Mini-Review: Monster Vault 2–Threats of the Nentir Vale

Matt already spoilered this blog post before I decided 100% to write it but I love the Monster Vault 2 (“MV2”).

Your initial reaction to the name would be “Oh, it’s just more monsters and stupid tokens” but you’d be partially wrong.  Because there’s actually a lot more to it than that.

The book inside this “box set” (it’s not in a box – it’s some token sheets, and some gorgeous maps and a book in between) is pure gold.  If you’re like me and you’ve wanted to flesh out the Nentir Vale, this book finally delivers.  This answers to many questions that I’ve had about the map that came in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide.  What’s in between the dots on this map?

Nentir Vale

Besides a minor geography lesson you get answers to these questions and more:

  • What roams the Cairngorm Peaks?
  • What’s dwells amongst the Dawnforge Mountains?
  • Gray Downs- what’s that mean?
  • Witchlight Fens?  What goes on there?

Oh my goodness, so much!

It makes sense in a world that types of creatures would flock together and probably not completely intermingle.  If you wanted to go fight some orcs you might have some luck if you look around the Cairngorm Peaks.  If you dig hunting lizardfolk, you’ll LOVE the Witchlight Fens.  If you are scared silly of black dragons, you might want to reconsider the Witchlight Fens!

This book and supporting tokens and maps help you Bring to Life your world surrounding the Nentir Vale.*

I wish this book had come out 2 and a half years ago!  But I’m glad it’s out now.

* Yes, yes, I know.  “I don’t use the Nentir Vale- I use my own home brewed campaign setting!”  Good for you.  Yes you can use this book for inspiration and to adapt it to your campaign.  Do I really need to waste virtual ink addressing that? 

Buy this set- you won’t be disappointed in the least bit.  Buy MV1 if you need a huge breadth of different monsters but buy MV2 if you want to enhance your local game setting with richness, flavor and not have to do all the heavy lifting yourself- Sterling Hershey, Brian and Matt James and Steve Townshend did admirable work and, again, you can’t go wrong with this kit.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons, Nentir Vale | Leave a comment

You read this review two years ago.

I mentioned in my last post that I was looking to refocus my gaming – less 4e and more of “something else”, whatever that may be.  Unlike most 4E bashers online, I think I can say pretty confidently that I gave it a chance… and I don’t hate it, I just think that:

  1. The system breaks at Paragon (and WotC’s aware of the issue and ignores it).
  2. There’s no way all the pre-essentials stuff will be updated before this edition run ends.
  3. I’m just tired of WotC’s shit.

Last weekend, the Pathfinder guys had a one-day mini-con.  Good guys (and girls).  I enjoyed playing with them.  Met ’em at Comicpalooza.  We had a few LFR guys there and the familiar faces were nice to see.  But you don’t care about who I play with – if you care at all about any part of this, you want to know what a guy who’s spent the last three years pretty heavily involved in 4th edition thinks of Pathfinder.

Honestly, I didn’t get what I wanted out of the game day.

Ooooh… provocative statement to draw the reader in…

What I was hoping for was to either love the system so much that I walk away from 4E altogether, never looking back, and regretting the decision to go to 4E instead of Pathfinder in the first damned place.  Or, to just dislike it so much that I started to appreciate 4e and quit my bitching.  Neither happened.

I’m really glad I went, and I hope to play with those guys again soon.  I think its a foregone conclusion that I’ll be buying Pathfinder books and probably even Hero Lab… but I’m not rushing to do so.  It’ll be a tempered, budgeted decision.  Not “damn the torpedoes, I’ll just eat Ramen this month” gotta-have-it-now purchase.

Am I going to encourage my local LFR players to start doing Pathfiner Society?  Maybe when the starter kit is released, I dunno.  It took a while to get a good LFR playerbase here.  I’m not anxious to tinker with something that’s working.

Anyway, about the system: If you know 3.5, you know Pathfinder.  There was a lot of “oh yeah, I remember this” from 3.5.  It did make me miss certain things about 4e, though.  I played a rogue, and “I’m going to stab him” isn’t as interesting as saying “I’m going to stab him, and if he makes an attack against me before my next turn, I’m going to do it again”.  So in that sense, I missed a 4e thing.  A lot of 4e things are cool (I don’t need to list them, do I?), and I’d miss their absence.

Pathfinder is more of a sim, whereas 4e is more of an arcade game.  Not that either’s bad.  Simplicity isn’t necessarily bad.  I think a new guy coming to 4e – if he’s guided right and isn’t left to surmise on his own that Heroes Of… means “start here” – has a lower entry point to the system than a Pathfinder player would have, and that’s huge for me.

The truth is, this isn’t an accurate comparision because I didn’t fall out of favor with 4e until the paragon levels.  If we’re comparing my first impression of 4e with my first impression of Pathfinder, 4e wins.  Does Pathfinder grind at the higher levels?  I honestly don’t know.  My main 3.5 character was… 11th level, I think, and I don’t remember any grind issues there.

The mods wrapped up in 4 hours, which is getting rarer and rarer for LFR – then again, we’re talking level one mods.  The main thing that stood out in the system comparision was that PFS mods are better written, in my mind, than the LFR mods.  That’s not to bad-mouth any writers (save for one).  But if I’m picking out three LFR mods that I’ve played at random, and put their stories up against the three PFS mods I played on Saturday, I’d give the story prize to PFS.  Then again, its possible that we got the three best mods PFS has to offer, I dunno.

So, to be fair: If I compare “Master of the Fallen Fortress”, the intro mod we played first, to any of the 4e mods I’ve seen that are designed to be introductory – I’d give it to Fallen Fortrees (except for maybe “Into the Shadowhaunt”, the D&D Game Day mod that was run the day 4e was released).  I’ve done a lot of intro stuff, so I’m going to call myself qualified to make such a statement.

UPDATE: Didn’t take long for someone to say it.  No, I didn’t see Fortune Cards.  However, if you wear a shirt of your Pathfinder faction, you get one re-roll per mod.  I asked a guy if he was serious and he said yes… so there you go.  Both sides have their own lameness.

You probably wasted your time reading this and I probably wasted my time writing it.  But that’s my most honest review of Pathfinder that I can give right now.  I think I’ll gradually get more into it.  I’m not planning on buying any 4e stuff right now, but Pathfinder stuff is on my list.  I’m still playing 4e with friends – planning on playing on Saturday, in fact.  Am I going to go through the trouble of building a playgroup for Pathfinder now?  We’ll see, I guess.

Unrelated: Jason loves the new Monster Vault – but I’ll let him tell you about it.  There, there’s your D&D news.

BTW: When I’m talking about my local playerbase, I’m referring to my lil’ suburb part of town.  The Houston LFR group was going strong long before I got there.

Posted in Comicpalooza, Dungeons & Dragons, Living Forgotten Realms, Pathfinder | 4 Comments

Semi-Retired

No, not the blog.  We just haven’t had anything to say.  If you want to read someone flame WotC, the company has generously provided forums for you to do that on.  I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about when Neverwinter gets closer, but for now – nothing really exciting is happening in D&D.

Personally, though – I’ve been conflicted for a while now, and I think I’ve come to a decision.  By the way, I’ve tried to write this blog for a long, long time now – it just hasn’t come out right yet.

I’m (kinda) done with 4E.

I’ve said for a while now that all the things I dislike about 4E go away once I reach the table.  That’s no longer the case.  So what happened?

I started playing at Paragon.  Or, to be more precise – I’ve been playing at Paragon for a while, and I can no longer BS myself that things are going to get better.  Combat grind just makes playing after Heroic tier unenjoyable.

We heard that changes were a-coming… and I was content to make my own modifications to reduce combat grind while waiting.  Then eventually the changes did come.  Unfortunately, these changes addressed every issue but combat grind.  Okay, maybe not every issue – but lots of them.  So for a while there I was DMing and chopping off monster hit points to reduce grind time (and increasing damage to balance things out), thinking that the rules updates would finally be released and we’d stop checking our watches during gameplay.  Between Essentials and the changes to LFR, we’d be all-good, right?

Well, no.  Its irritating as hell.  Its not like WotC is unaware of the problem – not if they read their own forums, anyway.  The response is just infuriating.  I’ve been playing and DMing for years now – don’t tell me the problem is with my table management.  Nor should the solution be the elimination of options.  *ahem*

The problem with 4e is not “analysis paralysis”, despite WotC trying to tell you otherwise.

The suggestions for speeding up combat are insulting – the table tents on the DM screen are a good idea, but I already have my Gamemaster initiative tracker.  Don’t even get me started on a sand-timer.  Really?  You going to rap me on the knuckles if I go over time?  That’s where the game stops being fun, and more an exercise in discipline.  Oh, and why add another element (fortune cards) to slow things down even more?  Never mind, we know why.

Back on point – the grind is just too much.  Its like I’m being punished for hitting paragon.  Its not like WotC is unaware – that’s why Encounters and Game Days and all the promo stuff is in Heroic.  Leveling Up should be celebrated, and instead it just means you’re one step closer to unplayability.

So yeah, I’m done.  Kinda.

I’ll repeat a conversation I had with Eudemonist recently that he probably doesn’t remember.  I was (poorly) marshalling the Battle Interactive for Comicpalooza when I told him I had about one foot out the door with 4E.  He said something smart-assed about being glad there was someone that was such a 4E fan coordinating D&D for the con.

I told him the “kinda” part I’ve been getting at – that I want to see my friends have fun.

I did the best I could with the comicpalooza gaming stuff – had a sign-up sheet and did what I could to place people at tables they’d enjoy.  To my knowledge, only one dude got turned away – and that’s because he came so late to the BI I couldn’t find a place for him.  Fortunately, he found some Munchkin and was fine.  I DM’d twice and marshalled the BI.  Didn’t play anything, but enjoyed everyone’s company.  It was a positive experience that I’m glad is over.  I’ll talk more about c-pal later.  I’ve been trying to get this one out for a while, and I’m finally on a roll.

When I first moved to my part of town, the first thing I did was organize Encounters at the local store, then LFR for my region.  I actually like organizing stuff.  I like building a community.  I like having people over for games in my area – we’ve finally got a really good group.  We do it right.  Come over early if you want and play some YDKJ (or whatever), we’ll have dinner and bullshit.  Its a nice evening with friends – and gaming.

I still go back to the group at my former home-region, too.  I enjoy their company.

And the Houston LFR guys are good guys to be around – I really like playing with them.

I love half of our Encounters group.  The other half I want to chain to my car and drag down the street.

I’m just tired of 4E’s combat grind.  And WotC’s bullshit, too… but that’s “away from table”.

But I want to keep playing with friends – both old and new.  So here’s what I decided.

I’ll pop into Encounters whenever I’d rather not be home on a Wednesday night.

If I get a call – like I did for last weekend – and I’m invited to play 4E with friends, I’m in.  I had fun last weekend.

If I’m asked to organize or run 4E for friends, I’m in.

But I’d rather play something else.

…and no, I don’t know what “something else” is.  I met some Pathfinder guys at Comicpalooza, and I’ve been invited to their one-day mini-con in a few weeks.  I’ll try it.  But I go in with no expectations of anything.  I’d like to play Paranoia once in a while, but its not an all-the-time game.  There’s a Shadowrun group, but I think they play during the week – and that doesn’t work for me.  I really want to get into Wings of War, but I suspect it’ll just be a game for me and my kid.  That’s fine, too.  There’s a board gaming group around here that I might check out too.  But my first love is RPGs, and after D&D, there’s a significant drop-off of player numbers.

…and I want to play D&D.  When I was a kid and an uninterrupted play space was a valuable commodity, I used to say “When I grow up, I’m going to have people over for D&D all the time.”  Replacing that with another game title is just… weird.

So I’m still here.  Just… elsewhere, too.

Posted in Comicpalooza, Dungeons & Dragons, Living Forgotten Realms, Pathfinder | 3 Comments

We’re Waiting!

Huh, what? Oh, we’re blogging again? Yeah, I can do that.

First thing’s first: Jason’s graphic should be getting a lot more attention than its getting. It should be the response to any BS Dragon articles that say “it’ll get worse before it gets better… just keep waiting as things get worse and we charge you the same amount”. It should be the comment section when you’re directed to the comment card when subscriptions are canceled. It should be spammed to Rule of Three, demanding an explanation.

Subscribers should be pissed off about their DDI subscriptions, and should be protesting and fighting like they did back when “New Coke” came out. But that’s just not happening. Apologists take whatever WotC gives them because it gets them a mention on a web article or a podcast. Most others either quietly unsubscribe and play with pencil and paper – or move on to another game.

Full disclosure: I’m a DDI month-to-month subscriber. I just don’t see me keeping it another year. Honestly, I don’t expect me to keep it after Comicpalooza in May. I’d cancel it now, but … you know how cons are, you’d like to have every possible contingency covered.

A lot of talk on the twitters about the DDI content. Some’ll say the free articles are good because they help the game grow. Good point. Others will say that subscribers are getting screwed because “exclusive content” is a selling point, and part of what they’re paying for. They’re right too. My question is this…

Why is this the sticking point for DDI subscribers?

We had the character builder not updated (or at least not fully updated) for months – and when the update finally comes, its with a slower, buggier product. Did you get a discount? Get comped? Nope, me neither. Then the monster builder broke. If you applied the last update to the offline monster builder, the damned thing broke. We go even longer without an update there – and again, we get a slower, buggier product that does less! Did you get a discount? A comp?

Oh wait, it was beta. Really? Was it advertised? Then it wasn’t really beta. “Beta” isn’t a word that excuses a bad product.

Anyway, this new monster builder won’t let you do anything but level up or down a monster. That’s just inexcusable.

The online table took forever to get here, and when it did you couldn’t import anything. It still doesn’t have the one feature that’ll make it useful to me – a lobby.

Now, to be fair – I don’t think anyone at WotC was sitting around a smoke-filled room and planned how to screw subscribers out of their money. But I do think a general shrug of the shoulders, along with a “oh well” happened. While I don’t think DDI is a con, I will say this:

WotC’s been acting in bad faith.

The customer should be able to trust the company to at least attempt to give value-for-dollar. That’s not letter of law, but that’s how business should be done. A company should endeavor to keep its customers happy.

I don’t want to hear “it’ll get worse before it gets better – just you wait!”. You shouldn’t put up with that, either. What if your cable only worked sporadically – would you tolerate it if the service rep said “it’ll get worse before it gets better”?

Let’s address this waiting game here for a moment. Essentials, with all its good points (and they are there) updated the 4th edition ruleset. We were told Class Compendium was coming to update all our old classes so they’ll work with Essentials – which implies that the older classes/builds are broken and need to be fixed. Okay, we’ll buy another book to fix the problem, fine.

Then the book doesn’t come. It’ll happen online. Okay, whatevs.

…and we’ve had a sum total of one class update. The majority of 4th edition classes and builds are broken (or, to be more precise – incompatible with the latest rules updates) and we’re still waiting to get them fixed. The classes in the books we already paid for are obsolete and we’ve been told to wait.

Just how patiently are we supposed to wait to play the game? Oh, I know – use the old stuff, and we do – but didn’t WotC, by saying they needed to update the classes, tell us that the pre-Essentials stuff we’re using doesn’t work with the updated D&D game?

So if I can’t trust WotC to update the game (not the video game, not the board game, not the novels, not a card game, but actual D&D roleplaying game – the one which all the extraneous stuff is built upon), why would I trust to fix DDI after a couple of months worth of waiting?

I’d ask Rule of Three, but somehow I don’t think I’d get an answer.

Posted in DDI, Dungeons & Dragons | 2 Comments

DDI Subscriber Only Content vs. Non-Subscriber Content Only

Which are you seeing on the Dungeons & Dragons Insider website?  I’m not seeing “Subscriber Only” content – I’m seeing “Non-Subscriber Content Only”.

DDI Subscriber Only Snapshot

Here’s an exercise – go to the Article Archive (we used to have a Content Calendar but it was just too restrictive to keep that charade going on) and thumb back through the pages (26-50, 51-75, etc.) and look at the Red Badge of Rip-off (i.e. the icon indicating Subscriber Only content) and watch as the frequency of the icon diminishes the closer you get to today. 

Posted in DDI, Dungeons & Dragons | 1 Comment

Fortune or Despair

I was working on this long article on how I’ve been cardified – I was making my own DM cards for NPCs and Monsters and running my D&D Encounters combat with them.  I was even going to post some examples of my output to share.  But the truth is, after 20+ weeks of DM’ing Encounters and now 8 weeks of Season 4 with these accursed “Fortune Cards” being in-play, I still haven’t settle on my DM behind-screen note taking.  I’m down to about 2 methods, both of which require some printing out of things at work before 6PM on Wednesday nights.  If I forget to do that or work interferes with my planning then I resort to the standby pencil-and-paper method where you just scribble everything down on the back of something else.

So, I’m going to further delay that post and jump on this flash of inspiration I just had.  In the DDI article “April and Beyond” I found out that a.) we’re only going to get non-serious jokes because this accursed month has one day called “April Fools Day” in it (1 day of jokes, 29 days of not-jokes, but I still only see AFD Fluff in this month’s “issue” of the “magazine content”), and b.) the Despair Deck is rapidly approaching.

I know that my cohort, Matt, is not what you’d call a “fan” of Fortune Cards and I think I can summarize his opinion of them based upon what I half-heard him telling his players during DND Encounters a few weeks ago.  It actually wasn’t so much as telling them as standing up behind a podium yelling it at the top of his lungs making wild, gesticulating movements and they seemed to chant in syncopated agreement at this Two Minutes Hate.  He said something that really struck me as being a good point.

His thoughts, and I’ll let him clarify or elaborate, revolves in part around in-game mechanics for why these Fortunes are being gifted to these slime we call “Players” at our table.  Part of that statement I might have thrown in for good measure, I’ll let you debate what that is. Winking smile

What in-game explanation do you have for not granting opportunity attacks or shifting your full speed plus the square root of your initiative modifier times your level divided by the number of adjacent enemies?   Fortune Cards are giving you little perks or buffs but how do you explain them?  Divine intervention?  What if your character doesn’t have a deity?  What deity is handing out fortune to non-believers?  Don’t they have enough of their own followers to fill their time with?  Is it some extra special benefit of their training that allows them to avoid certain doom because back at the Inn the night before they spent extra time flipping a card over?  Who’s to say!?!

<insert Matt’s elaboration/flames here>

So when I saw this preview of a single card from the Despair Deck, I thought- you know?  These a different.  In the accompanying play setting for this deck of cards, the Shadowfell, you’re characters are in a very foreign environment.  And one of the effects of being here in this alien land is that the characters are under constant barrage from weirdness and sorrow at their surroundings.  All of a sudden, this Despair Deck has a perfect explanation of why they are being introduced into the game. 

You’re pulling a random card (hopefully not as often as once per turn) that says “hey, this place is cuh-razy- you’re extremely jittery here.  Until you can get over this, you’re going to be kinda out of it.”  So they’re dazed because of the strangeness of their surroundings.  I get that.  

But then on the flip side, once they’ve been able to overcome that despair, they receive a boon- as you would when you overcome great adversity.  This particular preview card (which, in case you missed it, is displayed at the April and Beyond link at the top of this post) you can’t become dazed again for the rest of the day.  I get that.  You’ve (somewhat) acclimated to your situation.  Good for you.  Just don’t go to sleep…

So, whereas, I’m still teeter-tottering on the fence about Fortune Cards (why do the “official WotC rules” allow for deck stacking?) (80%+ of the time, my players have forgotten they exist so it slows down game play when they interrupt combat by saying “Oh, I should have flipped over my card 3 turns back” and people stop to say “Aww man, you should have done that!” …. STAY ON TARGET ….)

So, whereas, I’m still teeter-tottering- I’ll say that I’m slightly more on the side of the Despair Deck.  They sound like a fun way to spice up your Shadowfell campaign/adventures.

Will using Despair cards be anymore fluent or natural by the time they come out?  Will people still be willing to spend $4 on a pack now and again?  Will they be disappointed that their Fortune Cards are now obsolete?  Will they, in fact, be obsolete? 

I don’t know yet.

Just don’t stack the deck.

Posted in Despair Deck, Dungeons & Dragons, Encounters, Fortune Cards | 5 Comments

Review: Dungeon Master’s Kit

I’m behind the curve here, but whatever – I just bought it. Maybe you’re wondering if you should, too.

Maybe not, but its been a while without content, ya know?

I recently broke down and bought the DM’s kit. I had a 40% off coupon for Borders, and all they had that I was remotely interested in was either A) DM’s kit or B) Pathfinder Core Ruleset. Clearly, I made the wrong choice.

Before you ask – no, it didn’t occur to me to buy a “real” book.

I’m trying as hard as I can, and I can’t find any value in the product.

If you’re such a fan of D&D, why are you talking bad about it?

Right. I forgot. I promised to introduce a new staff member. I kinda lied. More like, I’m introducing an archetype – The Apologist. You know the type – they defend every boneheaded business decision and bad product WotC makes. These people exist for the following reasons:

  1. Being so invested in a hobby, it can be difficult to find any fault in it – for if any fault exists, it may mean the investment is a waste of time.
  2. There are people in this world that try to find the good in everything. I can’t relate, but they exist.
  3. ..and yes, WotC designers and developers are at cons, on twitter and on the VTT. Its cool to make a buddy list, and constructive criticism may work against that.

Whatever the reason, we need someone around here to balance out my negativity – hence, the appearance of The Apologist, who’ll pop up from time to time. PROTIP: You’re not necessarily a “troll” for being critical. Our hobby needs some honesty in it. Anyway, back to the review:

I bought the kit for two reasons:

  1. Whenever I’m wondering if something got updated from the DMG, I’ll first check the miles and miles of errata. Then I’ll ask Jason (or online) if X has been updated in the kit. This gets tiresome.
  2. One of my players asked what the best resource is to learn to DM. I couldn’t really tell him, since I hadn’t checked out the new stuff.

Thing is, everything I’d look up in the DMG, I now find in the Rules Compendium (which actually is a decent buy). Everything I used to look up in DMG2… is still in DMG2, and hasn’t been updated.

I figured maybe it would be good for someone new to DMing, and I can’t even say that about it. It comes with the updated DM screen – which is a much better layout than the old one, but this is the flimsy version. Spend the $10 and get the nicer one. The kit also comes with an adventure and corresponding tokens, and while it looks alright I don’t typically run stuff that long and I don’t think a new DM should a) run long adventures or b) go outside the first level or two til they’re comfortable with the system.

So what would I recommend a new DM? DMG1, DMG2, and Rules Compendium… and some time with white-out and a pen to update the vast amounts of errata. Oh, and ignore the DMG talking down to you in the first chapter. Granted, its not ideal – but the DM kit is so lacking. I’d also recommend talking to other DMs – most are happy to tell you their gaming philosophy. Cherry-pick theirs, and combine it with your own.

I’m not going to trash every product WotC comes out with – though I’ll trash Fortune Cards for as long as WotC sells them, and I’ll start trashing Heroes of Shadow before it even comes out. I’m not even down on Essentials as a whole… but there’s no reason to pick this up.

OMG! You’re trashing WotC!

No, I’m not – I even recommended a new DM spend more money on WotC stuff. This box, however, is a pass.

Posted in Essentials, Fortune Cards, Pathfinder | Leave a comment

“We Need to Talk”

To begin, credit where its due: thanks to Wolfstar76 for live-blogging the DDXP panels. Also thanks to The Tome for putting out podcasts of the DDXP seminars. Very cool service to the D&D community.

That having been said – D&D Community, I’m very disappointed in some of you.

I look online – and with the exception of the apologists (we’ll get to them another time), the community is abuzz with discussion of bad WotC decisions lessening the quality of our game. You see it everywhere – high-profile guys are either quitting D&D or playing something else. Oh sure, there’s no shortage of commentators to take their place – but it illustrates a point. Look on the message boards, review sites, blogs, fan podcasts – pretty much everywhere in D&D fan world, people are concerned.

So why is it, that during these panels, WotC is only challenged twice?

To be clear – I’m not suggesting that anybody be uncool to guys who come out to cons and discuss our game with us from their unique POV. We’ll be having some of these guys at Houston’s Comicpalooza (that’s one) soon, and if anyone’s uncool to them I’ll personally punch them in the junk.

But there are obvious problems that are being ignored, and when WotC asks “any questions?”… c’mon. Don’t throw softballs. If you care about the game enough to go to a con panel, you care enough to create an awkward moment. You can suck up to world-famous game producers later – for now, let’s demand higher standards.

My two favorite moments on the seminars were when someone asked about digitally publishing the rulebooks, and the answer (I forgot from whom) was that WotC’s looking into it. The audience member then followed-up with “not to be a jerk, but its been three years – how long does it take?”

Exactly! And that was a fair question, and one that should be asked. Since we didn’t get an answer, its one that should be asked again. I realize, R&D doesn’t make those decisions – so someone that does should’ve followed-up on the WotC website.

At another panel, an audience member made the comment that epic monsters didn’t feel epic – they were just the same ol’ bad guys with higher damage numbers and defenses. To his credit, Perkins (I think it was) agreed. Hopefully, we’ll see some tweaks sooner rather than later.

If you’re wondering what I would’ve asked if I were at such a panel, I would’ve commented that the game breaks at paragon tier. I realize that’s not a question, but it is a problem.

When you and I are sitting around the table, complaining about how lame it is that we’re going to have vampire classes soon (YA RLY), it doesn’t change anything. When you comment on our blog (not that you do) and say that WotC’s giving too much attention to D&D’s extracurricular activities (board games, movies, novels), its a fun discussion – but ultimately doesn’t change anything. When you’re on twitter, bemoaning that WotC takes every unique thing about a campaign setting (action points, character themes, races) and puts them in core – nobody really cares.

Pay no attention to the fact I do all of the above. I’m not advocating we stop any of those things. They’re fun, but…

WAT DO?

The message – whatever your message is – needs to go to WotC. Respectfully. Cool-like. Don’t be a jerk – but there needs to be a discussion. Sometimes, when your chick says “we need to talk” – you really do need to talk. And sometimes, you’re glad you did. Sometimes, you hear harsh truth… and need to make a decision.

WotC, we need to talk. Its not me, its you. wth are you doing?

WAT NOT TO DO

Don’t take your marbles and go home. I’ll be honest, fortune cards has me thinking about splitting. Well, not really… fortune cards were the last straw – then I heard about what’s going to be in the “shadows” book, and that was beyond the last straw. Yet, I’m still here. I’d really rather not leave. Let me give an example to tell you why.

WAIT. Before I do. I just got a message from Jason. He bought a pack of fortune cards. Be sure to tweet Jason @priesmeyer and scold him for being part of the problem. Back to the example…

You know how MTV doesn’t play music anymore? And when they do, it isn’t rock music?

To their credit, they tried it. They just got the wrong message.

In 2002, they brought out a “reunited” Guns N Roses to cap off the Video Music Awards. It was awful. Axl looked and sounded bad, and that wasn’t the classic GNR lineup. They did “Welcome to the Jungle”, poorly, and a new song that the fanboys already heard.

It generated zero interest. MTV saw the data said “well, people aren’t interested in rock music anymore”, and well… we have what we have now. Guys in suits made decisions that people that know music wouldn’t have.

Similarly, if we all leave 4E en masse (pardon my French) – Hasbro’s not going to get the message that its a protest, or that people don’t appreciate certain nuances of the game, or that trying to apply the same marketing to D&D that worked for Magic: The Gathering just doesn’t work.

No. They’ll say “Well, apparently people aren’t interested in Dungeons & Dragons anymore” and stop producing game content. They’ll keep the name and slap it on a video game or movie here & there, maybe re-release the classic red box every few years – and that’s it. They’ll get a message, just the wrong one.

If you love the game, support it. We can’t trust guys in suits to understand gamers. I’d like to think some of the things WotC is doing are decisions made by guys in suits. I also believe five years from now, we’re going to hear some crazy stories from WotC employees that won’t be there for 5E.

Its pretty clear the people that design and develop the game care deeply for it and have roots going way back. Those are the guys we need to talk to. We need their help. Those are are the guys that need to take printouts of emails they’re getting to the corporate guys and say “The people we’re selling to don’t want this new thing you’re thinking of, here’s the evidence”. Those are the guys that need to come back from cons and say “hey idea X is very popular – idea Y, not so much. I got lots of feedback, let’s re-think things.”

WotC, we need to talk.

…as for you, people at the VTT panel – not one of you boos when a fortune card is played? Shame on you.

I’m not sure what Jason’s going to talk about in his next update, or when it is, or whatever. I think its clear that we don’t plan things out that much and just write when inspired. Soon, though, you’re going to meet a new member of the staff. I know you can’t wait.

Posted in Comicpalooza, Fortune Cards | 5 Comments

Not the Same Game

OwlCon was a lot of fun.  It always is.  This year, I didn’t do as much as I’d like due to personal commitments – but I’d like to talk about it anyway.

You already saw my post on what we do in Houston to make the LFR experience special.  If not, feel free to check it out.  So with that in mind, my OwlCon after-action report:

I’m not even in the building before I see people I recognize from prior years.  Players from different groups I’ve crossed paths with over the years.  Met friends-of-friends and players-of-other-DMs.  Its like in Donny Brasco – where you meet “friends of ours”.  Its an instant mood-changer, seeing so many friends that you don’t see as often as you’d like in one place during one weekend.  I was in a bad mood en route to the con.

Jason didn’t make it to the con – he was too busy circling Kinder-Care in his ice cream truck.  I know what you’re thinking – Kinder-Care’s closed on weekends.  I thought that was odd, too.  But I don’t judge.

Friday night was check-in, and every year this process is very smooth for me.  Pre-registering is good – both for the attendees, and the organizers.  Not only does it guarantee your spot in your gaming slot, and let organizers know what to expect – but you bypass a lot of the line.  And if you want to sign-up for more stuff – there’s a big projector showing available game slots.  They’ve done this song-and-dance thirty times now, and it shows.

Thirty years of OwlCon, or as they put it – “OwlCon XXX – it means what you think it means.”  There, on the t-shirt is the Rice University owl mascot in a trenchcoat.  On the lower back, a owl-wing tramp stamp.  Keep it classy, guys – I loved it.

At any rate, we begin where we always begin at any con – the dealer’s room.  I must admit, there was very little there that I felt I had to have.  GameScience wasn’t there this year, which was disappointing.  MechCorps, however, was – and have they upgraded their apparatus.  They had a big-assed camera ship, new mechs, and a second hypno-shelf.  I always enjoy hanging out with the players there – even the ones who give me a hard time for being absent as long as I have been.  I’m happy to report that I got to play a game with Eudodemonist.  If you’re local to Houston, you should check ’em out at mechcorps.com.  If you’re not, you should see when a Mobile Armor Division is coming to a con near you.  They’ve gotten the con thing down to a science.

Well with that, off to Friday night’s LFR prequel.  I was running Sadamzar: Tears of a Clown, which started off a storyline another table picked up on Saturday morning.  It also alluded to things happening Saturday evening.  I’ll be posting details about it on the Tymanther forums soon, per our coordinator’s request.  I really enjoyed this mod – I started writing it as a dark, depressing moody emo adventure, and by the time I was done it was the silliest damned thing I’ve ever done in 30 years of D&D playing.  Yes, this is the conjoined beholder mod.

In playtest and at the con, the majority of players seemed to take it in the spirit intended.  Its a game, its stupid fun – just go with it.  The storyline worked, the combat was challenging (although I think I made the detached beholders too easy in retrospect) – I’d like to do something with this.  I thought about bringing back the bad guy – a jester lich named Happypants – but that just seems lame.  Maybe I’ll offer it as a PDF for you guys.  I’m proud of it.  The players – most of who were new guys to LFR that Eudodemonist has been DMing – seemed to like it.

In the mod, there’s an audience that heckles the adventurers.  To simulate this, I threw things at the players.  There’s also a band in the mod.  I hum obnoxiously to mimic the band.  At one point, the players killed the entire band, save the pianist.  What to do then?

You sing, “…and the piano sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer…“, that’s what you do.  A silly mod.  I enjoyed running it, and I really hope the players enjoyed playing it.  Friday night was definitely a lot more fun for me than Saturday.

Because Saturday, I woke up, crammed, and went to take my teacher certification test.  Three hours of “wtf?  this wasn’t on my review!”.  If you’re wondering how I did, I honestly don’t know.  It’ll be another three weeks before I know.  My guess?  Flip a coin.  I need an 80%, and if I didn’t get it – I got close.  If I passed, I barely passed.  We’ll see.

I’ll concede that I probably should’ve said “no, I’m too busy for OwlCon this year” when I discovered that my test was on the same day as the con.  Then again, its OwlCon… the damned thing’s been on my day-planner for a year now.  Ah well.

So anyway, I finish up my test and hop on a computer to print out some monsters.  The new Monster Builder Beta is up, so I held my nose and renewed my DDI for another month (one of the reasons I let it lapse is because I resented that WotC was charging the same price for less content – now that the Monster Builder was back, I decided to give ’em another shot).  I go to monster builder, level up/down my monsters (because I don’t know what level tier my players will be), go to print, and…

wtf.  I can’t print with the new Monster Builder, making the product essentially worthless.  Don’t give me that “Its Beta” crap, either – it shouldn’t be in beta, as long as its been out.  I don’t care that the format got changed, nor do I care that WotC charges the same for DDI whether the MB exists or not.  Let me drop two Fundamental Truths on you:

  1. if its used in advertising, it isn’t “free”.
  2. If you’re not paying extra for it, you are the product.

Anyway, so I can’t print from new Monster Builder.  When I try, it looks like so:

I think I can comfortably say that I know how to use a computer, having worked in some form of computer support most of my adult life.  If there’s a way to print in new MB, it isn’t intuitive.  At this point, I can either use the old MB and manually put stuff in or I can adjust my monsters by-hand, or I can do what I did – print screen, crop in photoshop, and print.  It worked, but…

New MB had one of my monsters wrong.

Medusa Spirit Charmer, page 203 in the Monster Vault is in the MB incorrectly.  There’s a world of difference between “first failed saving throw” and “third failed saving throw”.  I didn’t catch it at the table.  I was asked about it Sunday night, answered “that’s how the dice went” and then Monday morning comes around and I started mentally reviewing things.  Things didn’t seem right.  I looked it up, and…

Philip, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I effed up.  I hosed your character and it was completely unintentional.

Bah.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  BTW, that’s the last time you’ll be seeing a public apology from me in this blog.  This I swear, and I have some complete dickwad comments already in notepad.

Moving on…

Saturday, after my test and after my printing, I’m still able to arrive to the con early.  I tried to find a game of Munchkin or something quick, but to no avail.  I go to the building LFR is in, and set up… only to be moved later, as Pathfinder Society needed our space.  Moving was a pain in the balls, but the guy running Pathfinder was classy enough to email our coordinator and thank us for making room.  That’s what I like to see – save the edition war for the losers on the internet.

Pay no attention to the fact that you are currently on the internet.

Oh!  I met the gang from Radio Free Hommlet.  If you haven’t listened to their newcast from the last podcast, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Even if you’re not the type to listen to podcasts, check it out.  They hit the nail squarely on the head.  That, and I got d20 radio dice, which was cool.  My kid played at their table Saturday night.

Saturday night was the multi-table.  The parties had a choice to fight the invasion force in the wild, or rush back to warn the town and help in the town’s defense.  Different tables had different scenarios for what happened if a certain number of parties made it back to town on time or not.

My Saturday night adventure was designed to be challenging, but not insurmountable.  I had hoped to create a “ohnoohnoohno” sense of urgency and/or desperation in the combats and skill challenges.  In playtesting, this seemed to work.  However, Saturday night, the party steamrolled over the adventure – even with the unjustly petrified player.

Granted, this was a party of experienced players with kick-ass PCs, but… I sometimes worry that I oversell the multi-table, and then I wound up giving the table a not-challenging scenario.  Bah.  I wish I did better.  The players said they had fun – and I’ve played with these guys and I think they’d tell me if they thought it sucked – nicely.  But… bah.  As one player said, I may be being my own worst critic.  There’s a room full of talented writers and DMs there that bring their A-game.  I fear my table wound up being the low tier.  Incentive to bring something kick-ass for next con, I suppose.

I was scheduled to play other stuff on Sunday, but told our coordinator to call me should my presence be the difference in a table making or not for LFR.  I brought a minimum amount of material to DM with, and headed to my scheduled games.

Sunday morning, I played Settlers of America – hosted by Alex Yeager of Mayfair Games.  As I understand it, Alex is one of their developers.  As we were learning the game, Alex was telling us the thought process behind certain design decisions – what they were going for – and it really enhanced the experience.  Alex was a helluva nice guy, very enthusiastic about showing us the game and teaching it to us.  I lost, but not by such a margin that I was embarrassed.  Alex is also their educational gaming guy – and had some Catan variants to give out to the winners with historical info and stuff.  A really positive experience.

However… I don’t have a normal Catan-playing group, and the America rules are naturally a bit more complex than standard Settlers.  I don’t think I’ll be making the purchase – because when I am able to play, I want to be able to keep it simple for people unfamiliar.  Its an interesting game – with mechanics to mimic the westward expansion.  I’d recommend it if you have a regular board-gaming group, but only then.

Sunday afternoon, I was signed up for an introductory game of Pathfinder…

Wait, what?

Yeah, the abusive spouse finally went too far.  We’ll stay together for the kids, but I’m ready to have an affair.

That’s far too simple an analogy for my current “Smurf WotC in their smurfing smurfholes” mindset – but we’re already in tl;dr territory.  Besides, the mindset goes away when I’m actually at the table.

Anyway, I got a call from our LFR coordinator requesting my presence, so I went to the registration table, dropped out of the game, then went and found the GM in person to tell him.  One runs into many smelly jerky people at gaming cons – I endeavor not to be one myself.  So yes, at least the courtesy of telling the GM you won’t be at his table if you feel the need to drop, please.

I’m very glad I got the call.  There was a family there – mom, dad, son, and daughter.  Daughter was too young for D&D, but she had a gameboy and was fine.  Turns out, they’ve been playing LFR all weekend.  They were local and new to our group.  They played every H1 module our organizer brought.  Fortunately, we had a printer and internet access.  I was asked if there was an old mod in that level bracket that I was fond of.

There is.  AGLA 1-1.  Yes, the one with the pixies.  I really enjoy role-playing the pixies.  Especially when there’s a kid at the table.

It was printed, and while waiting for other players to join us, I edited the mod to conform the the scores of rules updates and monster stat updates we’ve had since 4E’s launch.  They were very patient while waiting.  I’m also happy to report that three experienced players – my son among them – sat with us to play a mod they’ve done several times before.  I’m really big on bringing in new players.  I was very happy to see vets with the same mindset.  We got good players – more importantly, we have good people – in our LFR group down here.

Without question, DMing for this family was the highlight of my con experience.

Many times, I hear people say something like “why go to a con to play the same game I play with my friends at the house?”.  That’s just it – its not the same game.  Mix up your environment.  Play with strangers.  Try new games.  I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about con gaming – there are also great experiences to balance out those stories.  Besides, the horror stories are both cautionary tales and make great table chatter.

If you’re wondering, we had a few more tables this year than last year.  I believe LFR play is down most other places, so I’d call this a success story.  I think we do something really special here in Houston.  We’re not Seattle, we’re not Indy or anywhere else that gets WotC con-love, but I do believe we’re a monkey-fighting force for D&D down here.  Respect.

Posted in Conventions, Dungeons & Dragons, Living Forgotten Realms, OwlCon, Pathfinder | 3 Comments

Essential Encounters of Fortune

Last week season 3 of the D&D Encounters organized play dealio came to an end.  It was my first turn at DM’ing with any sense of regularity with people who weren’t people I had known for a very long time (aka. ‘friends’).  DM’ing with strangers is very different from DM’ing for your friends.  First off, you have to learn their names.  Secondly, you have to learn and get used to their unique personalities and mannerisms and eventually their gameplay-style.  If you’re lucky, and I have been, they turn out to be a cool group of people that you don’t mind hanging out with every few days (or even more often if you’re really lucky).

But that’s not what this post is about.  I wanted to reflect on a few things that I saw and how they might apply in the next season, March of the Phantom Brigade.

Season 3 lasted 20 weeks.  At the beginning we had a good range of experience at our table.  We had people who’d never played D&D before.  We had people who’d played back in the 80’s when it was called AD&D.  And we had people who’d been playing 3rd Edition, Pathfinder and 4e for some time and were very capable at thwarting the DM’s tactics and wishes at the table. 

The mostly-noobs weren’t part of the in-fighting that’s been happening in the D&D community about Essentials so they weren’t aware they’d been handed a side to choose.  Essentials was the legal character for season 3.  Having said that, when I started the game I didn’t want to turn anyone away so I allowed classic 4e classes and races.  For me, it quickly became obvious that was becoming a problem.  The Essentials characters (i.e. the pregens) didn’t have a lot to do while they waited for the classic 4e characters to do what seemed like 5 or 6 actions each turn.  And heaven help them if they picked an attack, rolled then missed.  That means they sat their and waiting for their turn to come back around.  Meanwhile the 4e guys did minors, frees, standards and all kinds of stuff that kept hurting my monsters or thwarting their plans.

It was clear to me that the different editions weren’t playing as nicely together as I’d thought they were supposed to be able to do.

So once the first chapter (4 encounters) was done I started encouraging everyone to switch over to Essentials characters.  By the end of chapter 2 I required everyone to run Essentials characters.  And you know what?  Even the guy who was begrudgingly rerolling his mage into an Essentials version was having just as much fun as before (if not more). 

In fact, the guy mentioned above was able to pretty much powergame the system as much as he was before.  So that bit of meta-gaming was still there for him. 

By the end of Chapter 5 I don’t think people even remembered back that far where they were moaning about Essentials characters.  They were just into the story and defeating the mean bad guy who’d played them back at the start.

So now, we’re starting Season 4 and we have a few newcomers to the organized play event joining us.  We had a quick talk last week about legal characters and when I said “Essentials only” he audibly moaned.

But I think he’ll come around.  I’ve seen this before.

(To be continued … I almost forgot about the Fortune Cards)

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons, Encounters, Essentials | Leave a comment