Teos Abadia joins me once again to present his thoughts on visual aids in D&D adventures and how they may not accomplish their intended goals. He offers examples of graphics and flowcharts that do not seem to add helpful information to the DM as they attempt to run an adventure. We discuss player choice and the *illusion of player choice and how to incorporate both in a campaign. Teos address some common pitfalls in published D&D content and how that might be remedied in the future.
It was a great conversation, and I’m really pleased that he agreed to spend some time answering questions about a topic that has weighed on my mind recently!
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….the fantastical setting of Strixhaven University, drawn from the multiverse of Magic: The Gathering, and provides rules for creating characters who are students in one of its five colleges. Characters can explore the setting over the course of four adventures, which can be played together or on their own. Each adventure describes an academic year filled with scholarly pursuits, campus shenanigans, exciting friendships, hidden dangers, and perhaps even romance.
SIGN ME UP!
One element of running adventures or campaigns that feels intimidating to me is the expectation of scale – the notion that the adventuring party will bounce around to various towns, far-flung locations or even planes of existence. A good part of me wants to keep the players in a smaller area for a long period of time so they can get to know it and feel like they have some agency in what is happening around them. Instead sessions seem to advance into a series of “Go here, and do that” quests that take them all over a map or seven.
Another element that can be challenging is absorbing all the lore and information in recent D&D hardcover adventures. The adventures are a few hundred pages that the DM needs to be familiar with; and I’m aware you can pick and choose what you like from any one of these hardcover books – it remains heavy lifting to get started on settings that you might not know a lot about. I have not been able to juggle various factions, pivotal non-playable characters, and important locations when the setting feels otherworldly.
Stixhaven seems to provide a solution to these concerns in my mind because the setting is incredibly tangible – school!
I was a student for approximately half my life including graduate school. Rather than the party being a collective of adventurers off to seek fortune and fame (or some form of revenge/redemption), the party becomes a bunch of students on a campus. That makes sense to me.
What a glorious shift in the stakes!
The setting allows a DM and players to focus on goals that might link to experiences they have had as a person. How many D&D players have traveled the world battling monsters, explored ancient ruins or navigated trap-filled dungeons? Rather, how many of those same players have dealt with a teacher they adored or despised, faced a rivalry with another student or school, or stayed out late one night and got into a situation that became very complicated? Strixhaven gives gaming groups a greenlight to explore those situations while still being able to say, “Hey, let’s schedule a time to play D&D.”
I’m finding that to be a delightful idea, and I encourage folks to learn more about the Strixhaven setting through this free primer written by Anthony Joyce.
And Strixhaven will allow DMs to include aspects of Session 0 in the game world. For those unaware, Session 0 is a term used by tabletop roleplaying enthusiasts to describe the initial meeting of the gaming group where ground rules can be discussed and agreed upon before the game is played. Key elements of a Session 0 include expectations for the style of game that will be played (“Do we want all combat, all the time? A lot of story and roleplaying? A combination of both?”), house/table rules (“Are all rolls in the open? What’s the policy on attendance if we have to miss a game?”), and consent and safety tools (“What are topics you want to avoid at all costs during the game – such as graphic horror or abuse, suicide, racism, sexism?”). The discussion of expectations and agreeing upon ground rules by the players is a wonderful way to ensure that everyone at the table is aware of the game they – and everyone else – is playing.
Session 0 is incredibly useful, and it typically takes place outside of the gaming world. For example, a group of friends getting together to start a Ravenloft campaign might share some emails ahead or time and use the first session to work out expectations and boundaries mentioned above. After the flavor of the campaign, house rules, and consent/safety is agreed upon by the players, the DM might then transition to running a quick adventure in the gaming world before the end of the session. In my mind, Session 0 is about working with the players to set the stage so the adventure or campaign can begin with the greatest chance of success.
Strixhaven offers a unique setting that allows DMs to cover essential Session 0 content in the gaming world, which has spectacular possibilities! I discuss two options below.
Welcome to 2021! This week I’m joined by Mark Meredith and we start out 2021 by going in the “sorta-way-back machine” to discuss 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Mark Meredith. He has been writing for Dice Monkey for over 10 years and recently started to rediscover 4e with his family. He talks about surprising aspects of the edition after years away from it. He speaks to the forward-facing design and energy from the tactile nature of combat. We highlight some of our memories of the edition and focus on positive elements of the 4e experience. It was great fun to talk about the edition and it makes me want to play it again!
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Teos Abadia joins me to present his thoughts on visual aids in D&D adventures and how they may not accomplish their intended goals. He offers examples of graphics and flowcharts that do not seem to add helpful information to the DM as they attempt to run an adventure. We discuss player choice and the utility of the *illusion of player choice and how to incorporate both in a campaign. Teos address some common pitfalls in published D&D content and how that might be remedied in the future.
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!
Teos Abadia joins Ego Check once again to talk about how wonderfully diverse the tabletop roleplaying game hobby has become in recent years. He details how he got involved in the Acquisitions Incorporated book for Dungeons & Dragons, and speaks to the philosophy behind the unique approach to D&D content. He discusses his hand in refining the final segments of the AI adventure within the book, and how delightful it was to work with the other members of the team on the project.
Enjoy the 51st episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!
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Jim talks about his work in comics over the last 20 years that have landed him writing for characters such as Conan, The Avengers, Rick & Morty, and Black Panther. He talks about his long relationship with Dungeons & Dragons that was summarized in a recent Tedx Talk he gave, which I encourage everyone to watch below.
He discusses the genesis of the Young Adventurer’s Guides and how the idea grew from a simple pitch to a multi-book series that may continue to grow. He talks about why he felt the books needed to be created, and the philosophy behind how the books were designed including why it was important to have new art and a different structure from the typical Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. Jim also discusses his work on the upcoming Descent Into Avernus adventure for Dungeons & Dragons.
It was wonderful to speak with him and learn about the creative process behind the Young Adventurer’s Guides. I truly believe they are a wonderful entry point for young readers into D&D AND a refreshing source of inspiration for long-time players.
Enjoy the 50th (!!) episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!
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James Haeck, Lead Writer for D&D Beyond and Coauthor of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Critical Role’s Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting joins the pod to educate me about how Critical Role overlaps with elements of the RPG and D&D landscape – and how it also has carved its own niche. He discussed the evolution of Critical Role and how it only recently became an independent entity outside of Geek & Sundry and Legendary Digital Networks while also clarifying my prior misconceptions about Critical Role being “under” Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. James and I ponder what Critical Role’s success may mean for tabletop RPGs and empathize with individuals that may question the money that is being raised.
I disclose my initial interest and envy from the success, and we both discuss the perils of focusing on the successes and failures of others while trying to create content. I thank James for delving into these questions, and we both acknowledge our lack of adequate solutions for these dilemmas. I shift gears with James to ask about how he got involved in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and prod him for suggestions on how to get the most out of the content provided in the book. I selfishly wanted this information as my group my find their way into an urban setting soon! This is a worthy conversation, and I hope you give it a listen!
Enjoy the 40th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
I’m joined this week by Kyle Newman, one of the authors of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History. You may also know Kyle as the Director of Fanboys (2009) and Barely Lethal (2015). Kyle talked with me about the genesis of Art & Arcana and how the four authors came together on the project. He discusses how the book was originally organized and plotted out by the creative team, and how they navigated the balance between dissecting and celebrating the nostalgia of Dungeons & Dragons. I asked Kyle how mining nostalgia has been different in the Star Wars and D&D fandoms over the years. We focus on the segment of D&D history that covered 3.5, 4th and 5th Editions, and emphasis that we both enjoyed what 4th Edition had to offer. He clarified that he wrote most of the chapter on 4th Edition, and we discuss the community’s relationship with that era of D&D and how it led to the current 5th Edition. I asked him about the past two years of his archaeological delve into D&D’s history to learn where he thinks D&D will go next.
Tune in for the full context of his comment, “There will be a 6th Edition.”
Enjoy the 35th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana over the weekend by the kind folks at Wizards of the Coast and Ten Speed Press. My review and discussion of the book could be influenced by the fact that I was given a copy at no cost. However, I am confident I would find this book amazing if I paid the full price for it.
I was anticipating the mail over the weekend because I knew I would be receiving a copy of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, which is authored by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer; the book also has a foreward by Joe Manganiello. The mammoth book contains nearly 450 pages that span the game’s entire history. The one-page press release that accompanied the advance copy summarizes Art & Arcana well:
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill “art of…” book; rather, it’s more of an archaeology project that involved lots of needle-searching in haystacks….
The author team spared no expense in finding these pieces; unearthing sketches, memos and internal drafts of some of the game’s most iconic material; locating and interviewing early artists whose names had since been lost to D&D lore; gathering pristine products and obscure advertisements; and obtaining hard-to-get-licenses – a labor of love all leading to a previously unavailable visual archive and untold story about how D&D truly came to be. No matter what edition of D&D you play or played, or even if you are just a casual observer or pop culture enthusiast, this book will have something special for you.
Honestly, after I read the press release I wanted to immediately delve into some dungeons and fight some dragons!
Art & Arcana is a feast for your eyes as every page is lovingly curated to highlight moments from over four decades of Dungeons & Dragons history. From crude concept designs to massive, pristine spreads of iconic images, Art & Arcana will trigger those nostalgia neurons in your brain and cause your heart to skip a beat. No area seems taboo or off-limits as the book presents an overview of the rise and fall of Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with never-before-seen artifacts such as personal communications and invoices. The sale of D&D to Wizards of the Coast is also covered in detail as Art & Arcana provides commentary and context for the movements and development cycles of the game over the years. It’s clear the authors adore the game, though the book is willing to examine (and delightfully poke fun at times!) D&D’s potential shortcomings. The treasures in the book provide a feeling of, “Whoa!” as nuggets of information are organized in a visually pleasing and accessible manner across the pages.
Art & Arcana is beautiful to consume visually, and it is also quite educational. I imagine there are new details in here for even the most hardcore fans of D&D. For someone like myself that skipped about 15 years during the 2nd and 3rd Editions, the book is a master class on how – and more importantly, why – D&D evolved over the years. Art & Arcana also has a sense of humor about it that makes the book fun to read, and I read every piece of text before writing a review; I encourage everyone to do that same! It has everything you could ask for from a visual history – classic advertisements, screen shots from computer games, pages from manuals, pictures of miniatures and toys, black-and-white photos of Gary Gygax and company, glorious maps of dungeons and cities, and an enormous collection of the best pieces of art that have been created for the game – quite simply, Art & Arcana will galvanize your fandom of Dungeons and Dragons.
The only situation that comes to mind that is comparable to how I felt after devouring Art & Arcana is my reaction after watching the documentaries about the making of The Fellowship of the Ring on the Extended Edition DVDs. I had previously read The Lord of the Rings and even taught a class on the books along with other modern mythologies while in graduate school. I enjoyed the film, but seeing how much care and devotion went into the making of the movie increased my adoration for the franchise. My wife and I even traveled to New Zealand back in 2012 primarily because we fell in love with the locations from hours of watching those films get made. I’m a much bigger fan of The Lord of the Rings because of those documentaries, and I believe Art & Arcana will have a similar effect for fans of D&D.
I just wonder where I should travel now that Art & Arcana has me fired up? Watch out, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, here I come!
If you are a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, then treat yourself to this book. I cannot imagine a material plane of existence where you would be disappointed.
Now, please enjoy my in-depth musings on Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History.
As I recently updated on my Patreon page, it has been quite a year for my family and I. Through it all, I have been happy to post new episodes of Ego Check with The Id DM and write a few articles for the blog. I wish to end the year on a high note to celebrate the podcast, and that brings us to the Dungeons & Dragons Holiday Giveaway! At the end of the week, I’ll select a random person from those that enter to win the following fabulous group of prizes (my D&D table is not included!):
One copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
One Dice bag with D&D dice
One Tome of Annihilation dice tin
Four Tomb of Annihilation notebooks
Assorted D&D stickers
The giveaway above supporting ‘Ego Check with The Id DM’ is not administrated, sponsored, or endorsed by Wizards of the Coast.
How to Enter
There are two steps to enter the contest for a chance to win the loot pictured above:
The random drawing from those that enter the contest will take place on Friday, December 15th, and then I can get the prizes in the mailbox so it arrives to the winner before the holiday.
I am hoping 2018 is less tumultuous; however, I am fortunate to have a great deal of support from family, friends, and a wonderful online community of followers and fans. Truly and sincerely, thank you to everyone that continues to support my creative efforts. Have a fantastic holiday season, and good luck scoring the loot!