Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Public DM: A New Season Starts Strong

Searching for the Lost Crown of Neverwinter at Red Castle Games: Session 1

Season Six of Dungeons and Dragons Encounters started off strong.  More and more people kept coming in the door.  I believe we had 11 players when all was said and done.  Luckily my own DM, Robtheman, stopped by the shop and stepped into the breach just as I was about to be overwhelmed!  We made two tables, I with my regulars and Rob with a bunch of new kids and a dad.  From what I could overhear I could tell he ran a great session.

It's really gratifying to see the turnout increasing, and I hope we continue to have strong attendance and get people excited about this game.  I like seeing folks buy dice after an Encounters session.  D&D is rad!

Red Castle didn't do the Game Day last weekend, and no one is using the new Heroes of Neverwinter book, but most of my players brought their own characters to the table anyways.  This had it's pros and cons.  On one hand I'm stoked the players were into it and are dreaming up their own heroes, but on the other hand they made somewhat complicated characters.  The casual players in the group were quite slow to grok their multi-page character sheets.  This should smooth out in future sessions as people familiarize themselves with their new options, but combat felt slow to me.  There was also a bit of horsing around between players, grabbing dice and sheets that I need to clamp down on next week.  Just kids being kids, but I'll be bringing my "Guidelines for a Polite Gaming Society" next time.

The heroes consisted of a Shifter Barbarian, a Dragonborn Warlock, a Dragonborn Druid, an Avenger, a Duergar Barbarian(conceived as a dwarf undergoing a punk rock mid-life crisis, tattoos and liberty spikes etc), and an Eladrin Cleric.

The party began in the market by the docks, new to town.  They spent some time talking to various vendors of armors and meat pies, learning a bit about the town, its history of cataclysm and the locals ambivalence about the civic improvements brought by the current Lord Protector.  The Druid helped a man with his broken wagon wheel and received 10 gold coins for his troubles.

Then all hell broke loose.  Spellplagued men came pouring out of the sewers grates.  They were mutants with distended limbs, yawning mouths and claws that burned with a blue fire.  If these were once Men of Neverwinter, they had long since lost their souls.  The spellplagued maniacs were joined by three lizards the size of small ponys, with dagger teeth and eyes of blue flame.  The barbarians and avenger engaged the lizards toe to toe, all three of them going down beneath the iron jaws of the beasts during the fight.  It was all the Cleric could do to keep the warriors on their feet.  The mutants came in waves and threatened to overwhelm the party until the timely appearance of a helmed knight, wearing a crown that sparkled with blue flame, his purple cloak billowing about him as he cut a swath through the melee to lend a helping hand to the fallen dwarf.  "For Neverwinter!" he cried with a voice like gravel bouncing down a cobbled road.  With the help of this mystery knight the attackers were driven off and surviving townsfolk began to cry out in shock and disbelief, "The King! The King has returned!  It is as foretold, the Heir that Was Lost has returned!"

All talk died as the knight pointed his sword into the air and spoke, "Hark!  The leader approaches to do battle!"  All turned their eyes to the sky and beheld a white winged figure that passed across the sun and swooped low toward the dock, it was a mighty beast, a dragon!  White of scale, its eyes burned with a blue flame...

Guidelines for Polite Gaming Society

Below is a one page document I whipped up to bring to my Encounters table to help new folks who sit down at the table and to foster a civilized gaming culture. 

Guidelines for a Polite Gaming Society
Welcome to the table!  We are all here to be creative, roll dice and have fun.  To help everyone have a fun and satisfying game please keep this advice in mind!  Thanks!

    •   When the Dungeon Master speaks, listen.
    •    Have your dice ready to roll when your turn comes up.  Have a plan of action and be ready with the numbers you will add to that d20.
    •    Players make their own decisions on their turn.  Don’t offer advice unless they ask.
    •    Allow players to do their own math, unless they ask for help.
    •    Be respectful of other people's stuff (dice, papers, beverages etc)
    •    Make notes on your character sheet, (Healing Surges, Action Points etc) for the next session.

If this is your first time playing this role-playing game, your are in the right place.
  The game of Dungeons & Dragons takes place in the collective imagination of the group sitting around the table.  Based on your choices your character will explore the world described by the Dungeon Master, facing fantastic challenges and reaping fabulous rewards!

The core mechanic of the game is simple: Roll a 20 sided die.  The higher you roll, the better.

This is how Combat works:
  • Each player rolls a d20 for Initiative to see who goes first.

  • Characters and monsters act in initiative order.

  • Attacks are resolved by rolling the d20, adding modifiers, and comparing the result to the defender’s Armor Class.  (Declare the total to the Dungeon Master.)
  • Your character sheet has a variety of Powers that are available on your turn.  You may use Green powers every turn(At-Will), Red powers once per Encounter, and Black powers once per game day(Daily).  Make sure to make a note when resources are used.
  • Look carefully at your Powers.  Find the line with the math in it.  
    • For example the “Basic Melee Attack” might say :   d20+5 vs. AC; 1d8+1 damage   
    • This means you roll the d20 and add 5.  Declare your total to the Dungeon Master.  If the number is equal or greater than your opponent’s AC, roll the d8 and add 1 for damage.  “Effects” occur automatically, whether you hit or not.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Public Dungeon Master: Encounters at the Red Castle #13

My final session of the "Dark Legacy of Evard" was strong on players, but the adventure fizzled from this DM's perspective.

Once again I had a table of eight.  This time there were two new players, a father and son team, and the rest were veterans of the last few sessions.  When the characters were sorted we had a Cavalier, a Binder Warlock, a Rangers Hunter, a PHB1 Ranger, a Slayer, a Cleric, a Thief and a Knight.  Whew!  A full table.  I need a backup DM if these numbers continue.

I opted to move the plot right along and had the ghost of Nathaire speak to the party, even as he left his body for good.  He told them how to use the ritual as his last act of repentance for the misery he had caused.  We then proceeded with skill challenge.  It didn't make alot of sense to me, this skill challenge, and the players rolled horribly. After giving the narrative a chance to move a bit, they failed and were all blasted as the graveyard erupted with Zombies and the ghost of Vontarin freaked out.  A couple of heroes fell and all were bloodied in the end.  The cleric was down at the last round, so we ruled that she died.  Someone had to.

For me, this was an anticlimactic ending.  The last encounter was nearly identical to the one before though with a less interesting dynamic.  The villain was basically the same.  I changed it around to make the Wizard a close bursting banshee type monster, but they piled on it in classic solo fight style.  This battle really should have been a set piece to remember, with some sort of terrain or mechanic to make it memorable, but it was more or less a repeat of the week before.

I think the similarity of the last to fights points to the major problem of the season, which is that it featured two villains who were literally indistinguishable.  Its hard enough for people to keep track of fantasy names and mysterious plots in these games without twining them all together in a mush.  It was very apparent to me every time I recapped the story, that this was a narrative particularly lacking in clarity.

"So a long time ago there were two wizards, but now there's two wizards though one is different, and one's possessing the other so they're kinda the same, but you fight them so it doesn't matter really, and they have the same stats too."
Here's hoping next season has clearer goals and benchmarks.

Of course everyone had fun and it really felt like enthusiasm is building for next season.  I have enjoyed this stint of public DMing and I will continue for now.  The interaction with the younger players particularly reminds me of why I have been trying to break into the teaching profession.