Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Found two D&D Templates on Google Docs

Check this!


At the time of this posting, there were two Google Docs templates for D&D, including one to organize your thoughts for an encounter, but another that was a 4E Character template. Suh-wheet!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Forgotten Realms in the 4th Edition of D&D

So, I understand why WotC is focusing more on building a Campaign Guide and a Player's Guide for the worlds they'll support, with minimal modules and additional setting books. (A completist at heart, even I gave up on owning all the FR materials during the mad rush of 3.5E D&D.) But, that said, I do somewhat miss the support materials to expand upon what's in the campaign settings. Is the 4 pages of content about Cormyr from the Campaign Guide going to be all that the largest of the Realms' kingdoms will get during 4th Edition? (with the exception of D&D Insider articles, that is) I'm having fun taking advantage of this void of information by digging back into my archives, even into the Volo's Guides. If you never read the Volo's Guides, think "Let's Go Forgotten Realms" or a Zagat's guide - starred reviews of the inns and locales of the Forgotten Realms, written by the Realms' most notorious bard/vagabond, with lots of plot hooks inserted here and there (as well as "corrections" from the ever accurate Elminster the wizard...)

What campaign support materials do you use when prepping a campaign?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Auditing the Dungeon Master's Guides

I'm getting back into the DM's seat for Dungeons & Dragons after almost a year hiatus. (I've spent my time playing D&D, and running Runequest and other games over the past many months, and will continue to do so. Halloween Cthulhu is just around the corner!) I'll be running 4th Edition D&D at my friends' comic book shop for regularly scheduled games, with Forgotten Realms as the campaign setting (the setting I've been running in pretty regularly for about 20 years, with the occasional side trek to Ravenloft, Greyhawk or Eberron).

In prep for the games, I've been scouring my years and years worth of Forgotten Realms supplements for adventure hooks, encounter sites, plots and NPCs. In my humble opinion, the Realms run best as a sandbox, rather than something where the players are led by the nose into a large metaplot. (I'm still trying to understand how TSR thought having the Horde or the Times of Troubles as playable encounters in the 90s was a wise idea... Unless the PCs are driving the action, having them suckered into large campaigns as bystanders - soldiers in the army, instead of instigators - can make for a difficult scenario to DM...) So, to create the best Realms sandbox that I can, I've been leaning on a lot of the campaign resources, but also on decades' worth of Dungeon Master's Guides. It's kind of wild to see how this product has evolved over the years.
  • The First Edition DM's Guide, of which I do not have the fancy one pictured above, but instead the yellow spined edition that had some revisions to it, was a stream of consciousness walk through gaming philosophy, tables of random items and dungeons, and much much more. Not a practical guide by any stretch (not even its champions, myself included, would claim that) it was instead basically a brain dump by Gary Gygax of how gaming ideally works. Much fun is the random dungeon generator for solo play, as well as the artifcats that are still finding themselves used in games today.
  • The Second Edition DM's Guide was the weakest of the bunch. Neutering D&D to make it "adventure without danger" in reaction to a lot of the pressures of the 80s about the evils of roleplaying games (I'm using fairly broad strokes here - there were a lot of other factors to the revision), 2nd Edition started the trend of making the DMs guide slimmer than the Player's Handbook. Put the rules in the PHB, put the philosophy and commentary in the DMG. But, sadly, there was little of that in the 2nd edition guide, focusing more on magic items, etc.
  • The 3.5E DM's Guide (I don't have the 3e one), took a step back to offering more in the way of guidance, including a chart of 100 plot hooks that I still use, lots of advice about running games and creating adventures, as well as tons of info about how to DM. I think it may be the best of the WotC/TSR DM's guides.
  • The 3.5E Dungeon Master's Guide II, which I couldn't lay my hands on in the past few days - must be in a box somewhere, was a fantastic resource. Taking the 1E village of Saltmarsh and expanding it, building plot hooks for months of adventures, and statting out so much of it was tremendous. Perhaps even better was the advice on how to make a world living and breathing, including how to build out official factions. Now was this likely in reaction to what was happening in the video game world with factions as a way to relate to a game world? (See Oblivion, WoW, etc.) Likely yes, but the way to enact it for a tabletop RPG as well done, and made it something I started trying to do more and more of with the Ptolus campaign I was running when I purchased this book.
  • Not an official TSR/WotC product, but noteworthy nonetheless was Green Ronin's Advanced Gamesmaster's Guide. (Full disclosure - I playtested this for Green Ronin, and felt right from the start that it was going to be a fantastic product.) There was more keen advice in here than in any other product I'd seen to that point about how to be a good DM. Not just the stuff about "here's how to prep a published adventure," but stuff about roles in the playing group and how to address particular needs that different player types might have, how to craft scenarios to different play styles, and lots of great ideas for NPC behavior, plot hooks, and more. Great, great stuff.
  • Lastly, the 4th Edition DM's Guide. Now, I've been kind of hard on 4e. I still feel like the overall focus of making a game that is more relevant to the World of Warcraft gang (of which I'm happy to be an on-again-off-again member) takes away from the fun of "play" that previous editions had. ("Do you want to be a wizard or a fighter?" has been replaced with "Do you want to be a controller or the tank?" as I've stated before.) That said, the DM's guide does a good job in going over the mechanics of being a good DM - how to build good encounters, how to build quests, etc. I feel the overall system itself is too focused on the mechanics of 10 encounters are needed to level, and here's what should be in those encounters, and that sort of metagaming, but the result is what you make of it. I'm going to work hard to make a 4E sandbox where it's about the characters, not the stats and artillery roles. The way the book closes, with the introduction of the town of Fallcrest as an adventure starting point, does a good job to show what the game can be, and I hope more and more DMs embrace that.
I'm looking forward to a very role heavy version of roleplaying through the Forgotten Realms, in my new campaign. (No munchkins allowed, folks!) I'm also looking forward to the 4th Edition DMG II that is due out, focusing on running campaigns for characters levels 11-20. Bring it on WotC! I got some dice and am ready to game!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Runefang by C.L. Werner (Warhammer Fantasy Fiction)

While flying to and from England, last month, I read C.L. Werner's Runefang, one of the Warhammer Fantasy titles published by Black Library. My exposure to Warhammer Fantasy has been a long one, dating back to the table top game that I started playing - er well, at least painting minis for - in the early 90s, and into my introduction to the Fantasy RPG through my friend Travis in the earlier part of this decade. I've read all of the Gotrek and Felix novels, as well as some of the lower profile titles released over the past few years. Runefang was a well done addition to the canon, being a title that expanded upon the world of Warhammer. Gorbad Ironclaw, Gordreg Throatripper and Uhrghul Skullcracker, two of the game's orc legends, were introduced as characters in the novel, marauding orcs who led hordes across the world. In the midst of the maelstrom of these orc invasions (spread across several generations) were attempts to wield a magical sword called the Runefang to defeat the tide of monsters descending upon civilization, albeit a dark and hopeless civilization, unlike the shinier safer worlds of many other mainstream fantasy series like Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms and others.

The world of Warhammer is not a place where tidy and charming wizards pop up at the last minute to save the day - I actually lost count of the number of primary and secondary characters that died during Runefang. That, I think, is the key piece about Warhammer Fantasy, and what works and doesn't work for it as a shared world of fiction. The world itself is immense and much more like the "points of light" idea that Wizards of the Coast is trying with the Forgotten Realms now - the idea that society in between the outposts of civilization in a fantasy world is a harsh, cruel place without much amenities or even safety. Werner did a great job with painting that image in Runefang, wherein a Dirty Dozen style motley crew of characters are sent on this suicide mission to retrieve this magical sword from a long lost outpost across the barony where the story unfolds. There are bandits, orc tribes, rival factions in the court who would not like to see the (anti-heroes) succeed, and more. But Werner balances this with some hope and some heroism, which is more than I can say for what some of the other Warhammer titles are able to carry out. Particularly Elfslayer, the latest in the Gotrek and Felix series, and the other dark elf titles, seem to border on exploitation rather than "dark fantasy". Knowing that a village was razed by vicious marauders should be enough for the readership of the novels, without details of the torture and pillage. I know there's a market for very dark fantasy, but I do have some concern that the readership of novels based on a tabletop game played by young people may not be the place for exploring this territory. (Wow, never thought I'd sound like an old fogey like this.)

Warhammer titles that I thought did a good job of expanding upon the Warhammer world in a fashion that I thought lent more to the overall "shared world" include:
  • All of the William King Gotrek & Felix titles, as well as the first couple by Nathan Long (Orcslayer and Manslayer)
  • Fell Cargo by Dan Abnett
  • The Adventures of Florin and Lorenzo by Robert Earl
  • The Enemy Within by Richard Lee Byers
  • Mark of Chaos by Anthony Reynolds
Weigh in below on the comments thread if you have thoughts about any of the other Warhammer Fantasy books.

Monday, September 7, 2009

John Madden DM (with thanks to RPG Blog II)

Saw the below over on RPG Blog II, and couldn't resist sharing it via my own pages as well... Tis the time of year to enjoy football, role playing games and other indoor pursuits. (well, I guess football takes place outdoors, but I like to watch it from the comfort of my couch...)