I only know one way to love things.

I only know one way to love things: throw myself into completely, maybe even obsessively.

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When I’m looking for a new pastime

That has an obvious dark side to it: at some point, I often tire of the thing and cast it aside, at least temporarily, once I’ve finished devouring it intellectually. I crave that sense of newness, of exploration. (Earlier in life, I feared that would apply to relationships too, but we recently celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary.) Continue reading

Review: Harried in Hillsfar

As a way of easing myself back into playing D&D “publicly” (i.e. not just for my kids or solo), I set up a couple of mini-campaigns on Roll20 to run according to Adventurers League rules. This way, I would have an easy time finding players and also an excuse for doing so in an episodic, open-table fashion.

DD_Out_of_the_Abyss_Rage_of_Demons_symbolThe first of these two campaigns follows the Rage of Demons storyline. Rather than run Out of the Abyss as I’d initially planned, I decided to run some of the Expeditions adventures from the Dungeon Masters Guild. Specifically, I first chose “Harried in Hillsfar” (DDEX3-01) because Wizards of the Coast had made it available for free via Dragon+.  Also, I’d wanted to check out that particular storyline as it had both the Underdark and demons, with a heavy dollop of madness mixed in.

That particular module consists of five scenarios or “mini adventures”. WotC seems to think each of those should run in about an hour each. In my experience, they take about an hour and a half to two hours each. The setup for the adventure overall focuses on the rantings of a madman. Somehow, the players realize he is actually prophesying, and they turn that into clues that lead to five separate scenarios. That felt really weak, but I ran with it anyway because, with a public group, we didn’t really have time for an in-depth “session zero” to get the group together. I would have liked a better introductory hook.

The scenarios themselves vary. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the first two felt too much alike: go to a farm and discover a mystery, then halfway resolve it by trying to be heroes. (That first scenario nearly led to a TPK – some of the demonically-affected creatures can present a significant combat challenge!) The third scenario felt even more disconnected from the overall storyline. However, I really liked running the fourth and fifth, and the reactions of the players (especially to scenario four) indicated that they really felt immersed: creepy stuff was happening and they had to work to figure out how to resolve things.

Grabbing it and making it your own will allow you to deal with that rough setup, which is mostly just a problem in the way the AL set up this particular content. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend running this as an adventure. Think of these instead as five encounters (or maybe just the last two) that you can drop into your campaign to foreshadow some great evil stalking the world or just to set the tone with demons and undead and cultists.

Dungeon Master’s Guide Table of Contents Preview

Dungeon Masters Guide Table of Contents

Wizards of the Coast released the Table of Contents for the Dungeon Master’s Guide as part of their participation in the Extra Life fundraiser this weekend. I’ve been anticipating this preview for some time, probably like most everyone else playing D&D 5e.

Looking at the contents

Even from just this table of contents, we can get a good sense of what WotC wants to accomplish here. Time to dig in.

Part 1

Chapter 1 looks like something I will enjoy greatly. Others have written plenty of system-neutral and system-specific advice over the last several decades on world building, so I really want to see material that addresses it within the context of this edition in particular. Guidance on how to incorporate lower-magic settings, for example, will help me a great deal. And the pages on Factions and Organizations could help just as much with the setting I’ve started developing.

Chapter 2 will probably answer some questions for me, as I’ve never quite understood the cosmology of D&D. But it probably won’t occupy my attention past one or two read-throughs.

Part 2

Chapter 3 again looks like most of the advice could apply to lots of systems. Perhaps some streamlining of the existing encounter building guidelines could show up here. For my personal style, I’d like to see suggestions on creating tables and generators rather than just a few tables that we will all hack anyway.

BBEGChapter 4 should get into really system-specific advice. How do we build our BBEGs? What about guideposts / herald type characters, or the ‘dudes in distress’ that the party will rescue? As somebody who occasionally runs a solo game for my daughter, I will also appreciate the Hirelings section. The writers probably intend Villainous Class Options for NPCs, but that might come in handy for player characters in certain types of campaigns too.

Chapter 5 sounds generic. But if they had really excellent folks writing it, then it could serve as an excellent guide for building the environments in which we place our various encounters. A five-page section on traps pales next to Grimtooth but certainly belongs in the core material!

Chapter 6 will probably find its greatest value in the Downtime rules. This matters quite a bit for some activities like crafting and whatnot. Adventurers League games also use this feature quite a bit.

Chapter 7 has already had quite a bit of material previewed so I don’t have much to say about it here. Other than balanced rules for random treasure, not much will matter to me.

Part 3

Chapter 8 reminds us that RPGs can do so much more than just serve as squad-level combat simulators. Looking at another world through the eyes of a fictional character inevitably leads us to explore it and meet other characters within it. D&D has always focused heavily on dice mechanics even for these things, though, so let’s see what the DMG has to say about exploration and social interaction. This also seems like a bit of a “miscellaneous” chapter, with rules for chases, siege equipment, and diseases & poisons. (Plus titling a section “The Role of Dice” is nice wordplay.)

Chapter 9 gets to the heart of what a DMG has to cover. What options make sense within the existing notions of balance? How do I create a monster and estimate its XP value and Challenge Rating? The section on Character Options also looks like it will matter a great deal.

Appendices

weird_dice1Appendix A on random dungeons could go either way. Lots of generators already exist, like Donjon and even special dice. But more options mean more fun, particularly if the appendix here spends its time on creating coherent, thematic dungeons. The 4th Edition book Into the Unknown: Dungeon Survival Handbook contains a section on exactly this. An update of that material would really please me.

Appendix B hopefully contains the proper index to the Monster Manual and maybe some additional categorizations. Other players have produced a lot of that already, though, so I don’t know how much of it we will actually need.

Unknown Unknowns

I don’t see section headings here for some things I really want. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, of course, because some of the preview material (like Firearms and Explosives) doesn’t appear directly in that ToC. But I really hope for official conversion guidelines for material from earlier editions. Guidance on older, non-Forgotten Realms settings like Eberron would also satisfy a lot of people.

Cancelling my Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign

Cover of Hoard of the Dragon Queen
I decided a few days ago to cancel my Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign. The module felt far too linear for me, as it consists largely of a plot rather than situations. For the purpose of organized play across many groups where players can come and go as they please, it probably works fine (at least for some GMs). But it doesn’t fit the way I like to play. Other issues specific to that group and my organization of it had led me to dread both prep and game night. These include a huge variation in player understanding (both of D&D and of computers in general) and my need to stick closely to the rules as written for both Fifth Edition and Adventurers League.

While Lost Mine of Phandelver certainly has a plot to follow, it also has enough non-linearity that the group has significant leeway. The players in my group have bonded fairly well (at least it seems like that to me). I haven’t done a lot of customization of the adventure, but a group that intends to stick together after completing the module could twiddle quite a lot of knobs without breaking things. It just feels more robust in this way, which makes sense given its intent as part of the Starter Set rather than as the centerpiece for the game’s main storyline.

I would probably enjoy HotDQ more as a novel, though, as such things go. Wizards of the Coast will almost certainly start to publish more Tyranny of Dragons fiction next year in addition to the comics already available on their site. In fact, that’s precisely what damns this adventure for me: I feel as though we are experiencing a predefined arc rather than adventuring through the world. We experience the episodes as theme park rides, albeit gorgeously crafted ones. The maps provide some really gorgeous eye candy and the NPCs and magic items could end up in an independent campaign. Actually, a GM could forklift one or two of the episodes for some extra spice. So I’m glad I have the book, although I probably won’t pick up Rise of Tiamat immediately upon release.

Instead, I’ve started preparing for a new sandbox campaign in a unique setting. I’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks, especially after the impending release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.