It is a time of great strife, of competing systems of power.. of Finders of Paths, or the 4th brotherhood, and of the Next of kin…

From the ashes of this great conflict will arise a new empire, a kingdom of men (and women…), born of friendship and a desire to have fun.

And It Shall Be Called…

THE UK D&D TWEETUP!

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UK D&D Tweetup!

A little bit about lots of D&D

So I’ve been playing a lot of D&D recently. D&D in lots of different varieties, and so I wanted to go over these different systems nd highlight my thoughts, feelings and experiences of them.

Basic D&D
Aka BECMI, aka the Rules Cyclopedia. I started my gaming in basic D&D and because I wanted to have a table of it at ukt5, I ran myself through the Escape from Zanzer Tems dungeon from the black starter set. Basic D&D is a weird beast. It, like all the games in this post, has all the things you expect from a D&D game, ac, hp, saves, 6 stats etc.

But it really was basic, no skills, 4 classes and demi humans (elf, dwarf, halfling) as classes… Theres no customization. It had thaco, downwards ac, and a really weird movement in combat and initiative system.

For years I’ve resisted the appeal of the OSR moment because I always felt if I wanted to ply old school I could just pull out my basic D&D stuff and play it. Turns out I found it a really big backwards step and was wanting better healing, more choice in combat, better movement, fairer initiative etc.

I’ll always hold a place in my heart for basic D&D, because without it, I wouldn’t be gaming today, but my god, it was hard to play/run.

4E
Next up we have 4e. I love 4e. I loved it from the moment I first read the pdfs leaked on the torrents and I still love picking up the books today, years after most people have turned their back on it.

I’m not so in love that I can’t see its faults, hell, other people go out if their way to tell me about them often enough! The thing is, the faults never really got in the way for me. I never really played above the sweet spot of level 6 and I could keep combat moving. I gamed with great people for whom story was expected and it happened. It was also a breeze to run.

I kind of expect 4e to find its fans in 15 to 20 years, for people of the future to look back and go ‘damn, 4e really pushed the boundaries and wasn’t as bad as I remember’.

4e though, however you look at it, was very combat focused, and had a super heroic, big darn heroes style vibe going on. A level one 4e character generally has more options than anything in any other system at any level. To me, that’s a good thing, it means that games don’t become “I hit it”, “I cast heal”, “i’m out of magic let’s go to sleep”.

D&D Next
Then there’s D&D Next. Thanks to the tweetups, I’ve been private playtesting this for wotc for 2 years.

Its been fun but at times its been hell, public packets to test, a private packet, a revision of a fighter or rogue etc and a secret adventure module. At times we were playtesting 3 or 4 times a week, and that much gaming, on a system in flux, takes its toll.

So when I say that some of the most enjoyable going sessions of my 20+ years have been with D&D Next, that’s some pretty damn good praise of it.

D&D Next is a very specific kind of game, it’s 40 years of D&D history, distilled and refined by people’s feedback. Every time I look through the packets, I can spot something I wanted tweaked or a suggestion I made or something that I praised. That makes me smile.

The trouble is, it also makes me sad. I’ve had so much input into the game and I feel like I’ve made a difference, but it’s not the classic d&d game I would write. For ever piece of feedback I made that was changed, theres 4 more that weren’t. It doesn’t mean Next is bad, it just means it’s not the game I wanted it to be.

And, to be honest, after 2 years of playing it pretty much exclusively, I’m kind of sick of the sight of it. It really has been an enjoyable experience, but I’m ready for a change.

Pathfinder
Pathfinder… 3.75 if you believe the Internet. I never really played much 3e/3.5e, so I can’t say for certain, but Paizo have done an incredible thing with Pathfinder.

They have a massive, vocal, aggressive fan base. They churn out lots of incredibly illustrated and detailed source books. Their iconic characters are cool, their goblins are cool, they have an organised play system, minis, card games, even audio dramas. Put simply, Paizo is a power house.

I pick up pathfinder stuff now an again because of the detail they contain, but I don’t play it, I find the rules, with cmb’s and cmd’s and bab’s and a thousand other acronyms a barrier against entry. And despite all their books being detailed and illustrated, their layout sucks.

So when a couple of years ago, they put out the beginners set, saying it was pathfinder with the complex rules removed, I jumped at it, got the pdfs and played it. It was ok, but at the time, I was still heavily into 4e.

Time has passed and with a work colleague wanting to game, and the Tweetup due, I decided to pick the beginners set up in physical form.

This is where this product excels, it is a sturdy box, absolutely jam packed, and it has a totally different layout to the core pathfinder books. It’s world’s apart from the 4e starter sets, and is supported, not only by paizo, but the fans, with people using the ogl nature to make beginners box set versions of all the Pathfinder classes.

Given you can get this box for £19 and it has 5 levels of play and so much support, it’s almost a crime to pay so little for it.

I decided to play through it for myself and then again with my family, and both times have been fun.

However…

Pathfinder isn’t exactly modern. It’s nearly 6 years old now and is built on 3e, so it’s really nearly 15 years old. It’s missing so many things that all the other systems on here have, such as in combat healing, extra actions, simple movement, class balance… none of this is essential, it just feels a bit incomplete to me. I’ll do another post in a while to discuss ways I would address this.

What the Pathfinder Beginner’s set is though, is fast, fun and simple. The lettering of various sections, the removal of complex stuff like opportunity attacks means we breezed through 8 rooms, 3 fights, exploration and interaction in 90 minutes. If you go on the standard accusations against 4e, that would be 8 fights with no exploration since 4e is only about combat, and each fight with take 4 hours and i’d still be playing this time tomorrow! (if you didn’t quite get the point, I’m making fun at the idiots who say 4e is only about combat and that combat takes forever).

My son and wife have mainly played 4e, and they really got into the less combat options, so we must explore/interact mindset.

13th Age
The final thing I’ve been playing and reading recently is 13th Age. My previous blog post covers this in a bit more detail, but 13th Age rocks. It’s a story based version of 3e, with 4e like combat options, but it doesn’t drown you in choice. It’s fairly fast paced, and it’s definitely fun.

It’s not perfect, it’s got this cool concept of free movement if you aren’t engaged with an enemy, but the engaged rules make 3e opportunity attacks look simple imho.

To me though, 13th Age is the game I want to play at the moment. With playtesting of Next winding down, and only a few if my friends still having an interest in 4e, we’ll be looking for a new system to use and I think all of us will agree that 13th Age has our attention. We’re eagerly waiting the bestiary, eagerly devouring snippets from 14 True Ways and some of us have all the organised play adventures, downloaded and ready to run…

My review of 13th Age

I promised people a review of the 13th Age games at the UKT5 Tweetup, but work and s sister in laws wedding have got in the way, so here it is, a little delayed…

First off, let me say I wasn’t a 13th Age virgin going into UKT5, I’d had a look at the game during the very early playtests, I have the book and pdf, and had read them, and had even played a game or two of it. It’s not that much more than the others at the tweetup, but still…

In the early previews I’ll openly admit that I wasn’t that impressed by it, and even when I first looked at the final pdf it didn’t wow me the same way 4e did when I first looked at it and played it, but 13th Age’s strengths become clear when you actually start digging into its guts, rather than having a superficial read.

For me, this was last August time, planning the tweetup event that I cancelled. I went over the book and pdf several times, writing a what’s different post for this blog, writing a simplified how to play document and writing my own icons for the Forgotten Realms.

In doing this, I got to see how the game tries to tie players into the story and make them more creative, through the use of rules tweaks, beginning with the games Icons; which kinda speak for themselves, they are the ever present tropes of fantasy games – a dwarf king, an orc warlord, an emperor, a super wizard… These icons are at the foundation of the games focus on story, they make the game tick and give you a structure to build characters stories on. You can take an identically built character, and just by changing the positive/negative/conflicted relationships it has with one or two of the games icons, you totally change that characters relationship to the adventure you are playing. I particularly like conflicted relationships, it makes the icons less black and white. In play they are the people whose sole goals you are attempting to achieve, who can ignore you or grant you power, but we’ll come to that later.

Next you have backgrounds and skills. This is another area where the game shines. But rather than have you a list of backgrounds, and a list of skills, the game opens the door and says ‘ok, you tell us what happened to you and how that helps you’. In other words, what you make up here, and your ability to blag it to the dm during a game, totally affects how your character grew up and what your character knows how to do. And the organised play guidelines doc from Gencon that the 13th Age guys sent me (and should really be given to every 13th Age dm) tells you to get inventive. ‘Served in the militia’ as a background tells you that you might have tactical skills, or knowledge of military stuff, or weapon maintenance, maybe some rudimentary healing. But calling it ‘under captain to the dragon knights of the emperors bathhouse (reservists)’ instead is a) so much more flavorsome b) links to the icons, c) adds something to the setting, d) adds knowledge of bathhouses to the militia stuff from earlier…

The final rules tweak to make characters invested is their One Unique Thing. Let’s be honest this is nothing new, and I know that a lot of convention gms and certainly the Pathfinder advice for new dms/players in the society games is to get players to come up with a few buzzwords to describe their character: shifty, energetic, handsome, dumb. What 13th Age does is take this idea, expand it and make it central. Every character has a whole sentence that doesn’t just define the character it also makes them unique from the next fighter with identical stats. It might be ‘I was born in a orc prisoner of war camp, and escaped as a teenager by fashioning lockpicks from the bones they threw us to eat’, or ‘I am a half elf, literally one side is elf, the other is human’ or ‘I’m and elf stuck inside a dwarves body’ or ‘I was tainted by the diabolic and now my skin smoulders with abyssal heat’ or ‘I was a normal elf rogue, wearing black face when I was cursed, turning me into a drow’. It’s amazingly open ended and like the backgrounds, the more flavorsome the better, and it can add to the setting.

Character creation in 13th age is a breeze, very little flipping back and forth between chapters (*cough* unlike D&D Next *cough*) and the rules are what you expect from a OGL based game. The difference of course is that some classes are simpler than the others and some have 4e like ‘powers’. It does some funky things with odds & even dice rolls so you can potentially still do something cool even if you miss, it takes a simple look at ranges and movement (unless you are engaged in base to base combat, you move freely, and range basically doesn’t matter), a simple way of handling critical hits and a simplistic way of handling two weapon fighting.

It handles attacks of opportunity via the engaged rule, which personally I think is hideously over complicated, especially compared to how 4e managed to do opportunity attacks. It has a 4e second wind like action, Rally, to heal in combat, and the other major addition to combat is the Escalation die, a d6 that increases it’s face (from +1 on the second round, upto +6) as the combat drags on. This totally changes combat… in 4e, you basically went nova as early as possible, blowing your encounter powers to deal as much damage as early in the fight as you could, and then falling back on at-will powers. in 13th Age, it’s actually better to hold back, weaken the target with your simpler attacks/spells and then as the escalation dice builds up, let lose with the nastier attacks.

So, now you understand the basics of 13th Age let me tell you about the games at UKT5.

On one table we had Pete/@pedr. Pete is probably the most experienced 13th Age dm I know. He’s been running it since before it came out and is even in a video used by the 13th Age guys to show off the game, where he’s teaching Morrus of Enworld fame how to play it. Pete was also my first 13th Age dm. At the tweetup, Pete was running one of the organised play adventures with a story based around a forgeborn (*cough* warforged… *cough*) love potion. On his table was James/@roguecolonel who posted his review here, and Jay/@breacher18 and her partner Amy/@r_u_d_d_a along with two other I didn’t catch the names of.

Our second table was run by Rich/@richgreen01, publisher of the middle eastern like city source book Parsantium. Indeed, rich’s game was set in his city. On this table was paul/@paulbaalham, my wife Helen/@sleepymrsp, Simon (not of the symatt variety) and his daughter, Dmitri/@feanan, and I think one other. Rich’s game was a murder mystery set in one of the cities bathhouses with the city gangs involved. Theres a more detailed writeup here.
From what my wife has said, she enjoyed it, more so than when she’s played 4e, though she did say the maths involved due to multiple dice and different dice sizes was an issue. Her other complaint was that Rich seemed to spend a lot of time going over the icons for his setting and then the icons didn’t really come into play, though she did like how people’s relationships to them pretty much divided the group into two.

Finally, there was Robin/@greywulf’s game. This is the table I played at, though I’ll admit with having to deal with the door and wanting to be nosy about the other tables, and keeping up with twitter, meant I wasn’t giving the game my full attention. On this table was Simon (of the symatt variety), his brother carl/@gmcarlplus5, and two tweetup newbies Simon and Jay.

I’ve gamed with Robin quite a lot in the last 2 years, as we’ve been heavily involved with the private playtesting if D&D Next. Sometimes he’s been the dm, sometimes I have, sometimes we’ve both had chance to play. I like his play style as it quite laid back and is a lot like mine, in that he’s happy to let people do out of the ordinary stuff with their characters.

I chose a dark elf wizard pregens, level 4. This is massively higher than my previous 13th age experience (both level 2). In reality, all this meant was more hp, an extra spell and my stuff did a bit more damage. Whoever built the pregens had done do in a fairly non combative way – my attack spells basically inflicted conditions on targets rather than hurting them. But I had cantrips, the rather ingenious utility spell, and cantrip mastery, so I decided that was how I was going to play the character, as a hedge mage, someone with a handful of parlour tricks and the occasional uber spell.

Robin had tweeted that his game was going to be called Night of the 10,000 Zombies. He wasn’t far off… using a poster map and tiddlywinks to show a horde of zombies we ended with most of the dock side and the hillside graveyard covered in the little tokens!

Our sorcerer started the fight off with a flashy light show, chain lightning his way through something like 7 zombies and a few hundred points of damage in total. Goodbye docks! That kinda cemented my decision to play it more utility and so I went to town with my cantrips – it wasn’t until my 6th spell that I actually attacked using a proper spell.

To shorten the story, we made no real impact on the hordes and ended up split into two groups, one in a warehouse of alcohol barrels up a hill, and the rest of us still at the dock side. I ended up trampled by a runaway barrel and chewed on by zombies, but made it to the warehouse and snuck into a smugglers tunnel beneath it…

Eventually we ended up noticing a single baddie with a glowing sword (quick note, nothing good ever comes from a 13th Age magic item, they are all evil egotistical despots).

We let loose and killed him (Yay to ongoing damage) and then the sword disappeared, appearing in one of our allies hands…

And then the attitude on the table changed. We role played this to the hilt, allies unsure of what was happening, people backstabbing, me getting dragged my 40 zombies into a burning alcohol warehouse… 4 tense rounds went by without the building exploding, Robin passed me a note; “the trapdoor”. It was my potential escape, so I try and escape, no such luck. It’s another tense explosion roll… it’s down to a 2+ on the roll to explode, not good odds, and robin rolls a 5… He asks me if I want another escape attempt but I shake my head, I’ve already failed to shake myself free from the zombies, I’m down to 6 hp… I take the noble exit and explode… letting the rest of the group finish up the adventure.

I’ve kind glossed over it, but Robin has us making icon rolls quite frequently to see how our relationships would be affected by us gaining control over the sword etc. It worked, and kept the icons part of the adventure, whereas in the official guidelines you basically roll at the start of an adventure.

EDIT: I’ve expanded this section as the original version was brief and could be viewed as negative…

So, after my 3rd game of it, what do I think of 13th Age…

I like it, and more crucially, I want to play more of it. I want to try the fighter with its odd/even roles, I want to try the rogue with its momentum based stuff. It’s a system that works well to give you combat options along with mechanics for telling and investing in a story, and theese changes to the OGL work!

I do however have a few concerns with it. They don’t stop the system from being great, but they are issues that could effect people’s enjoyment of the game.

1) it requires a dm who can adapt to what the players can bring into the game thru the relationships, backgrounds and unique things.
I don’t think that 13th Age would be a good choice for an inexperienced DM and this is evidenced by the adventure in the core book, which, thanks to the icons the players can choose is vague and detailed at the same time.
The flip side, is that a creative dm can take the default setting and the players tweaks and make something amazing happen.

2) it requires a group who are willing to use those things to alter the story.
I’ve always been quite lucky with the groups I’ve gamed with and getting story into sessions, but I know not all groups are like this. I suspect new players won’t be too phased by something like the one unique thing, and it’s more that middle ground; lapsed gamers, those with only a few games experience etc who will struggle with the story mechanics.
Again though, if the group GETS it, they can do wonders with the system, and derail even a well prepped DM with some fun story tweaks.

3) the rules are nothing special, a hodge podge of 3e and 4e that beyond a few fringe cases, don’t get in the way.
This is a big thing for me. 4e blew me away with inventive mechanics that took what I expected from D&D and threw it out the window (yeah, the rules that most people now say sucked are essentially what made me love gaming again, go figure). And I’m now expecting other systems to do the same. 13th Age brings some very clever things to the table, the story mechanics, the escalation die, the odd/even rolls rules. But at its heart, it’s 3e and that’s now nearly 15 years old.
Like all good systems, the rules don’t get in the way, and I reckon once i’ve played some more, the fringe cases where play has to pause while we check things will be easier to deal with.

4) characters are weak with limited options.
Sure, I’m comparing this to 4e’s big darn heroes style of play, but at level 4 I basically only had 4 different things I could do, and that was with the wizard, one of the more complex classes!
Wade, who is the main community guy for 13th Age (and an awesome bloke) pulled me up on twitter about this, and it bears more detail. Essentially it boils down to my love of  4e, which had a very powerful style of play, and systems that have followed it, such as Next and 13th Age have scaled back the power. This is NOT a bad thing, it’s more that I am very used to having more I can do at level 1 in 4e than I can do at almost mid game levels in other systems.

5) it feels more modern than D&D Next but less of an innovation than 4e was. A very good middle ground.
I wanna look at this in more detail in another blog post, but to quote @paulbaalham; 13th Age is what I wanted D&D Next to be. Whereas D&D Next falls back on 40years of D&D History and panders to the OSR crowd, 13th Age goes ‘it’s 2013, let’s make a game that feels modern’. It isn’t afraid to take things from 4e that worked, and it isn’t afraid to keep things from 3e that worked, and it’s not afraid to try it’s own new things.
I reckon 13th Age will appeal to pathfinder players who want a little more oomph in their games, and for 4e players who want less focus on fights and more focus on story. Like I say, its pretty much the centre point of a Venn diagram of 4e’s combat, 3e’s beloved rules, and story.

6) one unique things should be in every system.
I’m not sure I need to add more detail here. The icons system needs a bit more work, mainly in advice for dm’s on how to use it. Backgrounds are cool, but maybe a little too open ended and vulnerable to abuse. One unique thing on the other hand has an instant benefit and can be added to pretty much every game as a way to describe your character without breaking the system

A long reflection on UKT5

I’m starting this on Sunday, 6th April, at 6:40 pm. UKT5, the fifth annual UK D&D Tweetup event that I have organised finished roughly 25 hours ago, and we got home from our overnight stay in Worcester and a long and slow drive back about 3 hours ago, upon which time we pretty much went straight to sleep for a much needed nap…

This is a long and fairly winding look back at the event. And it’s quite brutally honest about prices and opinions.

I am one of those kind of people who can always find fault in the stuff I do, whether it’s a text box on a gui for work that is misaligned by 1 or 2 pixels, or the issues at a tweetup event that after 4 and a half years of organising and running, I still can’t get right…

So while UKT5 might have been a success to some, and yeah, it was pretty damn good, it’s not quite what I wanted or hoped for…

What are the Tweetups?
The first tweetup was back in October 2010, and was a spur of the moment thing. We’d had games days, free rpg days, encounters season, the launch of dark sun, essentials, gamma world… 4e was still a big thing and the constant events had many of us dm’s almost burnt out. And so it was suggested we meet up and just play. And thus the tweetups, a meet up organised and promoted by twitter was born. 4 and a half years later, I’ve run the 5th major ‘tweetup’ event and have filled the intervening months with occasional tweetup branded smaller events, like the drowathon. I’ve figured out that trying to arrange two big events in one year never works, and that it’s never worked when relying on others to take on some of the organisation.

But wasn’t there already a UKT5?
The ideas for UKT5 started last August, after the Tweetup on Tour, an epic coach journey around the UK visiting gaming groups who might not have heard about the tweetups or who struggle to get to them. I love meeting people and introducing them to gaming or showing them new ways to enjoy their hobby, so being able to demonstrate various different systems and adventure types on the tour was cool, and it ignited a desire to do another big event, another core ‘tweetup’ event. I started pondering it while Liam (@evoroth) planned his UK Tabletop day at Patriot Games in Sheffield, and I started sending out feelers to various stores and companies. FanBoy3 in Manchester were happy to host us, and at that time, D&D Next was in a fairly hit and miss state, so I felt it was best to use the new and upcoming 13th Age system, a game that takes the D&D 3rd edition OGL mechanics, and adds in 4e style combat options and story based roleplaying rules.

The problem was, way too many people objected to the ideas I had, not realising that they were seeing only a tiny fraction of the stuff going on behind the scenes and not realising that I had grander plans for the ‘tweetup’ brand. People objected to the location, people objected to it being single system, demanding we support other D&D, people objected to 13th age saying it’s not D&D.

In the end, all the criticism got too much for me, and despite the crazy amount of communication I was having with different companies and amount of progress we were making with an adventure design and rules tweaks, I scrapped it all. I was plunged into a fairly bad depression, I destroyed folders of material I had gathered for the tweetup brand, potential sponsors, potential venues, maps, FLGS contact info, adventure seeds, character seeds, cheat sheets… basically the only thing that was left intact was the logo, and that’s not for lack of trying. It’s backed up onto a dropbox folder and no matter how many times I deleted it, it kept re synching the file and restoring it… so I gave up. I didn’t play much rpg for another 4 months, I was that depressed.

So how come this new UKT5 happened?
It was new years eve 2013, a little over 4 months after my depressive episode. I’d been suggesting to others that if they knew better than me about the tweetups that they could organise one. And in that 4 months, no one had stepped forward to do anything. I sat on the sofa, watching TV, underwhelmed at the change of yet another number and cringing at the tradition of everyone holding hands and singing auld lang syne out of tune… I watched as tweets started flying between people I’d like to consider were my friends, and decided… “if no one else is going to get off their arse to organise something, I will, because I want to see my friends again”

And so I sent out a tentative tweet, with an idea for a date, and saying I’d pay for the venue, and if people wanted to turn up and play whatever kind of D&D they wanted, then that would be cool.

A couple of days later I hunted around for a potential venue in the worcester area. Worcester, much like Nottingham, seems to be a hot spot for geeks, with Rule 32 Cafe trying to set up down there. It’s just off the m5 and since i’d always struggled to connect with the western gamers from Manchester, Wales, Birmingham, Bristol, Devon, Cornwall, etc Worcester seemed a great idea, easy for them to get to, but not too bad for the regulars either. And I’d found a venue that was a bargain…

I booked the venue, formulated a plan for the day that would see me bringing starter sets for multiple versions of D&D and many D&D board games, and set up the Facebook page. There was the typical early traction where the tweetup regulars and friends jumped on board.

Why did it conflict with international tabletop day?
And then international tabletop day was announced… this pissed me off… I’d chosen the April 5th date as it was the only feasible one for me for, when my parents could have the kids and me and my wife weren’t busy and thus could drive down. I’d tried reaching out to Wil Wheaton and the tabletop day twitter people to double check if my date would conflict with their plans, but got no reply. Was I surprised? Of course not. Why would the infamous Wil Wheaton care to step out of his ivory tower of geekdom to speak to a mere mortal geek like me. I sound bitter…

I am bitter… I reckon we lost a fair few people to international tabletop day, and while it’s great that people supported their FLGS, theres a part of me that thinks “gee, you signed up to the event, the least you could have done is decline the event and apologise and say ‘sorry, got to help out at ittd’ rather than keep yourself on the ukt5 list and screw up my potential numbers”.

What kind of numbers are we talking? From people saying yes and maybe and saying they were bringing plus ones, I had us down for a minimum of 38 people at UKT5, and was panicking as I certainly didn’t have enough dm’s for that many people…

Anyway… How did you promote it?
There was an early rush and then… not much… no one really jumped forward to say ‘that’s cool’ or ‘do you mind if I teach people the Pathfinder rules’ or ‘basic dnd, is that so retro it’s cool again?’. I gave it 2 months of major promoting, hoping that others would help do stuff on the Facebook event page or on twitter and it all felt a bit flat.

At the start of March I started a fairly aggressive tweeting via the @UKDNDTweetup account. The date, the city, the fact it was free, the fact it was for all version of D&D. Day in, day out, morning noon and night… And believe me it’s hard to figure out a different way to convey the same info 10 times a day for 30 days…

And I watched as the Facebook numbers didn’t change. And I watched as people retweeted me, but didn’t use the hashtag or didn’t discuss it. Sure, a retweet helps… some of my friends have thousands of followers, whereas the @UKDNDTweetup has about 200 and a lot of those aren’t in the uk… However, if you’re like me, my twitter apps on my pc and my phone don’t show retweets if I’ve already seen the original tweet. That means retweets are missed… it’s more useful for people to put the core details into their own words and link to the event page.

The payoff
So let’s skip ahead to before the event. I get nervous before every event. And then I didn’t sleep because of the god damn seagulls outside my window. I was laid there, watching as people started tweeting about how excited they were as they were setting off. To be honest, that is one of the things that keeps me doing the events. 3 months of planning and promoting, a bunch of costs… it pays off in those few hours of pre-event excitement for the people getting up and travelling.

The venue
The venue for UKT5 was a church hall, capable of holding 100 people. It had natural light, it had a kitchen, it was pretty central, close to the train station, bus station and lots of parking. There were pubs nearby. There were sandwich shops nearby. It was pretty much ideal. And for me to hire it, it was cheap, £100 for the day, which effectively is two months of my rpg budget.

And it was pretty damn good. It could have been brighter, it was a little too warm, though we could have turned the heating down – we didn’t because we didn’t want to forget to turn them back in. It was a little bit echoey and if we’d have had another table or two, that would have become an issue. But it fit us all comfortably and we were able to keep an urn of water on the boil all day for people to help themselves to tea and coffee.

I’d also managed to find a local pizza place who would do us a deal on a big stack of pizzas and deliver them during the daytime. Again this was pretty good. They could have been bigger. There could have been more of them, but it meant people didn’t have to go out and find a sandwich shop, which meant more play time.

Ah, playtime…
We had the hall, officially, from 10 till 6, though people turned up by 9 am and were still turning up at 11. People needed to get away by 5:30. That means, by the time people are settled in and unpacked, and fed and packed up we realistically only have about 4 and a half hours gaming. This has consistently been an issue with every tweetup and I really don’t know how to deal with it. When we’ve specifically ran adventures with a 2 hour limit (drowathon) we still over ran, and wherever we host an event, someone will have to travel and will arrive late or leave early. I’ve seen suggestions about specifically running 2 adventures written for 3 hours of play in a day, but I just don’t know how feasible that will ever be.

The idea behind ukt5 was to fill the hall with D&D of every version. I brought with me basic D&D, 2e D&D, d20 modern, 4 games of 4e, pathfinder, 2 games of Next, 3 games of 13th age, the 4e based version of gamma world, the adventure system board game series, conquest of nerath, lords of waterdeep, and all the dungeon command sets. And enough minis and dungeon tiles for someone to run something on the fly.

So what did we end up running?
Well, Shane brought his Dwarven Forge kickstarter set, set it up as a cut down moathouse from the temple of elemental evil and ran it using D&D Next. Ok, the moathouse was bloody impressive, massive, imposing, and with a degree of detail in the paint job down by Dwarven Forge that I could never hope to achieve with my Hirst Arts stuff. It was suffice to say, an amazing centrepiece, and Shane had on his table Martin and Josh from Stoke, who are big Next fans and very focused on the game, including going to gencon this year to report on it. And Shane also had Ki, one of my old mates from my days running D&D at Leeds Travelling Man. Ki had brought his nephew, who as far as I know had no real rpg experience.

To me this is one of the things I’ve always wanted from the tweetups, to use them as a way of introducing people to D&D and the hobby via easily accessible games with an instant impact. And Dwarven Forge does have instant impact. Speaking to Ki and Curtis after their game had finished, it did sound like Curtis wanted to go to UK Games Expo to try more stuff which is a big success!

We had 3 other tables… all 13th Age… yeah, 13th Age, the system that 6 or so months ago I was told no one wanted to play because it’s not D&D…

Of the tables, @pedr, who is pretty much the uk’s expert on organised play for D&D was running a level 4 game based around an organised play special program from Pelgrane Press. As far as I know, he was using it as a warm up to running the same adventure at UK Games Expo in May.

On another table was the published author, Rich Green, who was showing off his Parsantium setting, a Constantinople like city, a melting pot of cultures. His adventure is detailed on his blog, and as my wife played on the table, I have some insight into it, that I’ll cover in another blog post.

The final table was run by Robin ‘@greywulf’, who brought boxes of cupcakes from his better half, christa… I played on this table, so again have insights I’ll share in an other blog post.

For almost everyone there, it was their first time playing that respective edition which meant every table had to spend extra time going over rules. It’s a time sink, but at the same time, the tweetups should be about playing something that you wouldn’t normally get to try, whether it’s a different system or a different style of plan or a different level of play, or one that uses 3d terrain.

The games all finished with enough time for the players to do something afterwards, be it symatt’s brother running an impromptu game of Victoriana, and people cracking open lords of the waterdeep – my personal favourite D&D board game thanks to its quick setup and sheer replayability. In three games, I’ve yet to see the same combo of Lords, quests, buildings and intrigue cards played, making each game different and uniquely challenging. But a lot of people chose to just chat…

And that made me smile…

Sure, people were having fun while gaming, based on their faces, and the tense poses they employed while hunching other terrain, dice, minis and character sheets, but one thing I’ve always wanted from the tweetups was the ability for me to stand back and move freely between groups, listening in and enjoying others enthusiastic chatter. So to be able to do this and jump in and out about conversations about shops, and systems and rules and adventures and books… that’s a big deal for me.

However, with so much D&D stuff sat on the stage, that had to be loaded into and out of a car, carried in etc, it mostly went unused and that’s kinda annoying for me. I printed out a shed load of stuff, from next how to play books, to pregens for multiple systems, to cheat sheets, to blank character sheets… and all that then had to get carried back down, reloaded into the car etc. it would have been nice to see at least some of it used.

Attendance
I was about to discuss post event stuff, but thought I’d mention attendance. At the ‘start’ we had 26 people… two tables of a dm and 6 players, and two tables of a dm and 5 players, with two additional players coming later in the day. That’s significantly down from UKT4’s attendance of 41, and much lower than the 38 I was expecting. And I’m not sure where a bunch of those people went… people like Efka, Chris, Lee… people who’d said they were definitely coming and just never showed up. That’s hard to deal with. I’m not sure if they were ill, unable to travel, had better plans, murdered in their sleep, got lost, hate me etc. But when you’re panicking over a lack of dm’s and telling the maker of cupcakes you expect close to 40 people, having 10 people just not turn up is an issue.

Post tweetup debrief
So, post tweetup, a big chunk of us headed to a local pub with shockingly bad service to enjoy a drink or two. I like this kinda of debrief, as I get to hear about the other tables as people retell their adventures, but I also get to hear the gossip that people don’t put on twitter. One thing that did come out of it, was that the wonderful Jay, @brecher18, has found other women in gaming hard to approach. It spawned an interesting discussion on partners gaming simply because their boyfriends/husbands do, and the idea of a woman’s only event, which I’ll cover later.

Slowly, people headed off, and the Tweetup was over…

So, some other stuff to discuss.

Price…
For me, this was the most expensive tweetup event yet. £100 for the venue, £30 pound for pizza, £170 for a hotel for 2 nights, £20 for parking, £70 for fuel, £60 for food during th travel/stay, plus other costs like buying the missing board games, hunting down intact basic D&D starter sets on ebay, printing etc. Let’s call it £500 which is what I’d expect to pay for a family holiday for 2014, and mean I probably aren’t getting a summer break this year.

In reality I didn’t actually cover all those expenses myself. Paul offered about a month ago to pay for the pizzas, and a couple of others wouldn’t take no for an answer and forced me to accept some money as a thank you. And time and again during the day, people asked how much they had to pay, and how much did they owe me, and why aren’t I charging them.

I’m not charging them, because I do this for my enjoyment, not because it’s a business, not because I’m trying to make a profit. But because if I don’t do this, no one else does, and we don’t meet up with friends and game.

And what would you have paid? For some of you, it’s £40 to £80 to travel. Would you have paid say, £5, to play one game? Let’s say it was £3, the equivalent of a game ticket at UK Games Expo… that’s fairly reasonable and I know people like Ki bought that much in biscuits… But if I’d have charged that and only got the initial 26 attendees, minus maybe myself and 4 dm’s.. 21 x £3 still would have left me out of pocket. And there’s that chance that charging for it would have put people off coming…

I felt terrible about charging for UKT4, given the venue ended up being so bad, and if me taking the hit on a venue hire in order to ensure a tweetup goes ahead, then so be it.

Goodies…
I sorted out some simple notepads for dm’s via vistaprint, and Zealot Miniatures sent us a sample of his resin terrain and minis. I actually have no idea who ended up with all those bits. I think Robin took the pile of skulls, and Josh took some of the sewer bits to paint up and photograph for me, but I’ve no idea what happened to the crates, door, trapdoor, bust, minis etc.

If you did end up with them, please let me know, paint them up, photograph them and share the photos with me. It’s the least we can do for a small company sending out £50 of samples.

Whats Next?

Ok, so UKT5 has been covered…

… and the tl:dr of it would be, not enough games, not enough pizza, too far to travel, too loud…

So where do we go from here?

Do you want another tweetup? If so, when, where and what… march/april time is probably the best, and i’ve started putting feelers out to various venues in Stoke on trent, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Sheffield, Manchester. I’m not sure which of those is best, especially as we’re still struggling to engage with the Scottish contingent, the Newcastle crowd, the Manchester crowd, the derby crowd, the Birmingham crowd, the Wales crowd, the Oxford and bristol and bath crowd. Basically, we only really get people from leeds/bradford, London, Sheffield, leicester and nottingham…

But the big thing would be what system… D&D Next wil be launched by next year, and 13th Age will have more support with the bestiary and hopefully 13 True Ways. Do I leave it as an open system event like UKT5 was, pack my car full of stuff and watch as most of it goes unused. Do I leave it up to the dm’s to choose? Which based on some of the angry feedback I got last August would seem to be the preference. Do I create an adventure and haven’t converted into every format, so that we all play the same thing with different rules…

And then who is going to dm? Myself and Paul have dm’d at 3 out of 5 tweetups and i’ve dm’ed at every minor event. Shane has done so at two tweetups and two minor events, pedr has done two tweetups and one minor event, rich has done 2 tweetups… are you getting the picture? For an event that’s meant to let dm’s play, we’re relying on the same dm’s, time after time…

What about sub events? With Next likely to launch at gencon, do I support that launch under the tweetup brand? Especially since I, and most of whom I’d call the Tweetup team, ie. the dm’s, have been private playtesting Next for wotc. If so where and what? Do I do something crazy like a multiple table 3d caves of chaos kinda thing? Or dial it back and run simple mini less adventures…

What about another Tweetup on Tour? Since people in the remoter parts of the uk like Glasgow don’t make the trip to the tweetups, shall I lug my stuff onto a coach again and travel up to run stuff?

And a woman’s only event… god that one caused a lot of controversy on twitter didn’t it? And what got me was the number of woman saying it just adds to the exclusion and that after several years of proving how good a gamer they are they are accepted by male geeks and thus all you have to do is play. So basically it was people saying ‘they were excluded but eventually proved themselves so that means there’s no exclusion’.

I think people really missed my point on that tweet, and I’ll go back to what Jay’s original point was. She’s been to several different types of event where there’s one or two other women and found them unapproachable, like they are putting up a severe front in order to try and fit in with the odious neckbeards.

I’ve been lucky to play D&D with lots of great woman, like Daisy, Jay, Catherine, Helen but I’ve also met the type of woman that Jay was talking about. And it’s not just Jay who finds them off pitting and unapproachable… I do too…

My suggestion about a woman’s only event was to create one where the partners of gamers and new players would feel like they could do their own thing away from any kind of influence from their male counterparts. It wouldn’t be the kind of event for an experienced role player like Daisy who has no trouble gaming in any crowd, but rather an event for woman who feel intimidated by the covetous looks from fat sweaty men and the like and who feel intimidated by the hundreds of rules and maths. An event for woman who don’t quite get the rules to feel able to say, ‘ok I rolled a 12 and I’m using this spell but I don’t know if it hits or what it does’ without being embarrassed.

I personally don’t think that’s adding to the exclusion and if woman do want me to organise something like this, you can bet that I will do so and tell the distractors to fuck off.

My post tour thoughts…

I’ve been gaming for over 20 years, I’ve played basic d&D, ad&d 2e, 3e, 4e, Next. I’ve written tons of homebrew stuff for my games over the years, and i’ve also been involved in the support of other roleplaying systems like SLA Industries and All For One. Yet I always come back to D&D because it feels like home…

I recently posted an article over at DailyEncounter about the public playtest from around march/april time. This article is still getting views and comments and was included in a professional article as an exmaple of the D&D Next rules failing… Hmmm…

So, anyway, I was sat waiting for a coach, and thingking about the games I’d run during the tour, and that I’ve been involved in recently, and I think I can make the following statements:

1) D&D Next is a great ruleset that captures the essence of D&D perfectly.

2) D&D Next is nowhere near ready for release and will take many years before it contains as much useful material as previous editions

3) D&D Next is poor to DM, its monster maths is unbalanced, and the constant changing of packets, rules, spells, classes etc make designing adventures and balancing them difficult. Fights seem very swingy, they might last 1 or 2 rounds, or 6 or more, with very similar creatures. Accuracy sucks, and damage varies from extremes, with most attacks barely dealing anything, to attacks that are so powerful they can kill a monster 10 times over… The spell system plain old sucks…

4) D&D Next is my favourite edition to play at the moment… I’ve had more memorable games during 18 months of private playtesting than in 18 years of gaming…

5) I hate building D&D characters, unless they are 4e ones using the character builder. The ability for 4e characters to be totally unique via the selection of feats, theme, powers and equipment mean you can easily turn a defender into a healer who can fight etc.

6) For sheer ease of DM’ing, both when playing and when explaining rules to new players, 4e is unbeatable.

My experiences during the tour really hit this home, the games I loved the most were the lair assault and kalarels revenge, both 4e adventures that pushed the boundaries of what was considered normal in 4e.  The Next game was ok, nothing to write home about, and I think thats because player knowledge is too essential for the game. Come across a cave full of bats, and its obvious to an experienced players that a web spell on the roof is the savior… As a dm, I hate that.

Of course, me making such statements is bound to upset people, and even while on the tour, I encountered serious hostility to 4e. At the time, I had said ‘4e is still perfect FOR ME ‘ , while I didn’t shout the last two words, I want to emphasize them… The player who started ranting about them had no idea about my gaming history, or my disability, and for all intents and purposes ignored the 2 words. I wasn’t saying 4e was perfect, hell it has obvious flaws from its combat focus to broken maths at higher levels, to samey accuracy and damage… What I was trying to convey is that FOR ME, I find the game hits all my needs, easy to teach to new players, easy to run, enjoyable…

Tweetup Tour – Day 4 – York

Day 4 was the last stop on my mini UK tour. from Leeds it was a simple case of 2 local buses to get me to @PinkBatgirls work, and then a lift to their house. Daisy and Chris were my hosts for the evening, and I consider these two really close friends and know that they are great roleplayers. Of the choices, they opted for a 4e game since thats what they’ve played with their friends who would be there on the night, and so I decided i’d use the very excellent Kalarels Revenge adventure by Shawn Merwin. WotC had originally provided this for UKT2, and i’ve run a handful of times since, and everytime its been a great experience.

I had a full table of 6 for the event, 2 players I knew, 1 newbie, and 3 with a degree of experience. I went over the rough 4e rules – green as many times as you want per fight, red once, grey save for bad guys… I explained my house rule – the divine die, I explained that the adventure comes with detailed backgrounds and motivations, and that there are plenty of chances to gain the upperhand and attack your fellow players.

Kalarels Revenge is unlike any other 4e adventure. Consisting of 6 encounters, in which all but one a fight can be avoided, it is built around roleplaying and making choices and using your skills. From the DM’s point of view it provides plenty of hint on how to play the major npc’s and there are opportunities for npc’s to switch allegiance.

It starts off with a panicky lying halfling called Yohannus stuck in a cave with the adventurers following a storm… Yohannus is great to play as a whiny brat, who loses his temper easily. Being stood next to the Arykor player, a subordinate of Korag a bossy dwarven paladin, I could play on the rivalary between those two characters, and started fedding extra info to Arykor.

They managed to talk themselves out of the first fight, had a fight against wolf zombies, in which the drow slaughtered an ‘ally’ hobgoblin and tamed a wolf, attepted to murder the big bad hobgoblin Prang, made a truce, agreed to fight for the Rime Mistress, argued over who had Kalarels orb (thanks to some sneaky thievery – I don’t actually think the players yet alone the character knew who had it at one point), and eventually smashed the orb, the only way of stopping Kalarels return from undeath and his conquest of the Nentir Vale…

As always, Kalarels Revenge played out wonderfully, with nice simple characters, detailed backgrounds for people to use in their roleplaying, harsh combats and fun roleplaying!

Tweetup Tour – Day 3 – Leicester

Day 3 started with a rare occurence… breakfast… I filled my plate, and was going to go back for seconds when the restaurant filled up, so I fled and arrived at the bus station an hour early. This gave me some time to ponder my thoughts about D&D Next and D&D 4e. Day 3 was a relatively short travel, 2 hours to birmingham, a 40 minute wait and then an hour to Leicester. Birmingham coach station had changed a lot since the last time I was there nearly a decade agao, and I’ve never been to Leicester before…

The plan for Day 3 was to meet up with some old friends and play some of the new Star Wars Edge of the Empire game. I’d originally presumed this would be an evening game with 3 or 4 players, so planned an elaborate heist involving wining and dining imperial officers to steal a crystal… Leicester had other plans and had arranged an afternoon game that only Liam and Mik could attend. No worries, I’ll plan something different…

Except with all the other stuff going on, I never got round to it beyond a vague idea of a prison break on the Wookiee homeworld where the target was not what they expected…

Me, and the 2 players were all pretty confident EotE players, and aren’t phased by the games funky dice and narrative style where you can fail but something good happen, or succeed with something bad happen etc. When we all arrived we chatted a bit about the previous two days of the tour, and then I explained that I’d not planned the adventure and would be making stuff up to a vague plan as I went along. Having only played the officially released adventures so far, I felt this would be an interesting test of the system.

I won’t bore you with my account of the game, since Mik has done a great write up here: http://vobeskhan.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/tweetuptour-does-star-wars/

In terms of how well the system worked, sure, there was a lot of railroading, and some things like slaughtering the stormtroopers using the security system were over the top, but the advenutre flowed, with me being able to adapt the story with ease as the dice played out.

Day 3 ended with me heading back up to Leeds and my own bed for a change. Mik and Liam had attempted to come to UKT4 earlier this year and a coach had messed up almost stopping them from making it… And I can understand why, Leicester coach station, and the National Express office there is diabolical. My coach arrived an hour early, drove round the corner for a ‘rest’, missed its set off time, and it was only when I started complaining that it turned up again over 15 minutes late.

Tweetup Tour – Day 2 – Stoke-on-Trent

If I saw Day 1 didn’t end well for me, because my hotel was a dingy backpackers hostel, by the river/station, and drunks where out and around making noise till 3am. The gulls woke me back up at 4am, and the roadsweepers started at 5am… Luckily I was due on a coach around 7:30am, so fled the hotel, got a coffee at McDonalds and made my way up one of Glasgows many hills in the rain…

I wasn’t looking forward to todays travel – 5 hours down the motorway to Manchester, and only a 30 minute change at their to get onto my next coach. So you can imagine when halfway down the route we were running 21 minutes behind schedule that I was a bit tense… Both coaches were punctuated by heavy bursts of rain, often filling the motorway with 2 inch of water in the 10 or so minutes the rain fell for. What got me was in some places, you’d travel a short way further on and the road would be dry, no signs of any rain at all.

Stoke is a strange ‘city’… Its made up of several large towns and a weird road layout… The coach station is in Hanley the ‘capital’ of Stoke, and as such, I’d booked my hotel here. Whereas Glasgow’s hills are long and gently sloping, Hanleys are short steep bursts, that seem to defy logic, you can go climb one hill, go round a corner, drop down again, then go back up after another corner!

This time my hotel was a bit more upmarket… it even had a pool… (though I didn’t know that until after I arrived). I’d used a comparison website to make my booking 5 weeks in advance, but it turns out that the hotel never got the booking. Luckily they still had a room for me and upgraded my room only to bed and breakfast. Other people arriving when I did weren’t wquite so luckily and a couple of families had to be rebooked into other hotels.

The Stoke group had heard of the Tweetups via UK Games Expo, where it had been suggested to them that they get in touch with me. That might not sound like much, but its a big thing, it means conventions are talking about the UK D&D Tweetups. That kinda validates all the work i’ve put into the events over the last 3 years 🙂

Like glasgow, I offered them a choice, and since they were heavily into playtesting D&D Next, they opted for the 3 lair assault. I’ve posted on here about how it was made, but to give it some context, it weighs around 50kg and is normally carefully packed into a plastic tub and transported by car. By the time it got to the gaming location for day 2, it’d been on 1 bus, 3 coaches, up and down several towns, and a short car trip… I was expecting some damage from all that travelling, and had packed it tightly into a travel case with lots of bubble wrap. In the end, most rooms had suffered a wall breaking away at the doorways, a couple of rooms and weakened in the centre, and there were various small chips. Only one room is totalled and needs rebuilding.

Forge of the Dawn Titan was the first 4e lair assault. It features a 20 round limit to work your way through the dungeon, fighting off fairly tough foes and traps, before making it to the forge room with the BBEG and a demon idol. It was designed for level 5 pc’s but i’d accidentally told Stoke to build level 6 pc’s. On paper it basically equates to a +2 accuracy bonus, +1 skill and defenses bonus, and one extra utility power. in real life, it makes a quite substantial difference, especially in a party of 6. I planned on taking a few extra pre-gens in case they wanted a second run through etc, but as it was, the Stoke group lost the characters they’d planned on using and relied on my 9 pre-gens instead. This is quite an important thing, I knew what was in the dungeon, and that the best strategy for doing well in the dungeon is party synergy, and so I had built massively optimized characters, multiple healing options, multiple resistance options etc…

Before the tweetup tour, I was unbeaten using the 3d terrain, I’d run several groups through it, often slaughtering them in the first room. Stoke took this challenge seriously, having a pre-game huddle in the kitchen with the door closed so I couldn’t hear their tactics. In their end, their plan was to take the most direct route, and to focus fire on the BBEG. their plan, coupled with the extra level, and optimized characters worked, and they breezed through the dungeon changing after round 4 and the various monster threats, and the focus fire on Mordai Vell was the key. I’ve seen a couple of groups get to the forge room, but then get bogged down by the various monsters. by ignoring the additional threats, spacing themselves out to limit the other threats, and solely concentrating on the BBEG they beat the dungeon.

The Stoke group were really great people… they bought me a set of dice (which happened to be rolling much better than the ones i brought). They seemed to like the way lair assault played compared to their past 4e experience, and also were happy with playtesting Next and tried to tease my private playtesting secrets out… beyond ‘the sundering adventures rock’ they didn’t get anything of value.