Back in my 2018 Life Update post, I mentioned starting a new Adventurers League1 Tomb of Annihilation campaign. At DragonCon, David and I, with some close friends, spent all Friday playing Dungeons and Dragons. We had a great time and David commented about wanting to play more. We’ve grown up a lot since our last time playing and knowing that Babels had a firm schedule made it easier to try.

The quality of individual modules in Adventurers League can vary, so I opted for pitching a hardcover. I narrowed the choices. Other GMs had run or were running Out of the Abyss and Tales from the Yawning Portal. I love the Elemental Evil stuff but I wanted to save Princes of the Apocalypse for another time. Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat had received mixed reviews.

That whittled the options down to Curse of Strahd, Storm King’s Thunder and the newest adventure, Tomb of Annihilation. Friends had suggested they had strong interests in running the other two in the future. Tomb is the current storyline season and GMs running the current season receive boosted rewards.

My experience with the past few campaigns I have participated in as a GM or a player, I wanted a more frequent game. Life happens and those interruptions can harm a campaign. If the campaign is only meeting once a month, if you miss a session, you could go 10 weeks without playing. Also, managing plot threads and themes is more difficult as the impact of the previous session fades over time. So, I planned to run weekly, with the expectation that any individual would take part in about 75% of the sessions.

Now it was time to see if I could find enough players to give that kind of commitment. Adventurers League limits table size to three to seven players per table. Given that and the attendance policy, I was hoping to find about five players. Amber was in. I was willing to commit hours of time and money to run a campaign, but my best friend, Marc, is in the midst of graduate school. But he is someone who will show up if he commits to it. Once he was on board, I reached out to my brother, David. He works 12 hour shifts, but since we’re starting the game after Babels goes to bed, he was in. I contacted the other friend, Alex, who played at DragonCon with us. And then finally, I contacted one of my former players who hadn’t been able to play since we lived in the same city.

With firm commitments in hand, I bought the module on Roll20 to help reduce the amount of time I’d need to prepare for each session. It was pricey, same cost as the hardcover book, and while reusable, platform locked. But it has saved me tons of time. Plus, if I want to run Tomb of Annihilation again, I can press a few buttons, and I’m ready to go.

We’ve been playing since October, skipping only a handful of weeks for holidays and GM family emergencies. Otherwise, we’ve been able to play and it has been very rewarding. It’s something I look forward to every week. A few hours of Dungeons and Dragons fun with my family and friends.

On a quest to locate and destroy the Soulmonger, a necromantic artifact of unspeakable power, the party continues their foray into the jungles of Chult.

  1. Adventurers League is the organized play campaign for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. 

Life Update

Welcome back to Concreate Chaos, life preparing for and with an infant has been crazy. I started wrapping up my commitments early last year. I was going to devote much of my attention to our new family member.

I said goodbye to my dear furry friend, Rocket. He died of cancer in October 2016 and it had profound effect on me. I found myself unable to write. Whenever I sat down to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, my thoughts drifted to him and the cat sized hole in my heart. I miss him still. It took over a year, but I’ve healed now.

I signed off of podcasting. Culture Conquistadors was a labor of love for many years. Movies remain a favorite passtime of mine. Though these days, they’re seen months after release via streaming or Redbox. Now, my former co-host and dear friend launches his solo venture, Iconography. You should definitely have a listen as he starts into season two.

I left two D&D campaigns. My regular group continued on their journey in Wander-Lost without Chase Starryeyes. Despite my desires, I was never able to return to play her again. In a few sessions, Wander-Lost will wrap up. Operation Phoenix concluded last year before Babels was born. The play time of the campaign doesn’t lend itself to my participation, but even so I haven’t made an effort to rejoin.

I gave up watching sports live. My Saturdays in the fall were often filled with Florida State and Florida football games. There’s a lot of things wrong with football at the collegiate level. I will always love it in some ways, but I won’t dedicate every Saturday for months to it. Instead, I spend my Saturdays with my new family watching Babels grow.

We did manage to make it to DragonCon. Babels was a hit as Salamence and my Brendan cosplay looked sharp. We went to the Marvel photoshoot for the first time in a few years. It was a far better experience this time around. Nova is a much lighter costume for the summer Atlanta heat. But the event ran far smoother also. I spent a day playing D&D with my brother, my best friend, and another good friend. It was an amazing experience. David enjoyed it so much, he asked if we could find a way to play again.

So, I started an Adventurers League legal Tomb of Annihilation campaign. With Babels’s schedule set, we were able to carve out some time to play some Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted this group focused on a regular, exciting experience for my family. I set expectations for schedule and commitments and invited the players. It’s been a resounding success.

Amber started an in-person Adventurers League legal Tales from the Yawning Portal campaign. We play roughly monthly. I wish it were more frequent, but scheduling is difficult. With two new players, it’s always fun watching them discover bits and pieces of the game.

Blog Update

With the last year of my life highlighted and recapped, what does the future hold? My hope is, a lot of reading, gaming, and writing. It’s been fun being back in the DM seat for Tomb of Annihilation. I haven’t ever run a published adventure cover-to-cover. Despite the monthly game, I miss playing D&D more frequently. I want to run a modern day urban game later this year. And for DragonCon, I have a new costume in pre-planning.

I’m hopeful that all this will lead to more writing, here, at Concrete Chaos. I’ve already added a few new pages to my notebooks for the last few years of books, games and films.

Kicking off a new campaign is always fun. New settings, new characters, new adventures. Wander-Lost is no exception. As the Matrix of GMship gets passed around, it’s fascinating what each GM focuses on during campaign introduction, character creation and the first few sessions. Nicole, our GM, started us with a forum thread.

Since the inception of the most recent incarnation of our role-playing group1, we’ve been fans of downtime threads. In the bright spotlight and hustle of a session, it can be easy to lose a grip on the anchors of one’s character. These threads allow us to refocus and explore characteristics that don’t always surface. A player can take time to formulate an appropriate in-character response.

The thread begins under the great oak at the heart of the town, the various volunteers meander in and introduce themselves to the other characters and players. While many discussions were had about mechanics of the characters prior to play, there was very little discussion about the personalities. So this thread is our first impression of the characters. For Chase, I decided to focus on three things, her generally optimistic outlook and her quirk of fiddling with coins, and her mastiff companions, Artemis and Bastion.2

The characters spend time arriving, making introductions and establishing relationship ties. The conversation focuses on their reason for assembling, the magenta storm, and the selection of their first destination. Prior to the thread, Chase has established friendships with Amanodel and Joanna, and met Neill and Dóin. That leaves Cathaoir and Allister as the unfamiliar companions which poses some difficulty as Cathaoir is presented as a grim, survivalist and Allister an eccentric fatalist. Both these personalities will naturally lead to some conflict, which is good for development but I kind of wish Chase had some stronger ties built in to help overcome the inevitable arguments. The characters settle on seeking the knowledge of The Silver Order in Colthyr which will take them north via Dalrun.

Before delving into the session itself, I’ll note that I very much missed having a full character creation session. While we offered up early concepts at the close of Mars 2076, and had some small discussions in Slack, some things are just easier to establish in real-time. We wrote backgrounds and crossover stories but we mostly built our characters in a vacuum. Nobody’s quite sure of what supplies and tools the other characters are bringing with them. Considering the nature of the campaign, a survival and exploration setup, it’s difficult that we didn’t prepare our equipment as a group. That’s partially on the players, we probably should have communicated more, but even when the topic was touched on in Slack and in the thread, few responded with any concrete details. On to the session!

As a campaign of exploration, it’s very important to understand the basic unit of time and what actions can be performed in that unit. Nicole explained that there are several paces: explore, cautious, normal, hustle, sprint. Additionally, we can opt not to move and instead forage, trap, hunt, fish or gather herbs. I believe these cover all the bases, at this point, I can’t think of anything else we’d need to do in the wilderness but that’s the joy of playing, sometimes players come up with something unexpected.

Nicole sets the scene, the group is assembled in the center of town, ready to set out on their mission. It takes a little bit to decide on a course of action but one of the players reminds us that in the thread we decided to set course for Colthyr and Dalrun. One thing I would find helpful is a map. Even if it’s not completely uncovered or filled in, our characters would likely have an idea of the general layout of geography. Chase was born, raised and has spent a good portion of her adult life in Colthyr. But I as a player have no idea where it is in relation to Oakheart and our current location. A visual aid would allow the GM and the players to have a shared reference precluding the need for the players to constantly pester the GM for a reminder of where we are and where we’re headed.

We set forth and spend four hours3 climbing out of the valley and onto the trade route to Dalrun. We come upon the cairns that mark the former edge of the ward that protects Oakheart. Immediately we notice that the road is overgrown and Allister and Amanodel decide to investigate. And here the mechanics of the four hour blocks get muddied. Are we exploring? Are we moving? I think it’s clear the group is willing to spend a few minutes to check out the oddness but the goal is still to reach Colthyr to gather more information. But Allistar and Amanodel wander off without the full group and come upon a giant wasp’s nest. Allister returns the to bulk of the group, but then Amanodel does some more wandering.

Now I definitely believe both these players are playing to their character’s traits, but I found it frustrating. I think I would have been on board if we as a group decided to inspect the site further but it just kind of happened. Amanodel goes nosing around a giant wasp’s nest alone and somehow manages to avoid an encounter. As a GM, I would have, and in the past I have, forced the encounter. It would quickly set the tone that the wilderness is dangerous and all hopes of survival and discovery lie in the groups ability to work together.

Eventually, we regroup and continue on the trade route. At a distance, we sight our first wagon since leaving Oakheart. We spend time investigating the cart, finding metal shrapnel and dried blood leading away from the wagon. We engage in a bit of debate about investigating further, setting up camp or pressing on. Eventually, most of the party agrees to track the ambushers. In a great exchange, Amanodel casts Speak with Animals and she questions a few birds. We deduce we’re dealing with a group of kobolds and locate their lair. We setup our own ambush and lure them out with some Minor Illusion noises.

Nicole has put together an outstanding map for this encounter. Nothing unusual, just a solid map with enough space for movement but no more. The only difficulty is that the lighting setup doesn’t work as intended, so we get a bit of a pass on our lack of darkvision for some of the characters. This encounter was solidly tuned, several standard kobolds with a pair of advanced kobolds. It takes two rounds for us to gain the upperhand. Amanodel’s Moonbeam at the entrance of the den thins the herd before it can even reach the main group. The focus fire of Chase, Dóin, Joanna, Cathaoir and Neill bring the encounter to a close rather quickly. But not before Nicole reminds us that this isn’t a cakewalk. A kobold trapmaster scurries out of the den and launches a grenade at our spellcasters, Allister and Amanodel. Allister fails his Dexterity saving throw and is knocked unconscious at 0 hp. Ama on the other end, not only succeeds on the Dex throw, but manages to hold onto her Moonbeam also. Unfortunately, the trapmaster escaped back into the den. To wrap up the encounter, Neill, an Open Palm Monk, knocks the kobold chief prone. Chase snaps her whip with a sneak attack and steps back. Realizing I’m technically dual wielding the whip and the hand crossbow, I shoot the chief in the face to close the encounter.

Chase was solid in this combat. I made two errors, one for my benefit and one for the GM’s. First, I moved a square too far in one round, allowing me to close the gap a round too quickly. Second, I closed the gap too much. Chase can hit enemies ten feet away because of her whip. I should have had her step back after hitting the chief, so he would provoke opportunity attacks from Cathaoir and Neill if he decided to pursue Chase. With Stefan and Casavel, I really don’t worry about positioning too much. They’re both carrying high armor classes and often want to be the target of the enemy attacks. Chase’s AC is considerably lower, though still on the high end of the party, which means I can take some attacks but I shouldn’t make it so easy on the GM. Also, Chase taking the majority of the attacks from the chief was beneficial for the whole party. Chase probably has the most hit points, but the chief was dishing out poison damage to which Chase has resistance reducing the damage by half (or three quarters if there’s a successful saving throw).

And that’s where we concluded. Overall, this was a good introductory session. We have some group dynamics to smooth out but that is something that can’t really be solved in the first session. The new thread is occurring right after the combat ends, so we’ll get to see how the characters react to their success. I’m looking forward to the next session already.

  1. My testing post is dated 16 October 2014, so now two years! 
  2. My post was up before I had decided to drop the mastiffs from the campaign. 
  3. She termed these four hour blocks watches. I think she grabbed this term from somewhere else but it’s kind of confusing. I’d probably use the term block, but that doesn’t feel like a very good in-game term. 

In the previous post, I introduced the new campaign, Wander-Lost, being run for my regular RPG group. We play bi-weekly and fill the intermediate time with play-by-post and Slack chats.1 This will be only my second campaign as a player in this group and I’m hoping to play a lot better than I did in Mars 2076. So, today, I’ll introduce my new character, Chase Starryeyes.

For me, making a character is a careful balance between mechanics and role-playing. To enjoy a character, I need to be active and engaged in the story and the system. Mechanically, I tend to play either a gish, a rogue, or a mage.2 I really like versatility in mechanics, being able to contribute in multiple phases of the game. As the other players announced their intentions, I started off thinking about playing an Eldritch Knight, filling the melee tank role.

But then inspiration struck. A few years ago while playtesting D&D Next, one of the NPCs I introduced was a Halfling professor named Curiosity Bounceback who kept getting her assistants killed during her expeditions. I seized on the idea of a lucky and prepared Halfling who would always wonder why her traveling companions couldn’t keep up. With the core of a concept and some mechanics I wanted to target, a Battle Master/Swashbuckler build started to form. And then another bolt of inspiration, she would ride a mastiff into battle, use a whip to trip opponents and then fire her hand crossbow into their prone faces.3

With this in mind, the character’s history started to come into focus. She was a young professor at the nearby arcane college. But I needed to pull her into Oakheart and give her a few strong ties to the town. First up, her immediate family was there and they were dog breeders! This would give a good story reason for her mastiff companions, and why there would be a nearly unlimited stock available in case any of them died in the wilderness. Family is a great anchor but she was a successful professor in another city. What made her move to Oakheart?

A discovery in her field! Well, in her field of study but in her family’s fields. They found some sort of artifact and she relocated to study it and search for more. As an explorer, archaeology and history seem appropriate, but I wanted her to be a bit more focused. There’s the blight and the elves! In the Player’s Handbook there’s a small blurb on Halflings and how they view elves.

They’re so beautiful! Their faces, their music, their grace and all. It’s like they stepped out of a wonderful dream. But there’s no telling what’s going on behind their smiling faces— surely more than they ever let on.

So, elves and the blight. Perhaps the Elves know something about the cause? And then the idea of an academic rival formed. Chase would love the Elves, and so her rival would espouse that the Elves not only knew what caused the blight, but that the Elves were the perpetrators. So what did her family find in their fields, a mostly unintelligible text, likely an old journal in Elven. With her background settled, it was time to return to the mechanics of the character.

And this is where the frustration began. A Halfling riding a mastiff into battle is a rather evocative image. But Fifth Edition just doesn’t really support mounted combat. There is a single page of rules and a single feat. Only one class, the Ranger, has actual support for an animal companion. The Paladin has a spell, Find Steed, but the resulting mount isn’t particularly enhanced for combat, though it is at least re-summonable. Both of those options are viable, if not solid. But I’m already playing a Paladin regularly, and two of the other players are playing Rangers covering both types, Beast Master and Hunter.4

Nicole, our lovely DM, and I went back and forth for two weeks trying to find an acceptable compromise. In the end, we failed and I conceded the mastiffs.5 When I envision this character, she is an archaeologist, explorer and professor. The mastiffs were an interesting mechanic and provided additional characterization, but they did not make or break the character. With the mastiffs gone, I ended up moving back to an Eldritch Knight and Swashbuckler build. Like always, I build the class mix out to level 20 despite the very high probability that the campaign or the character won’t make it that high. She’s slated to be an Eldritch Knight 11/Swashbuckler 7, which leaves a couple levels to flex. Going deeper into EK I can get 3rd level spells. Deeper into Swashbuckler nabs a taunt like feature. Or with 13+ in Dex, Con, and Cha, I could flex out to a bunch of different classes. There’s that flexibility and versatility again.

Chase is not the only character going out into the wilderness, the rest of her companions are:

  • Allister (Wild Magic Sorcerer)
  • Amanodel (Circle of the Moon Druid)
  • Cathaoir (Ranger/Rogue)
  • Chastity “Chase” Starryeyes (Fighter/Rogue)
  • Dóin (Beast Conclave UA Ranger)
  • Joanna Wylde (Fey Pact Warlock/Bard)
  • Neill Allen (Open Hand Monk)

Chase is close with Amanodel and Joanna. She’s also met Dóin and Neill. Here’s her full background. I’m excited to see how the characters play together.

  1. Our play-by-post threads are mostly conversational. I think we’ve only had a single thread that involved system mechanics. 
  2. Other than Chase, I’m playing Stefan (Rogue/Paladin) and Casavel (Wizard Bladesinger). 
  3. A Halfling on dog-back is very much inspired by the Eberron Halflings that ride dinosaurs across the Talenta Plains. 
  4. And then Wizards released an updated playtest Ranger which looks much better on the surface. 
  5. One day I’ll play a Halfling on the back of a mastiff. Future DMs beware. 

As we enter the autumn season, my main RPG group has wrapped up another campaign. This summer, our brave astronauts landed on Mars. They battled the elements, advanced technology, antagonistic team members and the unknown to prepare Mars for an inbound ship of colonists. Overall it was a fun campaign that ended with a fantastic session. The story arc was completed with a satisfying ending but also with some lingering questions. I expect we’ll revisit that setting in the future.

For now though, the GM seat has been vacated for one of my long time friends, Nicole. She’s switching us back to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons in an exploration and survival campaign titled, Wander-Lost. Just about two years ago, Nicole was basically new to role-playing.1 Now she’s got about a year of running Adventurers League games at her local game store and online with Out of the Abyss. She’s a high effort DM who pours a lot of time into prep and it shows during play.

In the world of Wander-Lost, a blight spread throughout the world an untold number of years ago. As the blight was spreading, a pious man pleaded with his goddess to intervene and protect his valley. She heard his prayer and offered a powerful ritual to be performed in conjunction with the local druidic circle and the mages of the nearby arcane college. A great oak tree sprouted up and with it a magical barrier that held the blight at bay. Centuries passed and the town of Oakheart grew in this protected valley.

Days prior to the start of the campaign, a magenta storm struck the town on the Summer Solstice and brought the protective barrier down. The druidic council has sent their scouts out but none have returned. Now, the council has called for volunteers to venture forth and find out what happened, why and how does Oakheart recover?

Nicole has presented Wander-Lost as a survival and exploration campaign, a direct contrast to our last two campaigns, run in Fate Core, which were very tight story arcs. She provided a small players guide with information on world history, organizations, religion, rules for character creation and variants rules that are being used to support the exploration and survival aspects. It’s been fun to help her set up the campaign with ideas and comments. I’m very excited to play.

With that said, these past few weeks we’ve been frustrating each other. I admit most of this is my doing. Between my optimization, rules knowledge, stubbornness and GM experience, I can be a very difficult player. Knowing we’re in for a long haul survival setup, I tried to make a character who was well-equipped and well-prepared for many a situations. This included flirtations with pack animals and mounted combat.2 Despite our best efforts to find a compromise where her vision for the campaign was intact and my character concept was unaltered, it just ended up being more frustrating and stressful than necessary. In the end, I decided that the animal companions were not as integral to my character concept and we agreed to drop them for now.3

Despite the frustration during character creation, I’m very excited for this campaign. I haven’t played in a wilderness survival campaign so this will be all new. It is my intent to provide session and thread recaps on a regular basis along with some occasional in-character fiction. In my next post, I’ll introduce my character, Chase Starryeyes, an archaeologist and professor of history of some renown.

  1. Way back in 2007, I ran a couple sessions of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. Her first character was a fire sorceress named Kailinae. 
  2. Mounted combat is grossly under-supported in D&D 5e and this caused the greatest source of frustration. 
  3. Sorry again, Nic! 

Old Endings, New Beginnings

Welcome to my first session report! I have to say that I was incredibly excited to start up a new campaign. Rolling up characters, plotting out adventures, crafting NPCs. It really gets the creative juices going. The players arrived around 3pm and we started rolling up characters about twenty minutes later. None of the players have had many opportunities to hone their character generation skills. All told, it took about an hour for the most experienced player to create his character and about two hours for everyone else.1

With card stock character sheets in hand, dice on the table, Krillin Pwnd List on the board and the play mat unrolled, we kicked off our adventures on the continent of Torgrim by introducing the characters to the small town of Everton. Everton is home to the only university in the known world. Bright magical minds, decorated veterans of war, experienced advocates, wealthy merchants and daring adventurers teach and train students from across the continent is their selected program.

One professor of particular note is Curiosity Bounceback, a halfing, she is the leading expert in archaeology and history. She has held her position for the past decade after a famous adventuring career. Her surname is well-deserved as her inexplicable ability to recover from any disaster and return unscathed has never once stopped her from adventuring into peril.2 About a week ago, one of the local lumberers uncovered an overgrown entrance to a set of stairs that led underground. In her first attempt to unseal the ruin, one of her grad students was killed by a magical trap.

Since learning about the somewhat unexpected dangers and deciphering some of the scripts, Curiosity has spent the last day or two recruiting bold adventurers to travel into the depths of this suspected First Civilization tomb. The party assembles the next morning and sets out towards the with the professor.

Joining the professor are:

  • Valanthe, a Wood Elf ranger
  • Hans, a Dwarf fighter
  • Helja, a Dwarf fighter
  • Diva, a High Elf wizard
  • Asandril, a Wood Elf ranger
  • Donnal, a Wood Elf druid
  • Sir, a Human monk

The expedition to the tomb and back was fairly uneventful as it was a standard dungeon crawl. One of the players (Sir) arrived on the scene late but he still managed to get in a few encounters including the big bad (a mummy) at the end. They got to fight some D&D monster standards including a mimic, a gelatinous cube, some rust monsters plus a variety of undead. They all made it out alive and found a magically sealed entrance to a second level which would be left for another day.

Overall, I felt I ran the session pretty well. I ended up having to scale some of the later encounters down a bit as the party was exhausted. It was a new system and it can be difficult to manage resources without much system knowledge. That being said, I have no plans to continue to scale encounters down unless we’re missing a significant percentage of the party.

Next time, the party delves into the second level of the tomb and the first character death.

  1. I’ve been meaning to go about and create some of the D&D Next characters just to see how long it would take me to make a familiar archetype and an unfamiliar one. I personally feel two hours is too long but I gave that number to my other DM and he was astonished that it was so short. 
  2. The first name she chose for herself upon learning it’s meaning while harassing some older halflings. 

D&D Next Playtest

At the beginning of last year, Wizards of the Coast announced the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. At the time, I was in the midst of two Fourth Edition D&D campaigns, one as a player and one as a DM. And while Fourth Edition has proven an incredible vehicle for epic length storytelling, I never really fell in love with it. Maybe that’s because my first taste of D&D was on the last day of summer camp in the 90s waiting for my parents to pick me up. Or maybe it’s due to growing up as a Third Edition player and DM. For whatever reasons, both myself and the DM of the group I played in, longed for a return to 3.5.

Being in the midst of two campaigns, it can be difficult to find time to run the playtest. In addition, we had begun planning for an all day one shot we’d end up hosting in June 2012. But national holidays are wonderful things and we gathered our available friends and ventured forth into the Caves of Chaos on Memorial Day 2012.1 The new rules were still d20-based, the classes were limited to only a few levels but felt like good starting points. I played as the elf wizard and used that shocking grasp to great effect.

By far the most memorable sequence from that playtest was lead by my mom. Our party was standing in a hallway, we had peeked into the next room and saw it filled with goblins, bolts and arrows knocked and hidden behind overturned tables. This was not a good look for us. My mom, playing a fighter, had the fake coins we took from the troll and tossed them into the goblins’ room. One curious goblin opened up the bag but quickly realized they were the fake ones used to by the troll off in the first place. But it was a fatal mistake anyways.

Mom: “I toss in the bag of coins.”
DM: One of the goblins comes out of hiding and picks up the bag looking at the coins. It looks at you as it realizes that the coins are really just coppers.
Mom: “Can I shoot the goblin?”

Stunned silence around the table.

DM: “Yes, yes you can.

And so the battle started. I may have misremembered the exact words but stunned silence plus agape mouths was amusing as everyone realized that my mom had just come up with the Best Idea Ever(tm).

Late last fall we got another in another playtest session. We again ventured into the Caves but took a different path. We ended up TPK’ed a couple of times but this packet had my favorite class by far, the Sorcerer. This was not your 3E or 4E sorcerer. This was really more of an expansion of the idea behind the Dragon Disciple prestige class from Third Edition’s Tome and Blood. And I think it was executed marvelously. I was really disappointed by it’s disappearance from the next packet. Personally, I feel it gave a real distinction between Sorcerers and Wizards instead of Sorcerers are just Wizards with less utility but more firepower. It honestly felt like an arcane paladin, something that I’ve never felt has been successfully accomplished by any of the other attempts.


Anyways, enough about the playtest experience thus far, this post is really meant to introduce my latest campaign which is set on the continent of Torgrim. I will freely admit a major inspiration for me has been George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I read the book a while back in preparation for the TV series but I haven’t kept up with either.2 Other inspirations are Bioware’s Dragon Age and WotC’s Eberron.

Torgrim is dominated by the Sunsteel Empire, a large majority human empire that covers most of the southeast. There are two smaller human kingdoms in the same area but both pay some modicum of tribute to the Empire in exchange for retaining their territory. The dwarves have taken root in Silverpeak, a large mountain that divides the humans from most of the other races and the Citadel, a larger hill in the southwest. Elves inhabit the south and west forest covered coasts. Evil humanoids and a human tribal civilization reside in the north. Finally, there is another human empire on a continent to the east of Torgrim.

Torgrim will be my D&D Next Playtest world for the forseeable future as I’m unsure how long this campaign will last. Our group goes through cycles where we can generally get everyone together through Spring and Summer but Fall rolls around and only one or two people can play. But if that happens, I may finally consider running a play-by-post game because I’d really like to explore the world of Torgrim.

  1. We even got my mom to play! She’s never played D&D and isn’t even a big game fan in general. But it worked out well and she enjoyed the session. 
  2. I’ll get around to them one day but I’ve just got too much going on at the moment. 

Role-Playing Games

Role-playing games have been a staple of my entertainment since grade school. From Dungeons & Dragons to City of Heroes, Mutants and Masterminds to Mass Effect, from muds and chat sims to play-by-post and table top. Role-playing games have let me live a hundred lives, triumph over thousands of villains and save dozens of worlds. I’ve been a dual-wielding swordsman, a super-powered ice controller, a Starfleet engineer and many other heroes. Role-playing games allow me to venture into unknown worlds with my friends and save the world.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

My first taste of role-playing games was back in elementary school. I had been away at summer camp for a week and my parents wouldn’t be able to pick me up until near the end of the day. An older boy and I were about all that was left. I had heard of Dungeons & Dragons previously and he had a few books spread out across the table. He taught me the basics and helped me make my first character, an elf mage. We didn’t get very far in the adventure, I think my character died after a few rounds of combat.1 It was just in the nick of time too, my parents had arrived and it was time to head home. But that taste of role-playing proved to be enough to keep me forever interested.

Spacefleet Online

My next role-playing game was a Star Trek themed online chat simulation. Every Wednesday from 9-10pm, I was Pounce, a hotshot Betazoid engineer. As a cadet, he rocketed through the academy and was picked to join the flagship of Teenfleet,2 the USS Trafalgar, captained by Vice Admiral Selivak Lynx. I have a lot to thank Spacefleet for. They gave me a safe place to role-play online without incident. They provided a well-established universe and top notch sim hosts. Spacefleet is truly where I grew up as a role-player. Without it, I’m not sure I ever make it back to Dungeons & Dragons or even step up to become one of the primary DMs for my friends.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

In 2000, Wizards of the Coast finally put their stamp on Dungeons & Dragons and it was beautiful. This is the system I grew up on and it will always have a fond place in my heart. Skills, feats, multiclassing, the interactions. As I’ve said previously, I’ve always loved games and rules and thier complex interactions and D&D 3E fit this perfectly. The rules as a player were wonderful. I could mash classes and skills and feats and spells together to make a unique character every time.3 Plus the d20 System flourished with every genre of game imaginable. Modern settings (d20 Modern), science fiction (Star Wars), superheroes (Mutants & Masterminds). The 2003 rules update (D&D 3.5) made a solid series of changes to clarify things and adjust some power settings. And with that update they released my favorite setting, Eberron.4

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

The latest (and least?) edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I’m impressed by certain advances they made and the inspiration they drew from MMORPGs. But many other parts of the system are just not fun for me as a player or a DM. As a 4E player, I never felt like my character was really in danger. This really wasn’t on the DM at all.5 I honestly can’t remember a single character death in either of the campaigns I took part in.6 This lack of lethal threat makes the game lack a certain oomph. In addition, the combats just slogged on far too long in most cases. Once the players gained the upper hand, it was never relinquished and everyone was bored by the end. I’ve talked about the negatives enough but I really enjoyed healing get spread out to different classes, the taunt/marking mechanic was well-implemented if a little weak. And the tactical combat was very good if very slow.

Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition

The current version of Mutants and Masterminds is a lot of fun. At least from a character creation and game master perspective. Not all of my players enjoyed the free-form combat where distances don’t really matter. But I loved it. Plus you could build any imaginable superhero or supervillain from scratch. Out of all the role-playing campaigns I’ve run, I’m most fond of this one. It played well with the audience and even though it was short, I feel it was a memorable one. One that I hope my players will remember as fondly as I will.

Dungeons & Dragons Next

Finally, the preview rules of the next version of Dungeons & Dragons. It seems like Wizards and the D&D brand manager finally understand and convinced Hasbro that D&D is not like their other properties and that it can be successful without being Magic: the Gathering or Transformers. It also seems like R&D has decided to roll back the clock and pretend most of 4th Edition never happened. I’m happy for this change and while I loved 3rd Edition, there are a few things D&D can learn from it’s last edition and I hope they find a way to incorporate a lot of the stuff I mentioned above. We’re playtesting this version right now with my current group but I’ll talk more about it in a future post.

  1. Completely appropriate for a solo wizard. 
  2. A section of the sim group catered to the younger crowd of simmers. 
  3. Even if I only really play humans and elves. 
  4. While Eberron is far and away my favorite D&D setting, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was the single best book during the 3rd Edition run. 
  5. Okay, there was one instance where I was basically begging for him to kill me and he didn’t. 
  6. There was a semi-scripted death in the campaign I was DMing to kindly remind my players that characters could die. Unfortunately, the campaign took an extended (and then permanent) hiatus not long after.