For those of you who haven’t read my last couple blog posts and don’t follow D&D news, last weekend was the Dungeons and Dragons Experience convention. I’m going to break down my experience by category rather than chronology (because my timeline deliberately broke up the different aspects of the convention):
Part 1: Getting There In The First Place
This is the first time that, less than a week before the convention, I wasn’t actually sure that I was going to make it. Monday afternoon (about eight hours after getting my car back from some maintenance), my car was rear-ended while driving home. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and I was able to drive the car home, but I didn’t know until Tuesday night that it was still safe to drive to the convention on Thursday. I fared better than a couple people in my gaming group – their pre-convention car accident totaled the car, broke an arm, and prevented their convention attendance.
Part 2: Living Forgotten Realms
My first slot Thursday night, as well as my Friday afternoon and evening, were occupied by Living Forgotten Realms events, the paragon tier Special and the battle interactive. I also had a vested interest in LFR at the convention because the three adventures in the Netheril story area, the area I administrate, were being released at the convention.
My experience with SPEC4-2 was interesting. I had been the DM for one of the playtests of the adventure, and it was one of my least fun 4th Edition gaming experiences. The adventure wasn’t difficult; I just wasn’t sure how it could be completed in fewer than six hours, much less the four hours in the convention slot. The completed adventure was significantly improved. It was more difficult, although not overpowering, and some of the adventure’s more grindy elements were taken out. We had a great DM, and he was able to keep us on our toes throughout the end of the last combat. In the end, we were able to succeed through sheer dumb crazy gnome luck – I randomly guessed at puzzle solutions (literally, rolled a die to determine what buttons I would press), and never got a single guess incorrect.
Unlike the special, for the battle interactive I was part of a pre-mustered table that included myself, one of the LFR Epic Tier writing directors, two of the Ashes of Athas admins, and a de facto LFR writing director (I have a hunch that while Dan’s technically the Calimshan WD, he’s going to have a lot of backup from Lori). We had done some strategizing beforehand, and knew the game well enough to figure that we would be challenged but not overpowered. More importantly, we had an absolute blast and actually roleplayed. The setup of the interactive was much friendlier this year; instead of every encounter being a timed encounter, the first half of the interactive was very free-form, with each table selecting their own missions to go on. After the dinner break, we reconvened, saw what missions had been successful and unsuccessful, and dealt with the major threat afterward. It was really well structured, and while the execution could have used a bit of refinement, I’d put it in my top two of LFR interactives.
While I neither played nor DMed NETH4-1, NETH4-2, or NETH4-3, I kept a close eye on them to see how they were going. It looked like everyone was having a good time, especially with the way some of the challenges at the end of NETH4-1 and NETH4-2 were set up. NETH4-1 had another one of the “choice” situations that I always get lots of feedback about, and it looked like the many, many hours of work the authors put into making sure the choice was were successful. I was very pleased with the reception the adventures have received thus far and would gladly work with any of those authors again, especially with their ability to provide quality work in a short period of time – we were the least late of all the convention adventures 😉
Lastly, I got to spend a lot of time talking to the LFR Global Admins about the direction of the campaign and what I’d be needed to do, since I had three people approach me before my first slot with, “So, since your story area’s 2012 adventures are out, you have time to write for me now?” I had many great conversations with many great people about what I’d actually be needed for, writing and editing philosophy, how Organized Play might work in a “modular” D&D Next system, and how the next edition needs to develop a table of Things That Just Kill You (including lava, falling from very high up, and non-kosher volatile chemicals). We also spent much time wondering whether our food was going to arrive before we had to be back for the next slot.
Part 3: D&D Next
I played the D&D Next adventure on Friday morning, with Chris Lindsay from D&D Brand as the DM. While there aren’t a lot of details I can give about the game, I enjoyed myself. I saw influences of all the other editions of the game that I played in the core mechanics, and while it was definitely an early build of the game, I think it has the potential to be a very strong system. I’ve got a number of concerns about it (which I can’t talk about), but since it didn’t seem to include the “modular” thing everyone’s talking about, I’m going to wait until a final version of the product until I assess it fully. One thing for sure is consistent between D&D Next and other editions: your DM and fellow players can do a lot to make or break your play experience. While I understand that the purpose of the event was to get feedback on the core mechanics of the game, I’d have liked to have done a little more roleplaying and exploration rather than delving into a dungeon. Worse, the guy sitting next to me playing the rogue was not having fun and seemed to want to make sure nobody else did either. Dude, I get that you don’t like the rogue in the new edition – I heard you for the first hour you talked about it. Do you really need to complain for another two?
One thing I do want to point out about this event that I haven’t seen on other reports is the last question on the playtest feedback form: “If you are interested in being invited to the Friends and Family playtest, please write your e-mail address here.” I think this has been overlooked because other people didn’t read that question the same way I did – Wizards is going to be looking at the playtest feedback forms, and if there’s someone who isn’t already in their playtest groups who’s giving solid, well-defined feedback, they’re going to get that person involved. This is going to greatly strengthen their playtest base, as they’re going to be getting people who are on the outside of their normal go-to groups. I think it’s great for the game that an effort is being made to recruit new blood into that endeavor.
Part 4: Ashes of Athas
I decided that after my fiasco trying to build a new PC in 10 minutes after dying at Origins last year, this year, I’d put a slot between each of my Ashes of Athas adventures, conceding that I’d be hopping between groups. Imagine my surprise to find out that there was a group of three who had the same schedule as me, and that one of them was one of the NETH4-2 authors (whom I had previously not met). Even better, between the four of us, we had every role covered. For AoA4-1, we had Teos as a DM, which always goes well. It even went well for Robert Uccello’s monk, who was only mostly dead in a fight with a giant drake; he needed a full 1 hp more of damage to be completely dead. For AoA4-2 and AoA4-3, I seemed to have obtained the primary objective of breaking the DM, which I managed to do in three ways: the use of Shade Twin to make a defiler’s allies attack him, bypassing Endurance checks and days of travel with Phantom Steed (because rituals are awesome and so are the new Ashes of Athas ritual use rules), and various puns and jokes regarding my character being a bird-person. Possibly the worst of these: “Can you even drink the rest of the water out of that bottle?” “Sure, my ancestors have been doing it for years. I collect a bunch of tiny stones and start dropping them in the bottle.” My only regret regarding this series, which is very well developed, is that I’m really not sure what happened during the third adventure; my previous night of board games and drinking whiskey purchased by Matt James made me very tired, so I was fading in and out of consciousness.
Part 5: Lords of Waterdeep
One of the surprises of DDXP is that the new D&D-linked board game, Lords of Waterdeep, was available for play at the convention. This game, unlike the Adventure System games, doesn’t have anything to do with D&D apart from the flavor of the city of Waterdeep. It’s a Euro-style game in which you try to gain prestige as one of the Lords of Waterdeep by hiring adventurers to complete quests. The quests require a certain number of four different kinds of adventurer (cleric, wizard, rogue, fighter) to complete, and grant you victory points and sometimes other benefits. I did pretty well in both games, but ultimately lost each time to another player who was able to rack up one of the 25-point quests in the last couple rounds. It’s a game that will unquestionably be added to my collection when it comes out in March.
Part 6: After Hours
To me, one of the best parts of a convention is the after-hours gaming and socializing. Usually, this involves going to a bar and talking or playing an extra adventure until 4 AM, but this year, things took a bit of a different direction.
Thursday night, I had been invited to join one of Teos’s crazy OD&D games. I’d never played the edition before, but after being told that there was zero rules mastery, I volunteered to DM using a prototype of a system to use the Adventure System board games as a random dungeon generator. The first problem we ran into was that we were all goofy and interested in roleplaying. In particular, upon learning that alignment languages were automatic, and that Ian and Justin were playing Chaotic characters, I reached into my gaming bag and the Rory’s Story Cubes came out as a random dialogue generator. The party eventually fled from the shadow dragon Shimmergloom after his pet troll chased six goblins into the room with them and Chad’s third PC in the last hour and a half died. At this point, I wasn’t sure if my conversion worked well, but I was assured that dying many times was a part of White Box OD&D, and fun was had by all.
Friday night featured something new to me: Cards Against Humanity. I think the easiest way to explain this is that it’s like Apples to Apples, but for horrible people. I’d give examples, but that would cause my blog to get hits from really, really weird searches, and I don’t want to confirm to what extent Rule 34 is true. Just check out the website. This is a game that I would buy except for two barriers. First, I’d have to explain what some of the cards meant to my wife. Then, I’d have to explain why I know what the cards mean to my wife.
Saturday night featured two activities: drinking and playtesting. Drinking was fun. As referenced earlier, Matt James bought the bar a round of whiskey to toast his friend who died in the same incident in Iraq that injured him in a reminder to everyone that regardless of political affiliation should respect the men and women who put their lives in danger to do what they think is right. I almost spilled that whiskey on Monte Cook. Following the drinking (or, perhaps, during it), I playtested a couple games of the latest iteration of Gnomekiller Ale before sending it home with a couple friends to playtest with their own home groups. It still needs tweaking, but everyone’s at least having fun (another blog post on this later).
The only bad part of After Hours activities is that it inhibits your ability to make good decisions in the morning. In addition to my many short rests during AoA4-3 and confusing which PC I was playing, I also didn’t do well packing. I left my work bag and my clothes from the night before in the hotel room, and Skip had to bring them down to me. Then I forgot to pay Skip for my share of the room, which is also not fun (although I’ll be able to pay him back at the next home game session).
Part 7: TL;DR (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
The Good: LFR and AoA events in general, breaking the DM, Lords of Waterdeep, good times with good friends, three different editions of D&D still being D&D.
The Bad: That Guy Who Wouldn’t Stop Bitching About D&D Next Rogues, Lee and Michelle’s car accident (which is probably also ugly), making Skip get my work bag out of the hotel room after checkout and then forgetting to pay him for my share of the room.
The Ugly: Aboleths and Dark Sun monsters, letting Ian and Justin loose on OD&D and Rory’s Story Cubes after midnight, Cards Against Humanity, almost meeting Monte Cook by spilling whiskey on him.
I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the convention or anything else discussed here (except the Netheril adventures, which I’d prefer you discuss on the WotC forums here, here, and here).