Monthly Archives: July 2014

Gen Con Tips & Advice

Gen Con logoGen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there, here are some links.

Sean K. Reynolds (of Paizo) says…
Gnome Stew (ENnie Awards-winning blog) says…
Erik Mona (of Paizo) says…
DoingIndy.com says…
Examiner.com says…
The Illuminerdy (ENnie Awards-nominated blog) says…

OK, enough about that. As you can see, there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I posted last year (it was my most popular post ever!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.

However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. This year, she has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I could stand to lose 40 pounds myself. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds 2′ – 3′ to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I’m pushing her, I’m watching for this sort of thing. This year she’ll be driving herself and I actually worry she’s going to get beat up.

  • Be Aware of People Around You

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes its because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack. You’re not in a High School hallway, stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller last year because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to to his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

  • Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for 4-6 hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses!

  • Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving 5 seconds to you?

  • Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

This last thing is just actually a castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. If I’ve had a really bad day, I hope the elevator breaks and falls back down to the ground floor with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

  • Don’t be a dick.
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Categories: Conventions | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition – Jammin’ part 2

D&D Basic Game logo

After a short rest, the intrepid heroes (oops, they objected to that phrase) murderhobos continued to explore the ship. There was still one room on the main deck, beneath the forecastle they hadn’t entered, so they started there. To their surprise, they were greeted by a healthy-looking man and woman. The way they were garbed, possibly the Captain of the ship and his wife. Unfortunately, when they entered the room, the illusion vanished and they were replaced by horrible, rotting people who moved to attack. They put down the heucuva with little difficulty and searched the cabin for more booty, of which, there was plenty.

Beyond the captain’s cabin, at the bow of the ship, they found a large number of the golden skeletons. After inadvertantly activating them, the PCs gave the skeletons a wide berth so they could continue repairing the ship. Our her…murderhobos proceeded to the lower decks. They encountered more storage, and a hoard of zombies which they dispatched with FIRE. (A diabolical DM would’ve had the flaming zombies run around, setting fire to the ship before they were destroyed… but I was tired and forgot.) On the lowest deck, in what would be the bilge, they found a stone sarcophagus, completely with a skeleton dressed in rotting robes. The specter of that wizard apparated and tried to drag them to a horrible doom, but they were able to defeat it (I had to substitute wraith stats… which probably helped their survival). Ren of the Cloak picked that time to show up and thank them for all their hard work, admitting to fibbing a bit when it came to the set up for this whole expedition. He took the two nicest pistols they found and went on his merry way, leaving the rest of the loot and the Spelljammer for the murderhobos.

Will there further adventures lead them to the stars? To Wildspace? Will we ever find out?

*shrug* Dunno.

Upon further reflection, I have decided that while I like D&D 5E as an RPG, and I appreciate the work that went into and production values of the Starter Set, I think that product is mis-named. Sure, it has pre-gens, a decent starting adventure, and a book with rules, but it doesn’t really teach you how to play. If you’re a total newbie, who has never played a tabletop RPG before, the D&D Starter Set is going to be confusing. It’s not going to help you and might put you off tabletop gaming altogether. Despite being called a Starter Set, it seems to make the assumption that you have some experience with RPGs, just maybe not D&D.

And that’s too bad. At least the Mentzer Red box from the 80s had a solo adventure that held your hand through character creation and took you on a short adventure to teach you what the game was about. The Star Wars starter boxes and the Pathfinder Beginner Game aren’t perfect in that regard, either, but WotC should at least taken some lessons for them. The Starter Set is not the gateway product it needs to be.

That doesn’t mean 5E is a bad game. I know how to play D&D already and I like the system. I like it better than 3.X, 4E, or Pathfinder (speaking strictly from a mechanics standpoint) based on what little I’ve seen so far. I’m already thinking of adventure I can run at Gary Con using the Basic Rules, and when I run it at home, I’ll probably keep my game as close to the basic rules as possible allowing for use of the full PHB class list (though maybe not all the races; I’m not sure I have any use for dragonborn in my preferred campaign settings).

Value for the money: the Basic Game cannot be beat. It’s free! The Starter Set is not horrible. If you buy it on Amazon, you’re paying $13ish for a nice box, a set of dice, and an adventure for levels 1-4, so really, that’s not a bad deal. Dice these days will cost between $7 – $9 by themselves. As I’ve said before, the Starter Set is a bad product for people who have no idea what this D&D thing is or how to play it, but if you want a box to keep your Basic Game in, you get an adventure and dice, too! I’m not sorry I bought it; I may even run the adventure some day (or at least steal some ideas from it).

It’s too early to judge the full game of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, but I am looking forward to getting the full rules now, where I was ambivalent prior to playing the basic game. I think I will be adopting as my go-to edition of D&D, based on what I know now. As I have changed my mind on this matter before, I reserve the right to do so again if I get the PHB & DMG, look at them, and have a WTF??? reaction. I have a hard time believing the full rules, if they’re as modular as I’ve been lead to believe, will be so radically different from the game I just played.

TL;DR Summary: I liked D&D 5E. If you find 3.x/Pathfinder and/or 4E to be too complex or just not to your liking, if you think AD&D or BECMI D&D did it better, you might want to give this edition a chance.

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition – Jammin’

When the new D&D Starter Set and Basic Rules came out, my players asked me to run a few sessions of it before Gen Con. One was going to be playing several games and the other was going to be running several games. We were between Star Wars adventures at the time, so everyone agreed it would be a good time for a 2-shot game of D&D, using brand-spanking new rules!

I’m sure the adventure within the Starter Set is fine, but it looked like it would be too long for my group to finish in two four-hour sessions. We only meet every other week and most of us don’t interact much outside of the game, so those four hours are not four hours straight of gaming, it’s more like two-and-a-half hours of gaming and an hour-and-a-half of bullshit, and that’s IF everyone shows up on time. (That’s not a judgement of my players, it’s just the way things are; we’re all adults with families and lives and none of us consider gaming to be Serious Business™.)

So, I selected a shorter adventure, “Jammin'” by James Ward from Dungeon magazine #21 (January/February 1990). I heard 5E was really good with backwards compatibility and from the looks of things, all I needed to do was swap out the monster stats and Bob’s your uncle.

I don’t know why I became British just then.

mohs“Jammin'” had another excellent thing going for it: it enabled me to use the giant sailing ship cardstock model my wife made for our Goblin Skulls & Shackles Pathfinder game. It seemed a shame to have it continue to collect dust in the closet when this would be a perfect opportunity to make use of it again.

And so, we embarked upon another edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

There were 4 characters
Naivara Laidon (Silverfrond), a wood elf rogue
Rurin Stoneforge, a hill dwarf cleric
Salazar Thrace, a human wizard
Ebenezer, a human fighter

It was pretty classic party. They went around the table and introduced themselves and talked a bit about their backgrounds, flaws, etc. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mechanics of backgrounds, personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. I know some people will be thinking “I’m a role-player, I don’t need the game to tell me how my character is supposed to act. Warrrgggbarglllleeee WORST EDITION EVER.” There are many players, however, who enjoy the game who like to have such information suggested by the game so they have a better handle on how to create a unique and interesting character. Not everyone is a great improvisationist or can come up with original character traits like that on the fly (and remember to apply them consistently during the game). If it encourages role-play, I’m for it. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s as simple as that.

The adventure started out in a classic fashion. The PCs were in the Happy Stein tavern (they already knew each other, however), and were enjoying a dinner provided by Ren of the Cloak, an adventurer of some renown. He had a proposition for the PCs; go to the valley of Shemar and see if the ship said to carry the fabled treasure of the great Kings of the Sky would appear by the light of tomorrow’s full moon. He found a scroll that told of the legend when the ship would appear (which conveniently destroyed itself right after he read it), and tomorrow night was the first occurrence of that particular kind of full moon in 500 years. He was unable to go himself because of an important meeting with a grumpy wizard, so he was offering this opportunity to the PCs in exchange for first pick of any magical treasure and a tenth share of the wealth. They agreed, a contract was drawn up, and the PCs set off!

It was a long journey, but they found the valley around dusk. The ship, as foretold, was there! It was battered, tattered, and covered in glowing moss, but it appeared to be intact. From the mizzenmast few a black flag depicting a skull & crossbones. They explored the ship and (the DM missed the opportunity to describe the myriad piles of goblin skeletons, including a nasty, ugly dog-like skeleton) discovered spherical piles of colored bones. The bones near the hatch to the main hold were golden. Ebenezer shoved one of the odd, roughly-spherical piles and it animated into a golden skeleton. He attempted to smash the thing, but it ignore him and started to patch holes in the deck. They agreed not to disturb any of the other piles of bones.

There were enough piles of bones on the Forecastle that they chose not to search it thoroughly, though they were able to climb up on the sterncastle. Attached to the mizzenmast, they found a large golden coin, pierced with an iron spike. They removed it and saw that it depicted a vaguely spider-like being on the reverse, and an insectoid ship on the obverse. They elected to explore the rooms under the sterncastle next. The first room contained a score of kegs of smoke powder. The next was a chart room that looked like some wild animal had taken it apart. The next was one of the officer’s quarters and as soon as they entered, an ogre’s skeleton leapt to the attack. They bashed the bony thing to bits and continued on to another room. It’s walls were reinforced, but once they broke though, they discovered five zombies were ready to eat them.

The battle was hard one, but eventually they defeated the zombies (they just Would. Not. Die!). They took the opportunity for a short rest, barricaded themselves in the room, and while Ebenezer recovered from holding off the zombies, Salazar and the rest examined the odd throne-like chair in the room. A large furnace was attached to the chair and after translating instruction on the wall, they learned they were on a spelljammer, complete with a furnace that would burn magical items to power the ship.

After they recovered and rested, they examined the final room under the sterncastle and found it was covered in a nasty mold (I had to handwave this since there aren’t rules for yellow & brown mold yet). They proceeded to the rooms under the forecastle. Ebenezer rammed open the left door and dislodged a pile of bones which caused a chain reaction, disturbing the nine other piles of bones in the room. Yellow skeletons animated and began firing their pistols at the intruders. Ebenezer blockaded the door with his body and defended the opening as they picked off the rattle of skeletons** one by one. Salazar, the rapping wizard*, incinerated quite a few with burning hands, but the skeletons kept coming. Eventually, they smashed all the bones to bits and gathered up the valuables from the room, and retreated back to the helm furnace for another short rest before tackling the right side of the forecastle and the main hold…

The zombies were great. 5th edition zombies get a save when they’re reduced to 0 HP. If they make the save, they drop to 1 HP instead and keep fighting. Radiant or critical damage will keep them down, though. Basically zombies are trolls for 1st level characters (particularly since 1st level clerics can’t turn undead). The first time the zombie stayed up, they got worried (particularly since it took so much damage before they thought it should have died). The second time the same one kept coming, they got scared. They experienced the Holy S*$%, WTF? reaction for the first time in a long time. It was great!

My players really liked the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. It was much easier than trying to figure out who was flanking who and which square was threatened by what. Combat moved much faster than in 3.X, Pathfinder, or D&D 4E, yet everyone still had a variety of actions they could do, at least, enough that they didn’t feel like their role was just to perform a basic attack over and over, like Basic D&D (BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia, as defined by this blog) could sometimes feel. They also like Inspiration.

In general, everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves and I heard a lot of praise for the system. The session sparked a lot of curiosity about what sort of options were going to be available once the core books are out. Personally, I like the way the mechanics are set up now, and when I run this edition at conventions, I am going to stick to the Basic Game for combat and encounter adjudication. It’s fast and fun. I like what I’ve seen of this edition so far. I like it a lot.

* I’m not sure which personality trait required him to sing his spells, but that’s what he did and he had a whole sheet of lyrics to use.

** We decided the proper way to refer to a group of skeletons was as a “rattle.”

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D Next)

The Starter Set for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released on Thursday, July 3rd to Wizard’s Play Network-affiliated game stores and the Basic Game PDF was made available for free download at Wizards of the Coast’s website (https://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/basicrules).

That a new edition of the game was coming shouldn’t be news (unless you’re new to gaming and just happened to stumble upon this blog instead of the myriad more well-known sites). I downloaded the Basic Game as soon as it was available and picked up the Starter Set on my way home from work. I’m not going to do an in-depth review because there are many other sites out there who have already done it faster and more comprehensively than I will. These are just my thoughts on it coming from a gamer with D&D experience stretching back to 1982.

At first glance, the game is imminently more approachable than 4E was. It also firmly establishes the Forgotten Realms as the default setting. The Basic Game even uses a character from R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy as the sample character created during character creation. While I have mixed feeling about the Forgotten Realms, I do like that the setting is less nebulous than what was presented in the initial materials from 4E. I never got a decent sense of what the world was supposed to be in 4E, other than a town here, a village there, and all of it surrounded by dangerous wilderness. A big part of what I like about Dungeons & Dragons is exploring the rich histories written for their fantasy worlds, and 4E’s Points of Light world seems almost like an afterthought to me.

IMG_0932So first, the Starter Set. (You can click on the picture to see the full-res versions.)

The box is sturdy and should hold up to years of use. There’s a thin cardboard insert inside to take up space; this can be discarded if you want to store more things in the box. It includes a 32-page rule book, a 64-page adventure, pre-generated characters (1 of each class, plus a second fighter), a few advertisements, and DICE! These are better dice than my first D&D boxed set came alas, but sadly, new gamers will not know the dubious joy of coloring in the numbers with a cheap crayon.

IMG_0933IMG_0934IMG_0936The characters provided include the information you’ll need to level them up to level 5, since character creation rules aren’t included in the Starter Set. The adventure itself is designed to take characters from levels 1 – 5 and if your group only meets a few times a month, should last you until the core rule books are available.

 

Of course, if you can’t wait, there’s always the Basic Game. The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game has everything you need to create Fighters, Clerics, Rogues, and Wizards of human, elf, dwarf, or halfling persuasion. There’s even a few sub-races included if you aren’t satisfied with being just an elf or a dwarf. As I mentioned earlier, the character creation example references a character from the Forgotten Realms novels, and other examples reference other D&D worlds, such as Dragonlance, Planescape, and I think I saw a Ravenloft reference in there. The Basic Game is on version 0.1 right now. The plan is for the document to be updated as the core books are released. I assume not all of the options available for GMs regarding playstyles will be put in the Basic Game, but monsters will be and probably a few class options as well.

As far as the rules themselves…they’re not bad. I was pleasantly surprised. It feels like an update of AD&D with some modern design ideas incorporated. They obviously took lessons from d20/3.X and 4E, but the feel of the game (based on a reading of the Basic Game) is very much AD&D. Whether or not it retains that feel in play, well, I will find out shortly since I am running two sessions of it before Gen Con.

I loved 3.X when I started playing it, but after 5-6 years, I was burnt out by the complexity and bloat. I like Pathfinder’s presentation and fluff, but it has the same complexity (arguably, Pathfinder is even more complex). 4E…I tried it and just didn’t like it. At all. There were a few good ideas, but it just didn’t click for me. When I first read the book, I did not want to play it. I eventually did, of course, because I couldn’t make a fair evaluation of the system otherwise (and it didn’t seem fair to judge it based on one disastrous Gen Con DCCs tournament). I’m hoping minion rules will make an appearance in the DMG; those were always good for large battles where the PCs can feel badass by wiping out dozens of them at a time. I would peg this edition as rules-medium right now. I could see myself enjoying this. If it’s as modular as they say, and I can easily control the rules bloat…yeah, it’ll be a good game.

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