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.