Living Forgotten Realms – Becoming a DM

I’ve officially taken a new step in my dungeon mastering today: I’ve decided to become a DM for at least one Living Forgotten Realms game (LFR).  I’ve played in three LFR games so far at my local store, Enchanted Grounds, and I’ve had a good time.  But I know that I really like being a DM, too, and when the person who organizes LFR games at the store sent out a message saying that he still needed DMs for several games and one of them was for a module that I’ve already been through as a player, I took it as a sign.

I sent a message to Rich, the organizer, letting him know that I was interested and asking what I needed to do if I wanted to be a DM for LFR.  He said that the main requirement was willingness, but that I also needed to become certified as a DM for organized play with Wizards of the Coast in the Role Playing Games Association (RPGA).  This meant that I had to go to the RPGA web site and take (and pass!) a test.  The test was a 20-question open book test, and I’m proud to say that I passed – but a little ashamed to say that I just barely passed.  I needed to get 16 out of 20 questions right, and that’s exactly what I got.  From the questions that I missed, I learned the following useful facts:

  • When a character or monster takes the coup de grace action to attack a helpless opponent, they still have to hit with an attack roll (bearing in mind that the target is granting combat advantage).  IF they hit, it’s an automatic crit, but if they miss, they miss.  I thought it was an auto-hit.  Hmm, maybe Zod shouldn’t be dead after all…
  • If you have total concealment against a creature (you’re invisible or for some reason the creature just can’t see you) then that creature can’t take an opportunity attack on you if you move away.  Logical, but I missed it.
  • If you’re dazed, you’re not allowed to delay your turn.  Go figure.

Anyway, I did pass the test, and Rich has sent me the module that I will be running: WATE1-1 Heirloom.  In the language of LFR modules as I understand it, this means that the module is set in Waterdeep (WATE), that it’s for low-level characters (the first 1) and that it’s the first in a series of Waterdeep modules for low-level characters (the second 1). I’ll be running it on July 24, 2010, which gives me a little less than a month to prepare.  That should be plenty of time.

WATE1-1One potential problem that I discovered is that I’m used to being an online dungeon master (hey, that’s the name of this blog!), which means that I don’t necessarily have the supplies I need to be an in-person dungeon master.  I do have a battle map, which is good, but I only have one.  When I’ve played in events at the store in the past, the DMs usually have multiple battle maps with the encounter areas already drawn on them (to save time).

The real problem is that I don’t own any minis.  None.  As the DM for the game, I’m responsible for providing minis for all of the monsters.  In looking through the encounter, I need a bunch of minis with a lot of variety.  I’m fine with using some kind of tokens (colored glass beads, for instance) for the minions, but actual creatures probably require actual minis.  I might be able to borrow some from Nate and Bree, but that’s not ideal.

What are your suggestions for acquiring or improvising minis?  How should I go about buying them, if I go that route?  I have no interest in painting minis, just to be clear.  Should I make my own out of Play-Doh or something?  I read another DM’s blog who talked about doing this and letting the players squish the bad guys when they killed them, which sounds like fun.

One option is to stick with what I know – MapTool!  There are sites out there that talk about setting up a projector with your laptop and using that to project the battle map and the monsters onto the table electronically. I’ve seen this sort of thing in action once, and it was way cool.  It’s expensive, though, and I’m not ready to sink that kind of money into a setup unless I know I’ll get a lot of use out of it.

I’m looking for suggestions!  What should I do about minis?

Treasure from the past

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I had tried playing a little bit of D&D years ago, under Third Edition (3e) rules.  My wife and I bought the 3e starter kit and later the core books (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual).  We played through some of the starter kit dungeons (I was the DM, she ran several characters) and had a good time.  One of the people she worked with was a regular D&D player, as was his girlfriend, and they were interested in playing with us.  We set up a session where I would DM and the three of them would play.

I remembered that I had run them through a pre-packaged module where they had quickly taken it off the rails, and I was unprepared as a first-time DM to deal with it, so that ended badly.  They also fudged their dice rolls to get extra crits, which I also didn’t know how to deal with.  That turned us off of D&D for years until we picked it up again in early 2010.

Now that I’m running my Fourth Edition party through the Keep on the Shadowfell I’m having a better time keeping my wits about me when the unexpected happens (and no one is fudging their dice, either, which helps).  I’ll admit that I’m starting to get a little tired of the Keep, though, and I’m thinking ahead to what might come next.  I had come up with lots of neat little ideas, trying not to put too much effort into any of them because I don’t know what direction things will go.  And then I remembered something:

Didn’t I do some prep work for my own Third Edition adventure way back when?

I found my old manila folders for D&D 3e stuff.  There was a folder full of character sheets for characters that both Barbara and I had rolled up.  I learned two things here:

  • Wow, we sure rolled up a lot of characters, especially without Character Builder!
  • I think the old way of rolling ability scores must have been overpowered – those characters had some amazing stats.

That was a nice trip down memory lane (ah yes, Barbara’s elf Druid named Lyssiah Stormwhisper!  I remember her…), but what I really wanted was in the next folder:

  • The printout of the ill-fated pre-packaged adventure that I ran
  • A map for a world of my own creation that I had drawn in colored pencils (two drafts, one on graph paper)
  • An arena dungeon with multiple levels that I had created myself (two drafts, one on graph paper)
  • A cavern-style dungeon with even more levels that I created myself (again two drafts, one on graph paper)
  • A typed, four-page write-up of a full-on adventure through the cavern-style dungeon, complete with monsters, traps, difficulty classes to find doors and so on, read-aloud text…

I was blown away by the amount of time I must have put into creating this stuff – and I never used any of it!  None!  The full adventure write-up amazed me.  It’s not quite up to the quality of a professional module, of course, but it’s not completely amateurish, either.  I remember devising this dungeon and the back story now that I’ve re-read it, and I remember that I thought hard about verisimilitude when I crafted the dungeons.  For instance, I thought about why these creatures would be living where they did, why secret doors would be hidden, where the creatures slept and spent their awake time, and so on.

The question now is, what do I do with this?  I don’t think I’d use the “published adventure” that I wrote as-is since it was customized for the characters who were in the party at the time.  I could totally see myself using the dungeon maps, though, just with new monsters and even the same general logic of what types of monsters can be found where.  They still seem like pretty cool encounter areas.

What do you think?  Is something like this worth re-using?  To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve put the world map that I drew below (click to enlarge).  If you’re interested in seeing the other maps and the adventure I had written, let me know.

Ervallen Map

Chaos scar campaign – Fighting mushrooms, lunatics and frogs

Our in-person D&D group gathered yesterday for our second session in the Chaos Scar (first session at this link).  I did indeed tweak Kern the Avenger a little bit so that he gave up some Dexterity for Constitution (a few more HP and surges seemed like a good idea), though I made it so the change wouldn’t go into effect until after the next extended rest.  Otherwise, it would have been too hard to figure out where my hit points should have been (okay, so I have one more surge now, and each of the eight surges I already used should have give me one more HP, but wait, I have AC that’s one lower now, so I probably would have taken some more hits…).

We also added a new player, Blaine, to the group with this session.  This brings us to five party members:

  • Kern, the githzerai Avenger played by me (Michael) – a striker
  • Zaaria, the dragonborn Runepriest played by my wife Barbara – a leader
  • Keira, the human Monk played by Kyle – another striker
  • Bullwark, the minotaur Fighter played by Nate – a defender
  • Iskander, the wilden Shaman played by Blaine – another leader

We’re doubled up on leaders and strikers and we’re without a controller.  That should be fine.  It’s worth noting that Barbara’s Runepriest is definitely a bit of a defender, not just a pure leader.  Also, Blaine’s shaman is at least trained in Arcana, which means we finally have someone who can identify magic items!  We’re not a smart party – Iskander’s intelligence of 13 leads the party, with Kern’s intelligence of 8 bringing up the rear.  Wise, yes; intelligent, no.

Yesterday’s session started off with a battle against some mushroom people who kept denying our PCs standard actions on their next turns – a real pain in the butt.  Since Kern was so low on HP, I had him stand in the back and shoot Radiant Vengeance for the whole battle until the very last round, where I used my encounter power to shift into melee and finish off the last bad buy with my fullblade.

We then got to do some nice roleplaying.  We had rescued a halfling slave from the temple of Torog in the previous session, so we decided to take care of him.  Bree (our DM) had to make up a name on the spot and decided to call him George.  With a few minutes to prepare later, she determined that George had been captured along with his sister and two brothers, who didn’t survive.  He was from a nearby town, so we returned him to his father.  Maybe that will be useful in the future!

Our next adventure hook was to help a goliath sorceror recover a staff of earthen might that one of his ancestors had created in a keep.  The keep had been ruined and the staff broken when the meteor came to the Chaos Scar.  The sorceror seemed to be on the up-and-up, so we took the job for the promise of the other treasure in the ruins of the keep.

On the way to the keep, we heard a horse whinny and some people shouting.  We found a horse and cart, with the cart sinking into a hole.  There was a lunatic on top of the cart who seemed to think this was our fault, and he ordered his minions to kill us.  The battle was interesting, as some giant ants came out from under the cart (apparently the hole was the ants’ home) and attacked the minions as much as they attacked us.

Finally, we made it to the keep, where we faced off against some bullywugs – frog people.  The setting was interesting (difficult terrain and the like), but the battle again was pretty easy.  We found the trap door that leads down to the next level but haven’t gone there yet.

We had a fun session, and I’ll admit that I was pretty focused on playing and thus didn’t pay attention to a lot of DM lessons.  Here’s what I picked up:

  • I’ve heard it said before, but having a list of names on hand is a good idea – you never know when your players are going to want to get to know a throw-away NPC a little better.
  • Monsters who take away the ability of PCs to do fun stuff (stunning, dazing, taking away standard actions) should be used sparingly, and it should be a big deal when they show up.
  • Asking players for wish lists of magic items they’d like to have is a good way to make sure the items they find are useful.  From the player side, though, I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.
  • Thinking of fun in-story tie-ins on the fly is not easy, but it’s rewarding for the players (such as the story of George the halfling).  Be flexible and creative as a DM, and you’ll be rewarded for it.

My online game is on hiatus at the moment as Lane, who is a newly-minted accountant, has to spend most of her free time studying for the CPA exams.  Good thing I have in-person D&D to keep myself occupied!

Living Forgotten Realms – third time’s a charm

Last night I returned to Enchanted Grounds (my friendly local game store) for a third session of Living Forgotten Realms (LFR).  This was the first session I’ve played with my half-elf Paladin, Rhogar, at second level.  Before heading off to the store to play, I leveled Rhogar up in the Character Builder.  Going to second level meant that I got to choose a utility power and a feat.  For my feat I took Versatile Expertise – Heavy Blades (he wields a longsword) and Holy Symbols (since he could use one of those, potentially).  In the process I discovered a bug in the Character Builder.  Apparently if you are a half-elf, your dilettante power (in my case a Cleric power) doesn’t appropriately include the holy symbol, whether for expertise or for a magic holy symbol.  I tried equipping it in every available place, and it made no difference.  Oh well, so I have to manually modify one power card.  I’ll live.

The adventure last night was actually kind of dull.  The party makeup was two dwarven Clerics, two Fighters and my Paladin (who has a healing bent).  So no strikers and no controllers.  Hm.  Fortunately the Fighters were built for dishing out damage.

Our party was hired by an innkeeper (I’m noticing a pattern here…) to escort him to the home of a minor noble to return a ring that had been found in a fish that the innkeeper had served to a customer.  We ran into a cart driver being ambushed by a gang of halflings, an elf and a gnome, so we helped the driver out.  It was a little annoying to try to chase down so many halfling minions without a controller – some of them got away with the cart driver’s goods, so we didn’t get a real reward from him.

The minor noble was happy to get his ring and told us that it had belonged to his parents who had died in a shipwreck.  Their bodies had washed ashore but the ring hadn’t.  He wanted to speak with his parents’ ghosts, but he needed some wood from the wrecked ship.  Off to the wharves we went to hire a boat to take us out to the wreck.  Getting the wood was easy, and we returned to the noble to escort him to the graveyard for the ritual.

On the way to the graveyard our party was attacked – and I never did get the story reason for the attack, frankly.  The battle was interesting in that it involved a tiefling spellcaster who teleported all over the place, two dwarves in heavy armor, a human brute of some sort and a bunch of elven archers on the surrounding roofs.  My Paladin spent pretty much the whole battle trading shots at one of the dwarves, who apparently had an armor class of 25!  Man, was he hard to hit.  We eventually killed off the rest of the bad guys, and it was assumed that we would eventually finish off the dwarf.

With that, the noble performed his ritual and we were done.  I’m not quite sure why, but I just found this session to be pretty unsatisfying.  My character did get to do some interesting things in combat, and a little bit of role playing too, but it just didn’t “pop” for me.  The DM was only so-so.  Maybe the fact that we had only defenders and leaders in the party was a drag.  Maybe I just wasn’t in top D&D form.

I did get a better understanding of some of the LFR rules.  First, I learned that gold that people give you along the way (“The noble offers you 30 gp if you will escort him to the graveyard…”) is irrelevant.  At the end of the session you get 100 gp, period. (I assume this would be higher for higher-level adventures, of course.)  If you decide to take one of the magic items that were found during the session, fine, but you can only accumulate one per level (I currently have my two already).  If you don’t take a magic item, you can have an extra 75 gp.  Also, you can only use magic items of up to your level +4, so the two seventh-level items Rhogar has must stay in his backpack until he gets to level 3.

This does bring up a question: Since Rhogar has over 360 gp now, he could buy a first-level magic item, such as +1 Magic Plate Mail Armor.  Alternatively, if he waits a session he’ll have enough money to buy a second-level magic item.  I’m leaning toward waiting – what do you think?  Should I keep saving up indefinitely and finally splurge on a high-level item someday?

MapTool campaign frameworks

After I had done a lot of work to start building macros for my D&D game that I’m running in MapTool, I discovered something – it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel if you don’t want to.  It turns out that a number of people on the MapTool forums have created what are known as campaign frameworks.

A campaign framework is a work of art.  It’s a MapTool campaign file that contains within it everything you need to run a campaign under a given rule set (D&D Fourth Edition, d20 System, as well as other RPGs).  The particular framework I’ve played around with is from a MapTool forum user called Rumble.  His framework for D&D 4th Edition is in this post.

The framework is basically a campaign template.  If you want to start a new campaign, you start with the template file.  When you open the file, you’ll see something like this:

Rumble FrameworkWhat you see here is several pre-made tokens on the top part of the screen, some campaign macros (including those that will let you import character or monster info), and some macros for the sample PC token that’s selected.  The campaign file has an extensive set of properties to keep track of the sort of things my properties do and then some.  For instance, I hadn’t thought of keeping track of action points or experience points in the character sheet, but this property set does it.

Furthermore, the macros that are built in for both PC and monster tokens are all-encompassing and way cool.  They include everything I’ve done (hit point management, attack powers, skills) as well a bunch of things I haven’t done (delaying one’s turn, pulling up a formatted character sheet and power cards).  There are even macros to make editing the character stats easier, rather than having to directly fiddle around with properties.  The attack macros take into account who the target is, figure out their defenses, establish whether the attack hits or not, and so on.  It’s very, very detailed, and from what I understand it all works!

So, I learned that I don’t have to write all of these macros from scratch – others have done it for me.  Macro-writing over, right?


See, I LIKE writing macros!  I’m not a professional programmer, but I’m pretty good at programming.  When it’s for a hobby, it’s something I just enjoy doing.  Plus, I like the idea of being able to customize my macros for my players.

Now, I would be foolish if I completely ignored the existence of excellent MapTool frameworks like Rumble’s.  If I’m having trouble with my own macros, I can see how Rumble implemented something.  I’ll certainly take inspiration from some of his ideas (such as tracking XP and action points).  But I don’t feel like using a pre-packaged setup like this because then I would deprive myself of the fun of discovering how to write my own MapTool macros.

All that said, if you’re not into the idea of writing your own macros for the pleasure of writing them and you just want a bunch of macros that work for your D&D 4e game, start your campaign from a template like this one.  There are lots of others on the MapTool forum for a variety of games, and they look fantastic to me.  I love the MapTool community!

Chaos Scar campaign begins

At long last, my in-person D&D group has begun its second campaign.  Last time Nate served as our DM and we began with an adventure from the Dungeon Delve book that Nate adapted to his own setting and that went into home brew territory fairly quickly.  We ended up stopping that campaign after a few months when my wizard died and the rest of the party wasn’t feeling all that enthusiastic about their characters (except for Bree, who was fine with her character but was itching to try her hand as dungeon master).

With that campaign three weeks behind us, we entered the world of the Chaos Scar, which I believe is an adventure from Dungeon magazine.  The Chaos Scar is an area where a meteor had fallen and shards of the meteor were sending out evil energy that corrupted the land and creatures around them.  Bree was great about asking us to think about how our characters might fit into this world, how they got involved with the Chaos Scar, and how they’re connected to one another.  I love that.  Even better, when we got to the table she presented us each with an honest-to-goodness hand-made map on vellum paper!

Chaos Scar Map

How cool is that?  It’s probably worth mentioning here that Bree is studying to be a professional artist.  She knows what she’s doing.

Anyway, our party trekked into a cave in the Scar to try to wipe out a cult of Torog.  The first battle involved us fighting some constructs who could use ranged at-will attacks to daze us – ouch!  We took some licks but prevailed.  The second battle involved a rope bridge across a chasm with archers on the far side and some semi-sentient mushrooms below.  The two dextrous characters (my Avenger and Kyle’s Monk) crossed the bridge while the less-dextrous characters (Barbara’s Runepriest and Nate’s Fighter) crossed the chasm below.  We prevailed there, too, but I took a lot of damage and used up all of my surges.  The final encounter of the day saw us fighting the cultists and their leader in their little temple, during which time I mainly stayed out of the way and shot my ranged at-will attack that gave me temporary hit points.  Even with that, the cult leader hit me with a ranged attack that erased my temps and dropped me from 18 to 8 (remember, no surges).  Yikes.  We finished that battle and searched the cult leader’s chamber and ended the session.  We thought we were about to take an extended rest, but Bree informed us that the mushrooms were arising now that the cult leader was dead.  This could get ugly for my Avenger!

I don’t have a lot of DM lessons to share today, except to say that Bree is clearly going to be a lot of fun as a DM!  I did take away some player lessons, though I haven’t figured them all out just yet.  At the very least, I’m certain that having my Avenger just rush headlong into melee is not the way to go, despite the fact that he really wants to fight in melee in order to use his Oath of Enmity.  I have to let the tank characters get there first, I think, which is tough when I’m so mobile.  I’ll probably lower my Dexterity a little in order to pick up more Constitution.  That will lead to slightly lower armor class but higher hit points, more surges, and a greater surge value.  Good tradeoff?  I’d like to hear your opinions and suggestions in the comments about making a more effective Avenger.

Free RPG Day 2010

Since yesterday was Free RPG Day, I decided to head down to my friendly local game store to participate in the festivities.  Specifically, I knew from their Facebook feed and their podcast (yes, I listen to my local store’s podcast!) that they were running a free Dark Sun adventure.  Since I’m never able to play in D&D Encounters thanks to my Wednesday night bowling league, I thought this would be a good chance for me to experience Dark Sun.

I went to the store a little before the 9:00 AM start time for the game, and had no trouble getting a seat at the table.  We soon had the full six players, and a seventh showed up about 10 minutes after the hour, which the DM accommodated by handing her one of the player cards from Encounters.  She played a second healer, which turned out to be much needed!

My character was a goliath fighter, a former gladiator in the city of Tyr who was fleeing the chaos in the city along with his adopted cousin and a friend, both clandestine arcane spellcasters (apparently arcane magic is taboo in much of the Dark Sun setting).  We joined up with the other PCs, who were on a quest to get water for their people living in the mountains.  We all signed on with a elven caravan going from Tyr to Alderak, hired to protect the elves and their cargo.

The first part of the adventure was a loose skill challenge or two about surviving the desert and badlands, which we had no trouble with.  We were then set upon by raiders in a canyon for our first battle.  I enjoyed role-playing my fighter throughout – he had 10 Intelligence and 8 Wisdom, so he wasn’t too bright and he was quite gullible, very willing to go along with whatever his allies wanted to do.  He liked to smash bad guys with his sword and defend his buddies when they were in trouble.  It’s all mechanics, but you can totally role-play these things, which I loved doing.

The battle with the raiders was most interesting for me because of the guy sitting next to me, who had never played an RPG before but who had apparently read up on things a little bit before coming into the store.  His character was a wizard, and he found himself surrounded by minions before he could act, so he was thrown right into the fire of having to learn about opportunity attacks.  Every single power that his character had was either ranged or area, which means that if he cast them while standing next to a bad guy, the baddie would get an opportunity attack on him.  I believe he took Second Wind in the first round, then was able to shift away and start blasting in the second round after the rest of the group had pushed some of the minions away from him.  It was fun to see him learning what he could do, including trying to climb a cliff to get out of harm’s way (with 8 Strength, that didn’t go as well as he would have liked).

I did get a DM lesson out of this battle.  The DM generally did a great job all day, with lots of role-playing of the bad guys and description of the effects of attacks and so on.  However, he made one decision that I would have changed.  The minions in this particular battle only took one hit to kill, as with typical minions, but they would then keep fighting until the end of their next turns, at which point they would drop.  I have no problem with the mechanic, and the adventure writers tried to give some flavor for it.  Where I would have done things differently, though, is on critical hits.  Crits on these minions were treated just like any one-damage attack, and the minion still got its next round of actions before dying.  I think it would have made the players feel more awesome if a critical hit would kill one of those minions outright, rather than letting it fight on for another turn.  It’s a minor point, but it’s the type of thing that I would change on the fly to make the game more fun for the players.

After the canyon battle, the party arrived at Alderak and hung out in an elven marketplace while the guy who hired us went into a tent.  My guy, being rather dumb and oblivious, had no clue that anything was fishy, but some of the other PCs didn’t trust the elf who hired us and tried to follow him.  The DM basically said no – which was okay in this case, because the PCs in question happened to roll low on their Insight checks.

Sure enough, the party was soon ambushed by something like eight elven archers and four insects, all of whom acted in a surprise round while only one of our characters acted.  Then the bad guys went first in the first round of combat.  Before I had a chance to act (despite getting a 19 on initiative in this battle, after the 3 I rolled in the last one) I was on the ground making death saves, soon joined by another ally.  Our healer brought me back on her turn, at which point I was immediately dropped again.  The elf leader came back out of the tent, and he was soon killed by two of the other PCs, at which point the town guards showed up and sorted everything out.

This particular battle didn’t feel like it was very well designed.  Being able to take down two PCs (one of them twice) before they even have a chance to act seems far too harsh.  And then having the battle immediately end halfway through that round when the surviving PCs dropped the leader seemed anticlimactic.  I guess this was how this battle was intended to go, but two or three of our PCs didn’t even get to their spot in the initiative order before the battle ended.  It didn’t seem like much fun.

Anyway, the authorities established that we were in the right here, and so they arranged for our party to be paid what it was owed.  In addition, they let us face the elves in the arena games that were going on.  Here is where things got pretty cool.  Instead of a simple arena combat (which is what I think the written adventure called for), our DM modified things to make it an interesting game.  The two sides (the party and the wicked elves) started on opposite sides of the arena (east and west).  In the middle was a pile of seven huge ceramic coins – big enough that they required two hands to carry, but no check to pick them up or move them.  At the north end was a closed chest for our team, and at the south end was a closed chest for the elves.  The goal of the game was to have more coins in your chest than your opponents have in theirs when the battle ends at some unknown time in the future.

The real twist was that we were not allowed to deal any damage directly to one another – doing so would result in forfeit for the team that dealt the damage.  However, the arena was littered with lots of razor vine, which would deal 5 damage to any creature that began its turn in the vines.  Most of the elves were minions, so if we could push or pull them into the brambles, that would be fine within the rules and would kill them off.

The elves acted first and managed to get three coins into their chest right off the bat.  We had an ace in the hole, though – our wizard had Sleep prepared, which was awesome.  Our team grabbed some coins, shoved some minions into vines, etc.  The tide was about even, when suddenly three monster hounds of some sort were released into the arena and started attacking everyone.  Fortunately, we were allowed to fight back, but this would distract from the coin game.  Still, our team took the upper hand after taking a coin from the elves’ chest, putting it in ours (giving us four of the seven coins), closing the lid to out chest and then having a PC stand on top of the chest.

My fighter and our barbarian were keeping the hounds occupied, and the hounds had just dropped (but not totally killed) the barbarian when the elf leader saw the handwriting on the wall.  The evil elf knew that the game was lost, and since the DM said, “This is Dark Sun after all,” the elf decided to coup de grace our unconscious barbarian.  The authorities immediately declared our team the winners and said that we were free to fight to the death now (it’s worth noting that this was a one-shot game, and this was the final encounter).

I followed with what I thought was a winning move.  Surrounded by the two remaining hounds, both of which were bloodied, I Cleaved.  I critted on the attack roll, so I killed off one hound and dealt 5 damage to the other.  That wasn’t enough to kill the second hound, but since it was standing next to the elf leader and the hounds had a history of going after the closest person, I shifted away, figuring that the hound would kill the elf.  He almost did, but the DM decided that would be anticlimactic, so he had the hound come after me instead, which dropped me.  Then the elf coup de graced me as well.  Finally, our wizard killed the last hound and the elf with one spell.

Even though my character was killed off, I didn’t really mind.  It was the last battle, and I understood that it was appropriate for the Dark Sun setting.  I had a good time at the game and I think I picked up a couple of lessons.  I don’t think the Dark Sun setting is my particular cup of tea, but I know that lots of gamers out there love it, so good for them!

I do want to mention one final note about Free RPG Day.  The store was offering 20% off all RPG products, which I hadn’t realized until the afternoon when I was listening to the store’s podcast as I mowed the lawn.  They mentioned that the store was open from 7:00 AM until midnight on Free RPG Day, so I figured I’d stop on by in the evening to pick up Divine Power and Monster Manual 3, two books I’ve had my eye on.  I went to the store a little after 9:00 PM and saw that they didn’t have MM3 on the shelf, but they did have Divine Power.  I went to the register to buy my books, asking about MM3 and hoping to get a rain check (no luck).  When the cashier rang up Divine Power, it came up to full price plus tax.  I asked about the 20% discount for Free RPG Day that they had advertised, and she told me, “That ended at seven o’clock.”

Um, what?  The store’s web site and podcast clearly talked about Free RPG Day lasting until midnight.  I put the book back and left.  I’ve emailed the store owner, whom I know very well from having purchased lots of D&D and Magic stuff in the past, and I’m expecting that he’ll honor the discount.  Assuming he does (and I’ll post the resolution here, of course), I’ll trumpet this as the clear reason that you should support your friendly local game store – they’re not a faceless corporation, and they’ll make things right when problems come up.  If for some reason he fails to correct this, though, my faith in local stores will be shaken.  I really want to support them, but this is the sort of thing that will send me to Amazon with a clean conscience.  Here’s hoping the FLGS comes through!

Edit: I’m happy to say that the owner of the store got back to me promptly and said that this was indeed just a miscommunication with the employee, and that the discounts were supposed to be in place all day.  Even better, they DO have MM3 in stock and have set both it and Divine Power aside for me to come and get at 20% off.  The friendly local game store comes through with flying colors!

First MapTool session

The D&D drought is over!  Last night, after Barbara and I returned home from our business trip to the east coast, we got together with Lane and Zach (our friends in Florida) to continue our adventures in the Keep on the Shadowfell.  This time, we did it with MapTool.  It was, quite simply, a success.

I’ve already written about how much I love MapTool, and my players seemed to really enjoy it as well.  They liked the attack macros (even Barbara, who loves rolling physical dice, even used the attack macros from time to time), they liked being able to keep track of their hit points within their MapTool character sheets, and they LOVED the way MapTool shows the path that their character is taking and the number of squares they’re moving as they drag their token along the map.  One quick tip for playing D&D Fourth Edition in MapTool: Make sure all of the players go to Edit – Preferences and set the Movement Metric to “ONE-ONE-ONE.”  If they don’t do this, MapTool will calculate diagonal movement incorrectly for them.

We played for about two and a half hours, yet only went through one encounter.  This was partly because we spent the first 30 minutes catching up with one another from our recent trips and partly because we had to make sure everyone knew how to use MapTool.  The encounter was the battle with the giant rats and the ochre jelly in the caves beneath the Keep.  I wasn’t quite sure how many giant rats I wanted in the battle – the original adventure calls for 13 rats, but against a party of five characters rather than the three that we have.  I decided I’d start with six rats and add as needed to keep things interesting.  I think this was exactly the right approach, and I ended up with 11 rats in the end.  The rats ended up not being all that interesting; they generally missed with their bite attacks, and they had a lot of trouble isolating one character away from the others.  I realized that this battle didn’t have any enemies with either ranged attacks or area/burst/blast attacks.  Every single monster only had the ability to attack a single character at melee each round.  This made them not especially challenging, although the moment that the jelly split in two when it became bloodied was pretty cool.

The battle was an easy win for the party, and Kana (Lane’s druid) did catch a glimpse of a pillar of white light off to the south, which disappeared before too long.  Hmm, what could that be?  (This is one of the ideas that I want to discuss on the blog, but it looks like we’ll have to wait and see).  When the battle was over, the party decided to take an extended rest, as they were getting low on surges.  Not bad for having battled through all of the goblin areas of the Keep, plus the rat/jelly cave.  Rather than heading back to Winterhaven or just staying in the rat cave, they decided to close themselves into the bedchamber of Balgron the Fat, with Zach’s Eladrin rogue trancing and keeping watch.

Since this decision has already been made, I can talk a little bit about the consequences that the party will face when they resume play on Monday evening.  See, they’ve left the goblin area of the Keep strewn with dead goblins everywhere.  Now, no other monsters have traipsed through this area while the party was exploring, but that doesn’t mean that no one will be passing through any time in the next six to eight hours.  It’s quite possible that other inhabitants of the Keep may pass through the area, discover all of the dead goblins, deduce that there must be enemies about and get reinforcements.  I haven’t challenged the PCs yet.  But this time, with the bad guys knowing what’s coming, it might be different!

Now, while the use of MapTool for the session was great, and I don’t plan to switch to anything else, I did learn a few lessons that I plan to implement before our next session.

  • I need a button for each character to be able to roll their own initiative.  While my macro that rolls initiative for everybody is cool and all, the players like to roll it themselves.
  • I need buttons for each character’s skill checks.  I think I’m going to implement this by adding skills to the character’s properties, but I’ll just have the number next to the skill be the number that gets added for training or any special skill bonuses (racial, item, etc.).  I’ll have the macro look up the appropriate ability modifier and half-level modifier from the character sheet so that I don’t have to touch the macros as characters level up.
  • I should allow the characters permission to edit the macros on their own character token.  I’ll trust them not to mess with the macros, but I want them to be able to look inside and see what’s going on if they’re interested (Zach is – he’s a programmer).
  • I need to figure out how I want to handle the bad guys’ tokens.  Right now, they use the same properties as the players’ tokens.  That’s not ideal, since it means that if I actually put numbers in for armor class, hit points, etc., the players would be able to see them.  I think I’ll create a separate set of properties for NPCs and make them invisible to players.
  • Similarly, I’d like to figure out how to hide the NPC macros from the players.  Strict Token Ownership might accomplish this, but I’m not sure yet.

All in all, it was a fun way to play D&D, and the players are psyched about playing again Monday evening.  Meanwhile, I played a Free RPG Day session this morning at my Friendly Local Game Store, and I’m playing the first session of the new campaign with my regular in-person group tomorrow.  The D&D drought is officially done!

When should I blog about campaign ideas?

I’m currently in the DC area on a business trip, so there hasn’t been time to devote to D&D this week.  I’m happy to say, though, that there’s a chance that we might be able to resume our online campaign into the Keep on the Shadowfell this Friday, after I get home to Colorado.

Over the past few weeks of online D&D hiatus, I’ve done a lot of thinking about our campaign (as explained in my last few posts).  I’ve discovered MapTool, my new virtual D&D tabletop of choice, and learned how to make lots of cool macros for it.  I’ve played in two Living Forgotten Realms games, learning more about other dungeon masters’ styles.  I’ve also been re-reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 and pondering how to become a better DM myself.  Finally, I’ve been reading lots of D&D blogs and web sites, and I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes of NewbieDM‘s minicast (a cool little discovery – thanks NewbieDM!).

All of this pondering has led me to a question that’s really unique to dungeon masters who blog: At what point should I blog about ideas that I have for ongoing campaigns?  See, I know that some of my players read my blog, and I totally dig that.  I WANT them to be so into the game that they want to see what I’m writing.  At the same time, I’m coming up with ideas, big and small, for the campaign that I’m running for them.  I don’t want to ruin the surprise by writing about those ideas on my blog and having them read about them weeks before they ever encounter them in the game.  On the other hand, these are raw ideas from an inexperienced DM, and I’d like to get the input of other dungeon masters on these ideas before I try running with them.

What do you think?  Should I go it alone and then blog about my creations only after they’ve been put into action?  Should I go ahead and put them here, surprise factor be darned?  Should I discourage my players from reading my blog?  Or should I perhaps put spoiler alerts for my players and ask them to skip over the spoiler sections?  I’m looking for advice – please let me know what you think in the comments.