Archive for the 'Gaming' Category


D&D Encounters: Undermountain (Session 3)

My dice bag.

D&D Encounters: Undermountain

Another Wednesday and that means I get to have another D&D Encounters night!  Aero Hobbies was again the setting for our Encounters session, and this was yet another totally different experience.

I’m getting the feeling that I’ll need to show up yet earlier as the tables were full when I showed up at 6:45.  I tried to go early to talk with the DM from last week, but everyone was seated already and it didn’t seem appropriate to interrupt at this point and cause a further delay to the whole group.  There was some shuffling involved and one of the players graciously agreed to wait and play in the second round of encounters so that I could play in the first batch of encounters.  One of the regularly scheduled DMs was out of town, and as since the RPGA has a very strict policy on who can run an RPGA game, there were not enough slots for all the players with only two DMs.  However, they staggered the game play so that as soon as one ended another started and eventually everyone that showed up to play got through the encounter.

My session this week was run by yet another DM, so that’s three different DMs for three different sessions.  I suppose it could be a real curveball if you’re used to playing with the same crew week after week, but they made the process seem smooth and managed to integrate the changes without any hubbub.  In addition to a new DM, we also had a change up in the rolecall list.  I like the idea that for this campaign the faces change each week.  No one really mentions the fact that we’re adventuring with a different group of heroes each week, but we all just go with it.  This week’s party was shockingly balanced, with 2 defenders, 2 strikers, a controller, and a leader.  Now we would have no excuse on the battlefield.

The players make a quick introduction of their characters so the players can all get acquainted, and then it’s off to more delving.  We pick up immediately where we left off last week, and having just defeated the thugs who ambushed us, we move on down through Undermountain into ShadowHome, a shanty-town of riffraff and various monstrous denizens.

The DM this week made a conscious effort to have a little more story, even going so far as to explain the resurrection of our formerly dead companion.  My character has a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to be docked the price of a Raise Dead ritual from our total earnings.

As for specifics, this week’s session was a little different, because we actually had no combat.  It began as a Skill Challenge, and with a little luck and a little clever thinking, we managed to not fail the really dangerous encounters and make it through to the Inner Chamber of the Halls of the Sleeping King.  Though no actual attacks were rolled this session, it was really enjoyable nonetheless.  This just reinforces how much I enjoy the Skill Challenge system of 4th Edition, as even in our failures we were glorious and we worked together as a team to solve the riddles of the tomb.

For those of you who’ve played, you know that there were 6 little slots of blue flame and 6 team members, so sure enough we were each responsible for figuring out how to light one of the magic runes.  A great challenge designed to involve all of the players.  Unfortunately for the two defenders, our skill set seems to be limited to “bashing” and “crushing”, so with a little luck and more than a little brute force, the dragonborn and the minotaur managed to ham-fist their way through a delicate, arcane lock.  No Athletics check options means that fighters are slightly limited in their contributions.  I’ll keep this as a mental note to make an attempt to include a way for fighters to contribute in my own games.

All in all, a fun session of roleplaying.  My favorite moment?  Two players standing up and acting out how they would “distract” the otyugh long enough for the party to run past it and escape.  Yes.  Having permission to stand up and yell at the gaming table made for instant fun.  And for sticking my two horns into the remaining two locks and trying to unlock them at the same time, I achieved a Moment of Greatness.  It didn’t matter that it didn’t work.  Sometimes the attempt is what matters.

During the time I live-Tweeted the incident with my minotaur damaging himself and potentially losing one of his horns, Kyle (one of my fellow Tweeters, @d20plusmodifier) drew up this pic, scanned it, and posted it.  Genius.  I love the internet.

I now present Koroth, the uni-taur.
I can’t tell you how much I admire Kyle’s ability to produce in such a short amount of time!  The speech bubbles were part of a dialogue from a thread between @Wizards_DnD, @d20PlusModifier, @Level30Yinzer, and myself (@4eDnD).  This is also why I love the internet.  Incredible stuff.  Also, this is now my official character portrait.

SIDE NOTE: @Wizards_DnD posts various bonuses at various times on Twitter during Encounters for players with access to the internet, so depending on what time you play, your experience could vary.  We experienced two different potential benefits — one allowed a PC to reroll a Thievery check once this session and keep the 2nd roll.

The second (and most terrifying) of these was the following gem:
#dndenc Divine power washes over you. Each character can ignore the first attack that Orcus makes against you this session.

Yes. You read that right.  Implying that Orcus would be showing up in a 1st level adventure.  Guess WotC is getting a little jump on April Fool’s Day.  Nice one, guys. 🙂


Live Tweets every Wednesday at D&D Encounters: Undermountain on Twitter @4eDnD!


Death & the Hero: Pulling the Trigger

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk in the DMing community floating around lately about when it is (and isn’t) appropriate as a DM to kill a player character.  This is a touchy subject with a lot of gamers, as a player’s character can be a very personal extension of their own personality, and — depending on how much time and effort you spent creating and playing the character — a fairly emotional event.

As a DM, you should not discount this trauma as trivial or inconsequential.

While the 4e rules concerning death and dying in the game are covered in both the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the effects of a character’s death last far beyond any given session.  As a DM, our monsters and creatures die all the time.  It’s no big deal for us.  That’s what they’re for, after all.  We forget that fact from time to time, and I for one have been accustomed to creating monsters with the sole purpose that they are to die.  A little morbid perhaps, but when a monster or enemy lives, it only makes it that much sweeter for me.  Plus, it sets up an almost guaranteed recurring enemy for the players, so we all win.

But characters die in Dungeons & Dragons, we can’t deny this.  It wouldn’t be much of a challenge if there was no consequence for failure.  It’s a fact of the game that where there are challenges there will be successes and, therefore, failures.  But I think perhaps some of the fault lies in viewing death as failure.  Do we automatically assume that death is the end?  How many times have the heroes faced ghosts, ghasts, vampires, ghouls, zombies, liches and other supposedly “dead” creatures.  If anyone should know better, it’s the heroes.

And then there’s Raise Dead.

You only need a part of the PC’s corpse that’s less than 30 days old.  Granted, it’s an 8th level ritual, but if you’ve got the 500 gold and a big enough town, there’s no reason your DM can’t make a cleric available to a low-level party.  And don’t forget about Gentle Repose, a 1st level ritual which extends that time period to 150 days.  What’s that you say? There’s no high-level cleric in your town?  That’s probably because your DM’s being a dick.

Seriously.  If the DM controls the world, and all the weather and monsters and people in it, and there isn’t a cleric of sufficient power to cast Raise Dead in your town, it’s because you are dealing with a malevolent being.  It’s pretty much my argument against God, too.

So when is it okay to kill a player character?

I’ll be the first to admit that not every player character makes it out of my games alive.  Characters have died in my game and been reincarnated (remember the random tables?), and some players have had to leave the game so they went out in a heroic blaze of glory.  Some PCs died when they were overwhelmed in the final boss encounter, and some fought their last fight when going up against too many kobolds.  But I never did it to be mean, or to “get some payback”, or to flex my power.  The DM is all-powerful.  No player can deny this — see Rule Zero.  As the DM, we don’t need to tell the players who’s boss.  If a DM really wants to kill off his party, then a) throw them up against the Tarrasque, and b) be prepared to not have those players come back.

The heart of the matter is that viciously (and needlessly) killing off a player character erodes the inherent trust in a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons.  In computer games, we trust that a certain amount of neutrality and balance is built into the game.  In D&D, we have to trust the DM to be fair and impartial, and we rely on his (or her) interpretation of the rules.

Now, sometimes, let’s be honest, players do stupid things.  Every DM has experienced this.  Whether the players are trying to Bluff the gelatinous cube or engaging the drow queen with Diplomacy, tactics just aren’t every player’s strong suit.  Every DM has a different threshold for when character stupidity equates to character death, but my point is: If a character’s death serves no purpose, then why do it?  And don’t blame the dice.  If you want the players to live, they live.  Simple enough.  If it’s all truly the result of random dice rolls, then what do they need a DM for?

So when do you think it’s okay to kill off a player character?



D&D Encounters: Undermountain (Session 2)

D&D Encounters: Undermountain

It’s Wednesday, and though that used to mean “New Comics Day”, it now means “D&D Encounters Night”!  We played again at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica and this experience was a little different from last week’s.

I showed up early this time, homemade character in hand (generated on the D&D Character Builder for those oh-so-important 5 Renown Points).  I wasn’t the only one to arrive early, so our crew was all set and actually started rolling dice right at 7:oo PM.

There were lots of changes, not the least of which was a character I was way more comfortable with, and the DM who ran our last game was now a player in this session!  This worked out well, as one of the players from last week couldn’t make it to this session. I imagine this will be a fairly common occurrence over the next 10 weeks or so.

Our group was now composed of 5 strikers and 1 defender. Now I’m really concerned about our healing ability.  Looks like we’re on our own for healing surges, and will be counting on our party for group Heal checks for bandaging those wounds.

Only a few minor adjustments for our role call for the second session:

  • Bewho, the deva barbarian
  • Izy’ure, the elf seeker
  • Vera, the halfling rogue
  • Colbin, the human ranger/rogue hybrid
  • Strakashtai, the kalashtar sorcerer
    and my character,
  • Koroth, the minotaur fighter

I love playing big characters. Half-giants, goliaths, half-orcs, you name it.  I can’t wait for Dark Sun for this exact reason.  Yes, I know it’ll be a re-skinned goliath.  That’s not the point.  I want to play a 4e half-giant.

In all my years of gaming, however, I’d never played a minotaur as a PC before, and decided to do a little research to get a good back story together.  Turns out this was wholly unnecessary.  While the DMs have a mini-conference, I explain to the players at my table that Koroth is a friend of the previous PC who was called away on a crusade to the Abyss.

Y’know, like it happens all the time.

So Koroth is a good minotaur who worships Tempus, the god of battle, and is hoping to find some answers about his heritage within Undermountain (as well as score some gold).  It’s about as smooth a transition as we’re likely to get, and there is absolutely NO mention of why Bellum is gone and why Colbin is in his place.  One human male looks much like another, I suppose.

Story is not just secondary in D&D Encounters, it’s virtually nonexistent.  We’re on a dungeon delve.  Period.  It’s difficult to tie the players together in a limited run campaign like this, I know, but a little story might go a long way to encouraging players to show up the following week.  I noticed there were far less people at this week’s session than the first.

The DMs come out of their huddle and we start off right where the last encounter left off — the team has completed a Short Rest and then we lower ourselves down the Yawning Portal and into Undermountain.  No sooner does the last team member’s feet touch the floor and we send our ropes and harnesses back up, then we’re attacked by a band of humanoids and their pet scorpion.  This is a good news / bad news situation, as we are attacked right away without a chance to get set up, but we also earn a Milestone (and thus an Action Point and a few Renown Points) because we didn’t take an Extended Rest between encounters.

Last time in combat (as the Paladin) I didn’t fare so well, so I was really looking to redeem myself this session.  My first roll of the night is a 19 for initiative and I just know it’s going to be a good time.  Tempus is obviously watching over me.

The battle starts, we begin dealing out (and taking) some damage.  I take 17 in one hit (quite a lot when you’re only 1st level), but then our kalashtar sorcerer gets lucky and really unloads on a big group of the non-minion bad guys.  Players high-five each other and we are sure we can finish these guys off.

Then the trouble starts.

Our sorcerer is downed on the bad guys’ next turn, and instead of going after one of the other 5 viable targets, the doppleganger sneak (disguised as a human rogue) moves through combat, provoking multiple opportunity attacks and performs a coup de grace with sneak attack damage on the unconscious, and therefore helpless, PC.  She dies instantly.

This is where I have a problem.  I know that there are different styles of running a D&D game, and that there are as many different styles as there are DMs.  However, calling across to another DM at another table and shouting gleefully, “I GOT ONE!” does not make for good feelings among the players at your table.  I can only imagine how this player felt as her character’s death was announced with joy across the room.

Apparently, the DM mini-conference before the game was about not taking it easy on the players.

Now I’m sure this DM is a very nice guy in his regular life.  As far as I know, he’s a saint.  I’ve never met him before this night, but I’m sure he pays his taxes, goes to work on time, and helps his landlady carry out her garbage.  This behavior, however, is called douche-baggery and I’ve already talked all about it here, so I won’t get into a rant this time.

One of the concerns I have about playing in the RPGA is that it strongly encourages meta-gaming.  There is a list of published Renown Point Awards for certain actions taken by the players in the campaign, and so some players know that they should try to “Revive a Dying Adventurer Ally” to get some extra points.  It’s what made me switch from my pre-gen human paladin character to a D&D Character Builder minotaur fighter (that’s worth 7 points) so I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

There is also a reward called “Survive 8+ Sessions without Dying“.  Apparently, the DMs are in a contest to not let any of the PCs achieve this. I call shenanigans.  I could see if the reward was 10 points or 8 points or even 5 points, but it’s only worth 2 points.  The same as hitting a milestone or for a “Moment of Greatness“, and is only achievable once per player per season.  There is no point reward system for the DM, and that sucks.  But trying in-game to prevent a player from achieving a reward out-of-game is just bad form.  Shouldn’t we be trying to encourage players to stick around?

So, now the sorcerer is dead and we’re down a team member.  The player has a couple options…
1. She can make a new character and play with that one next session.  This sucks for someone invested in their character, but character death is never enjoyable.
2. She can use the same character with a “Death Penalty”.  -This means that she’s at -1 to all rolls until she reaches 3 milestones (which is like 6+ encounters, give or take).-  Correction: I’ve been informed that characters take a -1 to all rolls until they reach 1 milestone, as per special D&D Encounters rules.  Neither option is super-appealing, but character death is a reality in this game.

Also, there’s a third option: she can just not play anymore.  Which is really what the DM seems to be encouraging.  This is a mini-campaign to generate interest in 4th Edition.  Is this sort of vicious behavior encouraged by the RPGA for this adventure?  I’m having trouble understanding this.  What’s the point?

I’m glad that the DM had fun, and that he was enthusiastic about enjoying the game.  But maybe next time he could concentrate more on making the game fun for the players, instead of having one of them sit out the majority of the encounter.

What are your thoughts?  As a DM, do you relish the TPK?  How far are you willing to go to achieve it?

As a player, do you hate it when your character dies?  Do you create a new character or walk away?

Live Tweets every Wednesday at D&D Encounters: Undermountain on Twitter @4eDnD!


D&D Encounters: Undermountain (Session 1)

My dice bag.

D&D Encounters: Undermountain

This is a bit late, and I really want to talk about the events of Session 2, but I thought I should put them up in chronological order.

We had a great DM who ran a great, fast-paced game.  He was used to running games with strangers and has run games at different conventions for years.  I got there a little late and had no character made up, so I sat down just in time to grab one of the pre-generated characters (Alvenor, the human paladin) and fill in the 6th and final slot at one of the three tables running the adventure.

The group was composed of 4 strikers, 1 leader, and myself being the only defender, so we were pretty heavy hitters.  With a paladin and a bard, healing ought to be okay, but I worried a little.  We’ll see.

Role call for this first adventure:

  • Bewho, the deva barbarian
  • Izy’ure, the elf seeker
  • Vera, the halfling rogue
  • Bellum, the human bard
  • Strakashtai, the kalashtar sorcerer
    and my character,
  • Alvenor, the human paladin

Yes, the bard is a leader. No, I’m not sure why.

For an introduction, it was a pretty straight forward adventure: The heroes know each other, start off in a tavern in Waterdeep (that somehow has a portal to a dungeon in the tavern itself? Convenient.) when trouble breaks out.

We overhear a half-elf woman named Fayne at the next table talking with a shady-looking pair (composed of a tiefling and a dwarf) about the possibility of earning some gold for a mysterious patron.  Our group is interested, but the folks she’s talking with make it clear in no uncertain terms that we’re to mind our own business.

It then comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone when the shady-looking tiefling and dwarf that were talking with Fayne go “outside to discuss details” and try to rob her in an ambush.

In short order, we rescue her and Fayne hires us to explore Halaster the Mad Arch-Mage’s newly uncovered catacombs beneath the Yawning Portal in Undermountain.  Conveniently, there is a portal inside the (aptly named) Yawning Portal Inn.

Strangely, this does not sound daunting or intimidating to us in any way.

For 200 gold, desperate adventurers will do just about anything apparently.  Art imitates life in this rough economy.

Well, that was just about it for the first encounter.  We left off with an agreement to explore Undermountain and retrieve some magical artifacts (and help ourselves to the rest of the loot).

Did you play in the D&D Encounter? What was your experience?



Dungeoneering Check™

So, while I pursue my latest endeavor of writing professionally for the roleplaying game industry, I thought it might behoove me to put some effort into self-publishing some material that could generate interest and start to lay the foundation for a presence in said industry.

To that end, I’ve come up with a new title for this blog: DUNGEONEERING CHECK™.

In the new D&D 4th edition, the Dungeoneering skill is terribly useful for navigation, recognizing pitfalls (and avoiding them!), finding your bearings, feeding yourself, and knowing what monsters you’re likely to run into while down there.  As I said, all useful bits in a game dominated by the dungeon as a setting for adventure.

From The Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (4e):

Dungeoneering (Wisdom)
You have picked up knowledge or skills related to dungeoneering, including finding  your way through dungeon complexes, navigating winding caverns, recognizing dungeon hazards, and foraging for food in the Underdark.
If you have selected this skill as a trained skill, your knowledge represents formalized study or extensive experience, and you have a better chance of knowing esoteric information in t his field.  Also, those trained in this skill can identify creatures of the Far Realm that lair and hunt in dungeons and underground settings.
©2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

In the Dungeons & Dragons game, a Dungeoneering check is used to remember useful bits of knowledge about underground environments or to spot and recognize hazards or clues underground.

I thought that it would be a great new title for a RPG-themed blog, and so here in all its glory is the first post under the new banner of DUNGEONEERING CHECK™.

DUNGEONEERING CHECK™ will be about all things RPG-related, for both the player and the GM, though – not just 4e D&D – not to worry.

In addition to roleplaying-centric content, there are plans afoot for regular columns on advice for the GM, advice for players, and perspectives from both RPG veterans and first-timers.  The first up on the schedule is GM’s SCREEN where we look behind the scenes at a combat encounter, and how to adjust a Skill Challenge on-the-fly.


You Want To Do What?! The Art of Improv in GMing (Part 2)

The new blog is up! Improv and D&D!


The Temple of Elemental Evil [Redux]

It is one of the best-loved, most legendary campaigns in the Dungeons & Dragons library, yet I never played the classic adventure, “The Temple of Elemental Evil”.  Written by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer back in 1985, the timing was never right.  It was initially released for play with the 1st Edition rules, but a few years later in 1989 the 2nd Edition of D&D was published, making the whole thing a moot point.  (We didn’t do much of the “conversion” stuff back then.)  Then 3rd Edition was released and Monte Cook updated the Gygax/Mentzer adventure into the now-classic-in-its-own-right “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil”, chronicling the next generation of adventurers in Hommlet, keeping the history and events of the original adventure as part of the background of this sequel.  As much as I wanted to adventure in the Temple of Elemental Evil, we never had the right group.  We didn’t do much in the way of published modules in my D&D group those days, but I bought the adventure book anyway, and there it sat on my bookshelf since 2001.  I even went as far as starting a d20 Modern conversion of the adventure simply because it seemed like such an epic, classic story that I wanted to be a part of it.

Now it’s 2009 (almost 2010!) and there is a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  Wizards of the Coast recently released an adventure for the 4th Edition entitled  “The Village of Hommlet” and it looks like a fantastic introduction into the world of the Temple of Elemental Evil.  Perhaps in the spirit of the generational feel of the previous adventures, I should call this one “Revenge of the Temple of Elemental Evil”.  I’ve looked over the Village of Hommlet adventure and started the preliminary steps in the massive project of converting the 3e adventure into something playable (different but recognizable) in 4e.  My players have no idea yet what I’m going to unleash on them, but they are soon to be traveling as armed escorts with a caravan on their way to a small village named Hommlet…

Following that mega-adventure, I plan on running them against the titan kings.  I just got my hands on a copy of the 4th Edition adventure “Revenge of the Giants” (having its own, equally rich history), the sequel to the campaign “Against the Giants”, probably my favorite all-time adventure that I’ve ever participated in.  Giants are my absolute favorite enemy to fight in D&D, and it would be a great follow-up to “Revenge of the Temple of Elemental Evil”.

There’s only one problem.  My heart’s not 100% into it.  The truth is, I don’t want to run these games.

I want to play them.

Have you ever played any of the adventures? Is there an adventure you’ve always wanted to play but never got the chance?

July 2018
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