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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Posted in D&D Next, DM Advice, PC Behavior, Research, Wizards of the Coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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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Rolling Out 5th Edition

Yavin assisted with game preparations.

Yavin assisted with game preparations.

After years of development and playtesting, the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons is upon us. My initial impressions of the free-to-download Basic Rules and Starter Set were favorable, and I was eager to play a few sessions with the new rules. After deciding that I would dust off my Dungeon Master screen and run the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, I needed to find an intrepid group of characters. I had the privilege of leading five players through the first major delve described in the Starter Set. What follows are my early thoughts on running the new rules and Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure over the course of an epic, 10-hour session with a specific focus on character creation, combat speed, combat presentation, and character death. Specific details contained in the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure are avoided, so players awaiting a chance to play the adventure can read further without having a future gaming experience spoiled.

Character Creation

Each player ignored the pre-generated characters included in the Starter Set and created their own. While I was organizing a few last-minute details before the session got underway, the players helped each other create and finalize their character. It was a fun process, although it certainly took a good chunk of time as each player was searching for different rules at different times. A few people stumbled with the different modifiers and when they should be applied. For example, a weapon proficiency bonus is added to attack rolls, not damage rolls. The Passive Perception, Saving Throw, and Skills also took some time to calculate. I imagine (and hope) the Player’s Handbook will be more organized for character creation than the Basic Rules approach.

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But Now Here You Are, And Here I Am


Dragons! Dungeons! Onward!!

It has been approximately two years since I last played Dungeons & Dragons. I have supplemented my lack of D&D goodness with other roleplaying games such as Blade Raiders and Star War Edge of the Empire, and fun distractions like SolForge. But now that the next edition of D&D is alive and finally a real thing, I am quite excited to dive in, kick the tires, and butcher any number of metaphors while discussing the rules – and hopefully many future gaming sessions to follow.

During the past few days, I have read through some of the Basic Rules, which are available for free, and the Starter Set Rulebook. The following observations are from the perspective of a player and Dungeon Master that truly cut his teeth on 4th Edition, which may make me a bit of a rarity. And they are also made having not played the game yet. I am eager to try the rules and see if my initial impressions are accurate – or completely misguided. Below, I write about a few rules that caught my attention – for better or worse.

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Free Dungeons & Dragons!

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about Dungeons & Dragons, but today’s news that the upcoming edition will release the core rules for the system through a free downloadable PDF has caught my attention. Mike Mearls’ announced that Basic Dungeons & Dragons will be available at no cost, “Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.” Basic D&D will include rules to create characters (up to 20th level), essential monsters, magic items, and information needed to run adventures in wilderness, dungeon and urban environments. So after two-plus years of product development by a team of talented designers and playtesting by legions of fans, the core components of “the greatest gaming hobby ever invented” will be given away – for free.

The news strikes a chord for me because the future of roleplaying game distribution is something I have written about previously. In November 2012 – back when the game was being referred to as D&D Next – I explored how the concept of non-ownership would likely affect roleplaying games:

It seems safe to say that exploring viable digital distribution systems is essential to the future growth – and survival – of tabletop roleplaying games. The old way of buying books, movies and music are fading away and being replaced with new means of product delivery. Without innovation to meet the demands of those who prefer non-ownership, RPGs will suffer a nasty fate...

To summarize, non-ownership is the general trend for consumers to be perfectly content to not own a product. For example, many people no longer purchase physical copies of movies or music; instead, they purchase a subscription to a service like Netflix or Spotify. Even when people do purchase media such as books or music, many of the purchases are digital (e.g., Kindle, iTunes) and no physical product is passed along to the consumer.

Wizards of the Coast is speaking loudly to the non-owners out there, “Welcome to the party.”

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