All posts by Dragonhelm

Dragonhelm’s D&D Next Game Day Report

scourge of the sword coastYesterday, I played the first week of Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast, the current Encounters adventure.  I have a particular interest in this adventure, as the first D&D game I ran was set in the town of Daggerford. It’s weird being a player in this setting. Still, I am grateful for all the attention Daggerford has had of late.

I played the pregenerated halfling rogue. He had the sailor background. I figured I should base him somewhat on one of my favorite pirates, so I named him Saxton (Musical Blades reference). He wore a bowler and everything. He was a two-weapon fighter, having two short swords. He even got to kill a wolf by slamming those swords through its back, and adding the sneak attack ability. Sneak attack, btw, is SO much better in this edition. It’s a lot easier to understand and pull off.

The adventure itself (thus far, as this is Encounters) was pretty standard fare. Fight some goblins and wolves, then address a group of refugees trying to enter Daggerford with the guards forbidding entry. Nothing too complicated, but I was impressed that one of the encounters was more of a role-playing encounter. MUCH better than I’ve previously seen with Encounters. Up until this point, Encounters felt like a bunch of tactical miniatures fights. Now, it began to feel like D&D. Props to WotC on that one.

What was interesting to me was the group’s reaction to this system. The group was mostly high school kids, with the exception of one guy who appears to be older than me. The kids seem to have only known 4e, although I will give the DM props for studying up on prior editions. I thought the kids wouldn’t like this system, but I was wrong! In fact, they seemed to love it. They loved the quicker combats, and the simplicity of the rules. They were sold.

For me, it feels like I’m finally coming home. This is the iteration of D&D I have been waiting for. It feels like AD&D. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed that feeling. And yet, it has the basic d20 mechanics that I have come to love. It’s a nice blend. It even incorporated some elements from 4e that I liked (backgrounds!). I think I’m coming to like the proficiency bonus. It’s used to represent skill training (kind of like 4e), and has some of the feel of Castles & Crusades to it. The proficiency bonus can be used in attacks, as a skill bonus, or for certain class abilities (amongst other things). Reminds me a little of Castles & Crusades.

There were a few questions on the rules and pre-gens at the table. What I found is that the other players were looking more at a mechanical side of things, rather than roleplaying. One person asked why the warlord wasn’t incorporated with the bard. I’ve heard that same thing before, as they both have the inspiring thing going, but I quickly reminded them that the warlord is more of a front-line fighter who yells things like “shake it off!” to boost his comrades. The players also seemed a bit baffled by the concept of subraces. Most have never known subraces. I have known nothing but. There was also some talk about how feats were optional. I told them this was a good thing, as it addressed different play styles. So, for example, I could have an old-school AD&D era friend play with a new-school d20 era friend in the same game, and both would be happy.

The guy playing the paladin pre-gen was dumbfounded when he saw the minstrel background. Music and performance are the domains of the bard, right? And yet, here his paladin could do those things. It seemed so counter-intuitive to him. And yet, by game’s end, it became part of the plot, as he used that to affect the crowd at the entrance to Daggerford. I hope a light bulb went off with him on what could be done.

Overall, I was very happy with the game and the system. It was kind of a back-to-basics feel. No, we didn’t have all the options of other game systems, like Pathfinder. But that was okay. Sometimes, those options can be a bit distracting. More options will undoubtedly come down the road. What we have before us is the foundation for a very good system.

I hope my schedule allows me to play again.

Dragonhelm’s Snowmageddon Journal #1

snowmageddonThe north wind’s whisper has settled upon the Kansas City area. Already, I see madness strike at the minds of once-noble men and women as they seek to stock up on their food stores. All await the coming fury of Jack Frost.

I have come home to an empty house. I can only assume that my boys travel to seek aid amongst their fellow scouts, never letting their mother out of their site. I am proud of them. If we survive the coming blizzard, they will grow to be fine young men.

I have fed our tauntan, Glen, and polished his bridle and saddle. He is eating a hearty meal of oats and hay. I have placed a blanket on him for extra warmth. Glen is making the tauntaun equivalent of a purring sound, both soothing and disturbing at once. We shall soon need his services.

While I am not worried for our immediate future, I know that the human heart will eventually falter. Soon, we shall turn upon each other. I am now making a priority of shoring up our defenses. I have placed the counter-weight on the trebuchet, and am now looking for varieties of squash to use as ammunition. I feel, though, that we will need defenses for any close-quarter fighting. Originally I thought of my treasured bat’leths. Then I remembered that they were merely letter openers. Still, I own a rusty old sword and a rather sharp batarang. There may be some hope yet.

For now, I wait. The snow is coming. May God have mercy on our souls.

Red She-Hulk

Red_She-HulkWhen I first heard that Betty Ross was the new Red She-Hulk, my initial reaction was to roll my eyes. I mean, c’mon. She’s a support character, not a main character. She’s Bruce Banner’s love interest! It’s a trend I have noticed a lot, where supporting characters are suddenly heroes on their own. I am concerned with this trend, as every hero needs a support crew.

Yet I had to ask myself if there was something more to this. So I picked up Red She-Hulk – Volume 1: Hell Hath No Fury. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Betty_RossAs I mentioned above, Betty Ross was a supporting character. She’s probably been everything from the damsel in distress to part of a love triangle between Bruce, herself, and Glenn Talbot, etc. etc. While this sort of thing worked in the 60s when the Hulk was created, it’s a dated concept now. Anyone remember when General Thunderbolt Ross hushed his own daughter for interrupting “man talk?”

In other words, Betty Ross is completely boring. Oh, she’s had her moments, but has she ever stood out on her own? Enter the Red She-Hulk. This is Betty Ross, transformed into a Red Hulk, much like her father. Suddenly, she has gone from a supporting character to being in the spotlight. For the first time, she seems interesting.

And yet I have to wonder if we have too many Hulks running around. Two Hulks, two She-Hulks, and how many other spin-offs? Some of the naming conventions are weird too.

While that criticism may hold some water, I think the pros outweigh the cons here. Betty Ross, for the first time, feels like a fully-developed character. I look forward to reading more about the Red She-Hulk.

Back In the Saddle Again!

Ghosts of Dragonspear CastleIt has been some time since I DM’d regularly in real life. I’ve been longing for some gaming again, but haven’t really had a good opportunity. I ran into some old friends at GenCon, and we got talking again about old games, and decided to game together again, roughly once a month.

We decided to include our kids (save for these friends’ youngest, who is a bit too young). With my best friend tagging along, that’s 8 players total!

Now, I have been a bit intimidated by all this. I haven’t run a game in forever. We’re using the D&D Next rules, so that’s a bit challenging. What’s cool is that the adults are all a bunch of AD&D veterans. In fact, I’m probably the only one who spent any real time with d20. I’m starting to warm up to the rules. In fact, this may be my favorite iteration of the game to date. We will see!

I am running Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, the D&D Next adventure from GenCon. Last time, we had character creation and a bit of role-play on the road.  zzzz…..   This time, though, half the party got to fight some lizard men while the other half fell into a sinkhole in a marsh that opened up into a shipwreck (that was somehow inland!). It was quintessential D&D at its finest.

Now, I have to admit to not being as prepared as I would have liked. It’s been a busy time of late. However, old instincts kicked in, and I felt like I had my old DM knack back again. We may not have gone far, but we had a rollicking good time.

One extra challenge with this group has been that only one player gave me a character background. That’s the way you’re going to be? Fine! I’ll add stuff myself! I tried to add some things in here and there to make it fun for folks. So, for example, my wife’s character sheet (a pre-gen) had a background of Sailor on it. So I decided, since a river goes by the home town of these characters, that she was a river rat. I also gave her a tattoo (she chose a curved fish).

Highlight of the evening was when my friend Kenneth, playing an elven ranger, fought against a lizard man who had a love for biting off ears and putting them on a necklace. The lizard man did indeed succeed. However, he was near death, and Kenneth’s character ended him. The ear flew into the air. Kenneth’s character grabbed it, put it back in place, and drank a potion of healing! The ear is back on, albeit a little crooked. And that just looks funny on an elf.

Farewell, Slice of SciFi

Dear podcast friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to unsubscribe from Slice of Scifi. It was one of the first podcasts that I listened to and has been such a part of my life for years. I no longer feel like it is the show it once was. I have a few reasons for this that I will outline below.

First, I believe that any great endeavor in fandom revolves around community. You take care of your fans, invite them to participate. That was the magic of Slice. I had a podcast family. Everyone could participate. Heck, even Fox Leader got a voice. That time is gone. The only way your calls get on is if they are solicited or your comments happen to match what the show topic is about.

Second, the Powers That Be do not communicate with their fan base. I’ve seen this come into play with other businesses as well. Wizards of the Coast put out D&D 4th edition, and changed the Forgotten Realms for the worse. The result was that Paizo Publishing came out with the highly successful Pathfinder game. The reason for their success was that they communicated with their fans. Now WotC is playing catch-up, trying to regain their audience and moving the Realms forward with a reset of sorts.

Third, I have seen too many of my friends leave Slice recently, some of which was not by their choice. When Evo Terra left, at least there was an announcement, as it should have been. But with recent departures, there’s not be any sort of recognition. That’s wrong. While I respect Michael R. Mennenga for his technical expertise, voice talent, and for being a podcast pioneer, it was the group as a whole that made the show great.

I want to thank everyone who has been a Slice host (and I apologize if I missed anyone!), including Evo Terra, Brian Brown, Tim Adamec, Joe Fiore, Sam Roberts, Bret Fillipek, and Ben Ragunton. I wanted to say a huge thank you as well to the many volunteers who contributed to Slice, including (but not limited to!) Michael Hickerson, Sam Sloan, Kurt from St. George (Curtain St. George?), Theloneous Sweetleaf, Sean from Edwards, and especially Nigel Blackwood and Scott Purdy for their work on the Multiverse News.

And speaking of Ben, I wanted to give him a special shout out. He was placed in a bit of an impossible situation, and despite that, he tried very hard to make the best of it. I am glad to have come to know him as a friend.

If I missed anyone, I apologize. There just were so many people involved that made the show so great. I thank everyone who made Slice the podcast powerhouse that it was.

Thank you, my friends. I wish circumstances were different, but I find the show has changed so much that I can no longer listen. What is important, though, isn’t the show or the medium. It’s friends. I have to say that I am proud to call so many of you old Slice fans my friends. I hope that we meet again in the podosphere.

Trampas Whiteman

Creating Spelljammer for 3rd Edition

Introduction

SpelljammerWith the licensing of some of Wizards of the Coast’s settings, such as Dragonlance and Ravenloft, there has been talk among fans of licensing out some of the other older settings as well, such as the Spelljammer setting.

Despite there being an interest in having such a license, the fan base is split on how it should be approached. Some will tell you that classic Spelljammer should be updated to 3rd edition rules. Some will say that Spelljammer should be based on Shadow of the Spider Moon, the d20 Spelljammer mini-game in Polyhedron, written by Andy Collins. There’s plenty of other divisions as well, including what tech level Spelljammer should be set at.

As we look at the possibility of licensing the Spelljammer campaign setting, we must look at it through a different lens than in the past. While this is true with the rules, this becomes especially true with the setting.

Spelljammer as a Setting

Spelljammer would have to be looked at in its entirety if licensed, and as one complete setting. You can’t look at it as the Spider Moon setting vs. the classic setting. If you choose one over the other, then you’re bound to alienate a portion of your fan base.

For example, if one built a new 3rd edition Spelljammer solely off of Shadow of the Spider Moon, you would lose a bit of the classic Spelljammer crowd. On the other hand, if one were to focus solely on the classic material, you would lose the new fan base that has come about due to Andy Collins’ work.

Integrating both works together would, in my opinion, be the way to go. You could use Andy’s Spelljammer rules to get you started, and his sphere (which fans have dubbed Pyrespace) would make a good starting point for adventure. Go beyond that sphere, and then you can tie it all together.

Beyond integrating both of the materials, though, is one more key element. You must build a cohesive setting that has materials that are familiar, but also a setting that has some new, interesting, and exciting elements to it.

Perhaps there are new races, and maybe one of them is trying to conquer the other spheres. Perhaps new spheres and new worlds are being discovered (a great way to integrate the classic and d20 Spelljammer settings). Perhaps there is new magic, new technologies, and new ships.

Through tying together the setting, and building upon it, you’ve accomplished one of the hardest goals.

Spelljammer as a Concept

Spelljammer is more than a setting – Spelljammer is a concept. The idea of traveling from world to world through means of magically powered ships with no futuristic technology whatsoever was a new and fresh one, and ripe for adventure.

While building a setting so that players have a place to adventure is important, it is equally important to present Spelljammer as a concept.

This concept of traveling from world to world through fantastic means should be set up to where you could travel to any world, whether it be a D&D world, or the worlds found in your favorite fantasy novels.

Conclusion

Spelljammer is a world that has infinite possibilities. So much can be done with the concept of fantasy space travel. By presenting a cohesive setting while also allowing Spelljammer to be a tool added to any fantasy setting, you ensure your road to success.

Shackles of My Own Making

My handwriting is horrible. Whenever folks need a visual representation of the Klingon language, they ask me to write something. If you go by the stereotype, I should be a rich doctor. And yet, it is what it is. Just kind of sloppy and hard to read.

My character sheets were equally hard to read. My writing is kind of big, so to put it in teeny tiny boxes…well, it gets hard to write it all. Like any gamer, I like accuracy and detail. And yet, my own handwriting was limiting me.

That’s when Wizards of the Coast released Character Builder. Here was a program that would help me build my character (thus being appropriately named) , and would do so in a fashion that would produce a neat, clean, detailed character sheets. Plus it had those attractive D&D 4th edition power cards as well. I was elated, and spent many an hour converting old characters to 4th edition or coming up with new character ideas.

Character Builder had become my salvation. It had become my jailor.

You see, I’m also part tinker gnome. Maybe it’s my Dragonlance roots talking, or maybe I’m like a lot of gamers out there. I like to build and craft within my game. We gamers are notorious world builders and amateur game designers. It gets in your blood. New races, new roles to play within the world, monsters, villains….it’s all wonderful stuff. And a lot of it needs stats to implement in-game. And like good little tinker gnomes, we love to craft those rules.

So it was that my frustrations with Character Builder began. You see, the miracle program had one big flaw. It wasn’t friendly towards house rules. You could put some in, but you were limited in other areas. And there was always an annoying little icon reminding me that my character wasn’t “legal” (whatever that means). What happens when I want to use house rules for a 4th edition conversion of some rule from a prior edition? What happens when I create something new I want to implement?

I found limits in other ways too. For example, I would have to wait a month between publication of a book and the time when it would be implemented on Character Builder. I found myself just waiting on baited breath for the release of the next update. A few months ago, such an occurrence was happening again. I had been waiting a year for the release of the 4th edition version of Dark Sun. I got the books, and knew it was just a matter of time before I could update my old Dark Sun characters in Character Builder.

That day didn’t come. The update didn’t come. WotC was pretty silent on the issue. Through a comedy of errors, Character Builder was delayed, and then those dates weren’t met. Wizards was not communicating with the public to keep people informed. We finally got half an update in October, but still no Dark Sun. Essentials was coming out too, and we wondered if that would be included.

And so I waited and waited, until finally, the new online Character Builder was released. I jumped into it, but with caution. As it turns out, caution was warranted. Character Builder was filled with errors and liked to crash. It was even worse about house rules as well. I play Dragonlance a lot, and yet I couldn’t even type the name of a Dragonlance deity into the appropriate box.

I had had enough. Something finally snapped within me. I had known for some time that this program was inhibiting me from a creative standpoint. I realized that it was holding me back, and was serving not so much as an aid, but as a crutch.

And it was my own fault. I had brought this on myself. I allowed a program to control my fun.

The Character Builder fiasco had a couple of good effects. First, it was a reminder of how we used to tackle character sheets – by hand. We didn’t worry about what some silly program told us was legal.

But wait, my handwriting is like bad Klingon. Was going back the way to go?

As it turns out, the gaming community is quite creative, and not just within the confines of the game. They have a knack for creating some of the best toys, such as form-fillable character sheets and power card generators. I’ve known about them, but have taken a closer look in light of the Character Builder fiasco. And you know, I’ve found some neat toys. I feel like I can tinker again.

The moral of this story? We all have our shackles. We all have those things that limit us as creative individuals. Maybe for you it’s the rules, to which you might feel beholden. For me, it was Character Builder. And while I think it can still be a useful tool, I no longer feel that it is necessary for me to play the game. Because it isn’t.

Try to recognize those shackles that hold you down. They can be hard to identify at times. Recognizing them is the hard part. Once you do, though, search for a way around them, and remember that there are always alternatives.

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Cute

There is no denying that Star Wars is a sci-fi icon. The series changed the way that we looked at scifi, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes. Yet for all its accomplishments, Star Wars takes a lot of heat. Primarily, the critics love to bash the Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks.

Let’s start with Jar-Jar. Okay, I get that some think he’s annoying. Not everyone in life can be likable. I understand that many don’t like the way he talks. So what? We don’t bag on Yoda for the way he talks.

Perhaps, though, we should paint Jar-Jar in a new light. First, he’s comedy relief. Humor has always been a part of Star Wars, and he offers it up in spades. I don’t know about you, but I laughed quite a bit when Jar-Jar’s tongue went numb in Episode I.

Second, has anyone ever considered that Jar-Jar might be an adolescent? He’s clumsy. Well, what happens to teenagers in adolescence? They become a bit clumsy and start tripping over themselves. Jar-Jar obviously lacks a certain sense of maturity, demonstrated by the much more mature Captain Tarpals. Obviously, Jar-Jar is a duck out of water and isn’t quite sure how to act within society. In Episode II, he’s much calmer, showing that maybe he grew up some.

Now, what’s up with the Ewok hate? Is it because a bunch of primitives beat up the Empire? If so, then I’ll just say that technology doesn’t always win the day; smarts and heart do. Did the Ewoks take away from Return of the Jedi? By no means. In fact, I think they helped make it so much fun. Like Jar-Jar, they’re comedy relief. They showed that the little guy can win over the big guy. And they showcase the tragedy of war, as seen when the one Ewok died and the other cried over his dead form.

Do people all over hate the Ewoks? Obviously not considering there were two Ewok movies and an animated Ewoks cartoon. Something had to spark that. They did well enough, too, that they’ve been released on DVD.

“They were originally meant to be wookiees.” Okay, so George Lucas changed his mind. I think the guy is entitled to. Yes, wookiees would have been fun, but then we would have lost the bit about a primitive society winning out over a much larger foe.

Then there’s the “cute argument.” You know, where someone has to say they don’t like something because it’s cute. I find this argument to be extremely subjective. I also don’t understand why people hate cute things. Does it harm anything? No. Do cute characters appeal to the kids? You betcha! That makes for more ticket sales. Members of the female demographic like the cute too. And hey, some of us guys are cool with cuteness as well – so long as you don’t tell our friends!

The Ewoks and Jar-Jar are but two of Lucas’ creations that have had a lot of flack. In my opinion, the flack the Ewoks gets is undue. Maybe those elements aren’t to everyone’s liking, but there are fans who do enjoy them. Perhaps it is time to look for the good in Ewoks and Jar-Jar, rather than focusing on the downside.

Dragonhelm’s Gamma World Game Day Report

gamma-world

While I have known about Gamma World for many years, I only got to play it for the first time today at the Gamma World Game Day. Basically, you go to your local participating game store, sit in on a game, and get to experience what Gamma World is all about. I took my 13-year-old son with me today, and we had a blast.

Does Gamma World measure up to past editions? I can’t say either way, as I’m not familiar with those prior editions. What I can comment on is this version of Gamma World. It’s a variant of the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules that combines classic role-playing, a card game element, and incorporates tactical game play.

The Gamma World boxed set claims to be, “A wacky, wily roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic peril.” On this, it delivers. Your character begins with two origins. Basically, you pair up two mutations to see what you can be. My son was a speedster doppelganger. I was a radioactive mind courser. Since radioactive characters can shoot radioactive beams from their eyes, I decided to take some X-Men inspiration and have only one eye. My character’s name? Psi-clops. My son got to make copies of himself, who could go into situations, attack bad guys, and keep my son’s character safe. Think Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, from the X-Men comics.

The adventure, Trouble in Freesboro, had the party being hired as mercenaries to take out these bad guys who set up shop in town, and are creating some super-weapon. It consists of three encounters, with an optional third encounter. The first encounter was all combat.

The second, though, went very differently than I thought would happen. I came in expecting a lot of combat. But in this encounter, a little fast-talking had us making friends with humanoid cockroaches who had a Mexican accent. This was more than an encounter. This was role-playing. We didn’t fight, and we convinced these guys that we were the new hires, sent to work with them.

We worked our way up to the top, where we faced the final enemies – a group of porkers and other assorted mutants. The big boss-man was a toughie, but we dispatched of him.

The game includes Alpha mutation cards, which function as Gamma World’s variant of encounter powers. It also has Omega tech, which functions as magic items. There’s a certain suspension of disbelief necessary to really get into these, but once you get into it, it’s fun. Gamma World assumes that random mutations happen, so that’s how you get your Alpha mutation cards. Then it’s assumed that the collision of realities (kind of the background to Gamma World) leads to Omega tech lying around.

I should mention at this point that my son has only gamed a handful of times. For Gamma World, he says that character creation was hard, but once that was over, he was fine. He says he really enjoyed this game, more so than playing D&D. He told his mom that she should play, and he has asked me when we will play next. In my mind, that’s the sign of a successful game.

For me, seeing this sort of positive reaction in my son is all I need to have me sold on the Gamma World game.