Thursday, April 30, 2009

DnD: Free PDF's from WotC?

Thanks to Wil Wheaton for posting this info on his blog, where I learned about it.

WotC is offering official, completely free .pdf of their quickstart rules and Keep on the Shadowfell (H1). In addition, you can download a free trial version (Allows for levels 1-3) of their Character Builder. I suggest you get them all now.

And now, the cynic in me will take the reins from the helpful plagarist.

I smell . . . well, I'm not sure what the term is. It's not a scam, it's not necessarily a compromise for discontinuing all .pdf sales either. It's bait. That's what it is.

I'm sure the Character Builder will be cool to play with, but my party is already at level 4, so it's useless at the moment and certainly will not get me to subscribe to D&D Insider. Wonder if it can be cracked . . .

As for the .pdf's, I just don't see this as being quite enough to deflect the ire among their fans and customers. Additionally, there is no information - at least not on the 'news' page where you can download all these freebies - about getting more .pdf's. Maybe some of the more hardcore RPG-newshounds will have a lead on that.

So the bait appears to be there, tied to the end of a string - but no hook. May as well eat while the eatin's good, I guess.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Announcement: Guest Post on The Core Mechanic

I would be surprised if any DnD-interested visitors to this site did not already know about The Core Mechanic. It is an excellent blog dedicated to improving the roleplaying experience by approaching it in new and unique perspectives.

I was invited to do a guest post, which has now been posted. Check it out!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

DnD: Player Reference Sheet for DM's

I can't speak for the more experienced DM's out there, but it is tough for me to create an rich, immersive session where my players forget that they are playing a game and fall fully into their characters. It's so irritating, having to ask "What's your AC?" every time I roll during an encounter, rather than just knowing it and being able to say "The Orc connects with a mighty blow, doing [x] damage."

Especially frustrating is when I'm starting to build up some momentum which I then loose when I have to interrupt myself to ask "What's your passive Insight/Perception?" Not only does this ruin the narrative momentum, but it tips the players off to something that I either don't want them to notice, or want them to take initiative and discover on their own.

In a brief discussion with Jonathan from The Core Mechanic, I found out that his players have folded cards with their essential stats written on the side facing the DM. For myself, being primarily a laptop DM, I created a spreadsheet for myself on Google Docs:

Not to leave anyone out, I have also created a sheet for DM's that can be printed out. It has entries enough for five characters, and uses the following layout:

Click here for the full-size sheet (1.9 MB .jpg - fits 8.5 x 11 paper)

How do other DM's manage this information? How do they use it to convey details to their players? Would you rather hear "You failed to notice something." or not be told anything on a failed Passive Insight/Perception check? Does it take something away from the players to have a DM tell them when they're hit, rather than continually asking for their defensive stats?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DnD: A Monotheistic Approach to the DnD Pantheon

Back in the 80's, conservative Christian kids all over the US (myself included) were being taught why DnD was evil and should be avoided at all costs. The reason mainly centered around players using magic and interaction with demons, devils and (possibly worst of all) a bunch of pagan gods.

Fast forward to today and, thankfully, most of us have a mature understanding of the game and can distinguish between fantasy and reality. However, an undercurrent of unease towards DnD still exists, especially among those who have never really had any interest in or exposure to fantasy works. The popular Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies - prominent fantasy works by Christian authors - certainly helped to bridge that gap, but the doubt and stigma remain to varying degrees.

When I decided I wanted to run a game of DnD, I wanted to include those people close to me - people who knew I was a fantasy/sci-fi geek (albeit a somewhat closeted one), but hung out with me anyway - people I also happen to share a faith with. As I tried to guide them through the character creation process, there was a definite interest in playing Divine characters - protecting the weak and healing the sick being noble callings - but also an understated anxiety at having to choose only one deity out of many to follow.

To make things easier, I created the following bit of fluff around which the theology of our campaign world would be built (It should be noted that this was written well before PHB2 and the release of the newer divine classes):

God, the D&D Pantheon and the Divine Classes

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. When He had finished creating, God decided to rest – but before he rested, He created 20 powerful servants to oversee His new creation and the proliferation of Man, his most cherished creation.

Before long, as mankind spread across the face of the Earth, his memories of God faded and he began to venerate the mighty servants of the Most High as gods. The 20, recognizing their God-given power and might over creation, allowed the worship to take place. Eventually, they come to think of themselves as the gods that the simple mortals who now swarmed across the surface of the Earth believed they were.

Of the 20, nearly half of them became harsh and unforgiving tyrants. Over time, those who followed them became as twisted physically as their master’s now-dark and scheming desires. Others remained distant and aloof, occasionally taking an interest in mortal affairs, but finding them, for the most part, pointless and irrelevant. But a few tried to remain true to the purpose and intent for which they were created, despite not quite remembering why it was they held those convictions in the first place.

Then, without warning, God spoke.

The 20 were called together. They were reminded of their creator and the purpose of their existence. They were given a chance to repent of their arrogance and for accepting worship they themselves were not worthy of. Four of the 20 repented immediately and swore fealty to their creator. Nine of the 20 stormed from the Golden Throne in anger, unwilling to humble themselves to a God who had, in their opinion, abandoned the world He had given to them. The remaining seven went their separate ways, undecided on how they should respond or what their course of action would be.

War erupted in heaven. The self-proclaimed gods, seeking to depose the creator they thought weak and distant found themselves cast out of heaven’s radiance and into the darkness. But even in this forsaken place, the fallen gods refused to admit defeat. They used what power and influence still left to them to take their war to the mortal plane – drawing all creation into their futile rebellion. Darkness spread through all the races that now populated the world, and monstrosities of every imaginable description were loosed upon the Earth.

It was at this point that God did something unheard of in the history of creation – to those among His followers who were faithful and pure of heart, He gifted a portion of His own Spirit.

These frail mortals now had within them the ability to stand against the darkness and bring hope to their fellow man - The newly empowered children of God taking up arms and placing themselves squarely between the darkness and a world that, in many instances, was still unsure of itself in the ongoing war of powers it could barely comprehend.

Early on, two distinct groups of light warriors emerged in the wake of God’s gifting of His Spirit: The clerics, who focused on healing and undoing the harm wrought by the fell powers upon the world; and the Paladins, who fought to prevent any further destruction or corruption by the forces of darkness and evil from occurring.

In terms of gameplay, this meant that all good-aligned gods now fell under the banner of 'God' - players with Channel Divinity can choose any divine feat as long as it was from a good-aligned god. Since Channel Divinity can only ever be used once per encounter, I didn't think this would cause problems. (In practice, it would seem that the non-class related Channel Divinity feats aren't that great anyway - IMHO).

Also, it streamlines things now that all good divine characters can go to a single temple when they visit a city, rather than having to travel between multiple locations.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rage Against the Machine

The video card on my laptop (Toshiba Satellite P105-S6227) died on Friday. The very same laptop where all my work, art, and project files are stored. This happened one day before a new freelance client I've been working with sent me a bunch a files to put on her site, and two days before a former client asked me to make a 'quick change' to his site.

The manufacturer's warranty on the laptop ran out a year ago, good thing I paid $200 for that extended warranty from Circuit Ci- . . . oh, right. F$@%! That's what I get for breaking my own rule: Never ever, ever, EVER buy an extended warranty - especially on electronics that will be obsolete in 2 years.

So I called Toshiba to see if the video card was integrated into the motherboard or if it could be replaced/upgraded. I was told that the 256 MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 was replaceable, but had to be purchased through some official vendor in New York.

Here's how the call to the distributor went:

Me: So, you can send me a new video card?

Sales Rep (in a noticeable New Yawker accent):
It should arrive by Tuesday.

I'll get it Tuesday, then?

No, we'll get it Tuesday. You should get it Thursday.

Wait, I thought you sold the part.

We distribute the parts - that's what distributors do?

Lemme get this straight - I call Toshiba, and they tell me to call you. You tell me that you
will order the part from Toshiba, they send it to you, then you'll send it to me?

. . . yes.

Why can't Toshiba just send me the part?

Well, they have a store, but they don't sell parts, just accessories. But if you want them ship it to you it'll be . . . $30.00 S&H; If we send it to you, it's only $12.00 S&H.

So it costs me less to have Toshiba send it you and then you send it to me, than for Toshiba to send it directly to me.

That's correct.

Fine, whatever, I just need it ASAP.

So, couple this with an extended holiday weekend that provided my 1 and 3 year olds with copious amounts of sugar and one might imagine what sort of a mood I'm in. Just have to hang in there 'till Thursday . . . Oh well, hopefully I can get caught up painting the 36 Slugga Boyz that have been patiently waiting their turn for some attention.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

40K: Blood Angel Hellstorm - a VDR Conversion

The first serious conversion I ever made, beyond a simple mix-n-match. It's been sitting on the shelf for so long, I actually had to glue the turret back together for the updated pics. This was my anti-infantry solution before we had Baal Predators.

It was made primarily from an older Predator Tank, a gun from a generic action figure, the chassis of a military-style cannon, and the sidecar gunner from a Space Marine Attack Bike. Additionally, bits were taken from a firetruck and a helicopter to give it more detail.

The point cost was checked against an online VDR calculator from Age of Strife.

Monday, April 6, 2009

40K: Dark Eldar Webway Portal Templates

Another port over from the old site: Select the color and style you like, print 'em off and cut 'em out. They are (supposed to be) the same size as the small blast template (if not, please let me know ASAP).

Friday, April 3, 2009

DnD: Gear Lock & Tiled Floor

I have put a disturbing amount of effort towards getting the details right on this, so I hope the end result was worth it.

A bare or sparsely furnished room with two distinctive features: The first feature is a solid iron door with a large recessed gear located in the middle. There are no handles or keyholes visible and the hinges are set on the opposite side of the door, indicating that it opens inwards. The door cannot be broken down and is constructed of an alloy that will not yield to magical manipulation. Also, due to the lack of any conventional locking mechanism, it cannot be picked. The door is framed in stone which has been decorated with plates that have been hammered directly into the stone to form a simple geometric pattern (see below), part of which is comprised of a bone-like shape.

The second feature is the floor which is covered in metal tiles, each in the shaped of a stylized, spiked skull that forms a regular tessellation. The eyes and nose are filled with small, dark triangular pieces of metal that are hinged to the tile along one edge - a detail that is not observed under normal circumstances.

Unlocking the Door
The door can only be unlocked by turning the gear. To accomplish this, there are two tiles that differ from the others which, once located, can be picked up from the floor and placed - end to end - in the gear. These key-tiles are missing the triangular piece of metal in the nose, and are cut off shorter than the other tiles. To hide this fact, the tiles are placed against a wall or other flat, perpendicular surface. Exactly where in the room they are located doesn't matter, but practicality suggests they would be close to the door.

In addition to the two tiles, one of the metal shapes in the door frame is actually a handle that can be pulled loose - a fact that can be discovered upon close inspection. The handle is then fit into the two nose openings of the key-tiles, allowing them to be turned, unlocking the door.

Above: Layout of the doorframe pattern and floor tiles. Suggested locations for key elements are shown in red.
The key-tiles placed in the lock.

The handle, shown from the back.
Hidden Dangers
Any melee or lightning based attacks that strike the floor not only cause lighting damage to any creature standing on the metal tiles equal to half the value of the original attack (Ex: A Wizard casts Shock Sphere on a section of the tiles and rolls 10 damage for the attack, any creatures/individuals standing on the tiles will take 5 lightning damage).

Such an attack will also cause the hinged metal triangles to flip open, point up, for the remainder of the encounter. While open, the metal spikes are considered difficult terrain. Any movement across the floor will result in an level-appropriate Acrobatics check. If failed, the individual takes 1d4 damage and is slowed (save ends).

Suggested Applications
DM's will probably get the most mileage out of flying/hover creatures as well as any that can use a lightning-based attack from a position of relative safety. Grell Philosophers (MM pg. 144) hover and can cast lightning, making them excellent choices.

Another approach would be to use a trap that does lightning damage - such as a crystal mounted on a podium in the center of the room - to activate the floor spikes. The podium could be raised but hard to stand on, requiring an Acrobatics check while attempting to disable or break the trap.

The style of construction is grim, but displays the kind of detail and efficiency found in Dwarven stone- and metalwork. However, enemy magic-users with even a moderate level of intelligence could be expected to figure out how lightning attacks activate the floor trap.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DnD: Follow Our Campaign on Obsidian Portal

If you're a hopeless insomniac or just obsessed with reading stories based around DnD sessions, check out my campaign on Obsidian Portal.

Our group is made up of 4 players - including a School Psychologist, a Public Defender, and a University Professor - all brand new to DnD and RPG's in general. Last, and probably least, little ol' me as DM, which is a role I've never played. Due to schedules, we are only able to get together about once per three weeks, but I'm trying to flesh out the NPC's and the locales in between Adventure Log updates.

The campaign started as an old homegrown adventure I found in some obscure corner of the internet - a murder-mystery - that I modified and updated to work in 4th edition. When my PC's are done with it, I'm considering bundling up all the files and maps and making it available on here.

As with this blog, constructive critiques and suggestions are welcomed.