Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Earlier this week I sat down with some friends for the first time in many months (if not years) to play a session of Dungeons & Dragons. I prepared the players ahead of time to start the Curse of Strahd (CoS) adventure, and decided to use the Death House mini-adventure (CoS, Appendix B, pg. 211) to introduce the players to the flavor of Barovia. In reading through Death House, I was impressed with the gothic horror elements of the story. At the same time, I was concerned about the pace of the story and the lack of combat early in the house. This article provides some ideas on props that can be used to add more player engagement to Death House without simply adding more monsters to fight.

*** If you are a player (especially a player in my campaign), then I suggest stopping now. Spoilers for Death House are peppered throughout the article. ***

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Add More Life to the Party


Count Strahd von Zarovich

A combination of newfound free time and fresh blood has resulted in realistic plans to get a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign running amongst my friends. Of all the new D&D adventure settings, I selected Curse of Strahd. I remember the old Raveloft module, although I never got to play it. I did win a sealed copy – that was handed to me by DM-to-the-Stars, Chris Perkins – at GenCon 2012, and it remains sealed in a box of D&D 4th Edition materials in the “Harry Potter” room under the stairs of our house. My excitement to start a campaign and get back into the DM chair is fun to embrace, and I am eagerly cooking up methods to hit the ground running with our new group.

One aspect of running a campaign that I thoroughly appreciate is weaving in the backstory elements of each player into the game sessions. Whenever a player takes the time to create a backstory, I want to reward that in a meaningful way. The nice thing about 5th Edition D&D is the Player’s Handbook gives players reference tables to craft a backstory through Backgrounds, which provide ideas for Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws. My hope for the new campaign is to add another layer to the character creation process to increase the interconnectedness of the party.

And to accomplish this I borrowed from my recent experiences playing the terrific boardgame, Pandemic Legacy.

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Hearthstone Session #4 – Father Gabriel, Silence Priest

TWD Gabriel

Father Gabriel Stokes

My last video focused on Netdecking and one piece of advice I offered was that it is useful to go online and find out what decks are currently competitive in the Ranked format. This time around I decided to go 180 degrees and create a deck that I have yet to run across as a significant template in today’s meta.

The result is Father Gabriel, Silence Priest!

The idea for this deck began with trying to determine the best way to make a different type of APD (Annoying Priest Deck), and find a way to use the Silence mechanic against my minions as a weapon to bludgeon the opponent.
I collected some of my games below for you to see the deck in action; there is also an explanation of the deck’s strategy. There is likely room to improve on the deck’s design. I encourage people to experiment with the deck and let me know how your games go as well as what changes you’d make to the deck.
wailing soul
Father Gabriel’s Strategy
There are only a handful of Silence cards in the game, and Priest has two of the only options in Silence (0 mana) and Mass Dispel (4 mana). The Silence spell targets one minion while Mass Dispel targets all enemy minions while also drawing a card. Meanwhile, there are four minions in Hearthstone that use the Silence mechanic: Ironbeak Owl (2 mana), Light’s Champion (3 mana), Spellbreaker (4 mana), and Wailing Soul (4 mana).
Ironbeak Owl sees quite a bit of play as it is a low-cost minion that can significantly affect the opponent’s strategy by removing buffs or a Taunt. Light’s Champion can only silence a demon as a Battlecry, which seems extremely weak to include in most decks, and Spellbreaker also silences a single minion though it costs more at 4 mana and is less likely to be a good fit for most decks. Which brings us to Wailing Soul – a card that I honestly forgot existed because I never see it in Ranked play and ignore it whenever it pops up as an option in Arena. Wailing Soul is a 3/5 for 4 mana and as a Battlecry is silences YOUR other minions. One thing I learned (by accident) in my games is that Wailing Soul obliterates Freeze Mage. Being able to unfreeze all your minions at once is glorious!
Now we’re cooking with gas!
father gabriel

Silence (x2) not pictured.

Wailing Soul is a card that can be played as early as Turn 3 (with the Coin) to alter the minions on your side of the board. There are numerous minions that could be played early and then benefit from Wailing Soul being played later:

  • Ancient Watcher (4/5 for 2 mana that cannot attack)
  • Ogre Brute (4/4 for 3 mana that has a 50% chance to attack the wrong target)
  • Eerie Statue (7/7 for 4 mana that can only attack if its the only minion on the board)
  • Fel Reaver (8/8 for 5 mana that triggers 3 cards being burned for each card your opponents plays)
The cards above feature above-average statistics though they each have a problematic drawback. The purpose of Father Gabriel is to play these cards in a way that eliminates their problems before they affect the game. The deck has six cards that can Silence one or more of these minions, in addition to copies of Sunfury Protector and Defender of Argus. These cards can apply Taunt to minions like Eerie Watcher, so even if you don’t draw into a Silence card, you can still get some value from it be forcing your opponent to clear it out of the way.
In testing out this deck, I had some humorous moments when opponents did not know what to do – even when minions such as Ancient Watcher an Eerie Statue are not silenced yet. Once I was able to attack with the first copy, they typically (after much thought and delay) responded by using resources to clear those minions off the board. Watching a Face Hunter shift gears midgame to clear minions was delightful.
Meanwhile, Sir Finley Mrrgglton can give you a different hero power if you draw him early. For example, there are several games when I was able to switch to the Hunter hero power and that helped to wear down opponents quickly. Other fine powers from Sir Finley are Druid, Mage and Warlock, as the first two can help with board removal and the last can assist with drawing the cards you need to facilitate the Silence or Taunt combinations.
ancient watcherIn terms of Mulligans, it is great if you can get an Ancient Watcher in your opening hand. Being able to play this on Turn 1 (with Coin) or 2 sets up good value the rest of the way – as any Silence or Taunt cards can make it something the opponent has to deal with. The card is tough for opposing Priests since it avoids both Shadow Word: Pain and Shadow Word: Death with its 4 attack. Games are a bit more strenuous if you’re not able to get an early Ancient Watcher on the board, so certainly prioritize getting this or Ogre Brute in your opening hand.
At first, I tried to incorporate the Shadowpriest options to deal damage to the opponent’s minions and hero through Auchenai Soulpriest and Shadowform. I have been on the receiving end of the Turn 4 or 5 Auchenai Soulpriet + Circle of Healing boardclear to know how that combination works, so I tried to employ it for my own devices for a change. Sadly, those cards seemed to interfere with drawing tools I needed to get my minions off and running – so I removed them from the deck.
I continue to experiment with Father Gabriel. It is fun when that is started to yield some success in Ranked. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts!
ps. Priests are the worse!


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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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Hearthstone Session #3 – Netdecking

When I first started to play Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft more often, I sought out advice on how to improve my skill in the game. The popularity of Hearthstone has resulted in many outlets to learn about the game, which I will detail in a later post. One option for players is to look at successful decks and use those decks in his or her games. This process is known as netdecking, which Urban Dictionary defines as:

The process of stealing a tournament winning TCG/OCG/CCG decklist from a discussion forum and replicating it. Implies a lack of creativity and desire to do nothing other than win in the player.

Stealing! Lack of creativity! Desire to do nothing!

Netdecking has a strong negative connotation among some that play Hearthstone while others are supportive of it. In the video below, I present my thoughts on netdecking and return to earlier points I made about watching professional players at a higher skill level than me.

eggoAlso in the video is a game with a new decklist I found from a Legend-ranked Hearthstone player on Twitter. In recent weeks, I have been mostly playing a Secret Paladin and I felt it was time for a change of pace. I considered running an Egg Druid decklist, but decided to stick with Paladin. The decklist for Eggo the Paladin relies on several low-cost minions to get extreme value out of each turn, make efficient trades on the board, and stymie the opponent with Taunts and Secrets. I struggled with the deck at first, but have used it to move from Rank 10 to Rank 6 over the weekend.

When the deck is running well, the Dragon Egg and Nerubian Egg create additional minions to swarm the board. Minions such as Abusive Sergeant, Keeper of Uldaman, and Defender of Argus can boost those minions to make them more of a threat, not to mention the Blessing of Kings spell. Eggo’s minions should be able to trade favorably with most things the opponent can throw down and it sets the stage for finishers like Mysterious Challenger, Dr. Boom, and Tirion.

Perhaps my favorite moment from the weekend was beating a Priest (I have a terrible record against them) after they used all their clever Priest tools to negate my deck, only to have Tirion appear when I killed off their Deathlord and Tirion reappeared after their Shadow Word: Death because my Redemption secret was active. I always lose to Priest; it was nice to win one of those games!

In summary, expose yourself to experienced players that have likely spent a lot of time crafting decks and trying to make them competitive. However, instead of simply “stealing” the decklist, consider why the deck is effective. What problems does it cause for the opponent? What are the useful synergies in the deck, and how could you exploit similar synergies with other heroes or cards? By exposing yourself to new decklists and styles of play, the overall level of your strategy and understanding of Hearthstone is likely to increase.

Good luck!

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Iddy Approved: Darkest Dungeon

Another game has broken the stranglehold Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has on me in recent months. That game is Darkest Dungeon, and you can download it right now for an affordable $25 on PC or Mac.

You should do that right now – or at least after you read the rest of this article.

Darkest Dungeon features many elements of a successful roleplaying game. The RPG formula works so well because it is based on the backbone of behavioral psychology. When a player is rewarded for a certain behavior, then they are more likely to engage in that behavior again – and again – and again. Whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons, Diablo, or the endless variety of mobile games that are Skinner boxes in disguise (I’m looking at you, Mola! Mola!), the formula of taking a character and leveling that character up through repeated quests and objectives is brutally effective. It works amazingly well! Darkest Dungeon takes those successful RPG elements and blends them into a system that constantly asks the player, “Is the potential risk worth the possible reward?”


The heightened tension created by these, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” moments is palpable. Darkest Dungeon is relentless as it even turns the RPG troupe of finding items in crates, cabinets, and bookcases into a risk/reward dilemma. For example, searching through a bookcase could yield valuable treasure, which can be used to upgrade heroes. But it could also result in the hero reading a book that contains a disturbing passage, which imposes an ongoing penalty that requires treatment to cure back in town.

The game forces the player to re-evaluate how he or she typically approaches RPGs. If the player simply searches through every crate, cabinet, and altar they find without any care for consequences, then they are left with heroes that are riddled with problematic quirks. Those quirks cost gold to treat, and gold is a precious commodity used to upgrade heroes, services in town, and is also needed to buy gear such as food and torches before each adventure. The player must balance managing the needs of their hero roster while also looking ahead to the next challenge in the dungeons.

Yes, there is quite a bit of middle management in the game and the reviewer from Wired offered, “Darkest Dungeon is a mean, capricious game. Success is a gambler’s thrill, addictive and illicit. It comes rarely.” Below I outline the reasons why I find Darkest Dungeon so enjoyable because “each expedition is a slowly unravelling disaster.” I conclude with tips on enhancing your Darkest Dungeon experience based on my time playing the game thus far.

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Hearthstone Session #2 -Managing Anger & Making Friends

In February, I climbed as high as Rank 4 in the Ranked ladder format in Hearthstone. It is – by far – the most success I have had on the ladder, and it likely boils down to three primary reasons. First, I am playing many more games in recent weeks, which has given me a clear sense of the current popular decks. Second, I’m learning how to best counter other popular decks while making better plays with my own cards – practice, practice, practice! Third, I was able to save up enough dust to create Archmage Antonidas, which is a Legendary card I did not possess. My Tempo Mage deck often ran out of steam in some games, and Antonidas is an excellent late-game closer.

The Tempo Mage deck is heavy on RNG (random number generator) effects. For example, the spell Unstable Portal gives the players a new minion card at a discounted mana cost. It could be ANY minion in the game. If Unstable Portal spits out a high-cost, Legendary card then suddenly I have a huge temp advantage over my opponent. However, Unstable Portal can pop out a weak minion (I’m looking at you, Stonetusk Boar!) and then the spell puts you behind your opponent. Tempo Mage decks are solid, but a few good RNG moments can make them great.

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