Annoyed at SPEC 3-2 Roots of Corruption – Dark Seeds

I’m most of the way through my attempt to Iron Man TactiCon (I’m running nine slots – 36 hours of games over a 72-hour period). I’ve had a lot of fun, and I’m especially pleased that the adventures I wrote myself were well-received on Friday.

This afternoon and evening (Saturday) I ran a two-slot game of SPEC 3-2 Roots of Corruption – Dark Seeds. This is a paragon-level adventure, and I ran it with a party of mostly 11th level characters and a couple of 13th level characters. They chose to run it at level 14 (so yes, they opted for extra challenge).

It was a fun and challenging adventure for the first four hours, and when we came back from our dinner break we went into the last encounter.

It was silly-hard. Spoilers follow.

In the particular path my party chose, the adventurers have to fight against a hydra and two spore demons at the end. The spore demons were mildly annoying, but not much of a real threat. The hydra was insane.

It can’t be flanked, much to the frustration of the two rogues in the party.

It makes ranged attacks without provoking attacks of opportunity.

It has threatening reach in a 2-square radius (on a Huge creature).

It gets two free attacks against any PC that ends its turn within 2 squares.

Now, the PCs had spent a lot of resources in the next-to-last encounter, and only two of the six of them had action points for the last battle. There weren’t too many daily powers left (though there definitely were some).

The party had a really hard time with this battle, and they eventually retreated and declared defeat.

My annoyance comes in that, by running the adventure as written, I made the players have a less-good time than they otherwise would have. The final battle ended in defeat, and the party got a negative story award because of it (it makes them more vulnerable to diseases in the future). It was pretty miserable at the end.

And I have to admit that part of my annoyance is that two of the six players docked me a point on the GM evaluation sheet for the question, “How much fun did you have?” I still got great scores, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about the awesome possibility of getting perfect scores while Iron Manning the con. I really wanted that, and I failed.

Ultimately, this is on me. When the adventure as written has unfun things happening, I should deviate. I should follow my own judgment, and I didn’t. I should have had the hydra spread his attacks around more, rather than focus on one PC until it drops as the adventure says it should do. I could have changed things so that the hydra’s ranged attacks at least provoked opportunity attacks, or made it so that it only got a single bite attack against PCs that end their turns near it.

But I didn’t make any of those changes, and my players had less than optimal fun because of it. This doesn’t mean that every fight has to be a victory for the party, but if something feels unfair and I have the ability to change it, I should change it! I didn’t, and my players had less fun because of it.

Lesson learned. If something seems unfun, change it.

TactiCon 2011 approaches!

I live in the Denver area. The Denver Gamers Association hosts two gaming conventions each year. The bigger one is Genghis Con, held over Presidents’ Day weekend in the winter. TactiCon is held over Labor Day weekend in late summer. This means that it’s time for TactiCon 2011!

My first gaming convention ever was TactiCon 2010, where I ended up running three Living Forgotten Realms adventures and playing in six others. I had a blast. When Genghis Con 2011 rolled around, I once again ran some adventures (one of which I had written myself), played in a few LFR games, and tried my hand at GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu.

I’ve had so much fun running games at these conventions that I decided I wanted to try to Iron Man TactiCon 2011. I’m running games in all nine slots. That’s 36 hours of DMing over the course of three days. 12 hours a day. Wow.

I’m happy to say that I’m mostly ready. I have completely finished preparing the adventures for eight of the nine slots already in MapTool (for use with my projector setup), and I’m part of the way done with the ninth (I should finish this afternoon). This will leave me with time to polish the three adventures I’m running that I’ve written myself, get props and handouts together, get pre-generated characters on hand, re-read each adventure, etc. I’m taking Thursday off work (even though the convention doesn’t start until the evening), so I’ll have one more full day to do some prep work before the point of no return.

For those of you who will actually be at TactiCon and would like to play at my table, here is the schedule of the games I’m running (all of them D&D 4th Edition Living Forgotten Realms):

  • Thursday evening: CORE 2-4 Lost on the Golden Way
  • Friday morning: MYRE 3-1 The Staff of Suha (written by me)
  • Friday afternoon: MYRE 3-1 Tallinn’s Tower (written by me)
  • Friday evening: MYRE 3-1 Descent Into Darkness (written by me)
  • Saturday morning: CORE 2-4 Lost on the Golden Way
  • Saturday afternoon and evening: SPEC 3-2 Roots of Corruption – Dark Seeds (two slots)
  • Sunday morning: CORE 2-4 Lost on the Golden Way
  • Sunday afternoon: LURU 2-4 Need to Know

I’ve run the three MYRE adventures before (obviously) as well as the two-slot SPEC event. I’m done prepping CORE 2-4, and I’m working on LURU 2-4 today.

Am I nuts? Maybe, but I think I’m going to have fun! I’ll be exhausted afterward, but that’s why I’ll have Monday to recuperate (Labor Day).

GenCon 2011: Afterword

GenCon is now over, for real. And I’m okay with that. I had a ton of fun, and if I were living GenCon every day it wouldn’t be as special.

I’m writing this particular post from my room at the Marriott – my wife and I decided to stay Sunday night and go home to Colorado on Monday. This was a good way to do it, since we were able to enjoy all of Sunday without having to worry about checking out of our hotel or scrambling to catch a flight or anything like that.

It also meant that I was able to do some gaming Sunday night. I put out a call on Twitter to see if anyone was around the Marriott post-Con and wanted to play some games, and I ended up playing a fun game of Smallworld Underground and having a nice dinner with four new Canadian friends. Cool people, cool game, and good food.

Quick-hit thoughts from GenCon

  • The RPG blog reading community loves GenCon. I got a lot of traffic on my blog during the Con. I’m glad you liked reading what I had to say!
  • The RPG blog reading community especially loved reading my detailed notes about the Wizards of the Coast New Products Seminar on Saturday. I’m not surprised, really, but my normal daily traffic is 200-400 hits per day; Saturday and Sunday had nearly 1,500.
  • True Dungeon is a must-experience part of GenCon. It costs $38 per person, but it’s worth it. And the token-trading community around it is amazing!
  • Watching all of the costumed attendees is a ton of fun. They’re clearly proud of the work they put into the outfits, and they all seemed happy to pose for pictures (though I personally wasn’t in picture-taking mode).
  • I think the way to try out RPGs you’ve never played before at GenCon is to sign up for a session in advance, which is a little disappointing. I was hoping to stumble into someone looking for another player for old-school D&D, Traveller, Dresden Files, Fiasco, etc., but it never happened.
  • Staying at a hotel connected to the convention center isn’t cheap, but if you can afford it, it’s money well spent. I loved not having to drag a heavy bag with me at all times, since it was easy to drop stuff off and pick stuff up back at the room.
  • Getting food at the convention was not the problem I feared it would be. The sit-down restaurants even a couple of blocks from the Con were able to seat us quickly every time, and if we went, say, 5 or 6 blocks away we pretty much had the place to ourselves. There’s no real place to buy groceries, though (I was glad I took care of this on Tuesday when I was staying on the north side of town for work).
  • The temptation to game late into the night was easy for me to resist, as I really enjoy a good night’s sleep. Had I given in to that temptation I probably would have had miserable days of exhaustion. Heading back to the hotel around midnight worked well for me.
  • Twitter is beautifully suited to GenCon. Being able to send out a quick blast to find people for a pick-up game is great. It’s also a good way to find out the location of people you want to meet.
  • I really enjoyed getting to meet so many members of the RPG blogging and podcasting community, and I wish I had met more. I at least said brief hellos to NewbieDM, Jeff Greiner, Mike Shea, Tracy Hurley, Thaddeous Cooper, Randall Walker, Ameron from Dungeon’s Master, BrainClouds, and Matt James. I also met Morrus and PirateCat from EN World and some other EN Worlders. I missed out on meeting Ryan “RangerWickett” Nock, which I horribly regret, but I never knew where he was.
  • Meeting folks like Mike Mearls, James Wyatt, Rob Thompson and Mike Robles from WotC was pretty cool, too.
  • Running into a friend from California who I hadn’t realized would be there was awesome, and he had two other awesome friends with him. Good stuff.


I also wanted to post some follow up comments about the D&D New Products Seminar from Friday. First, I did do a little light editing before I sent it live (a quick read-through to correct a few typos or unclear sentences, plus adding a little bold facing to the various new announcements); I wasn’t planning to do that when I wrote the intro, but decided I really ought to do a basic amount.

Second, I wanted to add some clarifications after a post on Greyhawkery to which I responded in the post’s comments. Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium is intended to only be available to game stores, though those stores themselves are allowed to sell it online. However, Mike Mearls did say something about Amazon being able to buy it, but this part was really unclear. I think the intention is to make it so that Amazon et al are not able to offer the book at a massive discount relative to what hobby stores charge, but it wasn’t clear how they were going to do that.

Also, Greyhawkery offered speculation that next year’s setting will be Council of Wyrms. I wasn’t familiar with that setting, but he linked to a post from NewbieDM in which the original was unboxed. From having sat in the room at the WotC seminar, I agree that Council of Wyrms would fit their description of next year’s setting.

Thank you – come again!

So, thank you everyone for reading my GenCon posts. If you have questions about any of it, please let me know. And I’m always happy to have more readers for my usual talk about running games online, creating maps, using a projector setup with MapTool and so on. Comment, email, etc. – I appreciate the feedback!

GenCon 2011 Day 4: The End

And so it ends – GenCon 2011 is coming to a close. Today was all Exhibitor Hall, all the time. I hung there for an hour on my own, finally working my way to the far end of the hall, having seen all of the booths (however briefly). I chatted with the people from Fantasy Grounds; of the many virtual tabletop programs I checked out at GenCon, Fantasy Grounds is the one that would actually make me consider switching from MapTool (though it would cost me $150). I stopped by the Ennies booth to pick up my swag bag to thank me for volunteering on Friday. It contained a whole bunch of books – unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to get much use out of most of them (although Mythmere’s Adventure Design Deskbook looks intriguing). There was a nice mini in the bag, though, that will be great for one of my wife’s characters.

I then brought my wife over to the Exhibitor Hall and we did some shopping. She picked up a Dragon Pet (a rubber dragon that wraps around her arm), a copy of Caylus Magna Carta (a board game she played last night), some minis and some paints. Also, a purple cat tail to wear on her belt (we intend it ultimately as a toy for our cats).

We admired the Dwarven Forge and Hirst Arts terrain. We drooled a bit more over the Geek Chic tables (especially one that was filled with awesome Hirst Arts terrain). We tried to find T-shirts but didn’t really see anything that struck our fancy (I’m still shocked at that). I caught up one last time with Jason, the player from my Friday night online game who lives here in Indianapolis.

On the way out of the convention center, we stopped into the video game room where people were playing Kinect games and Rock Band projected hugely onto the walls, as well as playing other games while sitting at normal computers. The “center stage” area had people playing one of the original 8-bit Nintendo Mega Man games. Too cool.

And thus ends our experience with the best four days in gaming. We’re staying one more night in Indianapolis to give ourselves a chance to rest before getting back to real life. We get home Monday night. It has been a ton of fun, and I feel confident in saying that this first GenCon will not have been my last.

GenCon 2011 Day 3 wrap-up

Sorry for not having an evening post for Saturday; I was gaming late into the night.

After the D&D New Products Seminar, I spent about an hour in the vendor hall. I bought myself a nice mini to represent my beloved bard, Factotum, from Dark Sword Miniatures. I don’t think I’d heard of that brand before, but they had some great options. I love the way miniatures sellers at GenCon display their wares by having glass cases filled with beautifully painted versions of their minis, so you can imagine what they could look like. You find one you like in its finished form, and they’ll sell you the unpainted version. It makes a ton of sense.

From there, I went to a late lunch at Shapiro’s with a couple of friends. This is a huge deli / cafeteria about a half mile walk from the convention center, and I had a delicious reuben sandwich. A nice thing about this place is that it was all Indy locals; I don’t think I saw any other GenCon folks there. If you’re eating where the locals eat, you’re probably getting a good meal. Amusingly, I put up a tweet mentioning this lunch, and then later in the day saw that @ShapirosDeli was following me. I guess they pay attention to social media! I wouldn’t have guessed based on the place itself, but okay.

After lunch was a little more time in the exhibitor hall, then to the 4:00 taping of the Dungeon Master Roundtable podcast. Being the D&D blog and podcast fan that I am, this was something I’d really been looking forward to all weekend, and it was great. Aaron from 4Geeks4e wasn’t on the panel, but they had Tracy Hurley (Ennie-award nominated Sarah Darkmagic – wild cheering, much to her embarrassment), Randall Walker (the “old man” of the group), Thaddeous Cooper (the frequent-talker – and yes, I actually saw him sip from a flask during the taping after his water cup went dry) and special guest Mike Shea of slyflourish dot com slash book. They spent a little time talking about the future of their podcasts (apparently some changes to the lineup of 4Geeks4e – Aaron won’t be in it?) and then basically took questions from the audience for an hour. I had a ton of fun.

Tip for seminars at GenCon (or anywhere, really): Sit in the front row. There have always been seats available in my experience, and dude, you’re there to get close to people you want to listen to! You can even interact (very briefly) during the talk itself if you’re right up there with the panelists. For both seminars I attended (D&D New Products and the DM Roundtable), I sat right in the front and really enjoyed it.

By this point my wife was in the exhibitor hall, so I joined her for some massive dice shopping for herself and for our gaming friends back home (my wife is so thoughtful – I felt like an ass for not having already gotten anything for our gamer friends). When the dealer hall closed at 6:00, we went to dinner at Palomino, which is only a block away. I read some blogs before the convention saying that you’re going to have long waits to get food; we really haven’t found that to be the case. We’ve often gone during slightly off hours, but right when the dealer hall closes on Saturday night is NOT off, and we were seated right away. I’m guessing that maybe cheap eats have longer waits (like Steak n Shake or Noodles and Company right down the street from GenCon), but sit-down restaurants (Palomino, Weber Grill) have been no problem so far.

After dinner, the wife and I checked in to the board games library. For the evening, you pay $6 in generic tickets and then can come and go as much as you like, checking out any of the massive number of board games they have available for no additional cost. The window lasts from 6:00 PM to 3:00 AM. It’s awesome.

My wife and friends got started on the board games while I made my way to the “media meet and greet” event. This was a get-together in a bar that’s below Union Station (it’s called The House, and Google Maps on my phone couldn’t find it). I’m terrible at mingling, but I gave it a go. I talked with Mike Shea for a few minutes, since we had interacted a little bit at the DM Roundtable. I had submitted a question asking about ideas for traps or hazards for the adventure I’m running on Thursday (Descent Into Darkness), and Mike gave me some good inspiration. Thanks, Sly Flourish!

I spent some time chatting with NewbieDM and BrainClouds, and then ended up getting into a conversation about D&D4e and Pathfinder with a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Sarah Darkmagic (Tracy and Frank). I didn’t catch his name, but it was useful to see his perspective on the issue. I imagine he’s a pretty typical Pathfinder gamer, and he didn’t seem especially rabidly anti-4e, but it was clear that he’s definitely the type of person WotC wishes they could regain trust with, and they’re nowhere close right now. They’ve got some work to do, and it’s going to take more than words. I hope they succeed – I’d love to see a more united gaming community, or at least one with less distrust.

At this point, a woman from a local Indianapolis paper came over to the table to chat (she liked my bright-blue Hawaiian shirt). I guess this WAS a media event, but I was still surprised to see anyone from the actual print media there! She said she and her husband mainly came in the (alas, vain) hopes of free beer. Anyway, we mainly talked about Indianapolis restaurant, their Fringe Festival for theater, etc. Nice lady… but wow, did she love to talk! Still, she gave me some good restaurant recommendations.

I left the media meet and greet after about 90 minutes (I wish I’d have stayed – apparently some Fiasco games broke out later) and rejoined my wife and friends in the board game library. We saw a game called Trailer Park Wars and simply had to play it once. Once is the correct number of times to play a game like this. It was really, really funny to us at this point, but I’m sure it would have gotten old. I was tied for second place with 23 flamingos at the end, falling to Ryan’s 24.

After the game I was getting tired, so we decided to play one more quick game. We went with Quo Vadis. I’ll come right out and say that I personally ruined the game right at the start, and I’m sorry! It was described as a political game, which I thought meant that politics was just the underlying flavor. It turns out that this can be seen as a perfectly fine trading game without the political flavor, but I didn’t get that for the first few turns. See, I can’t stand politics. And when Ryan asked if I would vote for one of his pawns to advance early on, for which he would give me nothing directly but the game would give me one point, I couldn’t see how this would be good for me at all, and I basically said, screw it, I’m not voting for people. This totally wrecked the game, and I backed off on that position two turns later once I understood that this was just at trading game, but my early actions had definitely screwed up the play of the game (Ted thought that I’d never work with him, so he never asked, for instance). I finished in last place, which didn’t bother me in the slightest. I just felt like a jerk for having ruined the last game I’d get to play with Ryan and Ted and GenCon. Sorry, everybody!

Now it’s the morning of the last day of GenCon, and it’s already feeling bittersweet even though I haven’t left my hotel room yet. We’re staying Sunday night as well, and I’m sure that Monday will feel surreal. But for now, there are hours of gaming ahead of me, and I’m going to make the most of them!

GenCon 2011 Day 3: D&D New Products Seminar

I just left the D&D New Products seminar here at GenCon, and I took copious notes during the two-hour discussion. It was about 35 minutes of prepared remarks from Mike Mearls, James Wyatt and Brian Thompson, followed by an hour and fifteen minutes of Q&A, followed by a 10 minute section at the end where they talked about their plans to bring back minis – non-randomized.

The text below is rather unedited, but I thought time was of the essence on this one. Here you go! If you have specific questions that aren’t clear from my notes, go ahead and drop them in the comments.

D&D New Products Seminar – August 6, 2011, 10:00 AM

9:48: In the room, just met Jeff Greiner. My Marriott guest room internet doesn’t work here, so I’ll be taking notes and putting up a blog post afterward.

9:49: The WotC folks have a Dragon Collector Set on the table in front of them. I have no idea if that’s new or old since I don’t do minis; I’m guessing new.

9:49: Ah, Jeff Greiner and Tracy Hurley are here to record the Tome Show. Cool, they’ll be putting it up online afterward! If my notes are lousy, that’s okay.

9:53: The microphone that the Tome Show folks have set up for recording is very professional-looking (no surprise there). Big honking old-fashioned radio look with a THX logo on the side. Pretty!

9:56: Chatting with a nice fellow and his wife next to me. They’re here from Toronto and say that Dungeons and Dragons bailed them out at the border crossing when they were selected for extra screening. The agents asked why they were coming to the US, and they explained GenCon. An agent said, “Ah, you must play Border agents aren’t worried about people who are obviously non-threatening nerds like us!

9:59: Sitting next to Ameron from Dungeon’s Master. Awesome! I didn’t even have to try to find a blogger that I admire this time, he just happened to sit down next to me.

10:00: Matt James is on the other side of me. It’s like I’m around people I sort of know!

10:01: Doors are closed. Off we go!

10:01: Mike Mearls, James Wyatt, Brian Thompson. Mike Robles is apparently an afterthought. He’s live-tweeting.

10:03: James: Novels.

–          Neverwinter in October (Salvatore)

–          Charon’s Claw next year (Salvatore)

–          Brimstone Angels by Erin Evans in November

–          Cold Steel and Secrets by Rosemary Jones – serial e-novella starts in October or November (99 cents per installment e-book)

10:04: It’s all fun and games once someone loses an eye… a comment from James about a potential fight for the 11 bookmarks they have to give away.

10:05: Abyssal Plague novels. Ends in April 2012 with The Eye of the Chained God by Don Bassingthwaite. I honestly don’t follow these novels in the slightest, so I know nothing about them.

10:08: Eric Scott de Bie sitting behind me cheered for his own book, Shadowbane.

10:09: They’re trying to get e-books out as the same time as the physical books. Also working through their backlist at about 3 novels per week to release as e-books.

10:10: More books, too, on top of the ones already mentioned.

10:10: Rodney Thompson – board games and “tabletop” which is non-RPG games. He’s a fast talker!

10:10: Recap of Conquest of Nerath. Rodney is enthused.

10:11: “Adventure System Games” are Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt. They try to focus on interconnectivity. Peter Lee, a designer of the game, is here previewing the game at GenCon. You play heroes from the Drizzt novels. New classes like the archer. Sees this as “maturation of the system”.

10:14: Mike Mearls. Dungeon of Dread announced for December release… canceled now. They felt it wasn’t up to snuff. Tied into their desire to minimize errata.

10:15: Lords of Waterdeep. Euro-style board game coming out next year. Competitive game of intrigue set in Waterdeep. You’re a lord of Waterdeep, recruiting adventurers for quests, backstabbing / cooperating with other lords. Pretty cover art! Started on the game train last year with a conversation with Peter Lee. There are dice, cards, tiles. March of 2012 is the aim for release. Square coins and crescent coins. Old 2nd edition Forgotten Realms sourcebook used this image for Waterdhavian coins, so they made them for the game. Relies heavily on Volo’s (?) Guide to Waterdeep.

10:18: They want to expand their board games into all sorts of areas.

10:18: Mike Mearls. Roleplaying games – here are their next six months or so.

10:19: Neverwinter – released here at the convention.  Campaign setting book. Character themes are written to tie to story hooks in the DM book. Try to integrate character creation and campaign creation. Game day is today, of course. They’re focusing on integration – things fitting together.

10:21: Madness at Gardmore Abbey super-adventure. Poster maps, monster tokens, Deck of Many Things. James prefers the term “deluxe adventure”. 32 pages more text than the folio adventures. Covers 3 levels of play. Extra book adds tons of story – quests, patrons, villains with agendas. Open-ended adventure. Tried to create options other than combat for encounters (don’t have to, you know, slaughter the nymphs).

10:22: Mearls says they’re listening to feedback, trying to be less railroady with their adventures.

10:23: The Deck of Many Things is scattered at the start of the adventure. Villains who have cards might have extra power from there. Encounters that have cards in them have extra random effects going on.

10:23: 4 32 page books. 2 battlemaps. Comes with Dungeon Tiles, too. 24 card Deck of Many Things. Treasure cards…?

10:24: Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – the back-from-the-dead book. Greg Bilsland runs playtesters internally and externally. It’s a “core exclusive” only available at game stores. Items are attached to the rarity system. Character options for flails. Mundane armor. Followers and henchmen rules. So, not just magic items – a book of “anything you could buy”.

10:26: Lair Assault launches in September. Forge of the Dawn Titan. 5th level characters. DM apparently gets some control over the encounters – where to place the bad guys. It’s for powergamers (Mearls’s words). December: Talon of Umberleaf is the second adventure.

10:27: First adventure is fiery dungeon. Second is a pirate theme, finding an artifact on derelict ships. DM gets some control of changing things up in each run-through. Third Lair Assault is Attack of the Tyrant Claw by Matt James. Tower defense game – dinosaurs rush your camp. Matt, shockingly, is enthusiastic. It’s more puzzly.

10:29: Limited edition dragon set. 5 chromatic dragons. New sculpts for White and Green. Comes out in October. Similar to the beholders from last year.

10:29: Encounters. Neverwinter next, then the Feywild – Player’s Option Heroes of the Feywild. Encounter based on UK1 Crystal Cave adventure – Beyond the Crystal Cave. Fortune Cards – Fury of the Feywild. There will be a PC race that can fly from 1st level. New barbarian build is a dual-role class. Defender when not raging, striker when he is.

10:31: Fortune cards will help characters with fey origins or backgrounds.

10:31: December and March – new Dungeon Tiles. Shadowghast Manor (haunted house) then Cathedral of Chaos (including diagonal cards Mearls described as allowing Gygaxian chambers). Since the Essentials box sets are kept in print now, these can be more specialized.

10:32: Map packs starting in January. Some from previous adventures. 2 new. Priced at $11.95

10:33: Book of Vile Darkness – December. By Robert Schwalb. Allows for playing evil campaigns. DM advice for making an interesting campaign with evil PCs. 32 page facsimile of the Book of Vile Darkness itself. 96 pages of player/DM info, double-sided poster map.

10:34: February Encounters – The Elder Elemental Eye. Player’s Option: Power of the Plane Below. Fortune Cards: Spiral of Tharizdun. Essentialized Sorcerer (Mearls’ words). Monk option of some sort. Tharizdun-based conspiracy. More investigation – not like Call of Cthulhu where you just die from your investigation. Tied to Eye of the Chained Gods novels in April.

10:35: Undermountain Adventure. Yawning Portal tavern map is all they can show. 80 encounter areas in Undermountain. The adventures then talk about how the PCs might get involved in these things. Little hooks. Random dungeon generator to use. Poster map of first level is on reverse side of Yawning Portal. Comes out in April.

Q&A begins

Question: Elemental Sorcerer. It will go alongside existing builds, like Slayer, not a Class Compendium replacement. Monk is just a new build.

Q: Book of Vile Darkness – will it be as “adult themed”? A: Not really. No “adult only” sticker, standard art.

Q: Emporium – any rituals? Q: Don’t think so. Mearls: People aren’t using rituals at low level, and at high level they’re too cheap. Mearls would like to introduce scaling rituals (more money, more power).  Also faster to cast rituals (1-5 minutes – still outside of battle).

Q: E-books format? 3 formats – Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader. Not in Apple iBooks yet (James).

Q: Price point on e-books? A: Same MSRP as paperback/hardcover. E-book retailers discount this typically. Re-releases? $7.99 MSRP, discounted by retailers to around $6.39

Q: What are the class builds in Heroes of Feywild? A: Rodney was lead designer. Barbarian dual-role. New bard build focused on wandering storyteller. Druid build. Several themes – agent of Unseeley Fey, Sidhe Lord, etc. Want options for being from the Feywild or living near a fey crossing. Sidhe Lord theme gives you a permanent companion character – guard of noble house.

Q: Next year’s campaign setting? A: Mearls – not yet ready to talk about it. They’ve intentionally pulled back their timeline a little. Don’t like announcing stuff before it’s really ready and then canceling it. Don’t want to create expectations they can’t meet or create confusion. Essentials – they don’t think that was handled great in this respect. There WILL be another campaign-style book next August, similar to Neverwinter this year. Undermountain is 100% go – in final editing. Slated for April.

Q: DDI, Virtual Table. A: Mearls. Digital team is completely separate from these guys. Don’t want to get ahead of themselves. It’s complex. There was a DDI seminar on Thursday. Mostly talking about articles, though, not tools. They’re looking at feedback online and delivering it via DDI (strength cleric, adventures for epic). Fast turnaround for digital – 3 months start to finish. Physical is slower. They want physical products to be more luxurious and solid. They see 32 page adventures as being less likely to be purchased in physical form.

10:47 Q: Game products to use Abyssal Plague elements? A: There have been DDI articles on this. Stats for demons were in Monster Vault Threats to the Nentir Vale. Mike Shea wrote more on DDI. Encounters season for next spring will tie into this.

10:48 Q: More tokens are in products; have they considered releasing tokens for previously printed monsters? A: They’re doing that with Monster Vault. Asked audience about selling a set of just tokens – surprised by the positive response. $10-$12 probable price point if they did it.

10:49 Q: I’m the guy who wants to play the Runepriest – should I commission content from Mearls directly? A: There’s a new build coming out in October (Kanji? What?) It’s already announced.

10:50 Q: Same question on Seeker. A: They look at what people are playing in DDI. If people aren’t playing a class they want to be careful about how they support it – not just releasing more powers. Want to tie it into flavor or story or something to make it more appealing. Human Fighters are most popular. Also, under-played classes might not get a lot of submissions to DDI. Might get 100 warlock articles but only 5 seeker articles. For popular classes, they tend to wait and see what comes in via submissions.

10:52 Q: From Trevor – different kinds of classes – what’s up with Barbarian / Monk. A: They use AEDU but with “twists”. The first new version of the Monk came in “essentialized” and they decided they preferred it to use the same power structure as PHB3 monk. Ex: With Seeker, they wouldn’t “essentialize” it. (Is this about Monk or Bard or… I’m confused)

10:54 Q: Neverwinter – why a book rather than a box set if it has both player and DM content? A: They like to do a single book for Encounters season (ed: um, but what about Shadowfell?). BoVD is a little different. If they see it getting a lot of use at the table, they tend to go hardcover.

10:56 Q: Confusion over class progression starting with Essentials, going into Vampire… are there resources that might explain to people how to translate? A: Everything is explained in the text. If there’s no table of class features by tier, it works as AEDU. If there’s no table in the class writeup, then go to PH1.

10:57 Q: For next August’s setting, any hints and when will it be announced? A: It’s not Dragonlance. Well, it does have dragons. Tease: “It’s not just a setting, but it’s a way to play. Something that D&D hasn’t tried before.” “Twist” is a good word (James)

10:58 Q: Racial options from Feywild? A: Hamadryad, Satyr, Pixie. The Pixie is the race that can fly, of course. And support for a variety of races tied to the Feywild.

10:59 Q: Wizard that uses elements? A: Themes provide the tie-in to elements. Sorcerer structurally tied to elements. For Wizard, it’s more powers like the Pyromancer – you can use the options, but don’t get locked in. There’s a Shair (?) build for the PH1 Wizard. Al Qadim setting – wizard that has a genie familiar that gets the spells for him. Al Qadim is the kind of thing they would want to do in Dragon/Dungeon first to see how people like it.

11:01 Q: Where are the Legends and Lore articles heading? A: Mearls: I’m just a manager, I don’t actually design stuff anymore (unless something has gone wrong). Mearls has visions of Runepriest players gathering outside theWotC building with protest signs (James – “Both of them!”). Mearls is the guy on top of the mountain – what’s the big picture? They’re a research and development department – where COULD they go? Their job is to look at the other paths they haven’t taken yet, but on the other hand you can’t just push people into the new path – they might hate that. There’s something else to talk about before the session ends (not 5th Edition or anything like that). They need to look at what people want and what will excite them in D&D. We can either say “Here’s what we hear you want.” Or “Here’s something we think you’ll like – surprise!” Doing plastic surgery on a 6 month old you’re babysitting will get a bad reaction; doing their laundry or cleaning the house will get a better reaction as a surprise. With Legends and Lore, he reads the feedback. He re-read every 1 star review of PH1 and also every 5 star review. Acknowledges Pathfinder, that some people could possibly be excited about D&D, but they’re over there in a different room. 2nd Edition didn’t speak to how Mearls played D&D – he liked dungeon crawls. He liked 3rd Edition. He worries that they lectured people with 4th Edition and said, “Here’s how it is now and you’re going to like it.” D&D has to serve the “creators” (us), and if they’re missing on it we won’t just passively consume it. We expect more because we’re creators – we’re much more intellectually engaged with our game than most people are with their games. They can’t dictate to us – they need a dialogue. They need to get back to that trust. If players hate what WotC publishes we’ll stop buying it. Gygax: “Make sure the DMs don’t figure out that they don’t need us.” Yep. With Legends and Lore, they’re trying to get that trust back. Let us know they’re listening.

11:09 Q: Any plans for digital distribution of physical books? A: We’re looking at it, but nothing to announce yet. They know this was problematic.

11:10 Q: Conqest of Nerath board game – any additional start scenarios? A: They want to look hard at how they do expansions because it’s a big investment of $80. No solid plans yet. There’s some great fan stuff on BoardGameGeek and the Wizards forums.

11:11 Q: Any thought of using Conquest of Nerath rules for mass battle rules in the RPG? A: Well, we like the system, but I don’t think we’d use those exact mechanics in the RPG. We’re also looking at ways to do a mass battle game.

11:12 Q: More support for other eras like Sci Fi, Modern? A: Not right now. We’re focused on fantasy. Want to focus on getting back to basics of what we do and improve there.

11:12 Q: Heroes of Shadow tied to shadow source, what about Feywild? A: The power source is a mix. Lots of arcane, but also a strong primal tie.

11:13 Q: Runepriest and Assassin; not a lot of feat support and abilities, but there’s SO much for fighter and wizard when it comes to builds. Little feat support, and what’s there kind of sucks. A: Feats in Essentials are designed to work with that on-ramp. They look at power spectrum but can’t just pay attention to one end. Need balance. Do they need to just power up the “weak” classes? Well, it’s not off the table, but they’re not actively doing anything on it. They do have that concern, though – don’t want entire classes getting pushed out of use. Submissions are a piece of this. Q: What about feats in particular? A: Steve Winter started a thread of “what isn’t working in the game” earlier this year. That’s their to-do list, in some order.

11:17 Q: How much play testing goes into the new books? Has it changed over time? A: Yes, they do more. They have a set of play testers (100 people with NDAs). Doing fewer books on the schedule now, largely so they can have better quality.

11:18 Q: Encounter seasons. Is there any plan to have a break between seasons for things like DDXP, GenCon, Thanksgiving? A: Maybe do character creation between seasons? Chris Tulach knows more, but they’re aware of the problem around holidays and such. They’re looking at it.

11:20 Q: Minis? A: We’ll get to that. “Oooh!”

11:20 Q: Investigative component is a theme of Elder Elemental Eye; is that writing examples of writing skill challenges or actual new mechanics? A: For Encounters they want to keep it simple with established mechanics. For new mechanics it would be in something like Dungeon magazine. If they wanted to do the Inqiusitives from Eberron, it might be in something like Unearthed Arcana.

11:22 Q: Asian or swashbuckler classes? A: Likely to do something like that more with a theme than new classes. More classes will probably lead to unhappy players at this point because of the ongoing support thing. Like the elemental power build for the monk – it’s support, not a new class.

11:23 Q: Races with little support. Some have gotten more support with the update. A: Don’t want to do new races just for the sake of doing new races. Feywild – those three made sense. Elemental book – no new races (he’s pretty sure).

11:24 Q: Digital distribution – opening the vault for novels, what about older editions of the RPG? A: Can’t give specifics (don’t want to say anything until they’re ready to go)… it’s like a band when you like the first 3 albums and when the 4th comes out they destroy the old ones. Not great. They do use the older editions as sources and inspiration for the current edition. 2nd edition had great setting support, for instance. James: If your party is a Wilden Seeker and Shardmind Psion and no dwarf fighter, is it still D&D?

11:27 Q: Can’t buy Mordenkainen’s online? And with PDFs, it’s not that I can’t afford to pay full price, but it’s irking that they charge it. A: Have to keep stores happy – it’s where they get new players. It’s an awkward balance. What about full price for novels? If they want a book store  to charge full price for the physical, how can they sell for 2 bucks? They have to keep authors happy (royalties). Also, there’s some pride – you don’t want to tell creators that their work isn’t worth much money. It’s the broad publishing problem. Mearls buys PDFs from RPG Now, too; not gonna pay $50 for a PDF. They’re really grappling with this. Authors are often nervous about changing their contracts.

11:30 Q: Why not Mordenkainen’s online? A: Some hobby stores do sell online, and they’ll be allowed to sell this. Amazon will be able to order from WotC… (ed: what does this mean?) They want to keep the industry healthy – complex ecosystem.

11:31 Q: Game stores are where new players come – what makes you think that? I never see new players in my store? A: When we see a store that’s having Encounters, they sell more player’s handbooks, etc. Q: What about options outside stores? A: LFR for instance is free. Encounters is special for stores – level of trust with WotC and the stores.

11:33 Q: Two years ago on this panel there was discussion of products for parents playing with kids. Was that Red Box? What about more discussion of having a 9 year old DMing for dad? A: More support may come online – they’re talking about it.

11:33 Q: How about hybrid digital distribution approach – if you own the physical book you can get the electronic version? A: Can’t tell you what exactly this might look like, but there are plans they’re looking at.

11:34 Q: More details on Madness at Gardmore Abbey? A: $39.95, comes out in September. Set in Nentir Vale. Built by order of knights of Bahamut. Dark secrets in its cellars. 3 major patrons – Lord Padriag of Winterhaven, Paladin, Fey lord – they’re the quest givers. There’s some randomization with the deck of many things – which cards come up first might determine which patrons are evil. For levels 6-8? 7-9?

11:36 Q: Eberron themes? A: Nothing announced yet. They’re talking to Keith Baker.

11:37 Q: Generic themes? A: They do some of both. Did some of these in Dragon magazine a couple of months ago (12-16 themes).

11:38 Q: What does “finding a way to support all editions” mean? A: If you’re a fan of D&D, they want you to be a fan of what they’re doing, whatever edition. Why don’t fans like WotC or what they’re doing?

11:39 Q: Newer books have more crunch, which is good, but I need fluff, such as from DDI articles… no way to easily find things like a bunch of Forgotten Realms articles in one place. A: They know that the organization system on their web site is a problem and they’re thinking about it.

11:40 Q: I live 53.7 miles from Encounters store… any thought of making the adventures available something like a year later. A: Ideally we’d do a series in Dungeon that supplies the content. They want to deliver new content. [ed: Seems like a bad dodge to me]

11:42 Q: Big push with video games continuing? A: License with Atari – they’re working on more stuff.

11:42 Q: Could they put in a ranged basic that uses your highest ability score for the Prescient Bard? A: We’ll put it on the list

11:43 Q: Steam releases video games occasionally with a big sale – buy all of the games in this bucket for a good price. If you sell the old novels, might you ever do this kind of thing? A: We did this with an Eberron bookshelf access thing – pay a fee for a year and get access to all of the Eberron stuff. Uh, James – that wasn’t announced yet. (Hilarity ensues.)

11:44 Q: Kara tur – will that be classes or ongoing support or what? A: It’s a one-time thing. Build for Runepriest. Believe there are themes. Setting material. Adventure. Honor system article. They like that they can get good feedback in the forums this way – people are already online and more likely to comment.

11:46 Q: Any chance of, as with Red Box, getting things more widely available in places like Target or Wal Mart? A: Well, we have to design the product specifically for them with packaging sizes and so on. If we do it, you’ll hear about it ahead of time. Maybe with board games.

11:47 Q: Modular character sheet in Builder? A: It’s on the list, but we don’t personally work on that.

11:47 Q: Demogorgon, Lolth, Orcus are cool… when will we see more support for devils? A: We’ll think about it for DDI.

11:48 Q: Do you monitor use of Character Builder options? A: Yes. We don’t just look at the classes and races, we can look a little deeper, but we don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole where we ONLY support what’s popular. Vampire jumped way up in popularity (number 8?) when Heroes of Shadow came out.

11:49: One More Thing…

11:50: Miniatures. They started in 2003. Interest eventually faded. 9 months ago they decided to stop doing what they were doing. RPGers don’t like randomized miniatures. A random model makes it cheaper per miniatures – some kobolds, goblins, spider… early on people bought a bunch of random stuff. But later, when you already have a lot of stuff, you don’t want to pay to get more stuff that you already have to get a little of what you don’t have.

11:51: Next year they’re going to release non-collectible miniatures in themes (drow, goblins) in sets of 12, including some large. Also a miniatures game on top of this. A board game using these war bands of miniatures. Helps retailers who don’t want to get stuck with the “out” stuff this month.

11:52: Rodney re: the game. The big difference with this new game is that it’s a diceless game. It’s a tactical game where skill is really important. Action cards are the commands you give your units that drive them around the battlefield. Luck comes from cards, but you make more informed decisions after you draw them. Focused on more skill than luck. Made tile placement at the start of the game an important part of the decision-making. Each set comes with miniatures and creature cards for the set, but also some command cards. Sounds like there’s a CCG aspect to it with these command cards.

11:54: Rodney. There will be a public, open play test well in advance, starting in the next couple of months. You can print out the cards online, use your own minis, playtest, and provide feedback. They want us to help them make it a better game.

11:55: The open playtest is a new thing for them. If they’re going to do a big, new thing, they’re going to get our input.

11:56: Playtest is not DDI-only. Information will hopefully be in mid-September on web site. There’s some testing under NDA here at the con. Tiles are 8 by 8, can be used with D&D.

11:57: Will minis be limited edition? Goblins, for instance, should always be available in some form.

11:58: Maybe include stat-block cards D&D style? Don’t want to drive up the cost too much with stuff that’s not miniatures.

11:58: New sculpts? Packs for PC races that haven’t been released yet? Some new sculpts, yes. Going to be hard to do this for fringe stuff.

And that’s it! Afterward I got meet Tracy Hurley, so I’m doing great at meeting the rest of the D&D blogging community so far. Thanks for reading!

GenCon 2011 Day 2: Night

I’m very sleepy, so I’ll keep this short.

I went to the vendor hall for about an hour. I got a great demo of Campaign Cartographer (tempting, but pricey). I saw a couple of interesting games, but didn’t buy anything before it was time to meet my wife for True Dungeon.

Ah, True Dungeon! So fun! I’d love to write more about it, but I don’t have the energy right now. It was getting to walk through a “real” dungeon, solving puzzles, working as a team. I was a monk; my wife was a druid. I died in room 4; she died in room 6. The rest of the party was dead by the end of the final room, number 7. So, TPK, but FUN!

Then came dinner at the Weber Grill Restaurant, which has a great gluten-free menu (good for my wife).

Then came an LFR game with friends, with the same DM as yesterday. This one was better. Factotum is always a blast to play.

Then came late-night snacks at Harry and Izzy’s, where I randomly happened to be eating in the same place as the post-Ennies group from EN World. I finally got to meet Morrus and also saw Piratecat and Tony Law again. Huzzah!

Okay, now sleep. Tomorrow: Dungeons and Dragons new products seminar, and, time permitting, attending the live taping of DM Round Table.

As always, more-frequent updates are available on Twitter at OnlineDM1.

GenCon 2011 Day 2: Afternoon

I started at the convention center at 9:30 trying to figure out how I was going to get in in time to be at the Ennies booth by 10:00, where I was supposed to be volunteering. I ultimately learned that I was just supposed to head in with the mass of humanity (an impressive quantity) when the doors opened at 10:00 and just get there a couple of minutes later. No big deal.

So, I had half an hour to kill. I went up to the Sagamore Ballroom where D&D 4e events are held and asked about volunteering to run a session of the D&D Game Day tomorrow. It turns out that they actually have lots of extra DMs, so they didn’t need me. Thus, I’ll probably get to play with my generic ticket. Awesome!

My time at the Ennies booth went by quickly. I was volunteering with an EN World denizen known as Blindrage; an Indianapolis local who does this every year. I got to meet Funk BGR and Piratecat, two other EN Worlders, in person. Yay! Piratecat made the astute observation that though I am OnlineDM, I was not, in fact, online when I was speaking to him. The universe did not explode, thankfully.

After my shift in the booth (watching some awesome costumes go by the whole time), I stopped by the Ookoodook booth to pick up my copy of Snips, Snails and Dragon Tales, the long-delayed new Order of the Stick book. Yay!

I then met up with Ryan et al for lunch at BW3. Mmm, wings!

Next up: Wandering the vendor hall for 90 minutes, followed by True Dungeon!