I’m back, and I’m DMing…5th Edition D&D

So, it’s been an exciting few days for me. New shift at work, made some new friends, I find my blog has been up for a year now (which isn’t extremely depressing…), and I finally got to try D&D 5th edition in earnest. You guys ready for a long rambling story with no pay-off? Good! Let’s GO!

I had three players, and one of them had bought the latest starter set, so I was stuck running that. It was a perfect storm of mediocrity. Not the game itself (although….meh…), but it was 5 AM when we finally got rolling, I was buzzed (maybe a little drunk), and I had a whole group of newbies waiting eagerly for me to teach them a game I was only passingly familiar with.

Because I had nothing prepared, and was not familiar enough with the balance of the game to make stuff up, I decided to try the module included in the starter set. I usually do not like using modules because I find they make it hard for me to improvise, but I’d heard good things about it from my friends, and I’d watched a little bit of ProJared’s playthrough with his buds. So, I put on my best DM voice (which was weakened from an ill-advised attempt to sing Tenacious D a few hours previous)  and cracked open Lost Mines of Phandelver.

At a glance, it looked like a really well structured adventure But I hadn’t the time nor the patience to read the whole thing. The pre-made characters that came with the starter set are tied to various places and NPCs, giving your characters a more immersing experience. Given the lateness of the hour, we only made it most of the way through the first dungeon, the Cragmaw Cave before everyone went to bed. Actually, we WOULD have had more time, but the players ended up killing all the goblins in the opening encounter, ignoring a non-scripted goblin that I added to get them to follow it, even so much as leaving them a trail of goblin blood to follow. Instead, they made it to town, rested for the night, delivered the goods they were escorting, and only then remembered that the two dead horses they’d found belonged to Gundren Rockseeker, their dwarven friend who hired them.

They doubled back, found the trail of blood, and followed it to the Cragmaw Hideout. They spooked a goblin guard by killing the other one, and then followed him inside, where he ran straight through the wolf kennel and up the natural chimney to Klarg’s lair. After taking out the wolves, Our halfling rogue and our dwarven cleric (Tealeaf and Thoradin, respectively) shimmied up the shoot to an encounter with Klarg, the bugbear “warlord”. The rest of us took the long way around,  getting a nice bath when the alerted goblins opened two sets of floodgates to try and wash us out of the cave. after a brief and fiery encounter, Klarg was dead, and so almost, was our halfling.

At this point. I figured we needed to go to bed. We called a break for the night, and resumed, sans one player who had an errand to run. I took over Thoradin for him.

This is where I ran into a couple of problems. The way this dungeon flows, you can go wherever you want. east to Klarg, or west to the goblin living area, where an important NPC is being held prisoner. the way the adventure is written, the “right” way these events go down is west first, meet Klarg’s traitorous second in command who promises to pay you with Sildar’s (the NPC who was guarding Gundren) life if you kill Klarg for him. At this point, Klarg was already rotting away on the other side of the cave. I wasn’t sure how this should go down. I didn’t want to force another battle. The potions we found in Klarg’s stuff weren’t enough to bring everyone up to fighting readiness, and I didn’t want anyone to die on the first dungeons. I got the group to trade a whopping 600 copper pieces to the new chief for Sildar’s life. Specifically, the dwarf threw the chest with all his might at the wall, and all the goblins lept for the coins while we made haste to safety.

The game stopped here. I had trouble motivating my players to talk with the NPCs, and on top of that, I couldn’t find where in the module it explained what happened to Gundren, who has dissapeared, and I wasn’t feeling well. I want to play more with this group, but I want to play a system I’m more comfortable with. I had my remaining players create characters for 3.5. I managed to set up enough of a story that I can now actually prepare for the next session. I’ll let you know how that goes. Until next time!

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Preparing for your game.

So, you’re finally ready to play D&D. You’ve gotten your friends together, made your character sheets, purchased all the beef jerky your starting gold can get you, and you’re here to take on the world. But unfortunately for you, you’re the Dungeon Master, and everyone will be over at your place tomorrow for the first session! Whatever will you do!? Well, I never claimed to be an expert DM, and I’m sure that there are far more experienced people for the job. But it’s how I got my start in the game and it’s what I like doing best. I’ve had games derailed by everything from not having a place to game, to not having anyone show up, to doing a silly Jamaican accent (he was a Planeswalker. Can you blame me?). I’ll tell these stories some other day, I promise. Today we’ll focus on a better-case scenario. I run games using what I’ve referred to as “The list method”. I’ll have a basic outline of what I want to happen in a game’s storyline (e.g. travel between two in-game locations), and a list of stuff I want to add. I’ve given an example of that in a previous post, but I thought I’d start over. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Swarms of tiny demonic piranha-chihuahua hybrids called nits.
  • An island of giant, talking plants.
  • a necromancer blocking off all travel through a mountain pass with two giant zombie umber hulks
  • a man stranded in a town, with no money for supplies for the journey home and a bag full of oddities.
  • a telescope that allows you to talk to anything you can see in it as if they were right next to you.
  • A sword possessed by the spirit of the man who wielded it in battle,
  • A traveling magician who is essentially a less goofy version of Maurice from Beauty and the Beast

I’m going to stop there because, well, I’m tired. Having this list can do many things for a Dungeon Master. From the list above I’ve gained 2-4 recurring NPCs, a location, 2-3 encounters, and at least three chances for magic items. Each one of these, whether you use them or not, can lend itself to something new. I’m a very free-form DM. This lends itself neatly to my weakness: In the moment physical narration. Running battles tends to bore me because I’m not great at doing it. Aside from a few favorites like the zombie spellslinger fight, a lot of my combats consist of “….12. You miss him. He moves towards Steve….16. Steve is hit….”. It sounds lame because it is. I hope to improve on this in the coming months. It’s like Don Draper said “Just think about it deeply, then forget it…then an idea will jump up in your face.” When you make your list, what you’re really doing is planting seeds. Each one gives you a little bit more of the setting. In D&D, drawing players into a well-developed storyline through setpieces, items and NPCs? Pretty Fuckin’ Smart. A couple other things about my DMing. I have some rules I make people follow around the table.

  1. No Drugs at the table. No weed, nooo nothing, unless it A. Is medically necessary and B. Won’t get you really high. It’s not because I’m against the use of recreational drugs (which I am), it’s because of situations like this. I was running a game at a table at my local game store, Moondragon Games, when two of my players (one of whom knew the rule, one of whom didn’t) ducked outside for a few minutes while I was setting up a new encounter. I looked up from my mat and they weren’t there, I knew exactly what had happened. I ran outside to confront them, and the guy who knew the rule was being a huge douche about it. I herded them back inside, and the game progressed, and toking even helped the other guy concentrate on the game better. Why was all this bad thing? Because another one of my players, who was sitting next to them, spent the entire session like this:

She couldn’t handle the smell. Be considerate to the people around you. I’m no longer friends with one of those guys for this reason, as well as a few others.

  1. (yeah, there are two number ones, they’re both important) No Cell phones. Unless you’re expecting a very important, specific call, turn it off. Especially if you’re going to text at the table. Get the hell out. It’s disrespectful to divide your attention when it’s hard enough to get a game together as it is and everyone put effort into being here.
  2. Unless you don’t have a problem with jokes, make it clear beforehand how serious you want the game to be and make it clear that some “jokes” might be taken as your actual in-game intent.
  3. No laughing at the DMs  fake Jamaican accent.

Lions and Tigers and Updates, oh my!

Oh…yeah. You’re still here….well, I don’t really want this to die, but I don’t have time for it these days. I mentioned a while back that I had a super-secret project I’m working on, well, I might as well tell you. I want to transition to video reviews. There were some films that I looked at, namely Gamerz, that I felt text just couldn’t do justice to, and hopefully, if I can get a little face to face time with you all, that might help. I’m chasing a few leads to get that up in the air, but my partner-in-crime on that venture is being somewhat of a flake. I also want to branch out into tabletop RPG inspired video games, and some other things (whatever I feel like doing, really). IF you have suggestions, put them in the comments, please…please?

I’ve been trying to learn how to animate, but it’s slow going. Can anyone out there help out?

In gaming news, I recently purchased a Chessex Megamat (it was a bit spendy, but I worked a little overtime recently, I think I can afford it.) and I’m slowly building up a collection of miniatures from the Pathfinder sets. If anyone has any minis they don’t want, I’d be glad to take them off your hands (I’ll pay if you’re not into that whole charity thing…).  I’m hoping to get a 3.5 game together with my roommates and ease myself back into it.

This year’ll be an interesting one, to say the least.

Diceroller Flicks: Tripod vs. The Dragon

Are you ready folks? Today is a very special one, at least, I think it is. You decide.

Tripod Vs. The Dragon is a filming of a stageplay put on by one of my favorite comedy music groups from Australia (big list of contenders, I know, but they’re seriously really funny, check ’em out) Tripod, and Australian singer Elana Stone. The concept title was Dungeons and Dragons: The Musical, but they changed it for legal reasons.

The story starts (and they won’t let you forget this) at the dawn of time. The goddess of the word, The Tree of Knowledge, was attacked by wizards so they could steal a branch to forge a Spear of Knowledge.

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And would you look at that production value! Such beauty! An overhead projector never looked so good!

Meanwhile, in the real word, it’s Saturday, and and the game is just starting. Our Players (in the theatrical sense, not the other one): Elana, who plays the DM, as well as the Lady in Red, aka Somethingsomething. Scod: Resident numbers-man (or munchkin, as they are better known) who plays a wizard. Yon: He plays a cleric, but if he had his say, he’d be playing a dog-man. Finally, Gatesy: The new player in the group. He wanted to be a bard, but the wizard wouldn’t let him.

Being new to the game, Gatesy asks what he can “do” in the game. He decides to go busking. The DM allows this, despite protests from the other players.

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Although everyone knows that a REAL D&D game always starts with “you all meet in a tavern…”

Inside his lute-case afterwards, he finds a map with a big empty space missing from it. They decide they need to fill in the gap and their adventure begins. After a run in with an orc, they go to a tavern for Open-Mic night. Gatesy meets a fellow singer and the woman of his dreams, the Lady in Red, whose name he neglects to learn. She sings a beautiful song outlining the entire plot, which goes straight over his head. She then tells him outright that if he goes to the blank on the map, he’ll get eaten by a dragon. This again goes right over his head. Did I mention that he rolled poor intelligence? They vow to meet again someday.

Continuing their quest, the group gets split up in the mountains, and Scod the Wizard gets lost in the dark. He happens upon the Twin Wizards, two brothers who offer him ultimate power and a cool party hat if he can kill the dragon that guards the Tree of Knowledge.

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They look trustworthy, right?

They bequeath him the Spear of knowledge and send him on his way. He rejoins the others, and they hop a boat to the spot on the map.

Arriving in a beautiful garden. Gatesy sits back and relaxes, when the red dragon, guardian of the Tree appears and begins divebombing the adventurers. Shoving the Spear into Gatesy’s hands, Scod shrinks to the back and Gatesy thrusts the spear at the dragons hide, piercing it. The dragon begins to die, revealing it self to be none other but Somethingsomething, the Lady in Red!

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Awkward…..

Scod runs off and gets his hat and flashlight from the Twin Wizards. But ultimate power is not without it’s price, and he soon grow to regret making his friend kill the woman he loves. He sends him a note with instructions: How to get to the underworld. He and Yon separate, Yon going to find Scod, and Gatesy going off to confront the Devil.

Scod and Yonny fight the twin wizards, almost getting boiled inside out until they snap the Spear in half and use it on the wizards. This scene is neat, but only exists to tie up Scod’s story line.

In Hell, after getting past Cerberus, Gatesy confronts The Devil, offering to play the best song ever in exchange for the release of Somethingsomething’s soul. He does so, playing one of my favorite tracks on the soundtrack, Heart of a Fighter. Impressed, Satan lets them go, and they travel up and out of the underworld, only for the game to end.

Portrayal of RPGs – 4/5

Because the film spends most of its time inside the game world, there isn’t a lot of room for meta-humor, but you can tell that Tripod are or at least have been gamers at one point of another, If you don’t believe me,  listen to the final song of the production, and my favorite song, Bard. It’s a neat tune about being an ostracized schoolkid, and speaks volumes to me.

The Plot- 5/5

I rate this one so high because, as you may have guessed, not only am I totally in the tank for this film, but these ratings aren’t really ratings of quality, they’re my rating of whether or not the film does it’s job. The acting was pretty on-par with those groups that go to schools to to PSA skits about bullying and drugs. Not masterful, a little hammy, but I love it, and I think it really works here.

This movie is one of my favorites. It has all of my favorite things. A classic fantasy story with a few twists, gamer humor, well put together music. If anything, the music is the best part. The soundtrack is available on Itunes and Elana Stone’s voice alone is worth the listen. The film itself is available on Amazon, or you can find it on Youtube, but I’m not going to link to it because it isn’t an official video.

If you think I was a little biased toward this movie (teehee!), leave a comment or email me at goblingilmartin@gmail.com.

See you all next Sunday, where I’m going to look at a movie with the word “gamer” in the title.

Ramblings of a mad Goblin: Gaming on the brain in Unicorn City:

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last six or so years thinking about how gaming affects the people who play them. The cause and effect is tough to wrap one’s head around. My review of Unicorn City brought some of these old thoughts to the surface. In the film, during the first playing session, a few things happen:

On the first viewing, the scene in meant to set up the characters. Specifically Voss and Shadow Hawk. Voss is the intense leader, and Shadow is the douchebag GM who cares more about his story than his players.

Thing is, we’re thrown into this out of context. The first thing we see is Clancy complaining about not having a thumb to hold a sword with. Shadow denies him this thumb, because his character is some big cat person, and has been since the game started.

This is totally reasonable from one perspective. Shadow is right. The character that Clancy CHOSE to be should have had its limitations fully aware to him at the beginning. That isn’t the problem though. The problem is that Shadow isn’t working with the players. He’s working against them. A good DM would listen to his players, and try to do something for them later, like, I dunno, a magic glove of opposable thumbs. It doesn’t even have to be a good item, but it would be valuable because it’s something the player WANTS, and can be used to get him to do things the DM wants him to do. DM-Player relationships should be symbiotic. Instead, he’s a huge ass, and Voss isn’t helping. He demands that his character be brought back into the Material Plane, and that Clancy’s character have thumbs. Then there’s that whole thing with the sword through the table. Look at his face after that. He seems to be completely regretting that that happened. He actually had a temper strong enough to make him stab a table.
I would NOT want to game with this guy.

Voss spends most of the film in this very intense, let’s-get-down-to-business mind frame, brought on by his belief that “he is what he pretends to be”, which in this case, is a bard/paladin knight. This is really to his detriment, as it leaves him blind to the feelings of the other characters at several important points in the narrative.

As the knight he believes he is, he’s TOO GOOD for things like fish tacos. This leaves him WITHOUT A JOB, with an eviction notice on the door, and no way to pay rent except for unemployment, but that’s okay, because he got the girl and the moral high ground in the end. See the problem

Once the players decide they really don’t care for Shadow’s game, Marsha writes her own campaign set up. Voss states that you can’t just “willy-nilly” a game together. YES YOU CAN. Spontaneity has been one of my biggest motivators as a gamer. Many a game has a started with a simple “You know what would be cool?” or simply stating “I want to play a game of Call of Cthulhu”. A mindset like that, making gaming into something that has to always have serious thought put behind it, is really dumb.

Games are fun! I play D&D to try out a new twist on a character, or to see how players will react when I toss them in a pit with a bunch of slime creatures, not as some expression of how into it I am.

As a writer, I get that it is hard to wring drama out of playing an RPG, I’ve tried. Drama comes from intense emotions and situations, gaming is a bunch of geeks getting together to have fun, if anyone takes fantasy too seriously, that’s when the questionable mental states come into play. If it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be playing, if tempers flare, then the environment is just not right. As a gamer, I’ve been in situations where I need to do a bit of manipulating of people to get them to just sit and play. These days, I’ve gotten sick of solving everyone else’s problems. If it’s that much of a hassle, then just drop it. All this forcing it is gonna make someone blow out an O-ring.

Was this coherent? Would you want to read more interstitial posts  like this? leave a comment, or drop me a message at goblingilmartin@gmail.com