Tuesday, 30 July 2013

What I have learned about D&D

I have been playing D&D for 5 years now and between the rules, feats, and monsters, I have picked

Dallas Kasaboski
up a few experience points, learning the strategy behind D&D. If you haven't read it, I recommend The Player's Strategy guide as it's a great way for players, veteran and novice, to gain tips into how to play this game. Here are a few of my own personal highlights, things I've learned about the game simply by playing.

Between the combat and the roleplaying often lies skill challenges and problem solving. D&D is a game of imagination which forces you to constantly question and examine your current situation. Sometimes, this abstraction makes things difficult but just as often the abstraction keeps you from forming solid opinions or bias which allows you to dream up a myriad of solutions. If you want "outside the box" thinking, ask a D&D player. The lack of taking anything for granted causes you to constantly find new and interesting ways of seeing things, and this can allow for some unorthodox thinking. I have come across a few tests and puzzles designed to promote creativity, teamwork, or unconventional thinking, and when I took those tests to any of my fellow D&D players, they were able to spin the puzzle around, and come up with a variety of solutions.

While we all enjoy D&D combat, my friends and I especially delight in the strategy and tactics of it. Often, our combats involve us standing over the battle grid, examining possible courses of action. Like a more complicated game of chess, we plan several moves ahead, considering all the pieces on the board.

While resourcefulness is a useful trait, allowing for some interesting uses of equipment and the environment, tactics allow an efficient use of actions which allows a party to become a serious threat, sometimes to the DM's chagrin. We've had some interesting balance challenges in our latest game because our three players are able to easily take out a solo 5 levels higher than us.

Never ask a question unless you want the answer to be yes
Since the rules of the game are flexible and much of the game is left to the imagination, contribution, and leeway of the players/DM, anything can happen. With that in mind, if you don't want a bad thing to happen, don't ask if it happens. Don't mention it, don't talk about it. Even if you have an awesome, and benevolent, DM, you don't want to give them ideas.

It started out as an inside joke, when one player failed a skill challenge roll and asked, "Do I lose an eye for that?" The DM thought it was a good idea and went with it. Now when I play, I only ask questions to find out information or to casually ask the DM for something special.

Don't roll, just say and do
D&D is an odd game as it can be equal parts rules and imagination. Sometimes, we get caught up in the rules and rolls. One example which seems to come up a lot is coup de grace. According to the rules, if a foe is defenseless (unconscious, tightly bound, etc.) one could attempt to end the foe's life quickly and yet still fail. While this makes sense it it seems odd that a character can't just cut a defenseless ruffian's throat and be done with him. Other instances include doing simple things. As a friend of mine recently said, "Your skill points are to help you be awesome. Your character can likely do anything you can do, the points are to help and see if you can do better." This is a good philosophy to play by as, far too often, I'd fallen into the trap of, "I leap on the table, oh I failed my Athletics check, I guess I don't leap on the table." As long as it's not too important or outrageous, a good DM will let it happen and a good player should know to just do it.

My first encounter with D&D involved watching others play. During these sessions, I would often whisper suggestions, ways to overcome certain challenges, and the solutions often included rope. It has so many uses and I have become known, in my D&D group, for being able to use rope to win the day. I have used rope to save characters' lives, find my way through mazes (thanks Perseus), and to seal friendships. It is my #1 recommended piece of equipment to have and I would not leave home without it!

Know your limits, and challenge them
While there are many ways to imply the above, I'm talking about creative, character limits. I recently realized that while I enjoyed flavouring my actions, I wasn't too comfortable making up elements of my characters's past. I even went so far as to make a character with amnesia so as to avoid a backstory. My hesitancy stemmed from a reluctance to step on the DM's toes, so to speak. To use another idiom, too many cooks may spoil the broth and I did not wish to inconvenience anyone by my creations. When I did think of something, I ran every detail by the DM to make sure it would work out and that they were prepared. I realized this was limiting my gameplay so I worked to trust myself and trust my judgment.

On the other hand, I've seen what happens when people ignore or fail to consider the limits imposed on their characters via the fictional world the DM has created. D&D is a collaborative game so keep on being creative, but work together to make things enjoyable.

And that's about all I can think of right now. I am sure there are lessons I'm taking for granted, and I hope that D&D continues to offer new challenges and new lessons. Thanks for reading.

What I have learned about myself by playing D&D

Dungeons and Dragons has one of the most rewarding "you get out what you put in" ratios of

Dallas Kasaboski
anything I've ever experienced. It can be an intense battlefield, or a quiet mystery, and a game can take place in 1 town, or an entire world. The things your characters experience not only level them up, but also level up the players. Often, while you're exploring the deep dark caves, or deciding what to do next, you're exploring yourself. Here's what I have learned/emphasized about myself since playing.

How I would act in certain situations
D&D is a role-playing game wherein you act the part of a character you create. Often, you must decide how to react in the face of situations which usually go beyond what most of us consider reality. As a player, you are constantly confronted with decisions and while your character may be very different from you and is in fact not you, these choices resonate both with player and character alike. When my character decides if he should kill that tyrant, steal that loot, or save that town, my inner monologue considers what I would do in that situation. Regardless of heroics or villainy, the choices my characters face interact with my own personal moral code. Fantasy is a great way to expand upon reality and while I'm not likely to encounter such extravagant circumstances, having thought about them prepares me and has made me reconsider what I thought I knew about myself.

Appreciation of my senses 
I have always been aware of my senses, but nothing makes you appreciate something as suddenly not having it. In one campaign, my character was struck blind by an axe swing. While 4th edition D&D can go a little overboard in making a character diehard, this was an incurable blindness. I spent a lot of time in and out of game thinking about my other senses. I paid attention to the smells and sounds around me and became more acutely aware of taste and touch. Thinking about how my character would get around and function gave me an insight (see what I did there? See what I did there?) into the life of a blind person. I'm not saying I know what it feels like, exactly, but I've studied it, imagined it, and even tried it to a minute extent. Now, I'm aware of smell and sound as quickly and nigh-accurately as sight. I can get a decent idea of my environment without seeing it and have trusted to navigating blindly. It has made me mind my surroundings (thanks Liam Neeson) and know when something's amiss. I can now track smells and sounds with pinpoint accuracy and getting around is a lot easier.

A side effect of this is that it helped improve my mental map. Forced to demand descriptions from other players and ask for details of non-visual senses from the DM, I became quite good at mental map generation. I can now navigate a room easily after 1 look and don't need light to get around, provided it's not a busy, or changing, area.

Whether it be getting around in the dark, down a glare-filled street, or finding a store or library by its smell, playing blind has taught me to appreciate and use all of my senses.

How I feel about gods
In Dungeons and Dragons, the gods are legendary, as part of the world and its history as anything else, and their existence is often confirmed by their actions. The gods intervene, give power, take sides, and so belief in their existence isn't as important as it is in our world. I like to think of them as a lens or filter, as they offer a unique way of seeing and acting in the world. A player who denies the existence of the gods would be thought stupid or insane and so, non-belief comes in the form of not trusting the gods for help.

So where does that leave me? Well, the first thing I noticed was that I was carrying my agnostic/atheistic perspective into my characters without realizing it. I played a Runepriest who didn't know which god his powers came from, a fighter/paladin who believed his god only helped those who helped themselves, and recently, a paladin who demanded verification, direction, and even an audience from his god.

I wanted to do something different with Kalgar, my Kord-worshipping paladin. (Whose adventures can be followed here) I wanted him to have faith, to believe, and to have his devotion be as clear and absolute as possible. I wanted to explore this side of myself and this side of spirituality. I had to take a step back from my own beliefs and think more about the gods and my character.

And what have I learned? Kalgar is a divine warrior with a strict moral code who is unflinching in the face of danger or religious hardship. I have come to realize that I too live by a strict moral code and that I have more in common with the faithful than I first suspected. I have learned that faith has its rewards and that any belief must be checked, challenged, and allowed to change.

And that's it for now! We here at D4sign love D&D for all that it has to offer. Whether it be coming up with cool character concepts, fighting combats, or exploring a dark corner of ourselves, Dungeons and Dragons has much to offer and I hope to continue growing, learning, and playing in the future!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Transition to Paragon

Kalgar, Tong, and Alvyn had just been told about The Long Game; its rules and its players. They had

Dallas Kasaboski
been asked to work with Mercury in order to act as arbiter of the rules, to ensure the game does not get out of hand. Marked by Mercury, she waited to see if the three had any questions.

(We’re backtracking a little as we wanted to make sure the players understood the rules and content before moving forward)

Kalgar's Vision of Paragon

Hello all, I wrote this piece as an aside, as a way of explaining to myself, and anyone interested, in

Dallas Kasaboski
the emotional and spiritual transition my character Kalgar had in The Long Game to paragon. I felt that a lot of ground needed to be covered so that Kalgar could take on a new path and so I could better understand the character better. The entire thing is a vision, created by the god Kord, and used to introduce Kalgar into bigger and better things. I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Making (and breaking) the rules of the Long Game

Dominic Matte
As has finally been revealed to the party in my ongoing D&D campaign, there's more going on in the world than meets the eye - every country is secretly run by dragons, and the dragons are playing a long game for control of the planet. Like all games, the Long Game has rules to keep its players in line and to establish a fair field of battle.

Right from the outset, the rules were influenced by Isaac Asimov's robot stories. Asimov's stories clearly lay out the three laws of robotics, and then explore all the ways in which robots interpret, misinterpret, or break those rules. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do something similar. It's way more interesting to look at the exceptions to the rules than to have everything run perfectly according to plan.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Solo Design: Positioning Matters

Dominic Matte
In a recent session I ran a battle in which positioning and control were extremely important. Positioning and movement are sometimes (maybe often) ignored even in highly tactical 4e combat because most of the time, if you're in range, your precise location isn't really that big a deal. The fighter can hit the orc and he's blocking the path to the wizard? Great, he doesn't need to move unless the orc goes for the wizard.

I wanted to run a fight where position would be the most important element of the battle. Here's how I approached that goal.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Evil DM magic item: the Mark of Mercury

Dominic Matte
At the end of a recent D&D session I gave each of my players a new magic item - the Mark of Mercury - which marks the players as agents of Mercury, the Arbiter of the Long Game (long story). The real fun is the item property.

When the player rolls a d20, the Mark of Mercury allows the player to turn the die to any result without spending an action. This can be done at will, as often as the player wants, with no limitations. The caveat is that each time the player uses this ability, the DM (me, bwahaha) can do the same thing to any d20 roll - the player's or the DM's.

For evil DMs, this is a really fun trap, and potentially a very tough decision for players. If the player wants to, he or she can crit on every single attack for an entire combat - but that's a big stack of dice the DM can use against them later, or even during that fight. I think the general reaction of my players, upon receiving the Mark, was "that's really cool and I'm never ever going to use this unless I really absolutely have to". 

Where this item gets really interesting is with death saving throws. If your result on a death save is 20 or higher you immediately spend a healing surge and regain consciousness - you go from dying to up and fighting on a single lucky roll. My players can now do this at will... if they're willing to risk an unexpected 1 or enemy crit at exactly the wrong time.

A patient DM doesn't have to use their end of the item in the same fight, or even the same day, as the player's use. You could have an in-game year pass before you actually use it. The trick, however, is to not be too evil or spiteful. Ideally it's best used to create a complication or plot twist, and not to just kill a character because haha evil. You might use it to make the players fail a critical time-sensitive mission, screw up a fragile diplomatic arrangement, or ensure the success of an important step in the bad guy's plan. It's a fun item for evil DMs, but there's so much potential for real intrigue and development.

It'll be fun to see if and when my players use the Mark of Mercury, and what the consequences will be when they do!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Fall of Baelfire and the Rise of the Arbiters

High above the clouds, Kalgar set a course for Ruber; Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar had a fight to pick.

Dallas Kasaboski

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Inscrutable Conundrum of Religiosity (Religion Tips For PCs)

Alex Adams
Religion is one of the most powerful organizing forces on earth, and one of the most contentious as well.  Religious institutions have built empires, and cannibalized them.  Religious feeling has led to the most powerful and evocative works of art of this planet.  Religious fervor has also led to some of the most appalling atrocities. 

            Similarly so, Religion in D&D can provide a massive font of creativity, combat depth, and character growth.  Sadly, in many campaigns, this resource is left untapped; PC faith resigned to mundane box-checker personality info akin to eye color.  More often, blood ties and the desire for treasure take the motivation main-stage, with religious inclination just inviting something cool to say when you smite a skeleton.  Even amidst a swath of textual guidance, new players still struggle to incorporate and inhabit religiosity into a well rounded PC.  Cast aside trepidation and unfamiliarity, fellow dice-believers.  Religion-done-well in a campaign is a Godsend, and this message has been sent from above to show you how!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The ship hits the fan...

Resting up in Chalybs, we find our adventurers getting ready for bigger challenges. The world is about to plunge into total war, and with threats on all sides, will they be prepared for what awaits? Let’s find out...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

When Gods Collide...

After defeating Hyacintho’s kraken, and driving the invading force back, our three adventurers, along with Alia the Stubborn and Alan the horse, find themselves on the Vutha Kepesk (the Black Storm), off the Aesian coast.