expecting them anytime soon unless one of the players edits the videos for us!

Finally I have started planning out my first full adventure for the group to tackle after they finish The Twisting Halls. The current plan is to keep it short and sweet with 4-6 encounters but that might well change. I’m using a mixture of the various map posters I have and my brand new and shiny Dungeon Tiles set. As you can see from the above photo that I have been experimenting with them. The quality is great and they are made from very durable card. While the maps will slowly fall apart with each fold and reverse fold the modular nature of the tiles means they will last while giving you a near infinite number of variations.

The above set up took all of five minutes. All you need is one or two base tiles then just use the smaller features tiles and tokens to add life and dimension to your dungeon. Want to make something appear high up or look tall? Stack it on top of unused tiles! It is quick and simple and the results speak for themselves. The modular aspect of them also means you can piece the dungeon together room by room as the players work their way through it. So you don’t need to worry about players seeing to much of the map at once or having to cover it up with books and pieces of paper. While pre-made poster maps and custom wipe maps still have their place, the tiles are a happy mid ground between the two. So yeah I am a convert to tiles! The Dungeon Tiles set should do for now but I might grab the City or Wilderness sets soon if I get a bit of extra cash. 

Learning to Dungeon Master: Coping With Large Groups

Before I go any further I am making a mental note to take pictures of gaming sessions! It was only when I sat down to write this that I realised I had no accompanying pics of the night’s events! Hmmmm…..maybe I could make one of the players take pictures while it is not their turn during combat?

Anyway I’m sure I can find some pretty pictures to break up this post a bit!

In my last D&D post, which you can read by going here, I went into a bit of detail into the creation of my simple Assault on the Goblin Cave encounter. Now that the players have run through it I figured I might as well share it with you all, after the jump!

Encounter Level 1 (275 XP)

Setup
6 Goblin Snipers
1 Goblin Hex Hurler

Intro
[Lay outthe Monster Lair Map]

Say: 
While travelling with the good merchant, Traevus, on your way to Fallcrest you were attacked by goblins. You managed to fight them off, but Traevus discovered that the survivors had stolen a precious box from his wagon. You also saw a mysterious rider on a black horse in the distance during the attack. Your search both the rider and the goblins led you to a large cave. After assessing the situation you decided to head back to Fallcrest to find fellow adventurers to help you carry out your quest.

At The Silver Unicorn in Fallcrest the Cleric, Brother Lucan of Kord, the Elven Wizard, Engine and the Fighter, Corvus The Watcher, banded together to hunt down the goblins, find the precious box and the discover identity of the mysterious rider. On their way to the Goblin Cave the adventurers were ambushed by two wolves and their goblin masters. After only just scraping through the ambush the group decided to make camp and continue onto the Goblin Cave the next day.

As you approach the cave a Goblin Sniper hiding amongst the rocks in front of the entrance spots you and shouts “INTRUDERS! Get out here boys!” You here noises coming from the cave as a gabble goblins scrambles towards the entrance. The Sniper starts running towards the cave entrance. Suddenly! A dagger flies through the air and embeds itself in the throat of the running Sniper. As the goblin gargles and bleeds out on the floor the adventurers look up to see the Rogue, Sir Valadir and the Fighters; Warnstone and Mithrandir, quickly approaching from the cave from the other side…..

Features of the Area

  • Rocks: A large mound of rocks sits in front of the cave entrance, this is difficult terrain (2 squares of movement to enter) Athletics check needed!
  • Bushes: On either side of the cave are bushes which the goblins use to dump their waste and previous kills. These are difficult terrain
  • River: Running behind the rocks is a small river rich with fish and a steady stream of water flowing through it. This is calm water an Athletics check is needed to pass!
  • Cave: Scattered round the cave are small campfires and resting areas for the goblin guards. These fires and a few lamps light up the dark cave. The cave has a main entrance and two smaller concealed entrances (Strength check for the boulder, Athletics for the bushes).

Tactics
The Goblin Snipers split into two groups and rush both sets of adventurers (three on the more experienced group, two on the newer players. They used ranged attacks on their approach and switch to melee when in range. 

The Hex Hurler stands in wait at the mouth of the cave. It casts Blinding Hex on the first adventurer that enters its range of attack. On its next turn the Hex Hurler rushes into the middle of as many of the adventurers as possible and uses Vexing Cloud. On its third turn it uses Stinging Hex on the nearest fighter or rogue. It then continues to use this power as often as it recharges. (Roll a d6 at the start of the Hex Hurler’s turns; it regains the use of Stinging Hex if you roll a 5 or 6.) When it can not use Stinging Hex the hurler alternates between using it’s Staff on players in range or Blinding Hex on ranged players


Conclusion
The goblin Hex Hurler has a small bag of gold (90gp) hidden on him. At the back of the cave at either side are entrances into the The Twisting Halls the north entrance leads to Encounter 2 while the south entrance leads to Encounter 3. The adventurers can choose which entrance to take. Outside the North Entrance is a crudely sign written in Goblin that reads:

“Beware the lair of Farallax”

If you want to use it yourself all that is needed is to split the group into two smaller teams and have them approach the cave from either side. Also change the flavour text accordingly!

As an introductory encounter it served its purpose and I only had to make one change on the fly which was to make the Goblin Hex Hurler’s Stinging Hex move deal instant damage to make him more of a threat. It got all the players both new and newer up to speed on what was going on and more importantly gave the newer ones an easy way to get used to combat and to see how the other three, slightly more experienced players, handled the situation. I also had a rummage around through my storage boxes and found an unpainted set of Warhammer Goblins perfect for use as miniatures for the encounter. They’re a bit bigger than the standard D&D Minis but their bases are 1” squares perfect for use on maps and tiles. Now I just have to paint them for future use!

During the short rest the players elected to have after they had killed the goblins they introduced themselves to each other, mostly in character, and gave the other players some of the details from the character background questionnaire I gave them all before the session. 

After a bit of discussion and the checks to translate the “Beware the lair of Farallax” sign were completed the players chose to head into encounter area 1 of the Twisting Halls: Purification. Here my decision to keep things at their default levels and numbers sort of worked and backfired at the same time. All the players rolled super high initiative rolls and all got to go before the monsters. The result was that they easily swamped the two goblin cutthroats, stopping them from opening the door to the guard drake’s chamber. The Hex Hurler did get the jump on them though which was fun. He took a while to take down and dealt a fair amount of damage as I kept the instant damage on Stinging Hex.

The highlight of the encounter had to be when one of the fighters, Warnstone, decided to try and intimidate the horse. The horse that in the Red Box DM’s book does nothing and if attacked flees out of the room. I decided to make the intimidate check a hard one and hatched a plan. When the player failed the horse bolted towards the door. I decided to take it’s size and power into account, being a horse and all. Every player it crossed over or near to would have to jump out of its way. A medium DC athletics check was required to jump out of the horse’s way and any player hit by the horse would take 1d6 damage. Two player’s failed the check but only received 1 damage each. One of the players was pushed back towards the guard drake’s door during the commotion and I chose to use that as the reason for the drake to burst into the room on its next turn. 

There were some problems with the encounter though. Keeping the default number of monsters for a group of six players lead to one of them spending most of the encounter in the fire glyph room with nothing to do. The group naturally split into two teams but the limited number of monsters meant that they quickly settled into a routine slowly witting down the enemy. I was also to liberal with allowing the players to make checks during the combat part of the encounter. About half way through it seemed as if half the group was in heated battle and the others where in exploration mode. In future throwing a few extra monsters the players way should elevate this, if not I might have to employ harsher tactics to keep them in a combat mindset. But I don’t want to do that really because the odd in combat check is fine, particularly when it leads to hilarious things like the bit with the horse! It can also be put down to the players trying out what they can do and how far they can push the rules of the game which is a good attitude to have. It is better me trying to quickly come up with reasons and solutions to what they are doing off their own backs than me trying to encourage them to do anything at all. 

I also took the opportunity this session to recommend one of the players take notes of important characters, events, etc. to help them (and me!) keep track of things. I also handed the Rules Compendium over to one of the players to check through rules issues against my DM’s Kit Rule Book as they came up. Both proved useful as the players now have a set of notes to refer to in future and someone who will have a better grasp of the finer rules of the game which also takes a chunk of pressure to know everything off me.

In a good turn of events most people dabbled with roleplaying during the evening. Some more than others but it is encouraging. Everyone said afterwards that they where willing to try more. Also since the game more players have ordered miniatures and there has been a spate of people ordering custom dice to fit their character which is rather cool. One player has even taken it to the extreme and ordered a pound of dice which looks like this:

That is A LOT of dice!

Overall the first “proper” session was a huge success and I have lots of things to add, change and embellish for next Wednesday’s game. I’m looking forward to it. So the next post should be a big one full of stats, monster tables and other supplementary material. YAY!

Learning to Dungeon Master: Starting Out and Rookie Mistakes

My learning curve for Dungeons and Dragons and DMing over the past two weeks has been fast, furious and fun. It started with buying two kits and getting a group together and it has now grown into my newest obsession. Along the way I have overcome a few interesting challenges, picked up a few tips’n’tricks and even made up a few of my own. But before you read any further you need to know what edition of the game I am playing with my group!

After a bit of digging and reading around online I decided on using the 4th Edition Essentials Line of products as my rules and gameplay basis. There are four reasons for this:

  1. You can start quickly and easily with the Red Box. It is cheap and if you spread the cost among a group of friends you have a group that is already invested in the game before you roll your first dice!
  2. You can then expand on it very easily with the other products like the DM’s Kit, Tile Sets and Player’s Books.
  3. They are the most readily available products because they are the newest. Other products might take some time to find. The Essentials stuff is everywhere and at a good price too!
  4. Even though there is lots of grumbling from the more vocal parts of the online D&D community about the Essentials line, it is the easiest way to get into the game. It is a set of ten products that stand out from the daunting lists of all the other 4th Edition products. It also integrates with the older products, if I want it to, with very little fuss it seems.

Stuff I have bought so far in my quest to play D&D and DM:

  • Red Box
  • Dungeon Master’s Kit
  • Rules Compendium
  • Extra Dice

Seeing as I have covered a lot of ground in just two weeks this first post will be a bit on the long side and be divided into four sections sections:

  • Group Organisation 
  • The Red Box and Session 1
  • Planning Session 2
  • Expansion

Group Organisation starts after the jump!

Group Organisation

One of the first things I did, which surprisingly hasn’t come up on any getting started guides or DM Tips posts, is set up a Facebook Group for the me and the Players to use. The group is secret so anyone who might be embarrassed to have D&D related posts filling up their public timelines can rest easy. The group is mainly used to bounce ideas back and fourth between me and the players which has been really helpful during this introductory process to the game. If anyone has a question or suggestion outside of the gaming sessions they can just pop it up on the Facebook group. We can also all post links to interesting sites and vids related to our D&D sessions. For example, posting a link to the PAX 2011 live game videos has left the players wanting to try out and do more roleplay, which is awesome! Then you have the Facebook Documents section of the group that can be used to give the players further details and information; reading lists, helpful tips, basic rules, etc.

The other, very important, function of the group is to organise gaming sessions in a quick and painless manner. All it takes is asking people to vote via a poll for which days they can play then forming an Event around the most popular date. Then on the page for the event (once again it is made secret so only players can see it) I can go into as much detail as needed for the session. I can give the players a bit more background on the evening’s adventure, introduce new rules, make last minute changes, etc. etc. 

Another tool I have found helpful and have been using alongside the Facebook Group is Dropbox. I setup a group account which everyone can access and in it are all the things the players need. They have character sheet templates and more detailed information along with the documents and scanned copies of material I’m using as pre-session homework. The homework is usually something to lead into the next session (I should really call it something else). For the first session I scanned in the Players Book from the Red Box and had have everyone run through it in their own time. It threw up a lot of confusion and questions on the Facebook Group at first but by the time it came to the first session everyone had a character ready to go and a basic understanding of the rules. 

Also as an added bonus because both things are digital I can access them during game sessions on my iPad, so no laptops getting in the way!

The Red Box and Session 1

Working my way through this starter set has been a blast. The player’s book only takes about an hour or so to run through and has been invaluable in grasping the core D&D gameplay. It guides you through the creation of your first character step by step and ends with a small solo encounter. While there are some big mistakes (a player arrived at Session 1 with no Constitution or Hit Points because he never got hit and the options for his character never sent him back to do it later on!) it serves as a nice intro and set up for the game. Because I shared the Player’s Book digitally I told everyone to stop when they reached the Goblin Cave and where you are told to pull out the Maps and Tokens (point 93 or 94 I think). I then decided to change the order up a bit and run Your First Encounter from the Red Box Dungeon Master’s Book as the players introduction to combat.

Storywise it was justified by the players each coming upon the cave separately and then realising there was too much danger for just them alone to handle. So they each headed back to Fallcrest and banded together in the Inn over drinks. Your First Encounter then happens on their way back to the Goblin Cave. The plan was then to jump straight into The Twisting Halls. In retrospect this was a huge mistake. I should have run the group through the encounter at the end of the Player’s Book at the start of the session. It only takes 10mins (give or take) and then done Your First Encounter. The encounter was a bit of a mess as we all got to grips with group combat and the finer elements of fighting. It also didn’t help that the players were one man down so a group of four was now a group of three. It took a long time, the whole session even, to finish the encounter but we all learned a lot which is stuff I am now incorporating into Session 2.

Planning Session 2

Despite the difficulties with Session 1 the players enjoyed themselves and wouldn’t stop talking about it, which was awesome! Because they were talking about it so much and there was a bit of buzz amongst the students of the Game Design course I am on. So I decided to let the players decide if they wanted to add two more people to the group. They said yes and voted on who they wanted to join in. So I now have six players to provide adventure for. This presented me with two challenges:

  1. How do I get them to fit into the game organically along with the missing player from the first session?
  2. How do I keep the game challenging with more players than the recommended amount forThe Twisting Halls?

The second question was fairly easy to answer after looking around online, asking a few questions in the right places and consulting my copy of the Dungeon Master’s Book from the Dungeon Master’s Kit. All I have to do is adjust the XP level for each encounter and add the appropriate number of extra monsters to keep things challenging. For the start of The Twisting Halls however I’m going to keep things at their default values to allow the players (especially the newer ones) a bit of breathing room to grips with the game a bit better. It will also allow me to gauge how much I need to increase the difficulty. In the next session I will be ramping up the difficulty a bit. MWHAHAHA!

As for the first question, the answer was staring me in the face! The Goblin Cave! A short encounter that acts as a very quick intro into the basics of combat and a good opportunity to introduce the new players into the game! So I set about creating my first encounter which was a lot of fun and increased my knowledge of the rules considerably.

The encounter I came up with is, Assault on the Goblin Cave. It is way below the level of the number of players for the group (only 275XP!) but it serves it’s purpose. To introduce the players to the basics of group combat and to provide an in point for the three players entering the game. All there is are six goblin minions and a hex hurler all using the pre-made stat tables from the Red Box Dungeon Master’s Book. It will give the players a taste of the tactics deployed by the Hex Hurlers inside The Twisting Halls  and should only take two to three rounds to complete. We can then move onto The Twisting Halls and the adventure that lies within.

So for Session 2 I have planed out Assault on the Goblin Cave, Encounter 1: Purificationor Encounter 2: Worship from The Twisting Halls (the players have a choice of which one to do). This should then provide a good stopping point or if there is time they can move onto the Skill Challenge (I’m not going into to much detail here because my players might be reading this!) or any of the other surrounding encounters, 1 or 2 (depending on which they did first) and 3 or 6 depending on which path they take. 

The pre-session homework I set was an optional questionnaire players can fill out to flesh out their characters a bit for them to get more attached and for me to try and incorporate these backstory elements into the game. 

The questionnaire goes a little something like this:

Name:

Age: 

General physical description: 

Hometown: 

Relationship status: 

Current family: 

Family background: 

Friends: 

Other close relationships:

Religion/Alignment:

Attitude to religion/Alignment: 

Favorite pastimes: 

Hobbies: 

Favorite foods/drinks:

Strongest positive personality trait: 

Strongest negative personality trait: 

Sense of humour: 

Temper:

Consideration for others: 

How other people see him/her: 

Opinion of him/herself: 

Other traits, especially those you would like to be brought out in adventures and the wider game story: 

Ambitions:

Philosophy of life:

Most important thing to know about this character: 

Simple and effective I say as a starting point for their characters.

Expansion

Even though we have only just started playing there is a lot of enthusiasm flying around the place. This has lead to simple forms of expansion such as me buying and using extra dice, The Dungeon Master’s Kit and Rules Compendium to help me organise and play games. To me running through a few solo adventures to generate and level up a character of my own to use if anyone else in the group wants to try their hand at DMing, he is a Halfling Wizard named: Crukal Milltall of Many Spells by the way. From doing this I have a better understanding of combat from the players perspective too which is always helpful. The players themselves have gotten in on the action as well with most of them ordering miniatures to represent their characters or talking about getting their own sets of dice. They are also planning on buying a couple of copies of the Essentials Player Book: Heroes of the Fallen Lands between them soon so they can advance their characters past level two. I have also been looking around online and grabbed further adventures from the D&D website that don’t require an Insider Sub to obtain. Finally I have been religiously reading and checking websites such as The Role Playing Games StackExchange and the brilliant Learning to DM Reflections on Running a 4E Campaign which has become my go to place for D&D ideas, help and advice. 

So there we go! That was hopefully the first of many Dungeons and Dragons related posts! Please feel free to send me questions and/or messages about D&D if you wish. Also any advice is always helpful!

Weekly Update

This past week has been all about getting to grips with the basics of Dungeons and Dragons. So the other two projects, the Time Travel game and Superman game have fallen by the wayside a bit due to D&D taking over!

So the plan for the coming week is to make major headway in at least the Time Travel game design. Basically any free time I have this week will be spent working on that design. Then at the weekend when/if I have time I will switch to Project Superman and start making major headway on that.

I am also working on a few D&D related posts because they are relevant to designing Hunters of the New Dawn and they are also going to be interesting….hopefully! I haven’t played D&D in about 8 years so I am very much coming from a newbie’s perspective when it comes to both playing and DMing. I seem to be coping well enough for now and I have come up with a few tips and tricks that others might find helpful. So I figured that seeing as this is a game design blog and D&D is pretty much the basics of game design, why not document the process?

So watch this space!

Games I Have Been Playing:

I haven’t had much time for playing games this week but over the weekend I was visiting a friend and he showed me Star Trek Online. It looked interesting so I downloaded it and gave it a whirl now that it is Free 2 Play.

The immediate barriers of entry to people like me (I only like the original series and the new movie) are calmed somewhat by the wealth of detail and backstory available. You are quickly brought up to speed on what’s going on and who is who. With each race being fully detailed for people like me who don’t know their Klingons from their Tribbles. The gameplay is also fairly interesting. It is split into three distinct areas: Exploration, Ground Combat and Space Combat. Exploration is a mix of the non-combat forms of Space and Ground gameplay. So you spend your time exploring the galaxy, planets, space stations and interacting with other players. The space combat is fun if a bit clumsy and difficult to get the hang of. You get the feeling of them being big epic space battles (the explosions help with this!) and while the pace is maybe a little bit slow for my liking, it is still fun and engaging. Ground combat can be played in two ways. The traditional MMO-style combat of action bars and cool downs. Or as a shooter that incorporates the action bars and cool downs into the gameplay. The shooter controls are a bit ropey but add a much needed extra punch to the proceedings. It is great to mix up the tried and tested MMO-style combat with more actiony, over the shoulder shootouts. Not for everyone but I like it and if I continue to play I am pretty sure that I will use the shooter controls as much as possible. It is certainly worth checking out if you have an interest in the Star Trek franchise. 

Weekly Update

This week has been spent getting the two parts of my honours project organised before I start making the big push of starting to make the documentation for the two different games this week. This involved creating two checklists for the design documentation. Each is structured into sections that need to be done, ones that could be missed if needs be and finally ones that a supplementary. The check lists are presented below (apologies for the weird formatting I had to export them as images and Numbers did not like it!)

Project Superman Checklist:

Time Travel Game Checklist:

Hunters of the New Dawn:

Apart from starting to fleshing out the IP Statement document for this project I have spent the week getting stuck into the Dungeons and Dragons starter set. Testing out the rules and looking at the game from the player’s and DM’s perspective. Wednesday this week will see me DMing my first game with my assembled group of adventures! I’m looking forward to it. The plan is that after a few sessions I will start modifying the rules and game to fit the Hunters of the New Dawn design. Then we can start playtesting the prototype version of Hunters.

Games I Have Been Playing:

It seems I have been in a very shooty mood this past week. I’ve managed to find the time to finish both the MW3 and Battlefield 3 single player campaigns. I have also been slowly continuing my playthrough of Halo:CE HD. The other big gaming related thing I did in the past week was head into Manchester to check out the PS Vita Rooms to get some hands on time with the console and it’s launch games. The full write up is over on my other blog The Nerd Is The Word and you can check it out by heading here.

Weekly Update

In an effort to keep content appearing on here regularly I will start doing these weekly updates. These posts will be on top of any other, more detailed, posts I make regarding the various project I’m working on. So let’s get on with the update!

Project Superman:

The final documentation for this part of my honours project will be in the form of one sheet posters giving the viewer all the key information they need. So this past week has been spent messing around with Adobe Illustrator and teaching myself the basics of it. This week has also been spent making titles and headers for the various sections the posters will cover. Here’s a few samples of them in their basic form:


It the font looks familiar, it should! I have managed to find the font, Atomic Wedgie, which bares a close resemblance to the Action Comics font used by DC Comics. The very comic that is a major influence on the design of the game!

These titles are images taken from a web based preview application for the font. So all that needs doing now is a bit of light editing and they should be ready for use on the posters! While this might not seem like a big step in most game designs, for this one it is. Mainly because it is a very visual way of showing the documentation for the game. The titles and overall presentation are all part of the final design so every element has to fit in with the style and tone of the game. 

In other Project Superman related stuff, this week also saw me looking at Factor 5’s now cancelled Superman game and giving my thoughts.

Time Travel Game:

So this past week saw me make a start on what will eventually be the prototype level for the game in UDK. You can see that by heading here. I also finally received my copy of The Time Traveler’s Pocket Guide and read though it. (The website for the book can be found by heading to timetravelbureau.com) It is a great quick and funny read that fits in with the lighthearted tone of the game perfectly. So I expect it to be featured quite a bit in the final design.

This week also saw me make a start on the documentation side of the Time Travel Game, the online Wiki. It is very bare at the moment as I get to grips with wiki editing but expect more content to appear there rapidly over the coming weeks. You can get to the Time Travel Game Wiki by heading here.

Hunters of The New Dawn:

After a successful IP Presentation (which I will upload soon) I have taken that presentation and turned it into a very rough draft of my IP Statement. I have also ordered and am now eagerly waiting for a Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Starter Set to arrive in the post. 

There are multiple reasons for getting this starter set:

  1. After much soul searching, lack of information and Bethesda being slow, it has become to unrealistic to prototype the game in the still yet to be released Skyrim Toolset. I could use other RPG toolsets such as Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age’s (this is still a possibility) but this is next easiest and funnest way to do it! I can quickly modify the game and it’s rules to suite my design and get people testing it ASAP. Which is essential for the timeframe I have for the project.
  2. Lots of articles I have read recently and advice given to me by both my tutor and people in the games industry is to play more games like Dungeons and Dragons. DnD is at the heart of many of today’s games and it’s stat system the basis for how many seemingly unrelated games work. The general consensus is to mess around and have fun with DnD as an easy way to bounce ideas off a small group of players quickly, with the minimum of fuss.
  3. I haven’t played DnD in years! The last time I played it was around 7-8 years ago! So a small part of me is looking forward to getting back into it after such a long time away from the game.

Also it has things like 20 sided dice and d20s are awesome!

Games I Have Been Playing:

I have returned to my Insanity Mode playthrough of Mass Effect 2 because I am determined to finish it 100% by the time Mass Effect 3 comes out in March. I have also been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic in one or two day bursts. Then to play something not made by BioWare I have been jumping in and out of the odd bit of Halo: Reach/CE:HD multiplayer. On the go this week I have mainly been playing Infinity Blade on my iPad when it decided to work (I keep getting persistent crashing).

That’s it for this week and the first of these regular updates!