The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

My Life in Polyhedrons – Tournement in Fire

Immediately after Tournament in Stone Warren and I began scheming about how best to win Tournament in Fire. Though our original discussions revolved around how to find four ace players to fill out our team, in time we began to worry about how to make all six of us the best damm team ever.

Step one of our plan was executed at the beginning of the next school year. Our now unofficial club promoted a tournament that Warren and I ran to see who could win spots on our team. I think we had about a dozen people sign up, though maybe my memory is a little fuzzy on that one.

The tournament was a quick little event that we wrapped up in one week’s worth of lunch hours. Then we had some very tough choices to make.

Interestingly, what made the choices tough was not the play of those involved; we knew exactly which four players we wanted. The problem was that two of our players, Jamie (my old friend) and Devrim, told us before the event started that they were a package deal – one of them alone would not join our team.

So we wanted to pick Kory (from the club’s previous year), Quin, Dale (my old friend), and Jamie, in that order. But after long deliberation Warren and I decided we would rather go with Jamie and Devrim (who had just missed the cut), than Dale and the guy who missed the cut by two.

Though it was not intended to, this mini-tourney hugely raised awareness of the HARPGC, and largely contributed to it consistently having two games going during year two.

After we had our team assembled we divided up the rulebooks between us, with each person assigned to know EVERYTHING about their section; especially everything about fire.

Then we began playing a D&D campaign I had designed especially to focus on fire. (I think the Shadowlord campaign is worthy of its own post – so I’ll leave it at that for now.)

The campaign wrapped up about a month before Tournament in Fire, so then we began drilling each other on fire related rules. We started playing single encounters meant to test our fire knowledge – we were the kings of fire.

Then came the actual tournament. Being an event run by a University of Alberta club, a team of high school students entering were hardly noticed – that changed quickly.

As I would learn years later (from Todd, who was co-organizer of Tournament in Fire), the very first monster in the tournament, a gianormous lava worm, was meant to be unkillable. It was a sight to quiver in fear at, not a creature to destroy. We destroyed it. Luckily for us Todd had insisted his co-organizers give it a point value.

The whole first day went smooth as silk for us. We finished the day with over eight thousand points. To put that in perspective, usually the cut off for the top ten teams was around 3.5k and usually the best team after day one had a little more than 5k. We had more than a 3k point lead on the nearest team – all we had to do was show up on day two and the tournament was ours.

Then IT happened.

The organizers of the tournament announced that we had been assessed a time penalty, and not just a little one either; they docked us more than two thousand points. We were furious – no where in the rules for the tourney did it mention time limits or penalties, and somehow we were the only ones worthy of one. Supposedly for going overtime we had to pay 500 points per half hour.

We were all furious, but it was made clear this was non-negotiable. So I told the team to calm down – we still were in top spot and were the team to beat on day 2.

On day 2 we were determined to not get a time penalty again, so we flew threw the adventure. Sure enough we did finish the adventure in the allotted time, and had a combined two day score of 14k – a score that would have won the previous year’s tournament by a large margin.

As the hours went by after the tournament, with us waiting for the other teams to finish, my team mates became more and more nervous, while I grew more and more confident. After all I reasoned – these guy must be wracking up enormous time penalties.

When the final two scores came in, it was revealed that we were third; apparently time penalties only applied on day one. The two prizes were given to the top team and the runner up, though they gave us a special prize of a jar of Hot Banana Peppers for killing the unkillable monster.

I don’t think I could overstate the impact this loss had on my life. It wasn’t just that we worked so hard for so long and lost – it was that we worked so hard for so long and lost when we should have won. I went into an emotional tailspin that by a year later had me attempting suicide. And although I have not been suicidal in many years, it would not be out of place to trace all the failures in my life to that moment. That was the moment I stopped believing in myself, it was the moment I stopped being a winner.

One small bit of vindication came years later when my then room mate Todd was telling me the story of why he quite the Phantasy Gamers Club. He was explaining (not knowing my part in the story) how he was one of the organizers of Tournament in Fire, and that there were some kids who should have won the tourney, but that the other organizers fixed the event so their friends would win. That warmed my heart a little, but was too late to repair the damage.

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

December 18, 2010 Posted by | My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

The Martial Arts Munchkin

Over at Huge Ruined Pile Scott has an interesting post about more gamers taking martial arts training (particularly Asian martial arts training) than the general populace. I suspect this is because of the large overlap between gamers and martial arts movie fans.

Anyways, this got me thinking about a fight I kept having back in high school, where a new player would join my group, and immediately want to play a Ninja or a Samurai. I would say yes, then direct him to some rules pertaining to the class/kit he would want. Like clockwork, an incident would soon come up where the player wanted to do some super move that would instantly kill all the bad guys the group was fighting.

My response would always be “Where does it say you can do that on your character sheet?” Which without fail brought on the response of “Um, hello, I’m playing a ninja; that means I know ninjutsu. Of course, I can do a whirlwind attack of death.”

Even warning players during character creation that they were making a level one character, and if the class (or kit) wasn’t balanced in that regard I wouldn’t have let them pick it did nothing to help. Something about playing a character based on Asian history/mythology instead any other part of the world, made certain players feel they were entitled to super powers. It got so bad that eventually I just outright banned all things Asian from my games; classes, weapons, you name it – they all brought the same stigma.

Amusingly, after about 15 years this ban had become so second nature to me that I actual forgot the reason why it was in place. And so I finally decided to relax it a little in the past year or so. (I’m not welcoming new players into my group all the time any more, and I don’t think any of my current players would try this.)

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December 15, 2010 Posted by | 2nd Edition, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fluff, Crunch and The Dashing Swordsman

In the very popular web comic Order of the Stick, the character of Elan has levels in a prestige class called “The Dashing Swordsman“. Because of the great popularity of the strip, there have been a lot of fan who have tried to put the class to paper (though never the creator of the strip; he has been very clear he won’t ever release in-game information about the goings on in the strip).

The interesting thing I have seen, or rather not seen, in many attempts at interpreting The Dashing Swordsman, is that the most obvious characteristic of the class is always ignored; that he can use his charisma bonus in melee if (and only if) he says a pun right before he attacks. Now everyone is all over the swapping in the charisma bonus, but for some reason the puns get left by the way side.

D&D Keeps Fluff and Crunch Separate, So We Do The Same

Its not surprising that many a fan would ignore the fluff side of the class; as D&D players we are conditioned to think that rules go in one box and role playing in another, and there shouldn’t be much mixing between the two. Oh there are a few exceptions, like role playing xp or role playing skill uses, but the idea of a class that demands an action from the player – that goes against the grain of D&D. And the idea that a character could get a significant combat bonus from role playing would be consider hearsay in some quarters.

That we are so adverse to mixing fluff and crunch I think was born of the success of games that do it so well. In the 90s there were a lot of popular games which had no qualms about demanding role playing in return for statistical bonuses. I can’t help but wonder if the success of those games both drew players of that ilk away from D&D (thus limiting their influence on the game), and furthermore created a kind of backlash against heavy handed role playing (3E hugely scaled back role playing elements of the game).

I can’t help but think that part of the reason that 3E and 4E feel kind of different than what came before them is because the fluff and crunch parts of the game are further apart than ever. But what can be done?

I Can’t Mix Them Because I’ve Been Conditioned Too

To be honest, I would never have guessed just how deep this bias against mixing fluff and crunch runs in myself before I started writing this post. I wanted to finish it up with some examples of rules that might mix fluff and crunch and bring some fun to the table, but I can’t. Every time I start to make up a feat, or a class or whatever I find myself saying one of two things:

  • “You can’t let players do that; it would be unbalancing.”
  • “You can’t force players to do that; what if they don’t want to?”

Yet, I shouldn’t be thinking these things. My whole point should be that fluff can bring a lot of fun to the table, and so worries about balance or the like should be pushed to the side. But, alas, I am part of the machine of which I have been complaining.


How Much Would You Mix Fluff and Crunch?

So how about you? Would you be willing to bring a rule to your table that directly traded fluff for crunch? What is the biggest bonus that you think fluff could give? What would you think if such a thing found its way into the official rules? Let me know.

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

December 14, 2010 Posted by | 3.x, 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , | 5 Comments