Some things that have always bothered me about D&D, and indeed most fantasy RPGs, happen to deal with the way monsters and other dangerous types of creatures and NPCs are presented. In D&D the monster has been reduced to little more than a set of statistics, numbers, and aspect summaries, with little if any regard ever given to the idea of what the word actually means. What it means to be a monster, and what monsters would be like if they really existed (I’m leaving aside for the moment any consideration of the “human monster” who is often far too real, but is in many instances a good guide for how non-human monsters would behave and operate).
For instance many dungeons, adventures, and scenarios are built around the idea that for some unknown (and rarely if ever well-explained) reason, creatures that are hostile and dangerous to people somehow, and usually without prodding, just seem to naturally cooperate with each other to attack adventurers, but not each other. For instance orcs and kobolds can often be found in the same dungeon, no explanation given as to why they would tolerate each other rather than slaughter each other. And many monsters just seem to sit around waiting for the hapless adventurer rather than patrolling whatever dungeon they inhabit, with a well-practiced defense or attack plan, cleaning out the other potential hostiles. A typical dungeon filled with a number of different types of belligerent monsters would hardly be a likely, believable, or functional scenario even in the often not very well thought out world of fantasy adventuring.
This type of incredulous scenario is especially true of the so-called “Dungeon Crawl.” Monsters, because they are monsters, would kill each other off and by the time the party arrived the adventurers would be dealing only with the most dangerous and aggressive survivor. For instance, if the Minotaur and the Chimera both existed in the same Labyrinth then sooner of later only one would be left. Furthermore, monsters, if they were organized by some higher force would not be sitting around in a dungeon room just waiting for the adventurers to blunder into their living area. At the first sign of infiltration the monsters would be on the prowl, seeking out and hunting any invaders without rest until such invaders are slaughtered. Monsters cannot be both hostile, aggressive, full of avarice and greed, hoarders of treasure, and bloodthirstily dangerous, and simply lounging about waiting to see if their lair will be invaded by some dangerous force, while calmly playing gentlemen card games with the goblins in the next room to see who gets to keep the ancient artifact they all covet. It’s ridiculous, even in the silliest of fantasy worlds. Without a very excellent and extremely fearful need to cooperate, monsters simply don’t. They kill each other instead and eat the remains of the weaker creature.
Another thing that bothers me about D&D is the fact that once you meet a monster, or have read about it in the Monster Manual, from then on, it is far too often simply just a matter of encountering hit point variants of the same creature. Having fought Trolls before you know how to kill them and make them stay dead they are an extremely dangerous encounter, afterwards, not so much. (In horror/weird, sci-fi, detective, even some military/modern and superhero games – though superhero games, like fantasy often have on-going villains whose nature you are already well familiar with – this is not nearly as big a problem because often one is constantly encountering new creatures and beings and enemies about whom you have little, if any, advanced foreknowledge.)
Of course historical records could account for a certain degree of knowledge about monsters in fantasy game settings (though such accounts should always be mixed with rumor and mis and disinformation), but otherwise because they are monsters they should be unknown or at least little-known entities; a shock to the system, a surprise, and a real danger. And anything you have advanced intelligence on is far less dangerous than the unknown. These problems regarding monsters greatly reduce the tension and sense of danger in playing the game, and for that reason, they greatly reduce the fun.
I have tried over the years to address these “monstrous and monsterous problems“ in my Campaign setting, and in the adventures I write for the players to undertake. For instance in my world monsters are unique, usually one of a kind creations, much more similar to the monstrosities and prodigies of ancient Greece, than the creations of modern fantasy role play. This means when the party does encounter a monster then in game terms it is a real, dangerous, feral, vicious brute. Really and truly monstrous. It also means you can’t pull out the Monster Manual to know best how to fight it or know if it likes laying traps and ambushes or the straight out, let’s get bloody, man-to-man brawls.
Furthermore it knows where it lives, how it moves, what its tactics are, what techniques it will employ far better than the players. (Which ain’t the case most of the time you encounter monster sin most fantasy game sis it now.) Making it that much more dangerous and lethal because it is an unknown quantity with unknown qualities. You don’t know the creature’s level, challenge rating, hit point count, what it can do, etc. You just know it bites, claws, employs magic, has set traps, is extremely cunning and vicious, and kills. (But only after you’ve seen it in operation, until then it is all potential.)
So in that way I’ve solved the “Over-familiarity/Lack of Danger Aspect” of monster design weakness in D&D. (This is just a general “design principle,” and like all design principles it is of course open to whatever the DM and players want to do. If the DM and players want gnolls who dress like circus clowns and eat hay and farm naked molerats for monsters, so be it. I’m talking however about milieus and settings with game monsters that are truly monstrous, and dangerous, and unknown, not colorful and comic, humorous, and so familiar they might as well be wearing body scales made out of neon glowing statistical probability charts. If monsters were real they would not be “readable and predictable,” instead they would be lethal, unpredictable, crafty, vicious, natural survivalists, and stat graphs and hit point counts would be the very least of your worries if you encountered one that was pissed off, moody, or feeling kind of hungry.
The First Problem though, the problem of “Cooperative Design and Behavioral Unbelieveability,” is harder to address, especially when you want to create a “Dungeon Crawl” for your players to game. Because, let’s face it, although the standard crawl is silly and extremely weak as normally designed, it is also fun and exhilarating, and is what most people (especially older players) think of first when they think of playing D&D. The common crawl, although utterly ridiculous in many respects, can be a lot of fun if designed right and executed correctly.
So, to that end, it seems like if you’re going to create a really first rate Crawl, and I think most DMs should include at least one good crawl (if not many more) in their campaign repertoire, then a few basic design rules would help a lot.
1. Make it as logical and believable as possible, so that even in the middle of a crawl it still seems dangerous and believable. Something where the player wouldn’t say to himself, “That’s stupid and silly, no orc would ever team up with a gelatinous cube to try and keep me from killing the giant python who lives on top of a pile of gold.” So, if there is to be cooperation between creatures whose aims and interests vary, not to mention outright oppose one another, either include a force powerful enough to control and manipulate them all, or use other methods that make it at least seem plausible that the hobgoblin would be working with the Barrow Wight instead of fleeing in horror from such a terrifying and dangerous undead creature.
2. Place in the crawl creatures the players have never encountered before or at least variants of the typical monster types so radical that the players won’t really know what they are fighting, or even exactly how to fight them. Bring back the excitement, wonder, horror, and lethality of the monster. He ain’t just a giant with 300 hit points, he’s a vicious, black-hearted mutha who will snap off your head with his bare hands, drink your blood and grind your bones to make his bread. He means business, he’s set traps for you, and if you get close enough that he can catch you he means to rip your arm from the socket and club you to death with it. He enjoys doing that kinda thing because, well… he’s a monster.
3. Include tricks, traps, ambushes and other dangerous things that the players are unaware of but the creatures know exist. And let the creatures, monsters, opponents use these traps, tricks, puzzles, and ambushes in such a way as to most damage the party and most enhance their own (the monster’s) chances of survival. That is to say the monsters know their environment and how to use it, the players don’t. Let the monsters use every advantage they have, especially environmental.
4. Use every other trick and technique you have available to make the crawl disturbingly believable, but also as risky as possible. Remember the adventurer is infiltrating a place he has never been before, has only sketchy, at best, intelligence on, and is by its very nature supposed to be hostile to unwanted visitors. The characters are going into places dark, deep, and undiscovered. That fact alone, as I know from Vadding, can make the venture very dangerous. Throw in monsters, traps, ambushes, patrols, a coordinated defense response, a generally hostile neighborhood, and other dangers of that ilk and you have a very lethal combination. To say the least. Crawls, to use an analogy of military terminology, should be just short of suicide missions, and therefore should perhaps be the most dangerous and enterprising type of fantasy RPG adventure one can undertake. Make the players wish they had prepared as if they were intending to invade hell itself. Because maybe that’s exactly what is waiting for them. They don’t call them monsters only because they look and smell funny, they call them monsters because they are laughing while they disembowel your still steaming entrails and eat you alive.
In keeping with what I said over the weekend about beginning to once again post my own Works (as per this Post) here is my entry for Design of Things to Come, though it is one day early due to later work week scheduling conflicts.
Also I have now corrected all my former entries in The Other World so that they now properly show in that category, as they should. Later I will begin reposting my Essays on Gaming and Game Design.
So here you go, the Introduction to The Caerkara, orThe Expeditionary Force
Introduction to The Caerkara
When the Eldeven folk began to realize that monsters were being accidentally created through the use of Elturgy (Arcane Magic) they began to track down and capture many of these monsters and isolate them in various places where they could be studied and hopefully cured. However the alterations caused by exposure to (especially) high level Elturgy seemed irreversible.
Eventually the Eldevens also realized that Elturgy itself seemed to be “mutating” some of their own kind, as well as other creatures, into monsters, or the Caladeem. Many at the Court of Samarkand came to understand that some of these monsters were completely rogue and out of control and could not be held or captured, that once transformed certain monsters would have to be killed due to their new and vicious nature. The Eldevens in Samarkand formed secret teams of “monster hunters” that traveled throughout the Known World (and sometimes to places in their world beyond their explored knowledge) to capture or kill monsters. At the same time the Samareül began a project that lasted for many decades that attempted to “repair” elturgy so that it no longer created monsters. But the deterioration only seemed to increase and worsen and no means was discovered to return Elturgy to a reliably benign state of operation.
Some monster hunter teams soon discovered that monsters were disappearing right before capture. The reason was a mystery until it was discovered that these monsters were fleeing to another world, through means unknown. The Samareül put his best Sages and Elturgists upon the problem and eventually the Drüidect was discovered, which allowed travel between their world and Terra, though the means by which “the Weirding Road” operates is still a mystery.
The Samareül formed a secret and elite team of Monster Hunters to go to Terra and either recover or kill the monsters that had escaped to that world. While there agents of this team met human beings and discovered human ideas about religion as well as information about Miracles (Thaumaturgy). When this team returned home and reported on their findings the Samareül decided that these events were not coincidental at all but fated, and that Thaumaturgy, God, and religion might just be the long sought answer to either repairing or replacing the troubled nature of Elturgy.
Since then the Samareül has been carefully studying humans, their society, religion, thaumaturgy, God, and other related matters. He has sent his elite Expeditionary Team into Terra on numerous occasions. Ostensibly it is the job of this team to hunt down and capture or kill the escaped monsters from their world, but secretly this team also studies humans, religion, thaumaturgy, etc. and gather intelligence to return to the Samareül for further study and research. This secret team or Expeditionary Force is called the Caerkara. Over the course of their expeditions to Terra they have spent much time in the Byzantine Empire (where many of the odd events affecting both worlds, as well as the escaped monsters, seem to tend to congregate) and humans have become aware of their existence, though not their true nature and point of origin. They have also become uneasy allies on occasion with the Basilegate, and as a result of this interaction a relationship has developed between the Court at Constantinople and the Court at Samarkand.
A collection of graveyard encounters, adventure seeds, and half-baked thoughts…
1. The group stumbles upon a cemetery with tombstones a quarter of the standard size. Engraved on the tombstones are names like Kitty, Tiger, Max, etc. Half the grave soil has been disturbed as if something dug its way out. A meow can be heard in the distance as dozens of undead cats prowl the perimeter of their resting ground.
2. There are numerous mausoleums spread throughout the graveyard. Each one has four gargoyles leering at each of its roof corners. Anyone who crosses the shadow of any of the perched gargoyles will have the shadow come alive and attack. Once slain that gargoyle will no longer cast a shadow.
3. You encounter an elderly man who is digging up a grave. If questioned he tells you that he recently had a dream where his dead wife was calling for him to rescue her.
4. A young girl scream pierces through the cemetery. She is running frantically and crying for help. She and her partner came to the cemetery to make out when decaying arms rose up from the ground and dragged her lover beneath the surface. All that remains is a broken picnic basket, a shredded blanket, and a used sheepskin.
5. You cross paths with a half dozen gravediggers. Their cart is filled with dozens of bodies. Half of them deceased, the other half clinging to life. They tell you the other half will be dead soon enough and there is no point in waiting for the inevitable.
6. As you pass by a gravestone you hear scratching and clawing coming from the ground. The soil begins to break apart and you faintly hear mumbling asking for assistance. A few moments later a ghoulish man in victorian dress and a top hat pull himself out. He believes he is awfully late for a dinner engagement and ask your were Wilson Pub is.
7. A cemetery with a hundred gravestones and 12′ tall memorial plinth in the center. Once a living being enters the cemetery the dead begin to rise from their graves. Wave upon wave of zombies attack. Once a zombie is slain it will reanimate 1 hour later. The plinth in the center of the cemetery has the name of every person buried here. Only by crossing out their names will they stay dead.
8. You stumble upon a gravestone with a square glass in the center of it. Next to the glass are two dials. With the right combination on the dials or a successful disable trap check you are able to speak with the person who’s grave this belongs to. Their image will appear in the square glass and will gladly answer questions.
9. You enter into a graveyard and suddenly realize that the exit is no longer there. As far as the eye can see appears to be an endless rows of tombstones. You quickly realize that all gravestones bear the same name. Only by putting that soul to rest can you escape this distorted reality.
10. In a long abandoned cemetery you meet a farmer planting seeds on the burial plots. He claims that the dead are wonderful fertilizer and the crop yield has remnants of their past memories.
I have downloaded and begun examining this gaming system. Although in my own system I do retain some character class system, and have invented others, I also have a parallel system that is very similar to this one. As a matter of fact several things about this system are similar to my own, such as the Virtues.
So, overall, and initially, I have a very favorable opinion of this gaming system. It seems a little overly-complicated to me in sections but that may just be an initial presumption.
That being said, however, from what I can tell so far it is an extremely well thought out and well written gaming system and set of mechanics.
It’s in beta and free to download. I did so and recommend that you do so as well if you are interested and wish to examine the game and it’s design approach to Role Play.
You can simply follow the title link in this post or go here for the available downloads:
By the way this sounds very much like the line of reasoning that was the basis for developing my own Role Play system of gaming. Though I also came out of a wargaming background (like Gygax, only I was younger) and had much interest in better representing combat on both the large (large group, strategic, wargaming) and small (small team, tactical, personal) scales.
During the course of their adventures, our heroes are likely to slay many evil wizards (and loot their bodies).
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
Sadly, most such individuals seem to never carry anything beyond a spell component pouch, a few magic items and some loose coinage. Not only is this boring it’s also utterly lacking in verisimilitude—after all, everyone carries odds and ends in their pockets. Use the table below, to generate such items of minor interest and make looting the body of a slain wizard much more interesting!
An amulet comprising a single, yellowed dragon’s tooth suspended from a leather thong. A rune for protection is carved into the tooth.
A small flask of powered silver (worth 50 gp). The leather flask itself has a small strap allowing it to be carried over the shoulder.
A silver dagger concealed is concealed in one of the wizard’s boots. The dagger is clearly unused—its blade is sharp and polished to a high sheen.
A silver bracelet from which hang a number of charms. Each is decorated with a single rune—fire, water, air, earth, dragon, devil, demon—among them. The whole thing is worth 75 gp.
A leather scroll tube crudely painted bright blue. It is stoppered with a leather bung that clips into the place. The bung has been painted red.
These fine leather boots have a number of small, unobtrusive pockets hidden inside. Most of the pockets hold commonly available spell components, but two hold a single platinum coin.
This plain scroll tube contains several pieces of parchment the wizard used to make observations of the stars. These comprise several complicated diagrams of various constellations and cryptic notes regarding “the wanderer.”
The torn and scorched cover of “Agananzar’s Workbook” is wrapped in cloth and hidden in the wizard’s pack. Sadly nothing else of the book’s contents remains.
A pouch contains a variety of small bones—probably finger bones—clearly “harvested” from a variety of different creatures. Each is in pristine condition—all the skin having been boiled away.
Three empty potion vials; one is marked “invisibility” while the other two smell slightly of cinnamon.
A locket holding a lock of coarse black hair. It is evident from the hair’s texture—and the slight smell of rotten eggs—the hair is not from a natural source.
A dozen small semi-circular stones worn perfectly smooth. An esoteric rune—depicting various types of magic—adorns each stone.
A slender belt pouch specially treated to be waterproof. Inside the pouch, the wizard stored a variety of dried herbs. Each bunch is tied together with twine.
The shattered stub of a wooden stake. Black blood covers the stake’s tip. Barely visible under the blood is some kind of rune, but its meaning is impossible to determine as part of it is missing.
Three quills wrapped in an ink-stained cloth and two small vials of ink—red and black—all carried in a small pouch along with several scraps of crumpled parchment.
A bent iron spike, the head of a hammer and a shard of incredibly tough stone.
A black velvet cloth inlaid with golden thread wrapped around a dried and perfectly preserved red rose. The rose’s thorns are yet sharp and its flower emits a particular heady scent.
A small treatise depicting the various protective circles—against good, evil and so on—along with notes on how to quickly create such protective barriers. A perceptive reader skilled in spellcraft spots several of the diagrams are fatally flawed.
A flask of holy water and a flask of unholy water—both clearly labelled in Elven—along with a fine painter’s brush, two owlbear feathers and one gigantic feather (perhaps from a roc or other huge bird).
A small red velvet pouch. The pouch is all but empty—however a determined examination reveals a few flecks of diamond dust stuck to the pouch’s lining.
Indeed. It has been a seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.
I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.
When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.
Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”
“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”
Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.
For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”
The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).
With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.
Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.
Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”
And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.
The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)
Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.
“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”
What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”
If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)
Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.
The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.
Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”
Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”
As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”
We were traveling the old trade road up near the Blind Hills when we found it: an overturned wagon in the ditch. Evas took to the shadows, scouted ahead, and returned with strange details. The wagon had been transformed—such that it appeared to be a fierce fortress. Signs of goblin-work were apparent: broken shields reinforcing the walls, crude arrow slits cut into the driver’s bench, a makeshift flag hanging limply atop the whole affair. We left it alone, but even at a distance the smell of the odd fortress’s unfinished moat made us wretch…
The Impregnable Fortress of Dib is a location designed to offer a medium/easy challenge to four 1st- to 2nd-level characters.
Before you stands an unusual makeshift fortress. A large wooden wagon has been overturned a few feet from the road. An incomplete moat of sorts rings the structure; the vapors from its gelatinous contents reaching your nose even at fifty paces. The wagon has been reinforced with broken shields and scavenged planks; an unfortunate dead fox has been nailed unceremoniously atop a crude doorway. Slits and holes of various sizes have been bored and carved into the walls, and you hear wicked whispering and rustling coming from within. A flag made from cloth scraps hangs unmoving in the still air.
Dib Halfling-Chewer rules the fortress. Several months back, Dib and his cronies were ejected from a nearby goblin clan for indiscriminate wrestling. Since their expulsion from the clan, Dib and his minions have transformed a trade wagon into a dangerous roadside obstacle. The goblins retreat into the throne room when it is clear the fortress is breached. Assaulting the fortress is run as a combat encounter, with the fortress taking two actions on its initiative (+0). The fortress may:
Arrow Barrage.Ranged weapon attack. +4 to hit, range 80/320 ft., two targets. Hit: 5 piercing damage.
Spear Thrusts.Melee weapon attacks. +4 to hit, range 10 ft., two targets. Hit: 5 piercing damage.Spear thrusts have advantage against PCs attempting to lift the wagon.
Warmed Oil(Recharge 5–6) Spray blobs of warmed oil at all creatures within 20 ft. Each creature must make a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or take 2 fire damage; a successful save halves the damage.
A general guide to assaulting the fortress is provided below.
Kicking in the Door. Forcing the door takes three solid kicks. Each kick uses an action and requires a DC 14 Strength (Athletics) check. Successfully kicking in the door allows the party to enter the area under the wagon (see below).
Lifting the Whole Damn Thing Up. Lifting and tipping the fortress over takes 2 rounds. Each round requires a successful DC 17 Strength (Athletics) check made by one PC. The DC of this check is reduced by one for each PC assisting. PCs involved in lifting the wagon may take no other actions that round. Failing the check on the second round results in the lifting PC(s) having to start over. Successfully lifting the wagon allows the PCs to enter the area under the wagon (see below).
Smashing a Hole. The fortress can simply be attacked with the aim of making an opening. The fortress (AC 12, HP 40) is considered defeated at zero hit points. Defeating the fortress allows the party to enter the area under the wagon.
Under the Wagon
Inside the makeshift stronghold, you find a dank and foul-smelling place. A small cauldron of rendered animal fat approaches boiling over a smoky fire. Two poorly made spears sit abandoned on the ground. A ladder suggests the wagon’s inhabitants have dug into the ground below.
Once their fortress is breached, the five goblins inside retreat into the throne room. A DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check uncovers an oily sack with 25 sp and some shiny rocks.
The Tunnel and Throne Room
You crouch and descend into the goblin’s burrow. The tunnel, precariously carved and shored up with planking, runs straight for 30 feet before turning sharply. Peering around the corner, you see the goblin’s living quarters. A single sputtering torch illuminates the small chamber and the makeshift throne at the far end. Evil eyes blink from behind five small mounds of dirt. Suddenly, you hear the sound of bow strings being drawn…
The goblins make ranged attacks from behind half-cover until forced into melee. At the entrance to the chamber is a simple spike trap. Noticing the trap requires a Perception (Wisdom) check of 12. Disarming the trap requires a DC 12 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. Failure to notice or disarm the trap causes six sharp spikes to spring out of the ground. PCs within 5 feet of the trap must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 (4) piercing damage; a successful save halves the damage. The throne hides Dib’s treasure hoard. A DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals the seat of the throne is loose and offset. Inside the throne is a small wooden chest containing 60 sp, 15 gp, and a scrap of cloth with Dib’s fortress design notes scribbled in smudged ink.
Fantasy Grounds, one of the leading virtual tabletop platforms, now offers officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons content from Wizards of the Coast. Available through Steam, the software can allow players to virtually recreate the 5th edition D&D tabletop experience complete with dice rolling, 2D maps and a play experience completely controlled by a dungeon master.
Anyone who’s been playing D&D over the last decade remembers the promise of Wizard’s Virtual Table. First publicized in the back pages of 4th edition core rulebooks, it promised a fully-realized, 3D tabletop roleplaying experience. But over the lifecycle of 4th edition the vision wavered, and in 2012 the Virtual Table beta was officially cancelled.
In the meantime, a number of virtual tabletop solutions cropped up organically online, allowing players to come together from remote locations around the world and have an experience very similar to playing at a table together in the same room.
One of the most capable solutions is Fantasy Grounds, which has a bewildering assortment of features and flexibilities that allow game masters to create everything from homebrew games, to Pathfinder and other established tabletop systems. Add to that the officially licensed D&D modules available for download, including add-on classes and monster collections, as well as entire campaigns.
The first set of products, including the D&D Complete Core Class Pack, D&D Complete Core Monster Pack, and The Lost Mine of Phandelver went on sale last week. Polygon has spent some time checking out the content in The Lost Mine module. Believe it or not, the entire experience, page-for-page, of the physical 5th edition D&D Starter Set is represented there. Beyond that, Fantasy Ground’s modules even include annotated maps hotlinked to spawn enemies onto the grid, ready to roll initiative.
We talked to the president and owner of Fantasy Grounds, Doug Davison, who said that more products are already in the pipeline.
“We have a queue that we’re working through right now,” Davison told Polygon. “We just finished up the preliminary work on the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure module, and so that’s currently in review right now. We’ve already conducted our internal reviews, and now it’s out in the hands of a few folks at Wizards of the Coast. So depending on how much needs to be changed during that process, I think you’re looking at a matter of maybe weeks before that’s available.”
Greg Tito, Wizard’s communications manager, confirmed for Polygon that other campaigns, including Rise of Tiamat and the recently released Princes of the Apocalypse, are on the way for Fantasy Grounds.
It’s interesting that Wizards is partnering with a tool which, for all intents and purposes, allows users to scrape content off the internet for free and easily insert it into their games. Fantasy Grounds’ own online tutorials give step-by-step instructions on how to grab maps and art from Google Images and drop it directly into user-generated games.
But Tito says players have been doing this sort of thing for generations, so why not support a tool that lets them do it easily? Furthermore, he hopes that fans will see the value in the for-pay Fantasy Grounds modules, as they leverage the strong work that the Wizards research and development team, as well as their publishing partners, produce in the physical books.
“It goes down to everything that we’ve been excited about in this partnership withFantasy Grounds,” Tito said. “It’s just another tool to allow people to play D&D the way they want to play it.”
By Dennis Scimeca Feb 2, 2015, 9:01am CT
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A projector combined with a Web-based tabletop role playing game tool make for a new and really cool way to play Dungeons and Dragons.
Reddit user Silverlight is a developer for Roll20, an online tool for virtual tabletop role playing game sessions, so he knows a thing or two about blending technology into traditional RPG play. By pairing Roll20 with a projector mounted on the ceiling, Silverlight is able to display digital maps on the tabletop for a home session of D&D.
And the coolest thing about these digital maps is the ability to show characters’ actual line of sight as they explore. Discussing the setup on Reddit, Silverlight says that this functionality is built into Roll20, and he made the cones of vision possible by manually revealing portions of the map to the players.
This isn’t really a practical setup to replicate. Silverlight used an Epson brand projector to make the digital maps, and a cheap Epson projector should run you about $300 on Amazon. Still, it demonstrates new possibilities for playing tabletop role playing games. Roll20 runs in a Web browser. Maybe someone can figure out how to make this setup work using a much more affordable smartphone projector.
A couple of months ago, a friend asked me if I’d teach him and his 6th-grade son how to play D&D. I’d been thinking for a while about playing with my own kids, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity.
After recruiting several other parent-and-kid combos, I set up a gaming night at my house, with a pool of players ranging from 2nd- to 6th-graders and their parents. Here’s how it went for me.
PREPARATIONS AND PREGENS
This might come as a shock, but not every kid wants to roll dice and slay goblins. In fact, one of those not-every-kids is none other than my own son. A couple of parents brought multiple kids, so I wasn’t surprised as things got going that my son and several of his fifth-grade friends just weren’t interested—as was also the case for a parent or two.
As a DM, it’s important to not take this personally. I told the players (kids and adults) that they were free to go play video games. What remained were two parents, a sixth-grader, a fifth-grader, an incredibly excited 2nd-grader, and my 2nd-grade daughter who just wanted to co-DM and roll the dice for me.
Because this was going to be the first time playing D&D for all the players, I wanted to run something I was familiar with so I could focus on different hooks to get them into the adventure. I opted for the Lost Mine of Phandelveradventure in the D&D Starter Set, having played it once or twice with coworkers.
Conveniently, the Starter Set also comes with a number of pregenerated characters. Though rolling up a character is great fun, I quickly realized that doing so would have taken up our whole first gaming session as I tried to help all the players create characters for the first time. It was important to get to the fun as fast as possible, and pregens are the best way to get everyone playing the game quickly.
CHARACTERS, NOT STAT BLOCKS
As the players got ready, I went over possible character choices by focusing on play styles. For example, do you want to sneak in the shadows? Hit monsters with a sword up close, or shoot arrows from a distance? Cast magic spells? I focused on what type of heroes the players wanted to be, not on how much damage each class dealt or which race had the best features.
I did a really high-level overview of combat. Here’s a d20. On your character sheet, here’s the number you add to hit the monster. If you hit, here’s what you roll for damage. Here’s the number the monster needs to hit you. Here’s your health. For everything else, I just left it for explanation if and when it came up in the game. New players—kids and adults alike—often have short attention spans that don’t want or need a math lesson or a discussion of mechanics.
A player’s first time roleplaying can be awkward, so I quickly worked through the adventure background and right into the goblin ambush to get everyone focused on the game. Once the dice were rolling, the real fun began. The party encountered a goblin ambush that turned into a classic battle of heroic successes and humorous failures. I found that the key to keeping the players hooked was spinning good dice rolls into flavored descriptions and poor rolls into comedic moments. This made the players feel like action heroes in a movie.
For example, one of the parents decided to have a character jump from a ledge down onto a goblin below. I explained that there could be consequences for stumbling on this 20-foot jump, but the player went for it anyway—and rolled low, missing the goblin. Given a chance to land without harm, the character then failed a Dexterity save, so I got to describe how the hero plummeted to the ground and landed face-first at the goblin’s feet.
At this point, one of the kids decided to try the jumping trick to save the fallen character. This time, the roll was high and the second character crashed onto the goblin. As DM, I wanted to keep the action-hero feel going, so I told the player whose character was prone on the ground to make another Dexterity check. Another low roll, so I got to describe how the kid’s character crashed down onto the goblin, which crashed into the fallen hero—who wound up taking more damage from the ally than if the goblin had just attacked with its sword.
SHORT AND SWEET
In the end, that moment in the ambush turned out to be a pivotal point in the game, with everyone laughing and engaged in the adventure. To try to hold onto that engagement, I kept the play session short and focused. We played for about an hour and a half before pizza arrived—at which point, we lost the bulk of the players to food and video games. That was okay, though, because that was all the time it took for the night to be a huge success.
Over subsequent sessions, that first game has evolved into semi-monthly game nights that have included a Magic: The Gathering mini-tournament and a few different board games. We keep coming back to D&D, though, and I hope to write more about our games in upcoming installments of Behind the Screens.
HEROES OF HESIOD
In the past, we’ve also published a shorter version of a D&D experience: The Heroes of Hesiod. An updated version of The Heroes of Hesiod will soon be available in a forthcoming Dragon+ issue.
About the Author
Tom Olsen is a senior game designer on the Dungeons & Dragons team, focusing primarily on digital projects. Tom has worked on multiple teams and projects, including D&D Insider, Magic: The Gathering Online, and various D&D licensed games, but is most proud of his work on Lords of Waterdeep for iOS.
This is not my article, but I post it for the Design of Things to Come because it so poignantly displays to me how easy it is to convert the new 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragon Rules to various types of Fantasy Role Play milieus. Similar to how easy it was to convert AD&D in the same way.
I think that fact alone is an important lesson for Game Designers and Developers. Be they Computer, Electronic, Parallel Reality, Role-Play, Tabletop, or eventually, even Virtual Reality game designers and developers.
Behind the Screens
By Dan Helmick – 04/13/2015
I’m a longtime D&D player, but I’m also a sucker for urban fantasy. With the Dungeon Master’s Guide and some tweaking, I’ve begun to use the fifth edition rules to explore the possibilities of gunplay in a modern fantasy setting.
I was crazy about the Urban Arcana campaign setting in particular. The scenario was a familiar one, seemingly plucked from my own daydreams. D&D monsters and magic (called “Shadow” within the setting) are finding their way into our world. The vast majority of humankind remains largely ignorant of this development, thanks to our awesome capacity for denial. Only a small number of humans and friendly Shadowkind races can even perceive—much less combat—the threats that such an incursion brings.
I ran my Urban Arcana campaign for six years. By that point, other games had clamored for my attention, but I never forgot how interested I was in the marriage of D&D to urban fantasy. When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released last December, I knew without a doubt that my first homebrew setting using the new rules would be an updated take on Urban Arcana, adapting firearms and modern armor for use in an urban fantasy game.
Rules of Engagement
The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides optional rules for firearms in D&D—including modern and even futuristic weapons. However, this left me in a quandary regarding character defenses. In a typical fantasy setting, adventurers, guards, and other possible combatants are fully expected to wear armor. There are no social penalties when characters are observed in full armor while going about their business. Modern settings are a different animal in this regard.
Using the old d20 Modern Core Rulebook as a guide, and tweaking the math for fifth edition, I created armor options for my “5e Modern” campaign. Because it can be assumed that most characters operate undercover, incognito, or simply in an unobtrusive manner for at least part of the time, I made sure that those options included concealable armor. More obvious armor—whether riot armor, flak jackets, or Land Warrior milspec armor—will likely have an affect on characters’ social ability checks and their ability to move freely in your campaign. By that same token, armor might afford bonuses to Charisma (Intimidation) checks.
Armor Class (AC)
11 + Dex modifier
11 + Dex modifier
Light undercover shirt
11 + Dex modifier
12 + Dex modifier
13 + Dex modifier
13 + Dex modifier (max 2)
14 + Dex modifier (max 3)
15 + Dex modifier (max 2)
Special response vest
Land Warrior armor
Forced entry unit
As you can see from the table, many of the heavier armors grant damage reduction (DR) or resistance to several damage types, including a new damage type: ballistic damage. In game terms, ballistic damage is the type of damage that firearms inflict, and is a subset of piercing damage. This means that all ballistic damage counts as piercing damage, but not all piercing damage counts as ballistic damage. Magical effects or creature properties that grant resistance to piercing damage also apply to ballistic damage, but effects or properties reducing ballistic damage do not automatically apply to piercing damage.
(Armor in my game currently has no price because my modern ruleset uses a wealth system for characters, similar to that used in d20 Modern. Characters gain equipment based on their wealth, rather than tracking income and expenses. I won’t get into the full system here, but it might make a good topic for a later installment of Behind the Screens.)
Who Gets What?
Because of the high potential damage granted to firearms, it was also necessary to introduce a complication or condition in order to balance their use with more traditional modes of attack. In my campaign, a character proficient with a firearm does not automatically add any proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Rather, proficiency with a firearm allows a character to use a bonus action to take the aim action, which adds the character’s proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Without taking the aim action (or if a character is using a firearm without proficiency), the shooter receives only the benefit of a Dexterity bonus on the attack roll.
When it came to weapon proficiencies, I decided that several classes would enjoy proficiency with firearms, while others would have to earn their proficiency with multiclassing or by training through the use of downtime days (see the Player’s Handbook). I divided firearms into two basic classes: sidearms (for anything up to a submachine gun) and long arms (for anything up to a light machine gun.) Anything heavier—such as a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a flamethrower—is given special dispensation according to the in-game situation. In my own campaign, I created a feat called Heavy Weapon Specialist that allows proficiency in all modern weapons heavier than a medium machine gun wielded by an unassisted individual on foot. I also made this feat available as a fighting style for the fighter class.
Firearm Proficiencies by Class
None (though possibly granted through domains such as City or War)
Long arms and sidearms
Long arms and sidearms
Long arms and sidearms
Long arms or sidearms (chosen at character creation)
None (though sidearms and long arms can be created through the Pact of the Blade class feature)
None (though sidearm proficiency might be granted through the School of Technomancy)
Hold up! City Domain? School of Technomancy? I’ll get into those next time!
About the Author
Daniel Helmick is a contractor attached to the Dungeons & Dragons R&D department, formerly of the D&D Insider studio at Wizards of the Coast. He has contributed numerous articles and adventures to Dungeon and Dragon magazines, as well as the Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil Adventurers League programs. He’s thinking about getting a cat, but he’s torn between the names Trapspringer and Dragonbait.
You’ll have to go to the original post to see the accompanying video, but it is interesting to see how the Australian media views Dungeons and Dragons in relation to works of fantasy, like Game of Thrones. Weird, but interesting.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Alison Caldwell
Dungeons and Dragons was the world’s most-popular fantasy role-playing game in the 1980s but hits like Game of Thrones have seen it experiencing a revival with a younger generation, and a warning this report contains strong language.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In this internet and technology-obsessed age, it’s amazing what simpler pastimes survive.
Dungeons and Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game, was huge in the 1980’s and required little more than a pen and paper, a dice and a bit of imagination.
Now it’s undergoing something of a revival, as Alison Caldwell reports.
ALISON CALDWELL, REPORTER: In living rooms around Australia, a game of strategy and boundless imagination is keeping it’s fans up late into the night.
KIEM-AI NGUYEN, D&D GAMER: I’m not really sure what’s cool and what’s not. I don’t really keep in touch with pop culture, but I’d say it’s pretty cool.
ALISON CALDWELL: Long before Game of Thrones, Dungeons and Dragons lured players with the promise of legend and great adventure.
29-year-old Kiem-Ai Nguyen is one of a legion of new fans of the role-playing game.
KIEM-AI NGUYEN: I was always like, “Ugh, nerds! Ew! Sounds terrible! But a couple of years ago my partner roped me into it. He was like, “Oh, come on, Kiem, you’d love it. It’s a lot of fun. You talk s**t and roll a dice.”
ALISON CALDWELL: Tonight, Kiem’s party of adventurers is embarking on a whole new campaign. The last one played out for over a year.
KIEM-AI NGUYEN: I’m playing an elvin rogue. So, being a rogue, she’s really good with, like, bows and short swords. I just really love the conversation part, the actual role-playing.
ALISON CALDWELL: Michael is the dungeon master in Kiem’s game, the main storyteller and referee.
MICHAEL BARDSLEY, DUNGEON MASTER: In the course of a game, I’m doing things like controlling the non-player characters, controlling the monsters, making decisions about how things happen.
BEN MCKENZIE, GAME DESIGNER: Dungeons and Dragons is the earliest role-playing game. It’s been around since I think 1974. And a role-playing game is a game where you sit around and essentially tell a story together by playing the parts of characters and going through an adventure which is arbitrated by rules which adds an element of risk and danger that you might fail.
ALISON CALDWELL: Ben McKenzie is a game designer and a veteran D&D player.
BEN MCKENZIE: It comes out of the same sort of origins of geek culture as the very early video games. You know, guys in college who felt disenfranchised by the sort of traditional idea of masculinity making an alternate way for them to do these things that they wanted to do.
ALISON CALDWELL: Dungeon master Andy Hazel’ s group has been playing together for seven years.
ANDY HAZEL, DUNGEON MASTER: I didn’t really have a TV when I was younger so there was a lot more imagination and books going on. So, when a neighbour showed me this, I took to it straight away and then quickly converted a whole bunch of my friends at school and started writing adventures for them.
ALISON CALDWELL: Invented in the US in 1974, the board game’s appeal waned in the late ’80s with the advent of video games. Facing oblivion in the late-’90s, a new owner revamped the game, releasing new editions and a mind-boggling 20-sided dice.
ANDY HAZEL: So this is all from 1978 and it was all made by the original guy, Gary Gygax, who – he kind of – he wrote all these books and came up with them. He’s like God to many people.
ALISON CALDWELL: Andy and his group are purists. They prefer an earlier vintage.
ANDY HAZEL: I can often write huge adventures and people will just, like, turn the other direction and walk into the hills and I’ll have to improvise stuff. So, this is still much more about human contact and meeting up and having brown fizzy drinks and pizza and that sort of stuff.
CLEM BASTOW, D&D GAMER: My character today is called Zalga and he’s a half-ork magic user from the realm of Pomage. And he’s six foot five and he’s about 37. And I think his theme song would probably be Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again. He’s kind of just been wandering around and somehow ended up in this cabin with all these people.
ALISON CALDWELL: One reason for the revival in interest in D&D was the late-’90s cult teen drama series Freaks and Geeks. Incorporated into its final episode, Freak Daniel, played by James Franco, is ordered to hang out with geeks and play D&D as punishment. To his surprise, Daniel enjoys it.
That’s how Clem Bastow came to Dungeons & Dragons.
CLEM BASTOW: D&D in Freaks and Geeks is such a big part of those narratives. So when I found these books at the op’ shop, I just put the word out to people I thought might be interested and it turned out everybody in the email chain was interested.
ALISON CALDWELL: Once the domain of men only, today, around 10 per cent of D&D players are women.
CLEM BASTOW: Sometimes women just assume there’s not something there for them. But, I mean, we usually have a fairly even gender split. And what’s really interesting too is, you know, people don’t always play their own gender. So, right now we’ve got one woman in the campaign, but three women at the table.
KIEM-AI NGUYEN: I’m a feminist so I’m all about embracing, you know, everything. It’s becoming a fairly new thing for women to get involved in D&D. … I think we’re all so caught up in the internet world. In the end you try and look for something a little bit different, something creative. It’s kind of like a massive choose-your-own- adventure story, but there is no end to the story and that’s really cool.
LEIGH SALES: You would be surprised how many Dungeons & Dragons fans in the 7.30 office have outed themselves since we commissioned that story – or perhaps not!
Fate robbed me of an important rite of passage for dorks and nerds. Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1980’s, I never got to play Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, I played lots of dorky video games with friends, watched the Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons TV series, and read whichever trashy fantasy novel I could find at the library. I would always see the D&D rule books, with their beautiful cover art depicting scenes such as a wizard with an octopus face firing crimson rays at female barbarian clad in a bone bikini, at bookstores and toy stores, but I never knew anyone my age who played the game. The closest I ever came to dungeoneering in earnest, was a board game called Hero Quest (which is now worth $400! Why did you throw it away, Mommy?), a sort of D&D lite which came with plastic miniatures. Though, the only person I could convince to read the 40-plus page rulebook was my cousin Chris. A few times, we played the six-player game with two-players. Sad, but fun.
Aside from its status as a game only for the biggest dorks, this was long before George R.R. Martin and HBO had made dark fantasy mainstream, D&D has also suffered from a stigma brought on by religious groups and lazy journalists (cough-cough) alike in the 1980s. References to demons and the occult within the game as well as a well-publicized suicide of James Dallas Egbert III caused an international stir. Egbert was a severely, clinically depressed individual who happened to enjoy playing D&D. The press ran with it as they’re wont to do and, as a result, many children, such as my 9-year-old self, were denied the pleasure of invading Castle Ravenloft to defeat its vampiric lord.
Then there was Christopher “Chris” W. Pritchard, convicted of the murder of his stepfather and the attempted murder of his mother. He, along with his three cronies, happened to play D&D and they also happened to covet Pritchard’s $2 million inheritance. Even the film industry got in on the act. Three movies about the purported dangers of Dungeons & Dragons were made in the ’80s with Mazes and Monsters (1982) starring Tom Hanks and based on the novel by Rona Jaffe, taking honors as most silly. The Dungeonmaster (1984) is a close second with its dazzling special effects and memorable dialogue: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”
“You’re not getting that. It’s bad,” our mother’s would say. It didn’t matter how cool that undead castle looked or how intense the need to fight a weretiger , “…they said on TV it’s bad.”
Time went on and, for me, D&D became little more than unrealized nostalgia. Sex (or rather, the pursuit thereof) and getting high tend to replace the lust for simulated goblin slaughter. Yet, the love of fantasy persisted. Once a dork always a dork. Laughing friends would always deride my choice of fiction. Frankly, I think they’re just jealous of the cover art. Perhaps Mitch Albom would move more copies if his covers depicted a shrieking owl-bear eviscerating a hapless halfling rogue.
Then, one day, it happened again. Strolling through a Barnes & Noble while waiting for a companion, that gorgeous cover art got to me. A beholder, a creature made out of teeth, tentacles and eyes menacing a heavily armored dwarf fighter wielding a jewel encrusted maul. All the years of deferred quests came through the mists of time. Before I could make an intelligence check, I was the proud owner of the Fifth Edition of D&D’s Starter Set and Monster Manual.
After several unsuccessful attempts to convince friends and family to indulge me in my hunger for arcane warfare and pop and chips, I was forced to Google, “How to find people to play D&D.” I’d come too far and waited too long to give up twice. By all the gods I would have satisfaction! The search led me to a site called Meetup. A popular bit of social media, new to me, but used by many to meet others with similar interests: rock climbing, quilting, support groups and dungeon crawling.
Once the obligatory practice of testing the cyber waters for serial killers was complete, I agreed to meet at a stranger’s home to finally play Dungeons & Dragons. Pop and chips in tow, I expected a human horror show from which I would politely excuse myself after an hour. Instead, I pretended I was a necromancer with a heart of gold for five hours. I actually closed my damned eyes and imagined (for the first time in ages) myself creating a crew of zombies to man our seafaring vessel. Zombies work for cheap. My necromancer’s staff featured a human skull with ruby eyes that totally lit up when conjuring skeletons. The skull, by the way, belonged to a former slave master. (I may practice dark arts, but I don’t go in for that human bondage business.)
A more friendly and diverse group of adventurers would be hard to find. The owner of the house, we’ll call him Kumai from the equivalent Japanese culture in the Forbidden Realms (the setting for D&D), had prepared delicious burgers with homemade buns, tomato salad with mint, and freshly baked, crusty Irish soda bread paired with imported aged Irish cheddar. There was Gmorg, the Dragonborn raider who also repairs cars alongside computer systems and a 70-year-old “dark gnome” cleric and retired school teacher who remembered when one had to trade sci-fi and fantasy novels at book fairs and in “back alleys.” They cost 50 cents back then. Our dungeon master was a former Marine with an uncanny ability for doing silly voices and drowning careless adventurers in pools of boiling blood. The use of miniatures and game maps, which adds a board game element to D & D, was too new-fangled for this group. One had to use their imagination with a little help from the gorgeous artwork in the player’s guide.
It didn’t matter that I was clueless to the process of rolling polyhedral dice to determine character stats such as dexterity, charisma. Nor did it matter we were five completely different people of vary ages, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds, who, truth be told, would have never uttered a word to one another outside of this gathering. We had a fucking blast and we’re doing it again next week.
Mostly, social media gives one a depressing glimpse into the cesspool of humanity. A scrying pool into a lich’s jerk-off session where you can witness a grown man refer to a group of first graders in a Christmas pageant as “bitch-ass faggots.” But this time, perhaps the only time in my memory, cyberia came through for me. I played Dungeons & Dragons with a group of strangers and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity.
“It sounds ridiculous, but it’s like a mental vacation,” said the dark gnome cleric. “You’d be surprised by how a spot of imagination can do you well.”
The detail was revealed earlier this week when D&D Lead Designer Mike Mearls was asked about the matter on Twitter. “The person who needs to do the final approvals on them is serving on a jury that will take another 4 or so months,” Mearls confirmed. “Sorry!”
That’s a completely reasonable hiccup in development, even though four months feels like a long time to wait. At least releases like the Eberron update guide will give players a place to start for now. Hopefully by the time we’re all finished with the Elemental Evil campaign we’ll be able to dive into some classic D&D worlds.
I walked outside just now to take my dog for a hike in the woods and what did I find?
My new Dungeon Master’s Guide!!!
Just one day after release from Amazon!
I have a lot to do today and so won’t be able to study it until tonight, but just from a quick perusal it looks like a true jewel of a DMG and it certainly has the best artwork of any Dungeons and Dragons book I’ve veer seen published.
It looks like a very solid and useful book. I can’t wait until tonight to examine it in detail.
Mike announces the conclusion to Legends & Lore — and the new columns starting up in 2015!
It’s hard to believe that, as I write this, it has been nearly three years since we first announced the development of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons to the world. It’s been a long road.
Trying to write a tiny article to wrap up a process that took over 1,000 days strikes me as futile. You were playing the playtest packets, and now you’re playing the game. The three core rulebooks are an awesome representation of what we accomplished. Your fifth edition campaign is the best expression of it I can imagine. Fifth edition is the culmination of many months of reflecting on game design, previewing content, and sharing updates through this column. But the process is complete, and for the time being, this will be the last installment of Legends & Lore.
With the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the process of launching fifth edition is over. Now comes the hard part. We have the task of keeping the game as energetic, interesting, and lively for the rest of its life as it has been for its gestation period, so to speak.
D&D is a living thing. It lives and breathes as long as you play the game, create campaigns and characters, and talk about it. Its health can be measured by the lives it has touched and the creativity it has fostered. As members of the D&D team charged with tending to the game, our job is to make sure it remains vibrant and healthy. In many ways, the work we just completed was the easy part. We’ve created D&D editions in the past, but we’ve never tried to manage them in the way we intended to.
Next year, we’ll also have surveys to get a sense of where the game has settled and what might need our scrutiny. Part of that desire is making sure that we understand how the game is serving your needs and what character options and rules variants we can introduce to make your life easier.
On top of that, we have a full slate of new articles coming up in 2015. We’re starting a series called Unearthed Arcana, a monthly look at the art of tabletop RPG game design featuring insights into our philosophy, and examples of new and variant material to use at your table.
We’ll also be publishing a regular series of “campaign notebooks.” These articles will provide insights into D&D and tips for your games taken directly from the campaigns of Dungeon Masters here at Wizards. Expect to see a steady dose of Chris Perkins there, once his campaign gets off the ground.
For rules questions, Jeremy Crawford will take up the hallowed mantle of the Sage as we launch Sage Advice. Expect a variety of rulings from on high, advice on how to cut the Gordian Knots your players manage to tie, and insight into how and why the rules work the way they do.
Finally, our popular series of livestreamed games will continue in 2015. We’ll play D&D and show off our latest storylines, ideas, and to help illustrate the ins and outs of running and playing the game. We’re also expanding our coverage to include D&D games beyond the tabletop roleplaying game.
The launch of fifth edition has exceeded our wildest hopes. Thank you so much for helping make the game a runaway success. Here’s to an even more exciting 2015.
To a large extent I agree. My family’s first 5E D&D game was superb, simple, easy to play and run, and an extreme amount of fun. I’ll write up a complete briefing and recount later, but suffice it to say it was the most fun I’ve had playing D&D since Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and the most fun my family has ever had playing D&D.
This is the best, most exciting kind of D&D we’ve had in twenty years…It’s never been more beginner-friendly.
You might know that the long-awaited new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is upon us. You might be playing it right now, waving an HB pencil around, informing your friends that they’re up to their nips in orcs and should roll for initiative.
Or maybe you’re the other kind of person. Maybe you’ve never played D&D, and news that the new, 5th edition returns to the roots of the game is like me telling you that scientists have discovered a new gender of swan. You’ve got some interest, though. You’re two paragraphs into an article called “It’s The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons.” And yes, yes, yes you should. This is the best, most exciting kind of D&D we’ve had in twenty years, and that’s not all. It’s never been more beginner-friendly.
Half of that’s down to the beginner box they’re selling, which contains a quick-start rule booklet (forget any images you might have of stacks of hardback books), a set of dice, a load of pre-filled character sheets and an epic adventure that’ll fill a month of pizza-powered Sundays. You just add pencils and friends…