Archive for d&d

Tabletop Thursday – The Pick-up Group, Part 2

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , on May 21, 2009 by hergeek

For those of you joining us late, part one of this epic adventure can be found here.)

The GM laid out the map, and handed us our miniatures to use for the game, and gave us the scenario briefing…weary adventurers, walking to the nearest town, rain pouring down, dark, yadda yadda yadda.  We find the town deserted, walk to the center of town, and find two giant mutant bears ridden by little demon things.  Weird, but I’ve seen worse.

Initiative is rolled, and we engage the enemy.  I got the highest initiative, and I do the brave, bold and stupid paladin thing and charge the first bear I can get to.  It’s my job.  Other characters act, and then it comes time for the 13 year old kid.  The DM announces it  is his action.  And the kid sits there, staring at his sheet.

And sits there.  And sits there.  I glance at the DM.  He glances at me and shrugs.  He makes a couple of possible suggestions about what to do.  He still sits there.  His dad is busy complaining about how he doesn’t like his spells, and doesn’t step in.  So finally I walk around the table (we still don’t have a regular table to sit at, we are all still standing around a wargaming table) and show him what he could do.  He still sits there.  So finally I just tell him what to do, I move his miniature for him, and hand him the D20 to roll.  At least he did do that, and roll his damage.

Dad’s turn, he bitches some more about his spells, but at least he moved.  It was kind of a stupid move, but he moved.    Uncle’s turn, he actually is paying attention and gets through his turn with a good move, helps me out a bunch by taking on the second mutant bear with his warden.  Then the little girl goes, and she doesn’t do what I would do, but she delights in rolling the dice.  Then the new guy, who knows absolutely nothing about the game, so the DM pretty much helps him out with his actions, but the whole time is talking about 1st Edition D&D and how this is nothing like that.

Second round?  EXACT same things.  Emo kid does nothing.  Dad bitches.  Uncle does good.  Little girl rolls dice with enthusiasm.  New guy talks about 1st edition.  We work through this encounter, and it takes us FOREVER to even get the first giant mutant bear taken down.  And the players are using their daily abilities up right and left!  On the first encounter of the night!  I exchange many sympathetic glances with the harried DM who is trying to hurry us along.  Eventually he ends the encounter, cause we are getting our butts handed to us and if he didn’t stop it would be a total party wipe.

And the evening progressed pretty much exactly this same way.  Emo kid got sulkier.  Dad complained more when he couldn’t be effective.  1st edition guy talked about 1st edition.  A lot.  And the little girl?  She about halfway through decided that her enjoyment for the evening was to roll her dice as far and as hard as she could, most of them bouncing off the table.  And then she decided she wanted to try and knock over the minis with them, bowling as it were.  Dad and Uncle did nothing to curtail this behavior.  We had to end each encounter early, before we all got our asses handed to us.  I was counting the minutes, waiting for time to run out…

So, I really didn’t have any fun.  I did get a nice Dragonborn Paladin mini out of the deal, so that was sweet.  But it re-affirmed my belief that in most cases, pick up groups suck.  I swore never to do it again.

But now, this Saturday, Worldwide D&D Game Day once again rears its ugly head.  And I find myself preparing to go to not one, but TWO different stores to play.  The first store is going to just run the 1st level Dungeon Delve…you have 45 minutes to go as far as you can.  Kind of an iron man survival thing.  The second store is going to be running the standard adventure for the day, so I’m going to try and do both of them.

Why?  Why in the world would I expose myself to the chance of not one but two really bad sessions?  Cause I love this game.  I just can’t get enough of it.  And I want to play, not just DM.

I think I need an intervention…


Tabletop Thursday – The Pick-up Group

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , on May 14, 2009 by hergeek

I’ll be the first to admit, I am somewhat xenophobic when it comes to new gamers.  I think it all stems from having a bad experience with a group in college once.  In general, when I go to cons, I never play in games, only shop, because I just don’t enjoy playing with strangers.

Back in March, I decided to break this long standing rule for myself, and go and particpate in the Worldwide D&D Game Day.  As I had been bitching about back in this post, I’m always the GM, and never a player, and I wanted to try my hand at playing.  So I called up my FLGS and checked to see if they had any openings for any of the sessions.  As luck would have it, they had slots open in the last session of the evening.

So I arrive at the apponted day and time, and check in.  The store owner said to just relax and do some shopping, the rest of the group hadn’t arrived yet and they didn’t have a table open.  I asked if we had a full group, and he said yes, the rest of the party was filled out by a family.

[Cue Trumpets of Doom]

So the family arrives.  A dad, his brother, their @14 year old sulky emo teenage son that didn’t want to be there, and their perky @10 year old daughter.  And then they added another player, that was apparently David Cross.  (OK, not really, but it could have been his twin.)  A table still wasn’t available, but the store owner got us over around a taller wargaming table and we discussed which characters we wanted to run.  I almost got into a tussle about running the Dragonborn Paladin with the 10 year old girl.  Despite the fact that I got there first, and as such had first choice of characters, SHE wanted the dragonborn pally.  Rather than cause a scene, I graciously offered to let her play the Pally, and she was very excited, but then, like all 10 year old girls are, she got distracted by the shininess of running a new type of character and gave the Paladin back to me.  Yay me! 

Soon after that, the DM showed up, and then the game got underway.  And the game exemplified everything about WHY I dislike pickup games. 

(continued next week…)

Tabletop Tuesday – Gaming Soundtracks

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , , on April 30, 2009 by hergeek

This past Monday I used music to enhance my D&D game.  I loaded up my Zune with a few appropriate soundtrack albums and plugged it into my stereo and had it playing softly in the background.  Having a few new gamers playing this campaign, it was a new experience for many of them, and they really seemed to enjoy it.  And that made me think back to how I’ve used music for games in the past.


The first time I can recall using music in a game was when we were playing Iron Crown Enterprise’s Space Master.  My ship’s crew were on a planet, attempting to get back to their ship and escape, when a House Devon battlecruiser came dropping out of orbit towards them.  Right at the moment that I described this, I reached behind me and hit play on my CD player, and started up Gustav Holst’s Mars, Bringer of War.  It was perfect, the looks on their faces as I am describing this huge dropship coming out of the clouds, with the brass swelling behind me.  It led to a very memorable gaming session.


After that, I started up a series of FASA’s Star Trek RPG sessions at a local con.  We would run one game a year, and I had the same players come back every year for the next episode (one even flying in from Denver every year!)  At the time, I had a couple of the Star Trek soundtrack albums that I recorded (almost said ripped there…heh) onto cassette tapes and some small portable speakers for a Walkman.  I also used music for a small-scale “Battle of Hoth” minis game that I ran at a couple of conventions, using the soundtrack from The Empire Strikes Back.


As we move to more minis gaming, I would try and match the music with the game we were playing.  When we were doing The Great Rail Wars, I used Copland and Leone to set the mood.  When we were doing Space:1889 minis, Gunga Din was always on tap.  The Sea Hawk was used when we were playing Man O’ War for a short period of time.  And Warhammer was whatever fantasy soundtrack album I could lay my hands on.

Now, using technology that is available to us, it is even easier to have a varied soundtrack, thanks to playlists and shuffle on MP3 players.  My current soundtrack for my D&D session consists of:

  • Excalibur
  • Conan The Barbarian
  • Prince Valiant
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Rings
  • Henry V
  • The Sea Hawk

I’m not overly happy with the inclusion of The Sea Hawk and Pirates of the Caribbean in this list, because the sudden switch to a snappy nautical theme was kind of jarring, so I think those are going to be yanked from my D&D playlist.  But I’m on the lookout for more suggestions for good music.  Also, once I have my Xbox 360 network connected, I’m hoping to use Windows Media Sharing from my laptop to let me actually key specific tracks at specific moments through the course of the adventure.


So…any good gaming music suggestions?

Tabletop Thursday – D&D Reunion

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , on April 9, 2009 by hergeek

“The corridor is 10′ wide, stretching ahead of you into a lighted room.  You hear the sounds of high-pitched voices chattering with excitement, and an occasional loud crack, sounding like stone striking stone.  Brandis, you cautiously creep ahead and peer into the room.  You see three small draconic-looking humanoids, up on a 10′ tall ledge, whirling slings over their heads, firing stones down at a bloodied armored orc cowering behind a pillar.”  [Dice are rolled] Brandis, one of the kobolds has noticed you, and is pointing and chittering excitedly in your direction.  Everyone roll for initiative.”

At this point I looked up from behind the DM’s screen as the dice clattered across the table.  My best buddy, Joe, is sitting on my right hand side, where he always sits, mapping, as he always does.  Next to him is John, making a funny remark about his die roll, as usual.  And then the surreal hit me.

Because sitting at the head of the table, opposite me, was Joe’s 18 year old son.  Across from John was my daughter, and next to her was my brother’s daughter.  It was a reunion game, getting my D&D buddies growing up together to play again, some 30 years after we got started, and this time with our kids.

And it was funny how quickly we fell back into our roles.  Me as DM.  Joe playing a rogue, as always, and handling the mapping and note taking.  John as the fighter, and the comic relief.  It was amazing how comfortable it was.  The only thing missing was my brother, who couldn’t play because of chronic back problems.  But his teenage daughter was there, and she sat in for him.

I had been talking up D&D 4E to Joe for a while now, and on a whim I sent out an e-mail to all parties before leaving to visit, and the idea was enthusiastically embraced.  We convened at my parents, as always, but the difference was that instead of being banished to the basement as usual, we got to play in the dining room.    I took about 15 minutes to explain the new rules, and then we just embarked, with me and my daughter (so proud of her!) helping them through the various combat situations until about the 3rd encounter, when they finally had a good handle on how to play their characters.

Of course, some things were different.  There were plenty of snacks, but they were a bit better than our usual Doritos, Mountain Dew and French Onion dip (although we had those too.)  We were watching our language a bit more than we did in the past, since we had younger kids around.  My mom was amused to no end, watching us play.  At one point, she walked through and said “Well, at least I know where you all are, instead of running around getting into trouble.”  We got a big chuckle out of that one.  She also said “I can remember when I was nervous you were all going to go to hell for playing D&D.”  John, a 23 year veteran of the army, who served 4 tours of duty in Iraq, wryly spoke up and said “Some of us DID go to hell for a while.  But I got better.”

We played from 4 in the afternoon until midnight, when we had to stop because the grown ups had to get up early for work the next morning.  It was the longest marathon gaming session I have played in years.  All parties had a great time, and they all insisted that the next time I come down to visit my parents, that we continue the game.  My niece, who had never played before, fell in love with the game, at different times would exclaim “This is so intense!” 

The next day, she was talking to me and my daughter about the game, and she said “Is there any danger to becoming addicted to the game?  All I can do is think about playing now!”  I looked at her, smiled and said, “It’s 30 years since I first played, and I’m still playing.  Nah, I don’t see a problem with it being addictive.”

(This post is dedicated to Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, who passed away yesterday.  Thanks, Dave, for contributing to all of the hours/days/weeks/months of fun I had, and am having.  RIP.)

We-View Wednesday – Player’s Handbook 2

Posted in We-view Wednesday with tags , , on March 25, 2009 by hergeek


The new Players Handbook 2 arrived without much fanfare at my house last week, because at the same time a GIANT box arrived that piqued everyones attention (the aforementioned Skittles game, posted about here.)  But after we all got our spins on, I have now had a chance to digest some of the hereafter called PHB2, and I have a few thoughts about it (obviously, or this wouldn’t be much of a review.)

New Races:

Let me preface this portion of the review by saying that I am somewhat of a fantasy RPG traditionalist when it comes to character races.  Give me Humans, Elves, Half-Elves, Dwarves (Dwarfs?), and  Haflings, and I’m happy.  So when 4E came out and suddenly I’m looking at Eladrin, Tiefilings, and Dragonborn, well, I’m afraid I kind of gave them the stink eye.  Eladrin were fine.  I just thought of them as the High Elves and the Elves as Wood Elves.  Dragonborn?  Far as I’m concerned, they don’t exist in my world.  Tieflings?  Well, I had a player that wanted to play one, so I gave in and am making the adjustment.

Now, PHB2 comes along and gives me a whole swath of new races.  The spirit-like, holier than thou Deva (bleh).  The Gnomes are now a PC race again.   (I’m not a monster any more!  Rar!) Large, strong, partially rocky Goliaths?  Not in my campaign, thanks.  The ubiquitous Half Orc makes a return, and I will gladly welcome them in place of the Goliath and Dragonborne.  And the Shifter, a feral race with traces of lycanthrophy (which I actually found kind of cool, and won’t mind having in my campaign in the right circumstances.)

They have also added Racial Paragon paths, where you can choose a paragon path based on race and not on class, such as the Halfling Scoundrel (Scoundrel?  Scoundrel?  I like the sound of that!) or the Human Adroit Explorer.  Oddly enough, there is no Racial Paragon path for Half Elves, they have to take the Versatile Master Paragon Feat now in PHB2.  *shrug*  OK.  Whatever.

New Classes:

After some pointed thought, I find the new classes a decidedly mixed bag, the same as the races.  The ones coming out on the upper end of the scale are the Avenger (a holy warrior), the Barbarian (obscene amounts of damage), and the Sorcerer (chaos personified…lots of damage, but very random).  The classes I’m grouping in the middle of the pack are the Druid (half of your powers can only be used while shifted into your animal shape) and the Warden (protector of the earth…the really tough brother of the Druid).  The classes I was cold on were the Shaman and the Invoker.  Don’t have a real reason why, just didn’t like the classes or abilities that much.

It appears to me that the goal is to have at least one Character Type (Leader, Defender, Controller, Striker) for each one of the Power Types (Arcane, Divine, Martial, Primal).  This book added all four Primal power classes ( Barbarian (Striker), Druid (Controller), Shaman (Leader) and Warden (Defender)) as well as filling the holes in the other Power types.  Did those holes really need filling?  Dunno.  I didn’t see a huge need, but now they are!

My big question…where is the Monk, and where will he fall in the grid?

The Rest:

Besides the races and classes, there are a few more things in the book.  They have a series of character backgrounds now, where you can choose a background for you character and that will give you a bonus to either some skills appropriate to the background, or a new language, or the like.  You can choose backgrounds based on Geography, Society, Birth, Occupation, or Race.  I really like this set of rules, it helps to give your players a push to round out their characters.

You also have some new feats to match up with the new races and classes, some new items and magic items, a few new rituals, and lastly, an Appendix that has some rules updates to the rules as presented in the Players Handbook.


I found the PHB2 to be a real mixed bag.  There is a lot to like here, as well as a lot that just made me go “Eh.”  I am sure that I will get some use out of the supplement, but since I am already in the middle of a campaign with established characters I’m not going to get much use out of that stuff.  I didn’t like several of the races as well as a couple of the new classes.  Overall, I’ll give this one a respectable three crits.  Buy it if you have a need for new characters and want to have every option possible available to your players.


Tabletop Thursday – Once a DM…

Posted in Tabletop Thursday, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2009 by hergeek


I always find myself on the “tables” side of the GM’s screen, with the maps and the charts and the dice and the minis and the story.  It’s been that way since I started gaming.  I don’t know how it happens, but every time we decide to get a game of any kind going, I always find myself in the drivers seat.

Don’t get me wrong…I always have a blast doing it.  I mean, what’s not to love?  I’m in control, I’m telling the story, I get to be the bad guy, I get to try and confound the players at every turn.  I can tell I’m doing a good job of it when the players never know who to trust.  It’s a lot of fun, being god.  And I guess I do OK at it, cause everyone keeps asking me to do it.

But for once, I’d like to sit on the “picture side” of the DM’s Screen.  I’d like to invest in a single character, be able to creat a voice and a personality for that one character, instead of acting out every Gollum-sounding goblin and Scottish accented dwarf the players come across.  I need to be a player for a while.

I think there are several things driving me to wanting to play vs DM.  First would be the new D&D 4E rules.  Watching the players learn each others abilities, and then use them to thwart their opponents is just too much fun.  I want to be the one doing the thwarting.  I want to be able to play a Paladin and use an Invigorating Smite to bring down my enemy and heal myself and my allies.  I want to take a character from lowly 1st level up to godlike 30th level, and beyond.  I want to invest myself in a character and feel fear when he drops to 0 hit points and is three saving throws away from leaving this plane for the afterlife.

D&D Home PageWhat Class Are You?Build A CharacterD&D Compendium

Secondly, I have been listening to several  D&D podcasts of game sessions.  These players in these podcasts are Scott Kurtz from PvPonline, Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade, and Wil Wheaton of Star Trek:TNG and geek writing fame.  And these guys are having a blast.  They truly are having fun, and that is the type of fun that I really want to experince again.

So what’s a fella to do?  I don’t have time nor inclination to seek out another group.  None of my crew wants to GM, they’re having too much fun, and they don’t have to do any pre-work.  I thought about trying to find an online game, but that lacks the face-to-face interaction that I crave in being part of an adventuring party.

I guess I will just keep on DMing.  I’m good at it, and my players enjoy it.  And maybe convince one of the players to take over for an evening and use one of the Dungeon Delve adventures and let me play that Paladin, even if only for an evening.  Might help to scratch that itch.

We-View Wednesday: Dungeon Delve

Posted in We-view Wednesday with tags , , , on March 4, 2009 by hergeek


I’ll get right down to it.  I’m a lazy GM.  Between family and work and TV shows that I must watch (BBT, Chuck, BSG, Lost, Top Gear…you get the picture) I don’t have the time to create epic adventures for my players any longer.  I find myself having to rely on pre-packaged scenarios and campaigns for my games.  A little bit of reading, a little bit of tweaking, and with no more than a half hour prep I’m able to run my friends and family through an evening of hacking, slashing, blasting and general mayhem.

When I went out to Amazon to pre-order the Players Handbook 2 I found something called “Dungeon Delve” being recommended to me as well.  Quick look at the description…

“Dungeon Delve(TM) is designed for groups looking for an exciting night of monster-slaying without the prep time. It contains dozens of self-contained easy-to-run mini-dungeons, or “delves,” each one crafted for a few hours of game-play.”


So the supplement arrived yesterday, and I had a chance to sit down and read through the beginning of the book, and look at the first few adventures.

What you will find inside of this book is exactly what it says above:  A bunch of self-contained mini-adventures that can be set up and run at a moment’s notice.  There is a single adventure for each of the levels from 1-30, and each adventure typical runs the space of about 3 encounters.  The adventures are pre-populated with bad guys, and they provide the stat blocks for each creature, as well as an index as to where you can find them in the rulebooks if you need more details.  You also will have a series of “hooks” for you to use to try and integrate the adventure into your existing campaign, as well as information on tactics, enviromental effects, and treasure.  They don’t seed any magic items into the treasure, instead they give you the option of providing a magic item of an appropriate level.

One thing that I really like about this product is that they also provide you with information on which Dungeon Tiles set you can use to re-create the maps they provide.  I have a complete set of Dungeon Tiles, but I rarely use them because it is difficult to figure out which ones I need to pull out to create the maps for my players.

My one gripe, and it is a gripe I’ve had with all of these new D&D 4E books, is that if they encounter the least bit of humidity, the paper stock gets the waves.  I had to send a book back to Amazon because it was delivered on a rainy day and it looked like someone had dropped it into a bucket of water and let it dry out.

All in all, a highly recommended product, especially for the lazy or unprepared GM (like me!)  This one rates 4 Crits from me, and I’m sure will get a lot of use.