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.


  1. Anonymous5:41 PM

    Sounds cool regardless. I miss.

  2. Anonymous10:29 PM

    Uhh, warforged are in the monster manual as a playable race.

  3. Yes and no. The Drow are also in the Monster Manual, but the MM races are (basically) a rough draft there so DM's can use them as NPC's. The paragraph at the top of Page 276 says so explicitly. Yes, you can make PC's from it, but those PC's will need tweaking once the "final" version is released.

    If you compare the MM Drow to the DMG Drow, there are differences, too. The stat bonuses are the same, as are the skill bonuses. The powers have the same names, but the Darkfire power became more powerful in the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (+4/+6/+8 as opposed to +2/+4/+6), and the wording on Cloud of Darkness is clarified a well.

    The Warforged in the MM and online are different as well - the website version adds +2 to the Intimidate skill and expands the Warforged Resolve power. The website also has more information - but it also isn't limited in terms of page space like the MM is.

    When the Eberron Player's Guide is released, I expect the Warforged contained within will be closer to the website than the MM.

  4. Anonymous6:16 PM

    You know... I can see the appeal of D&D. It's very much a gamist approach to gaming that gives players a lot of cool tricks and stunts to indivdualize their characters. but does it appeal to me? not really... I really don't care much about xp and character advancement these days...