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World Building 101: The Games We Play

posted Thursday, September 30th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

All across the world, games and sports have existed almost as long as humans have been able to conceive of them. Whether as a means of entertainment, of keeping critical physical and mental skills finely honed, or as a pursuit of gamblers and thrill-seekers, all manner of different games have been invented throughout history. It may seem strange to think about what games may be part of your D&D campaign world—after all, your players more than likely want to play D&D, not chess. However, as in the real world, the various peoples of your campaign world will more than likely have various ways to pass the time, and what tavern is complete without a bit of high stakes gambling?

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En Garde! It’s Shadow, Sword and Spell

posted Wednesday, September 29th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
News, Reviews & Culture

Shadow Sword & Spell is, as you might guess by the name, a swashbuckling sword and sorcery game. It uses a system called 12° and offers a suitably light and fast-paced gameplay experience extremely well matched to the genre it strives to portray. It provides a toolkit to tell human-oriented sword and sorcery stories in the mold of the classics of the genre, but leaves it up to you to decide which elements to emphasize.

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How Do They Play D&D in Sweden?

posted Monday, September 27th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

RPG podcast Fear the Boot has posted a two-part interview with gamers in Sweden, Ireland and Israel. They ask how gaming differs between countries, about social attitudes to Dungeons & Dragons and the roleplaying hobby, and discuss the effect of the language barrier on what RPGs are played.

Link: Episode 204 – international round table, part 1
Link: Episode 205 – international round table, part 2

Welcome to the Dresden Files RPG

posted Sunday, September 26th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
News, Reviews & Culture

I was only marginally familiar with the Dresden Files prior to being approached to review the RPG—I’d read one of the novels to pass the time on a flight a few years ago, and found it enjoyable, but hadn’t sought out more. I’d been aware that there was a TV show, which I didn’t watch, and other tie-ins, but on the whole I’d been pretty content to let it be. It’s not that I didn’t like it, of course, just that there were other things I liked more, and given the other demands on my time and budget it never seemed all that high a priority to me.

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World Building 101: Best Laid Plans, Part 2

posted Thursday, September 23rd 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

To continue our examination of campaign planning methods and approaches, it’s necessary to understand that flowcharts, while useful, come with a number of inherent weaknesses as planning tools. They are fairly rigid, ill suited to sudden alterations, and require a lot of work in advance. While it never hurts to be prepared, it’s important to remember that no plan survives first contact with the enemy—or in D&D terms, with the players. What other methods can be used to plan, then?

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Want Happy Players? Ask For a Wish List

posted Tuesday, September 21st 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceFourth Edition

In D&D 4th edition, it’s important to give players at least some of items that they want, more so than in earlier editions of D&D.

Many items in 4E enhance the core competency of a certain character build, and do so in a very specific way. In AD&D, you had more items granting non-combat abilities, improved defences or new attack forms, and most items worked equally well in the hands of any character. In 3E, unwanted items could be sold for half, with the implication that you can spend the gold buying something you want. Since 4E reduced sale price to 20%, your party wealth will vary considerably depending on whether or not you got items you could use.

There are also an awful lot of magic items in D&D4E. At last count, the Compendium had 8,179 items, and this is only two years into the game’s run. That seriously reduces your chances of getting a particular item as a random drop, and it’s not like you can grind the same dungeon over and over as you would in a video game.

This means that even though there isn’t a tradition in D&D of DMs accepting item requests, 4th edition has made it important to begin one. You can always work it into the story that the characters came to the adventure site following rumours or divinations suggesting that the items they’re looking for are here, or just give them gold and let them buy or craft their own equipment.

World Building 101: The Best Laid Plans, Part One

posted Thursday, September 16th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Planning your adventures and your campaign as a whole are two very important tasks that every DM must undertake, and every DM must find a way to do so that feels comfortable to them. In nearly 20 years of playing I have seen all manner of techniques for planning, and I have learned that a tool that works wonders for one DM may not work at all for another. Defining your campaign and the adventures you plan within it can be a major undertaking, and the aspects of the campaign world you choose to emphasize can be affected by what the needs of the game you choose to run within it are.

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Why D&D Can Provide a Realistic Experience

posted Wednesday, September 15th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Juuso from Game Producer Blog takes a break from video game development to explain why D&D is realistic:

“In a way, the more complex system becomes (in a game where computer cannot do the calculations) the less fun it becomes (unless of course you happen to like calculating combat results, I know there’s people who like that a lot). The fights will take longer: tracking of hits, movements and whatnot is more realistic for the game characters (since you take into account fatigue and everything)… but for the players, the experience is less realistic.”

Link: One Reason Why D&D RPG Can Provide a Realistic Combat Experience

World Building 101: The One About Monsters

posted Thursday, September 9th 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

One of the most fun things about D&D and other roleplaying games is and has always been facing a wide variety of horrible and imaginative creatures. Monsters have been inspired by folklore and legends (such as vampires, dragons or minotaurs,) by works of genre fiction (such as orcs, or all manner of Lovecraftian horrors,) or from the twisted minds of game designers or DMs (Beholders, mind-flayers, and rust-monsters). Regardless of their origins, players love to encounter new and exciting creatures to outwit, outfight, or outmaneuver, and DMs love to pit their friends up against strange and imaginative creatures.

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Cheap Alternatives to Miniatures

posted Monday, September 6th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceNone of the Above

I was researching cheap alternatives to miniatures again and got some interesting results.

In 2007 I calculated from the RttToEE miniatures list that a twenty level campaign will use approximately 540 different miniatures.

In 4E you have thirty levels but fewer encounters per level, so 20 levels in 3E has as many encounters as 26 levels in 4E. That works out to 623 different miniatures over two years, and as D&D 4E uses more monsters per encounter you’ll often need duplicates.

Supposing each has an average of four, minis cost an average of $2.50, and you can use another mini as a stand-in half the time, you’re looking at 1,246 minis costing $3,000+ over two years or $30 per game session, most of which is footed by the DM.

Since miniatures are not optional like in 3E, this means the “proper” to play D&D is both more difficult and more expensive than its competitors: video games including WoW and and other RPGs including 3E.

In a search for alternatives I rediscovered Newbie DM’s post on “minis” made from Gametable/MapTools type pogs, printed out and affixed to metal penny washers. I’ve found 25mm washers for £1.82 per hundred, and a 25mm hole-punch for £5. At this price, your 1,246 minis will cost £30/$50 in penny washers and no more than £30/$50 in glue, printer ink and paper. This is so much more affordable that I’m surprised every D&D group isn’t doing it already.

I also discovered a German boardgame website selling coloured 25mm wooden discs for 13 eurocents / 16 US cents, about a quarter of the price of Alea Tools’ magnetic discs which are popular for tracking status effects in 4E.

World Building 101: Another Day at the Races

posted Thursday, September 2nd 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Several months ago I discussed player character races, largely in terms of choosing which races exist in your setting and how they might differ from the bog-standard versions described in the core books. Today’s article will revisit that topic from a slightly different angle—I’d like to take a closer look at creating your own races specifically for the campaign world your game is set in.

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