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Archive for the ‘Out of Character’ Category

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Found a playtester who was willing to blab a little bit about the new Dark Sun setting. I’ll post a bit of it below, but you can read the entire bit here, if you like.

Here’s his post in full:

When the news broke last year that the Dark Sun Campaign Setting would be finally brought back to life in 4th Edition, I thought it was a brilliant move. I remember many years ago cracking open the Dark Sun box set for the first time and flipping through the accompanying sample adventure — it literally flipped open from the top and was free standing so that on one side the players would see the accompanying art and on the other, the DM had the adventure notes. I was so enthralled with the new setting, I even skipped a few classes the next day to run some of my high school buddies through the starter adventure. (Shhh, don’t tell!) I loved the world of Athas, and so did my players, even if all of their characters died in the first few encounters.

Not surprisingly, when the opportunity came around to play in an ongoing Dark Sun campaign with one of the designers, Chris Sims, at the helm, I eagerly joined up. A few months later, I was offered a chance to be one of a small group of readers to review the initial draft of the new Dark Sun setting and provide feedback. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

So … My thoughts?

It’s every bit the gritty, downtrodden and dangerous world that I remember.
The harsh desert environs of Athas are dotted by city-states ruled by tyrannical sorcerer-kings. Slavery of entire populations is a reality of life. Freedom is a privilege enjoyed by very few, except in the single “shining” city of Tyr which was recently freed by an unlikely uprising of slaves and gladiators. Even in Tyr, life is hard and the ambitions of unscrupulous men keep Tyr’s freedom in constant peril.

As bad as things might be under the dictatorships of the sorcerer-kings, however, the badlands between the cities of Athas are even more dangerous. Deadly predators lurk in the sands, ready to waylay travelers at every turn. Above, the sun, perhaps the greatest enemy of them all, scorches the land relentlessly and rockets temperatures upwards of 150 degrees at its highest point.

This isn’t the land of shining castles and high fantasy all too common in just about every other D&D setting I have ever played.

It feels different.
Dark Sun has a very different feel than other Dungeons & Dragons settings. In Athas it is about survival against all odds and working against, or at least thriving under, the constant oppression of a world that would just as soon see you left a dry and lifeless husk — one less competitor vying for all too limited resources. Warriors adorn themselves in armor made of chitin and wield weapons carved from bone and stone. Even if it were practical to wear metal armor in the extreme heat of Athas, metal is scarce and highly coveted.

The one commodity that you’ll find here in abundance unlike other worlds is psionics. Almost every sentient inhabitant who lives beneath the crimson sun is gifted with psionic potential to varying degrees. For many, this maybe simply a “wild talent,” while others have far more extreme abilities. The coming Dark Sun Creature Catalogue has a slew of new creatures with psionic powers that will give encounters in Athas a distinct and exciting feel.

The world is rich with detail and story opportunities.
Prior to being selected as a reviewer for the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, I had never had the opportunity to see one of Wizards’ supplements while it was still in draft. Much of the layout of the book I received was already close to production quality actually, except that there were empty sections where the art would eventually be placed, and it hadn’t been through the editing process yet. Interestingly, I noticed that at the top of each of the background sections on Athas, there were notations from the editor that quickly summarized the target word count, pages, and anticipated art. Just looking at the numbers, it was immediately obvious to me that the authors were very excited about the Dark Sun material, as in almost every case they exceeded their target word count — sometimes by quite a bit.

Before I read through the draft copy, I was a bit concerned that the setting and background “fluff” would be abbreviated in favor of providing more player material. Instead, I found every page of the Atlas section loaded with detail and story hooks galore that spurred ideas for adventures, scenarios and entire campaigns that I could run for my players. My only lament was that I would have to wait the better part of a year before I could bring this setting to the table for my own players.

Dark Sun fits the “points of light” model better than any other setting I have ever played.
Where Forgotten Realms required drastic changes to even begin to fit the new experience the designers of 4th Edition were trying to capture, Dark Sun fit the mold basically right out of the box. Roads plagued by marauders, bandits and hungry monsters? Check. Towns and villages that don’t stay in close contact? Check. A wilderness filled with forgotten towers, abandoned towns, and haunted locations where even people living only a few miles away from such places might know of them only by rumor and legend? Yep, it’s got that all of these things in spades. Athas is a dangerous place, sparsely dotted with few safe-havens, and even those rare havens aren’t necessarily all that safe. No setting before this one has showcased the precepts of 4th Edition so exceptionally.

Ultimately, the change of pace makes Dark Sun a winner in my book.
I’ll admit that the dark and gritty nature of the setting was an instant appeal to me. It’s also different enough from all the other settings out there to really catch my attention. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for over two decades now, and to be perfectly honest, the usual trappings of fantasy no longer really excite me. I need something new … something different. Dark Sun is the setting that I’ve been waiting to reemerge for a very long time, and I can hardly wait to see it finally released in August. I don’t want to sound too much like an advocate, but truthfully, I think this is going to be the best campaign setting published for 4th Edition yet.

Just a couple more months …

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Trey asked me recently what I thought of the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts. I thought it would be worth sharing those thoughts, and some other recorded D&D sessions.

D&D on its face doesn’t seem to make for good spectating. But why not? A D&D game done well is a story well told. In many ways you can listen to or a see a story played out in front of you. And if the participants are funny, well, that’s just a bonus.

With this premise as a foundation, I would recommend checking out the various D&D podcasts and vidcasts out there. Not only can they provide insight on how 4th Edition is structured and played, but they can be entertaining, too. There are several options out there. I will recommend three: The Penny Arcade Series, the Robot Chicken one-off, and a continuous video campaign called the Thursday Knights.

The Penny Arcade series is perhaps the best known. Penny Arcade, for those of you who might not know, is a popular webcomic run by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. For each series they have been joined by Scott Kurtz, the author of PvP, and in the second series they were joined by Wil Wheaton of Stand By Me and Star Trek: TNG fame. The first series was conceived as a marketing tool for 4th Edition in general, and is hosted by Wizard’s employee and author Chris Perkins. The concept and the sessions have become very popular, and the third series is just beginning. The first and second series are in the stock 4e setting, whereas the 3rd series is set in the world of Dark Sun. You can find the first episode of the first series here. I highly recommend it!

And now, a video interlude:

This is probably the best way to deliver a D&D session. Now that tactics have become paramount, a visual presentation is perfect. And while I don’t like the RC casts as much as the PA casts, I think they’re a better introduction to 4e on the whole. Many of the players in this video series have never played D&D before in their life. So the viewer can learn right along with them as they go!

This leads me, finally, to the Thursday Knights. I found this group on my own at the Something Awful forums. They’re not famous and they’re not new to the game. Perhaps most importantly, they’re not sponsored by Wizards of the Coast! This is basically just a group of friends getting together once a week to play some D&D. You can watch their play sessions live on Thursady nights starting at 7pm PST. Or, if that time is too wonky (and let’s be honest – it is) then you can always download an audio version when they’re done. Make for some light, fun listening to kill the time while you’re doing more important things!

That’s my brief list of D&D podcasts. There are plenty more out there that I’ve found, if you’re interested. Or maybe you have some you listen to or are interested in that you’d like to recommend? Just let me know!

Happy casting!

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A long time ago, in a land far far away, two brothers from the race of Munchkins built the Arena.  Their names were Min and Max.  They had a vision of an epic battleground where the most powerful heroes would prove themselves in parties of four.  Both of them had very strong ideas on how best to achieve their goal.  In the end, they were able to compromise on almost every facet of the mystical locations construction.

Luck was determined to be the enemy of true competition.  So powerful enchantments were built in to the foundation that eliminated the effects of critical hits and misses.  Magical items were also accounted for in that they lose all of their powers when summoned to the Arena.  The contest is between the combatants and they must stand on their own!

Being summoned to the Arena is a great honor bestowed only upon those deemed worthy.  Nobody knows for sure how exactly one goes about drawing the attention of the Arena, or even whose attention it is.  Some whisper that the brothers are immortal and that their spirits govern the place.  Others believe that the ghosts of the champions haunt the hidden stands watching and silently cheering.  What is known is that participants never truly set foot in the arena.  If a hero chooses to answer the call, an avatar of their form is summoned at the entrance chosen for them.

There are two opposing pairs of entrances to the Arena, The Min Way and The Max Way.  Min felt that the battle was solely between the contestants. His way consists of a straight hallway leading to a shimmering curtain through which the Arena proper awaits.  The Max Way is the more difficult path.  Max felt that a single battle did little to demonstrate the overall tenacity of an adventuring party.  To travel The Max Way is to battle through three waves of Kobolds and even a Dragon before confronting your competitors in the Arena itself.

Will you answer the call?

The Max Way Entrance


In Max’s astral entrance to the Arena, shadow formed Kobolds strive to waylay contestants before they even get a chance to prove themselves.  The Slingers bomb away with their special pots while the minions attempt to swarm any intruders.  Anyone can retreat from this battle at any time if they are too faint of heart, but the brave must lower themselves into the hole by way of the rope ladder…

The Max Way Statue Hall

This battle is very straight forward as the Wyrmpriest sends forth his shifty servants to swarm and surround the party as he supports them from behind and fires orbs of shadowy energy.  He does have a chilly surprise for those that manage to close in on him!

Dragon Throne Room

The Dragon is the final barrier to competition in the Arena.  Those that prove themselves against the wyrm are worthy of Max’s championship.  Snowflake will send out her minions to trap the group and will not hesitate to sacrifice them and unleash her breath weapon if she believes it will do more harm to the invaders.

The Arena

Whether The Min Way or The Max Way was the road to The Arena, the fire lit stage is the stuff legends are made of in all the worlds.  Each party enters the contest from opposite sides.  Ranged attackers are well advised to stay back on the gently sloping steps while the melee brutes charge forth to mix it up in the center square.  All combatants would be wise to avoid the braziers, as their ethereal flames are the one danger in this place that can cause true and instant death to a contestant.

Let the games begin!!!!!!!!!!

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I created The Right Wing to prove a point in a discussion about the role of Controllers and how little I valued them.  The exercise was quite fun and led me to discover a great deal about the Dragonborn and even a few class abilities.  I’ve become enamored with another concept and have built a new party around it.  I introduce the newest super rap group SWA, Shorties Wit Attitude.

The Arena will be a place to discuss these and any other submitted theme groups.  The only submission guidelines will be that they include four members and use WoTC hardcover bound source material rules.  The point of the exercise is to explore cool or goofy ideas and to learn more about the possibilities in the D&D game.  And if two people get attached to different groups then let the PvP games begin!

So now for the first poll!


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The Paladin is one of my favorite classes.

And I think it’s almost always played wrong.

In fact, I think they’ve usually been played wrong for the majority of their class history. Every time someone talks about them along with their lawful good alignment it makes them sound boring and terrible. The play archetype seems to be a magic knight who ends up being a jerk and ruining it for everyone else.

Everybody knows what I’m talking about. The paladin who refuses to ever get paid for actions and who attacks the rogue because he’s a rogue. The paladin who prevents anyone from doing anything but the most white-washed of acts because he’s a pure douchebag. Worst of all, there’s the paladin who has never had a bad thought in his incredibly boring life and is somehow arrogant about it.

This is not what paladins are and not how they should be played.

Paladins are easily traceable to the Knights of the Round Table. These guys are the first paladins, ruled by a strict code and doing holy miracles and finding the holy grail. This is an extremely useful role-playing resource, because they all have rich, deeply detailed traits. Using them as a  base we can do a comparison and figure out how to make really cool, interesting characters.

Let’s take the granddaddy of them all, Lancelot. In a lot of ways he is like the jerko paladin I describe above. He’s holy, he does magical healing, he never accepts rewards (except when he does, wink-wink), and he’s always praying at the drop of a hat. That’s ok, though, because he’s also very flawed. First of all, in the T.H. White version he’s a massively sadistic bastard who basically hates himself.

What?

Yeah, Lancelot is totally evil inside. He lives by his code because he wants to be good, if he was truly good he wouldn’t need a code. He always grants mercy when asked, because his nature is to just lop off some heads. He fights evil ogres and barons because they do all the stuff he wants to do but which he wont allow himself to indulge in.

Meanwhile, he’s ends up fucking the queen. He thinks about her all the time, and becomes consumed by these thoughts. This is not the “I’m immune to lust” paladin you’d expect. He rescues a woman, Elaine, from a magical boiling pot, and then he ends up banging her while thinking he’s doing Guenevere. In fact, the whole reason he’s adventuring is to get away from the queen. As a result of all this, he spends the next few decades convinced he has done wrong, is no true knight, etc. He’s still treated like the greatest knight, but that only serves as a constant reminder that he’s living a lie. For instance, when he ends up healing a man whose wounds can only be tended by the greatest knight living, he weeps “like a child who has been beaten”.

There’s nothing black and white about this character, and it would be very rewarding to play and play with a character designed to this type.

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Who are you?

Below is my oft mentioned character survey. Please answer these for your main characters. You can answer for those you have in case of death* but only do so if you have the time and/or gumption.

Some of these you probably wont be able to answer specifically, as you don’t know the in-and-outs of the campaign. That’s fine. A good rule of thumb to follow is to just answer approximately when you’re unsure. Give a general answer; I can help you fill in the blanks. Oh, and try to avoid ‘grunt’ answers like “killin’ stuff.” Of course, you can answer that way if that’s how your character would answer!

Please answer as soon as you can. Oh, and these are questions that I think Tyler is fulling capable of handling! He’s answering for a character, after all. 🙂 Really think about your answers. I hope they’ll tell you as much as they tell me.

Also, send your answers directly to me. I’ll make them public once we know how the party came together.

*A note on character death. I’ve decided to allow replacement characters to come in at equal level to the party. It just makes sense that way. Gear might not be equivalent, but it wouldn’t be fun to be of a lower level.

The Character Survey:

1) Describe yourself in ten words or less.

2) What do you think is your greatest strength?

3) What do you think is your biggest weakness?

4) What is your most distinguishing feature?

5) Why did you choose the adventuring life?

6) Which family members or friends do you hold most dear?

7) What people, groups, or objects hold your greatest loyalty?

8.) What career could you see yourself in one year from now? Five?

9) What place do you wish to visit?

10) Consider your skills. How did you acquire them?

11) What do you like to do when not adventuring or training?

12) What magic items do you crave?

13) Where do you enjoy hanging out? What kind of places?

14) How do you want people to remember you after your death?

Thanks for taking the time!

Up next, where in the Realms you’ll be starting out!

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