Simple Online Gaming for Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

Computer Dragon

This is what I think I look like running online gaming sessions!

My first session of Hoard of the Dragon Queen was a good experience of what I hope is a long-living campaign. Since getting local friends together for consistent gaming sessions proved difficult, I decided to attempt running an online game. By doing this I was able to expand the potential pool of players, and after a week or so of organization and scheduling I found six players who could commit to weekly sessions. There is always something new to learn about running an effective gaming session in a face-to-face setting, and there are plenty of things for me to learn about running online sessions effectively. Below I discuss a few suggestions about setup, communication, combat, and space based on a few early sessions of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons as a player and DM.

Setup

When setting up a face-to-face campaign, I have found that the first session is often a combination of character creation and a brief start to an adventure. Online gaming presents a bit of a challenge because players are often creating their PC in isolation from the other players and the first session thrusts players right into the adventure. To address this, I set out to increase the amount of collaboration among the players before the sessions even started.

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Starting Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Hoard of the Dragon Queen coverLast week I started to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen for a new group of players online. I will post some thoughts later in the week about the challenges and opportunities posed when running a game online, but first I wanted to discuss how I approached the “inaugural campaign for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.” Other quality suggestions have been offered on how to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen by Mike Shea, and while he goes through the complete first episode in its entirety, I will focus on setup and the earliest encounters in Episode 1.

Below are thoughts about some hurdles I came across in the preparation for the campaign, and how I jumped over them. For players who plan to play Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it may be best to skip this article as there will be some spoilers.

Why Are You Traveling to Greenest?

Hoard of the Dragon Queen starts with a map of The Sword Coast and a very brief introduction and overview. It quickly launches into the details of Episode 1 and offers a one sentence direction to view Appendix A for more information on character hooks for the adventure. Flipping to page 87, Appendix A lists 10 different Bonds that could be used by the player to tie his or her story to the events that begin Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The Bond table (d10) can be used to augment or replace a player character’s background to connect them to the town of Greenest, which is where the campaign begins. Other than the one sentence and one-page Appendix, there is nothing that suggests how DMs can motivate players to approach the town of Greenest.

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Ego Check: Rachael Bowen, Community/Support Manager for Trapdoor Technologies

Rachael Bowen

Rachael Bowen, 2nd level Elven Ranger

In the middle of the summer, the Codename: Morningstar project was announced, stating it would be a companion application for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. News about the project has trickled out over the past two months, and the name has officially been changed to DungeonScape. During that time, I have been in communication with Rachael Bowen, Community/Support Manager with Trapdoor Technologies, the company who is bringing DungeonScape to life.

In the interview below, Ms. Bowen discusses her background, the volatile dynamics of the gaming industry, how Trapdoor Technologies partnered with Wizards of the Coast, the demonstration of DungeonScape at this year’s Gen Con, and how DungeonScape hopes to increase its footprint in the future. She also shared the official icon for the DungeonScape app, which you can see below – but read her interview first!

I was reviewing your background and noted that you are quite the Renaissance woman having earned a degree in Studio Art/Photography and being certified as a Nutrition Educator and Yoga Teacher. Now you are the Customer Care Officer at Trapdoor Technologies, the company that is creating the “Official Companion App for the Dungeons & Dragons Tabletop Roleplaying Game.” What has that ride been like for you? How did one career arc flow into the others?

I suppose I am kind of a Renaissance lady – of course I had no idea growing up that I would be making a career in games. I wanted to be an acrobat! I grew up loving video games and was the neighbor kid that wanted to hang out all the time simply to maximize playtime on your original Nintendo. My parents would not allow me to have my own console for years so I was even more excited by games because they were a forbidden fruit in my house. I finally got a Nintendo 64 and logged countless hours in Goldeneye Multiplayer, Super Mario, Ocarina of Time and Perfect Dark. After that I moved onto PlayStation, and fell very much in love with the Final Fantasy series and never really changed.

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Analyzing the PAX 2014 D&D Live Game

Minding my own business last week, I was passive-aggressively challenged by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish to return to my roots and perform an analysis on the latest installment of Dungeons & Dragons played by the members of Acquisitions Incorporated. My first blog post back in 2011 was an analysis of the Penny Arcade/PvP podcast to track the duration of combat in 4th Edition D&D. I followed this up with another analysis of a later combat encounter in the Penny Arcade/PvP podcast series. In those posts, I was able to add meaningful data to the (then) ongoing discussion about the length of combat in 4th Edition. Mike figured it made sense to task me with using the same technique to investigate combat in 5th Edition.

I had not yet watched the PAX 2014 Live Game of Dungeons & Dragons featuring Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, Scott Kurtz, and Morgan Webb of Acquisitions Incorporated. They were joined by a special guest, Patrick Rothfuss, and dealt with whatever Dungeon Master extraordinaire, Chris Perkins, threw at them. For those that have not yet watched the video, the two-plus hour session is below, and it is wonderfully entertaining!

Below, a description of the method used to code the first combat encounter featured in the PAX 2014 Live Game is given, and then data from that analysis is organized and discussed. Analyzing the session resulted in several intriguing questions including the surprising basic inquiry: Is the group playing Dungeons & Dragons?

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Ego Check: Brian Patterson, Creator of d20monkey (Volume II)

Brian Patterson

Brian Patterson, Creator of Worlds

Three years ago (almost to the day), I had the opportunity to publish an interview I conducted with Brian Patterson, creator of d20monkey – a webocomic featuring an enjoyable cast of characters navigating both the real world and the roleplaying game worlds they call home. During the course of the past three years, Brian has become a consistent staple in the RPG community to the point of previewing select pages of the official Player’s Handbook for Wizards of the Coast. The webcomic routinely delivers strips with new characters, engrossing plotlines, and humorous commentary on current events in the gaming world.

In recent weeks, I was able to communicate with Brian about his personal and professional development over the past three years. Since our first interview in 2011, he has ventured out to expand his presence starting with a successful Kickstarter project to publish the first years of his webcomic, and most recently announcing his involvement in the creation of Exploding Rogue Studios, an independent games and fiction company. Enjoy our discussion below about the past, present, and future of d20monkey and all things Brian Patterson.

And bards. I almost forgot to mention bards.

I first interviewed you over two years ago in late Summer 2011. At that time, d20monkey was beginning to gain some serious momentum with the online roleplaying game community. How have things changed for you – and d20monkey – since that time?

Wow. Where do I begin?

Many things have changed for me personally and for d20Monkey since 2011. I am still making d20Monkey 3-days a week and building momentum to make it my full-time career, which will hopefully happen some time this year. I worked with some incredibly talented creators, providing illustration for their new products, I nearly destroyed my left leg requiring I go through surgery and a long recovery, and I made the decision to relocate to the city of Denver in 2014. However, I would have to say the biggest event professionally was launching my first ever Kickstarter campaign to fund and produce d20Monkey: First Edition, a collection of the first years’ worth of comics in the series.

That was a major milestone for me, personally and professionally speaking. I mean a “beat Raiders of the Lost Ark on Atari 2600” kind of milestone.

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Externalize, Simplify, Visualize

Earlier in the week I presented a step-by-step process to solve problems, which could be used to deal with any number of life challenges and problems – including those that arise while preparing and running roleplaying game sessions. The process was culled from a psychological treatment approach titled Problem Solving Therapy (PST), and PST details other skills that can be utilized to diagnose and solve problems. Below, I present three of the skills and demonstrate how they can be used to become a more effective Dungeon Master – and truly a more effective person as the skills can be applied to any aspect of one’s life.

Externalize – Just Get it Out of Your Head

Wizard Externalization

Externalization can be MAGICAL!

The process of externalization is extremely useful when attempting to solve a problem. At any given moment in time, there are a cacophony of thoughts and emotions echoing around inside our brain. It is very easy to get lost in the noise and never take action to process or resolve any single thought or emotion. One method to assist with this is to externalize – to write it down or say it out loud so there is a tangible visual or audio manifestation of the thought or emotion. Examples of this include writing a journal or talking to a friend. The problem-solving method I presented earlier in the week relied heavily on externalization because the person is encouraged to write the problem and possible solutions.

The process of taking the thoughts buzzing through our brain and committing them to paper/computer screen is powerful; at the very least, it organizes our thinking on any given subject. My blog, The Id DM, is a three-year example of externalization. Each time I participated in a gaming session, I experienced new things that left me with more questions about various rules, player dynamics, and how best to function as a DM. Preparing the articles for the blog forced me to organize my thoughts and reactions to a specific topic because I wanted to ensure those articles were coherent to readers. I became a better DM by merely writing those articles over the years; it clarified my thoughts, highlighted areas of weakness I needed to address, and boosted my confidence when I noted I was improving.

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The Dungeon Master as Problem Solver

A locked door, you say? No problem.

A locked door, you say? No problem.

Do you smell that smell? It’s the smell of excitement in the air for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The first wave of products have been released. Many players have waded through the new Players Handbook (mostly to create Bards), and Dungeon Masters (DMs) are sinking their teeth into The Lost Mine of Phandelver and the first major campaign book, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Players are creating characters with the new rules and ready to take on whatever the DM can throw at them. Which brings us to the age-old struggle of how a DM should best prepare for entertaining a group of players in a new campaign.

Preparing to run a session of a roleplaying game is a complicated endeavor. The DM (or Game Master, if you prefer) is tasked with – at the very least – establishing the foundation for the players to build upon during a few hours of adventuring. Running a roleplaying game can be labeled any number of things including a challenge or an opportunity. Below I discuss a structured method to solve problems, and how those who run games can best solve the problems presented to them before and during gaming sessions. And to do this, I will borrow from a class I am currently teaching on Problem Solving Therapy – and diagnose my current problem of not being able to run a frequently scheduled Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

More Editions, More Problems

Problem Solving Therapy (PST) is a brief psychological intervention that aims to teach basic skills to accurately define a problem, generate possible solutions the problem, create realistic short-term goals in an effort to solve the problem, and review progress toward the solution. The skills learned can be applied to any number of problem areas in one’s life ranging from job stress, relationship issues, and more significant struggles with mental illness. The skills can readily be applied to day-to-day problems such as buying groceries or completing household chores. So there is no reason why one could not apply these skills to the myriad problems that spring up when preparing to run a gaming session such as finding enough players to run a session, redirecting players who are frequently off-topic during a gaming session, and balancing the lethality of combat encounters.

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