Tuesday, 12 August 2014

D&D 5E Player's Handbook Review Part 1 - First Impressions

New editions of D&D are a very special time for this geek. I've run and played dozens of different RPG's, but you can never get away from the fact that D&D came first. Every time I play something that isn't D&D, I'm asking myself: how does it measure up? What's different about it? What's the same? By D&D shall all these pretenders be judged. I make no apologies for it... after all, most gamers are defined by their earliest experiences.

Shiny! No, seriously. Very difficult to photograh.
At the end of what seems like a very long and public journey, D&D 5th Edition has finally arrived.

In absolute terms, it's actually ahead of schedule, with "D&D Next" announced only four years into 4E's rocky tenure. On the other hand, as changes in the gaming landscape and commercial pressures have forced the rights-holders into ever more frequent re-thinks, you could say it's pretty much on the curve. Basic to AD&D was an early blip at a mere three years; AD&D 2E arrived twelve years after that; 3E eleven years later; 4E eight years after that; and now 5E lands a mere six years on from its predecessor, with two years of open play-testing built in to that. (That list doesn't include mid-cycle "refreshes" which I don't consider different or exciting enough to qualify as a new edition.)

From a gamer's point of view, these new editions have all brought different things to the table. AD&D 2E was very much a tidy-up of a ragged but beloved set of rules; 3E essentially rejuvenated the whole brand, which was dead in the water after years of mismanagement, bringing a ground-up re-design which combined modern thinking with all the classic D&D tropes; and 4E, the most recent incarnation before today, was then arguably a response to d20's/OGL's market saturation, introducing a radical new mechanical approach but in doing so sundering the community -- and its paying punters -- into multiple camps. Consequently, the 5E Player's Handbook lands for the first time in a market where D&D isn't necessarily the biggest name in town.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

D&D's Theatre of the Mind (Part 2)

Combat without the battle-mat is set for a come-back in 5E. For DM's accustomed to having the battle-mat as a visual aid, this might take some getting used to. This was certainly the case for me when running some AD&D recently, so here are some ideas on running effective encounters where everything is literally in your head...

Player vs. PC awareness - It's in the nature of the game for players to have limited knowledge. What they do know depends entirely on the DM, how he describes a scene and how he responds to their questions and actions.

Their characters, on the other hand, should always be assumed to have any knowledge that they could reasonably glean from their environment.

This is doubly true in combat, where bad information costs lives, and triply true in Theatre of the Mind, where it could reasonably be claimed that a hill giant throwing boulders from the back of the fight would probably have been something the PC's would have noticed.

So make sure your players have all the information they need to make good decisions, and be willing to roll-back the round if they make a good case for it. Be generous. TotM gives you, the DM, almost all authority, so you have it in your power to make the game run smoothly, fairly, and dramatically for everyone. The best DM's exercise this power to the fullest.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

D&D's Theatre of the Mind (Part 1)

With its release in 2000, 3E rejuvenated a depressed D&D scene with a spectacular and modern set of rules that brought table-top roleplaying into a new golden age.

One of the many ways that 3E differentiated itself from its predecessors was the inclusion of a satisfying tactical combat mini-game which brought war-gaming sensibilities to a past-time which hadn't seen the like in twenty-five years. These new rules eased D&D away from the abstract combats of AD&D and towards more battle-mat-focused miniatures play.

You could certainly play the new edition without miniatures, but you only had to look as far as the illustrations in the Combat chapter to see that Wizards of the Coast would much rather you bought-in to their imminent -- and frankly rather good -- D&D miniatures line.

Heroes vs. the undead in my 4E campaign


I had not problem with that, and to be fair, it's not like we hadn't used the occasional metal miniature, token, or scrawled tactical map for AD&D. It certainly wasn't the norm though (ironic given D&D's origins), and most combats took place in a shared imagination constructed on the  DM's narration and the inevitable, subsequent interrogation of him by the players ("Can I..?" and "How far..?" being the queries most-often heard.). We now call this style of play "Theatre of the Mind" (TotM).

Monday, 14 July 2014

New year. New Game. New Look.

We're busy over at "Chasing the DM" Towers, and it's time the old place got a spring clean!

Cradle Plain - This campaign has now sadly folded after something like 85 runs (only a few more than are documented in the campaign journal). This was entirely my fault as we decided to leave the area and then, due to the vagaries of the housing market, didn't. In the meantime, other interests have kept the group from re-forming and with the imminent release of the new edition, I've decided to let it rest in peace.

The campaign was a unique experience for me in so many ways and I might do a proper post-mortem one day. Suffice to say, it had some of the great moments of my DM'ing career, as well as some of the most embarrassing, and was brilliant, beautiful, stressful, nerve-bending, and rewarding in about equal measure. It's a shame the mystery of Necrotech never got solved, but then, that's often the nature of things, in the dungeon.

I'll take this one last chance to thank my players who never failed to bring their best game to the table every Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Chasing the DM and I made some amazing friends and shared some incredible laughs. Ben, Phil, Jase, Nick, Lily, Neil, Amy, Alec...you guys know who you are!