Bard On!

The Bard is a class that I never played before, so when I was invited to play in a new Tomb of Annihilation campaign earlier this year – I figured it was time to give it a try. I lived vicariously through the exploits of other players talking about Bards and celebrating them through social media. The concept of playing a Bard always seemed enjoyable to me; it’s a character with high charisma that can solve problems in unique ways and bolster the efforts of the rest of the party. When playing in a campaign, I typically like to be up-close and personal in melee range making attacks and eliminating monsters, so playing a character that does not exactly shine in one-on-one combat would be a stretch.

I took on the challenge!

Character Development

One thing I wanted to do with the Bard was come up with a relatively simple backstory that did not rely on the character going through significant traumatic experiences early in life. Perhaps influenced by recent fatherhood, I created a character that is a family man first, performer second, and adventurer third. He’s got a stable home, a spouse, several children, and he travels the Realm from time to time to perform his music and assist other adventurers.

During our first session, I even had him ask the first major NPC we encountered, Syndra Silvane, to send money to his family in the event that he did not survive the quest to locate the Soulmonger. It was interesting to roleplay a character that expressed hesitation about the perils of adventuring rather than being eager to run in the direction of the next big, bad evil thing.

When creating my Bard, I thought about his name for a long time.

A very long, long time.

I borrowed/stole a device from Saga and named him The Stone. For a few moments before my son was born, I thought about Stone as a possible name; my wife wasn’t as keen on the idea. Pearl Jam is my favorite band, and Stone Gossard is one of the members. Plus, I’ve been curling for the past 5-6 years, and the rocks in curling are often referred to as stones. My wife and I ultimately decided on the name, Hugo, for our son – mostly inspired from this lovable guy.

The Stone featuring Dirk

With the name locked in, The Stone, the next step was to find some art that inspired me. While creating the character, I noted that a Bard could specialize in a small variety of instruments. The instrument that jumped out to me was bagpipes. YES! My Bard is going to play the bagpipes, and that obnoxiously glorious noise will be a part of future gaming sessions. I thought about a band we saw at a Renaissance Festival many years ago, Tartanic, and how they were wildly entertaining with pipes and drums. The next step was to conduct an Image Search on Google for: bard bagpipes.

Yes, this guy is – without a doubt – The Stone.

Oh, he’s magnificent!

Swap out the jug for a hand crossbow and we are set! I sent a question to our Dungeon Master, and asked if The Stone could have a companion animal. I clarified that the only thing the dog would do is carry around a tip jar on his back for times when The Stone performs. She enjoyed the idea, and allowed it, which has provided for some hilarious situations as The Stone tends to his pet in the severe jungles of Chult!

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Build a Darkest Dungeons & Dragons

It is fair to say that Darkest Dungeon has captured my attention and imagination in recent weeks. The game’s aesthetic vividly portrays how exploring dungeons and fighting foul monsters is a dangerous business. Heroes suffer physical wounds, yes, but it is the mental strain and suffering that often causes more complications and difficulty. It seems to be a wonderful concept to merge with an adventure in Dungeons & Dragons, and the good news is the foundation for building a Darkest Dungeons & Dragons adventure is already there in the latest Dungeon Master’s Guide.

How can the Dungeon Master add a new mechanic that forces additional strain on the players while still increasing the enjoyment factor for everyone at the table?

That question is tackled in this article!

Failure Is An Option

Before launching into the mechanics of building a Darkest Dungeons & Dragons, a topic that should be addressed is failure. Colleagues have written about failure in roleplaying games for years. Scott Rehm (The Angry GM) defined failure as “the loss of a goal or opportunity” and discussed common (“stupid”) myths about failure in RPGs. Mike Shea (Sly Flourish) educated DMs on how to move away from mechanics and rules that result in only “either success or failure.” I previously wrote articles on how to roleplay failure for monsters in an encounter to make those setbacks for the DM more enjoyable and engaging to the players. The collective wisdom on this topic indicates that players of an RPG should be ready, willing, and able to continue with the story of the game regardless of success or failure.

Darkest Dungeon Madness
The mind cannot withstand such an assault.

That means DMs should avoid creating scenarios that can only be accomplished in a single, specific manner while players should be encouraged to continue playing their characters if they win, lose, or go sideways. This means that failure should remain an option for everyone at the table. As a DM, help the players be ready for contingencies. During game preparation, DMs often consider how to react if the players decide on taking one action or another. As a player, I was more of a straight-line thinker and struggled when the “next move” in an adventure was not clearly defined. The DM can assist players by feeding them possible options if they are greeted with failure – often through a timely NPC – and reward players for responding to setbacks with creative solutions. This atmosphere will eventually redefine success from “we killed the monsters, saved the day, and collected a ton of loot” to “we all got together and told one heck of story.”

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Undone – The DungeonScape Song

Trapdoor LogoWhen Codename: Morningstar was announced earlier this year, players of Dungeons & Dragons greeted the news with a mixture of interest and apprehension. Veteran players of 4th Edition D&D had used the digital tools created by Wizards of the Coast for years with mixed results. The Character Builder certainly assisted in organizing the cumbersome process of character creation and maintenance, though its reliance on Silverlight was an issue for some. The Monster Builder was useful for certain functions, but other user-created tools (i.e., Masterplan) offered greater flexibility and functionality at a lower cost for designing and organizing monsters. Meanwhile, the Virtual Tabletop and was abandoned altogether, and other promised DM Tools never surfaced. Wizards of the Coast and Trapdoor Technologies, the development team for Codename: Morningstar, set out to renew hope that a functional digital toolset for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragon was possible.

Codename: Morningstar reintroduced itself as DungeonScape at Gen Con this summer. Since hosting a number of prominent online community members to demonstrate the functionality of DungeonScape, the team has attempted to answer questions and roll out a working product for players of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. A beta project was underway, and it seemed as if DungeonScape would soon be released. However, Trapdoor Technologies announced last month they would no longer be partners with Wizards of the Coast. Wizards followed up with a brief statement saying that the relationship with Trapdoor Technologies had been terminated, leaving the future of a licensed digital toolset for 5th Edition up in the air.

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Dungeon Master’s Guide Preview: Building Memorable NPCs

The cover for the new Dungeon Master’s Guide features a powerful lich who bears a striking resemblance to Iddy the Lich, the mascot for this blog. I have joked about Iddy being on the cover of the DMG on occasion through Twitter with team members from Wizards of the Coast in the hope that they would allow me to preview some pages before the book is released. Without burying the lead, the team at Wizards was gracious enough to send me two pages from the manual to share with the community!

If you Photoshop his staff to hold a d6, then it's basically the same character!
You would not like Iddy when he’s angry!

Many of the articles I have written about Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop gaming have been influenced by my background as a licensed psychologist. The team at Wizards thought it was fitting to provide me with two pages with details on how to create non-playable characters (NPCs) with personality. Below, I present the pages on NPCs, demonstrate how to use the tables to create four NPCs, and discuss how the Big Five personality traits can be used to develop memorable NPCs.

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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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