Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Moment of Pomegranate Truth

It started raining here this weekend and so I thought it was about time to harvest the pomegranates. Here's what they looked like after I brought them inside:

 (click for larger view)

 That one on the right is really big... And then I couldn't wait and decided to open the largest one right away. The skin/rind was spongy and the fruit was light for its size, so I didn't have high expectations. In fact, while I was peeling it open, a spider crawled out of of the bud end and scared me. Sigh. Anyway, the seeds were still sour, so I obviously picked them too soon, but they sure are pretty!

Next season I plan on thinning the fruit myself (rather than letting various animals do it) and leaving them on the tree a bit longer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Red Box Adventure (Part Three)

(Possible Red Box adventure spoilers below)

(DM Screen not included)

This time around I swore I'd be ready. On Saturday night after the kids went to bed I set to work on the dining room table. Gone were the salt and pepper shakers, the napkins, and the placemats. The lazy susan stayed (the players put most of the dice and left over figures on it, too bad it turned into a distraction for the younger one). I put out the map for the "Crossroads" encounter and set up a screen behind which I would work my DM magic. I went through all of the encounters in the Red Box and did my best to not only understand them, but to set aside the right tokens and try to figure out what would happen in each room.

I put the kids' character sheets at their places at the table and even handed out the "Second Wind" cards and action point tokens. I liked having the cards for each of the powers there, it added something tactile to the experience and knowing my girls, it would help them remember which powers they'd used. But while I was handing out the cards, I noticed something. My friend had created his character (Human Fighter) using the Character Builder tool. And I had created a fourth character (Dwarven Fighter) for the group for some additional muscle. While I didn't expect the Red Box to provide a card for every fighter power, the set seemed to be woefully under serving the fighter class. I looked through the cards three times. Not a single fighter Daily Power was to be found. I wonder if I missed something, or perhaps a sheet of cards never made it into my box. The cleric and mage classes had a ton of cards though.

For all of the other powers, we just cut out the ones we printed from the character builder.

I went to bed late on Saturday night as prepared as I could be.

Sunday morning came and we were ready. My friend arrived with a couple armloads of snacks and beverages, further endearing him to my daughters.

A few things conspired to trip us up, but we did the best we could. A massive heatwave rolled into town so we moved the game time up to 10AM rather than post lunch to help avoid the worst of the mid-day heat.

My older daughter sat down to finish the last two pages for her character and noticed that our d20 from the Red Box was missing. Odd! I suspect our cat absconded with it, but we looked all over the house and never did find it. Luckily my friend brought plenty of dice with him.

My friend was still learning the new ruleset and so he felt it would be better for me to do the majority of the work for the fourth character (the Dwarven Fighter I created for them). This made my job tricky as I had a lot of balls in the air. I did my best to make the dwarf just bonk whatever was closest and not do much based on the DM information I had (separating DM knowledge from player knowledge from character knowledge! Phew!). In turn, my friend kept track of the HP and healing surges for the whole party and generally stepped in with ideas whenever the kids seemed to be stuck. That was a tremendous help.

In a few places I gave the kids some hints about searching rooms or examining objects. For example, even though I mentioned the pool of water and the basins and the braziers in encounter 1, they never thought to examine them. So I said things like "you notice something sparkle at the far end of the room." And my friend helped with these things too.

The party moved on to the encounter with the white dragon and decided to try to talk their way through it. I think those kinds of skill challenges are fun and I was happy to have them attempt alternative approaches.

Of course, I just plain failed at coming up with a way to make the conversation last for at least 8 skill checks. I ended up letting them pass after just four or five successes with zero failures. Part of this is, again, my lack of experience as a DM. I knew exactly where the conversation was going to go, but I just had a hard time coming up with what seemed like obvious filler. What could have been an epic encounter for the party fell a bit flat. That said, I overheard the girls in the next week talking about bluffing their way past dragons...

From there they went into the room with Kurrash (Kurresh?) the bugbear and we decided that would be the final battle of the day. Everyone used their daily powers and the party made quick work of the enemies. What a remarkable difference from our first attempt where a handful of goblins handed out a TPK.

And so we put the "The End?" on the session with the plan to eventually meet up to finish the rest of the small adventure.

Now, some things I handled incorectly as DM:

  • I had no idea how the thief works, and so I didn't know how to guide my younger daughter in doing anything other than throwing daggers all day. I know I could have made it a lot more fun for her if I could have had more for her character to do. I will add that to my list of things to learn before next time.
  •  Skill checks. I tried to throw a few in there for them so they could get more into the non-combat parts. I can do better there for sure.

  • Keeping it moving. Working the fourth character as well as the monsters was just too much for me to handle. Even with a large area behind the screen in which to keep my notes/etc. I still kept losing my place and forgetting stuff.

  • Modifiers! There are just too many of them! It's so hard to remember who has combat advantage, who's used a Second Wind, who's standing in a hex/field/area of effect/etc. etc. Add in "marked" targets, bloodied, etc. and I just plain had a hard time keeping it all straight in my head. I'll need to rely on the players to do a better job of keeping track of their modifiers so I can at least just have the monsters' to track.

  • FUN! I didn't quite make the experience as fun as I had hoped. For our first/aborted/ill-conceived attempt a few months ago, I had written a lot of backstory and descriptive text that was tailored for my friend and my daughters. They seemed to enjoy that part of things. Using this adventure, it was up to me to add in the fun stuff that would keep their attention but I was so worried about keeping track of everything else (writing down initiative, tracking every monster's HP, conditions, etc., etc.) that I didn't improvise enough. And, yes, I should have been thinking of things before the game to keep drawing the kids in. I know next time will be better in this regard as I've had more time to learn.

And there you have it. One man's (and his daughters') experience with the Red Box.

LOVED: Lots of goodies in the box that I can use for future sessions.

TOLERATED: Typos/inconsistencies in the materials (a real pet peeve of mine for professional writing) and seeming lack of cards for the fighter class.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Red Box Adventure (Part Two)

Continued in Part Two...

I tried to DM the game, but I didn't have any of the source materials other than two small adventures I had downloaded from the internet. I didn't know enough about saving throws and the death mechanics and initiative and equipment. I had to dash down the hall to use the character creator to find out what a characters new AC would be if they bought a shield, for example. This really sucked the life and the fun out of our afternoon.

The game started out fine though. I had the characters meet on a snowy mountain pass. My daughters' characters knew each other, but they had yet to meet my friend's character. He arrived in somewhat spectacular fashion, being chased by both an avalanche and a goblin riding a wolf. At this point, we all agreed this was the Best Day Ever.

We didn't have enough miniatures to represent the whole party so we used an old cork and maybe some Lego's or some other little bits from around the house. The girls thought that was funny.

Maybe my younger daughter wasn't quite ready for D&D. At one point she asked if her thief could sneak up and tie some enemies shoelaces together. Alas eventually the wheels fell off. The game got a bit more complicated, more rules came up and were discussed.

Soon, a minor encounter with goblins turned the four character party to mush and we agreed to table the idea and maybe come back to it later. As the DM, I knew that I was the cause of the failure.

The whole problem, I know, was due to the fact that I didn't want to go out and buy $60 - $100 worth of materials to run a test game to find out if the kids would want to play more. I was hoping to get by on the cheap for a quick adventure. And I was learning as I went along -- a bad idea.

And then I saw the Red Box mentioned at Wired GeekDad. Well, technically it's called the "Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set." But that's a terrible name. We'll go with Red Box from here on out.

This, I thought, would be perfect! According to everything I read, the Red Box had all the bits I'd need to get started and even a "Choose your own adventure" style rule set that takes you through creating a character and a solo adventure. Perfect.

I couldn't wait to get my hand on the game and give the whole thing a second try.

I mentioned it to my buddy and he seemed enthusiastic (apparently enough time had passed since our first fiasco to warrant another attempt).

A couple of weekends later, I had my opportunity. Circumstances had aligned to create a perfect storm for family gaming. My daughters had both had exceptional weeks at school. They had done a great job with chores around the house. We were heading to the mall to buy some clothes (the kids grow so fast!) and the local game store just happened to be less than a mile away from the mall. Perfect!

I hadn't been in a game store in years. Probably a decade at least. I stopped the girls right when we got to the door. "Ok, there will be a ton of stuff you'll want to play with or look at. That's fine, but ask me first before you pick up anything."

The guy at the counter took one look at me and knew I was out of my element.

"Can I help you find something?" He asked slowly but pleasantly.

"Uh, Red Box?" I held up my hands, pantomiming a square.

"Ah! Yes, I have them in the back. Hang on."

Meanwhile my daughters had discovered miniatures. They were fascinated by the racks and racks of them. I tried to show them the dice -- the stuff that had captured their imagination in the first place -- but they were locked in on the figures. I had planned on buying each of them their own little set of dice... Alas.

They liked the cheap plastic miniatures more because they were already painted. I let them each buy a pack of official D&D figures (they were on sale) and we brought the whole stash out to the car. My wife smiled as the kids tore into the figures and I ripped the plastic off the Red Box. We drove home to calls of "What's an arbalest?" and "Oooh, a giant unicorn!"

The Red Box was all it was advertised to be: the battle grid, tokens, dice, character sheets, all of it. The girls wanted to play with the tokens. My older daughter started in on the Player's book and began to create a character as I left the room. I came back later and she had her nose buried in a Harry Potter book she'd read twelve times already.

"What happened?"

"Well, it said 'If you want to be a mage, go to page 14,' but page 14 didn't mention magic users at all!"

Turns out that the book said to go to "number 14" not "page 14" -- oops. She swore she'd take another stab at it later in the week. Friday came and she still hadn't tried again. I was worried.

"Are you going to make a new character?"

"Sure! I call dibs on making my character first!" Her sister was not in the room, rendering her dibs null and void. But I didn't tell her that. So, hopefully character creation would take place after school. She set to work on Friday night and finished all but the last two pages. My younger daughter never did create a new character using the Red Box so we let her use the Tiefling Thief she created with the builder for the last game.

I read the rest of the Red Box's DM book on the train to and from work during the week and I listened to some podcasts of games being played (PvP, Penny Arcade, Wil Wheaton). I felt like I was ready to give the whole thing another shot.

Continued in Part Three...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Red Box Adventure

Like many folks my age (old), there's a special place in my heart for the old school Dungeons and Dragons experience. As I got older I moved from dice to mice though -- I stopped playing pen and paper games and dove headlong into video games. I'm an introvert so finding people to play PnP games with is just too daunting most of the time.

But still, through all of these years I had visions of dice rolling in my head.

A few months ago my daughters were poking around in my desk and found an old "lead" and a little set of dice. They were immediately fascinated and the following barrage of questions only served to get them more excited. What can I say, excitement is contagious.

A friend had given me that lead figure (hand painted, beautiful) and a small set of dice years ago, as we briefly entertained the idea of diving back into D&D. That game never materialized (we're both introverts so we don't have a lot of friends to play RPGs with) so I put the items away and pretty much forgot about them until their re-discovery.

The girls (9 and almost 11) had many, many questions about the game. And after I had answered most of them, they decided that they really, really wanted to play. They recognized immediately the fact that the video games daddy played were based on the same ideas.

Well, how could I say no?

I called my friend, the one that gave me the dice, and we arranged to play a game on an upcoming weekend -- on Sunday to be exact.

Leading up to that weekend, I had the girls create characters via the free character creator application and we began discussing backstory and personality. We were really going to do this! I spent my lunch hours writing an introductory scene and overarching "campaign" that would tie the characters to the mini adventure/delve thing I had downloaded. I wrote a fourth character (Dwarven Fighter) to help out the party. His backstory was so much fun to write it came to a couple thousand words.

On Friday I sent the opening scene and background information to my friend via email and had printed copies waiting for my kids when they got home from school. On Friday night my friend replied how excited he was about the weekend.

That game, using D&D 4th edition rules was a complete and utter disaster.

Continued in Part Two...