Game Night Blog Carnival: Thunderstone

Welcome to the Game Night Blog Carnival! This is a recurring feature Roving Band of Misfits is running once each month with numerous roleplaying game blogs. Visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative.

This month, we had the unique opportunity to play and review the same game, Thunderstone. I was provided with a copy of the game by AEG at no cost to play and review. I want to extend my thanks to the organizers of the Game Night Blog Carnival and the developers of Thunderstone for making this happen.

Thunderstone is a card game with multiple RPG elements as each player builds up their deck of cards to take on various threats in a dungeon filled with monsters. The goal is find the famed Thunderstone, which lies buried deep in the dungeon under many layers of monsters. The winner is declared by the number of victory points accumulated throughout the game, which takes approximately 45 to 60 minutes to resolve. Below, I talk about my initial impressions of the game and my experiences playing it several times in recent weeks.

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Critically Hit by Mike Shea

I had the pleasure of talking about Dungeons & Dragons and several psychological components of roleplaying games with Mike Shea for the Critical Hits Podcast. You may know Mike Shea from his popular blog, Sly Flourish. Long-time readers of this site may remember he spent some time being interviewed by me last summer; but the roles have now been reversed!

During the podcast, Mike asked me questions about my approach to playing and running 4th Edition D&D games, which is certainly influenced by my education and professional work as a psychologist. I present ideas for how to monitor and manage communication before, during and after sessions, and we discuss how to respond if you happen to be “a bad DM” in addition to the notion that the DM is primarily an Entertainer. He also reviewed my previous research efforts on tracking combat speed and the progression of status effects in 4th Edition.

The 70-minute conversation is available for your downloading pleasure at Critical Hits, which should be included in your “I go to these sites at least a few times each week” list.

Transtheoretical Model: Are You Ready For D&D Next?

Am I ready for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons? It is an interesting question because – at the moment – I am very content with the 4th Edition campaigns I am either running or playing. I’ve been playing 4e for over two years, and I certainly plan to see the campaigns through to Level 30. But I imagine our groups will launch into the next version of D&D in some capacity when it is released.

During the past week, I’ve read with great interest the reactions by fans, designers and other members of the D&D community. A poll at EN World, which already has over 1,700 responses, demonstrates that approximately 60% of respondents are feeling positive about the news, while 30% are neutral and 10% are feeling negative about the next edition. Since 90% of the respondents do not hate the idea of another iteration of D&D, I think this is a positive sign for the game to at least get a chance to succeed. However, another way to interpret the data is that 40% of the respondents are not feeling positive about D&D Next, which is currently the default name for the new edition.

The following article is another instance of taking a theory from psychology, the Transtheoretical Model (pictured below), and applying it to gaming. In this case, I’ll be discussing a model that describes the process of change. The model address a variety of stages in terms of preparedness to change, and I believe the model may assist everyone in understanding how ready and willing players of earlier editions are to change over to D&D Next. Change is often conceptualized as an “all or nothing” behavior, but in reality, it is a multi-stage process.

Source: Graphic taken from AdultMeducation.com; Adapted from DiClemente and Prochaska, 1998

Through the article below, I discuss stages-of-change through the lens of my previous work as a smoking-cessation counselor, which brings me to a very important caveat. While smoking is an unhealthy behavior, playing an earlier edition of D&D is not an unhealthy behavior! There is nothing inherently wrong about deciding not to play the new version of D&D whenever it is released. There are no judgements here! However, the commentary and examples below illustrate the concepts and different stages of the Transtheoretical Model, which can be applied to individuals and their decision-making process of whether or not to play D&D Next when it is released.

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Diffusion of Responsibility & Open Playtesting

I am convinced the concept of diffusion of responsibility saved my life. About 10 years ago, I was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico with my later-to-be wife while on a cruise. I am a notoriously bad swimmer but in a slightly inebriated hazed over-estimated my ability to swim out to a floating dock. After a final push to swim to reach the dock, I looked up and realized it was still a good 30 yards away. Then I started to go underwater.

Cozumel. Where I almost died 10 years ago.

My wife, an avid swimmer who had taken lifeguarding lessons in earlier days, noticed that I was struggling and tried her best to keep me above the water. However, she was on vacation – not caring for little kids running around a community pool – so her training failed and she panicked. As we now both started to sink, I had a clear thought in my mind, “I am NOT dying like this!”

My wife and I were fairly isolated in the water and I realized calling out for help might not produce quick results. I yelled at one man about 20 yards away and got his attention. As I was losing energy to stay above water, I told him we please needed help. He swam over quickly and went to help my wife, which sparked the hilarious line, “No, it’s not me. It’s HIM.”

The man easily kept me afloat while my wife caught the attention of a young guy on a kayak. They placed my gasping body on the kayak and slowly brought be back to shore like some type of bizarre Viking funeral. Shaken on the beach, I cleared my head and thought, “Diffusion of responsibility saved my life.”

Below, I define diffusion of responsibility and humbly discuss how it could relate to the open playtest Wizards of the Coast is conducting for the next version of Dungeons & Dragons. 

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Let The Speculation Begin!

I was once again fortunate to be invited on a podcast this week, but this time it was to discuss the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons on Dice Monkey Radio. To begin, if by some chance you are learning on the new edition for the first time through this site, then I’m quite honored! Second, I originally planned to gather all of the news and reactions to the announcement in one post but Jeremy Morgan at Stormin’ Da Castle has already done that quite well. Check out his site if you need to get caught up or determine if you’ve missed anything in the flurry of activity since the news was announced on Monday morning.

It is an exciting time to be a fan of D&D, and it was excellent to join in on the Dice Monkey Radio podcast to discuss the next edition and begin speculation. I was able to join Tim from Dice, Food, Lodging, Jenn of Jennisodes, Michael of Online Dungeon Master, Gary of GMSarli Games and host, Mark of Dice Monkey.

It was great to hear reactions from more-experienced players and DMs than I, and I was able to ask some questions about the evolution of game mechanics. I found myself feeling the need to “defend” 4th Edition. Not that anyone was bashing the current edition (not at all), but 4th Edition is what brought me back to gaming after close to a 20-year break. It’s always going to reside in a soft spot in my heart, and I truly believe it has some fantastic features going for it that hopefully make it into the next iteration of D&D.

It’ll be my first exposure to “edition wars” moving forward since I haven’t played D&D at a time when one edition transitioned to the next. It should be very interesting! I enjoy my 4th Edition campaigns and those will continue. In addition, I will keep writing about 4th Edition and general D&D and role-playing game topics moving forward. Next week, I will focus on the concepts of change and responsible as it applies to the new edition of D&D.

But enough about me, go listen to the episode!

Discussing Optimizers With Misfits

I recently had the pleasure of being invited on the Level Up podcast hosted by the fine folks at Roving Band of Misfits. I cannot thank them enough for asking me onto the show. The focus of the episode is Character Optimization, and how to deal with players that may go “too far” or “not far enough” with optimizing their character.

It is an interesting topic because it relates to many group dynamics I have discussed previously on this site. My primary piece of advice is to evaluate the attitude of all players in the group regarding optimization, and figure out if there is a disconnect that creates tension. We discuss a variety of potential problems that can arise if one or two players are “optimizers” while the rest of the players are more “casual.” And we attempt to provide solutions for how to get everyone on the same page so all players can enjoy the game at their own pace. The conversation was enlightening to me, and makes me feel fortunate that my groups have not experienced much in terms of optimizer/non-optimizer squabbles!

(It also allowed me to receive feedback on my Rogue’s one-round 2 Encounter, 1 Daily, Action Point, 1 Daily combination that another player [frequent Commentor on the blog, Wayne] helped me plan for at Level 15. Do the hosts find it to be ridiculous? Find out!)

One point of clarification I’d like to add before you listen is that I responded to a question with an answer that – in retrospect – may seem harsh. I was asked, “What is the opposite of a character that is optimized?”

My first response was, “Ineffective.”

I believe I said this because Dungeons & Dragons is a game that requires the players to have some mastery over rules and the abilities/nuances of their characters. While often referred to as a cooperative game, the players are still facing challenges both in and out of combat. A character with woeful statistics can be a drag on party resources. It reminds me of a saying from the sporting world, “The team is only as good as its worse player.”

But one thing that optimization takes is time. It takes more time to understand the rules and options thoroughly enough to build a character that can take advantage of (some might say exploit) the system. And many people do not have the time – or motivation – to explore the many options to build such a finely-tuned character. I would guess that most players fall into this category; their characters are built casually with one eye toward creating an effective character and the other eye on the million other things going on in his or her life. I certainly fall into this category.

If we were to conceptualize Character Optimization as a single variable, the lowest scores would place characters in the “Ineffective” range while the highest scores would place characters in the “Effective” range. The problems likely arise when players in the same group are at different ends of this spectrum or – perhaps more accurately – perceive they are at different ends of the spectrum. Changing the language from “optimized” to “effective” may help to understand the conflict that could arise between a player and DM, and two or more players.

The players play to win the game, and some of them may have different ideas of how to win the game – or even what winning the game means. It is a worthwhile topic to explore with your gaming group, and one way to approach the optimization “Cheese Weasel” issue.

Now go listen to the podcast for more discussion on the topic!

No Assembly Required: Wobet

Welcome to the January 2012 Edition of No Assembly Required, a monthly column that provides DMs with a ready-to-use monster for a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. The monster can of course be adjusted for other gaming systems as well. Each monster in the series is displayed complete with Stat Block, Lore, Tactics, Power Descriptions and potential plotlines that a DM can use in a campaign.

Of special note is the spectacular artwork provided by Grant Gould. He previously designed the mascot for my blog, Iddy the Lich, and is illustrating each monster in the No Assembly Required series. He also developed the sweet logo below for the column. Visit his site to learn about commission pricing and view galleries of artwork.

Previous editions of No Assembly Required were hosted at This is My Game, but I have decided to post the entries here moving forward. Please be sure to come back at the beginning of each month for a new monster that can be used in your campaign. Batteries Included! This month, I present a monster for the late Paragon Tier, Wobet. Design and details are below.

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