The Joy and Frustrations of Investigations

I’m currently writing a Convention-Created-Content adventure for premiere next year. It also happens to be an investigation.

Yes, two things I’d never thought I’d do.

Investigations are tremendously popular as D&D Adventurers League scenarios, but they’re very different to the D&D scenarios I grew up with. Those scenarios involved some wilderness travel and a lot of fighting monsters in a dungeon, perhaps with some interesting features to explore and examine.

The first place I really became aware of investigative adventures was through the Call of Cthulhu game, because – as you’re far more likely to run away from monsters than fight them in that game – the investigation was its default format.

The real benefit to running a mystery adventure is that they give plenty of opportunities for the players to explore and role-play, two of the three pillars of D&D play. I’m sure you can name lots of D&D adventures that have no real role-playing in them. It’s nice to have the option to engage the people in your group that enjoy talking. When you have a city-based investigation, you also get the chance to do a lot of world-building. It’s nice for the players to feel that the city their characters keep coming back to is a real place where things happen.

However, despite their benefits, it doesn’t mean they’re easy to write.

My biggest fear is that this happens:

“Have you found a clue, Holmes?”

“Yes! This bootprint means we are seeking a left-handed pirate with a limp, who dresses in floral prints on Wednesday. As it happens, I know the very man! To the culprit, Watson!”

When you’re trying to entertain players for a running time of 4 hours, having the investigation be over after the first clue is found is a bit of a problem.

The converse: that the players never find a solution, is also worrisome. Players can be incredibly bad at finding and interpreting clues and puzzles.

You want a trail: the first clue leads to the second, the second to the third, the third to the solution. Or, because players miss clues, three clues that lead to three more… just so only the most unobservant miss them.

One of the tenets of the GUMSHOE system is that finding clues shouldn’t be hard: the interest lies in what the players do with them. Or at least, I think it is. I’ve always found it (in particular Trail of Cthulhu) to be a system I have great trouble in understanding how it works. However, it is a sentiment I share: watching how the players put together the clues they’ve found is going to be far more interesting than watching them fail Intelligence (Investigation) checks and get frustrated.

What I’d like is clues that can be interpreted in different ways, lead to red herrings, but put together and looked at the right way lead to the solution.

However, determining what I’d like to happen and actually doing it? Yes, working out the theory is much easier!

I spent a month just trying to come up with a structure I liked. I’m still not happy with it, though there are aspects I like. I knew what the crime was, I didn’t know what clues would be left behind. That took most of the development time. Once I put it together, it looked worryingly short.

However, I have faith that the players will not solve it instantly and so can have a happy time role-playing and trying to solve the mystery!

One thing I tried to do with this adventure was allow the players to get help. Perhaps they have contacts that can help them unravel it. I don’t think I’ve developed that enough, but it’d be very easy to go down a rabbit hole and emerge a year later with the “perfect” adventure, but eleven months past the deadline. You can’t include everything; the trick is to include the important things. Did I miss stuff? Only one way to find out…

…on to the playtest!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Design | 1 Comment

5E Adventure Review: Underworld Speculation

Underworld Speculation is a two-hour adventure for level 1-4 characters, designed by Chris Lindsay of Wizards of the Coast for use in stores as the Introductory Adventure for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. It is a D&D Adventurers League legal adventure.

And it’s fun. Really, really fun.

The adventure comes with six pregenerated characters of level 3 that were built using options from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. They’re not the most optimised characters in existence – and they suffer dreadfully from using the standard Wizards character sheet. It’s not a good format for displaying new options. However, they do give you a taste of the new options.

The fact that the arcane archer has two-weapon fighting may be considered a clue for the setting of the adventure: It’s underwater. Archery isn’t so good.

The adventurers haven’t come to this underwater dungeon willingly, and their task is to escape. They need to navigate winding tunnels and a great cavern to do so, aided by a mysterious magic item that has great power but isn’t demonstrating what it is… not yet, anyway! At least it can give them the ability to breathe water.

The adventure makes use of several new or unusual monsters that the players may not be familiar with, and this adds to the fun of the adventure. There are also a lot of environmental effects to deal with in addition to just being underwater. When you can only hear what someone adjacent to you says,and you can see no further than 10 feet, combats become very tricky, even against weaker opponents… and the enemies aren’t that weak.

There’s a few secrets to be uncovered, and it’s a very challenging adventure to play. It doesn’t feature much roleplaying, as it focuses on the combat and exploration pillars of play.

It’s a moderately complicated adventure to run; I know I missed some important details about the encounters when I ran it, so spending some time reading and sudying it in advance is recommended.

The adventure does feature a few encounters that are placed at the discretion of the DM, but these are limited in scope and make sense for the area in which they’re placed. You’re choosing from three or four ingredients rather than hundreds, and there’s a map to work with. I’m not opposed to this approach to encounters when it’s not hard for the DM to apply; it works very well in this instance.

Quite unfairly, I wanted more stuff in the adventure! It’s already got enough to easily get to its two hour running time, but I wanted a few more things to do in the second half – particularly more details on the structures the adventurers find.

I believe it’ll become available on the DMs Guild in future, but for now it’s a store exclusive.

This is an excellent adventure, and a wonderful introduction to the world of the Xanathar!

Posted in D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Review | 2 Comments

5E Adventure Review: The Donjon

The Donjon is the eleventh adventure of the Curse of Strahd season of the D&D Adventurers League. A four-hour adventure for character levels 5-10 written by Ash Law, it has the adventurers rescuing the leader of an orc tribe from a slither of yuan ti serving a dracolich.

If you were wondering what this has to do with the ongoing storyline for Curse of Strahd, the answer is this: not much. It represents a side-quest away from the main storyline of the Obsessions, and, although it does link into earlier adventures in the season, such as The Ghost, it is eminently skippable as part of the storyline. My understanding is that it was a preview for the fifth season of the D&D Adventurers League adventures, but plans changed when Convention-Created Content was introduced and the main DDAL adventures left the Moonsea area. This leaves The Donjon in the unfortunate position of setting up things that would never occur.

There are many good things about the adventure. It is packed with incident. The first half has the players making their way through the Glumpen Swamp, where branching paths allow several different routes and encounters along the way. The second half is the characters rescuing the orcs and their leaders from the yuan-ti, which requires them to descend into sunken, trap-filled ruins and disrupt a ritual before the yuan-ti can sacrifice the orc leader.

The adventure feels very much like a rerun of The Ghost, but with less relevance to the overarching story. It could easily be played without reference to Barovia at all, and that’s a weakness in this season.

Both halves of the adventure provide many encounters for the players and DM to use; optional encounters abound, and each play of the adventure can be different. There’s a lot of invention here.

However, the adventure relies very heavily on the skills of the DM to pull things together. Many encounters are described very briefly, and the final dungeon is distinctly underdeveloped.

I wish there was a map of the final dungeon. There are example encounter areas, plus a lot of potential encounters described in the book, but the adventure’s form is determined entirely by the Dungeon Master and not by decisions made by the players. If there are traps along a passageway, give me a map so that the players can decide to go left or right… and if they choose the trapped path, allow them to determine that the traps are there and make another decision. There are times when you can do without a map; this isn’t one of them.

Mind you, the nature of these encounter mean it’s very easy to adjust the adventure to be longer or shorter if needed.

It’s not a bad adventure, but neither does it achieve greatness.

Posted in Curse of Strahd, D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Review | Leave a comment

Are the D&D Adventurers League Rules About to Change?

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is now available at WPN stores around the world, and on dndbeyond.com, and probably Fantasy Grounds. In a week or so, it’ll become available through other outlets. It’s a superb book, well worth purchasing regardless whether you’re a player or a Dungeon Master. There are a lot of new player options, although it’s the Dungeon Master material that makes me very happy.

What really caught my eye was Appendix A, Shared Campaigns, which describes parameters for running campaigns which have many players and many DMs, where players can take their characters from DM to DM. In other words, the structure of the D&D Adventurers League.

The appendix suggests a number of rules for running such a campaign, many of which that aren’t currently used in the DDAL.

The wonderful Mike “SlyFlourish” Shea, asked on twitter about this. The official DDAL twitter account replied:

So, are we going to get some major changes to the D&D Adventurers League next season? I suspect we may be, though nothing has yet been confirmed. These rules might also be for a complementary campaign that could start up… but my gut says they’re for the main programme.

Let’s have a look at what these changes might be, based on the content of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

No More Experience Points

Appendix A describes a system where, instead of XP, characters achieve “checkpoints” for every one hour the adventure is meant to last. (If an adventure is rated at 4 hours and they only take 3, they still get 4 checkpoints. I expect that it’s only for the longer-form hardcover adventures that the actual time taken applies).

For level 1-4 characters, every 4 checkpoints attained allow one level to be gained. For level 5+, it’s every 8 checkpoints.

The original design of D&D 5E was that each of 1st and 2nd level took one 4-hour session to complete, while later levels took two sessions. This system extends this to levels 3 and 4, and maintains the original intent for later levels.

The real benefit of this is that it allows groups that enjoy roleplaying to not feel left out after they spend hours having a very enjoyable and productive time talking to NPCs, only to be told they got 0 XP for the session. Or, if a group is encountering a lot of environmental challenges rather than monsters (such as in Tomb of Annihilation), they still are progressing as a result.

Drawbacks? Well, it doesn’t reward actually achieving things. If you spend time drinking in a bar instead of going on the adventure to slay a dragon (and the dragon burns down the bar?), do you still get the checkpoints? I suspect you do.

On balance, and thinking of some sessions where the players have complained to me about the low XP rewards, I really like this system and I hope it’s implemented.

No More Gold in Adventures?

This is an interesting one. Adventurers get gold every time they gain a level, representing the gold they’d get in the adventures they’ve been on, but not in the adventures themselves.

It’s obvious why having a standardised amount of rewards is useful, especially once you consider the Convention Created Content and the larger array of adventures that will be created.

As an ancillary to this, the lifestyle of the character is determined by their level – from Modest (at first level) to Aristocratic (at 17th level).

No More Magic Items in Adventures?

No gold in an adventure isn’t a big change – gold tends to just pile up after the first few levels. However, the way magic items are rewarded? That’d be a big change.

At present, each DDAL adventure gives out one specific magic item. It’s set by the adventure designer (with the consent of the administrators). Want a whip of warning? There’s one adventure with that item in it. Play the adventure, and have the other players agree to give you the item, and you can have it.

The drawback here is that some players have characters that just get every item on offer; although there are rules for spreading them around, it’s rarely a good idea for a monk to pick up a magical two-handed sword. And, if you’re very unlucky, you never get an item you need.

The proposed system in XGE gives you “treasure points” after each adventure. You get more treasure points for playing higher-level adventures. As with checkpoints, it’s determined from the expected duration of the adventure.

Those treasure points can then be exchanged for the magic item of your choice. There are a set of campaign specific tables that list the items available, how many treasure points they cost, and the character level you need to be. I think that treasure points can’t be saved up – they must be spent immediately that an adventure ends.

The advantage of this system is pretty clear: it gives everyone a fair opportunity to get magic items that are useful to them. The disadvantage? Characters take the best magic items, and we get a lot of broken characters.

think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, especially if the DDAL is careful with the lists. This is one we’ll have to wait and see.

Purchasing Potions and Scrolls

The last section actually calls out that the D&D Adventurers League allows adventurers to purchase magical potions and scrolls. Really? I didn’t know that! I guess that when this goes live, it will apply.

A 5th level scroll (the highest level) costs 1,000 gp. A potion of invisibility costs 5,000 gp.

Do I like the players being able to spend their money to purchase consumables? Absolutely. Scrolls can only be bought by characters that can cast the spell in question, so that removes one of the major issues with it.

Conclusions? What does this all mean?

Those are the major things I spotted in the Appendix. There are other good bits of information there – like guidelines for designing a shared campaign adventure – but these are the changes that would have the greatest impact on the campaign.

How might the changes be made? My suggestion would be that existing characters keep their current level, magic items and treasure, and just start gaining new levels, items and treasure by the new rules. I would not like everything to become retrospective and characters having to redo all their magic items. Too messy; too complicated!

How to deal with someone who has gained half the XP to reach the next level? Perhaps they begin with checkpoints, or perhaps everyone just is set to 0 checkpoints at the level they’re at. The latter would be simpler, although frustrating for those who are almost at the next level.

I know that there will be many people who don’t like the new system. The Pathfinder Society uses a variant of the checkpoint system for gaining levels; the magic item system is – as far as I know – not used elsewhere, but my knowledge of other Shared Campaign systems is sketchy at best. There are definite drawbacks to the new system, but I think it’s very clear from the text in XGE that Wizards feel strongly about making the game cater to more gaming styles.

As it says in the book:

Playing time might seem like an odd way to measure experience awards, but the concept is in keeping with how a shared campaign is meant to work. A character played for 10 hours reaches the same number of checkpoints, whether the character went up against a dragon or spent all that time lurking in a pub. This approach ensures that a player’s preferred style is neither penalized nor rewarded. Whether someone focuses on roleplaying and social interaction, defeating monsters in combat, or finding clever ways to avoid battles, this system gives credit where credit is due.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Appendix A

Those are strong words. I expect in the near future, we’ll discover that the D&D Adventurers League is changing – and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything shows what it may be changing to.

This isn’t confirmed yet. I may be jumping at shadows. I just suspect this will come to pass.

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League | 6 Comments

D&D Adventure Review – CM1 Test of the Warlords

The D&D Companion set, released in 1984, was the first set of D&D rules that dealt with a matter mentioned in both the AD&D and original rules and never developed that much: the player characters as leaders of realms. Test of the Warlords was the first adventure released to supplement those rules, and it moves the setting northwards to the newly claimed realm of Norwold, where the empire of Alphatia has claimed a great wilderness realm and appointed a king. The adventurers become servants and barons of that king, developing their own domains.

The adventure is 32 pages. Not much to cover all that material! Of course, the rules in the Companion set would supplement the adventure’s text, but the Dungeon Master will have to work hard when running the adventure. A strong grasp of improvisation would not go astray.

Six pages of the adventure describe the setting, and a further three pages describe the major NPCs of the realm: the Royal Family and a number of competing NPCs who wish to rule the same realms as the adventurers. Some will become allies, while others are secretly agents of other powers.

The rest of the book describes the events and adventure locations.

Test of the Warlords is meant to take place over one to two years of game time, as the adventurers first claim their realms and then seek to develop them as various events take place. The adventure provides details for some of those events: a royal wedding, a raid by giants, and five small dungeons that relate to the larger plot of the conflict between Thyatis and Alphatia.

Thyatis, introduced in this adventure, is a young empire, no more than a century old, that is pushing against the Alphatian boundaries. They’re the bad guys, known for their greed and trickery.

Alphatia is equated with Atlantis, and is a tremendously old empire with a ruling council of at least 1,000 36th level magic-users! King Ericall, who the adventurers swear fealty to at the beginning of the adventure, is the second son of the current Empress of Alphatia. Alphatia, an island kingdom, doesn’t take much of a role in this adventure beyond providing the homeland of the King.

Both empires were created out of whole cloth for this adventure; I can’t remember either being mentioned in any of the previous Basic and Expert adventures, although they’d make appearances later. It was quite a shock to discover that the land of crowded kingdoms of the Expert set was just next to these vast empires! How didn’t we know about them?

The dungeons are primarily concerned with threats that arise from the savage land that the adventurers are building a home in. There isn’t that much of an opportunity to role-play in them, but the King’s wedding allows for a lot of interaction. It also allows the DM to introduce the conflict with Thyatis, with several assassination attempts and other intrigues taking place, in addition to all the interaction with the other barons and royalty present.

The adventure concludes with a major invasion, which is likely to be resolved using a lot of DM ingenuity and the abstract War Machine rules in the Companion set. There are up to seventeen armies on the map, though the individual forces are relatively small: from 500 to 6,000 soldiers, with 1,000 being most common. This isn’t quite the size of the Battle of Cannae, but it seems appropriate for battles on the frontier.

How do I feel about the adventure? I think it’s stunning. It’s going to rely a lot on the DM and players, because the rules and situations will only get you so far. I think the DM will need to do a lot of work fleshing out the NPCs and deciding how they interact with the adventurers. The lands that the adventurers are colonising will need their population created, monster settlements and the like placed. There are some guidelines, but they won’t remove the requirement for the DM to do a lot of design work.

Isn’t that a problem with the adventure? I don’t think it is. When you get to this level of adventure, you’re talking about an experience that is extremely personal to the individual players’ desires. Any thought of a cookie-cutter approach probably won’t work. I prefer this significantly to most of Kingmaker’s approach, for instance. The campaign management is more abstract, and there’s the definite hint of the wargaming background of the adventure’s author, Douglas Niles, in its conclusion. So, would I heartily recommend it to all groups? No. However, I do think it’s worth taking a look at.

The adventure shows, very strongly, the mythic elements that underlie its conception. Three crones warn the adventurers when the invasion start. Alphatia has an incredibly high-level and powerful ruling council. Giants live in the mountains. This is a world that relates to the most astonishing elements of our mythological imagination. It’s a long way from a “low-magic” world that we see in other products. The D&D Basic line had made a significant change to how its world would be used.

I got quite frustrated with Vault of the Drow because it had great ideas, but no real guidance on how to run it. Test of the Warlords doesn’t feel like that. It’s possible to run it in a very basic form just out of the box: the events are there, the dungeons are there, and there is a storyline. The NPCs have personalities, and that’s the area where the DM and group can really expand the adventure: creating ongoing relationships (good and bad) with the other Barons and the royal family will enhance the adventure significantly.

All in all, I think this is a great adventure, and a strong start to the Companion line.

Posted in D&D, D&D Basic, Review | 3 Comments

Pregenerated Characters at PAX Australia 2017

As I’ve done for previous PAX conventions in Australia, I made up a special set of pregenerated characters that could be used by people at the convention. As it was likely we’d get a lot of new players – and almost every player wouldn’t have a character sheet – I tried to create them so that they’d be easy to read and use.

All the spells the characters have are described on the sheets. It lists their ability scores and special abilities.

I didn’t list any personality traits this time – I was very short of space – but I did list the goals of each character’s faction. I also included a few notes on what the character was good at, what they did in combat, and when best to use spells (if they had them).

For my next set of character sheets, I’m going to try to put combat notes on one side and role-playing/exploration notes on the other. The trouble? Spells. They take up a LOT of space.

The character sheets provide a set of instructions for gaining levels (from 1 to 3), which fit the expectations of play at PAX Australia. I learnt from my experiences with the last set and partitioned off the abilities gained later so they were easily distinguished. Especially the spells!

The character sheets are now available on the DMs Guild for a nominal fee. If you’re playing with new characters or in a convention setting, you might find them helpful. Let me know how they go if you do!

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5E Adventure Review: Jungle Treks

Jungle Treks is a collection of six short adventures for character levels 1 to 10 by Teos “Alphastream” Abadia and Eric Menge. Although set in Chult and designed to supplement the Tomb of Annihilation adventure, the scenarios could easily be used in any jungle-themed setting.

The scenarios are as follows:

Tavern Trouble – In this adventure, a gang of scoundrels curse someone the party need to talk to, and they must defeat the gang and uncurse their friend while chaos erupts in the bar.

If Looks Could Kill – A catoblepas hunt causes trouble for an expedition in the jungle, and likely the adventurers!

Ambush from Above! – A grung (frogman) attack that could turn into something quite bizarre.

Mystic River – some obstacles on a river journey, some mundane, others mystical, challenge the adventurers.

Mudslide! – The rain in Chult can make travelling in the hills or mountains quite dangerous, especially when elementals are also involved.

Beautiful Plumage – Harpies lure the adventurers to an undead-infested ruin.

Each adventure is inventive and presents a different set of challenges to the players; they are certainly not homogeneous exercises in killing monsters! The combats tend to have additional complications: finding a lizard who has swallowed a glowing gem while holding off a gang of ruffians; fighting mephits while caught in the middle of a mudslide and being dragged down a slope; and harpies luring characters up a tower and then unhelpfully removing the ladders are just three of the situations the adventures can find themselves in.

Mystic River is notable for not having any combats; the challenges faced by the adventurers must be overcome by skill use and quick thinking. It’s an excellent example of how the environment can challenge the players.

The adventures are short, and each should typically play in under four hours. Some are just a single encounter, others are more complex and thus require more time.

One interesting decision made by the designers is to provide scaling charts for levels 1 through 10 for each adventure. So, a group of level one characters might face four mud mephits, whilst the level ten characters would face seven mud mephits and three earth elementals. Further scaling the adventure to deal with varying number of characters is left in your hands. I’m a bit conflicted about this approach. While I appreciate that having advice for each level is very desirable, it does ignore the differences in play between first and tenth levels.

Another effect of this is that the boxed text is very good at leaving out monster descriptions. Occasionally, this is combined with an unusual clumsiness of describing the encounter for the DM to leave the reader in some confusion over what is happening; this was very true of the first encounter, where “nearby patrons” are in fact gang members. Even then, the adventure neglects any mention of how they are dressed, something that would have been very valuable for the DM setting the scene.

Skill checks are likewise scaled, with suggested DCs for low, medium and high-level parties. I don’t like this at all. Skill bonuses, except those related to the primary ability score, are mostly static in this edition. The adventure presents an “easy to climb” wall which goes from DC 10 (for level 1 characters) to DC 14 (for level 8 characters). Meanwhile, everyone with a non-Strength-based character has not increased their Strength (Athletics) bonus; it keeps it the same difficulty for a character whose Strength score has increased by 4 and is also trained in Athletics, but makes it significantly harder for everyone else.

The product is formatted in the form of old AD&D 2E adventures, albeit with some modern improvements. The fonts and illustrations are very attractive, and the maps are clear and excellently stylised.

My chief problem with this product comes from the times where the writing doesn’t properly describe a situation to the Dungeon Master. The adventure Ambush from Above! also relies heavily on the Dungeon Master’s shoulders to make it run as intended; this one can too easily devolve into a simple combat. How to run it effectively is not clear to me.

Despite these niggles, I consider this a superior product, well worth buying. Highly recommended!

Posted in D&D 5E, Review | 2 Comments

Thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League at PAX Australia 2017

The last few days I’ve been organizing and running Dungeons & Dragons games at PAX Australia. We were running eight tables at the same time of D&D throughout the 30 hours of the convention, a commitment that required 23 Dungeon Masters and support staff, and allowed us to run 125 individual tables of players – or somewhere around 720 players. The actual figure will be a little less than that, as players enjoyed playing D&D and played again, but it was a great experience for us.

Last year, we ran 1-hour and 2-hour adventures in slots of those lengths. We modified the program this year to allow 90 minutes in which to run 1-hour adventures and 3 hours for the 2-hour ones. This worked a lot better, allowing most of our DMs to properly introduce people to the game and get through the entirety of the adventure without rushing. A few tables still struggled to complete them in time, but it worked for most. I expect we’ll keep this scheme next year, assuming the D&D Adventurers League releases a similar slate of low-level D&D adventures.

We found running the two-hour adventures to be challenging in one respect: they were written to be three parts of a trilogy, and the logistics of PAX bookings did not allow us to always run them in the correct order for players – if they could play them all! I’m very, very tempted to see if we can write some Convention Created Content to fill those slots, where we’re released from the problems in playing them out of order.

We also need to find the right balance between introducing the game to new or casual players, which is who the 90 minutes slots were for, and for providing devoted D&D fans a chance to play a lot of D&D at PAX. It would be very easy for only eight groups to ever get to play. We could just run the introductory adventures, but I want to reward the D&D fans as well. With five tables running short adventures and three tables running “long” adventures, it seems about the right balance. However, how many different long adventures should we run? Consider that a table can run a 2-hour adventure only about 10-15 times at PAX (depending on 2-hour or 3-hour slots), that’s not much time.

Sign-ups were crazier than last year. We had significant queues for the first time. Last year, we allowed signing up for adventures whenever you liked – including signing up for an 8 pm slot at 10 am. This led to a significant number of no-shows. This year, we only allowed booking 3 hours in advance, which led to crazy queue problems. We had much better attendance, however, and we didn’t discriminate so badly against people who couldn’t arrive at 10 am on the dot. My thinking for next year is that we start taking bookings for the 11 am and 2 pm games at 10 am, then for the later games of 5 pm and 8 pm at 4 pm, leading to two big sign-in periods (with queues), but a less confusing system overall.

One person signing up an entire group was something I got more and more uneasy about as the event proceeded, leading to a ban on the practice on the Sunday when we had half the normal number of sessions (the Con ended at 6 pm) and a great deal of demand. I couldn’t communicate this to everyone promptly, unfortunately, leading to a few disappointed players. Signing up six players who want to play together is very difficult with such limited space. Next year, I might just require that half the group is there, or keep the “everyone needs to be present” policy. I’ll think about that, and value anyone’s input.

Before you ask, the policy at PAX Australia is that you can’t prebook slots before the convention, so using Warhorn or a similar system isn’t an option.

The adventures (DDAL07-01 A City on the Edge, DDAL07-03 A Day at the Races, DDAL07-04 A Walk in the Park, and DDAL07-05 Whispers in the Dark) were well-received. If anyone was at PAX and played them, please let me know how enjoyable you found them, and what were the best and worst bits – things to consider as we create our own content. If you played only some of them, they’ll all be shortly available on the DMs Guild, and you can buy and play them at home or your local gaming store.

I ran 9 hours of D&D games at PAX and sat on the Sign-Up desk for about another 12+ hours. The games went well, for the most part. I DMed brand new players, players who had played long before but not recently, and players who were currently active. It was great.

My real disappointment? I didn’t get to DM anyone wearing a fez, as Chris was able to do. Fezzes are cool!

My delight? Being aided by an amazing team of DMs and sign-up people. Thank you very much! You were all great!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League | 2 Comments

5E Accessory Review: D&D Adventure Grid

One of the more popular RPG accessory over the past few years has been the Flip-Mat, a double-sided thin cardboard mat that is pre-printed with a one-inch grid and an aesthetically pleasing (with luck!) background. They are designed so that you can use dry or wet erase markers on them, which then can be erased. With the rise in prominence of miniatures play since the release of the original D&D Miniatures line in 2003, the Flip-Mat has turned into an essential part of many DMs’ toolboxes.

There was just one problem: They had a Pathfinder branding. This does make a difference, even if the actual grid is generic. The new D&D branding will do a lot to reassure customers (and stores) that the mat can be used with Dungeons & Dragons games. (This is surprisingly important).

With the D&D Adventure Grid we finally get a Dungeons & Dragons-branded grid. However, Wizards weren’t content to just copy the Flip-Mat design. Instead, they put the grid on a thick board reminisicent of many boardgame boards I’ve used (and superior to not a few). Folded up, it’s about the same size as a Player’s Handbook (of course, I used the DMG in the photos I took), and it unfolds to provide a 25 inch by 21 inch playing surface. One side of the grid displays a grassy wilderness, the other a dungeon floor.

The dimensions of the D&D Adventure Grid are not as big as the Flip-Mats. 25 by 21 squares is less than the 30 by 24 squares of the Flip-Mat. The D&D Adventure Grid has a number of slivers of squares, so it’s a little bigger than 25 by 21 inches.

The added quality and thickness of the board comes at a cost; at a recommended price of US$24.95, it’s a moderately expensive product. The corresponding Flip-Mat is US$14.99.

As my copy is brand new, I’ve yet to determine if it suffers from warping (something a few game boards have suffered over the years). I certainly hope not, but we’ll see. It feels nice to the hand; the finish is smooth and slightly slippery, not doubt a requirement to get the erasable markers to work on it.

I’m going to put it through its paces at PAX Australia next weekend. If anything goes drastically wrong with it, I’ll let you know!

However, my initial impressions are favourable. It’s interesting what a difference having it on board makes; it feels more substantial and more real than the Flip-Mats!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Review | 5 Comments

5E Adventure Review: The Carver’s Cave

The Carver’s Cave is a short adventure by R.M. Jansen-Parkes for characters of levels 3 or 4, although it provides notes to scale it to second or even third tier parties (levels 11-16). The adventure takes a simple, unsettling concept and explores it well. It’d also really like an obliging party of characters who could get captured when you wanted them to, but the adventure works even if they’re unco-operative in that manner.

The villain of the adventure is Elias, a halfling sculptor. He is extremely good at creating life-life statues of his subjects. I’m glad to say that the statues are, in fact, statues. They’re not the petrified bodies of his subjects. No, his villainy is far more sophisticated: He extracts the life-force of his subjects and instils it in his statues so they come to life. Sure, his subjects die, but you can’t make an great work of art without some sacrifices, can you?

The adventurers are unaware of this, of course, and know only that they’re going to investigate some disappearances in the area. The heart of the adventure is a six-area dungeon where the adventurers must deal with both the animated statues and Elias himself.

As mentioned above, the most amusing play of the adventure (for the DM, at least) would be if the adventurers started in investigation mode and, after talking to Elias, were caught unaware and captured by him, thus leading to a situation where they must escape and free one of their fellows before his or her lifeforce is extracted and used to animate another statue. The author allows for this situation and offers suggestions for how the adventurers could escape, including the one who is the direct object of Elias’s attention. The adventure works fine without this occurring, however. It turns into a dungeon delve in that case, though one underlined by some challenging encounters.

The adventure works because it has a strong central core and doesn’t try to overcomplicate it. Most groups would easily be able to complete it in a single session, and it has the potential of being appropriately horrifying once the players work out what is going on.

The formatting of the adventure has a couple of odd spots where the text boxes are just slightly out-of-place, and a selection of full-page art feels odd when reading it on an iPad – it probably works better in its printed form.

Overall, this is a solid adventure with a great concept. Recommended.

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Review | Comments Off on 5E Adventure Review: The Carver’s Cave