dungeons and dragons tagged posts

Revisiting the Dungeons and Dragons Animated Series at 30

This week, the Dungeons & Dragons animated series turns 30 years old. Thirty years since the kids first set off on that magical roller coaster ride that brought them to “The Dungeon Master”. To say that this show wasn’t exactly beholden to the world of D&D is an understatement, but rather it used the game like you would a spice, sprinkled throughout the show to provide flavor to the fantasy setting.

It also can’t be understated how 80s this show is – something which anyone will notice upon popping in the first episode. For those of you who aren’t familiar – here’s some quick highlights:

  • A group of kids at an amusement park go on a roller coaster that takes them into “The Realm of Dungeons and Dragons” where they meet “The Dungeon Master”.
  • The kids are each given a weapon (and thus a class) to defend themselves and work to find their way home, while also performing side quests along the way to help people. Come to think of it, the overall plot is like a less techy Digimon.
  • Throughout the series the party battles Venger (an evil wizard) and Tiamat a five headed dragon.

If you aren’t sold yet on the show you should know that Peter Cullen and Frank Welker provide the voices for Venger and Tiamat respectively. That’s right – Optimus Prime and Megatron are involved.

To celebrate this magnificent and ridiculous show; I’m going to do a re-watch of the entire series, with recaps and commentary. Crazy right? But I might as well do something productive with all this free time I have.

The recaps won’t start till next week, so if you’d like to be involved – you have time to grab the DVD set and follow along. The show is available on DVD on Amazon at a ridiculously cheap price, which seems to be your only option. So grab a copy, and get ready – because next week we’re hitching a ride into the realm of D&D, with all the awesome 80s synth music we can handle.

This is either going to be awesome…or terrible.

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Of Dice and Men Levels Up from Play to Movie

Of Dice and Men (ODaM), the play about what it’s really like to play D&D, by Cameron McNary, is becoming a film. We’ve been talking about this play since Castles and Cooks began, and have tracked it from a humble stage reading at the first PAX East, to the first staged production at PAX Prime 2010, all the way through its various performances around the country, including at the Brick theatre in New York City in July of 2012.

Based on a screenplay by the man himself, McNary and a team of talented thespians will be bringing the hilarious, heart warming, and occasionally gut wrenching adventures of one middle aged D&D group to the big screen. The story is a “blisteringly funny and deeply affecting comedy feature film about six tabletop roleplaying gamers and what happens when one of them enlists to go to Iraq.”

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D&D Home Brew: The Escalation Die

When it comes to RPGs and gaming, everyone has a favorite system. For us, it’s Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). It’s where we started with RPGs and we have the best command of the various iterations and intricacies of that system. Yet inspiration and innovation can come from many places, so when we find a mechanic we like in other systems we always like to think of how we home brew a version for D&D.

The “Escalation Die”

Where we found it: This is a mechanic that exists in a few other RPGs, but most notably 13th Age which is an RPG developed by a few of the lead designers on D&D 3rd and 4th editions.

What is it: A mechanic aimed at speeding up combat by giving ever increasing bonuses to attack rolls as combat rounds progress. Enemies become easier to attack, meaning characters get “stronger” the longer a fight goes on. It starts at +1 and increases each round toward a max of +6.

Why is it important: Combat takes a long time in D&D. This was especially true in 4th edition, and while D&D Next has some specific changes that address that issue, combat can still be a real grind sometimes. After enough rounds it just degenerates into players aimlessly hacking away at monsters till they die, and that’s if the players are rolling well. The Escalation die reduces and improves combat by increasing the chance that players will hit, and effectively encouraging risky or fun actions because of the attack bonus.

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Castles and Cooks Holiday Gift Guide

Buying gifts for gamers can be a real challenge. They are constantly picking up the newest games, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering might as well be foreign languages. So the Castles & Cooks brain trust joined forces to come up with 25 fantastic holiday gifts in a variety of price points.

Chocolate Dice – $8
If you need a stocking stuffer for any tabletop player, get them a delicious treat in the shape of a set of dice. It’s cheap, adorable and delicious. Available in white, 6o% and dark chocolate.

Bag O Zombies – $10
This is a bag of 100 zombies for $10, how is that not awesome? Any self-respecting DM can find a reason to use these, but when don’t you need a bag of zombies? It doesn’t matter if you play ZOMBIES or not – and they come in regular zombie gray or glow-in-the-dark!

LEGO Gandalf Arrives – $13
Lord of the Rings holds a special place in almost every geek’s heart, but as a desktop decoration, they don’t get more perfect than this. Gandalf’s cart is adorable and full of fireworks and a LEGO Frodo may be the cutest thing in the world.

Hogwarts Acceptance Letter – $15
Even if it didn’t arrive on your 11th birthday, getting a personalized acceptance letter to Hogwarts will bring a smile to any wizard’s holiday.

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D&D Next: The Advantage of Advantage

Since the start of the D&D Next play tests, one of the more scrutinized mechanics has been the advantage/disadvantage system. The system affects die rolls for various checks, but instead of the standard +/- modifier system, it gives the player another roll of the d20. Players with advantage would roll the d20 twice and use the higher result. Players with disadvantage would do the same, but use the lower of the two.

There has been a lot of debate and analysis on this, including tons of mathematical modeling to show the effect on the probabilities of individual dice rolls. If you’re interested, check out this article, this one, and this forum. Both articles look at the math and do a nice job of breaking down exactly what it all means in case numbers aren’t your strong suit. The forum, well it’s an Internet forum so you know what you’ll get, but there are decent arguments being made for and against.

I can appreciate the statistical analysis and arguments about power creep and whether the system has a stronger or weaker effect than the +2/-2 modifier system we are used to seeing. I get all that. However, I’m more interested in the sub-question that seems to come up in all of these articles and runs as the undercurrent to the whole advantage discussion: Is this D&D?

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D&D Next: Let’s Talk About Opportunity Attacks

With the D&D Next open playtest in full swing, one thing I’ve noticed that has been a big topic of conversation during our game sessions is where we all stand on Opportunity Attacks. Or rather, where we all stand on the complete lack of them in the current rule set. Seeing as the rules are still incomplete, we cannot take the omission of Opportunity Attacks to mean that they won’t exist later on.

A quick refresher if you aren’t familiar with the mechanic. When in combat, people can’t simply walk away from a monster they are fighting and go do something else. Similarly, you can’t just walk past an enemy without penalty. In these cases, opportunity attacks are granted and the creature get a free chance to try and hit you. There are other ways an opportunity attack can happen, but these are the two most frequent scenarios.

Why did Wizards of the Coast (WotC) decide not to include them? That answer isn’t clear, but there are a few possibilities. It could be that they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Many of the omissions seem to be related to tactics in combat – trip, disarm, etc – and so it could be that WotC hasn’t quite figured that stuff out yet. Another possibility is that because they want to emphasize that DnD Next does not require a grid, they have pulled out some of the more grid dependent mechanics.

Regardless of the reasons, the lack of Opportunity Attacks does raise the question, do we really need them?

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Of Dice and Men Premiering in NYC on July 7th!

Playwright, actor, builder of America, postage enthusiast, and friend of the site Cameron McNary’s grand gaming opus Of Dice and Men is finally getting a premiere in New York City. The play about a group of 30 something D&D players has had performances on the West coast and even a college production, but this will be the first time it appears in New York City.

On July 7th the show will debut as part of the Brick Theater’s GAMEPLAY 2012, a festival inspired by gaming. The show is being performed by the Dysfunctional Theater Company and will run from July 7th till the 27th. A full calendar and tickets are available at the Brick Theater website and go for $15.

We cannot urge you enough to go see this play. Whether you are a gamer, just know some gamers, or enjoy funny and cathartic experiences, this is the show for you. Since the first PAX East, three years ago, when Jesse and I saw the first stage reading, we’ve been hooked.

If you aren’t sure (why the hell not!?) then check out the e-book version of the play. You can read an excerpt for free or just buy it (a much better option). It is available in every e-book format imaginable here.

Also here’s a trailer for the performance.

Seriously, stop reading and buy a ticket. We’ll see you at the show.

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The Five Crimes of Dungeon Masters

We’ve already discussed that when gaming parties go bad that you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villianry. There’s an analogy about one bad apple and a basket of fruit somewhere in there, but I think Star Wars covered it. This type of game destroying behavior isn’t just limited to the players. The dungeon master (DM) can be just as liable and the behavior just as destructive.

In some cases it can actually be worse. Since a DM holds all the cards, they can usually mitigate the circumstances when one PC goes rogue (pun!). In contrast, there’s very little the party can do about a bad DM. So here they are, the five biggest crimes a dungeon master can commit. As before, they’re presented in no particular order.

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The Five Crimes of D&D Players

All this talk about D&D Next has me re-evaluating my time as a player. Getting ready for a new edition has me thinking about why I started playing, my earliest campaigns and characters and all of that. That trip down memory lane has brought me back to the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts, which follow the hilarious adventures of a group of Penny Arcade’s finest (and Will Wheaton) as they try and survive the world of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) 4e as controlled by Chris Perkins.

You would think that listening to people roll dice and play pretend would be boring, but it is the exact opposite. Listening to Gabe, Tycho and the others try to defeat vampires and solve puzzles got me thinking about the personae you often find around a gaming table. That mixture of personalities and quirks can make a game memorable or leave it in shambles.

We might all try our best to behave and slip into a sense of community while gaming, but inevitably we’re going to break a rule or two. Some of us are more adept at avoiding these pitfalls than others, and some gamers (you know who they are) are down right terrible. So here they are, in no particular order, the five worst offenses players can make during a game of D&D.

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Short Musical: “Role Initiative”

The short musical “Role Initiative,” originally made for the 2011 Windy City Shootout’s 72 hour film competition. What do you get when you combine Dungeons & Dragons with Once More with Feeling? You get this and it’s awesome and worth the watch.

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