I was able to make it out to my FLGS this past week to throw some bones in the D&D Encounters Program. I really like this program a lot and was a regular fixture on the scene until my wife went back to work post baby #1 and future forays seemed to carry the risk of divorce. Then with the addition of baby #2 the possibility of a Wednesday night subway ride to the game store seemed about as likely as me winning the Nobel Prize in literature for my work on this blog. In early September I thought I had a window of opportunity as my wife decided to take the 2 rug rats to a cottage resort during the week, a decision that will likely never occur again and one that left me unattended on a Wednesday night. I had no sooner warmed up the character builder when I was informed that the baptism preparation class for my niece just happened to be Wednesday night and despite my wife and her sister vacationing up north my attendance was mandatory. Easy come easy go, or at least I thought so until my wife informed me that she had to go to a makeup class this week :)
I wasted no time and whipped up a couple of essentials characters so I could fill any gaps in roles at the table which is my standard MO. I cranked out a charged focused Half-Orc slayer, Dwarven Warpriest of Pelor, and a Human Knight. Instead of printing them out I decided to test out this awesome Ipad app that I stumbled across called I4E. As an aside, I know what you’re thinking and yes I am one of those fucking douches that own an Ipad but in my defense what else is a grown man going to do when despite turning 39 years-old his mother and grandmother still give him money for his birthday. Anyways, I4E is a character sheet app that allows you to fully manage your pc at the table in glorious full color without the need of the 1000 page hardcopy that prints from the character builder. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those tree hugging hippies. I love paper and books, so much so that I would gladly roll around on the floor smothering myself with books and magazines in a creepy Scrouge McDuck like scene. The character sheet looks beautiful on the Ipad, and best of all it is a single page. They use a scrolling mechanic for powers and skills so you can sift through them until you find the one you want. When you tap on a power the power card then pops out center stage completely filled out with attack and damage numbers. If the power is an encounter or daily you have the option of setting it as used after it is spent which then fades it out until you recharge the power. You can also manage damage and healing easily, including temporary hit points. I was pretty blown away by this app and liked using it a lot more than I thought I would. I think it is ideal for LFR and convention play when you are either tight for space or have multiple characters that you are constantly leveling and don’t want to continually print out new sheets when something changes.
I also wanted to touch on my experience of the Slayer. I chose the Slayer because the table had plenty of leaders and defenders and I had never played one before. In additon, technically Encounters is supposed to be strictly an essentials/post essentials affair, although aside from the guy playing the pre-gen Stew the Slayer was the only essentials class at the table. I found the Slayer kind of boring to play, despite its ruthless efficiency at damage dealing. I don’t know if I have been conditioned to expect more options but I kind of missed them and kept scrolling through my character sheet even though I knew there was only hit them hard or hit them hard while charging. I also think the length of the combat added to this sense of meh, as after the 6th or 7th round I was really tired of doing the same thing. I am sorry Stew the Slayer but I am sending you down to the minors. I have had my eye on a promising young Half-Orc Scout with a good charge, perhaps I will call him up to the show the next time I get out to encounters, that is if the program is still running after hell has frozen over.
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I was extremely fortunate to partake in the Neverwinter Game Day at my FLGS this past weekend. It only required a trip to the zoo, several splash pads, and attendance at a picnic for my in-laws Italian social club to build up enough leverage to make my escape to the empire of the nerds with only minimal wife aggro. Needless to say this wasn’t a spur of the moment carpe diem deal, but more an intricate plotting and machinations affair. I can still see the look of protest and the tone in my wife’s voice when I proudly announced my intentions and watched her internal struggle and quiet resignation play out before me… yes check and mate sir.
In my experience these things can be sort of hit or miss, as last year at the Red Box Game Day I ended up having to DM because no one showed up to run the adventure. The production quality for this event was absolutely fantastic, way better than last year, from the adventure to the free swag that every player received (full color fold out map of Neverwinter, 2 fortune cards which I of course tore up and threw in the DM’s face, a bookmark, and a power card with a Neverwinter character theme). The adventure itself was entertaining, flowed well, and was not overly long. It was an interesting set-up and prologue to the next season of Encounters that starts rolling this week. It makes me lament not being able to play Encounters anymore but unfortunately there are not enough Italian picnics in the world that would grant me safe passage to the nerd store on a weekday evening. It does appear that someone in Wizards has been boning up on synergy as they have really become focused on tying all product releases to the same theme. So for the next little while it is going to be Neverwinter all the time anytime. I have been really impressed by the continued quality improvement in the Encounters program that I would love to see them release the adventures for public consumption when the season is long over.
They attempted to introduce a new wrinkle this time in having people create their characters on the spot, complete with rolling your ability scores. I am pretty sure they adjusted the monster stats for this adventure to account for the possible suckage that could ensue from this. I, not surprisingly, ignored this stipulation and built 3 essentials characters the night before (warpriest, thief, and knight). I understand what they were going for but in reality it came off as overly cumbersome and time consuming. I ended up helping a first time player build his character, and without that help and continued support throughout the game I don’t think he would have had a very good experience. We had seven players and guess what class I ended up running? Of course I ended up playing a leader in one Carl Laggerbelly, dwarven warpreist extraordinaire. Carl performed his duties admirably, keeping the party in ship shape with no deaths (despite the DM twice attacking an unconscious player, it is a good thing he didn’t understand the whole coup de grace rules). Carl even sacrificed a standard action to use a heal check to trigger the slayers second wind, that’s just the kind of guy Carl is. It also didn’t hurt that we were fighting a douche face necromancer and lots of undead as Carl had access to tons of radiant powers thanks to his unwavering devotion to Pelor.
Overall it was a good time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even momentarily forgetting that I was not in fact attending GenCon this year, but alas it was only momentarily and the pain, anguish, and rage quickly returned. And for those of you who were fortunate enough to attend GenCon this year…well go fuck yourselves
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I was pretty excited about the new season of DnD Encounters that started up this past Wednesday, as it was the debut of Dark Sun. I never played Dark Sun in 2nd Edition as I spent those years in the worlds of Runequest and Champions. Despite this, I am quite familiar with the world of Dark Sun as my friends and I were and continue to be large consumers of fantasy novels, with the Tribe of One series by Simon Hawke and Prism Pentad series by Troy Denning being favourites of ours. In fact, Bob who is one of the players in my current game created Rikus for one of our Runequest campaigns.
So needless to say I was pretty jacked to play on Wednesday, with the exception of having to use the gimp pre-gens put out by WoTC, but more on those in a minute. When I got to the store they were short a DM for the first week so I stepped in allowing last season’s DM to be a player for a change. So with about 5 minutes to go over the material it was go time. I drew on those old novels and the recent Penny Arcade podcasts to provide some background for the setting. The world itself lived up to its reputation, as the adventure looks brutal, with the environment being as big a threat as any monster. The Lizard Men, who made up the opponents in the first encounter, were jacked up compared to other early Heroic Tier monsters. They had attacks that could deal massive damage along with immobilizing victims. I ended up dropping 2 players and backed off from dropping a third as it was her first experience playing DnD and I didn’t want that experience to be of her character dying.
Now let’s get back to those pre-gens. I have already written about my dislike in using pre-gens, as I think there is something special in crafting your own vision and bringing it to life that fosters an investment in the character, allowing an easier transition into role-playing. As I looked around the table I could see the lack of investment in comparison to last season, and a lack of in character role-playing (hopefully this will change as players become more familiar with the characters). In a setting that champions the harshness of its environment, with only the strong surviving, it’s hard to imagine that many of these characters would have survived long enough to have any kind of adventuring life. For example Barcan/Barqan the sorcerer has only 22 hit-points, 6 healing surges, and an AC of 12 which meant the Lizard Men hit him on a whopping role of 4 (FYI he was one of the characters that got dropped). Now I am not saying everyone needs to be a power gamer with characters optimized out the ass, but I do think in 4th Edition your character needs to be more mechanically sound than in past editions if you don’t want to have your lunch handed to you. This seems particularly needed in a setting where the monsters and environment are juiced up. So it is somewhat puzzling why WoTC would create such gimp characters for this event. I don’t think it would have hurt them to wait to roll out this live play event when the campaign setting and players guide come out in August. I think they would have still had a good turnout despite the layoff, maybe even better as I think it is tuff for some people to get out and play every week and there maybe some burnout from last season. I think I will purchase the campaign setting when it comes out even if I don’t run a campaign in it just for the reading enjoyment. I am looking forward to getting back on the other side of the screen next week, looks like I will probably be playing a defender again as the fighter was the only character not chosen this week. Maybe the DM will let me call him Drax.
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So season one of D&D Encounters is over and Drax and his party were victorious…well barely. I enjoyed the program as a whole, with probably the majority of my enjoyment coming from just playing the game of D&D and the people who I shared the experience with rather than the adventure itself. You can find an excellent recap of each encounter at Dungeon’s Master. From my perspective WoTC accomplished their goal with the Encounter’s program as it showcased well what 4th edition has to offer and got people playing the game, particularly new players (we had 2 people in our party who had never played any edition of D&D). Drax’s party really struggled throughout the majority of the encounters. We had one official TPK in session 8, and had the DM not pulled his punches we would have had TPK’s in the final 4 encounters, for example in the final fight he had 2 of the monsters attack the main villain and in one encounter a skeleton fell down a ledge and just didn’t’ get back up. Part of the problem was in party composition as there was no leader and 3 defenders, which is just a really awful combination, plus one of the strikers was a gimped sorcerer (cosmic). I had some minor issues with a few design aspects, as the amount and type of difficult terrain/hazards became a little tiresome by the end, and certainly did not favour poor Drax and his fellow defenders. It often seemed like we would try and slog our way to the villain, fail an athletics or acrobatics check, then fall or take some form of punishment. Then by the time we made it somewhere the villain either had some movement technique or power and puff they were gone, which then began the slogging all over again. Having said that I think you do need to mix up terrain and hazards to add some flavour to battles and prevent blandness in combat from setting in, but I do think there is a balance and sometimes less can be more. My biggest peeve, however, was in the number of monsters with aura effects that did damage. I thought that was fairly brutal for first and second level characters. It is particularly punishing for the defenders at early levels to try and stay standing and occupy the enemy when they are taking automatic damage each round in addition to any damage they might take from having said enemy marked (like a good little meat shield), you just don’t have the hit points. Poor Drax was dropped several times by an Aura effect. I think it would have been more balanced if some of the aura’s had effects other than just straight damage like dazed or weakened. I think Drax is going to hang up his gear and retire from the adventuring life, as I don’t play in LFR, but I can see him involved in some sort of shenanigans in my home campaign as an NPC. If I play in the next Encounters program, which is set in Dark Sun, I think I would like to try another role other than defender. They are using 6 pre-generated characters for the next adventure which I am not that thrilled about as I think one of the best parts about the game is customizing and creating your own vision, like the lovable Drax. What was your experience of the encounters program?
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So I have been playing in the D&D Encounters at my FLGS. The Encounters program is a 12 part adventure played one encounter each week and sponsored by Wizards of the Coast. The adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms in a massive dungeon called Undermountain. The goal of the program is to get people to play D&D, particularly new players, and to promote the FLGS. I have really enjoyed the Encounters program as it gives me a chance to roll the dice on the other side of the screen. I have been playing Drax, a dragonborn paladin of Tempus. I play him as very over the top, not that bright (dump stat is Int), and compelled to challenge whoever he perceives as the toughest opponent, which he sees as his duty being a paladin of Tempus. Playing a defender in 4th Edition isn’t easy, especially at the early levels of the heroic tier. The term “meat shield” is an understatement, and one has to get used to doing less damage than in previous editions. This in particular can be tuff when you see some leather clad sissy roll all those sparkling dice. Being a defender is all about battlefield control and drawing fire. Drax is particularly good at this. The encounter doesn’t seem complete if he hasn’t made at least one death save. He has literally left bits and pieces of himself strewn throughout Undermountain. The group I have been playing with has been fairly consistent week to week; we have 2 other defenders (Warden and Fighter) and 2 strikers (Monk and Sorcerer). We typically struggle thru the encounters without a leader, especially if the strikers don’t roll well. I feel our tactics are generally good but there is either something in the encounter design or our DM (who is awesome) has been rolling better than average, as we tend to have our teeth kicked in with some frequency. It is hard to feel like you’re really defending comrades or controlling the battlefield when you are unconscious by the end of the first round, unless “controlling” means forcing the enemy to move around your limp body to get at your allies. I think it takes perseverance to play a defender in 4th edition as it takes several levels for your hit points to significantly outdistance the other roles and for you to get access to cool feats, powers, and magic items that will make you a more effective tank. One such task is to get your defences sorted out. Seriously, there is only a 3 point difference in AC between our monk who is wearing cloth and Drax who is in full plate and heavy shield. As a side note, nothing in Undermountain seems to attack AC, which is unfortunate as this is Drax’s highest defence. All in all though I love playing Drax, and am proud that he has made it to 2nd level. I can already see the change from first level, as he only got dropped once this week. So this is a shout out to all of you out there who choose to step into the breach and hold the line against the faceless hordes in your own games so some fancy pants monk or rogue can get all the glory.
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