Friday, May 30, 2014

D&D Campfire Stories: Famous Last Words

Over my terribly long and amusing time in D&D, I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of witnessing several “blaze of glory” deaths. I’ve also witnessed some of the most painful and pitiful of demises and I’ve seen several characters go to meet their maker in a variety of modest and mediocre ways. However, despite the method or the mode, one thing that most of them have in common is some interesting, hilarious, or oddly insightful final utterance. To put it simply: famous last words.

What follows are a few of my personal favorites that I have noted over the years and be aware that the language in italics has been altered for PG-13 (but I’m sure you can figure out what was really said):

·         Player- “What kind of Demon is it?”
DM – “The big nasty kind!”

·         DM- “The Dragon opens one big yellow eye!”
Player – “Aw, crap.”

·         Player – “I didn’t mean to hit it! I just wanted a warning shot! I told you I angled out!”
DM- “No you did not!”
             Player – “I DID! I ANGLED OUT!”

·         Player- “It’s going to eat me, isn’t it?”
DM- “Looks that way.”
Player- “Nuts.”

·         Player- “How big is it?”
DM- “One hundred feet long and thirty feet high.”
Player- “And what is that in meters?”

·         DM- “What are you doing next?”
Player 1- “We’re going in quietly.”
Player 2- “Screw that!” (Knocks down door)

·         DM- “He says, ‘You’ll be executed in the morning.’”
Player- “But I beat him at checkers! He said that if I won he’d let me go! I’m yelling, ‘I beat you at checkers you jerk!’”

·         DM- “What are you yelling at the city walls?”
Player- “I am asking them to surrender!”

·         Player- “Can I have a do-over?”
DM- “How much do you have in your wallet?”

·         Player- “I’m going to whisper something in her ear.”
DM- “Well that’s when the dagger goes in.”

·         Player 1- “How many do you see?”
Player 2- “Just run!”

·         DM- “The King would like an explanation.”
Player- “Tell him to go suck a lemon!”

·         Player- “Well that wasn’t so bad!”
DM- (laughs and then rolls)

·         DM- “That seems to have killed it.”
Player- “Seems?”
DM- “Well…”

·         Player- “I say, ‘I’m only paying you half.’”
DM- “He says, ‘That wasn’t the deal!’”
Player- “I say, ‘Oh yeah? Well what are you going to do about it?’”

·         Player- “I’m putting my hand in.”
DM- “Not checking for traps?”
            Player- “Nope.”

·         Player- “What color is it?”
DM- “Purple.”
Player- “I’m eating it anyway.”

·         Player- “So it’s a rope bridge, over a pit of boiling oil, with something swimming in it?”
DM- “Yeah.”
Player- “Cool!”

·         Player- “I got 21!”
DM- “Miss.”
Player- “What?!”
            DM- “Miss!”
            Player- “Beep, beep, beep, beep!”

·         Player- “I’m going to lower my weapon and put my hands up.”
DM- “Oh really?”

Feel free to add your own in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It's Better Cause It's Free! : D&D BASIC.

Hey folks!
I wanted to share this article with everyone because I think that this is the most definitive proof yet that 5th Edition will be the most inclusive, prolific, and user friendly rendition of D&D ever!

Wizards of the Coast Announces BASIC D&D. An ongoing and free to the public PDF with all of the basic rules, characters, monsters, and magic required to play: 


Monday, May 26, 2014

If Music Be The Food of Roleplaying...

Music has always been a powerful part of my life. It was a fun way to learn when I was a toddler; I sang solos in concerts, talent shows, and fundraisers in elementary school; it carried me through some dark times as a teenager; I took vocal and singing lessons in university and participated in a few musical stage productions; and even today, my music and signing is an important part of my personal identity. All of that background is to convince you that I have a deep appreciation for music. So, when I say that I’m very conflicted when it comes to using music during game sessions, you know where I am coming from.

Over the past eighteen years playing D&D, I have participated in both ends of the gaming/music spectrum. My early games in the mid-to-late 90’s were filled with the songs of Queen, Guns and Roses, Def Leppard, Metallica, and many others. For us at the time, these songs were meant to pump us up for the inevitable battle that would finish off almost every session. Then, as some of our regular members changed and I moved out of a player’s role and into a DM’s role, I kept the music but I changed the playlist to match my style. Soon the background was filled with soundtracks from Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Braveheart, and classical pieces by Holst, Bach, and Grieg. I made this change because I was finding the music with lyrics too distracting and the instrumental stuff usually had a longer running time with fewer changes in mood and tempo.

During my university days, I started playing at other people’s apartments and homes so the music was left up to the hosts and that meant it was usually left out altogether. I slowly started to realize that some people preferred playing with nothing in the background and others missed it greatly. It opened my eyes to the idea that, just like particular styles of roleplaying, the enjoyment or dislike of the music while gaming depended completely on the individual players. In essence, there are some players who find music as an enhancement to the playing experience and are able to incorporate it into their “theater of the mind” and, on the other hand, there are also players who cannot enjoy the music because they find it far too distracting and disrupting to the roleplaying.

Presently and for the past two years, I’ve played a lot of my games in public places such as gaming stores and conventions. Having music in either of these venues is both difficult (due to the noise of others) and inconsiderate (for the other players outside of my game). Do I miss using music during my games? Yes. Does not having music during my games take away from my players’ roleplaying experience? Well that’s the real question! My first reaction is to say no. My players are having just as good an experience and having fun without the need of a soundtrack. However, from time to time, there is still a part of my brain that shouts out, “This would be so much cooler with John Williams!”

No matter what side of the argument you stand on, I think it is important to realize that music is a gaming tool. It can be used or not used depending on the preference of the DM and the players. It’s no different than a calculator, a map, or miniatures. Some people enjoy the add-ons and others prefer their D&D straight up. It’s also important to note that a DM’s preference in music may not translate over to all of his or her players. For example, when I do use music in my games I lean very heavily on movie soundtracks and classical pieces but I know for a fact that at least one of the groups I currently DM would dislike me using that style. And while I’m not a huge fan, I’m sure that there are lots of groups out there that blare out Rap, Death Metal, Techno, and possibly even Polka every night.  And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as everyone in the group is in agreement and having a good time.

Also, if music is a big part of your game, another thing to consider is how some of your players may react to certain types of music. For example, I know that a friend of mine is very attached to the Gladiator soundtrack and loves to play it for his games, especially during his combat scenes as it pumps him up. His players, on the other hand, may not feel the same as they are not nearly as attached to that music. As the entertainers say, “Know your audience”! An older DM might enjoy putting on a little 70’s/80’s rock but if all of his or her players are teenagers and didn’t start listening to music until the year 2000, the DM’s choice of music may not be very well received. Vice versa if the players are all in their 30’s and 40’s and the DM has just had his or her 20th birthday. The best advice here is to open up the lines of communication, see what your player’s preferences are, and try to reach some sort of consensus. 

Another tricky aspect concerning music and roleplaying is matching the right mood of music with the right events in the storyline. Blaring AC/DC’s Back in Black during a friendly drink at the tavern might not be the best match-up. However, waiting another fifteen minutes and playing it when the bar fights break out sounds to me like pure gold! Similarly, try to avoid playing Howard Shore’s The Shire from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack during the middle of a massive battle scene. These out of place musical pieces might be funny at first but they will quickly become huge distractions. In the same vein, try to avoid random mixes and shuffles as they will betray you with glee.  

I suppose the moral of this article boils down to the following: If you are going to use music with your games, put a little thought into it. Make sure you are playing in an area that is conducive to music and is not disturbing others; have an open and honest conversation with your players about what, if any, music they would like to have playing; and do your best to match the music mood with the story mood. Finally, if you are still sitting on the fence about the whole music thing like I am, remember that a truly interesting game with a great storyline will make any music obsolete… although John Williams really does make almost anything cooler.


Friday, May 23, 2014

D&D Next is Now 5th Edition

So the last time I checked in on the D&D Next Playtest/Game was early December, 2013. What’s new over the past five months? Short answer: A lot.

Here are a few links to some of the bigger developments for those of you who missed them:
  • Official press release announcing the Summer 2014 launch:  (See Here)
  • Tyranny of Dragons, the first major D&D Next event, is announced: (See Here)
  • It is announced that WizKids will be the official supplier of the D&D Next Miniature line: (See Here)
  • Mike Mearls releases an in-depth look at Sorcerers,Warlocks, and Bards in D&D Next:               (See Here and Here and Here)
  • D&D Next officially becomes D&D 5th Edition, Dungeons and Dragons gets a new "retro" logo, and the product release dates are announced as follows: Starter Set on July 15, Players Handbook on August 19, Hoard of the Dragon Queen (adventure) on August 19, Monster Manual on September 30, The Rise of Tiamat (adventure) on October 21, and Dungeon Master's Guide on November 19. (See Here)
  • And finally, the new D&D Adventurers League is announced (organized play): (See Here)
Lots more to come as D&D 5th Edition ramps up! What do you think so far? Leave a comment.

Monday, May 12, 2014

7 Favorite Home Brew Creations

Hey folks, sorry about missing the past few weeks of Friday postings due to illness but we're back up and running this week! Here's this week's article:

Sometimes, right in the thick of things, a DM has to create a monster or an item that just doesn’t exist in any Players’ or Dungeon Master’s Guide. Maybe the situation calls for a unique reward, maybe the storyline demands it, or perhaps the DM just wants to lay the smackdown on his/her PCs. Whatever the reason, a DM should never be intimidated to go off the beaten trail and improvise a good original idea. You never know until you try, right?  In that vein, I thought I’d share with you seven of the more interesting items and monsters I’ve home-brewed when the situation required something completely different.

-          The Doppelganger Mirror  
This is one I made up for a dungeon many years ago and have brought it back at least two or three times since. It usually presents itself as a six-foot high floor mirror with some sort of canvas or sheet covering it. Once the PCs take the sheet off, the magic in the mirror activates and it creates a perfect, yet evil and violent, copy of the person/people that gaze into it, including their weapons, armor, items, and skills. In reality, these doppelgangers are just an illusion but can be deadly for those PCs that cannot disbelieve.

-          The Character in a Crystal
Here’s a convention I’ve used dozens of times. Need an NPC to show up instantly? Perhaps a new PC has just joined the group and you are wondering how to get them into the game? Use a Character in a Crystal™! These are usually gumball sized crystals with a tiny figure inside or sometimes they are regular gems that project a weird telepathic voice when held. Either way, when you break these suckers open or smash them on the floor, a perfectly preserved person is summoned. These make great vehicles to introduce new characters because, a) the freed person is usually very grateful to their emancipators and may even owe a life debt which is a perfect excuse for them to tag along with the group; and b) perhaps the freed person has some vital knowledge on the dungeon or quest in which the PCs are currently engaged. Also, a new PC or NPC joining the party makes for more dynamic treasure than a bunch of gold coins. It’s also a little fun to see a player, who knows that they are trapped inside a gem, squirm and beg the other players to let them out.

-          The Edible Spellbook
Alright, I have no shame in admitting that the idea for this one came from the animated Gargoyles television show, but I still think that it’s a cool idea. A Wizard’s spell book is the single most important item they will ever own and is one of the easiest items in the game to destroy/lose. Water damage, fire damage, acid damage, dispel magic, pick pockets, and many more threats are constantly trying to ruin your Mage career by making you bookless. Thus, my solution was to protect it in the safest place I could think of, my character’s own body. By placing a simple enchantment on the book, it would make it possible to ‘eat’ the book and regurgitate it back up whenever required. Maybe not the most elegant method but it worked for me. In recent years, I believe that this innovation has become somewhat replaced with the idea of tattooing your spells on your skin. Still, I find the notion clever and a lot less time consuming than putting on all that ink.

-          The Lepreling       
This was a creature/race of my own creation and it was born out of a simple question: What would happen if a Leprechaun and a Halfling had a child? My answer was a Lepreling! They are a slightly smaller version of a Halfling with many natural illusion abilities and an insatiable desire for collecting gold. They received bonuses to both dexterity and intelligence and were damn proficient with a sheleighleigh. Unfortunately, my prototype was very short lived due to his far too curious/greedy nature.

-          Hat of Projected Thoughts    
This was a cursed item that I came up with on the fly one day. Basically, whenever a PC or NPC puts the hat on, it immediately projects all of the wearer’s thoughts directly into the brains of any other person standing within ten feet. This could be handy if someone has information you desperately need and it can also be hilarious if someone is thinking about someone else in a less than flattering way. The only catch is, once the hat is worn only a powerful remove curse spell can get it off and eventually hearing everything someone else is thinking can get very annoying.  

-          The Wagon/Carriage of Holding   
To quote Dr. Who, “It’s bigger on the inside.” I’ve used this creation many times usually when the PCs are going to be ‘on the road’ for a long periods. Although it may look like a normal covered wagon or enclosed carriage, the extra-dimensional space on the inside can be as large as a tennis court and is sometimes divided into inn-sized rooms so that each PC has their own personal space. The downside to this practical transportation is the fact that they seem to have a knack for falling off cliffs, bridges, and ravines or being stolen/borrowed by pesky NPCs with most of the player’s gear inside (wink).

-          Displacer Dragon   

I’ll admit that I created this horror to deliberately humble a party whose egos had inflated to roughly the size of New Jersey. As a lesson, I wanted to confront them with a nasty original creature with some unexpected powers and abilities. Thus I gave birth to the Displacer Dragon. This was an adult Black Dragon who had managed to blend its powers with that of a Displacer Beast. The result was a massive, spell wielding, multiple attack per round Dragon with the ability to blink in and out of existence and appear almost anywhere on the battlefield at any time. To make matter’s worse, this dragon was also capable of teleporting a random PC away into the void for a round at a time. In the end, the party settled for running away with only two of their five members unconscious. Mission accomplished.          

Monday, May 5, 2014

Can D&D and Religion Get Along?

If you are a regular reader of this Blog, you may recall an article I did a few weeks ago entitled “D&D’s Dark Past”. If you missed it you can find it HERE. After writing that article, I noticed that much of the opposition that exists to playing D&D came from one of two places: a) people’s uninformed fear; and b) religion. Since I already try to address people’s uninformed fears by giving them weekly articles on, about, and concerning D&D; I figured I would take this week’s article to address the second topic of religion. Don’t ever say that I shy away from the tough issues.

So what can I say about D&D and religion? Well I suppose it depends on what religion you subscribe to, if any at all. Although I’m no expert and don’t scour the internet for evidence of how all of the different religions feel towards D&D, I get a distinct feeling that only Christianity (and even then only a small portion) has any measurable feelings on the subject. I’m personally a Buddhist and, other than an argument that could be made about D&D being a wasted effort, I don’t see or hear about any issues on our end. If there are any Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or other denominations out there that take offence to Dungeons and Dragons, I invite you to drop me a line and enlighten me.

So that being said, let’s get back to the arguments from that minority of Christians. I believe the main issues that cause the divide between D&D and religion can be boiled down into three objections: Firstly, the many references to demons, devils, and the occult; secondly, the fact that D&D encourages players to assume character roles that involve magic and some of that magic could be considered to be ‘dark magic’; and thirdly, the inherently violent nature of the game. In examining these three things, I can understand the foundations for the religious argument but I’m not quite sure they fully understand the harmlessness of these things from a player’s perspective.

On the first matter, dungeoneers (again, that’s the term I use to describe people who play D&D) don’t engage in D&D for their characters to become demons and devils, nor do they aspire to become evil and perform unholy acts. Even in an adventure where the DM permits the players to roleplay “evil” characters, I would submit that very few groups take the notion to a dangerous or detrimental level. And I would also submit that playing out one's darker fantasies in a roleplaying situation is an excellent way of exploring one's darker side in a very safe and forgiving environment. However, in most campaigns, characters engage demons and devils in combat to rid the “world” of their evil. How is that such a bad thing? And, to be perfectly honest and avoid any naivete on my part, if there are any groups out there engaging in active demonic/unholy practices while playing D&D, they are the few exceptions that prove the rule and I encourage them all to seek professional help. But the bottom line is D&D does not promote or encourage that behavior on any level.   

On the second matter, the characters in D&D do dabble in actions that involve magic and yes, some of it could be interpreted as “dark magic” from time to time. Such things may include mind control, bringing a dead character back to life, or talking to the dead. However, in my experience, this is on such an innocent level it’s almost laughable. And honestly, are these things so off-putting? I see most of these acts on your average night of PG-13 mainstream television. Also, from an in-game point of view, many of these acts are done to gather information, stop an evil person from doing something horrible, or to save a party member from missing out on the fun of an adventure by being unfortunately dead. Personally, I would do all three of these things in real life if I thought any of them would work properly! But again, the bottom line is all of this is done in fun and usually for the greater good of the players. I see no threat towards corrupting our youth here unless you also feel that Harry Potter may be promoting Satanism.    

The last objection/accusation is one that D&D as well as many other media outlets (rap music, video games, movies, television, etc.) have fallen prey to: they are violent and are gateways to more violence. And I’m not going to mince my words here: D&D is violent. There are weapons, fighting, wounding, and death on almost a nightly basis. It exists and it is an inseparable part of the game, no excuses. However, I want to direct your attention to the following research that shows a lot of study has gone into violent games over the past few years and there is virtually no link between the violent games people play and violent acts in real life:

"This analysis does not find support for either a causal or correlational link between violent media and subsequent aggression in viewers. Why the belief of media violence effects persists despite inherent weaknesses of research is somewhat of an open question."          

-Ferguson, Christopher J. and John Kimburn. "The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic  Review." Journal of Pediatrics 154 (2009): 759-763. 10 Aug. 2011.

"The strong link between video game violence and real world violence, and the conclusion that video games lead to social isolation and poor interpersonal skills, are drawn from bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports."

-Kutner, Lawrence, PH.D. and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD. Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Video Games And What Parents Can Do. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

"Two studies examined the relationship between exposure to violent video games and aggression or violence in the laboratory and in real life. Study 1 participants were either randomized or allowed to choose to play a violent or nonviolent game. Although males were more aggressive than females, neither randomized exposure to violent-video-game conditions nor previous real life exposure to violent video games caused any differences in aggression. Study 2 examined correlations between trait aggression, violent criminal acts, and exposure to both violent games and family violence. Results indicated that trait aggression, family violence, and male gender were predictive of violent crime, but exposure to violent games was not. Structural equation modeling suggested that family violence and innate aggression as predictors of violent crime were a better fit to the data than was exposure to video game violence. These results question the common belief that violent-video-game exposure causes violent acts."

-Ferguson, Christopher J., Stephanie M. Rueda, Amanda M. Cruz, Diana E. Ferguson, Stacey Fritz and Shawn M. Smith. "Violent video games and aggression: Causal relationship or byproduct of family violence and intrinsic violence motivation?" Criminal Justice & Behavior 35 (2008): 311-332. 10 Aug. 2011.

I know that studies by themselves don’t amount to a whole lot but ask yourself these questions: How many wars do you think have been started over roleplaying games? And how many wars have been started over religion? I know that may be putting too fine a point on it but people in glass houses…

Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me to end this article here. While I can find no reasonable argument for religious groups to despise D&D and vice versa, I can site many things that both institutions have in common. For starters, many religions and D&D preach the morals of courage, honor, self-restraint, and putting the needs of others ahead of your own. Many religions and D&D thrive best when their practitioners support each other with a sense of community and inclusion. Many religions and D&D have distinctive cultures and people who are passionate about what they represent. And here’s the real shocker: I’ll bet that a huge number of people who have strong support of their faith also love to play D&D. I know I do and I’ve known many others who have no qualms with going to their weekly religious service and their weekly D&D game within hours of each other. There’s nothing wrong with that and you can tell anyone who says otherwise to drop me a line because I’d love to debate it with them! As far as I’m concerned, D&D and religion are a lot more alike than either of them would like to admit and after all things are considered, perhaps that observation is both the cause of and the solution to the problem.