Monthly Archives: October 2012

D&D For Newbies, Session Two

(For those joining late, Character Creation and Session One.)

So, this time we got our veteran up and running into the party. Craig is an old hand, and was very adamant about not discussing his character other than letting them know he’d play a cleric, just so their first reactions could be in-character. Unfortunately, workload being what it is at a game development company, Ben couldn’t make it, so Jome the “elven” wizard was sadly absent.

Wait. Crap. Yeah, I’d kind of planned for them to hit the keep tonight, but there was no way Perseus would go adventuring while his Bestest Buddy Ever might be in trouble. So I ad-libbed a quick kidnap plot, and the guys got to chase down kidnappers hauling a drugged elf away, demonstrating how the world reacts to their actions. They managed to rescued the still-unconscious Jome, grab some nice money and get some info on Grimstone.

So did this session have teaching points as well, or were there no surprises? Oh ho ho ho, to ask is to not trust my players.

Dungeon Tiles Are Pretty Okay. I totally forgot my Vis-a-Vis pens for the battlemat — and of course, those are hard to find in any modern office supply closet. But Craig brought in a mass of those dungeon tiles thing, and I gotta admit…. kind of a lifesaver. I think they’d get repetitive over a long campaign, but I was able to set up an outdoor fight scene with lots of rock formations and difficult terrain, and it looked pretty great. It also set up some nice player tactics.

Twinked-Out High Stats Are Useful. The elf ranger’s Perception is ridiculous for first level. Totally hax. Very unlikely I’ll ever surprise him in this game. And that’s fine. Because of that high skill, I could present them with a situation like “your friend is gone from his room with barely a trace” and trust that Perseus could find all the clues to the kidnapping and track the enemies with ease. No roadblock, no bottleneck. Don’t fear players being good at what they do. Let them open doors with that stuff; you can always challenge them in other ways, even in their areas of specialty.

Alignment Is Generally Useless. This aphorism gets brought out a lot within the context of alignment being something you “grow out of,” in the sense that experienced gamers create characters with more nuanced motives than being “good” or “evil.” From what I’ve seen, it’s not super-useful to newbies, either, save as a possible point of inspiration much like “do you have any siblings?” The player of the elven ranger Perseus, who wrote “Good” on his character sheet first thing, has gotten much more mileage out of his personal code than out of his alignment. Mercenary with a conscience; won’t kill women and children. Perfectly okay executing surrendering captives who offended him if they’re not civilians, mind. Is that a Good thing to do? Who cares? The code this new player created is more compelling for both him and me as DM. Bruais is a greedy coward on the surface, but also religious to the luck goddess and willing to stick his neck out for friends. Nasio is pretty laissez-faire about gold for a mercenary, probably because of his noble upbringing, and is as interested in a challenge or a good cause as a payout. None of this stuff is a direct result of alignment. It’s just not that restrictive.

Dwarf Rogues Are Best Rogues. I’m calling it here, Bruais is the Sensational Player Character find of 2012. In one session he returned to hit on a bartender some more, demonstrated his devotion to the goddess of luck, lied like a coward about the numbers of the enemies to his friends (“There’s at least 10 of them. They have Jome, but they’re too strong. He is lost to us.”) and then stood by them when they chose to fight, and of course gleefully looted corpses. But I think what’s fantastic about him is that the player wisely figured out that rogues are at their most entertaining when they’re a blend of flawed scoundrel and swaggering reluctant hero. And dwarves are so macho by default that they have a fantastic swagger, and the juxtaposition with something classic like “cowardice” is hilariously unexpected.

Another good session, ending a little early. I let them level up to Level Two so that they can have that level-up experience and play with new utility powers (plus Bruais could use all the math help he can get). If I want to close this out at three sessions, I’ll probably have to slam them down in front of Grimstone Keep’s gates promptly at 6 PM next Monday and hope they burn through it. But so far, what a ride.

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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized



D&D For Newbies, Session One

(Previously, on Character Creation…)

First session down! And it was particularly interesting because the one veteran we had planned to have riding herd couldn’t make it tonight — but he sent a message saying “Hey, go ahead and play without me — this is part of the D&D experience.”

Of course, he was the one planning to play a healer. Uh-oh! Would that prove to be a fatal weakness?

Turns out, not quite. The players managed to pull through a dangerous situation with flying colors, thanks to a couple of rather unlucky die rolls on the goblin pigs’ part (made in the open, I will stress; I did not fudge nothin’) and some decent tactics. There were a few reversals (such as heroism leading to “holy crap I am going to die I am down to one hit point”), and to my great delight, a natural bit of roleplaying with very little leading around by the nose at all.

So, what are the teaching points from this session?

Familiar Character Archetypes Rule. I knew this from character creation, but when you see in play how easy it is for someone to get into the basics of “scholarly elf wizard,” “dwarf rogue” or “mercenary with a conscience,” there’s no real room to criticize the basics of familiar, well-trod cliches like race and class. They are inarguably useful for newcomers. They are a common tongue. (Even if half the party has a penchant for talking in Elvish to each other a lot.)

Tabletop Roleplayers Need To Shut The Hell Up About Video Games. Yeah, I already knew this, too, but to see the proof firsthand? These guys came into D&D with a strong background in video games, many of them Bioware, but none of them had played tabletop before. They were great. Strong sense of cooperation (informed perhaps by their explicit decision to play “PVE rather than PVP”), good sense of proactive purpose in looking for quests, and they did just fine talking in-character.

Complexity’s A Mixed Bag. Honestly, it took a while to make characters (even using the character builder), and people didn’t really have a solid handle on all the things they could do, but on the other hand things like action points and dailies and encounter powers seemed quite welcome to add more reliable options to the table. People varied, of course; the Essentials thief didn’t have near as many power cards as the wizard.

Trust Your Players, Even If New. I thought a bit about how Chris Perkins at WotC tends to run games for newbies, giving them characters ahead of time and dropping them right into a dungeon. I let these guys explore the town of Passwall for a bit, not giving them any more predetermined info other than they’d been hired to escort a caravan to town and that now their contract was up. So without prompting from me, they:

  • Found out about the two taverns in town and chose the more disreputable one
  • Roleplayed the need for ale and food (and some flirting with the dwarven bartender)
  • Confronted the drunk and rowdy civilian who was considering picking a fight with the fighter
  • Bought him drinks and then found out about the murder of a farmstead by the vicious Iron Masks mercenaries, as well as the goblins moving into the area
  • Made contact with a tiefling fence who offered them more information on Grimstone Keep and its curse, as well as the fabled horn and fabulous fire opal said to be there
  • Found out about the spiders in Spindlewood
  • Contacted town guards to find out about the bounties on the Iron Masks and the Gutknifer goblins
  • Chose a plan of action: head north to scout the keep, maybe, but also hunt goblins while they’re there “as a warm-up”.

I railroaded not a bit of this; I simply gave them some clues, let them “survey the bar” a lot, and they were very proactive. It was pretty great.

Everything else was a lot of fun, even if more familiar. The ranger charged in to help the dwarf rogue from a goblin ambush (when said rogue rolled that inevitable natural 1 on a Stealth check), and then suddenly got really worried when the goblin pigs started hurting him and not dying very easily. (“I have one hit point! I’m going to die. I’m so dead.”) The fighter got to be a tank, and enjoyed it as one might expect from a player who’s tanked in other games. The wizard spent an action point to kill two minions with magic missiles, then spent another turn just magically cleaning the blood off his ranger buddy’s blade because he figured the fighter had things in the bag. The rogue shanked the hell out of some pigs and goblins, and got out with full HP.

It went well; heck, one of the players came out saying “Now I just want to play D&D all the time” today. Well, there are a couple more sessions to go, and next time maybe they can pick up that healer. I have a feeling he’ll be appreciated.

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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Uncategorized



D&D For Newbies, Character Creation

So one of my co-workers has never played D&D before. It’s actually something that bugs him, and he’s been hinting (okay, directly talking) about how much he wants to actually play. What could possibly be the solution?

Yeah. I caved.

It’s actually kind of important that a content-monkey for a fantasy themed video game have some experience with fantasy roleplay, I think. It’s a good place to get some firsthand experience with how preexisting story conceits explode and fly in all directions when they hit player desires. Plus, good roleplay enhances your ear for dialogue. It can draw some self-awareness to those turns of phrase you might use with every character, for instance, even when they don’t make sense. So I decided he needed to play, and I asked around to see if there were other people who had never played D&D before but wanted to try.

I got three more of them. Four newbies, all of whom are familiar with varying forms of video games, and one veteran player (my producer Craig, who gets to ride herd, but couldn’t make it to character creation last week). The setup will be a two- or three-session game, starting tomorrow. I honestly cannot remember the last time I ran a game with more newbies than veterans in the group. It might have been elementary school.

Already character creation has been interesting. We took it over a couple of lunch breaks last week, wherein I fired up the character builder in a meeting room (yes, I’m running 4e for neophytes, and anyone who has a problem with that… is probably not reading this blog, anyhow).

Let’s Gamble! The first bit of fun came when the first guy was making his character — he already knew he wanted to try a dwarf rogue — and it came time to generate and assign stats. I presented the array, point buy and dice-rolling option. They all wanted to go for the dice-rolling, though with negotiation: “I’ll do it if everyone else does it.” “Yeah, we all have to be all in.” They looked at it with some trepidation, but ultimately they decided to give it a shot. And the poor dwarf rogue wound up with some substandard stats. To make matters worse, the two next guys to step up to bat got really good stats.

Factions Form: The next interesting thing was that they figured out the bilingual nature of D&D PCs could supply natural factions within a party. The human fighter’s player decided on Dwarven for a second language, based on the idea that dwarves made the kind of armor he liked. He and the dwarf rogue immediately decided that Dwarven could be their secret language, that the elf ranger wouldn’t understand — and then when the fourth player decided on an “elf” wizard, then the “We Speak Elven and You Don’t” faction formed as a counter.

Choosing Race and Class: The biggest advantage of D&D’s race-and-class system is that it provides premade archetypes. This isn’t bad for newcomers who don’t already have a bunch of solid ideas. I found it neat that the players chose their characters for different reasons.

  • The ranger’s player is the enthusiast who really wanted to play D&D, and he’d been leafing through books and falling in love with the elf with two swords concept. He knew what he wanted to do from the get-go.
  • The rogue’s player apparently settled on “dwarf rogue interested in treasure” as a basic concept he could handle. (And yes, he’s already eyeing the pocketbook of the wizard who has a lot of starting gold left over from not buying armor and weapons more elaborate than clothes and a stick.)
  • The fighter’s player has a lot of videogame RPG experience, and he’s fond of tanks. A human fighter wound up being the same archetype he related to several times over already.
  • The wizard’s player took wizard for gameplay reasons: he liked the sound of the controller role, but he also wanted to be the scholarly guy. For race, though, he took changeling, one raised among elves: specifically, he thought that would add a lot of roleplay value.

Themes and Backgrounds: These options actually wound up being kinda popular.

  • The ranger’s player wanted “killer with a conscience” as his archetype, and liked military/woodland sentinel options.
  • The rogue’s player decided that being down and out had its appeal, so he went with an impoverished background.
  • Conversely, the fighter’s player saw “Noble” and jumped on that: he soon developed the concept of kind of a meathead, encouraged to go out and adventure instead of hanging around as a less-than-qualified candidate for succession.
  • The wizard’s player extracted elements that allowed him to grow up raised as an elf among elves. A mysterious secret, and not even his ranger friend could tell (though it seems they’ll start the game trusting one another.)

What really got me was the fact that although I’m a long-term veteran of a fairly New School approach to D&D, these guys were mixing up the concepts of roleplay and backstory with some very old-school concepts: the love of rolling randomly, the pairing off as particular allies, the burgeoning rivalries, the joking about messing with each other (stealing the wizard’s gold, or shapechanging into a female elf to seduce the ranger as a lark).

Tomorrow I stay late after work. I’m going to get to see how Bruais, Perseus, Nasio and Jome actually start handling once they have a world to explore and NPCs to interact with. I’ll also get to see just who Craig comes up with, and how his (almost certainly lawful good) cleric interacts with these two micro-factions.

Oh yeah, and I get to have monsters start trying to kill these guys dead.

Looking forward to it.


Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized