TactiCon 2012 Recap: Fiasco, Ashes of Athas, Chaos & Alchemy and impromptu D&D

Labor Day weekend has been a lot of fun for me the past three years, as I’ve been attending TactiCon. This is the smaller of the two conventions put on by the Denver Gamers Association each year (the bigger one is Genghis Con over Presidents’ Day weekend in February), but the 2010 edition was the first gaming convention I ever attended, so it always has a place in my heart.

I’ve done the “Marathon GM” thing in the past, where I run a D&D game in all nine of the convention’s four-hour slots over the weekend, but I was taking it a little easier this time – only being signed up for seven. Yes, I’m still nuts.


Thursday night, I had signed up to run a session of Fiasco. I had only played once before, but I think it’s a cool system and one that I want to get more comfortable with. I’ve been playing around with creating a playset of my own, but since it wasn’t ready in time I just brought the four sets from the base Fiasco book, plus the D&D-themed set, the rock band set and the set played on Tabletop a couple of months ago. My players, two of whom had never played before, opted for the Antarctica set. Since there were four other players plus myself, I decided not to participate as a player, instead just helping them along. I think Fiasco plays best with four.

The players had a good time, setting up a web of relationships and secrets. Things were going swimmingly until the radioactive penguins started growing tentacles at the end of Act One. Amazingly, the players all rolled pretty well by Fiasco standards at the end of the game, so none of them ended up dead and one ended up coming out smelling like roses. We finished in under two hours, too, which was great – I still had a little prep for the rest of the weekend’s games to finish.


Friday was Ashes of Athas Day One. I was running the three adventures from Chapter Three of the Dark Sun-set organized play campaign. I was delighted to discover that three of the guys whom I’d run Ashes of Athas for back at Genghis Con had returned, and they were stoked to play at my table again! They really made it fun for me last time.

This time was no different. With my projector setup running (and attracting lots of admiration from passers-by, as usual), we kept the fun flowing all day long. I felt bad for my core three players when they were bumped to another DM’s table for the middle session, but the reason was that we had a group of new-to-D&D players and the organizer knows that I love running games for new players (and that they tend to keep coming back after they’ve been at my table). I did love the new folks, too. Something about new players just gets my energy up.

My core three players were back at my table for the final adventure of the day, and it was mostly a big, two-part combat encounter. The second part had a very interesting environmental effect: Any PC starting or ending a turn in a zone of evil ashes had to make a death saving throw. This was in the Athasian plane of death, so it made sense. The cool thing about this was that it made it possible for a PC to die while still at full hit points, but not randomly out of nowhere as in a pure “save or die” effect. It really affected player tactics once they found out about it, and made things tense when they otherwise might not have been.


Saturday was going to be an interesting one. I was signed up to run Ashes of Athas from 9:00 to 1:00, from 2:00 to 6:00 and from 7:00 to 11:00. However, I was also signed up to run demos of Chaos & Alchemy in the board and card game room from noon to 3:00. I had asked the D&D organizer ahead of time if maybe I could bow out of some of my Ashes of Athas games, but he told me that he was really short on DMs.

Fortunately for me, he was wrong. Saturday morning, we had three DMs and three players. Easy solution: I would bow out, one of the DMs would play and the other DM would run a table of four! This let me get some much-needed coffee, check out the vendor hall, and then start showing people how to play Chaos & Alchemy.

Chaos & Alchemy cover art by Chris Rallis – Logo by Bree Heiss

My lovely wife came to join me in the demos at noon, and she was very eye-catching (like I said, she’s lovely). We had two tables of demos running non-stop, with lots of folks deciding to buy a copy of the game. One guy started telling all of his friends that they needed to come try this game, and I believe four of them bought copies. One of THOSE people also sent another buyer my way! Players are teaching one another to play the game.

A guy who owns a very new game retail store bought a copy and asked about carrying Chaos & Alchemy in his store. Two guys turned out to be involved with the organization of Denver Comic Con and wanted to talk to me about having a table at next year’s convention, with a “local game designer” angle on it. There was a lot of enthusiasm, and I ended the weekend with just 25 copies from my original 125 copy print run on hand. It’s off to a really good start!

As you might guess from all of that, I was able to spend most of the afternoon running Chaos & Alchemy, in part because there were only two tables worth of players for Ashes of Athas and the other two DMs ran the games. However, when the evening time slot came around, we had two tables of players but one of the other DMs was nowhere to be found, so I set up the projector and ran the adventure.

The players for Saturday night were the same six I’d had for Friday night. The adventure was the conclusion of Ashes of Athas Chapter Four, and it was my least favorite of the Ashes of Athas adventures I’ve run so far. It was really long, with too many skill challenges and combats for a standard convention time slot, and one of the combats ended up wiping out the other table of players (my table had a very hard time with it). We still had fun at the table, though. The party didn’t mind when I switched to some brief narration rather than actually running through some skill challenges, and they rolled with the bizarre “desert peyote trip” ending of the adventure.

This adventure also gave me my favorite gaming moment of the convention, when a new player who was running a spear-toting Ardent was trying desperately to figure out what she could to to help her allies while she was standing on a bridge and the gargoyle menacing them was 20 feet below her. Answer: Jump off the bridge, spear pointing down, and hope for the best. I gave her a +1 bonus for charging (sort of) and a +2 bonus for combat advantage (the gargoyle did NOT see this one coming!), and ruled that if she hit with the attack, it would count as an automatic critical hit.

Boom – gargoyle pieces everywhere! What a great ride.


I had nothing scheduled on Sunday, which was a first for me. I decided to sleep in, have an early lunch and get to the convention around 11:15. I got in on a game of Smash Up, which I knew had been a big deal at GenCon. I love the theme of the game – you play with a 40-card deck that’s made up of two 20-card decks smashed together to give you something like Alien Dinosaurs, Ninja Tricksters, Zombie Pirates or Robot Wizards. The mechanics of piling up minions and playing actions to take down some shared bases, with points awarded based on who contributed the most to breaking the base, were pretty good. The balance seemed fine, too, with the final score being 15-11-11-8 (I was one of the 11s).

However, I just didn’t have that much fun during the actual gameplay. The Robot Wizards, for instance, had really long, involved turns. The Ninja Tricksters got to do interesting things at unexpected times. The Zombie Pirates both had things popping out of the discard pile. The Dinosaur Aliens… were big. And they could return things to players’ hands. My turns were short and a little boring. It’s a game with lots of potential, but it didn’t quite do it for me.

I ran a couple more demos of Chaos & Alchemy, then headed over to the D&D area to see if maybe I could play in a game in the last time slot at 2:00. The organizer asked if I could run something instead. I didn’t have my laptop with me, even though the projector and rig were in the car, but since I’d never tried running module cold, I agreed to go for it.

I was loaned a wet-erase mat and marker and was seated at a table that was mostly empty, since the players (mostly kids who were friends and family of one another, with one adult) were apparently in their rooms leveling up their characters. Once I realized that they didn’t care what module they played, I decided I’d run one that I wrote – The Stolen Staff. I downloaded it from my blog to my iPad. I used the backs of business cards for initiative trackers. I wrote down monster hit points on a sheet of paper. I borrowed some minis from one of the players to represent the monsters.

And we had a rollicking good time! I soon realized that these kids really just wanted to fight stuff, so I gave them plenty of interesting things to kill. We had gotten off to a really late start, but we still fit in three fights and some role-playing, finishing on time. I did have a weird moment afterward when one of the kids asked me, “So who did the best?” I didn’t understand the question, so he clarified, “Who did the most damage and killed the most monsters? Who was the best?” I told him that my favorite moment was when one of his friends had his character jump off a tower to land on a minion (I guess I have a thing for PCs throwing themselves off of stuff). Maybe he’ll get the message that D&D is about creativity, not just numbers. Here’s hoping. It was a very min-maxed party, so I’m guessing I won’t change any opinions, but so it goes.


Once all was said and done, I still wasn’t quite finished. A couple came up to me as I was packing up from my last game and asked if I was Michael (I am) and if I could teach them about Fiasco. Apparently they had bought the game and weren’t confident in jumping in, and they had seen my name in the program as someone who had run Fiasco. So, after the GM appreciate ceremony, I met up with the two of them and taught them about Fiasco before heading home.

Yay for more new gamers!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Online campaign – What a rush!

It’s amazing that I have the energy to write tonight, given that I just spent four and a half hours running a D&D adventure online for EIGHT PLAYERS, but it was such a rush.  I can’t believe how well it all went!  Seven of the players were already logged in before the scheduled start time, and the eighth ran about 10-15 minutes late (no big deal).

Starting Screen

We started off with everyone being able to see their tokens on a small map (with an image of the map of Waterdeep on the page), and I explained how MapTool worked.  As a player, the only things they really needed to know were how to move their token (click and drag), how to move around the map (right click and drag; zoom with the mouse wheel) and how to deal with their macros (just click them).  That went pretty easily.

We also spent a little time talking about the future of the group.  We’re going to split in two – one with me as the DM playing at level 1 and one with another person from the group as the DM, playing at some higher level in order to get to paragon tier faster.  But since I had put everything together for this evening with the plan of having eight players, we would still play the adventure together.  (It was the Living Forgotten Realm module that I’ll be running in my local store next Saturday – WATE1-1 Heirloom.)

I should also point out that, in addition to having MapTool open with everyone impersonating their characters in order to talk in-character (way cool), we also had Skype open for voice chat.  Let me give a huge shout-out to Skype – this software is awesome.  We had excellent call quality with eight active lines (two of the players were together at one computer), no lag – it was just fantastic.

Anyway, I used audio to communicate with my players most of the time, and they used a mixture of audio and text.  The adventure started off with a lengthy skill challenge to track down a thief who had stolen a family heirloom (hence the title of the module, “Heirloom”).  Mixed in the middle was a quickie combat encounter with some drunken sailors, which ended in one action – the party’s invoker walking up and unleashing an encounter power that just about wiped them out (whereupon the sailors that were still up surrendered and staggered away).

At the end of the skill challenge, the party confronted the thief and his cronies in their underground lair.  This battle was much more interesting, with some good movement, creative use of marks, and SO many conditions to keep track of!  It’s easier in MapTool than in real life – I can’t imagine running this encounter with eight PCs around a real table.

We took a five-minute break before diving into the final encounter, where the party faced the person who had hired the thief to steal the heirloom.  The party did a good job of achieving surprise, and it became clear that I could either have the bad guys fight smart – keeping their guard drakes in front of the door to the room and making it hard for the party to do anything – or have them fight fun – letting the drakes shift back into the room so the melee fighters had something interesting to do.  I went with fun, and I’m glad I did.

The best part of the evening was the very end of this encounter.  I had some bad guys, who were hidden at the time, go out the window of the room they were in, trying to escape.  Hilarity ensued as the party tried to go after them.  Lots of falling out windows, landing on people who had already fallen (dealing improvised damage – why not?), and so on.

Looking back, it was clear that the encounters were not all that challenging for the party, since no one ever ended up making death saving throws.  But you know what?  For a party of eight, that’s okay.  The encounters were long enough already, and making them tougher would have made them take longer.

The most important thing was that everyone legitimately seemed to have a great time.  A couple of people who were planning to go play in the high-level game reached out to me to say that they were having so much fun that they were considering staying low-level.  That’s really gratifying to hear – “I’m having so much fun that I want to keep playing in your game.”  Is there a better feeling as a DM?  Not to mention the fact that one of the players is an Englishman playing in his first-ever tabletop RPG, and he played with us from 1:00 AM to 5:30 AM his time.  How’s that for dedication!

It will be a little sad to break up the group, but I honestly don’t have the energy for an eight-PC campaign.  I can handle four or five, but beyond that I think it’s just a little too much.  Still, just to run a game this big one time was worthwhile.  It was, quite frankly, an unqualified success, and I can’t imagine it having gone any better.  This is what I live for as an online dungeon master!

Advice I’ve received for my LFR session

For my last several posts, I’ve been talking about my decision to plunge into dungeon mastering a Living Forgotten Realms game at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds.  That game will be three weeks from today.  I’ve already put the maps and minis together, so all that remains is for me to get comfortable with the adventure itself and then to run it well.

To that end, I’ve been seeking advice from other DMs, both here on my blog and over on EN World.  Here is the advice that I’ll be trying to keep in mind as I get ready to run my first adventure in public:

  • Be enthusiastic!  Enthusiasm from the DM means enthusiasm and fun for the players.
  • Make sure to really know the story of the adventure, not just the monster stats and skill challenge mechanics.
  • Get a feel for the personalities of the NPCs, especially in skill challenges.  Try to make them memorable and act as they would act.
  • At the table, set up a sheet that reminds me of who the PCs are:
    • Name
    • Class and race (optional, but it helps me for roleplaying)
    • Passive perception and insight
    • Defenses, including non-asset class defenses
    • Initiative modifiers
  • Have a flexible method of keeping track of initiative.  I’ve seen some DMs with little tags that they move around, or I’ve seen people using index cards.  I’ve also seen a dry-erase board, or ultimately D&D 4e Combat Manager (which I love, but not for this particular session).
  • When announcing whose turn it is, also announce who will be after that so that the next person can be thinking about what they plan to do.
  • Look for opportunities for bad guys to do cool or unexpected things – grabbing an item a PC drops, trying a stunt, etc.  This may encourage the players to think creatively, too!  Just make sure I’m ready to handle the rules for cool stuff.
  • Have the bad guys taunt the PCs or otherwise talk or yell or whatever during combat.  Make them characters, not just stat blocks with weapons.
  • When the battle is over except for a meaningless minion or two, just call it.  Don’t take the time to make the PCs hunt down that last little dude who can’t really hurt them.  Have him surrender, or just say that the PCs eventually finish him.

Naturally, these tips apply to dungeon mastering in general, not specifically for Living Forgotten Realms.  What other suggestions do you have in order for me to make this fun for myself and, more importantly, for my players?  Have I forgotten anything obvious?

LFR Maps – Finished products

Amazingly enough, I think I’m now ready for the Living Forgotten Realms game that I’ll be running in three weeks (WATE1-1 Heirloom), at least in terms of putting together the materials.  I blogged yesterday about the tokens I’ve created for the enemies and the day before about the maps that I drew in MapTool.

To bring things full circle, I thought I’d share the finished map files in all three forms:

I’m excited about the prospect of running this adventure now!  If our in-person game on Monday runs out of prepared material (unlikely, but you never know), maybe I’ll bust this out as an impromptu game.  More likely, I’ll ask if we can run it some future weekend before I run it for real.

Living Forgotten Realms DM Preparation – Maps

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be a first-time DM for a Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) session at my local store on July 24, 2010.  I’ve gotten the adventure module (WATE1-1 Heirloom) and read through it once, which is a good start.  The things I haven’t been certain about are what to do about maps and what to do about tokens.  I’m pretty sure I’ll follow Ismael_DM’s suggestion in the comments of using the tutorial on Newbie DM’s blog to make flat tokens using metal washers.  More on that as I actually give it a shot.  (Thanks for the tip, Ismael_DM!)

As for maps, I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick with what I know: MapTool! While I’d love to set up a projector with my laptop to project a MapTool screen onto the tabletop (and there is a person at the local store who does exactly this), I’m not ready to lay out the cash required to build that sort of thing.

I’m pretty sure, though, that I can build my maps in MapTool and then print them out as “posters” to put on the table for my players to use.  DM Samuel has talked on his blog about doing this, building the maps in a program called GridMapper (which I probably would have loved a few weeks ago before I learned how to really use MapTool) and then printing them out to scale using a program called PosteRazor.  I haven’t tried the printing part yet, but I figured I’d start by building the maps in MapTool.  Printing can come later.

There are three combat encounters in the module I’ll be running (no real spoilers here).  There’s a battle outside of a random inn on a random street, a battle inside a shop and the room beneath it, and a battle that can take place either in a room in an inn, next to a stable, or on the city streets depending on what has happened earlier in the adventure.

The adventure describes how to build each encounter area using Dungeon Tiles.  Now, I don’t have any Dungeon Tiles myself, but Wizards of the Coast has a program called Dungeon Tiles Mapper that you can download for free and which contains images for a bunch of different tiles (not all of them, but a good variety).  Combining that with the big MapTool image download that I have, I was able to recreate the maps pretty well (in my humble opinion).  In some cases I tried to be as faithful as possible to the original, but there were some cases where I decided to make my own improvements.

First, I created a map that serves as both the inn exterior for the first battle as well as for the last battle (the downstairs part of the inn).  I used a texture to paint the cobblestone streets, a Dungeon Tile image for the inn itself, a stairs object from the big MapTool download and a roof object from that same download to represent the building next door.Inn Exterior

Next, I created the main room of the shop from the second encounter.  This was dead simple – one Dungeon Tile image.

Shop Interior

After that, I created the hideout beneath the shop.  This one was much more involved.  I used some Dungeon Tiles for the spiral staircase, the blue rune, the wooden stairs and the trap door.  I used some flooring from the Dungeon Tiles to paint the stone floor as well as the wooden platform floor.  I used images from the MapTool download for everything else (tables, bookshelves, chair, chest).  I think it turned out really nicely.


Next up was the room in the inn.  Nothing here was from Dungeon Tiles.  The stairs, beds and windows were from the MapTool download and the floors and walls were painted using various wood textures from that download.

Inn Room

Finally, the exterior of the stable.  It’s a lot like the inn exterior with the streets and the roof.  The horse and cart came from the big MapTool download.

Stable Exterior

My next task will be to try to print these out using the correct scale in PosteRazor.  Wish me luck!  And as always, I’d love to hear your feedback, whether about the maps themselves or about the general idea of printing these out to use at the table (probably on card stock).

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?

Living Forgotten Realms – Second attempt

Barbara and I were planning on dropping by our friendly local game store tonight to play some Living Forgotten Realms (LFR).  Since I wasn’t that crazy about the Paladin that I played at LFR a week ago, and since Barbara and I have already rolled up the characters that we’re going to be using in the new campaign we’re starting soon with Kyle, Nate and Bree, we planned to try out those new characters at LFR.  Unfortunately, Barbara wasn’t feeling well, so I went on my own and decided to stick with Rhogar, my half-elf paladin from last week.

Similarly to last week, I didn’t officially have a seat reserved at the table, but I was at least on the waiting list.  One of the other players hadn’t shown up by the start time and the DM said he was fine to play with seven players instead of six in case the other player did show up – which he did, about 10 minutes late.  So, we had seven players.  The DM, Doug, said that this module didn’t take long to run, so having the extra player wouldn’t slow us down significantly.

Last week’s session started with a combat encounter, then a lot of roleplaying, then a combat encounter.  This time was all roleplaying for a long stretch, then a random little combat encounter that took no time, then more roleplaying, then basically two back to back combat encounters to finish things off.  The party was hired to recover a sextant that had been stolen from the house of a noble family, along with some other conventionally valuable items.  The sextant was a family heirloom, which they believed would lead to their ruin if it were not returned.  Thus, we went off on a long series of roleplaying encounters to try to track down the thieves.

We went to taverns in sketchy parts of town, making lots of Streetwise, Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate checks.  Since my character is a heavily-armored good Paladin, he was a little out of place.  Thus, I hung back and didn’t say much.  The random battle with some drunk dockworkers was a bit of a waste of time, as it had nothing to do with the main plot.  We ended up having a battle with the were-rat thief who stole the goods, along with his bandit associates.  This battle was in the basement of a boot shop, and it led to some interesting movement and use of powers.  The thief told us how to find the gnome merchant to whom he had sold the sextant.

We went to the inn where this gnome was staying, hurrying there before he left town.  Here is where things got a little tense around the table.  Three of the seven players had played this module before, so when it came time to make decisions about what to do, they tried to stay out of it and let the other four of us decide.  I thought that sending four people upstairs and three people around to the alley below the gnome’s window was the way to go – that way, we could keep him from getting away.  This was voted down in favor of having six of us wait downstairs in the inn while one person (our pacifist dwarven Cleric) went to the alley to try to disable the gnome’s wagon.  Well, the gnome’s allies spotted the dwarf at work and fired at him from the window, thus starting combat with all of us downstairs and unable to do anything for the first turn except start to move upstairs while the gnome and his buddies took target practice on our Cleric.  It worked out okay in the end, and the battle of the inn room was an exciting one, but I think that my lesson is that I need to be more assertive around the table, even though I’m still a new player.

Doug wasn’t as engaging a DM as Aarrun from last week was, but he still ran a good game.  The lessons I’d take from playing with Doug are:

  • Feel free to make minor modifications to increase the fun of a battle (such as changing the pointless dockworkers from one-hit minions to two-hit minions)
  • Try hard to make sure all of the players have a chance to be heard (I didn’t feel heard tonight, and I don’t want my players to feel that way)
  • If the battle is well in hand, feel free to call it and wrap it up, even if there are still some baddies to mop up.

Barbara and I are going to be traveling for the next week, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to blog for a while. That’s a shame, because I’ve learned some really cool MapTool tips that I’m anxious to share, but I haven’t had the prep time to do so yet.  Soon, though!

Living Forgotten Realms – my first time

While I mainly use this blog to talk about my efforts at serving as a Dungeon Master for my own online games of D&D, I do like to play D&D, too.  At the moment I am between campaigns in real life.  I don’t mean that I have no prospects for my next campaign – the next one will start in a couple of weeks with my same play group, just with a different person taking a turn as DM (as I discussed in my post about the death of my wizard character, Zod).  The online game that I DM is also on hiatus as two of the three players are currently on vacation.  This has given me lots of time to learn about MapTool, for instance, which is great – but I miss playing D&D.

Fortunately for me, I live within walking distance of a fantastic local game store called Enchanted Grounds.  This is a game store / coffeehouse.  I mainly go for the games – formerly a lot of Magic: The Gathering and German-style board games like Pandemic and Settlers of Catan, and more recently of course for Dungeons and Dragons books and dice.  In addition to selling D&D stuff, Enchanted Grounds also runs organized D&D events.  They’ve been running D&D Encounters on Wednesday nights, which I’d love to check out but which unfortunately conflicts with the bowling league that Barbara and I are in (yes, we both play D&D and bowl).  They also have Living Forgotten Realms, or LFR, which I only vaguely understood.  I knew it was a D&D Fourth Edition game, but it’s set in a campaign world that I know nothing about.  Also, I wasn’t sure about the rules for creating a character, getting into a game, etc.  When I finished work Thursday evening, I had a hankering to play some D&D, so I printed out the character sheet for one of the three potential characters I had rolled up for the campaign that we’ll be starting with our friends in a couple of weeks (a character that I was pretty sure I was not going to play in that campaign) and headed off to the store.

I had checked the store’s web site and their LFR Yahoo Group before leaving, and I knew that players had to basically reserve their spots in the game in advance.  There were going to be two tables of players – one in an adventure for level 4-7 characters and one for level 1-4 characters.  I introduced myself to Rich, the man who coordinates the LFR games at Enchanted Grounds, and said that I had never played LFR before and would be watching and learning this evening.  However, when game time rolled around, one of the six seats at the low-level game table was empty because one of the scheduled players hadn’t shown up.  Lucky me – I would get to play!

I introduced myself and my character (Rohgar, the half-elf Paladin) to the group, and we were on our way.  The group had five first-level characters and one second-level.  We were a technically balanced party, though a little heavy on healing.  My Paladin was the only defender, and he was a healing-focused guy.  We also had two Clerics, one of which was a mega-healing pacifist.  We had a controller – a Psion, which I hadn’t seen in action before – and two strikers (a Ranger and an Avenger).

The adventure began with the local king charging our group with the task of investigating some evil activities in the area around the city, and we soon encountered an old man with a broken cart by the side of the road.  As we approached to help him, some shadow creatures came out of the trees and attacked us.  We beat them up without much trouble, fixed the man’s cart, then headed off in pursuit of a black-clad knight we had seen on a nearby ridge during the battle.

From here, the night turned into a long stretch of role playing, which was kind of fun (though mixing in a combat encounter along the way might have been more fun).  We were on horses and had to follow the knight’s trail down a steep slope, which was problematic for me as I was terrible at Athletics.  Most of us ended up breaking our horses’ legs in the descent (so sorry, Starshine!) and had to continue on foot.  We found the knight, who had a skull for a face, in a glade of white-painted trees, which a Religion check revealed were designed to ward off evil spirits.  We talked to the knight instead of attacking, and it turned out that he was a guy from town who had been falsely accused of treason, cursed by his father, and banished from the city.  The skull face was just a mask he used to hide his identity from the townsfolk who hated him (smart choice, going with a skull face).  We wanted to help him clear his name, so we took him back to town with us.

We arrived to find a big, torch-wielding mob freaking out about the evil activities and the approaching (unscheduled) lunar eclipse.  Our knight friend skedaddled.  We dispersed the crowd, repaired a holy obelisk, talked to the knight’s father (who definitely seemed fishy to us), tracked town the town official who had banished the knight (he was incompetent), tracked down some reports about the evil activities that the town official had hidden (they would help to clear the knight’s name) and finally ended up at a temple to an evil goddess.  The cult leader, naturally, was the knight’s father.  We dispersed the cultists and engaged the leader, who was about to sacrifice his baby son on the altar.  Our strikers teamed up on the cult leader while the rest of us handled the shadow creatures that were trying to get into the temple.  Again, it was a fairly easy combat.  We saved the baby, got a new hearing for the knight (I’m sure he’ll win) and were awarded the king’s favor.

My verdict on Living Forgotten Realms as a player is that it’s definitely a way to get that D&D fix when I can’t get it any other way.  I believe this store runs games three times a week, so there are plenty of opportunities to play if I so desire.  I was surprised at the low level of challenge in the battles, but the role playing was quite fun.  Our pacifist Cleric basically stood up and gave a fire-and-brimstone speech to the mob in the city, which had the odd effect of convincing the townsfolk to try to incinerate their lamps, but it was way cool.  My Paladin was supposed to be quite diplomatic, but I sort of stunk when it came to actually talking rather than rolling dice.  I’ll work on it, though.  I definitely prefer the home games with friends, but LFR is something I could see myself playing from time to time.

The magic item system for LFR is a little confusing.  During the adventure we came across a few different magic items, and we had to divvy them up for use during the adventure.  However, at the END of the adventure we could each take one magic item, and multiple players could pick the same thing.  To make matters more complicated, you can only USE a magic item up to four levels higher than your character (so, as a first-level character I could use up to a fifth-level magic item), but you can HAVE any level magic item.  Also, if it’s an enchanted weapon of a particular type, you can transfer the enchantment to any weapon you want.  In my Paladin’s case, I took a seventh-level magical dagger and transferred its enchantment to my longsword, but I can’t actually use that enchantment until I move up to level three.  Confusing, I know.

I could see myself playing LFR again in the future – hopefully with Barbara joining me – but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to play my Paladin again.  He did exactly what he was supposed to do – bring the enemies to himself, absorb damage, dish out healing, punish the enemies he calls out when they attack his allies – but it just wasn’t that much fun.  I really didn’t move around at all in either battle – I stood there and traded blows with bad guys.  It worked for the party, but it was kind of dull.  I know I’m going to play an Avenger in my main campaign with my friends, so I might try LFR again with a Warlord that I’ve rolled up.  We shall see.

How about DM lessons?  Aarrun, the DM for the game Thursday night, was a great DM in my opinion, and I feel like I could learn a lot from him.

  • He knew the rules forward and backward.  For instance, he knew what my Paladin’s powers could do much better than I did.
  • He kept the game moving, letting the table know whose turn it was and who would be up next.
  • He got into the role playing in a good way.  He had a favorite NPC – a batty old lady who ran a book and bird shop – who really came alive with Aarrun’s acting.
  • He let the players try whatever they wanted, even if it was stupid.  Hilarity often ensued.

I have a long way to go before I can be a DM on par with Aarrun, but I feel like I can get there one day.