Archive for November, 2011

Conquest of Nerath – DnD Axis and Allies

November 15, 2011 Comments off

courtesy of WotC

Conquest of Nerath is a pretty big departure from the typical offerings from Dungeons and Dragons, but borrows a lot from another WotC offering, Axis and Allies. The setup is similar to other massive war strategy boardgames. Players choose a realm (Nerath, Vailin, Iron Circle or Karkoth) and start with a certain territory and certain armies. Conquest of Nerath replaces the infantry, tanks and bombers of Axis and Allies with footsoldiers, siege engines and dragons.

The realms are about evenly matched starting out. About the same number of territories and about the same number of units. This could be an all out slog of waves of armies crashing into each other. But it isn’t.

The twist comes in the form of hero pieces and dungeons. You can buy heroes in the form of fighters and wizards at the same time you buy regular units during your turn. Heroes can form a party and have the unique ability to explore the dungeon entrances scattered on the map. Once the heroes explore the dungeon they encounter an iconic D&D monster (Beholder, Medusa, Troll) and must defeat it to claim it’s treasure. Spending resources on these delves reduces the number of troops you have on the front lines capturing and defending territory, but the treasure the heroes win if they defeat the monster can provide a huge tactical advantage. For example, I sent a group down and defeated a troll and claimed “Boots of Flying” which allowed my troops to fly over one square of water. Typically, if it is a non-flying unit, you have to build a boat, load troops on the boat, and hope it doesn’t sink while being subject to attacks from other players with dragons and elementals. For me, the gamble paid off. Other times, the monster is too powerful or the party too weak, and you lose a bunch of heroes for no real gain.

courtesy of WotC

We played with four players, but two teams. The realms in opposite corners work together. The Iron Circle (goblins, ogres and such) with Karkoth (zombies, undead) and Nerath (Humans, dwarves) with Vailin (Elves, Fey). It was a lot of fun and very high replay value, in that the treasures and monsters are randomly dealt about the board. The MSRP of $79.99 is pretty steep compared to some board games, but if you like strategy games, and can appreciate some D&D fantasy, its definitely worth it.

Wandering Monster High School – Kickstarter RPG

November 14, 2011 2 comments

Taylor Made - Iron Golem Cheerleader

Wandering Monster High School is a creative kickstarter that allows players to take on the role of a monster in high school. If the new revised and updated version is anything like the version the author created for 24 Hour RPG, expect some light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek character creation and game play.

It brings to mind the old MTV show Clone High, in which DNA was harvested from famous people throughout history and secret government agencies made clones of them. This allowed for situations in which the clone of Joan of Arc loves Abraham Lincoln who tries to date Cleopatra who keeps breaking up and getting back together with JFK, and they’re all high school age. Its a hilarious show!

Instead of historical figures, in this RPG you pick a monster as your “student,” the game master is the Headmaster, and your group is your homeroom! Where normally you would have stats for your attributes, in WMHS you’ll have grades on your “report card” which is your character sheet. According to the kickstarter, the new version will feature a better dice mechanic, new student goals, new art, a campus map, and expanded rules.

Just imagine classes full of goblins, kobolds, bugbears, ogres and orcs. It looks like the system could adapt for just about any monster you could come up with! I really like the idea of playing as monsters. I imagine the homecoming game vs. the Adventures Guild Academy would be an awesome hook to a hilarious night of gaming.

Taking a look at the previous version, Caoimhe Ora Snow has done a great job at combining elements that are typical to high school life with those that would be important to a growing monster such as grades, a class schedule, and extra-curricular activities, Lair Economics, Magic, Occult, Defense Against the Forces of Light, and Advanced Looting.

Unlike previous kickstarters that Skyland Games has reviewed, this one is still actively seeking supporters. I can’t wait to see the final version and get a homeroom going to start exploring campus. The goal is modest, but the time frame is pretty short. Act fast to get in on what is sure to be a fun break from your average dungeon delve. See you in homeroom!

Categories: Books, kickstarter, News Tags: , , ,

Serendipitous History Lesson – B.A.D.D. – roots #DnD

November 11, 2011 3 comments

I work for our county school system in the Technology department, which generally means troubleshooting software and hardware throughout the schools. I’m based in the high school of my particular district, so I tend to get to know the media center staff pretty well, as they are in charge of laptop carts and have a good amount of desktops in the library itself.

The media specialist called me over the other day to show me a book he was discarding because according to its card sleeve, it hadn’t been checked out since 1991. The book is The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III by William Dear. The media specialist had no idea I even played dungeons and dragons, I assumed he called me over to laugh at the obscurity of the books he was discarding. He was genuinely surprised when I told him I was a pretty big fan of role-playing games, and mentioned his only experience with RPGs was playing Rifts with a friend in college. He then offered me the book, as they were going to get rid of it anyway, which I happily excepted.

D&D Roots

That is when I started doing a bit of research. I had never heard of James Dallas Egbert III, but I had heard that in the early 80s, D&D was wrongly associated with the Occult and Devil-worship. It turns out the two are interrelated. The synopsis is this: a brilliant but troubled teen goes missing. Anxious parents hire a private investigator to track him down. The teen plays D&D and was known to explore the steam-tunnels underneath his university. The private investigator prematurely and incorrectly reports to the press that perhaps he was playing a “live-action” version of D&D and got lost. In actuality, JDE III did go to the steam tunnels, but he went to commit suicide. The attempt failed, and he hid out with some friends around town until those friends asked him to leave, fearing repercussions from law enforcement. He fled to New Orleans, where the P.I. caught up with him. JDE III made the P.I. promise not to reveal the truth of his story. JDE III ended his own life in 1980, and the P.I. kept his promise to the boy until 1984 when this book came out.

In the meantime, the novel and movie Mazes & Monsters came out (featuring a young Tom Hanks) in which a boy has a psychotic breakdown while playing a thinly veiled version of D&D. Also, Patricia Pulling started an organization B.A.D.D. (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) after she lost her own D&D playing son to suicide. B.A.D.D. circulated a bunch of propaganda including a petition from a former player about the evils of D&D. After reading it, other than the first and last few paragraphs, it reads like a love letter to D&D. It reminded me exactly why I got in to the game, and recalled many afternoons and late nights of adventuring that were all in the theatre of the mind. Studies were done by the Center for Disease Control and the American Association of Suicidology (I did not realize that was a thing) that debunked B.A.D.D.’s claims. Arguably, the height of the panic culminated in this 60 minutes interview featuring Gary Gygax himself.

I found it fascinating to explore this dark time in D&D’s history. I’m glad that while D&D still has some social stigma in some circles, we’ve come a long way to acceptance.

Categories: Books, DnD, Lore Tags: , , ,

Homebrew Tip – Wiki as Campaign Tracker

November 10, 2011 4 comments

Wikis. You may have heard of them.

Wikis can be a powerful tool in your RPG toolbox. With our recently completed dwarven campaign, we used Google groups to help schedule gaming sessions, provide a little history, post summaries of sessions and segues between adventures. It provided a rich database of NPCs and backstories for the DM to draw from to make a great adventure for next session.

Then Google changed things; as is their wont. In the process, they took away a feature of Google groups called “pages” where we had stored a lot of info that wasn’t emailed to us in digest form the way our discussions were. Google claimed you would be able to download that info until a certain date, and if you had trouble to contact support. Well, we always got an error message when we tried to download info, and support from Google was non-existent despite several members trying to make contact several times.

Good luck with that

So this time we’re starting a wiki. We started with a general page about the campaign, then added character pages with descriptions and maybe a picture that inspired the character. As the story unfolds we can add session summaries, as well as pages for recurring enemies or NPCs. Hopefully it will be an even better resource than our Google group was. Also, some of us have iPhones, or iPads that could access that info on the fly, if necessary.

There are some potential problems that could come up. Some of the members in our group use technology and online resources more than others, and one currently doesn’t have high-speed internet access. This could limit how accurate the wiki is as a representation of the group as a whole. We’ll have to see how it goes in our great wiki experiment.

You can get your own wiki at wikispaces or wikidot.

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , ,

Game Science Dice – 12 piece set – Review

November 9, 2011 1 comment

The 12-piece set, in sapphire blue

I purchased the GameScience Precision 12 piece dice set with one goal in mind. I wanted the funky shaped dice for Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG beta. The DCC RPG beta merits its own review which will come at a later date (spoiler alert: I pre-ordered my copy, release date Feb. 2012). There was plenty of discussion on the forums about the weird d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30 as being unnecessary and raising the buy-in to play in this new system. I’m not going to rehash the debate here, but my first attraction to D&D when I was a kid was the crazy shaped dice that looked nothing like the regular six-siders I was used to in other games. The idea of shapes that were “too weird” even for RPG fans just made me want them more.

Not that I don’t understand the other side of the story. Especially after they arrived.

I did a bit of research on Zocchi dice in general, and watched the videos from GenCon from a few years ago. I was sold. I love dice in general, and figured I might as well own a Cadillac set of dice with edges so precise they could almost hurt your hand if picked up carelessly. One thing you should be aware of, and something that was not made at all clear on their site, while these dice aren’t tumble-sanded and rounded off unevenly, they do have pretty significant plastic nubs or craters where the die is cut off from the mold. According to Mr. Zocchi that doesn’t matter as the uniform edges give you equal access to all surfaces of the dice. Which may be true, but damned if they aren’t ugly.

Big dings or nubbins

A regular 7-piece RPG set will run you $6.25 + $4 shipping, uninked. If, like me, you want the 12-piece set, shipped and inked, you’re looking at $37. Thats a lot of money for dice to not be 100% satisfied. That being said, the dice do have a vivid sapphire-blue color to them, and they certainly have a unique feel. One unadvertised feature was that the d14 also has days of the week on it. They are uninked, and a bit hard to read unless you’re in really good light, but if you needed to randomize which day of the week it is, you’ve got your die. Something that surprised me was the difference in color between the two d10s. The rest of the set is a deep, rich blue, but the tens d10 is a bit more of a sky blue. I could understand the difference in color if they were numbered the same, as we often rolled two regular d10s back in the day and just called which color die was the 10s place before a roll was thrown; but since its specially numbered as the tens place already, why the difference in color? Maybe I’m just getting a bit nit-picky, but at $37, can you blame me? The other thing I didn’t really like is that the d24 is essentially a d6, with 4 sides on each side of the d6. Its strange that they didn’t raise center vertex on each side to give them a more uniform shape, rather than 6 sides with 4 sides on each. Its kind of hard to describe unless you hold one in your hand and give it a roll.

All and all I do enjoy the set. It seems to me that for the money, the manufacturer should take a bit more care about the size of the spurs left on the die before they leave the factory, but if that were to drive up the price any further, no one would be them. Buyer beware.

Sky blue on the left, Sapphire on the right

A New Beginning – Forget About XP

November 8, 2011 5 comments


With our dwarven campaign completed, it was time to decide what to do next. As the previous campaign was winding down we discussed a number of themes as a group, and settled on a Pirate Campaign. For our next big story arch, we changed a few little things, and one big one.

One thing which I’m sure isn’t unique to the guys of Skyland Games, but may be a bit rare in gaming groups, is that we *all* enjoy DMing. With the dwarves we got together every two weeks, and there was a different DM running a different module for every session. For this campaign we’re going to modify that a bit. Since we are going to be pirates we are going to use islands rather than modules, and have the DM run as many sessions as it takes to get off that island. This will help cut down on marathon game nights, when a particular combat runs long, or there is just one too many skill challenges, and we all start getting too tired to really enjoy the effort the DM has put in to preparing that week’s game. This time, when we are at a good stopping point, we can just call it, and carry on next week until we complete the chapter.

Last campaign felt a little schizophrenic in the beginning. With a different DM each week, and working with a mix of LFR mods and home-brew adventures, it was difficult to construct a true story arch. Once we got close to the end, a few of us put our heads together and came up with a conclusion that tied up a lot of the loose ends, but we didn’t know where we were going until we were about half way there. This time we are providing a rough outline for the whole campaign. Its a bit more relaxed than the 5×5 Method Critical Hits came up with, but I think it will allow for when the party does something unexpected, which of course they will do almost immediately.

What I consider the big leap is this: forget about experience points (XP). Typically your PC gains XP for defeating creatures or completing quests and surmounting obstacles. For this campaign, once the party completes the island, they level. Maybe its the 4e recommended 10 encounters, maybe its a little more or a little less, but once this crew sets sail, they will arrive at their next adventure a little wiser, and a little more powerful.

Have you ever thrown the traditional XP budget to the wind? How do you feel about leveling up when it feels right, as opposed to when the numbers say its right?

There are other questions, as the Epic Llama will point out

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , ,

Brimstone Cards – Review – Circle City

November 7, 2011 Comments off

Some of the zombie/skull royalty of Brimstone

Back in May I pledged $5 on a kickstarter for what looked to be a cool set of slightly evil-looking playing cards. Little did I know, I was witnessing the birth of a custom playing card company. Russell Kercheval, of what is now Circle City Cards, ran a very impressive kickstarter campaign, and has launched a successful company from it. Russell did a great job of keeping his pledgers informed of the ups and downs in the process, and offered some really great rewards for his initial kickstarter. His first deck, Brimstone, is a very unique and striking set of cards.

According to the project’s site, the cards of Bicycle’s “magic finish,” which I imagine refers to the texture and gloss of the cards, making card tricks easier to do with them. I didn’t purchase these to do any sleight of hand, but I could see how they would be awesome for that, as they are very eye-catching and have a really nice feel to them. Included were several “gaff” cards that could be used in particular tricks, like the 10 of diamonds with all the diamonds at the bottom of the card, and a Joker that is holding a 3 of clubs. The box itself has 3-of-clubs written beneath the barcode, which I’m sure could be an excellent reveal for some trick.

Box and back art. 10D gaff card.

The cards themselves are of the highest quality. The art is finely detailed, and the colors on the cards are rich. My wife and I played a couple of hands of Kings in the Corner with them right around Halloween, while watching scary movies. They were perfect for that time of year. From a RPG perspective, they could be used as an excellent prop if the party came across a fortune-teller, or to use as a deck of many things. If you drew a face card looking like these do, I doubt the party would be in for anything good.

I would certainly recommend this deck if you like the aesthetic. The decks are reasonably priced for the quality of product you receive, and have a unique look you certainly won’t find anywhere else.

Another member of Skyland games has bid on his latest kickstarter deck, Americana. Sadly, you’ve missed your chance to get in on that one as that project is now successfully funded. We’ll let you know how that one turned out, once it arrives. Keep an eye out for future decks. These guys do great work!

Campaign Completed – Achievement Unlocked

November 4, 2011 4 comments

Valve Corporation

Last night we completed a long running campaign made up of a clan of dwarves, who, we all know, are the best race. Looking back over my role-playing games experience, I can’t recall a campaign that the party actually COMPLETED. It seems like most campaigns fizzle out due to scheduling conflicts, fading interest, or the dreaded Dungeon Master Burnout. It felt awesome to bring the storyline to a close and feel like we really told a story together over the past year and a half or so. Here are some insights on what made this campaign a success, and what we took away from it.

Group Concept

Once you have a group of people who want to game, brainstorm about campaign ideas and concepts, and be sure to involve everybody in making the final decision. If you are DMing, make sure its a game your players want to play. Dread Gazebo learned a painful lesson that we should all try to avoid experiencing first hand.

Most of us met at our Friendly Local Gaming Store for the first season of D&D Encounters: Undermountain. We played through that and even tried a session or two of Season 2: Dark Sun before deciding to do our own thing. We agreed that we wanted to start a campaign that had a cool theme and kicked around a few ideas before landing on an all-dwarf party. This allowed us to create dwarves that were outside the prototypical gruff, axe and shield dwarven fighter we all know and love.

Communication and Scheduling

Getting everyone’s schedule in line for a game night can be a brutal campaign-killer. Varying work schedules, kids, and other competing activities or commitments can make it hard to set aside time to game. Google groups has worked wonders for keeping the entire party on the same page when it comes time to roll. We’ve also used it to write and share segues and background information between sessions. Other groups have used Obsidian Portal or started a Wiki, but Google groups has worked the best for us.

Battling Burnout

Being the Dungeon Master generally takes a lot more preparation and commitment than just showing up with your character, ready to roll. In order to reduce prep time, the dwarves ran through a lot of Living Forgotten Realms adventures at first. Once we started developing our characters a bit more, we transitioned to more home-brew adventures that catered more to advancing our own character hooks rather than whatever LFR was. We did end up reusing some NPCs from those adventures which made for a lot of great moments later in the campaign. In order to combat DM-burnout, we’ve been rotating weeks, giving everybody a chance behind the screen, (or behind the box). We all had our own PCs, and figured out a somewhat plausible reason for that PC to be absent while their player DMed. This became particularly cool once we took over rightfully acquired a bar (The Bearded Gnome) in the town of Westgate. The DM that week introduced the idea of a diplomacy roll to judge how well the bar did that week under the management of the PC who had to tend to the clan’s investment. Based on the diplomacy roll, the bar could either make or lose money, depending on if the outgoing and entertaining bard was running it, or if it was left in the hands of the dour, bookish wizard.

In time, it became difficult to form a cohesive narrative with everybody in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Before and after gaming sessions, the group started kicking around ideas for other campaigns and other game systems. We didn’t want to just abandon the dwarves without a satisfying conclusion, so we agreed on a goal. We chose to move on to something else once the dwarves got to level 10. Setting an end goal can help you form the narrative arc and build to a dramatic conclusion. The DMs for the last few sessions got together and agreed on a few main plot points. Much to the surprise of those DM/PCs who thought they had “inside” information, there were plenty of twists in the story that no one in the party saw coming. DMing in this fashion is a bit like playing the old kids game telephone: by the time it gets back to you, the story is probably in a way different place than you would have imagined. It worked out great for us! I hope you all have awesome *complete* campaigns!

Categories: Uncategorized

Combat and Clothespins – DnD 4e Combat Speed Tips

November 3, 2011 14 comments

I know this was the hot topic a few months ago, but Skyland Games didn’t have a blog back then, so you get our 4e combat speed tips now. @slyflourish had mentioned on twitter that removing the DM screen can really open up the table and give you a better view as to what is going on. I tweeted back that I had been rolling in the monster vault box and tracking initiative with clothespins. He requested some pictures of the clothespins system, and I figured I would turn it in to a full-blown post.

"Tap" a pin on that person's turn

Tracking initiative with clothespins helps speed up 4e  combat (really any RPG with init) in a few ways. The biggest advantage is that if clipped along the top of the DM screen or edge of a rolling box, the entire table can see the play order, and can plan their turn accordingly. Once a player has had their turn, the DM taps the clothes pin to one side or the other to show the entire table where we are in the round at a glance. This is also a great cue for the DM to announce its the next person’s turn, and keep combat moving at a brisk pace.

Another great advantage to using clothespins is when a character (or monster) chooses to delay. Once the player announces they are going to delay, the DM just takes their clip off and puts it on the end. I usually try to put it at a different height to remind myself the character is delaying. When they “un-delay” you just drop their clip in the order whenever they act.

The biggest advantage I’ve found using the clothespins system as a player is planning my turn while the another player is up. This became most important as a controller when trying to judge whether you’ll have the right position to pull off that sweet Area of Effect daily that’s burning a hole on your character sheet. You can also request the striker delay until you can set him up for combat advantage.

If a PC delays, you can set their clip aside

Having that visual aide of the initiative order can also have more subtle advantages to speeding up gameplay. As a player, you need to know whether you’ve got time for a bathroom break, or to grab a drink from the fridge; check the initiative order and either plan out your next awesome turn, or take care of whatever you need to and jump back in to the action closer to your pin. No more waiting on players for the little things!

We write our actual names on them, as we play multiple systems with multiple different characters, but clothespins are cheap so you could write the PC’s name on them to help everyone remember the names of their fellow party members. For multiple types of monsters going on different initiatives, we typically use Roman numerals to indicate the different groups. The DM can just make a note next to the stat block of which number pertains to what creature.

There are a ton of great combat speed tips out there, but I felt this is one more that tables could really benefit from. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Scott is angry at the Fire Giant

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,

RPG Blog Carnival – Orcs Must Die! – Tricks and Traps

November 2, 2011 1 comment

Courtesy of Nevermeet Press

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is tricks and traps. I couldn’t help thinking of the game Orcs Must Die from Robot Entertainment. Orcs Must Die is essentially a tower defense game, except it combines setting up traps and defenders with shooting orcs in the face with a crossbow. In the game, you play a battlemage defending portals to the rift. At the beginning of the level, you are given a budget with which to buy and set traps. If your hero is slain, or too many baddies get through the portal you lose.

Screenshot of Orcs Must Die

This is not a review of the game (which is pretty fun, and I typically don’t really get in to tower defense games), but got me thinking about a one-shot adventure in which the party would be made up of “monster” races, and defend their dungeon home against DM-run parties of “heroes.” Its made particularly tempting if you had a Dungeons and Dragons Insider account that gives you easy access to monster races in the character builder. The thought of a party made up of a Gnoll, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Bullywug, and a Bugbear just makes me smile. They all have interesting racial powers and stat bonuses just like the regular “hero” races we all know and love. The idea would be to turn the typical dungeon delve on its head, and give the PCs the XP budget, with a short catalog of traps that they could place around the map at will. The DM would have to prepare maybe two or three “parties” of heroes of increasing levels to challenge the dungeon. For an added level of complexity, the PCs could be in charge of a squad of minions of whatever race they chose. The goal would be to defend their home from those pesky heroes and protect their treasure.

In one of the 4e campaigns I’m playing in currently, we had a side-quest in which we all played monster races and got to be the “bad guys” for a night. We sneaked in to our regular party’s hometown and helped a madman escape the prison in which our regular party put him. It was awesome for a few reasons; We all got to be some iconic monsters and try builds and roles that are different from our regular game. It also advanced the plot of our regular campaign, and allowed us an almost cinematic perspective to the other side of the story. In typical evil-party fashion, we all turned on each other at the end, but it was a great way to keep a long-running campaign fresh. At the end of it, I was left wanting more. I think a nice trap budget and a lair to defend would be just the thing. Who wants to dice up some do-gooders?

Screenshot from Orcs Must Die