Saturday, November 20, 2010

d&d encounters: play a hero, explore a world, battle monsters

“Hi! I’m here for D&D Encounters.”

My lurking on the Boulder/Longmont 4e D&D Meetup Group message boards lasted about one week before I decided to go ahead and get involved in an actual game. My decision to jump in and start playing was influenced by propagandizing for something called D&D Encounters that I’d come across on the official Dungeons & Dragons website and also on the meetup group’s list of upcoming events.

Heroes needed! Are you game? D&D Encounters is an exciting, weekly campaign that plays out one epic encounter at a time. As you defeat enemies, solve puzzles, finish quests, and perform heroic deeds, you’ll earn Renown Points that you can use to get exclusive rewards.

Each session only takes 1-2 hours to play, so it’s easy to fit your game in after school or work. And each week there’s a new and exciting challenge. Jump in anytime!

That’s the ‘hook’ on the official D&D website. After doing a bit more research online, I discovered that the Encounters program is WotC’s brilliant promotional tool designed to lure people to a local gaming or comic store for an easily digestible, non-threatening dose of 4e D&D.

In order to take part in an Encounters session, all you have to do is show up and play. Encounters is totally geared toward D&D newbs (perhaps a teenager who mistakenly thinks you need an internet connection to play a fantasy role-playing game, like the uber-popular MMORPG World of Warcraft) and those who played D&D at some point in the past and want to get back into it (somewhat older geeks like me who played the game in high school or college, but then drifted away from it for one reason or another), so you don’t need to know the 4e rules or own any books in order to get involved… all you have to bring to the table is a desire to play a hero, explore a world, and battle monsters.

Six pre-generated characters (pre-gens) are available to play: an eladrin wizard (mage), dwarf fighter (slayer), human cleric (storm warpriest), halfling rogue (thief), human fighter (knight), and elf cleric (sun warpriest). If you don’t wish to play one of the pre-gens, you can create your own character using the Essentials book Heroes of the Fallen Lands or its companion, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.

The current season of Encounters is a twenty-week adventure called Keep on the Borderlands— A Season of Serpents (running from 22 September 2010 to 2 February 2011). Its encounters are set in the Nentir Vale, a new part of the D&D game world which was unveiled along with the 4e adventures, sourcebooks, and novels. (The first season of Encounters was a 12-week adventure set in the Forgotten Realms. The second season was a 15-week Dark Sun campaign.)

In my next post, I’ll share what it was like when I showed up at a local game store for my first D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands session.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

podcasts, hard swearing dwarves, & local gaming groups

So with the 4e Player’s Handbook (PHB) in my possession, my next move was to sit down at my computer and head to iTunes.

That doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? But I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work and so I knew there are podcasts covering just about any subject under the sun. I wondered if there were any gaming podcasts out there that might help me learn the 4e rules & game mechanics, so that when I eventually sat down to play Dungeons & Dragons with real people, I wouldn’t have to act like a total newb. Lo and behold, searching for D&D on iTunes brought up dozens and dozens of podcasts. After sampling quite a few of them over the last few months (reading the reviews that other iTunes listeners have left helped narrow down the field quite a bit), my two favorites are…

Critical Hit: A Major Spoilers D&D Podcast

“Uh, what?” … This well produced podcast follows the adventures of Torq, Orem, Randus, and Smith/Ket (aka: Torq and the Torqeltones) as they save the world from ninjers, monkey lizards, & rogue moon gods. Extremely competent GM Rodrigo runs a tight ship, but these guys have lots of fun and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Spanning three seasons of play, there are over 70 episodes of gaming goodness for you to enjoy. Besides being very entertaining, this podcast is a terrific learning resource for those new to 4e D&D. I found that listening to Critical Hit was a great way to help me learn the rules, see how the game mechanics play out in an actual gaming session, & pick up useful tips on roleplaying, tactics, and the importance of having a funnel cake-eating, ¾ orc fighter in your party.

Dungeons & Dragons Podcast

“How’s 19 work for you?” … The guys from Penny Arcade & Wil Wheaton join WotC’s Chris Perkins for a hilarious series of “official” D&D actual play podcasts. (There’s also a 10-part YouTube video of these guys playing together in the Pax Celebrity Game at Pax Prime 2010.) Like Critical Hit, listening to and/or watching the adventures of Jim Darkmagic, Orim, Aeofel, & Binwin Bronzebottom (aka: Acquisitions Incorporated) is a great way for newbs to learn 4e D&D. One caution, though: While these podcasts are endlessly amusing & a terrific learning tool, these guys drop the f-bomb frequently. Very frequently.

Besides discovering these podcasts, I also searched the internet for local gaming groups. I ended-up joining the Boulder/Longmont (Colorado) 4e D&D Meetup Group. I just intended to lurk around the group’s site for a while, but right from the git-go, it looked to be an active, well run group with plenty of opportunities for me to find a game when I was ready.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

dorm rooms, drizzt do'urden, & (finally) my own phb

“… And you’re dead.” Six of us are in my dorm room, hunched around a coffee table we ‘borrowed’ from the downstairs lounge. Remo, our Dungeon Master, reaches out and flips my ranger miniature over onto its side. Dammit to hell, not again! For as many times as my character has died during this dungeon crawl, I might as well have dressed him up in a pink skirt and armed him with one of those plastic toy bows with the suction-cup tipped arrows. Admittedly, I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons before, but it’s not turning out to be the swashbuckling adventure I imagined it would be when I was asked to join the group. I mean, come on, no one else is dying at the drop of a hat like me. But then again, these other guys have all been playing the game for quite a while. Hmm, yes, they’re obviously veterans of many a dungeon crawl. Hmm, come to think of it, maybe these smug bastards just asked me to join them because I’m the only one on the hall without a roommate this semester and so we’re able to leave the game set-up in my room between sessions. Hmmm.

That was back in 1987 and it was my first experience with D&D. I remember being fascinated by Remo’s collection of painted miniatures, thinking the cover of the DM’s book was a bit alarming (a huge red demon wielding a scimitar in one hand and clutching a damsel in distress in the other hand), and frustrated that I had no idea how to play the darn game. If only someone would've handed me a player’s handbook and said, “Here. Read this.” But no one did that, and so after that one semester’s dabbling into the world of fantasy roleplaying, I didn’t give D&D another thought for sixteen years.

Fast forward to November 2003 and we’re preparing to fly to Arkansas to be with my wife’s family for Thanksgiving. While searching for something to read on the plane, the cover of R.A. Salvatore’s The Thousand Orcs catches my eye. I devour it on the trip, even risking my wife’s wrath a few times by sneaking upstairs to our room to read it when I should’ve been hanging out with the in-laws. Once we’re back home, working my way through the rest of the Drizzt books soon becomes my guilty pleasure. I mean, it’s not that I would've been embarrassed to be seen reading them or anything, but c’mon, let’s face it, the guy’s no Hemingway or Faulkner.

But to be honest, even though the novels are set in the Forgotten Realms, they didn’t turn me back on to Dungeons & Dragons. They were simply some fun reads that I enjoyed having on the nightstand for a while. It wasn’t until this fall (2010), when I came across some D&D 4e game products in a local Borders bookstore, that my interest in the game itself once again flared to life. In fact, I was so interested that I walked out of that bookstore with a copy of the 4e Player’s Handbook. (Uhh… I bought it first, of course.)