Wednesday, March 25, 2009

National D&D Day

National D&D Day was this last weekend, and I picked up my DM Hat for the first time in almost five years.

Much like the last D&D Day, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) provided packs containing the adventure, some pre-generated PC's, and minis for the PCs and foes.

And, much like the last few D&D Days, there were some gaffes and odd choices on WotC's part. And I'm not talking about the magic "wamd" and the "nicrotic" damage, either:

1) This game day was to celebrate the release of Player's Handbook 2 (PHB2) The provided characters consisted of a Gnome Bard, a Tiefling Invoker, a Dragonborn Paladin, a Warforged Barbarian, and a Drow Avenger.

The Gnome race, Invoker class, Bard class, Barbarian class and Avenger class were all introduced in PHB2. Fair enough.

The Warforged as a PC race are (so far) only available here. That's right: Only on the Wizards website. And the Drow are in the Forgotten Realms Player's Handbook.

That's right: Even with the PHB and PHB2, you can't play all of the characters they provided as examples.

2) The miniatures provided exactly matched the scenario this time, with no proxying necessary. The PC figures provided included a bunch of common and uncommon figures ... and a $20 rare. Not a big deal to a non-collector, but ... wow. Since it's usually a 'play and take' event with players keeping their mini and their character sheet, I can see an issue with this one. Of course, to keep the value down, they didn't include the stat cards this year. But still.

3) The characters were 11th level. Let me say that again, more slowly. The characters for this three-to-four-hour-long (more on this in a minute) one-shot adventure that exists (in part) to snare new players were eleventh level. As in "had two pages each of powers to keep track of." That's not terribly conducive to teaching new players how simple the game is.

Like most promotional events, this game day was to both invigorate the current pack of fans and introduce new players to the game. By "invigorate the current pack of fans," I mean, "encourage them to spend more money on new product." Like ... say ... the PHB2. By "introduce new players to the game," I mean, "encourage new people to spend money on the product."

The current pack of fans is already invigorated, just by the existance of PHB2 - there are a lot of players who missed the Barbarian. The Gnome has (for some reason) almost a cult following of fans. I, myself, have played Bards since second edition. To keep them from getting bored, a higher-than-starting-level game was necessary. I understand that.

When you teach someone a game, you start with the basics and then muck it up with the more advanced stuff - the clarifications and exceptions and so on. Many board games include a "basic" and "advanced" set of rules so new players can learn to play without reading long manuals and losing interest before they even get started.

I propose that 11th level is too high a starting point for beginners. It's like throwing someone in the deep end of the pool to teach them how to swim.

Fifth level would probably have been a good middle-ground. Of course, then they would have needed a different story.

4) Speaking of the story - it's nice that they gave the DM detailed maps with traps and starting positions of foes clearly marked. It would have been nice to have the entrance point for the PC's similarly marked. And the exit point as well.

5) Three to four hours. That's what they quoted for five PC's and three combats at 11th level. The fastest group at the game store took five hours (and they were done early because they all had evening plans). Most of the groups took in the neighborhood of eight to nine hours.

I'm in two active campaigns. In both campaigns, we're low level (less than five). In both campaigns a single combat encounter takes about two hours. One of those campaigns is played online and has six players - it takes the time because there are six of us. One of those campaigns is face-to-face and has three players. Both campaigns have been going on long enough that we know what we're doing. And a single encounter wih significantly fewer hit points than we had last night takes about two hours.

Adding powers, hit points, and new players into the mix and that first combat encounter took most of the parties somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours.

That's the first of three. That's the first of three combat encounters. Several of the DM's reduced the HP/AC/effectiveness of the later encounters just to save time.

Mind you, we had a good time. Even if my double-size starting-at-nine-pm table wrapped up at 4 am.

They're doing another one shortly after the release of Monster Manual 2 in May and yet another to push sales celebrate the release of Dungeon Master's Guide 2. Hopefully they'll fix at least the time issue.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First One-Shot Is Set

Well, decided upon.

I was at Powell's this weekend, and found a book I've been looking for for quite a while. So I bought it.

In keeping with my New Year's Resolution, I have also committed what my first One-Shot will be.

It's worth noting, BTW, that I've been a FUDGE fanboy since the mid 90's. Love the system.

Once I have the game together, I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Game Night Update

Earlier this year, I posted about a game store in trouble.

A few years ago, I moved my usual Wednesday Night gathering to the game store for a couple of reasons:
1) We had outgrown my apartment. While we were usually in the five to seven guests range, we had "surges" up to twenty or so players. Even in a two-bedroom apartment, that's a lot of people. This many people fits in the game store.

2) Not everyone that was showing up was good about cleaning up after themselves. I thought that maybe moving to a more public place would nudge them in the right direction. The people who had the issues stopped attending before the move to the game store, so I don't know if it would have helped or not.

3) I wanted to support the store. A lot of times, the Wednesday Night folks would ask me where they could get that game we had just played. Having the Game Night at the store meant that I didn't have to give directions over and over and over to where to find the games - I could put the game in their hand and point them at the register.

4) Even having outgrown my apartment, I knew there were local gamers looking for chances to play games. There always are - this is one reason a good game store is the center of local gamer society. Game Night has grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk. We've had a number of new members become core members, and some of the core members have faded out.
After Game Night had been at the store for a year or so, Brian asked me if I would object to his charging for attendance. I did object, but not strenuously - his arguments made sense. At the same time, the Wednesday night crowd was spending a fair amount of money at the store. Fast forward three years - Phoenix is in a larger (and more expensive location), and the economy is struggling. The Wednesday crowd (myself included) doesn't have as much money to spend, and so we're spending less.

On February 24th, Brian sent an e-mail to our mailing list to let us know that - as of March 25th - Game Night will be $5 per person.

I'm thankful he held off as long as he did, but I support his decision. For one, most of that money will be directly reinvested back into Game Night in several ways:
1) Brian rents games. Your $5 admission gives you access (for the evening) to any open store copies of games. He has some very good ones, too, thanks to Z-Man and Rio Grande both having programs that allow retailers to obtain demo copies of their games at a very low price.

2) Brian is setting up a Meetup group for Game Night. It's not free, but has the potential to cause us to grow larger. More people means more variety and more games to play. I'm always in favor of growth.

3) A percentage of the money collected at the door will be turned into a door prize. Or prizes if there are enough people there. This means that your admission is also a raffle ticket for a store gift certificate.
I expect that we'll shrink a bit at first, but I think that long-term this will be a good move for Game Night. And if it helps Brian, I'm all for it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Tournament Goodies

People keep asking me why the Tournament Goodie characters aren't tournament-legal.

"They don't seem that unbalanced to me," seems to be the usual response. And it's true - not all of them are that badly unbalanced. I'm going to use the term "broken" rather than "unbalanced," here. The two terms are interchangeable, but "broken" is easier to type.

These three are available in English:

Those of you who complain about the goodies being non-legal will usually use the beggar as your example. And you're right: The beggar is not broken. He may even be a bit underpowered. When facing a Beggar, just wound him and move on. You can spend the AP to wound him if you want to, but I wouldn't stress too badly about it unless your opponent is using a Cleric or he's within a few squares of a Fountain of Youth. Just make sure he doesn't escape, and you're good.

The Disciple isn't badly broken, but you can use the Disciple to hide a room and then another adjacent character to re-reveal that same room completely re-arranging the room. Or use the Disciple to keep your opponent's favorite character out of play for a turn or two. he's a frustrating character.

The Ogre, on the other hand, is broken. Very badly broken. Especially in combination with certain characters. These "certain other characters," include (but are not limited to) the Ghoul, the Necromancer, and the Specter.

Think of it this way: Normally, you walk your Mummy up to your opponent's Troll, and you spend 1 AP and a combat card for the possibility of wounding the Troll. If you have the Ghoul handy, he then picks up the wounded Troll and makes a run for it. This keeps the Troll from regenerating, and effectively removes it from play. Suddenly, I'm down a Troll, and you're down one Combat Card and one Action. You can theoretically repeat this three times with the Necromancer to make Zombies, and once more with the Specter to reincarnate. Each time you take a swing at me, I get to spend a combat card in defense, so it's a risk on your part because I may win a combat, costing you your Hitter.

Now replace your Mummy with your Ogre. Now there is no risk of losing the Ogre unless I manage to hit it on my turn. Instead of spending an action and a combat card for the possibility of making my character vulnerable to your Ghoul/Necromancer/Specter, you spend just the action point and I don't have the opportunity to fight back. This makes it significantly more probable that you will take out more of my characters than if you were doing it the standard way with combat cards.