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April 2015

The Daily D4

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Five Favorite Things About the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide

For some reason every time I start delving into a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons I usually end up buying the Dungeon Master’s Guide last, even though I’ve run more games than I’ve ever actually played in. The only reason I’ve ever been able to come up with to explain this odd phenomenon is that I prefer figuring out how to handle things my own way with my players, rather than relying on a book. However I do enjoy using the guides as a resource that I can fall back on when there’s something I have little to no idea how to approach. In preparation for our first real sojourn into 5th Edition I picked up a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide today, and I have to say there’s a ton of great information presented here. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite with you all, in case anyone was curious about what they’d find inside this tome of secrets.

1) Bag of Beans

Inside the Dungeon Master’s Guide you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to the fantastic treasures that the adventurer’s in your party might encounter during a campaign. One of my favorites was without a doubt the Bag of Beans, and oddity that immediately put me in mind of Jack and the Beanstalk. As it turns out this is a far more interesting bag than whatever burlap sack Jack kept his beans in. The bag contains 3d4 dry beans and if you dump the bag’s contents out on the ground they explode blasting everything within a ten feet of them. Far more interesting than that however, is what can occur if your players choose to plant one of the beans instead. Based on a d100 roll there are quite a few possible outcomes, some of them good, some bad, and others just plain strange. The bean might sprout into anything from an enchanted statue or a geyser of liquid to an enormous beanstalk towering as high as the GM wishes. This is one of those rare items that I love because it is rooted in a story we all grew up with, and it makes for a fun introduction to Dungeons and Dragons all on its own.

Let’s say your party encounters a group of drovers arguing over the bag after trading some of their livestock to a passing traveler for it. Perhaps the others are upset and think their companion who made the deal a fool? Maybe they’re arguing about what to do with the beans. Perhaps they planted one of the beans and an oddity has already erupted from the soil by the time the adventurers arrive on the scene. However events play out it’s an interesting adventure hook and one that I think any party might enjoy before delving into anything like saving the world from Tiamat.

2) Chapter Two: Creating a Multiverse

Many players know that there’s more than one plane of existence in most Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings. However not everyone knows what all of the planes are or how they’re actually related to one another. This chapter explains not only those aspects of the various planes, but how a dungeon master can go about creating a multiverse that is entirely unique to their campaign. It explains that at minimum most D&D campaigns require the following: a plane of origin for fiends, a plane of origin for celestials, a plane of origin for elementals, a place for deities, the place where mortal spirits go after death, a way for getting from one plane to another, a way for spells and monsters that use the Astral Plane and Ethereal Plane to function. Sounds simple enough and it even states that some of those element can pull double duty. The chapter explains how all of the planes interact, how to create your own planes, and how to use them in a campaign. It’s a fantastic chapter and it has a wealth of information that’d been divided up among various source books in past editions of Dungeons and Dragons. It was nice of Wizards of the Coast to collect everything and put it in one place this time around.

3) Tracking Monster’s Hit Points

There’s a small excerpt that explains something it took me a while to figure out how to do properly in my own campaigns, I wish that I’d read this back then because it would have made things much simpler. Basically it explains some of the ways to keep track of how damaged monsters and NPCs are during encounters. One of the easiest ways is of course to use unique miniatures, or to mark identical miniatures in some way to help differentiate between them. The really interesting thing though was how to answer the player question about how injured a monster or NPC is. The manual reminds dungeon masters to never feel pressured about revealing exactly how many hit points a creature has left, but it is safe to assume that if its been reduced to less than half of its hit points it would have visible injuries.

That was one thing I struggled with when I started running campaigns. A friend let me in on the idea of saying that not every successful attack constitutes a tangible wound to the opposition. At the time I was running a Star Wars Saga Edition campaign and it made much more sense to handle things that way when dealing with blasters and lightsabers. The example my friend use was the duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi that took place at the end of Revenge of the Sith. As the two of them were battling one another amid the lava flows how many successful hits would have been scored had they been players in a campaign? Enormous creatures like dragons, giants, and chimeras can certainly take a few arrows or sword wounds without much complaints, but people are far more fragile.

4) The passage on random settlements in chapter 5 is something that I believe any new dungeon master can put to excellent use. My friend Sebastian is embarking on his first foray into dming and one of the things he’s struggling with is world building, as such coming up with names and distinct features for the places in his world is proving difficult. This passage reduces the process to something as simple as rolling a couple of d20s and consulting a few tables. You can roll to determine racial relations, the ruler’s status, notable traits, what it’s known for, and a current calamity. Sounds pretty cut and dry doesn’t it? Well the result can be very compelling. For example you might end up with a settlement where the various races inhabiting it are managing to dwell in harmony, despite the fact that their ruler is on his deathbed and various individuals are competing for power. As this settlement is the center of the wool trade in the region and known for the powerful guilds that exist there this situation has resulted in an economic depression as guild leaders vie for power. That’s just one example of something that could be created using this section, and I think it is an invaluable tool for new dms.

5) Flavors of Fantasy

In the very first chapter the book details a variety of ways to approach a campaign and gives examples of each. Heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, mythic fantasy, dark fantasy, intrigue, mystery, swashbuckling, war, and wuxia are all examined. This plays into the question of what kind of campaign do you want to run? It also allows you to better build your campaign to meet with the interests of your players. I love when ideas that can be adapted to suit a wide variety of ideas are presented so well and concisely so that they’re not overwhelming for people are just getting started. Anyone regardless of age or their level of experience can find something of worth here.

Before wrapping up I’d like to add that the artwork for this book is phenomenal, and if you’re looking for something to help inspire you try flipping through it and just looking at the pictures. This is probably my favorite Dungeon Master Guide to date, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest.

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For anyone who has yet to watch the first few episodes Daredevil series on Netflix be warned there are some very minor spoilers in the first part of today’s Daily D4.

Daredevil

Today I spent most of my lunch and break times watching the first few episodes of the new Daredevil series on Netflix, and so far I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen. There are a lot of things that he show does extremely well from the beginning and then it builds on them in each successive episode. The telling of Daredevil’s origin story takes a couple of episodes, but it is done through intriguing flashbacks interspersed throughout story. For those who don’t know as a child Matt Murdock lost his sight after his eyes were damaged by a chemical that fell off of the back of a truck during an accident. Although the accident left him completely blind his other senses became heightened to superhuman levels. Tragedy struck for a second time when his father, a boxer named Jack Murdock, refused to throw a fight and was killed. The show opens with Matt and his partner Frederick “Foggy” Nelson, both recent graduates from law school, trying to navigate their way through the difficult task of starting their own law practice in Hell’s Kitchen. With no clients, no money, and no office furniture to their names they take the case of a woman who was found over a corpse with a bloody knife in her hands who insists on her innocence.

The cast is phenomenal and thus far we’ve been introduced to Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page, Ben Urich, the Kingpin himself, Night Nurse, and a host of unsavory criminals. These characters are all full of personality and they have a life that I am thrilled to see on the screen. They even managed to make me care about the murderous brothers who run the Russian mob that controls most of Hell’s Kitchen. Not that I didn’t want to see Daredevil take them down, but clearly the writers know what they’re doing.

One of my favorite things about the show is the way that it’s shot because it really feels unique. The opening sequence for example is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Hell’s Kitchen, or possibly New York, is painted out of thin air by viscous dripping layer upon layer of red liquid which I think it is safe to assume is blood. It’s an extraordinarily striking visual element and a great way of getting across the uniqueness of the show from the very beginning. I also love the black costume they’ve got Daredevil using for early episodes and how it helps to build anticipation for the moment when he first puts on his iconic red costume.

The show is also a great inspiration for superhero themed RPGs campaigns grounded in a more realistic setting than some tend to be. If you’re looking to run a game centered around heroes tackling street criminals or organized crime than this series can definitely give you some great ideas. One of the reason that characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, Spider-Man, Batman, and Green Arrow are compelling because for all of their powers and abilities they’re still just people. They’re also trying to make the world a better place, not just save it from giant insects, meteors, or alien invasions.

I’ve still got a ways to go before I get to the end of season one, but I already find myself hoping for another season.

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3D Printed Miniatures

A couple of folks discussed the fact that people are starting to use 3D printers in order to make miniatures for their Dungeons and Dragons game today, which is pretty amazing in my opinion. One talented individual even went so far as to make 3D models of some of the classic creatures from the Monster Manual available for free online. I love what we’re doing with the technology and it is amazing to think that people can pop a spool of plastic into a machine and conjure up a host of cantankerous kobolds, beholders, or anything else they can think of in a matter of minutes.

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Tiamat Premium Figure

When I decided to run The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat to give Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition a thorough try I knew I’d need to get my hands on the Tiamat figure. Since it comes with a sixty dollar price tag attached this thing needs to be worth the investment. Out of the box she’s an impressive sight and I love the new stands which make it appear as though Tiamat is in mid-flight. Jade got me the collector’s set of dragon figures a few years ago and although I love it I think the new style makes the figures far more dynamic. The sculpt is fantastic and I love the level of detail they went into with each of Tiamat’s five heads, although the lower jaw on the black head looks a bit strange. If you’re looking for something that looks great on your RPG bookshelf and is sure to impart draconic fear on any party of adventurer’s this is well worth the cost.

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Highlights 2045

Growing up I was never much of a sports fan, years of being picked last in gym class and facing constant failure on various fields of athletic endeavor quickly rid me of any earnest interest in them. However I do appreciate the sheer amount of strategy involved in many of these games, and I love seeing them adapted into tabletop versions. Baseball is probably one of the most strategy intensive spots being played anywhere in the wold today, so when I heard about Highlights 2045 I couldn’t wait to give it a look.

When the popularity of baseball had been eclipsed almost entirely players began undergoing procedures to fit themselves with cybernetic appendages that would allow them to perform better on the field. It proved to be exactly the shot in the arm the game needed and spectators started flooding the bleachers to see the cyborgs in action. In time completely robotics players were introduced drawing even more of a crowd as they took the field. A select few naturals, players without any cybernetic implants remained active and earned a reputation for being the best of the best.

The game is set in the future and pits robots, cyborgs, and ordinary humans against one another. Players must choose which players to use as each have their own strengths and weaknesses on the field. I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy yet, but the theme has me very interested and I will definitely share more of my thoughts once I do.

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Avengers Age of Ultron Heroclix Starter Set

I just picked up the Avengers Age of Ultron starter set for Heroclix, and I have a couple of thoughts about it. First off as a starter set it’s quite nice and given all of the hype surrounding the film it’s a great way to introduce new players to the game while allowing them the chance to use recognizable characters. It includes Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk along with a double-sided map, a set of dice, rules, and tokens. I’m not going to get into a really detailed review of any of the figures right now, but I would like to share a couple of the thoughts I had after looking over the set.

First off the dice that are included just irritated me the instant that I set my eyes on them, they’re just a pair of tiny plain old D6’s. Back during the Avengers Vs. the X-Men the starter sets came with some amazing dice, I still have mine and I use them on a regular basis. These just feel like a let down and got folded into my surplus D6 pile immediately.

Having said that I am glad to see all of the key Avengers are here, but again I find myself less than pleased. I’ve heard the usual complaints from friends who player Heroclix and from other players online. A few of the highlights being the fact that Thor isn’t powerful enough, and Iron Man doesn’t feel like he can stand up to his comic book counterpart. I don’t feel that way, but I am a bit annoyed by the fact that all of these figures are arguably inferior to those of the identical characters found in the gravity feed. That’s not unusual and obviously Wizkids wants to encourage players to purchase the boosters, but honestly there is nothing here that makes this feel like a must have set. I picked it up because I was curious and I wanted to play around with a few of the Avengers, but I sort of wish I’d just invested the money in trying to get the gravity feed versions of nearly all the characters.

All said and done I think this is a great set for new players or for Avengers fans who will be delighted to see all of the characters arrayed before them, but I think everyone else would be better served to skip it.

Dragon Age RPG

I’ve been playing the Dragon Age RPG quite a bit over the past few weeks, my friend Jessica has been kind enough to run a campaign and she allowed my dwarf merchant Kenrick to join the party. I’ve barely played any of the Dragon Age video games, I did however see the Dragon Age: Redemption movie starring Felicia Day which I absolutely loved. In fact that was one of the reasons I was so excited when I got the chance to give the game a try. Anyway there’s a lot to be said about which I will reserve for a podcast, but I do have a couple of points to mention.

Honestly I think the game suffers a bit from an overly-complex stunt system which is based on whether or not you roll doubles on any of the three D6’s you roll and what you roll on the so-called Dragon Die. Basically if you roll doubles you can perform a stunt based on the number you rolled on the dragon die, it sounds great in theory but it really serves to slow things down in my opinion. There are literally pages of stunts divided into various categories including combat, exploration, and interaction. So each time you roll players dive for their charts looking for something to apply to the current situation.

The character classes are limited to four three classics that work well: namely warriors, rogues, and mages. Your choice of race and background helps determine exactly what sort of role your character plays in the world of Dragon Age. Humans, elves, and dwarves of various flavors and origins are all available for play, but if your looking to qunari I’m afraid you’re out of luck. They’re not included in the core book and I have yet to find the stats for them in any supplemental material.

My last thought is that this game wants to kill you. Seriously. In fact Kenrick is already dead, he died squaring off against a literal army of Darkspawn in order to buy time for his friend to escape and warn a nearby settlement of the horde’s approach. It was the perfect way for the character to end his story, and entirely my decision based on what Kenrick would have done. The dwarf’s pitiful speed also contributed to it somewhat as he would only have served to slow down his companions. Before that we faced off against ten Darkspawn, and a lion that nearly one-shot a member of the part who had lucky enough to draw his attention.

In all I recommend the Dragon Age RPG even if you’re not up on the Lore, it’s enormously fun and with a few tweaks I think it makes a wonderful addition to any gaming night.

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Meru

As a last note I feel I need to share a bit of sad new, this last week our 17 year old cat Meru passed away. Those of you who listen to the podcast have heard him wandering in on our games from time to time, voicing his displeasure at the fact that no one was currently providing him with the fitting amount of attention. He was never in any pain, and he passed away peacefully in our home among those who loved him best. Although he isn’t a game of any type he is and always will be a member of our party.

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Manticore March Outcome

Early in March I posted a blog entry about how I was planning to use the month of March to create a rough draft of a tabletop RPG that I could develop into something that’d be worth pursuing. I’ve made RPGs before but mostly things crafted around other universes, and even though I was proud of the finished result I knew they would never see play outside of my circle of friends. So when I sat down to try my hand at this it was risky, exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. Well it’s the first day of April and I feel I owe everyone a progress report, believe it or not I actually managed to accomplish what I set out to do. After one month I have a workable rough draft of a game that I think will see publication in one form or another within two years.

There’s still an enormous amount of work to do. The basics are there but they need to be developed, I’ve also got to find an artist, and it needs to be playtested thoroughly. I’m thinking this will end up on Kickstarter eventually, but I’m not sure about that yet.

For the record if anyone is wondering about the Daily D4, and the podcast part of the reason those haven’t been happening is so I can work on this. The other is that Jade has been in college for the better part of a year meaning the time available to work on those things has been severely limited. She starts a new schedule on Monday however and it should allow us to resume podcasting and talking about games.

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