Monday, 18 May 2020

Forgotten Realms Laeral Silverhand's Explorer's Kit

Pros
  • Complete set, including 2 D20 (for advantage/disadvantage), 1 D12, 1 D10, 1 D8, 4 D6, 1 D4, 1 D100 (in 10 increments)
  • The additional of informational cards is a nice touch. They outline locations and factions in the Sword Coast, and also provide a map. The added value here is great, I just wish they’d extent this further. Potion trackers, condition cards, that sort of thing.
  • The card box with inner felt is nice, and closes well.

Could Go Either Way
  • If you’re already an expert on the Forgotten Realms, the cards are going to be of no help to you. The map is still nice though.
  • The two D20s are oversized compared to normal dice. I’ve personally always preferred the smaller ones as it easily allows me to grab a D20 and a D8 for my long sword, and roll both at once. I would prefer if the extra material just went to more dice. That said, if it’s your thing, no complaints.
Cons
  • Similar to the other dice sets in this edition, this set can be a bit pricey compared to other dice manufacturers. These sets often go on sale making them more affordable, but the MSRP is rather high when you can buy sets for 10 bucks at your local game store. With sales though, it can be a far easier sale. That said, I’m happy to see that they added more to it than some previous sets they’ve released.


Introduction

We got yet more dice, this time aimed at the Forgotten Realms. The set, called the D&D Forgotten Realms Laeral Silverhand's Explorer's Kit, features 4 d6s, 2 d20, 1d12, 1d10, 1d8, 1d6, 1d4, and 1d100. To actually use the D100, you need to roll both the D10 and the D100. One gives you the one’s column, the other gives you the 10s. This is pretty standard. And the appearance of the dice look quite nice. However, there’s more to the box than just the dice.

The Box

There’s a card box that comes with the set as well. The inside is nicely padded, and the artwork on the outside is very striking. I think it’s more of a display piece though, as I wouldn’t trust it around water, and I can see it being scratched up. Instead I think it belongs on a shelf. I’d suggest actually going to a game with a dice bag if you care about preserving the box. When you’re at home though that consideration goes away.

Cards

Included are a range of cards with descriptions of characters, locations, and factions found in the Sword Coast. Now these I like. You can keep them in the middle of the table for players to consult regularly, re-read quickly if there’s been a pretty serious break, or just put down on the table when meeting with a particular person as a visual aid, in in a particular area. Of course, if you’re not going to play in the Forgotten Realms this goes unused though.

Oversized Dice

I prefer normal dice. I find it harder to properly roll two dice at once when some are normal size and some are large, so I generally prefer the plastic to be used on more dice. I recognize this is a thing specific to me, but I could also see this view point being shared by others.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Free Dungeons & Dragons Content Through D&D Website

Recently there has been a slew of free content provided for D&D on the official website. Quarantine? Time off? D&D? Sounds like my kind of time. I'm really happy to see this sort of thing, and free content makes it all the easier if you're new to the hobby or otherwise. Thanks again.That said, there's a few things that should be known. And they are...

What You Need
Basic rules 
SRD  Extras (Use with basic rules for things like more monsters, and more classes)

Manually Check
So, the bad news is that you have to manually check the page as far as I can tell. No email group so you can easily get them as they get posted. If you know otherwise, please point it out.

Mix Of Links
There's also a mix of stuff hosted right on the website, and others pointing to the Dungeon Masters Guild. Which means actually getting the free stuff can require you to log in, and others can be downloaded right from the link. Well, can't complain too much about free.

Some Expire
Some of the links expire, or have already expired. Get them quickly. That said, I really wish they'd update the expired links. Striking out expired offers or some other visual indicator would make combing through the page far easier. 

Dungeon Master: Magic Weapon Flavour

Unfortunately, even swords channelling the power of the plane of elemental fire can get dull. It starts off by being a cool new item, and dealing significantly more damage. A few more sessions later, it can become nothing more than a stick that hits +2 harder, or more likely 1D6. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many different methods, from complex magic items that simply can’t be forgotten due to their combat options and out of combat personality, to little extra touches. I hope to cover the second option today.

Make It Cool In Use

My players like to have the scene set. It doesn’t matter that it takes longer to run a session. They enjoy the story telling, and part of that for them is the little details of the scene. It’s not enough to roll a critical and see they killed the bandit, they want me to describe it. Or describe it themselves. Amazing magic items greatly change these scenes. The reaction from a vampire to a sun blade is far different than being beaten by a non-magic mace.

Elemental Damage Is Fun

Elemental damage is one of the most common, and also one of the easiest to add flavour to. Flame based weapons can leave scorch marks on armour, and even walls and furniture on misses. +3 weapons can make loud crunch noises and crack armour. Even if the armour holds from a near miss, it might still crack or shave pieces off where before it was piercing through. I’ve even seen a player who would stick their cold damage dagger into their drink to cool it down. And of course, in rainy weather your flaming weapon may create steam.

Electric and force damage is often trickier, but still possible to work with. Your player might get a minor and harmless static shock when trying to look over the body that they shocked. Maybe even make smoke rise from them Star Wars style. Near by items could get shifted and fall for force damage.

Critical hits that result in one hit KOs can be a lot of fun too. You might freeze kobolds solid, or shatter parts of them. Perhaps their water skin is frozen solid from the hit too. Even if their target is still standing, you can freeze some terrain like a shallow nearby puddle, or maybe for a moment the rain turns to hail. Or maybe have the enemy shiver from a near miss. Have fun with it if it’s your thing.

Don’t Overdue It

Like all things, moderation is the key. However, one or two details per combat encounter can really help make players excited about their magic items. Part of that involves having a good memory. If they have a sun blade, don’t forget that they lit up a good portion of the cave and can see who was attacking them in the dark. Even players can forget some of the less obvious combat effects of items, and those “oh yeah, cool” moments go a long way over the course of a campaign.

However, it’s really still about their characters so a couple details to show that their magic sword is still cool is often appreciated. If they are the ones bringing it up, and trying to use their item in a cool way, of course let them. But I’d suggest not making the items the focus more often than a couple of times per combat encounter, and be careful going too far. Turning on your sun blade won’t blind everyone within range, but describing the now revealed bandits covering their eyes for a moment before attacking isn’t too much.

It’s a tool at your disposal and I think it is best used when combined with techniques to make more interesting magic items, and situations that give chances for your characters and magic items to shine.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Dungeon Master: Riddles

Riddles are a classic element of adventures and fantasy works. From cryptic clues left by an old wizard in one of their books for no-one other than themselves, to elaborate death traps created by malicious gods, it comes up sooner or later. However, tabletop gaming is different than a fantasy movie or book. The game needs to keep moving. Your players can’t spend a week straight on a riddle like a character can. So to prevent a game from stalling, there are a few techniques I’ve seen used, and I hope to share them today.

Roll For Success

Sometimes you can just let a character roll for a solution. They meet the DC, they get the result. I’m generally not a fan of this solution because it makes the riddle just another roll. That said, it’s a trick to keep in your back pocket if everything else fails.

Research Mechanics

Often time is important for a quest. One thing you can do is allow players to trade in-game time for hints. If you present it to the party, and they can’t figure it out, they can spend time researching the book, or looking over the area, and as a result they get a hint that makes the answer easier to figure out.

Find An Alternate Solution

There are often alternate solutions to a problem. Can’t figure out the puzzle on a tomb door? A scroll of fireball could do the trick. One moment that stands out from my games is where the party, including myself since I was a player, decided the best course of action was to buy 500 gold worth of alchemists fire, and burn their way through. It worked though we had to wait an extra couple hours for the smoke to clear.

These solutions are often non-ideal and come with a cost. The alchemist's fire cost money. It also cost us time since we had to go back to the city, and back to the tomb. They might petition their deity for help, or talk to a nearby corpse using good old necromancy (speak with dead is a good way to get another riddle). These are slightly different since they will end up using the ideal solution in the end. However, they are taking some extra steps because they couldn’t figure it out themselves. Hiring a local wizard for consultation is another variant of this.

Failure Is Not The End

They got the combination on the chest wrong? It explodes, sending pieces of wood throughout the room. I lost 12 hit points, and the potion inside was destroyed, but now it’s open! A failure to a riddle doesn’t need to block the progress of the party. That said, there should be a cost. In this style, failure will open a new path for the players, but it’s less than ideal.

One particularly interesting example I saw was that another group of adventurers got into the tomb and solved the riddle. They are still there, and they’re not friendly. And one of them fell to their death with some of the loot, making it unreachable.

Layered Solutions

Any of the above can be combined. You can allow a roll (DC 16 arcana check to realize it’s an arcane lock spell, but they need to realize its magical), alternate solutions (using detect magic would reveal magic is a foot, dispel magic would remove the obstacle, they could still break down the door even with the DC 10 addition from arcane lock), or they can do it as expected and solve the riddle in the wizard’s book they found on his body. Now, I wouldn’t use this as a puzzle outside of low level without some changes, but it’s already sounding better than having them stuck.

Be Flexible

I’ve played and ran many a session where the players come up with a more interesting solution to a riddle than the Dungeon Master (or author of the published adventure). And you know what I did? I made it the solution. It worked based on everything that was provided, and it was even better. Why not reward cleverness? That said, you have to be a little careful not to have every riddle end up this way. Some of your riddles should be solvable.

Be Careful

Sometimes even seemingly easy riddles can be hard for people that aren’t in your frame of mind. There’s nothing wrong with having a few easy ones too. Makes players feel smart, and the game go at a good pace. Besides, didn’t they earn it by retrieving that wizard’s journal from those bandits? Generally, the more leaps of logic that need to be done, the less likely that it’ll be solved. That said, it’s very hard writing good riddles and puzzles. It also depends on your group.

Don’t Be Afraid To Reuse

We’ve had years of tabletop RPGs and video games, and more books than can be read in a life time. Don’t be afraid to reuse a cool riddle you find, especially from more obscure sources. Also, remember what’s considered obscure depends on your players. Also, don’t be afraid of putting a slight twist on the puzzle. Instead of answering the riddle of the sphinx, maybe they need to arrange 3 idols in three areas. One has a sunrise design, one has a sunset design, and one has a high noon design. Same problem, slightly different delivery.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick and Morty Review

Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

Pros
  • Includes a comedy adventure that can be a lot of fun. It’s a dungeon delve style where each encounter has some comedy element to it.
  • Whoo, more dice!
  • Quite a lot of Rick & Morty style art. If that’s your thing. I always like new art. It even extends to the Dungeon Master’s screen (contains all the same rules that previous screen included).

Could Go Either Way
  • It’s the basic D&D rules as you’ve seen before. You can even find them for free on the website. What you’ll be missing is the comedy included along side them. This is again a double edged sword, because you need to be aware that the blurbs are entertainment, and not necessarily good advice. Can be very dangerous for the wrong new Dungeon Master.
  • There’s not really any extra reusable.
Cons
  • This is a comedy adventure. Comedy is fun the first time, but if you’re the kind to get bored when hearing the same joke a second time, running the same joke is probably even worse. That's assuming you found it funny the first time, as comedy is subjective.
  • No PDF*
* Denotes nitpicking.

Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick and Morty set
The set in all of its glory.


Introduction

Like D&D? How about Rick & Morty? Well, good news for you! There was a newish D&D starter set released that is heavily influenced by Rick & Morty. In practice that means that the adventure is written like it’s actually made by Rick, and the rules themselves have blurbs of “advice”. Much of this I wouldn’t actually follow but it’s there for the entertainment value. That’s the high level overview. Look below for a closer look.

The Adventure

New Player Options

I mean, it’s a starter box. So no. Closest we have to new player options is 5 new pre-made character sheets.

New Monsters

Once again the answer is nope. The descriptions for many have been Rick & Morty-ified, but that’s about it. And when I say that, I mean there’s more humour in them. It’s not that they’ve been massively changed in terms of gameplay. Because they haven’t.

What You Need to Play

You know how I always complain that you need to refer to the Monster Manual for adventures? Well, all of the creatures are included! The basic rules? Are included! Dice? Included. It is a starter set, so this is what I’d expect.

Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick and Morty art 2
Nice looking critter, eh?

The Adventure Itself

The adventure itself takes the form of a dungeon delve. You enter and go from room to room, experiencing encounters that all have some comedic twist. Some involve combat, some less, but there is generally some joke or punchline to every room. I ran through it with some friends and we had quite a few laughs. That said, in the nature of D&D, quite a bit of that laughing wasn’t written in the adventure’s script. It was spontaneous because a bunch of friends were playing D&D.

Now, this being a humour adventure, I think it’s very hard to describe and talk about. Humour is very subjective. However, because of how it’s structured, I don’t think it’s very repayable. If you do, it’s more like going through the same stand up comedy set. This is in opposition to adventures such as the classic Ravenloft, where elements would be randomized, and as a result allowing you to replay it every year at Halloween if you so wanted, with differences every time.

Alright. Fine. You won’t run it more than once for the same group probably. Well, I think most Dungeon Masters wouldn’t run it more than once for that same reason. They don’t want the same jokes again, and it doesn’t have a creepy atmosphere you could use for Halloween, or to see how someone new would go through Mines of Phandelver. If they do, it’s to be a joke teller like I described before. That makes it more niche than many other adventures. That said, there’s not many adventures in this niche, and basically no official ones. At best you’ll find traces of it in the full blown adventures.

Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick and Morty art
Example of the what the new art looks like.

The Art and Book Build Quality

The pages themselves are the thinner type we’ve come to expect from starter sets. If you saw the original starter set, you know what to expect. It’s glossy and thin, unlike the full hardcover books. This also extends to the screen. It’s not thick card like the one from the Christmas set a little while back, which felt like it was made from book covers. It’s thinner card.

The art itself is a mixture of art from previous work, and new art in the style of Rick & Morty. The old art still looks good, but anyone who has been around this edition for a while wouldn’t get exited from seeing it again. It’s limited to only the rules section of the book. The new art is quite common, both throughout the

Price

It’s the standard start set price of $29.99 USD. No surprises here.

What I felt was Missing

As far as low priced starter sets go, it has just about what I’d expect. What I would really like to see, however, is something reusable in general campaigns like dungeon tiles. Here, you can reuse the screen, and dice obviously, but some more would go a long way. Here’s an idea: let’s have a big zip of random stuff to help Dungeon Masters prepare. One example would be pages you can just add text to for handouts. Just print it out, and write on it with black pen. It’d go a long way if a starter set also helped players with the building blocks of their campaign for elements such as battle maps and handouts.

I’d also like to have seen some handouts we could show our players so they could see what the room looks like. Some old TSR era adventures did this, and given that it’s in the style of Rick & Morty, it’d be great to be able to show scenes to players in that style. Instead, a lot of it is in the rules and adventure itself, which will probably end up only seen by the eyes of the Dungeon Master.

Free Stuff

Nope.

Summary

There we have it. It’s a self contained box that has everything you need to run the adventure. The adventure itself is a dungeon delve where each encounter has a comedic twist or punchline to it. This makes it unique and fit a different niche, but I’m afraid that the replay value isn’t as high as other published adventures for this edition. As a general recommendation, I’d still suggest the original starter set to new players. That said, there’s enjoyment to be had here if you’d prefer a more comedic game. The other thing is that comedy being subjective, it's hard to say if a particular person or group will find it funny. I just wish it had more replay value, and more tools were provided for the Dungeon Masters of the future who pick it up.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Dungeons & Dragons: Tyranny of Dragons

Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

Dungeons & Dragons Tyranny of Dragons Cover
New cover for the book.


There was a compilation of the two parts of the Tyranny of Dragons story line into one book. This makes it a bit different than my usual reviews, because the adventure itself hasn’t changed. Instead they’ve been compiled together and have a fancy new cover. To see my review of Rise of Tiamat, click here. I missed Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I thought it was an alright adventure. Certainty easier to run than Rise of Tiamat. And fairly well suited for new Dungeon Masters compared to some later ones. It's much closer to a traditional dungeon delve in structure. The art is the same, as the previous releases. So really, it’s not so much of a review as an informational post about it. I’m happy to see it in one book, and would’ve preferred if it released that way, but it’s not as exciting as a brand new book.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus Review

Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

Pros
  • Lots of full colour art as always. This one in particular has some very beautiful maps and location illustrations. There is some that is too cartoony for my taste though.
  • The overarching sequence of events that make up the campaign make sense.
  • The setting on this one is a particular highlight. The large presence of devils, and being in hell make the scenario and situation vastly different than just another kingdom. Lots of lying and manipulation on this.
  • It's a darker adventure with great atmosphere.
  • The idea of having the characters pick a dark secret is a good one. It ties the players and characters together and gives the Dungeon Master some good leverage. But you’ll need to get buy-in from your players as it affects their characters.
  • The section on devil deals is very nice. Making deals and tempting players is one of the best parts of playing devils.

Could Go Either Way
  • Curse of Strahd wasted no time in throwing players into the new setting. Here, there’s a bit of buildup. It starts off in Baldur’s Gate and works up to hell.
  • It can get weird. Giant infernal war machines, experiencing dreams, talking to the damned. If “trying to escape a level of hell” is your cup of tea, you’ll get a lot of fun out of the otherness of the setting.
  • I wouldn’t recommend this for new Dungeon Masters unless the concept really grabs you, and you’re comfortable with playing things by ear.
  • The connective tissue between certain parts, in particularly the intro, can be a bit rough.
  • It’s the standard ~250 page adventure. I think they could push it to 300 but hey, we know what to expect by now from these. This is especially true since only about 150 pages are really detailing the adventure. The rest are creatures (some of which are repeats from other books), detail on Baldur’s Gate,
  • About 50 pages of the 256 pages are just describing Baldur’s Gate as it is today. This can be useful for the Dungeon Master, but the real interesting part is in Avernus. I would’ve liked more detailed for the adventure itself. The Baldur’s Gate stuff, while interesting, I feel should have been available in their online magazine or something to give more pages to the adventure itself.
Cons
  • No PDF*


* Denotes nitpicking.

Descent Into Avernus Cover
Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus Cover


Introduction

We’ve got another D&D adventure on our hands. This new one called “Baldur’s Gate: Descent to Avernus”, as the name suggests, heavily features one of the lawyers of hell. Going from the surface work to being trapped in hell and needing to find a way out, it provides a quite unique experience as players meet, negotiate and fight with devils.

Perhaps it’s the subject matter, in fact I’m sure that’s a big part of it, but I think this is my favourite adventure since Curse of Strahd. At the time of writing I’ve run the first two chapters. It still requires some adaptation, so I wouldn’t recommend it for new Dungeon Masters, but it makes me want to adapt and run it.

Descent Into Avernus Concept Art
Descent Into Avernus concept art example.

The Adventure

New Player Options

Nope. Not much here. There’s a few pages for a new background, and some twists on existing ones. Beyond that though? Nope.

New Monsters

There’s only a handful of new creatures. The rest are existing ones from previously released books. That makes sense to me since we are talking about devils which already got their time in the limelight in this edition. And devils are a lot of fun. Probably my second favourite kind of creature after undead. 

What You Need to Play

The Monster Manual, Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are referenced at the start of the adventure. You know what that means. If you’re not a D&D expert, I wouldn’t recommend trying to run it without at least the Monster Manual. I really which they weren’t necessary, but here we are. 

Descen Into Avernus Candlekeep
An example of the sort of art you can expect. Pictured here is Candlekeep.
 

The Adventure Itself (Some Spoilers)

The basic idea of this adventure is really solid, and one of my favourites in a long while. Running around a layer of hell is the kind of quality idea that good campaigns are made of. Doing so with the lives of a city on the line, while dealing with devil contracts, and having the possibility to redeem an archdevil just makes things more fun.

One thing to note is that the adventure eases players into being in hell. It doesn’t just throw them in and watches them sink or swim like Curse of Strahd. Instead they start in Baldur’s Gate and see the strife created by one of the symptoms of the devils actions. Then, they get dragged there and exposed to the new set of rules present in Avernus.

A fair number of pages are given to help Dungeon Masters with making contracts as well as the procedure around them. Not all of them are simply written on paper, and many alternative options such as even singing a song are presented. I’m very happy to see that sort of thing as even if not used, it helps to stoke ideas.

A rather large number of important parts of this adventure also take place in memories. This makes the adventure even more surreal and odd. It also allows for the characters to participate in more situation and see exciting information first hand. However, it’s something you should know before running in case it’s the sort of thing you don’t like. I’ve played with quite a few people who wanted everything to happen in the real, waking world.

While not necessary, I think some knowledge about the different devils of the hells as well as some background knowledge of the blood war would be helpful. It is an important part of backdrop and if you don’t have a firm grasp on it, it’s all the harder to communicate it effectively to your players.

I wish there was more devoted to the possible final fight at the end of the adventure with an archdevil. A battle map or sketch of the area with some turn order events would have made it much easier to run, especially for new Dungeon Masters. I also find some basic suggestions like this extremely helpful to get an idea of the intended character of creatures and how they approach a fight.

Descent Into Avernus Baldur's Gate
One of my favourite pictures from this adventure. Baldur's Gate in all of its splendour.

The Art and Book Build Quality

The build quality of the book is what we’ve come to expect. It’s the same style as usual, except for the limited edition cover. I’m also happy to report that my copy was flawless. However, I’ve seen enough issues in this edition to still recommend that if you are picking up the book in person, just flip through it to make sure there aren’t any obvious issues.

The art ranges from so amazing it makes my list of favourite illustrations in this edition, to decent but not my style. I’d hang some of the scenery illustrations on my walls. They’re that good. The maps too are absolutely amazing. The Baldur’s Gate section, while I think unnecessary in an adventure book, has some very nice 3D perspective illustrations. A lot of the art is nicely coloured, unlike some previous books that were mostly black and white. There are some pieces that look like stained glass windows and wow, they are some of my favourite pieces from this book.

Descent Into Avernus Stained Glass
The stained glass style I mentioned in the art style section above. I really like this.

Price

You all know the drill by now. It’s the standard price for a D&D adventure ($50 in the States and $64 in Canada). For the suggested retail price of this product, you can check here. You can find it cheaper if you look online, but I’ll let you all decide who you want to support with your purchases.

What I felt was Missing
This adventure is almost begging to be a series. A Dante’s Inferno style trek through the levels of hell. One level is big enough for a full campaign, sure, but still it makes me yearn for more. I guess that’s a good sign.

The book includes a section which features concept art for the book. Some of it is very nice looking, but I think it could be better organized, I’d love to see more, and I’d want it out of the book if possible. Put it in the magazine to help sell the adventure. Give me more pages for the adventure. Especially when I’d liked to have some professionally thought up contingencies for if players do something slightly different than the adventure. Yes, players will often find out of the box solutions, but at the very least have an obvious alternative if the player characters don’t want to try to kill or kidnap someone.

Free Stuff

Nope. Sorry. Nothing to see here. I know, I’m disappointed too.

Summary

I said it in the intro, but I really do think this may be my second favourite adventure in this edition after Curse of Strahd. The art in places is absolutely stunning, the concept is easy to have fun with, and the maps... oh my the maps look amazing. However, I wish more of the book details the adventure and creatures. What if you want to set it in your own setting instead of Baldur’s Gate? Well, there go 50 pages unused. If I’m making a new setting or using my own existing setting I’ve developed in my time playing the game, I can work from the adventure. However, it’d be nice if it wasn’t so strongly assumed to be set in the forgotten realms.