Ego Check with The Id DM – Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler on Dungeons & Dragons: Wizards & Spells

Stacy King
Stacy King
Andrew Wheeler
Andrew Wheeler

I’m joined by Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler, two of the minds responsible for the wonderful Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide series. They talk about the latest entry, Wizards & Spells, and detail how they took the vast magical information in D&D and organized that into a clean framework for young readers (and us creaky adults!) to absorb. They talk about the joys of creating new Legendary Characters for the D&D universe and how choices were made to highlight specific spells and magical items.

Stacy and Andrew speak about their contributions to all books in the series and explain how the books fit together to form a coherent and warm invitation to all readers to play D&D. They respond to the glowing reception the books have received by an audience ranging in age, and briefly mention plans for the next two books in the series. These books are a treasure for any fan of D&D!

I previously had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Zub about the Young Adventurer’s Guides, so certainly check out that episode as well if you missed it when it first released!

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Curse With Purpose

I have been hesitant to give out Artifacts and Cursed Items to players in my Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Artifacts have intimidated me to a certain degree since it is one more facet of the game the players and I would need to track. I did not want to add another complication to the plot of the adventure, which has admittedly gotten away from me at times during the campaign. I could also never figure out how to adequately roleplay an Artifact, although experiencing the Narrator from Bastion gave me a fantastic template to bring an Artifact to life. I did give the party an Artifact in recent months, but they have ignored it for the most part (another article for another day).

“You have my axe . . . no, really, please take the bloody thing before it kills me!”

As for Cursed Items, I have been intrigued by them since reading through examples of items curses in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (p. 111-115). I am hesitant to punish players, and giving a player a cursed item certainly imposes a penalty on the player receiving the item and the party because the player with the item is now less effective. In a recent interview Monte Cook discussed the dangers of avoiding all forms of punishment as a game designer and DM. In recent sessions, several factors came together to grant me to opportunity to introduce a cursed item into the campaign.

Below I detail the circumstances that led to me giving out a cursed item to the players. I discuss how I provided clues to the players that the item was not all it appeared to be and emphasis how the item  fit into the story of the campaign. I discuss how the players have handled the discovery of the cursed item and conclude with alternatives to the specific Removing An Item Curse rules listed in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (p. 111), which seem quite anticlimactic.

Continue reading “Curse With Purpose”

Scarcity! When The Loot’s All Gone But You Must Go On, It’s Scarcity.

The title is much more effective if you start singing Tragedy by Bee Gees. And you are quite welcome since the song will likely stay in your mind for the better portion of the day! The good folks that brew and market beer for Saint Arnold Brewing Company have taught me a valuable lesson today. Saint Arnold is a local microbrew, and I am a huge fan of their products. Each year, they release “Divine Reserve” beers that are limited-edition and quite difficult to find. For several months, Saint Arnold has teased their customers with information about another limited-edition release for the Fall season – Saint Arnold Pumpkinator.

The release of the Pumpkinator was today, and it set off a frenzy by those hoping to get a taste of the beer. Calling different stores to see if they had any in stock resulted in the same-sounding weary and exasperated clerk answering the phone and stating before I could even utter a word, “We are out of Pumpkinator.” My wife attempted to call a few stores and one clerk laughed, “What is the deal with this pumpkin beer? Everyone is calling about it.”

Saint Arnold has a brewery in town and certainly a strong presence in local stores, but there are not mountains of advertising blasting the product. They have weekly tours, send out news bits through email once or twice a month and the company (and also the owner) posts through a Twitter feed. They have cultivated a rabid following, and their release of Pumpkinator is a testament to how well their strategy is working.

They are giving the customers what they want, but they sometimes make is very difficult for the customers to find what they want. It’s a tough balance act. The scarcity of Pumpkinator is driving interest and motivating people to drive all over the city in search of a single bottle of the brew. I find myself wondering, “How can I use scarcity to engage the players in my D&D campaign?” Perhaps I could do some things to create a similar sense of urgency to build up the players’ energy between and during gaming sessions. Continue reading “Scarcity! When The Loot’s All Gone But You Must Go On, It’s Scarcity.”

Ego Check: Andy Aiken, Creator of Masterplan

When I returned to the saddle for my first DM session in over 15 years, I was more than a bit anxious about the endeavor. I have previously discussed preparing music for the campaign and buying terrain to add bells and whistles to the night’s proceedings, but the task of organizing the rest of the materials required was also cumbersome. I printed out monster stats from the offline Monster Builder and carried books for background information and possible rule clarifications. I printed out lists of NPC names and possible plot points for the adventure that night. Needless to say, I was a frantic, unorganized mess!

It was months later that I learned of Masterplan through a post at NewbieDM. The brief post indicated the software was designed to help a DM create, plan and organize single encounters and lengthy adventures. I downloaded the program, and after muddling my way through without reading Tutorials, I learned to love Masterplan. I currently use it to plan out various adventure paths in my campaign, run combat and maintain an encyclopedia of NPCs, towns, objects and places. It has reduced my stress level and assisted me with being more organized and fluid at the gaming table.

Weeks ago, I came into contact with the creator of Masterplan, Andy Aiken. I was thrilled when he agreed to spend some time with me for an interview. Throughout the discussion, we cover the genesis of Masterplan, Andy’s philosophy in terms of upgrading the program, his relationship with Wizards of the Coast and future plans to develop tools that could enhance the DM’s ability in plot management. If you have never interacted with Masterplan, then check out the interview and learn more about the possibilities that lie within. And if – like me – you have used Masterplan to simplify your life as a DM, then read on to learn more about the man behind screen making it all happen.

Andy, thank you for agreeing to spend some time with me. I have been using Masterplan to organize my homebrew Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign for well over a year now. However, could you explain the application for those that may have never used it before?

Continue reading “Ego Check: Andy Aiken, Creator of Masterplan”

No Assembly Required – Aurora Izel

Last month, I introduced a new monthly column I am contributing to This Is My Game. The column, No Assembly Required, features a monster that can be inserted into a Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Each monster in the series includes comprehensive information including Origin, Lore, Combat Tactics, Power Descriptions and Stat Block. Visit This Is My Game to review this month’s monster, Aurora Izel.

Aurora Izel is a Paragon-Tier monster, but I used her for the finale of my Heroic Tier campaign. Her origin presents the adventuring party with interesting questions regarding diversity and religious tolerance. One of the driving forces for creating Aurora for my campaign was to increase the amount of diversity in my campaign, both in terms of gender and other factors. Below, the concept art for Aurora can be seen, which was illustrated by the spectacular Grant Gould.

Aurora Izel

Enjoy the new monster, and please post any questions or comments here or at This Is My Game, and come back next month for a new Heroic Tier monster

Dungeon Economics 101

Managing treasure parcels for the my players is always an interesting challenge for me while DMing. It takes zero preparation to dish out monetory rewards to the party, “The lair has been cleared of enemies. In the corner, you find a chest with 200 gp and a brilliant red gem that you estimate is worth 50 gold pieces (gp).” A DM can get creative with describing expensive jewelry and art objects and even tie them in to the plot of the campaign, but the party is simply going to sell the treasure and split the gold equally. Monetary treasure parcels are typically split evenly whereas magic-item treasure parcels create potential balance issues within the party. The DM needs to invest more time in ensuring a good balance of magic items are found so that all in the party benefit equally over time.

Gold, Gold, GOLD!

In addition, I find discovering treasure parcels and splitting them with my fellow party members entertaining as a player. But something about the economics of 4th Edition has always trouble me, and I was never able to put a figure out why. As a player, I’d look at the gp I have saved up from many levels of adventuring and look at the price of items and think, “I could save up forever and never afford a decent magic item. What else can I even do with this gold?” Months ago, I reached the conclusion that treasure parcels and the economics of D&D 4th Edition were “broken,” but I didn’t have anything to substantiate that belief.

I returned to the question last week, and decided to finally add some structure and data to my belief that the economics in 4e are a problem. My primary means of addressing the issue was returning to the suggested Treasure Parcel list that appears in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I wanted to know how much treasure an adventuring party can expect to earn during a Level 1-30 campaign. The graphs below illustrate the data, and a discussion of potential uses for the data follows. It turns out that my belief that the economy is broken may not be entirely accurate. And serious bonus points to anyone that understands the reference in the picture above!

Continue reading “Dungeon Economics 101”

Ego Check: Mike Shea of Sly Flourish

Before starting The Id DM, I spent many months reading articles from other gaming websites, and one of my most frequent stops was to Sly Flourish. When I started this blog, I had very modest expectations for how it would develop over time. I have been pleasantly surprised at every turn, and most recently had the great opportunity to interview the creator of Sly Flourish, Mike Shea. Mike was kind enough to devote a good chunk of time discussing a host of issues related to D&D 4th Edition.

In an extended back-and-forth dialogue, we discuss the evolution of D&D from 3rd to 4th Edition as well as the evolution of 4th Edition since it was released. We focus the conversation on topics such as monster design, combat speed and Epic Tier campaigns. Finally, he discusses the relationship between Wizards of the Coast and the thriving online community of devoted D&D gamers. So get comfortable, relax, take your shoes off and enjoy the latest installment of Ego Check with Mike Shea.

For the readers not already familiar with your work, can you introduce yourself and discuss how you were introduced to roleplaying games?

I’ll keep this short because it’s the part I skip when I read everyone else’s interviews. I’m a web technologist living in Washington DC with my wife, a fellow gamer, and our dog. I’m originally from Chicago and one of my little bits of fame comes from my father, Robert J. Shea, who wrote the cult science fiction novel Illuminatus.

I got started playing D&D with 2nd Edition when I was in high school. This switched to 3.5 after I moved to Washington DC. I started 4e when Keep of the Shadowfell came out, before the sourcebooks were even released, and I fell in love with it. 4e’s simplification of base mechanics mixed with a modular power system is, in my opinion, a great evolution in the mechanics of the game. I also love how much easier it is to build and customize monsters.

I started Sly Flourish because I wanted to do more than just run a game. I wanted to get involved in the community, carve a clear niche for myself, and provide a service that could help people become great 4th edition DMs.

Continue reading “Ego Check: Mike Shea of Sly Flourish”

Completing Heroic Tier Without Destroying the World

My campaign finally reached its Heroic Tier finale last weekend. If you can indulge me, I’d like to discuss the progression to the final string of battles and the ultimate climax that now has the party moving on to Paragon Tier. Along the way, I’ll cover few house rules that might improve your game and present my creative process, which is certainly fueled by desperation. I realize discussing my campaign at length like this could be boring, but perhaps you can learn from some mistakes I made during the first 10 Levels in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.

The seeds for the final string of encounters were planted during the first night of the campaign. The party woke up from being unconscious and found themselves in prison at the start of Level 1. An attack from an unknown source on the prison distracted the guards and allowed the party to exit the jail. But along the way, they interacted with another prisoner that begged for freedom. They allowed him to escape; many months later, they learned the NPC they released was a notorious pirate that was plaguing the coast. They were tasked with bringing the pirate, Captain Lockes, to justice.

The pirate plot lasted for several months (we play every other Friday if schedules permit). The party had to find a ship, discover the source of the pirate attacks, and capture Lockes. Instead of establishing a straight line to that goal, I allowed the party to branch off in various directions. As they did this, the base for Captain Lockes and the pirate band took on a life of its own.

I used Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) to make the following map of Ernsmaw Island. I asked one of the players in the party to come up with rumors of a pirate island. His Halfling Rogue had a background of working on riverboats and it made sense that he would hear such rumors. I gave the player a few brief prompts and let him run with the rumors, informing him that some would likely be true while others would be false information. He came up with a name that was a bit too long, so I chopped it down to Ernsmaw Island. CC3 is a fun program to use and quite powerful once you learn the controls. I have only scratched the surface of what it is capable of, but I’m happy with the island below.

The mysterious Ernsmaw Island.

The party found the map after patrolling the coast and battling a lesser pirate, Lezoe. I borrowed heavily from the Waves of Fate downloadable delve at Sarah Darkmagic to relieve some of the burden of encounter planning. During the battle with Lezoe, I spent some type crafting (literally) a special healing potion for the group. I used the old Character Builder to modify a potion and created Lezoe’s Rot Gut. The potion allows the PC to spend a healing surge but gain double the surge value; however, the PC suffers a -2 to Reflex and Fortitude until the end of the encounter.

Continue reading “Completing Heroic Tier Without Destroying the World”

Fountain of Sorrow: Solo Contest Winner

Last month, David Flor over at A Walk In The Dark sent out notice that he was running a contest. The challenge was for DMs to create an encounter for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition with a Solo monster. David listed the rules for the contest, but two caught my eye immediately:

The minimum requirement must be a single, actual encounter with a SOLO creature. You can add anything you want in and around the encounter – skill challenge, trap, hazard, special terrain, magic effects, other monsters, etc… – but the main adversary must be a solo monster and it must be an actual tactical encounter in which the solo monster must be defeated (Note: “defeated” need not mean “dead”).

The area must contain some sort of “pool, fountain or basin”, and it must have some meaning to the encounter beyond being set decoration. We will leave the interpretation of that to you.

I have been creating unique monsters for my homebrew campaign and was in the process of experimenting with Solo monster ideas when I learned of the contest. I considered a variety of ideas for including a “pool, fountain or basin,” but the one idea I really enjoyed was that the fountain was the Solo monster. I had recently received and was likely influenced by Monster Manual 3, which includes background information and stat blocks for Mimics.

The Fountain Mimic

I decided the encounter would include a fountain, and the fountain would be the Solo monster. Once I arrived at that decision, everything else flowed (no pun intended) from there. Ten pages later, I submitted the following encounter for the contest:

Download Fountain of Sorrow

I learned last week that I was one of the winners for the Solo contest. I encourage everyone to check out the four winning entries posted at A Walk In The Dark. Each adventure would be a fine addition to your campaign and may give you ideas for encounters and quests with your group. I would like to thank David Flor for running the contest . . . and not holding it against me that I named the primary villain in Fountain of Sorrow “Divad,” which is his name spelled backward.

One final note, I wish I would have found the Fountain Monster image above earlier to include in the contest entry. I discovered the image on an interesting Swedish blog just recently, and wanted to ensure the creator got her credit.

Magic Item Dispersal: New Players, Old Problems

I ran into a situation recently where a player pointed out the discrepancy between the levels of magic items possessed by the characters that have played in the campaign from Level 1, and two characters that just joined the group last session at Level 10. I informed our two new players to use the basic formula for selecting equipment during the character creation process:

  • 1 Level +1 magic item
  • 1 Level magic item
  • 1 Level -1 magic item
  • Gold equal to Level -1 magic item

The new players wisely chose a weapon and armor for two of the three “free” magic items, meaning they are starting with an 11th and 10th level magic item for the weapon and armor. The third “free” magic item is typically going to be a neck slot item, which boosts defenses and grants other helpful properties. I think of the trinity of Weapon, Armor and Neck as the player’s main gear. Others may disagree with this distinction; a two-weapon striker would likely consider both weapons and their armor as main gear. You can analyze the magic items for your party whoever you wish; this system made the most sense to me. As a result, a Level 10 character joining the party will have main gear items of Level 11, 10, and 9 to start the adventure. Plus, he or she will still have 4,200gp to spend on other equipment.

"It's mine!" "No, it's mine!"

Compared to the long-time players in my campaign, they new PCs are perhaps overloaded with high-level magic items for their main gear. This presents a bit of a problem for me as a DM. First, I don’t consider myself to be stingy with magic items but the new PC equipment formula makes me rethink that; perhaps I am stingy and didn’t realize it. Second, as a player in my group pointed out to me, it might be better for the long-time players to roll up a new character and start out with better gear than keep their current character. Obviously, the roleplaying component of the character is lost, but I’m strictly talking about combat and tactics in this post. I don’t want my long-time players to feel nerfed by new players with flashy gear. There are a few solutions to this. However, when in doubt, it is also helpful to obtain data instead of just going with initial hunches and opinions. Below is one method to track the magic items of your PCs and keep everyone happy with loot at your table.

Continue reading “Magic Item Dispersal: New Players, Old Problems”