I had another successful Free RPG Day this past Saturday. In addition to getting some free RPG books, I got to play a some D&D Next, the new fangled version of D&D coming out in 2014. Derek from Dungeon’s Master was the Toronto organizer for a public play event from Wizards of the Coast, an adventure entitled Vault of the Dracolich.
The set up is straight forward enough: a Wizard needs a group of adventurers to find a magical staff he had been unable to retrieve when he was a young adventurer. He gives the party a rough map of the caverns the artifact is located within and warns the party they won’t be able to retrieve the staff without first disabling four wards that protect it. To do so they’ll also need to find four idols hidden in the caverns. With that brief intro we were teleported off to the caverns in search of adventure. Our motley crew numbered forty odd people. What!?
There were five tables participating in the adventure. It was designed to be tackled by multiple groups at the same time. Each table was teleported to a different starting location. We each had a team leader whose character had a magic item that would let them talk to the leaders from the other tables. In this way we could communicate things we had found or encountered while traveling through the dungeon. Occasionally the groups would bump into each other while adventuring. This happened at my table while we were fighting a giant Hydra. Our DMs coordinated things like how many hit points the monster had left, and ended up having half the Hydra’s heads attack one party, the other half attacking the other. We would also come across places other parties had passed through. My group had to fight this giant Treant because a previous party had apparently harassed the monster: our attempts to reason with it were for naught. The session ended with a giant fight: we split into groups of four, each group had a different objective. My table had to fight this Dracolich simulacrum, whose ass we kicked.
This was my second time playing D&D Next. I hadn’t played a game since the very first play test rulebooks were released. The game has evolved a fair bit since then, and is a bit more complicated. That said, on the whole it is much more straightforward than 4th Edition, and plays much faster. Our 3-4 hour D&D Next session would have probably taken four times as long using 4th Editions rules. Not using minis for most of the combat sped things up considerably. The lack of long lists of powers and complicated combat mechanics helped as well. I felt like we got a lot accomplished during our session. Even though no one at our table had played Next before things went fairly quickly.
I am curious to see if Wizards of the Coast can maintain the appeal of the game to people who enjoy 4th Edition. One of the ladies I played with has only ever played 4th Edition, and she found the combat in D&D Next a bit boring. I think a lot of people enjoy the extremely detailed and tactical combat of 4th Edition. If your only experience with D&D is 4th Edition, I can see how the simpler combat mechanics of all the other editions might seem like a step backwards.
I’ll be playing D&D Encounters this season using the D&D Next rules. It seems like a great step forward. It’s probably one of the easiest versions of the game to teach, especially if you don’t play with any of the feats. Thus far I have to say i’m a pretty big fan.
The game day was a lot of fun. Although i’m quite happy playing D&D online nowadays, there is something to be said for actually playing in person.
I would be remiss not to touch on the last season of D&D encounters, as it felt like a vast improvement over the previous two seasons I have participated in. You may recall my previous complaints about D&D Encounters and its overemphasis on combat. This season tried hard to showcase the other aspects of D&D. There was a lot going on each session.
This adventure in this season of D&D Encounters was reminiscent of the sorts of adventures you would see during the hey day of 2nd Edition AD&D. The story is as follows: there is some crazy evil magic turning the sky black in the Forgotten Realm; the PCs are travel all over the realms collecting artifacts, seeking allies, and doing the sorts of things one does in an epic fantasy adventure; things conclude with a crazy boss-fight. The adventure was still ultimately a rail-road, as each weekly session needed to lead into the next, but each individual session was also a lot more free-form. At the store I play at we often have 2-3 tables playing, and each week the path through the adventure would vary greatly between tables. In the previous D&D seasons the only variety came from how the different groups approached combat. The big win this season was that each session featured a lot more to do beyond fighting monsters.
I’m looking forward to what they do in the next season of D&D Encounters. The teaser for the adventure sounds like just my sort of thing:
This D&D Encounters season takes inspiration from classics such as Village of Hommlet and Against the Cult of the Reptile God. Not only does this new story feature characters and locations from beloved past adventures, but there’s another compelling reason to participate.
Players will be able to choose to play using the D&D Next rules or the 4th Edition rules. I’m hoping there is enough interest at the Silver Snail—where I play—to try out the new edition.
Since starting this blog the amount of D&D I’ve been playing has increased greatly. I continue to participate in the Encounters games held at Dueling Grounds. In addition to those games I’ve been playing a fair amount of old-school D&D: a weekly game run by Brendan of Untimately and occasional games run by James M of Grognardia and Reynaldo of Baroviania fame. After playing so much D&D recently I find the differences between the modern incarnation of D&D and its older editions are quite stark.
D&D Encounters is very much the pathological case of a 4th Edition game. Each session is distilled down to the core of 4th Edition: mostly combat with a tiny bit of role playing. For many people D&D Encounters is their first introduction to D&D. After playing in these games for several months now my feeling is that they teach bad gaming habits. Killing things is more or less the only option open to players to resolve conflicts. You might be able to avoid a fight, but there is a disincentive to do so because then you would probably end up with a very short game. Because each Encounters session needs to transition into the next there is also no room for exploration or change. You can’t take a session in a wild new direction. This isn’t true of 4th Edition, obviously, but is of D&D Encounters. I think a good DM can do a lot to keep the game interesting, but the structure of the adventures hinders a lot of creativity.
The Dwimmermount sessions I’ve participated in are actually similar in scope to the Encounters sessions. Dwimmermount offers a good alternative to running a pick up game. Each session is more or less a self contained unit of adventure: you begin on some level of the dungeon and end things back outside. There isn’t some overarching story that ties the Dwimmermount games together. The story is the exploration of the dungeon; the story is what you and the other players choose to make it. Each session can end in all sorts of strange ways because there is no need to lead into the next chapter of a particular adventure.
I’d love to see a D&D Encounters game that was just a dungeon crawl, but i’m not sure that will ever happen. The current structure lets people discuss the game they played in like they might a TV show. Everyone doing their own thing doesn’t facilitate that sort of conversation.
Combat is fast in the older editions of D&D. This is because it’s very abstract. My old-school D&D sessions often feel like they are full of accomplishment. In a few hours you can do a lot: lots of exploring, lots of fighting, lots of puzzles. 4th Edition is much more tactical and meticulous in its presentation of combat. An Encounters session is usually an hour and a half, give or take, and the bulk of that time is spent on a single fight.
I think most people would agree that faster combat is better, but the way 4th Edition handles combat is not without its merit. Because 4th Edition combat is far less abstract you can talk about that fight in a level of detail you don’t often get with older editions of D&D. Dungeon’s Master’s recaps of his Encounter’s sessions are usually quite long, despite the fact they are primarily a description of a fight, because the pieces that make up combat are quite expressive. You really feel the ups and downs of a fight in 4th Edition. In the last game I played we had a round where almost everyone was down, we were on the verge of a total party kill, only to manage a big come back big the next round. It was amazing.
I’m curious to see if the structure of the public play events Wizards of the Coast runs will change with the release of D&D Next. Combat in D&D next is much faster so adventures wouldn’t need to be modeled as a series of fights. They would presumably still be quite linear, but I suspect you could accomplish more per session than you do in the current Encounters program. There are rumours that the next Encounters game will be more varied in what happens week to week. We will have to wait and see.
I created Osrik, an (Essentials) dwarf paladin, to play at D&D Encounters this week after the untimely death of my deep gnome cleric Gretzlyn. I was thinking this Paladin would on the tail of his friend the cleric. I won’t get a chance to flesh out his story, because I managed to kill this character as well. Two deaths in two weeks? For shame.
I’m enjoying D&D Encounters, but the last couple battles have been hard. I don’t have any of the D&D Essentials books, so I also don’t understand what’s up with the Essentials versions of the characters I’m playing. The cleric couldn’t turn undead, or do half the things I thought clerics were all about. The paladin couldn’t heal. At all. What kind of paladin can’t do a Lay on Hands?
All is not lost. I have a felling a Kobold Warlock is going to wander into this mess and start doing some avenging. And I know how to play a warlock. In theory, anyway.
At today’s D&D Encounters session my poor cleric Gretzyln was vanquished by those most evil of elves, the Drow. He was supposed to be a hardboiled deep gnome ex-dungeoneer turned fanatical cleric of Pelor, the sun god. I thought it was a cute idea: a guy who spends his whole life living underground leaves that life behind to worship the sun.
Gretzyln was not alone in his fate: it was a total party kill. I didn’t think this blog would earn its name so quickly.
There were 5 people playing at session today: two wizards, an avenger, a vampire, and my cleric. It’s probably not an ideal mix for a party, but that’s always a possibility when you play in these sorts of pickup games. I didn’t think it was particularly out of whack. We were facing off against some sort of Drow necromancer, her henchmen, and some skeletons she animated during the course of the fight.
I’m not completely sure what went wrong. The monsters were all higher up in the initiative order then us, so we did spend a lot of time reacting to them rather than getting out there and messing them up. I had to heal two of our party members (back from death’s door) very early on in the encounter. The skeletons, though there were a lot of them, never really gave us any trouble. Our wizards were well suited to deal with them. We probably could have done a better job trying to avoid the Drow and all their ranged attacks, but I didn’t feel like we were ceding that much of the fight to them. Then our DM started rolling like a man of fire, and our attempt to chase down the Drow and finish them off ended in ruin.
I played in my first D&D encounters session last week. These are pickup games run by people at your local games or comic book shop, using episodic adventures published by Wizards of the Coast. Each adventure runs for 12 or so weeks. Wizards of the Coast set up the Encounters program to introduce new gamers to D&D, and to get people who might have stopped playing back into D&D. It’s been going on for a few years now, so I’m going to assume Wizards has decided it is a success.
The Encounters adventures usually tie into the current set of books Wizards is pushing. The adventure I am playing in is about The Underdark and the Drow. Conveniently there are a couple books about these very things out right now.
It’s been an interesting experience participating in the games. The groups are a strange mix of people. At my local gaming store there are a bunch of little children and a bunch of adults. They split the two groups up for the most part, though both games I’ve played in have included kids. The first game included a quiet girl who I assume was the daughter of one of the other players, while the second game included a boy who was full on into D&D. (He played a Thri-kreen whose family’s knees were all broken by raiders when he was young, so now he is evil and goes around destroying other people’s knees: seriously.) Kids are the best. (Though I suspect playing with a whole table of them would be tiring.)
One of the dungeon masters from Dungeons Master is a player in the game I participate in. He has write ups for the game he runs at another gaming storing in the city, if you’re curious about the specifics of the adventures and how they play out. I’ve enjoyed both games I’ve played in thus far.
Encounters really distils 4th Edition down to its core. So far there has been a little bit of role playing followed up with some full on tactical combat. I suspect depending on the group you play with you’d end up with a different experience week to week. The great thing about D&D is that everyone can approach the same situation very differently. When I read about other Encounters sessions they are nothing like my own.
If you are looking to satiate your urge to play role-playing games D&D Encounters is certainly worth a look. (You can even play online!)