Tag Archives: D&D

GenCon Misery

GenCon – the Mecca of RPG Geekdom.  Folks come from far and wide in an annual celebration of gaming, tabletop RPGs, new products, new games, dice, and other accessories and activities.  Attendees leave with memories to be told at their own games for years to come.

And, outside of all of this, are we who are steeped in GenCon Misery.  We, who are not in attendance of the single must-be-there-can’t-miss-it event.  We, who, for whatever reason, must stay home and read the blogs, articles, Tweets, Facebook status updates, and Shared Posts on Google Plus.  Sure, the technology available allows us to keep abreast of the goings-on in real time!  But, let’s face it – there is no substitute for being there.

So, last year I became aware of some folks on Twitter who, like me, were bemoaning our shared inability to attend GenCon 2010.  The hashtag used at this time was #GenConMisery.  As GenCon 2011 is soon underway, we have revived the hashtag.

Without further adieu…

On this 3rd Day of August 2011, by Declaration of the Committee, it is Resolved:

  1. That we, who cannot attend the convention in the City of Indianapolis, located in the State of Indiana, of the United States of America, said convention that goes by the appellation GenCon 2011, do hereby declare GenCon Misery.
  2. That we, who do declare GenCon Misery, do hereby invite all other Souls admittance to membership ~ provided those Souls are not in attendance to GenCon 2011 & share Misery with existing members for their incapacity for attendance ~ to GenCon Misery.
  3. That Members of GenCon Misery shall Tweet camaraderous salutations to  one another with the hashtag #GenConMisery when ever each Member is able.
  4. That Members shall imbibe potations during aforementioned Tweets while toasting One Anothers’ Good Health, with the express intent of ~ in the vernacular Speech ~ “Drowning Our Sorrows.”
  5. That the preferred Beverage of GenCon Misery shall be Whisky.  If a Member shall not imbibe Whisky, then let said Member drink Vodka.  And if neither Whisky, nor Vodka, then shall it be the Alcohol Beverage of said Member’s selection.
  6. Exceptions are hereby granted to Members Who, in Supplication to their Conscience, Faith or Physician, Eschew Alcoholic Fluids.  However, it shall be in the Expectation that Exempt Souls do imbibe a Caffienated Beverage.  Should said Soul also eschew Caffeine, then let said Soul determine the Beverage to be imbibed.
We do hereby affix our Names in Agreement and Unity, directly ‘neath & within the Comment Section…
Mark, the BeefGriller, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Posted by on Wednesday, 3 August 2011 in Gaming


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My 4E Setting Wishlist

Greyhawk Box Set

It seems the setting from Wizards of the Coast for 2011 will be the Neverwinter Campaign Setting.  Other than the minor issue I have that it is actually part of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and not a setting in its own right, I look forward to its release and plan to purchase it.  Still, it has me thinking about other settings from the old TSR that I’d really love to see updated to 4E.

Greyhawk How could I start a list of settings without Greyhawk.  It’s the biggie – the setting to end all settings, at least for so many of us who got our start in the early 1980s.  Obviously, E. Gary Gygax’s role in both Dungeons and Dragons and  Greyhawk has a huge influence on so many folks’ feeling of nostalgia for this setting.  Add to that the fact that it was demoted from 3rd Edition’s “Default Campaign Setting” to historical footnote, and you have more than a few folks who really would like to see 4th Edition Greyhawk.  It’s a traditional, generic fantasy RPG setting, too, so updating shouldn’t be too terribly problematic.


Planescape This setting set so many standards in atmosphere, concepts, RPG artwork.  Philosophies changed not only worlds, not only planes, but the entire multiverse at times.  Get enough residents in a town on the planes to change their minds on an idea, and that town could pop out of existence on one plane and be transported to another.  New ideas mean serious consequences, to be sure.  The interplay between Factions lead to deep roleplaying and pitched battles, and not necessarily to exclusion.  (OK, they are not diametrically opposed, but you get my drift.)  This is anything but traditional or generic fantasy RPG, so there would have to be a lot of work to update it to 4th Edition, not the least of which is the loss of four alignments.  Despite the difficulty, I think Planescape is a very worthy candidate.


Spelljammer Back off!  Yes, it is so often derided, but I love this setting.  Its use as a unification of all settings was merely a side-effect – it was a setting in its own right.  Almost all of the supplements focused on locations within wildspace itself.  The image of a warrior standing on the deck of a ship in space is oh-so-evocative.  I would love to see a 3-dimensional ship-to-ship combat system for 4th Edition, as well as a Spelljammer Helm, different racial ships, and the giant space hamster.  OK… forget the giant space hamster.

Council Of Wyrms

Council of Wyrms I’ll admit – I wan’t at all crazy about this setting in 2nd Edition.  You get to play a dragon, a half-dragon or a servant to a dragon?  No, thanks, I’ll pass.  But, that was back then.  Now, however, with 4th Edition, we actually have a dragon-inspired player-character race, the Dragonborn, built into the core rules.  We finally have a good foundation upon which to build Council, rather than tacked-on rules.  I think 4E can make this setting work now, and make it work properly.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any favorite settings that you would like to see updated to the latest edition?  How about, like Council of Wyrms, any setting that didn’t work for you before, but could benefit from the current ruleset?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Posted by on Monday, 1 August 2011 in Gaming


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4th Edition – What It Got Right

Following up on my last post, I’d like to point out a few things that are new in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons with which I do agree.

  1. 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook

    At Will Powers For Spellcasters Since Basic D&D, my favorite class has been the Magic-User, or, as the class came to be called in later editions, the Wizard.  I fell in love with the idea of casting spells to change reality to better suit your needs.  The problem back then was that, especially at lower levels, once the spells were gone, so was your ability to contribute to the combat.  Sure, you could draw your dagger or brandish your quarterstaff, but unless you rolled a 20, you were almost certain to miss.  Add to that the fact that you had at most 4 hit points per level, plus your Con bonus, and you were lucky to survive even one hit from an enemy.  Well, no more!  4th Edition’s At-Will spells now mean that the wizard can fling magic missiles around all day long.  Finally, the Wizard is an actual, honest-to-goodness spellcaster, not simply a glorified stage magician, performing his tricks only once before each crowd.  No longer must the wizard worry about exhausting his spells before the day is over.  I’m focusing on the wizard, I know, but the same is true for clerics, druids, psions, and all other classes that have spells or spell-like powers.

  2. Minor Actions I think the addition of the Minor Action is long overdue.  3.x had it in the expansion books, first in the Expanded Psionics Handbook(if I’m not mistaken), then pretty much every book after that, but never in the Core Rulebooks (PH, DMG, MM).  It was tacked-on almost as an afterthought, causing too many arguments in our group (at least).  In 4E, it’s official, and it gives characters one more action, albeit a minor one (pun intended), during their turn.
  3. Encounter Experience Point Budgets This, I believe, is a huge benefit to game masters.  In 3.x, we had Challenge Ratings, Level Adjustments, Effective Character Levels, and a few tables thrown in to determine an appropriate encounter for a given party.  Add to the mix a PC or two who is one level above or below the rest of the party, or the equivalent CR of two or more of the same monster, and you have a mess.  4E does this right with the XP budget.  Sure, a table is still necessary, but once you have your budget, you have a good idea of what foes, traps and/or other challenges you can safely throw at the party.  Is there a chance of over- or underestimating the challenge?  Of course there is, but 4E is the first edition to give you an easy-to-use, accurate tool to build an encounter.
  4. 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide

    Skill Challenges I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack for this one, but I think codifying a skill use to experience point award is long overdue.  According to the rules in 3.x, the only way (well, OK, the only well-defined way) to gain XP was through battle.  Other ways were mentioned, such as story or role-playing awards, but the only numbers given were for defeating foes.  4E is the first edition to say, “OK, you can use your skills to overcome a challenge, and you will get this many XP for doing so.”  The implementation may have been a little wonky, but we finally have official rules for gaining XP outside of combat.  While we’re on the topic of skills…

  5. Combining/Reducing Skills In 3.x, there were simply too many skills from which to choose, and far too many related skills that should not have been distinct.  Do you want some examples?  Hide and Move Silently; Spot and Search; Bluff and Sense Motive.  Theses skills are pretty much two halves of the same action.  Add to that the fact that three skills, Knowledge, Profession, and Speak Language, were really several skills under their respective umbrellas.  4E improved this tremendously by combining appropriate skills and splitting the others.  Let me say this, though: this skill system is not perfect, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

 So, what do you think? Do you like the changes I’ve mentioned here?  Are there any others that you think 4E got right?  Please comment below.


Posted by on Friday, 29 July 2011 in Gaming


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4th Edition – What I Wouldn’t Have Changed

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since Basic and 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  Through the editions, I’ve seen a lot of changes.  Some I liked – for example, allowing the Thief to choose how to distribute his percentage points among his Thief Abilities.  Some I didn’t.  What follows are some of the changes from 3.x to 4E that I don’t like.

  1. Alignment changes What is up with this?  Sure, some folks consider the old alignment system restrictive and over-simplistic.  The truth is, I partially agree with that sentiment.  The 9-alignment system was very simplistic.  However, throughout the editions, it was a constant.  In 3rd edition, they built several mechanics around it, such as the various Detect and Protection spells, magic items, and damage reduction.  It wasn’t perfect, but it made sense within the rules.  My major problem with the 4E alignments is that they pared them to five alignments.  Five.  If you’re going to get rid of some, why not throw away the entire construct?  In 4E, they have no real effect on the game, other than the options available to divine characters.  Throw all of them out, and be rid of them, or, keep all nine, and make the logical connections like in 3.x.
  2. The Elemental Chaos In prior editions, the Inner Planes were the basic building blocks of the Prime Material Plane, and, sometimes, the rest of the planes.  The planes were distinct, there were the Plane of Fire, Plane of Air, Plane of Earth, and Plane of Water.  Now, in 4E, we have one single plane consisting of all four of the elements.  No infinite plane for each individual element, they are now all stirred together in a huge mess.  Sorry, but the classical elements divided make sense to me in this milieu, not a mish-mosh of all.  How do “pure” elementals make sense now, if their building blocks intermingle randomly?  Answer: they don’t.
  3. The Outer Planes Rather, the absence of them is a stickler for me.  Related to my first point, the absence of the nine alignments necessitates the removal of the Great Wheel.  Yes, I want it back, but look at what we have in its place.  The Astral Sea, a single plane, wherein we have islands, realms where none other than the gods themselves live.  No longer are infinite planes the homes of gods, but little islands where the greatest powers in the multiverse live.  Why?  Why limit gods to an island?  OK, so the earlier editions’ gods ruled over finite sections of the outer planes, or entire layers of them, but there were boundaries there, and not just the “shorelines” of a sea.
  4. Eladrin Please, earlier editions had elves, and their offshoots, the drow.  Why split the line further with another elf?  What’s the point?  So we can have an elf with different stat adjustments?  Allow me to roll my eyes.
These are only a few of the problems I have with the changes between 3.x and 4E.  I could go on, but I’ll stop here, for now.
Don’t get me wrong, I like 4E for the most part.  I haven’t had as much experience with it as I have with earlier editions, and that may have something to do with my complaints.  Still, from the first time I read the 4E books, I’ve had these issues with the rules.
How about you?  Do you have any problems with 4E, when compared to 3.x or earlier?  Or maybe you prefer these changes to the earlier editions?  Let me know in the comments.

Posted by on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 in Gaming


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RPG Seeds – Sea Priestess

As a long-time GM, I’ve found inspiration for adventures, campaigns, characters and locales in some of the most unusual places: history books, novels, paintings, sculptures, conversations, and songs, to name but a few sources.  Here, I will briefly describe an idea that came to me while listening to Edge Of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks.

Enter our antagonist – the Priestess of Umberlee, The Bitch Queen.  I chose Umberlee because, at the time, we were playing in the Forgotten Realms, and, in my mind, the antagonist worshiped an evil(or at least very demanding) sea god.  This Priestess has found an ancient and abandoned temple to Umberlee in a cave on a cliff overlooking the sea.  The temple was built by an aquatic race thousands upon thousands of years ago.  At the time of its dedication, the cave itself was submerged.  For some reason, however, the sea withdrew, the cliff rose out of the water, and the entrance remained undiscovered until recently.  How or why did this happen?  Did Umberlee punish her worshipers for some transgression?  Did she lose some great battle to another god – the temple becoming the prize?  Perhaps it was simply a natural occurrence, the result of an earthquake, or global cooling caused the sea level to drop?  The answer to these questions could provide further hooks for the story.

What are this Priestess’s goals?  More personal power?  More power for her goddess?  Does she wish to establish a following on land for her goddess?  To me, Umberlee seems the kind of goddess who prefers smaller, more numerous groups of worshipers – as a Choatic Evil deity, larger institutions just don’t seem her thing.  I’ve always thought of the Priestess as wanting to establish a small cult devoted to Umberlee.  She seeks to increase her own power by increasing the influence of Umberlee.  To this end, she needs followers…

Umberlee, The Bitch Queen

Enter the cultists – two young men who serve the Priestess, in more ways than one.  Yes, it’s hackneyed, but the Priestess has recruited the two youths by seducing them.  They each seek greater attention by carrying out her orders, as well as sabotaging one another’s efforts.  Not only does this competition have them putting forth more effort toward the Priestess’s goals, but also serves Umberlee’s desire for conflict.

For her part, the Priestess spends her days deciphering the ancient inscriptions on the walls, statue bases, stone tablets, etc. found within the temple.  She sends her devotees for supplies, scrolls, and other items that may be of use in her endeavors.

Enter the heroes – this is where the PCs come in.  Perhaps the Priestess’s two cultists have been too ambitious in their tasks?  In gathering supplies for a ritual, they killed a local sage who became suspicious of them.  Or they’ve been poaching beasts considered sacred to a conclave of druids or elves.  Perhaps her devotees’ families are concerned about their sudden elusiveness and shirking of responsibilities.  Or, for the darker campaign, perhaps the ritual calls for the sacrifice of “the blood and entrails of three-and-ten whose souls are pure” – and young children have been disappearing from several towns, villages or cities as of late.

I have to admit – I have a fairly well-defined framework for this story, but I’ve left much of it out of this post.  I’d rather give a general idea for you to use in your own game(s), rather than specific details that wouldn’t work for you at all.  Besides, I believe that a good GM would rather fill in the details himself or herself.

Speaking of which, how would you use the Priestess in your campaign?  Would you like to hear more details from me, or would you care to fill in the blanks on your own in the comments?

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Posted by on Monday, 25 July 2011 in Gaming


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My Very First Game, Or – How To Chase Away A New Player

Allow me to reminisce – about my very first experience with Dungeons & Dragons –

1st Edition Dungeon & Dragons Player's Handbook

It was 1981, the summer between Fifth and Sixth Grade.  I was a mere lad, ten years of age.  I was at a friend’s house, and he wanted me to see this game his older brother was running.  “Don’t you mean ‘playing,'” I asked.  “No, running.  My other brother, two neighbors and I are playing it,” he replied.  “Huh?  What’s it called?” “Dungeons and Dragons – it’s a game where we explore caves, castles and dungeons, fight monsters and get the treasure afterwards.”  My interest piqued, I asked, “So, what do you do, wear armor and swing swords?”  “Well, only if you’re a ‘fighter.’  And it doesn’t have to be a sword – it can be a mace, or a club, or a glaive-”  “A what,” I interrupted. “Uh, I’m not sure – oh, and magic-users can’t wear armor.” “Magic-users?!?” “Yeah, you know, like wizards who can cast spells like fireball, magic missile, invisibility-” he explained.  Once again, I interrupted, “Cool! I want to play a wizard!  Can I?”  “Let’s talk to my brother.”

They didn’t let me play that day – something about it not being realistic to meet their characters while they were in a dungeon.  Still, I watched, fascinated with what was unfolding in front of me.  There were these funny dark orange sheets where the players had written their characters’ stats, items and spells, funny dice (“Why would anyone need anything other than the regular cube?” “d6 – it’s called a d6.”), funny-sounding enemies like “orc,” “ghast,” “stirge,” and “gelatinous cube,” and a whole bunch of paper sheets with numbers written and scratched off (“That’s my hit points, and the DM has the same for the monsters.”).

So, the adventure ended that evening, and I would “roll up my characters” during the week before the next session on Wednesday night.  “Why will I have two characters? Why not just one?” “Well, just in case one of them dies, you won’t be left out,” explained my friend’s brother.  That settled, I quickly pored through this black-covered Player’s Handbook with a gem-eyed demon statue on the cover.  I went directly to the Magic-User section, and rolled…

Three “regular” dice (“3d6, they’re called 3d6,” I reminded myself), write the total in the blocks, top-to-bottom.  At the end, in the second field labelled with the letter “I,” I had written the number 7.  “OK, so I want him to be my wizard.” “Sorry, he’s too dumb,” he laughed.  “He can’t be a magic-user!  Ha-ha!”  OK, that was a setback, I guess.  Still, I forged ahead and made this one a barbarian.  I still had one more chance, with my second character.  Rolling the 3d6 and writing in the first number, I then nervously picked up the dice and shook them, willing a high-enough number to come forth.  Roll-roll-roll, pause.  Roll-roll-roll, pause again.  Then, one more time for good luck, roll-roll-roll, and DROP…!

Magic-User Sheet

Magic-User / Illusionist Character Sheet

4. 6. And 5.  Wait a minute…, “Fifteen!  Fifteen!  I have my Magic-User!” The rest of the rolls didn’t matter to me – I had my magic-user.  That was all that mattered.  So, I finished up with making my barbarian, then turned my attention to the magic-user.  I picked the spells that my friend and his brother suggested, bought equipment for the both of them, and took the sheets home to familiarize myself with them before Wednesday.

The day finally arrived.  I rode my bike to their house, excited that I was finally going to cast some spells!  I sat at the table and listened to the DM about how we were exploring the ruins of some wizard’s tower.  I let the other players direct the actions of the party, as far as going down the stairs, turning left, listening at the door.  The fact is, I don’t remember anything too clearly before this point.

My barbarian bashed in a door, surprising some orcs in the room.  He charged them, the rest of the party following suit.  It was my magic-user’s turn, and he unleashed a mighty MAGIC MISSILE!  That was it!  I had finally done it!  I had cast a spell, by golly!  “OK, roll the d4, Mark.” “That’s the pyramid, right?” “Yes.”  “Wait, how do I know what number it rolled?” (Later, I would learn that everyone asks that question the first time they roll a d4.) Roll-roll-roll: 2.  “Two – is that good?”  The other players snickered.  “Oh, I guess not.”  OK, so it wasn’t the battle-deciding action I wanted.  No problem, there’s always next battle, right?

So, the rest of the battle consisted of my magic-user trying unsuccessfully to stab the orcs with his dagger, while my barbarian did some decent damage with his two-handed sword.  Afterwards, we went down a hallway, and came to a door.  “What do you do, Mark?” “Huh, why me?” “Because your barbarian is in front.” “Oh.  OK, um, listen at the door, I guess?” “You can’t – you’re not a thief?” “Huh?”(1st Ed. only allowed a thief to “Hear Noise.”) “OK, I guess I open the door.”

And open the door he did – to a room with pools of different colored liquids!  “Oh, this is a potion room,” one of the other players asked. “Yes,” answered the DM, “but you can’t tell what they are unless you taste them.”  Ooooo – magical experimentation! But, from which pool to drink?  “There is a blue pool, a red pool, a green pool, an orange pool, a black pool, and a yellow pool.”

“I’ll try the red pool,” said one player. The DM exclaimed, “You feel stronger! It’s a potion of strength!”

“I’ll try the blue pool,” said another. “You start flying! It’s a potion of flying,” said the DM.

“How about the yellow,” asked a third.  “It’s a potion of invisibility!”

“What about you, Mark?  Are you going to try one of them?”  Five sets of eyes turned toward me.  I had no idea which one to try.  “Well, OK.  What one should I drink?”  “That’s up to you,” the DM said.  “Let him pick one,” he told the other players.  “Uh, OK, then… I’ll try the… green one?”  Snickers from the players, then the DM quickly asked, “Which one?  Which character drinks the green pool?”  “Well, my magic-user – he’s the one who knows about potions, I guess?”

DEAD! You’re magic-user is DEAD! Ha-ha-ha!!!” The rest of the players all laughed as well, while I’m left feeling like a fool.  “What? Why?!?” My friend explained, “Green slime – it was green slime, right?”  The DM answered, “Yeah – and Mark’s magic-user drinks it, screams, and melts as his insides are eaten away!”  The next few minutes are like hell as they all comically reenact my magic-user’s death, as if I should have known better.  “Geez, you could have said something to me,” I said to my friend.  “I couldn’t – that’s the way D&D works.  Unless you say that you ask for help, we can’t say anything.”

“WTF?!?” I thought to myself (OK, 10-year-old me would have thought “What the heck?!?”)  I don’t remember the rest of the evening’s activities.  I think I rolled when and what they told me to roll, wrote a few things down, then rode my bike home.  I do remember thinking that I was robbed – I wanted, more than anything, to have a character who could cast spells, but, because of some stupid, unnecessary rule that I didn’t even know about, I wouldn’t be able to do that.

The Red Box

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set

I felt that my first time playing Dungeons & Dragons was a disaster.  I considered quitting the group altogether.  Doing that probably meant leaving D&D, because no-one else who I knew  played it.  Regardless, I decided to go back and continue to play as my barbarian.  I even got him up to 5th or 6th level, I think, before the Christmas holiday.  I’m glad I did, because I saw the potential in this game.  Unfortunately, I never got to play a magic-user again…

That is until the Christmas break, when I bought the Red Box… but that’s the subject of another post.

How about you?  Was your first foray into role-playing games as bad as, or even worse than mine?  Good or bad, has it shaped the rest of your gaming experience as a player or a GM?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Posted by on Thursday, 21 July 2011 in Gaming


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