Blog Archives

D&D ON STEAM

D&D now on Steam, complete with dice and a Dungeon Master

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.

fantasy_grounds_phandelver

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.”

Advertisements

DMING THE LITTLE ONES – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

One of the most fun things I've ever done with my wife and children...


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.

ACTION HEROES

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.

STARTER SET PREGENERATED CHARACTERS

GIVE A LITTLE BIT…

Your Dungeon Master works hard to make sure you have a fantastic campaign. So how can you repay them? By showing your appreciation!

Since February is now officially “Dungeon Master Appreciation Month,” it only felt right to come up with 28 ways you can appreciate your DM. How many will you squeeze into the month?

  1. Offer to host the next session at your place!
  2. Create a soundtrack to match the current campaign setting.
  3. Make them a batch of Fireball truffles.
  4. Pay for the DM’s share of the pizza order.
  5. Submit the DM’s best quotes to outofcontextdnd.tumblr.com.
  6. Give them a hand-painted miniature of an important NPC in your campaign.
  7. Make sure the DM’s glass is always full, whether they’re drinking water, coffee, or mead.
  8. Recommend they DM for the D&D Adventurer’s League at your friendly local game store.
  9. Immortalize your campaign’s story in the GameTales subreddit.
  10. Secretly talk to all of the players in your campaign, and have everyone come to the next session dressed up as their character!
  11. Bring the DM a bottle of wine with a customized label matching your current campaign (handmade by you, of course!). You can find a template here.
  12. Share an amazing thing your DM did in the DnD subreddit.
  13. Make a batch of Tavern Stew for the DM and other players.
  14. Share a clip of the epic campaign (or the hilarious NPC the DM voices) on Vine or Instagram.
  15. Tweet your appreciation for your DM using #DnDDMA!
  16. Are you artistically inclined? Volunteer to draw/paint beautiful character representations or maps. Not so artsy? Find a talented friend and commission the artwork.
  17. Send a Thank You card after a fantastic session, and let them know what impressed you–was it the puzzle they wrote? How they had you laughing the whole time? How the monsters were perfectly matched to make it a hard (but not completely lethal) fight?
  18. Get tickets to an upcoming gaming convention and take your DM! Check out the cons recommended by the D&D team here.
  19. Offer to record your next session and edit into a podcast or video.
  20. Write an ode to your DM on the official Dungeons & Dragons Facebook page. 
  21. Sign your DM up for Dungeons and Dragons Online and play a session with them! (If you’re feeling extra generous, make them a VIP!)
  22. Create a sash, crown, robe, or other accessory to signify your DM is the “World’s Greatest.” Insist they wear it to each session!
  23. Make your DM a dice tower.
  24. Create a “pump up playlist” to get your DM in the mood on their way to the next session. Some suggestions are Assorted Intricacies’ “Roll a D6,” Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy,” Stephen Lynch’s “D&D,” and The Doubleclicks’ “This Fantasy World.”
  25. Present a gift to your DM, but make them solve a puzzle or riddle similar to ones they put in your campaign before they can receive it!
  26. Make an in-character “scrapbook” of your adventure with notes/”diary entries” from each day and drawings of people, places, and monsters you encountered. Give it to your DM at the end of the campaign!
  27. Make a dice bag using fabric patterns and colors that your DM will love!
  28. Offer to DM a future campaign so they have a chance to play!

(Editor’s Note: As mentioned in our earlier letter, if you’re feeling inspired to give Dungeon Mastering a try, or want to start appreciating your Dungeon Master right now, then the Dungeon Master’s Guide is the perfect gift for the storyteller in your life!)

About the Author

Geeky Hostess (Tara Theoharis) blogs about “incorporating your geeky passions into your everyday life through parties, gift ideas, home decor, recipes, etiquette, fashion, and more.” More advice, ideas and recipes can be found at http://geekyhostess.com.

THE TRIGGERING OF THE HUMAN IMAGINATION

Recently I have undertaken a new career (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, an additional career) as a fiction writer. My background as an author is as a non-fiction writer, primarily dealing with such subjects as business, science, and technical matters. Although on occasion, often for private clients and sometimes just to pursue my own interests, I write analytical, white, and theory papers on everything from military and law enforcement matters to educational techniques to religious subjects.

But, as I said, now I am embarking upon a new or supplementary career as a fiction writer. Last night, while laying in bed, and reading a fiction story before sleeping it occurred to me that the author was very good as describing some scenes (thereby easily provoking my imagination to work “independently” of the actual words used to construct the scene) and at other times the author did a very poor job of description and my imagination had to work very hard, or was confused as to exactly what the author was describing. (The author was Moorcock.)

I went to sleep and later awoke about 0500 hours from a dream, and then an idea suddenly occurred to me about what had triggered the dream. (I didn’t connect my dream directly to the story Moorcock had written but it had triggered an “oblique set of imaginings” which I thought were related to some of the ideas expressed in the story.) After I was awake about fifteen minutes or so replaying the dream through my mind it occurred to me that many authors, as well as others, such as really good playwrights, poets, filmmakers, graphic or visual artists (I had recently taken my children to see one of the largest collections of Sacred and Italian and Spanish Gothic and Renaissance Art in the entire nation, and most all of the works were both highly symbolic, and fantastically beautiful), even inventors, scientists, and religious leaders often express their ideas in such a way as to have a great and lasting impact upon the imagination of the consumer. (I am using the term consumer here to represent any partaker or user of such services, products, information, or ideas as are being now discussed.)

And herein lies the seed of my theory. That there are certain techniques that writers, artists, inventors, etc. use that are capable of triggering the imagination of the listener, audience, or observer in such a way that the imagination of the consumer is expanded to such a degree that it becomes heavily provoked, and can then operate almost entirely independently (if not indeed completely independently) of whatever the original trigger that had initially produced it.

Using a writer as an example of my intent, for instance, certain authors are so good at description, that they can create an image in the mind of many readers that even when the reader completes reading the description or has finished the work, there lingers a sort of lasting or almost semi-permanent impression of (and on) the imagination, that is not static and calcified, but is rather “alive,” flexible, and on-going. The images and impressions made by the work do not die out with the reading of the last word, or by finishing the book, but rather they “carry on” almost as if they had created a sub-rosan or virtual reality within the mind and psyche of the consumer or the partaker. And this new and virtual mind-reality is likewise not limited to the breadth, depth, or scope of the original subject matter of the work, but rather one type of imagining or image activates numerous others in a long and continuing chain of triggered imaginary impulses, the limits of which are constrained only by the inventiveness, potentialities, and desires of the particular consumer in question. As a side note I should also mention that I am not using the term Virtual to imply something that lacks reality, as much as to represent something that has not as of yet become imminently real, but could very well become empirically real when imagination is determinedly and ambitiously combined with actual work and concentrated effort. (Now of course a badly executed or ill-conceived effort of work, imagination, or description can leave the consumer either highly confused as to what exactly the author meant by virtue of his description, can lead the consumer completely away from the actual intent of the author, or can simply provoke a feeling of disinterest or “dullness” on the part of the consumer, triggering within him not sustained and powerful imaginings, but rather impressions of distraction, or a shallowness that can only be indicative of a total lack of interest and respect for the work in question and what it produces.

But my theory (and my theory is not new, I am sure, but I am seeking a sort of specialized or different application of it) is that while there are certainly defective techniques of the act of describing or envisioning a thing that lead to a failure to spur on the imagination of the consumer, that miscarry the attempt to create a “virtual reality” of the mind through the lacking exertion(s) of a peculiar creator, there are also techniques that rarely fail to produce the sort of positive effects that I am discussing here in respect to the imagination.

That is to say if there are techniques that fail in the cause of provoking and exciting and expanding upon the capabilities of the imagination of the consumer, then there are obviously other and more obverse techniques, which will, more often than not, have the desired effect of expounding upon, elucidating, enlarging, edifying, and invigorating (perhaps permanently) the imagination of the consumer. Techniques that can help to create a sort of “perpetual inner motion” of the imagination, and that will have effects far beyond and far exceeding the actual individual triggers or spurs that were used in producing this state of affairs.

(Now, for purposes of this discussion, I am not going to really address the receptivity or state of internal agreement that any particular consumer feels toward the subject matter he is consuming. That is outside the bounds of what I am discussing, and in any case there is very little, practically speaking, that any creator can do to control the state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. The creator can use the best techniques possible, and undertake his or her work in the most crafty and acute manner by which he is able, but he cannot control the inner state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. That is almost entirely the duty or the affair of the individual consumer of information. If someone else wants to discuss this issue of information dispersal versus information receptivity, then feel free, but as for me, and at this moment, I intend to avoid the issue as a momentary distraction to the other more important points at hand.)

It also occurred to me this morning, after teaching my classes, that the same sort of thing happens in Role Play Gaming, and that moreover in such an environment such “triggering of the human imagination” is often a corporate act, as much as an act of the creator of the plot, storyline, and/or milieu being explored. (And if indeed it is an act of both the corporate and individual imagination, then this in itself might be an important clue towards the feasibility and dynamic nature of important methods of “imaginative triggering.”) That being the case it seemed to me that this website and forum would be the perfect place to solicit further ideas for this discussion. And that a discussion of role-play techniques and methods geared specifically towards the architecture of imagination might yield vital and important clues towards even larger issues of the mind and visionary invention.

Now there may indeed be, and I very much suspect that indeed there are, more or less Universal Techniques and Methods for the “triggering of the human imagination” in the way in which I am framing the issue. (Techniques that may vary in application according to media type, or in discipline or field of endeavor, but are still interchangeable in intent and basis of intended achievement.) However let’s put that possibility aside for the moment and work at the problem inductively.

Let me ask the question(s) very simply in this way: What techniques or methods do you employ as a DM (or even as a player), adventure writer, milieu creator, and so forth that seems to you to “trigger the human imagination” in a very intense and enduring fashion? So that your work takes on a “virtual life of its own in the mind of your consumers,” and/or so that it continues to excite your consumers long after the actual act of the game is concluded? And how do you go about employing such techniques on a consistent basis in order to repeat these effects in a systematic and continuing manner?

I’m looking forward to your answers, ideas, opinions, and speculations…

%d bloggers like this: