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.

Tweetup Tour – Day One – Glasgow

So, the first day of the Tweetup Tour was in Glasgow, a 6 hour express coach journey from Leeds. It meant an early’ish start from Otley in order to get to Leeds and then hang about in Leeds waiting. The coach ride itself can be divided into 2 sections – the up and down, tight corners of the coach going from Leeds to the M6 via country roads, and then the smooth quick progress up the M6 to Glasgow. As someone who gets travel sick, the first part of that journey was not fun!

My coach got in on time, and as this wasn’t my first time in Glasgow, I had a good idea where I was going. I got to the venue and found it to be a dark cavernous mass of stairs and walkways, with a crazily hot interior atmosphere… Even with big blower fans, there was little impact on the air. I met up with 5 out of the 7 players, and we got some food – I was in scotland so it would have been rude not to have Haggis Neeps and Tatties… Of the 5 players, I knew Chris from previous tweetups, Tamsyn vaguely through twitter, and Ryan vaguely through twitter.

Tamsyn can actually be blamed for the whole Tweetup On tour thing. When my eyesight took a turn for the worse and it was clear I wouldn’t be able to do the Hadrians Wall walk, I tweeted to see if anyone was interested in me coming up for a game. Tamsyn was one of the first to reply, suggesting I go up to Glasgow and run D&D Next for her group. I love Glasgow, and if i’d not been asked to go up there, who knows, I might have just knocked the idea on its head.

With all the groups I visited I gave them multiple options – D&D Next, D&D 4 – with the 3d lair assault, D&D 4e – backstabbing Kalarels Revenge goodness, Star Wars Edge of the Empire… they asked for Next, and I did warn them that D&D Next would require something homebrew since all the Next adventures I had were due to be sold by WotC in the coming months. I opted to run something on the Isle of Dread, a simple exploration to find the ruins of Thanaclan. My original plan was to have them explore Farshore and choose from a variety of guides – each would come with a specific encounter – a hydra, a kraken etc Unfortunately, work got in the way, and these guides just didn’t get written. The adventure I planned had them going from Farshore in the opposite way to other adventurers, climbing a waterfall, trekking through the jungle, being attacked by a t-rex, finding the sacrificial caves beneath the volcano, finding the ruins of Thanaclan, and exploring the caverns beneath those ruins…

Mike Mearls has made a big fuss about the 3 pillars in D&D Next and how an adventure should have exploration, interaction and combat. We gamed for 3 hours and we did manage to fit all 3 pillars in, though I’m beginning to think that Next has a massive issue with exploration… The stuck to the original adventure plan I had, though when it  became clear we were running out of time, I threw an extra combat rather than have them fully explore the caverns.

We had 2 combats – the first started with a surprise attack from the T-Rex, chomping down on the guide. I used the Allosaurus stats from the public packet, and the encounter was over quickly thanks to divine ‘powers’ adding serious damage to the attacks. The second fight was with 16 troglodytes, a leader, and 3 pet giant lizards. I’d not printed the troglodytes page, so just used lizardmen stats. This combat was slow, but not particularly deadly.

On the whole, I think the group liked D&D Next. There were conflicting opinions around the table as to whether healing allowed too much hp regain, and that fights seem swingy they are either quick or drawn out. From my side of the DM’s screen (not that I used one), I think theres a major issue in Next where you can burn seriously powerful resources while exploring without worry, because you know you are going to be resting… A combat represent 5 or so minutes of intensive activity and use a quarter of your resource, but while exploring you might take 6 hours to hack through a forest without any loss of resources. That, from my point of view is seriously imbalanced.

We left the encounter on a cliffhanger, they’d found the ruins of thanaclan, and mapped the route which is what they were being paid to do, but they’d also sent the shapechanged druid ahead to see what was in the caverns below… deep guano deposits, but with tracks in them…

The Tweetup Tour is over…

And it was good…

What started out as a desire to game and to spread the UK D&D Tweetup ‘name’ on a free week from work, (I was originally meant to be doing the Hadrians Wall Trail walk) quickly became a firm set of plans and from there, lots of printing and packing.

From Sunday To Wednesday, I traveled on bus and coaches for around 30 hours, about 2 hours in cars and spent another 5 hours or so sat around in bus stations waiting, I gamed in 4 cities, and went through another 2. I played 4 different games, using 3 different systems, I gamed with 21 players, only 5 of which I didn’t already know through the tweetups, and had 1 player totally new to RPGs… From the sense of spreading the Tweetup name, 16 new players, several of whom have already said they are aiming to come to #UKT5, the tour was a great success.

But for me, the real indicator that it was a success is that I want to do it again. Glasgows and Leicesters games ended on a vague cliffhanger, and while I can resolve the Leicester game online, another trip up to glasgow is necessary… The Stoke group was ace, and have already asked me to come back and run more for them, and York is close enough that I can go and game with them whenever.

So what didn’t work?

Sunday/Glasgow – Oh my god it was hot, and the venue we were using was crazily warm, and dimly lit… I also didn’t have enough choice in pre-gens – i’d taken my leftovers from Vault of the Dracolich, and the choice was very halfling focused… The hotel this night was pretty shocking as well.

Monday/Stoke – Other than the terrain getting beaten to hell, and the hotel losing my reservation, no major issues.

Tuesday/Leicester – I didn’t have time to plan this game, but Star Wars copes well with that. Main issue here is that Leicester bus/coach station sucks!

Wednesday/York – We were loud, it was warm, and Daisy struggled towards the end of the game ;(

UK D&D Tweetup on Tour

With my wife and kids away for a week, I had two options, work… or play…

And so I’ve chosen play!

For a few days at the end of July, I will be taking the core of UK D&D Tweetup (i.e. myself) on tour. I’ll be going up to Glasgow to demo D&D Next, then down to Stoke on Trent to run a group through the deadly 3d dungeon built for the Forge of the Dawn Titan 4e lair assault, then across to Leicester to run some Star Wars Edge of the Empire, and then up to York to run some fools through the rather excellent 4e adventure Kalarels Revenge.

Kalarels Revenge is probably my favourite 4e adventure. Designed to promote the 4e Heroes of Shadow book, and Icewind Dale dungeon tiles, it was a convention exclusive that WotC were kind enough to provide to us for UKT2 back in March 2011.

Unlike most 4e adventures which are combat heavy, the author of this one, Shawn Merwin was given free reign to design an adventure that could be completed through roleplaying or combat. Made up of 8 encounters, there is only one guaranteed combat in the booklet…

In addition, the adventure comes with 6 pre-gens, each with a detailed backstory, feelings about the other characters, and motivations. The characters are of questionable morality, and their goals are conflicting… The adventure is an exercise in getting your own way at the expense of your ‘allies..’

If you’re in Glasgow on Sunday 28th July and want to try out D&D Next, check out this event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/375738575859720/