I seriously don’t know what’s up over there at Wizards of the Coast. But, as I am fond of saying, it’s not my company to run into the ground.
The latest monster builder/catalog is pretty lacking in features and capabilities that I want as a customer who runs Dungeons and Dragon games for friends. My concern isn’t really for this one product not rocking my socks off. Really, it’s about the little things in it that, in my eyes, reveal a future that D&D tools will take over time. In short, the lock-down is on like Donkey Kong. This new tool doesn’t allow copy-and-paste of information. It doesn’t allow linking to images with a DDI login. The only way to get information from it is with a screen-capture.
There’s no guarantee things will continue like this. It’s possible that each of these decisions was just a coincidence. Maybe it was just easier. But, to be honest, the realist in me couples these things with the move to online only tools and other decisions made by Wizards of the Coast and it’s just depressing. The RPG community as a whole is growing smaller each year and the largest and most popular brand in that community is not trying to grow their market. Every step down this path means people are forced to jump higher and higher hurdles to play their game.
So what does this have to do with me running D&D games on my netbook? It has to do with the tools I use to run D&D games. Let’s look at my options.
Pencil and paper. It’s classic and old-school, but I just don’t have the time anymore. Especially with the fourth edition of D&D. Tracking conditions, hit-points, initiative, delays, readied actions, etc. Not to mention jotting down NPC names as I make them up and making notes for future plot points. Pencil and paper just isn’t viable anymore. In a pinch, I can do it. So this remains the backup plan.
Masterplan. This is a nice tool and I really like many of its features for designing adventures and running combat. But, due to a cease and desist letter from Wizards of the Coast, you can not move libraries of monsters and other information between computers. I’m not going to spend hours preparing for a D&D session on my little netbook when I have a desktop with a nice large screen. That limitation seems minor, but if I need to throw together a quick encounter on the fly and run it, I would have to enter all my data on my netbook in advance. Not to mention that there is no way to import monsters from the new monster builder, or the compendium. You can only import monsters from the old Adventure Tools offline application. If you want to use Monster Vault monsters, you have to import by hand. Nuts!
MapTools. I just participated in my first online D&D game as a player, and we use MapTools. This is a sweet tool for playing a game totally online. But, it’s a bit heavy for my netbook to run just to track combat. Not to mention that I would have to, again, manually enter all the monster information by hand. Even with a clever modification from the community, it won’t read information from the new monster catalog since you can not copy-and-paste from it.
inCombat 4e. The paragon by which I judge all other tools. It’s effecient and clean. It does combat tracking well and is 100% integrated with iPlay4e. Until recently, it was just as limited as Masterplan. But with a quick bug report, Andrew Siefer quickly turned around a patch allowing me to screen-capture stat-blocks from the new monster catalog and paste them into inCombat 4e. This means I can quickly go into the new monster catalog, re-skin a monster and adjust its level, then screen capture the stat-block and put it into inCombat 4e. I can save the monsters as an encounter and have them ready to go at a moments notice. In short, this tool is doing what I need to run a session from a computer.
I know that Wizards of the Coast is working on a virtual tabletop application. It’ll be online only. I’m not sure I’ll even be able to use that to run a face-to-face game. Does Wizards of the Coast even want people to keep running games in person anymore?
After running Keep on the Shadowfell, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and a couple Scales of War adventures, I’ve gone off the rails. I’m making it up as I go along. And it’s nothing like I remember. But one thing is for certain, combat is going to be much easier to keep interesting. I was never happy with the pre-written adventure combat and while I could have spent the time making them better, I might as well have written them from scratch.
Our aggressive warlock has already found out that these new encounters mean business. Muhahaha.
A couple of shots from last nights combat in the Chamber of Eyes. The players had been blowing through the standard encounters, so we discussed some solutions and ended up just tweaking all the enemies levels by two. The enemies are now harder to hit, hit harder, and there’s some real peril. Seems to also suit the Thunderspire’s generous loot tables.
To the left here is where the players ran into a few duergar guards. They were tough as it was, but the fighting lured a hobgolbin warcaster and chief to the fight. Some quick thinking on the part of the warlock and they divided the enemies with a magical shroud of darkness.
Below, the larger battle in the main chamber. The warcaster retreated to this room and made a stand with the archers and wolf.
After the conclusion of H1, Keep on the Shadowfell, the group moved on to H2, Thunderspire, out of lack of anything better from the DM (me). I’ve been putting the battle-mats to good use and you can see the post encounter map with all enemies killed dead.
I will note that if you are playing these pre-made modules, your group is most likely out-leveling the content. I made some changes to the last fight to try and make it more challenging and I think it succeeded. Despite some bad rolls on my part, and good roles on the party’s part, things seemed to be more challenging. Next encounter will be the telling part.
And, BTW, that’s some crumb cake, courtesy the wizard in the party. It was very good.
Last Saturday I finished running Keep on the Shadowfell. I think that most of the reviews and feedback I have heard about the module branded it as too difficult or bland. I don’t think it’s a bad adventure. It’s a very classic dungeon crawl with lots of variation. I can clearly see that this was written to introduce new players to all the different kinds of challenges that D&D 4e has to offer. In that respect, it does a good job.
The players in our game were very shrewd most of the time in focusing fire and clearing the entire dungeon. This meant that they leveled up faster than the adventure was designed for and I had to make many of the fights harder. There were only a few bad times when the enemies got the upper hand. Surprise rounds can be harsh on the party. 🙂
So now I turn to the future and I’m not sure what I will run next. We all decided that D&D 4e is the right game for the group, but I’m not sure whether I will home-brew an adventure or just pick up the next pre-made adventure from Wizards of the Coast.
Since the day I first logged into a MUD, I will always want to play multi-player online games. It’s just a genre that I enjoy playing at many levels, and I enjoy the evolution of the genre. The basic concepts of virtual worlds are fascinating, and always will be.
One of the ideas I dwelled on and mulled over in my head was the idea of using a time-tested RPG system for a computer game. I was generally very upset with the Dark Age of Camelot system and felt it was impossible to ever find balance and fairness with that system. I know lots of MMO’s have licensed settings, but why not license an existing RPG’s mechanics? If you wait long enough, your crazy ideas will come true.
Dungeons & Dragons Online has recently decided to change their pricing scheme from a monthly subscription to a hybrid free-to-play structure. The game has been around for three years, but I had never given it much attention. The reviews seemed bad and, at the time, I was not willing to shell out fifteen dollars per month to find out for myself. But with the advent of the free-to-play changes, suddenly the price seemed right. I signed up for their closed beta and I was allowed in a few weeks ago.
And I find myself conflicted.
On one hand, I think DDO is a perfect case of an existing mechanic making the game more enjoyable. On the other hand, I don’t really like the D&D 3e rules. I do think DDO stands as a testament on how well you can translate a tabletop or pencil and paper RPG into an online game. The concepts of how the game feels and plays are a good translation of the D&D tabletop experience. I would love to see a turn-based D&D 4e multi-player online game. Maybe if I wait long enough.
Sometimes I have a pretty huge chip on my shoulder that I want to share here. I furiously begin writing down my ideas in some form of irrational prose. And then I scrap it because my entire point gets lost. Maddening!
Let me say plainly that all I want are plastic, pre-painted miniatures sold in a way that lets me buy what I want. I don’t want random monsters. I don’t want to paint them myself. I don’t want to use glass beads or cardboard tokens. No clever marketing gimmicks.
Reaper seems to be catching on. But Wizards of the Coast doesn’t seem to get it. They keep trying to somehow sell their miniatures as collectables. If you are going to make a table top role playing adventure game that (by the book) requires miniatures to play, don’t jerk me around!
Except this time, with a dice tower. It had an amazing impact on game play. Mostly because people had trouble seeing their results, or seeing the map over the giant tower. I’ll have to focus on making it smaller and easier to see the dice roll results.
I think it does a good job of actually removing the dice or the person as the problem. In my mind, that means rolls are more random and I didn’t see any long streaks of bad rolls. But, to others, it means the dice tower must be the problem when a bad roll happens. 🙂
I still maintain that it’s nothing more than a gimmick if you are a good dice roller. But we all get lazy, and we all have tables that are not ideal rolling surfaces. And those things, coupled with a D4, for example, are just asking for trouble. In the end, it’s just a die roll and the tower just gives you a better view of your own naval.
I’ve given this blog a rest. I’ve pretty much stopped playing World of Warcraft and I’m not really looking back. I play some Warhammer Online every so often. I’m not really happy with any video games recently. Maybe something better will come along.
Until then, I’ve started running a weekly D&D session. It seems to be all the rage in the nerd community to get back into D&D with the latest edition, as is evidenced by “The Podcasts”. I can’t argue with the prevailing logic that fun things are fun. Curse you logic!
I used to hate D&D. The third edition was quasi skill based without having any solid footing in a setting. I’m not a fantasy kind of guy. These issues, which are mine alone, turned D&D into a bitter experience that I avoided, or managed to tolerate in the company of excellent friends. I was always more attuned to the Robotech, Battletech, and Heavy Gear persuasions of RPGs. I skew big metal robot, I suppose.
And then D&D 4e came along and when I saw it, it said, “I’m totally a game, and you can kill enemies and take their stuff.” Something inside me just shrugged and said, “I can dig it.” The setting is a plane of squares. The game is downright devilish in it’s design, bridging the gap between a complex board game and seriously serious role playing with two page character backgrounds and people crying when their character dies. That’s some crazy bridge, I tell you. A bridge that I imagine many people spend their entire lives on. Never really wanting to go to either extreme.
In the image above, you can see that combat has commenced, enemies hiding out of sight, while our fearless Warlord, Mortiz, has rushed headlong into a trap. The faceless Warlock, Slayn, stands next to him, planning to hurt evil goblins. They managed to not die that night. But they aren’t out of the dungeon, yet.