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D&D 5th Edition Release Update

Things are afoot for Dungeons and Dragons! So I wanted to pop in with a few editorial notes.

Though it may be a rolling release, 5th edition is, as of now, in the hands of the players! If you haven’t gotten a chance to take a look for yourself, the D&D 5th Basic Rules can be downloaded here.

In case you missed the details on Basic, the following sums it up: The most rudimentary rules necessary to run the game (Four most common races, classes, along with iconic class builds, monsters, key rules, etc.) are going to be released for FREE on Wizard’s website as a pdf called “D&D Basic.” At the moment this document only includes information for character creation, though by the end of the year it should be fleshed out with monsters and a slew of DM guidelines. This document will be enough for introducing new players to the game, though it won’t feature nearly the breadth of content that the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide will provide.

Going forward; for the sake of convenience, when I need to reference a page in “the rules,” my preference will be for the Basic document (since it is available to everyone). If I pull a monster or rule from the Monster Manual or other source, I’ll be sure to indicate it along with the page number.

Having looked the document over, I am very pleased with just about everything I have seen! The best changes from the playtest have been carried over, and further tweaks have pushed the game in a good direction (with some unexpected and very cool surprises among class abilities!) A lot of good work went into the playtest and I’m glad to see nearly everything survived.

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Also! on the off chance that any readers might find it valuable to their own games, I’m linking to the Obsidian Portal page that will follow the game I’m currently running. I’ve found myself with a large chunk of time with few responsibilities, so I’m attempting to hammer through the entirety of Murder in Baldur’s Gate. The PC game of the (almost) same name is one of my top ten video games of all time, so a tabletop expedition to my favorite part of the Sword Coast (or ANY coast for that matter) was an easy sell. Combined with the adventure’s casual structure and concise sequences, I’m looking forward to running a campaign that might be able to go from start to finish in a reasonable time span while staying satisfying to the players. But we’ll see. Plans and contact with the enemy and all…

       

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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Editorial

 

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Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”

       

     I’m frequently making references to Theater Ninjas, the Cleveland-based theatre company I’m a member of. The brief snatches about my theatre life are usually in context of how I’m dividing myself between many time consuming passions and putting poor Save Vs. Weekend on the back-burner. But in this case, Ninja action applies directly to the gaming world!

      The Ninjas actually use games an awful lot in our rehearsal process; both for scripted and self-written original pieces. This year we decided to expand upon the group’s interest in games, and invite the audience in to join us.

     Enter our new, free, monthly get-together: GameNight. The focus of GameNight is to introduce fans, collaborators, supporters, new comers, gamers, the curious, their friends, and anyone else to try out some games that focus on story and player creativity. In almost all cases that means some kind of role-playing game. My interest in table-top role-playing grew out of my love of improv and began with traditional titles like my beloved D&D. But recently (and in part because of GameNight) I’ve also branched out into some newer, extremely innovative titles that focus more closely on character and open-ended story-telling. More often than not our selections are (gasp!) totally GMless!

     I wanted to share a bit about the games we’ve been playing, and how GameNight can be relevant to D&D players of any edition. There are a lot of facets to what makes a good D&D campaign, and that ultimately comes down to which interests all the players at the table overlap on. But no matter what, story and character are going to play a role: and the more care you put into these elements the more your game will benefit. “Care” in this case does not mean hours of writing or railroading the PCs. It means establishing some simple links between and objectives for characters to inspire players to build the plot and dramatic action themselves. GameNight’s offerings are great at that, and I think each of these indie games has a place in supplementing the regular play (or campaign world prep) of a D&D game.

     We started GameNight off with Jason Morningstar’s FIASCO, a game where players create everyday people with burning ambitions and faltering impulse control. FIASCO’s rules build relationships between player characters into the action, – and even folks new to the RPG world take to it easily. A single game of FIASCO can be a good building block for exploring your D&D campaign’s characters, or even figuring out how the party got together before the classic “you are sitting in a  tavern when” moment (A suggestion Jason even mentions in the rules for FIASCO). In particular, Wizards of the Coast vet Logan Bonner has written a fantastic FIASCO playset that pairs well with experienced D&D players.

     Most recently GameNight took a crack at Ben Robbins’ Microscope. In this game, the players work together to write the epic history of a world by taking turns to create sweeping periods of history, crucial events, and the moment-by-moment role-played scenes that changed the fate of the world. Using Microscope as prep for your D&D game is a good way to bring the players into the world building stage. It can also be a means to sidestep forcing your players to write a 5-page essay explaining their character background (protip: maybe ONE of your players will EVER do this). You can build 1,000 year spans time, or focus in on a few pivotal minutes. Being non-linear, you can hop back and forth down the timeline, zooming in as you wish. Each player has complete, neigh unquestionable authority on their turn, but builds on the ideas of everyone else at the table. It’s your chance to invest the players (and their characters) in the world and its backstory, making them more likely to closely follow the plot and react strongly to the villains, allies, and institutions they run into along the way.

     Opening a D&D campaign with one of these (or any of the countless other) “story-games” can reap major rewards in player investment and attention, and does a lot of the dirty work for you. Best of all, it’s actually a lot of fun, and can help burn off any fatigue incurred from playing the same game for a long stretch of time by allowing you to try something new, while still contributing to the host campaign.

     I personally advocate for FIASCO and Microscope. Each of the Theater Ninjas’ GameNight events has been a major success. I love to hear the players chatting about that month’s game, the stories they built together, and how they might do things next time as they pack up at the end of a session.

     If you’re a gamer in Cleveland Ohio, I highly encourage you to check out the next GameNight event (details at the Theater Ninjas website). I think it’s a foray into a different way to play the kind of games we already love, and gives you ammo and ideas for your own home campaigns. You’ll find some pleasant surprises. But then again, I am a little biased.

      

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Announcements, Story Challenge

 

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Penguincon 2013 After Action Report

     This past Saturday marks my first visit to Penguincon, hosted by Gamers with Jobs. I had been aware of the convention going on here in Cleveland, but assumed I’d be too busy to attend. Wouldn’t you know it, stars more-or-less aligned so that I could go! Board games and the ever incredible “fudge island” here I come! Because of my predilection towards running games (rather than wandering around the con and just having fun like a normal person) I was encouraged to prep a quick one-shot featuring the barely week old release of the D&D Next playtest. 

     Oh right! The newest Playtest! I couldn’t have been happier. Other than my hold-over gripes with feats, this latest (and final!) update to the public playtest is without doubt the best we’ve seen yet.

     In my typical fashion, I prepared copious amounts of glitz and glamor for the occasion. Quality always trumps special effects, I know that intellectually, but my heart screams out to blast a smoke machine down the intricately detailed halls of some modular Dwarven Forge set-dressing. I tried my hand at a few new effects for this very brief adventure.

   

     I know, I know, it’s a game of the imagination. But I just don’t trust the player’s imagination to picture it correctly! They need help! And LED lighting! Wish I had taken the time to do something fancier with the mosaic tile puzzle (stolen and adapted from a similar trap in the old 3rd edition Book of Challenges). Regardless, that particular trap was exactly as vexing as it needed to be both times, not bogging the players down in trial and error, but still forcing them to think sideways.

     This adventure, a variation and expansion on a previously posted encounter, Curse of The Black Jarl, fratured four (five if you count the Forge of Foresight) quick challenges that varied between combat, interaction, and exploration/puzzle solving. Ultimately I think it gave players a good feel for the speedy combat, and the flexibility of the core rules.

     What was cool for me was getting to run two groups of players through the same adventure, using the same party (six pre-generted characters, with six players in each of the two sessions). The groups were able to compare notes afterwards and see who had the simpler solution to puzzles (“Oh, you guys just used the doors as a bridge…we got set on fire a lot.”) At the end of the day there were no complaints about the system getting int he way of the fun, the final boss was tweaked just right, and each character had a place to shine regardless of the player’s level of experience (we had some newbies to D&D!) And once again, my sincere thanks to all those who joined me for the game – glad you liked it!!

     I’ll look into formatting the adventure into a friendly and readable PDF, with map and mosaic tile floor handout. It ran between 2 – 2.5 hours making it ideal for this kind of convention play. I think I’m learning my lessons from D&D Encounters well.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Con Man

     Tomorrow, I’ll be attending this year’s PenguinCon by request in order to run a few sessions of some D&D Next Playtest. I’m pretty pumped about this! The most recent (and final!) public playtest looks fantastic, and I’m really excited to drum up some interest in this new version. Also, I’ve never run a game in a free-for all, public setting like this one, so I’m looking forward to it. Time to hone some of these lighting effects to accompany all these Dwarven Forge catacombs….

I’ll try and grab some pictures of the event, write a little something about the experience, and will likely even share the (very brief!) adventure itself. It’s nothing special, and makes use of some of my favorite old tricks, but we’ll see how it plays to the audience.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Incidents – The Long, Cold, Road

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I know I’ve been a tad remiss in my posts of late, and did not want to leave you all hanging before the year switches over. This week’s post is a short one: just a few inserts to make travel in your game more interesting.

The horrid winter weather that has assaulted my native Cleveland got me nostalgic for last winter’s video game foray into Skyrim; so I took a brief detour from the games I should be playing right now. My character, battered, low on resources, and still leagues until she reached a settlement, happened upon a patrol of Imperial soldiers escorting a prisoner. They were heading in her direction, and so I decided to tag along for mutual protection. That’s the sort of organic encounter that made that game great, and its an element I think we tend to forget about the D&D world sometimes as we get wrapped up in our Encounter building. The world is full of other people, going about their day-to-day lives, and that can easily run up against your PC’s plans in any number of ways.

The road is a dangerous place and hardly empty of anyone but your PCs – but wether the random passers-by are going to alleviate or elevate the danger is another question entirely!

While traveling on a road between settlements, the PCs bump into fellow travelers who seem interested in accompanying them for mutual benefit. Roll 1d6 and conult the chart below:

1 – Two slimy looking merchants begin to tag along. They constantly and rudely pester the PCs to consider purchasing some of their wares, which are overpriced and shoddily crafted. When meal time comes, however, both prove to be magnificent cooks.

Time spent on the road with the merchants grants each PC who ate their meals a +1 bonus to their FORT defense until the end of their next combat encounter.

2 – A handful of dragonborn mercenaries offer to follow along with the party, sharing stories of battles fought and monsters slain. They appear to be very concerned with honor and decorum, and behave quite chivalrously, especially to any women present. After a couple nights of travels the PCs awake to find one of them is missing. Not far away, the mercenaries have the vanished PC, bound and held hostage, a blade to his or her neck. The mercenaries then attempt to ransom the captive back to his/her friends (insistently bartering for any mounts the PCs possess).

This tense standoff might end in a combat encounter, but bear in mind that the hostage PC will need to escape the bonds confining him/her before they can jump into the fray. The mercenaries are more interested in negotiating. Even then, clever or willful PCs might manage to trick or intimidate the dragonborn into yielding.

3 – Four young, brash men accompany a lovely young half-elf named Dara, explaining that they are escorting her as she flees from the cruelty of her foster parents to make a life for herself in the next town. Dara has secretly promised marriage to each of the cocky youths, insisting that the other men are “just friends” eager to help her make her journey. In all truth, Dara has no interest in marrying any of them, and merely enjoys the attention. None of them is particularly skilled at travel on the road, and it is clear they need the PCs aid and expertise more often than not.

When it is dramatically appropriate; a fight breaks out among the suitors, who have realized the ruse. Blades are drawn and the argument quickly escalates to near-violence. Though conscious of her manipulation, Dara ad no intention for the bluff to come to bloodshed, and desperately begs the PCs to intervene. If not, the young men, eager to prove their mettle to both the girl and the adventures, will fight until only one survives, badly wounded and in need of medical aid if he is to survive the fracas.

4 – Six individuals (each of a different race, and possibly culture) are taking to the road on a pilgrimage to a famous shrine (or so they claim). But from early on the PCs detect unease in their new companions – details are inconsistent, the six seem to know little about one another, and even less about this shrine. None are dressed as pilgrims, nor do they have the typical holy symbols and accoutrements one would expect. They make no violent or dangerous overtones, but exude an air of constant vigilance.

In truth, they are all refugees, escaped from a nefarious slave trader. They each made a go of settling down in the last town they came to, but their master posted a substantial reward on each of their heads. Having no friends or family, they banded together (their fear outweighing the poor sense of keeping themselves in one place, sweetening the deal for anyone who would re-capture them). The PCs might find out about this from the escaped slaves if pressed, or perhaps another roadside traveler imparts the information casually, not realizing that half the traveling companions ARE, in fact, the valuable escapees themselves.

5 – The PCs start to pass an old man and his donkey. The old-timer will beseech the PCs to permit him to follow along. But as they journey forward, it seems that the party is harried by unusually frequent attacks from monsters. The old man hold back, cowering during a fight. But in a moment of desperation, he unleashes a magical attack, coming to the aid of a beleaguered PC.

This man is a “Wild Mage,” an arcane caster who frequently loses control of his spells with often catastrophic (always random) results. While many of his kind learn to hone their chaotic skills, this poor old novice never quite got the hang of it. Unwittingly, he cast a curse upon himself that makes him smell and taste incredible to monsters – a fact that has made travel quite dangerous. If the PCs continue to allow him to tag along, they will be faced with frequent attacks unless they can remove the curse.

6 – An amiable Halfling jeweler is traveling in a wagon full of his wares, along with his family and a few rough looking guards. They offer to ride along with the PCs, and might even do some buying/trading if the need suits. While with the party, the jeweler tries on a new acquisition of his – a strange amulet that is covered in the iconography of a dead Goddess. The amulet appears to have no negative effects on his person.

Shortly after, the group stumbles into a bandit ambush. During the fight, the jeweler brings the amulet to bear on a fallen bandit or caravan guard, reanimating their corpse and using the resulting monster as a loyal underling. The jeweler, fascinated by the power, decides to keep the amulet, seeing nothing wrong with such a gift. It is hard to say if the artifact genuinely has any corrupting influence, or if it is simply a tool of great necromantic power. What the PCs decide to do, is up to them.

**In game terms, the item is a +2 Amulet of Wee-Jas. It can be used as an implement by clerics. As a Daily Power (Standard Action) it can reanimate one dead medium humanoid into an undead creature of the corpse’s level (This creature is either a standard or minion monster. The kind of monster is up to DM discretion. Undead made in this way are under absolute control of the current wielder of the amulet. These undead remain functioning until destroyed.)**

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Incidents, Not Playtested

 

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