In Which I Ponder the Future of Dungeons and Dragons

Twice a month I play in a Savage Worlds Rippers Campaign. I rarely play Role-Playing Games (RPGs) outside of D&D so this is a pretty new experience. (For the curious I play a Victorian Banker by Day and monster fighter by night named Silas Barclay.) What makes it work is the DM (who I’ve spoken about before) a good group of players and lots of imagination.

After a good night of role-playing (the only fight we had was with an animated feather, seriously). We discussed the latest news, rumors and innuendo about DND Next (i.e. the next edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game). You can search the web for all the juicy bits, but the point of the discussion is what we want from the next release. As I sit here as a MidLife Geek with two kids, a wife, church commitments, work commitments and a whole bunch of other stuff going on, what I want is simplicity and support.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, for me, what I’d like to see is a fairly simple rule set and play. Right now I run a game for a group of friends. We get together once a month to play for about 6 hours. During that time we get to play maybe 4 encounters. Why? The pace of the battles is just slow. Lot of powers, lots of effects and lots of decisions drags things out. Is it fun? Absolutely. Do I wish we could do more? Absolutely. From what I’ve read, the designers of the next edition share my goal for simplicity and straightforward play. I really hope so. My players get more battles and role play opportunity. They level faster (maybe?). And they get to do a lot more in the brief time we have together each month.

Beyond simplicity, what else do I want? I want content. As much as I want to create worlds and adventures I just don’t have time. So what I need to enjoy the game from my side of the screen is content. And by content, I mean adventures. It seems to me (and I really came on with 4e) that Wizards has generated tons of content that is useless to me. As a DM, what I want is the ability to plug and play. I want adventures, encounters, maps and minis all packaged up and ready for me to go. I’d pay willingly for this stuff. I can customize and what I need from a pre-established base but give me a world and things to do in it.

We also discussed something which I think is very important for Wizards of the Coast (owner of Dungeons and Dragons for the uninitiated). Once you get D&D Next released, stop making new editions and rule sets. Seriously, just stop. I get that you have a business that requires a new product to be released to generate profits. But after D&D next you have at least 5 editions of the game out there. Why don’t you build your business around generating content for those editions? You can grow your market by reducing the barriers to entry for the new player and new. Make it fast and easy to jump in at any point with any group. Develop more content; envision the worlds that not all of us can. Develop tools to make it easier and quicker to DM and play. That’s how you open things up. I think a lot of people just get turned off by the level of work they need to do to prepare.

It’s just my two cents, but it’s the two cents of a guy who desperately wants to play within the confines of a life that doesn’t allow for it.

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In Which Geeks Save the World

Last week’s post generated more views and more comments than anything else I’ve written thus far. Since it’s posting, I’ve thought a bit about a particular comment and my response. In it, I tried to discuss why we, as geeks, should have a lot more openness to each other. Specifically, what I said was:

I wish there were more discussion. I think each of us have a tendency to sit in our groups (Atheists, Gays, Christians, Democrats, Republicans, whatever) and believe that the absolute worst of the other group represents reality. It doesn’t. That’s why I love being in the geek community too because I think our mutual love of things geek can overcome that mistrust and allow us to associate with each other.

Diversity of opinion is a great and wonderful thing. But as I see more and more name calling and the lessening of civility in our culture, I’ve come to believe that we Geeks can really save the world. Not in the sense of Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day but in the sense of coming together and appreciating the diversity of our culture. Some Star Trek novel I read said Vulcans value IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. That’s what we have in our culture today and Geeks are uniquely positioned to show how to embrace that diversity and work towards a common goal.

As a geek you really begin to appreciate the diversity of people. Every week in my Comic Book store or in-game sessions I see people from a variety of backgrounds and I end up talking to all of them. And the beauty of it is once you get to know the people, you realize it’s pretty hard to pigeon-hole them, much less demonize them, because their beliefs or politics differ from yours. Can you still disparage them? Can you still make overbroad statements like “all people who believe/do whatever are all scumsucking morons.” It’s pretty hard. At the least, you have to say, “except for this one girl I know, she seems OK.”

We’ve never been in a better position to save the world than we are now. Geek is chic. Big Bang Theory is the top rated show in America. Comic Book movies are blowing the doors off the theaters. Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are hugely popular TV shows (I know it’s reached saturation because my Mother watches Game of Thrones. Trust me, society is all in.) President Obama even threw out a Vulcan salute recently.

So let’s use our power for good. Let’s show people how to come together. Invite your friends over for a game. Bring your Christian friend together with your Atheist friend and roll some dice. Show your Republican friend and Democratic friend how to settle Catan. Teach your jock buddies why you should never pick up a duck in a Dungeon. We can do this and we can do it one friend at a time.

Who’s with me?

In which I become a Dungeon Master

One of the challenges being a geek in the corporate world is finding people to game with. Sure, if you’re going to do Fantasy Football (and I do) or Madden 2012 (which I will when I get it on Tuesday – Woot!) you can usually find someone in the office who plays. But, Dungeons and Dragons? Heroclix? Heroscape? Not very likely.

If I want to find someone to play those games, I have to get creative.  Take Heroclix. Heroclix was my gateway drug into collectible miniatures. But once I got those first few boosters, I struggled to figure out who I might pull in, then I realized…the kids! Unfortunately, they were 4 and 6 at the time, but I was quite sure I could teach them. How do I justify this to my wife though? Math! Heroclix is all about math when rolling attacks, defenses, etc. It was a good plan and it really did get them adding and subtracting in their head. I think they even learned something about strategy (assuming the strategy was gang up on Dad or throw a fit when you lose).

Jumping into Heroclix began to expand my trip into the world of gaming. I learned about message boards and that stores actually host games! Who knew? I didn’t. So the boys and I would roll down to the shops and watch, then ultimately play. It was a great learning experience for all of us. (I’m always amazed how gracious gamers are with kids.) This opened up a whole world of possibility for group play.

But as time wore on I was looking for new games to play. Then, Dungeons and Dragons 4e came out. I hadn’t played D&D since I was 13 (maybe AD&D at the time?) and I really wanted to play this game. Fortunately, a couple of local game shops were hosting D&D gamedays where you could demo the products. So, off the boys (now 10 and 12) and I went to the stores. We had a great time. To this day, the boys talk about “Flame Seed Guy,” a guy playing a Druid who threw a flame seed into a room full of flour or something. He created a conflagration that not only took out the enemies, but did substantial damage to our team! Flame Seed Guy’s real name was Brad and he and I spoke a lot throughout the game, mostly me going on about how I really wanted to play D&D regularly.

At the end of the game, Brad told me that his 4e group was looking for a 5th member. Someone had dropped out and they really needed a 5th character, would I like to give it a whirl. I jumped on the chance. This lead to a great 15 months of gaming for me. The group was great and I learned a lot not only about playing, but how to DM effectively as well. Our DM, Rob really worked hard on our adventures and he ran a very cinematic game. But, as these things do, the group ended. I really wanted to play more D&D 4e but the group was moving on to Savage Worlds.

During this D&D campaign I was relentlessly tweeting pictures and descriptions of our games. I found out that some local friends were quite jealous of my being able to play, and if a seat was ever open….? That seat never opened up in our game, but as noted, I really wanted to play. Over time I came to realize that the only way I was going to play more 4e was to run a 4e game. But that seemed like so much work and I had so much doubt that I could do it. But my desire to play only grew. Sure, I could run some delves for the boys, but that just wasn’t the same. So after a couple of months, I took the plunge.

I reached out to the friends who had expressed so much interest and they immediately jumped on board. It’s a great group of people from diverse backgrounds who share a common interest in D&D (and for the most part craft beer, a story for another day). Bi-weekly games don’t work for our group. We have tried to commit to playing once a month. Two games in it’s gone really well, better than I expected. Our next game is in just a few weeks and I really can’t wait.