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Archive for September, 2011

I have really been swamped lately and not by the things I should be swamped with like work, career development, and family (although the lack of sleep is beginning to cause brain damage me thinks) but by prepping for a new campaign in a new system. I pulled the chute on my Revenge of the Giants game and am gearing up to run the Kingmaker adventure path for the Pathfinder rpg. For those of you keeping score at home we have DM’ing my 4th edition home game, DM’ing Pathfinder bi-weekly over skype, and playing in a bi-weekly 4th edition Dark Sun game over skype. So you know…not nearly enough gaming but you gotta take what you can get I guess. I know what you’re thinking, why the hell are you running both the D&D’s at the same time? The answer: pure masochism.

With the demise of my Revenge of the Giants game I thought I might give a brief review of my experience with Wizards of the Coast’s virtual tabletop (VTT). Keep in mind that the VTT is still in beta and my thoughts are filtered through that lens and not what the end product will likely be.  Overall, I really like what I see in the VTT despite its beta limitations and the fact that some of those limitations pushed me to drop my campaign. What I found awesome about the VTT is the built in community and the ability to play “pick-up” D&D at the drop of a hat. On more than one occasion after the kids where in bed and mustering enough energy to do more than mindlessly watch images flicker across the TV screen, I was able to jump on and play in a one-shot or delve.

The way the VTT is set up now allows for a pretty flawless sync with the character builder and monster builder, as the files are translated into mini-character sheets and stat blocks on the right side of the screen complete with integrated macros. When I run on maptools I tend to be a little more old school in that while my players have macros for their characters I handle monsters, initiative, and damage manually with dice, pen and paper. I find that, for me, this is quicker than using a framework and having to point and click the shit out of everything.

The biggest drawbacks of the VTT at this time center on the voice chat and mapping capabilities. I don’t know what the deal is with the voice chat but it is definitely not like using skype. There is often a lot of interference, static, and weird sounds ringing through your headset. So much so that in all the games I have played in you have to set your microphone to off and have it linked to a key to open, almost like an intercom system. This makes for a bit of an unsettling experience, as it is sort of like playing D&D in an airlock. You have complete silence punctuated by crackling and overly loud or quiet voices popping in an out. I found that this contributed to a lot less role-playing (in the case of the giants game pretty much none) and little chatter and bullshitting. I found that this made the interaction a little awkward and stunted, so hopefully they will clean this up a bit before the official release.

Overall, I liked the mapping function as it reminded me of pymapper. The only issue for me was the relative dearth of tiles to use in creating maps. I ended up having to use the drawing mechanic to make a lot of the maps for my game, which is never a good thing as I have a hard enough time drawing a straight line with a ruler let alone using a computer. It also added significantly to my prep time. At this point there is no function that would allow you to just upload a map like in maptools. This for sure is due to the VTT being in beta and will likely change in the future, hopefully with access to the entire dungeon tile sets or even being able to upload maps from existing modules (edit-I just checked back and they have added more tiles, it looks like most of the tiles from the 3 master dungeon tile sets).

I can really see the potential in the VTT but I am left wondering how they will integrate this with their other digital offerings in terms of pricing and access.  For example will this just be a part of the regular DDI subscription or will it cost extra? It would be hard for me to find a reason to pay extra for the VTT, particularly when there are excellent free alternatives available. I can also see them going for a micro-transaction system where access to the VTT comes with your subscription but you have to pay to unlock certain features and contents like modules or map packs.  I think I am going to stick with running my games off of maptools for now until the beta shakes out a little more. I find that using skype allows for more contact with the people I am playing with out of session which in turn fosters familiarity and camaraderie that makes for a more consistent and entertaining game.

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I know I can give the striker’s a bit of a hard time now and then. How they just strut around the battlefield in their flimsy outfits and glass jaws, dropping all those sparkling damage dice and acting every inch the glitterati of the D&D world. While the real men in plate are having their faces kicked in, holding the line and standing firm ..but I digress. I think I might have had a slight change of heart. Perhaps it is the cognitive dissonance talking as I have been playing a rogue for the last little while, but more likely it might have something to do with witnessing a combat encounter without any strikers and it made me want to gouge my eyes out with a d4.

The encounter in question occurred in my Revenge of the Giants game playing out over Wotc’s virtual tabletop. We had 4 of the 6 players show up for the session with 2 strikers being the no-shows. The party consisted of a wizard, ardent, warden, and paladin (built to be a secondary healer). They were up against a re-skinned red dragon acting as a Behir, earth giant minion and an earth archon. Before the game started I casually suggested that I would be okay if anyone wanted to play perhaps the bow ranger that was sitting idly on the screen, macros just waiting to rain down unholy death on my poor monsters, but the players declined as none felt they could play more than one character effectively. I don’t blame them as this the paragon tier and going over your character sheet can be like pouring over the planes for a nuclear warhead.

So the throw down starts as the heroes leap into the fray attempting to push back the giants assault and prevent the penetration of the main gate.  Good lord was the battle painful; as it wore on it was like watching a documentary on paint drying. You could see them gradually loosing the battle of attrition through some incredibly painful grind. They were slowly exhausting their healing capabilities (which were not insignificant) but not doing enough damage to the monsters to be victories before they eventually would just run out of hit points. I had prepared for this the instant I saw we had no strikers. My initial plan was to have the Behir flee when it was bloodied leaving the earth archon alone and vulnerable to some good-ole gang shanking by the pc’s. I had to adjust this strategy on the fly as well because after multiple rounds they were nowhere even close to bloodying the Behir. So I dropped its hit points by 100 and voila bloodied. This is perhaps my favorite part, as I have the Behir eat opportunity attacks left and right beating a hasty exit he runs out of movement while still on the map. The Ardent is up next and says “looks like he is trying to get away, we can’t have that happen” and then proceeds to hit it with a power that allows him to slide the Behir back into melee. I almost started to cry, you could audibly hear the silent “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO” that reverberated in my mind. On the Behir’s next turn I had it run into the magical wards protecting the city and explode into meat chunks. The earth archon dropped the same round and mercifully it was over.

I have seen a lot of party compositions over the last 2 years.  I have played in games with no leaders, no controllers, and sometimes no defenders all of which have been generally successful. But I gotta tell you I don’t think you can play this game without the strikers or strikery builds, at least not in the paragon tier.

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I have always considered myself to be an open minded kind of guy. I don’t really judge….much, to each his own and different strokes for different folks etc…maybe this is born of listening to peoples problems day in and day out , or maybe it is something internal or dynamic that pushed me towards listening to peoples problems day in and day out and finding empathy and compassion when it is in short supply. Needless to say I am pretty unflappable and can easily go with the flow, but there was a situation the other week when I was DM’ing at Fan Expo that did give me a brief pause.

I don’t know what it is about the younger generation, maybe growing up sniping your buddies’ faces off in multiplayer death matches does something to you, but several of the younger pups at my tables took a very evil bent to their characters. But like I said I can roll with pretty much anything, so when there was the call to rid the town of the bandits thereby supplanting themselves as the new overlords..well that’s just enterprising, showing initiative, you know real go getters. When the bandits started a bar fight and were clearly doing non-lethal damage and they turn around and just slaughter them..well I guess sometimes you need to send a message that you’re not to be trifled with. But it was during one of the formulaic skill challenges that are standard fare for live play mods that I had a kid do something that almost left me speechless if you can believe that.

The rundown is that the bad dudes have set the town on fire and the heroes (and I say that loosely) need to organize the townsfolk to combat the fire. I am going around the table asking people what they want to do. I start with a veteran player so he can show the noobs how things are done. He doesn’t disappoint as he tells me he screams and yells at the peasants trying to shock them out of their complacency. This is exactly what I am looking for and I ask for an intimidate check, and were off to the races. Things are going smoothly until I get to this kid playing in his first game of D&D and rocking the Human Knight. He looks at me and asks if there are any dead bodies from the bandits they killed lying around. I answer yeah as my spider sense starts to tingle a little. Then he goes “well can I roast one in the fire and eat him?”…..I was like “what?….w-w-w-why why would you want to do that..like really why?” and he just smiled and shrugged. So I was like alright if you really want to dude dig in I guess. The grognard next to me leaned over and said that’s what happens when you remove alignment from the system. I also gave him a +10 bonus to intimidate checks for the rest of the session and told him that when the game was over we would be leaving from separate exits.

I know people have been playing evil pc’s since the dawn of D&D, illustrating that civilization is really a thin veneer at the best of times, but really come on man eating people, like wtf. Where is the inner voice whispering that maybe that’s not the thing to do at a public event with people you don’t know, or fuck how about ever?

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