The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Gaming Resolutions 2011

Its that time of year when people love to make resolutions. I am a person who for many years, poo-pooed resolutions and people who chose to make them. But in recent years I have been able to enact a number of positive changes in my own life via resolutions. So here are some of my own for this year that pertain to gaming.

1. Bring Healthier Snacks

There was a time years ago where my group brought a wide diversity of snacks, but somehow, over the years we have degraded into a group who exists almost solely on potato chips (though once in a while someone brings candy).

I am going to lead by example and hope others follow. My plan is start bring a veggie tray, with the hope that not gorging on chips every week will help us life a little healthier and game a little longer.

2. Drink Healthier Drinks

While our snacks are communal, we for the most part bring our own drinks to game night. I resolved a couple of years ago that I was going to stop ingesting so much sugar at game night, and so switched from drinking Coke to drinking Diet Coke. While that was a positive change, I don’t think it went far enough. I am always awake for hours after gaming, and its hard not to suspect that the large amount of caffeine I am ingesting is to blame. So next year I am going to cut out caffeinated drinks too.

3. Maximize Play Time

One of my group’s biggest problems is that we can’t find enough hours to play. But I make this problem far worse by allowing us to start late and end early. This year we are going to start on time, and we are going to play to the end.

4. No Frivolous Campaign Switching

As I have mentioned in this blog before, I am somewhat prone to ending games prematurely and starting new ones because some new idea has caught my fancy, and I desparately want to build a campaign around said new idea. No more. This year we are going to stick with the game we have unless it reaches its natural end, or other group members express a desire to end it.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 31, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, Featured Site, RPGs | , , , | 3 Comments

Reinventing Mythology

Two of my favorite tv series in the past decade have been Smallville and Merlin both of which are based around the same concept – taking an existing mythology and reinventing it with all of the main characters being young adults.

Smallville cast pic from a few years ago.

There are many other similarities between the shows, most notably that both shows reversed the nature of the most important relationship in the show, but then have allowed said relationship to gradually become the one fans of the mythology know (Smallville with Clark-Lex, Merlin with Merlin-Arthur).

Merlin cast photo.

This morning I find myself wondering how this sort of re-envisionment might work as a basis for a campaign. Start with a mythology that all the member of the group are very familiar with, then together reinvent it, by de-aging the characters, and grouping them together; have them all be young, and inexperienced in the same time and place.

Inevitably the result of this is going to be a world that is different from the one of the source material; but that’s the point. The idea of making a campaign like this would be to bring a feeling of familiarity without all the constraints which would accompany basing a campaign around the original world.

For example, one could make a campaign where the members of the fellowship of the ring are all young rapscallions growing up together. The changes you would have to make to Middle Earth for such a campaign to function would be huge, but easily accomplished if you designed the campaign in the same way these shows seem to be made – with no initial preconceived notions of how the world is supposed to be. Basically you would not be figuring out how to modify Middle Earth to suit your campaign, but would instead try to find ways to work elements of Middle Earth into your campaign.

Unlike the some of my other campaign ideas I have shared on this site, I feel quite certain that this would work and work well. All it would need is a group that all know and love a given mythology, but aren’t afraid to change it.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | Campaign Ideas, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic Items, RPGs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Board Game Review – Minotaurus

When I picked the game Minotaurus off the shelf at Walmart as a Christmas present for my son, it didn’t really cross my mind that this could be a great game for my gaming group the next time we have down time, but I sure am thinking that now.

Fantasy game with a latin title - how can you go wrong?

The Basics

The game board is a labyrinth made of LEGO. Each player has three men who you are trying to get from your corner of the labyrinth to the center (the labyrinth is symetrical, for fairness). Complicating matters is that there is a minotaur running around the board, sending you back to your starting position, and that other players will at times rearrange the walls to your disadvantage.

On your turn you roll a six sided die that has the numbers 3 through 6, plus a plain black side and a plain grey side. Rolling a number means you can move one of your men that many spaces. Rolling grey means that you can move one of the grey walls in the labrynth. Rolling black allows you to move the minotaur 8 spaces – sending home every man he touches along the way.

The board set up as per instructions.

Even just played out of the box as is this game is way more fun than I would ever have guessed, but, you don’t have to play it out of the box as is. The entire game is made of lego, making it infinitely customizable. Just off the top of my head you could change:

  • The number of men
  • The number of players
  • Add more minotaurs
  • The position of the walls
  • The size of the board
  • The shape of the board
  • The size of the movable wall pieces
  • The faces of the die

I mean, if this game were any more customizable you would have to call it an rpg.

This Game Rocks

I have already played the game a bunch of time, and despite the simple game play, am nowhere near being board of it. So if you want something for your group to on an off night, especially if you have lego sitting around, I highly recommend this game. Naturally the recommendation goes double if you have kids.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 29, 2010 Posted by | Board Games, Review, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

The Evil Side Game

Something I have tried on a limited scale in the past, though never to quite the extent I have wanted, is the Evil Side Game.

The idea of the Evil Side Game is that you are running a typical, good aligned campaign. However, from time to time, the players are allowed to take control of an alternate group of characters in the same world. There are a few different reasons one might want this for his game, all of which are valid.

The Evil Game as a Break

One of the simplest uses of this idea is to just give the players a break from the norm. This can be a chance to play different characters, while still maintaining a connection to the same game world.

For some players getting a chance to be evil can be a nice break from being a very good character. In other instances stepping away from the ongoing plot can releive some of the tension surrounding it.

An Evil Side Game can also be a break for the DM, either for the same sort of reasons that it is a break for the players, or because it is quite possible to have a different member of the group DM the side game.

The Evil Game as an Alternate View

The biggest reason I like Evil Side Games is to give the players an alternate view on the events that are happenning; all too often with complex storylines the players miss out on important plot points because they see the whole story through the eyes of their characters. By giving the players a different set of eyes once in a while it becomes possible to convey plot information that might otherwise be unknown, or the subject of a very clunky exposition.

The Evil Group as Future Enemies

Obviously the characters in the Evil Game have huge potential as future villians in the main campaign. Not only are they likely to be a very good match for the PCs, but the player’s knowledge of the Evil Group can be used to evoke real concern for the main group’s safety, even from players who normally never back down.

Bringing Them All Together

Of course, there is no need to choose between these different motives; I am most happy when I combine them all. Its great fun to give everyone a break, while giving them insight into the campaign, and letting them play their future enemies.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , | Leave a comment

Significant Others at the Table

Filed under “Problems that used to really concern me but I haven’t thought about in years” is the issue of bringing girlfriends/boyfriends along to gaming.

Back in the 90s (when I was in my late teens and early 20s), this was constantly an issue. As I never had a girlfriend who wanted to see what gaming was all about, it was really tempting for me to take the stance of “S.O.s not welcome.” But I didn’t because, truth be told, some of my favorite people to game with I met because their S.O. introduced them to gaming. Still, for every success story I have seen, I have seen many more horror stories.

The one I saw most often was the S.O. who didn’t have any interest in gaming, but insisted on coming along because if she didn’t, it would mean that she wouldn’t get to see her beau on game night. The presence of such a person at a game table was like a wet blanket. She wrecked the atmosphere through her disinterest. She wrecked the atmosphere by distracting the player who brought her to the game. But most of all she wrecked the atmosphere through the ensuing conflict over how to deal with her.

An even worse case, that I have never seen myself, but have been aware of happening is when the S.O. truely invests herself in gaming, but then, after being fully integrated into the group has an ugly breakup with the player who brought her. Now both want to keep playing, but not with each other.

Now I don’t know how much of all that had anything to do with gaming, or how much of it was just about being young. Its been a dozen years since I have seen any issues of this nature, and in that same time I have seen a number of spouses play, and have been pretty open with all my current players about saying they can invite S.O.s if they wish.

Still, its interesting to reminisce, and I can’t help but wonder if there will be any parrallels when inviting our children to the group becomes a possibility.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | 5 Comments

100th Post Retrospective

I was reading some information online last August about maintaining a blog – in particular how to avoid the all too common practice of abandonning a blog shortly after starting it.

“If you are not passionate about your topic, then you are not going to stick to it.”

Suddenly after reading that sentence I could understand all of my previous blogging failures. Every blog I had ever started before I had started with the wrong motives and the wrong topics. Never before had I blogged about a topic that I cared deeply enough about that I could stick with it.

It didn’t take much soul searching to know with certainty what topic I could stick to; D&D has been the only constant in my life; and there is no topic I have more to say on.

Originally I had planned to start out blogging about D&D, and then branch out to discussing fantasy and other games. But the longer I do this, the less I feel the need to branch out; I have played other games, but except for West End’s SWRPG, there are no other games I am as passionate about as D&D; and while I am a fan of fantasy literature and film, I don’t think I could really write about it.

But having decided that D&D would be my topic, I was faced with a very big decision about when I would start this project. You see, since the fall of 2009 I have been back in school. And something I have learned the hard way is that when you have a family college dominates every free moment that you have. I felt certain that there was no way I could start this blog right away without impacting my grades. Alas, I couldn’t keep my resolve; after just one week, overwhelmed by all the ideas I had for articles, I went ahead and registered the blog.

I must admit that I was pretty much flying blind when I created this blog; I had never read a D&D blog in my life. Moreover, I hadn’t been keeping up with any of the developments in the gaming world; I was totally unaware of Essentials and Pathfinder, only somewhat aware of the many retro clones, and perhaps most importantly had no knowledge of the upcoming red blox set.

I chose the name The Red Box Blog because of my affinity for the red box set from the 80s. Its was what started me in D&D, and at the time I began the blog, it was the rule set I was playing with. I had no idea that just three days after I started my blog Wizards was launching a new red box.

When I started the blog I had it in my head that I would publish just three articles a week, and that either one or two of those each week would be something I had already written. I couldn’t keep to this schedule at all, by which I mean that I couldn’t keep myself from posting every day. Moreover, I found that alot of the writing I had done in the past didn’t really jive well with the feeling of a blog. I still do put up one previously written article a week – I wrote the My Life in Polyhedron for Facebook – but other than that I rarely post older articles any more.

For the most part I have been able to keep up a pace of one article per day and for the most part my schooling didn’t suffer too much because of the blogging. So I do plan to keep up my current pace.

The next hundred articles are probably going to look pretty similar to the first hundred; I have some big ideas about where I would like to go with this site, but I know for certain I can’t implement any of those ideas till I am done school at the end of April.

Anyways, thank you all for reading; your continued presence here is a huge inspiration.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | RPGs | , | 2 Comments

The Parsed Character Sheet

One of the biggest problems my group had during the year we were playing 4E was what to do when a player wasn’t there. I have never been a fan of solutions to this problem that didn’t make sense in-game (i.e. I am against characters just disappearing or reappearing as the player does), and moreover, because of the nature of 4E missing certain roles from the group can be very cumbersome.

Hand Offs Are Awkward

For a short while we tried to work with the two solutions I had used in previous editions – handing the character off, and DM control of the character – but found the added complexity that characters have in 4E makes it much harder for someone unaccustomed to the character just take over.

In the end what started to happen was that we just wouldn’t play when we had less than the whole group, and that was a huge pain. In preparation for our game that will be starting in the new year I have been putting some thought into what to do about a player that will frequently be leaving 60 to 90 minutes before we would like to stop.

Simplifying the Missing Character

We have worked out a game plan for that character (who is a leader) for how he will be played; basically the plan is to use Commanders Strike as much as possible, and Inspiring Word when needed. Obviously this will make him far less useful than normal, but it will be far less disruptive than having the player who takes over spend every combat with his nose buried in the PHB as he tries to figure out what would work best.

But having decided to do this for one character, I have come to realize that we should be doing this for every character. What we really need is a parsed character sheet that has nothing on it but the stats we are going to use in the players absence. (including no calculations)

This sheet would have:

  • Name, class, race
  • Attributes, and bonuses
  • HP and surges
  • Defenses
  • Initiative
  • Perception and Insight
  • Basic Attack
  • One at will power, including complete text from rule book
  • One encounter power, including complete text from rule book
  • List of items that are always in play or vital to the group

And that would be it. We would still have the original character sheet to refer to if necessary, but the idea would be that we don’t want to be thinking about what is on there because it presence would be a huge distraction and time waster.

Hopefully this system of simplifying characters will allow another player to take over with minimum disruption. Sure the character will only just barely be fulfilling his role, but at this point I think its the best compromise.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 2 Comments

DM Baby

Sung to the tune of Santa Baby

Dungeon Master, slip a potion under the screen, for me
I’ve been a good role player
Dungeon Master, and roll up some good treasure tonight

Dungeon Master, a belt of storm giant strength too, light blue
I’ll look it up for you dear
Dungeon Master, and roll up some good treasure tonight

Think of all the fun I’ve missed
Think of all the henchmen that I haven’t dissed
Next year I could be oh so good
If you’d check off my whole wish list
Boo doo bee doo

Dungeon Master, I wanna Hut and really that
Ain’t much
I’ve been lawful all year
Dungeon Master, and roll up some good treasure tonight

Dungeon Master, there’s one thing I really do need, the deed
To a platinum mine
Dungeon Master, and roll up some good treasure tonight

Dungeon Master, I’m writing down an axe from Gygax
Sign your ‘X’ on the line
Dungeon Master, and roll up some good treasure tonight

Come fill up this sheet for me
With some artifacts from the Astral Sea
I really do believe in you
Let’s see if you believe in me
Boo doo bee doo

Dungeon Master, forgot to mention one little thing, a ring
I mean from Sauron
Dungeon Master, and roll up some good treasure tonight

Roll up some good treasure tonight
Roll up some good treasure tonight

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , | Leave a comment

The Twelve Days of 4E

Sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
A cool looking red box set.

On the second day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the third day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the fourth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the fifth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the sixth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the seventh day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Seven types of zombies,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the eighth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Eight healing surges,
Seven types of zombies,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the ninth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Nine wish list items,
Eight healing surges,
Seven types of zombies,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the tenth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Ten level tiers,
Nine wish list items,
Eight healing surges,
Seven types of zombies,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the eleventh day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Eleven passive insight,
Ten level tiers,
Nine wish list items,
Eight healing surges,
Seven types of zombies,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

On the twelfth day of 4E the Wizards gave to me,
Twelve casting rituals,
Eleven passive insight,
Ten level tiers,
Nine wish list items,
Eight healing surges,
Seven types of zombies,
Six speed for movement,
Five A-LIGN-MENTS,
Four defenses,
Three Players Handbooks,
Two character builders,
And a cool looking red box set.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , | Leave a comment

The End of Interesting Character Sheets

In his review of the new character builder Donny the DM mentioned that digital characters aren’t really yours. This brought on a wave of nostalgia for me.

You see, when I started playing we had no access to character sheets (or photocopiers), so everyone had to draw their own character sheets. It was a a royal pain in the butt and we were glad when we finally got access to professionally produced ones, but something was really lost when we stopped making our own.

When we made our own character sheets every character sheet was unique. You could say that the look and feel of the sheet was a part of the personality of the character. Some sheets were attempts to recreate the look and the feel of professional character sheets, while others were just functional. Some were made on plain white paper, many more were made on lined paper, and a few were made on graph paper.

Back then everybody filled in the box for “character portrait or symbol” with their own art work (after first hand drawing said box onto their sheet). I always opted for a symbol as I have never been a very good artist.

Then, one day, we started using professional character sheets, and there was much rejoicing. But even within a few months of that switch over I began to recognize that we had lost something. The writing in the boxes became the only thing distiguishing one character from another.

But even that writing had a leg up on how things are done now. Now character sheets are 100% functional. They are all done up on computer and they all look the same. Sure there are many benefits; there is a huge drop in little mistakes on the sheet, and now every sheet is completely legable.

But in some ways I am very sad, and long for the days that every new character meant a new and unique character sheet.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 2 Comments