Dungeons and Dragons Next Starter Experience

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

I got a chance to run the newest Dungeons and Dragons starter set last Saturday for my regular game group. Right off the bat I need to say this…Bravo those who worked on this edition of D&D!

I will not delve into the differences between versions but instead focus on what worked, what didn’t, and undiscovered.

What worked:

I am in love with the advantage/disadvantage die. This is a great way to hand out the bonuses or negatives to players that give a great feeling that anything can happen. In a lot of games the bonuses can really put a player in the can’t fail or succeed corner. But with the A/D die you never know what could happen. The times it came up on my table it was a fun way to see how the situation played out.

The PCs feel powerful. We mentioned this in episode 31 where we talked about how it seems like the game is putting the bonuses on the PCs and not their gear. Playing through, this couldn’t feel more true. The bonuses to the core attribute to the PC who gets to a certain level really firm up the idea of power PCs, not equipment.

The combats are quick. Gone are the days of the 4th edition hour long encounters. My group was able to get through around five combats in three and a half hours. This allowed them to get to more of the plot points than you might have seen in the previous edition of D&D and spend more time dealing with the plot.

Combat is deadly! I had one player jump ahead into the fray on the first encounter. He suddenly found himself on the end of a strike that nearly took him out. Those old 4e habits are hard to break but you had better learn quickly, or else you will become familiar with the death save table.

What didn’t work:

Just in the starter set there isn’t much to complain about. I’m not being a fanboy, but rather saying there isn’t enough to chew on to know if there is something that could be improved on.

I will say this much. Healing feels a little off balance. This is only highlighted in the module included in the box set has multiple quests which reward PCs in healing potions. I’m not sure if this is an overcorrection from 4e and they are trying to up that deadliness factor, but you have to let the cleric be the healer even at level 1.

Undiscovered:

Character class progressions/trees, available races beyond the core, and what tools the Dungeon Masters will have to run games. Let’s face it, we have a long six months ahead of us to get the answers we all desire.

My group was pleasantly surprised by D&D Next. The impression I got is this felt like going back to a favorite hangout spot and discovering that the new management has made some needed improvements without gutting the place. I will continue to run the starter module and I will get in on as many games that I can to learn how other players are doing things.

As I played this version of D&D I was transported a few years back to my youth. It may sound cheesy but it is true. Something felt right about this game and it felt like Dungeons and Dragons as it should be played. I hope this continues and we aren’t about to see past mistakes repeated. I will continue to play D&D, and I am sure I will struggle with buying the Players Handbook mid-August. Right now I am leaning towards buy.

What did you think about the Starter Set and what you have seen from this version of D&D?

Game on!

-Justin

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Episode 31: Edition Next

AlbumCoverWe start off musing if Summer is the real campaign killer time for adults, Justin will be running games at Conclave of Gamers on July 26th and the whole crew will be at TactiCon on Labor Day weekend, We then delve into our thoughts on the Basic Ruleset for Dungeons and Dragons that was released as a free PDF.

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Special: Review of Unframed

AlbumCoverEd, Derek, and Chris (from Smiling Jack’s Bar and Grill) give you their review and thoughts of Engine Publishings newest book Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters.

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D&D Is Coming

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

Wizards of the Coast has finally announced the release dates for D&D Next, or 5th Edition, or In Search For More Money. Before we move on let’s go down what has been announced to be released, when, and how much:

  • Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (July 15, 2014) $19.99
  • Player’s Handbook (August 19, 2014) $49.95
  • Hoard of the Dragon Queen, adventure (August 19, 2014) $29.95
  • Monster Manual (September 17, 2104) $49.95
  • The Rise of Tiamat (October 21, 2014) $29.95
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide (November, 18 2014) $49.95
  • Deluxe DM Screen (January, 20 2015) $14.95

My first impression is this looks like a Kickstarter stretch goal list. But let’s move on.

Why are the core books being released so far apart from each other? My guess is so you don’t freak out when you see that to play with the “core” set of books will set you back $150. Add another $20 if you want to get a jump on the Starter Set and toss in another $15 if you like to keep your Dungeon Master needs to hide his dice rolls behind a screen. But let’s assume you stick to the basics, $150 for the core game…Wow! I’d split that up as well just so my fans could save up over time. This is an installment plan to game.

Are the prices and the strange six month release schedule a problem for the average gamer? I would think so. As gamers we want to jump right into it. The Starter Set is fine with me, I think this is a good way to help fence sitters decide if they want to invest their time and money into the future of D&D. But why not release the rest of the books at Gencon? Give me one large slip cover filled with the three core books so if I do decide to go forward, I can get everything I need. I’m not a fan of this release schedule.

The prices are another topic. Assuming this will be your primary game, the cost isn’t too bad. Just work out number of sessions you will play and the game starts to pay itself off in entertainment return value. But it is still a lot just to get you off the ground initially. Pathfinder got it right with their core rulebook, everything you needed between two covers and at the price of $49.99 (cheaper than that on Amazon) your dollars to hours of entertainment seems like a great deal compared to what Wizards of the Coast listed for 5th edition.

And we all know this isn’t where it ends. I’m pretty sure if looked at all the editions of D&D I own and if I tallied up the total cost in books I would be quite shocked. Again, I don’t think this is a huge deal considering the amount of fun I got out of D&D. And once you have the core books you need not stray any further, in theory, and your purchases should be done.

I can’t review the game at all as I have just played the initial beta rules that came out quite a while ago. But I am willing to give the Starter Set a try and give this newest edition of D&D a test drive. From what I have heard from people who have been participating in the beat, things are looking up. There is cautious optimism out there for my fellow geeks who were introduced to gaming via Dungeons and Dragons.

What do you think about all of this?

Game on!

-Justin

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iGame

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

A friend of mine, Mikey B, was pondering using an iPad to handle his game mastering responsibilities during convention games. He posted this query of the ages to his Facebook page and Mikey, having lots of gamer friends, got a fair number of responses. But this question and the answers got me to thinking about using tools, like an iPad or other tablet, for a tabletop game.

Let’s get something out of the way, I love technology. I use e-tools at the game table, mostly to handle the game books and as a reference source. If I don’t print or I forget my game notes I will use my tablet or phone to go to my Google Docs folders to get what I typed. But I also see where technology can get in the way of a decent game session.

On the game master side of things, if you don’t have a good unifying tool to handle initiative, NPC/encounter management, game notes, books, etc. you will spend an inordinate amount of time just flipping through apps to find the information you need. If you tend to run games in my style, mostly from the seat of your pants improv, this can and does trip you up. I imagine if you spend a lot of time reading off your notes for reference, the impact of swiping through screens may not be as major.

On the flip side of the GM screen I have gamed with a lot of players who use their electronic devices as character sheets, dice rollers, and to just look up spells in the book. I’d say it works well most of the time. I have had a player who incorrectly programed all his rolls for his character and didn’t roll any higher than a 6 all night, turns out he programed every single roll to be a 1d6…oops.

Based on observations I would say using a tablet to manage what you do in a game session depends on the person a lot. Easy answer. But Mikey asked a question deep in his post that most of us didn’t catch on to at first…But do you think this would lose the spirit of the game? That the dice, paper, sourcebooks and so forth are part of the whole experience?”  These are questions I never bothered asking myself about this issue. 

I have had a few conversations with people about the topic of e-books. Traditionalists will tell you that you can’t get the same feast for the senses from a novel read off a screen that you get by holding an actual bound book in your hands. As I write this paragraph my brain is reminding me what it is like to feel and smell that book in my hands as I absorb the content from within. Meanwhile the techheads (such as myself) will speak of the convenience of being able to access your library from any of your devices. No longer do I have to carry a book with me to read during my down times. I can just pull up where I left off on my smartphone.

I find it difficult to pick a winner in the debate as far as e-books go. I can see both sides of the argument. But what about gaming? Let’s talk just dice for a moment.

Nothing stimulates the pleasure center of my brain faster than hearing dice being rolled on a table. I think that no app can replace dice for sheer tactile and audible enjoyment one can get from using them in a game. I have several dice apps on my phone, mostly just in case I find myself in a game without my dice bag. I think the ‘spirit’ of a game would be diminished if all dice rolls were boiled down to a program doing all the work in the background. Imagine a group of people just hitting a button then reading off the hit or miss result based on what the magic box told you?

Just based on the dice example you will think I am anti-tech at the game table. Well you will find yourself to be on the wrong side of correct. I think there is a balance to using tech in a game that every single person and group must find on their own. I do think once you start eliminating more and more of the human element, and this includes adding up the values of your own dice, you take away from the spirit of the game. A projected map on the table with 3-D elements is cool, but is it a better game than if someone draws a map that we put our hand painted minis on?

If you do use tech at the table I have some etiquette items to pass on to you:

  • Do not use the e-devices in question to the point of distraction. If a GM or player has to call your name more than twice to get you to look up from your phone to do something in the game, you are now breaking an unspoken social contract with the rest of the table. Life stuff happens and I’m not saying don’t answer a text from someone that needs an answer, but be polite to the the GM and other players at the table and be don’t let the shiny tech pull you away from the shared activity.
  • If the app/tool you are using isn’t improving the flow of the game then do not use it. What I mean by this is if you are GMing a game and it takes you more than a minute to input everyone’s initiative, it is time to go back to writing it down on paper.
  • Do not distract others with your tech. Showing the newest Godzilla trailer during the game is not cool. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’m sure there are more pieces of tech etiquette that I haven’t listed here or thoughts about blending tech in with the old school methods of tabletop gaming. If you have any feedback please post away!

Game on!

-Justin

P.S. if you use your phone during a movie at a theater, you are what’s wrong with society.

 

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Episode 30: To Kill a Player Character

AlbumCoverToday we talk about the highs and lows of player character death. We then talk news about the Microsoft Deadlands TV Show, Engine Publishing’s release: Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters! If you want to know where the cast of RPDNA will be: Free Comic Book Day, Spring Giving, Denver Comic Con, and Gator Con. 

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Episode 29: Crazy Concepts

AlbumCoverWe talk about Ed getting kicked out of his regular gaming group, how to write an effective blurb for your game, we spend some time crafting a blurb for Justin’s upcoming game, how do you know when a game concept is too weird to work, and in the news we discuss D&D Next.

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Episode 28: Getting Real

AlbumCoverWe welcome ThanksGaming auction winner Jake to the show and talk about his gaming background and art, What do you do with the player who wants to change his character out every session, How real is too real in a game, the Dark Dungeons movie is being made.

 

Spring Giving registration

Jake’s FB Page

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Player Advice: I Hate My PC

A friend and fellow gamer, Ed P, sent me an email asking if he could change his character in our regular Deadlands game. He is running a gun-toting Nun and he just isn’t getting into the character. I couldn’t deny him the chance to have fun, so I gave him the thumbs up. He also suggested that a player not enjoying their PC might make for an interesting RPNDA topic. Maybe it will make it onto the podcast, but I had some thoughts about it right now that I want to share with everyone.

Playing a character has to be interesting to you for the game to be fun. The Player Character is your tool to interact with the plot and what allows you to be that grandiose version of your psyche. When designing this character you should provide it with the aspects which you find interesting, warts and all. Figure out what do you want to spend hours doing in a game. I tend to make a mental image of the character in my head, and imagine a single scene of him or her doing something breathtaking. But that’s me. I want my characters to be larger than life.

But let’s say I do what Ed P. did with his character. Make an interesting concept, I’m sure the shotgun Nun sounded fun to him, but it just falls flat. What then? I’d say give it a few sessions. Maybe you just need to find your characters “voice.” You never know when you just might find your PC’s niche. If after a few games you aren’t feeling a connection to your PC then do what Ed did and talk to your GM/group about changing things up. No harm, no foul.

What about a convention or one-shot game where you just grab a character out of the pre-gen pile? This is tough one. Let’s face it, even if you grab a character that you find to be made of pure awesome and dolomite, you might find yourself in a game where that PC isn’t useful in the ways in which you imagined she would be. It’s time to find how that character can be interesting in the situations placed before you. This is your opportunity to flex those creative muscles and make that square peg fit into the pentagon shaped hole! If you are playing the tough guy and the game is more diplomatic, here is your chance to use intimidation as a diplomatic strategy. If you picked up Loki and the game is made for Thor, time to use your tricks to help others (even if it is the enemy) in combat. Have fun with it!

Here are some of my personal tips in making a character you will enjoy playing:

  • Make someone who will interact with the group, for the positive or negative. This means you shouldn’t make the loner who doesn’t like to talk. Try to imagine how your character will be able to interact with a team of PCs. I get you want to be Batman and sulk over your glass of milk, but even Batman talked to the Green Lantern when the Justice League came together.
  • Your character must make sense in the genre you are playing. If the GM says you are going to play a setting that involves a lot of political intrigue, don’t roll up the village idiot who has lots of points in blowing things up.
  • Don’t play the angry loner.
  • Challenge yourself to play different character types, but there is no shame in sticking close to what you know and understand.
  • DON’T PLAY THE ANGRY LONER
  • Talk to the game master and the rest of the group. Help figure out how your character will work best. If you have a concept you are in love with, communicate it with everyone to see how they might think it will work best.
  • Never, ever, play the angry loner!
  • Mix 4 parts awesome, 2 parts dolomite, and a pinch of cinnamon to make the perfect blend of character.
  • By the way. The angry loner is the obstacle to the GM and table giving you the spotlight. Think twice before you play the foul-tempered soloist.

What tips do you have about making and running a great PC. Do you have any stories of running something that just fell flat? What did you do?

Game on!

-Justin

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TMI

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

How much information do you need to get involved in a session of a Roleplaying Game? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I need to know as the Game Master and as a Player. The reasons I have been pondering this important question can be summed up in two separate examples I have experienced.

I have been asked to run a semi-regular game for a group of friends and acquaintances. After some discussion a game system was settled on and character concept emails started flying. Now, I want to be crystal clear that I am a fan of character backstory and players who are passionate about their PCs. Got it? Good, let’s continue. This group of excellent people started sending me all sorts of information about their characters. Most of it is really good stuff, but there are stories that are complex enough they could be made into an entire campaign. There is nothing wrong with this much information, but with the limited amount of games I can commit to running, a lot of the awesome tales will be ignored. That doesn’t make anyone feel good. I look forward to running games for them, however. If they are this creative outside of game I can’t wait to see what they come up with in a game!

In my other experience I was a player in a one-shot game. The game in question was one I couldn’t wait to play. The GM, another nice/creative person, had other plans it would seem. This GM spent the first hour and a half telling us about the setting, past gamer stories, and other topics I couldn’t tell you about. I zoned out about 30 minutes in, and my brain checked back in once in a while to see if we had gotten to the game. We then played, a little, and I got zero feeling for the actual game. I wasn’t playing my character, I was rolling dice for an NPC.

In both of these cases you have examples of information overload. In the first example I have players who are trying to create the story of their characters before they ever interact with the actual game and in the other you have a game master who wants to tell a story, rather than run a game.

I believe that around 90% of the GM’S and player’s story should happen during the game sessions. Why else would we play these games together? What makes a memorable session of gaming is those actions taken while we all sit together at a table. Will you care that the GM’s game world has a continent of Dwarves who worship an octopus if you aren’t anywhere near said continent? Nope. Nor should you. Does the GM really need to know your PC’s kitten’s name? Not unless it has something to do with the PC’s existence in that moment of the game.

None of this is to say you shouldn’t make those stories for yourself. If a 30-page backstory helps you play the part of your character, then write it with all the creative power you have! Game Masters, you should keep working on that dream setting of yours. Just because you aren’t using what you write at the moment, doesn’t mean it won’t be featured in a future game. But to both parties in question, do not try to present it all in one massive information dump. It will be like tossing a handful of glitter on a page with a glue outline of a unicorn, most of it won’t stick.

The fond memories we will walk away with will be those wonderful things that happened at the table, nothing else.

Game on!

-Justin

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