For those of you who missed last week’s recap of my trip to DDXP 2011: SPOILER ALERT! I had a seriously excellent time. Today’s article continues my account of my adventures in beautiful downtown Ft. Wayne, IN.
Learning the Hard Way
As I said yesterday, I had an awesome time playing in the Battle Interactive at DDXP. I’d played in one Living Forgotten Realms event at Gen Con a couple years back, but (somehow) until last weekend I didn’t realize LFR games existed outside of conventions. I will admit that finding out that this sort of thing is playable at your FLGS by attending the Organized Play seminar at DDXP seems kind of the most backwards way possible, but that is how I roll. Now I am chock full of knowledge about things I have no direct experience with. It is not unlike graduating from community college.
Coming in a little late to the game, I don’t really know how well-received these events were before, but the refinements I heard discussed sounded pretty cool. There were plans to have more roleplay and more story in these sessions, as well as a hook at the end to keep you coming week after week. As story and roleplay are my Kryptonite, just the mention of those made me want to camp out in front of my FLGS until they let me play. Thankfully, I soon remembered I was at a convention and did not have to go very far to get my fix. I got to play in a couple “living” adventures, though about half of them were for the new Ashes of Athas setting (which is living Dark Sun).
There was a lot of discussion in the Q&A sections of several seminars I attended asking if D&D Encounters, a short-session game played each Wednesday night, could be moved to a different night as necessary for an individual location. Each time, the WotC staff said they understand there’s a desire for this, but they want everybody to just reflexively know that Wednesday night is D&D Encounters night, so you can just wander over to your FLGS and play. The idea is similar to their Friday Night Magic program. (I would, of course, be remiss if I didn’t mention 4e Home Encounters, which aims to fill this hole for folks who need a more flexible schedule.)Encounters is primarily intended for new(ish) players to get them interested in the game, and I was intrigued to see that they are going to the complete other end of the spectrum for more experienced players. This new event, which is as-of-yet unnamed (some would say “NAMELESS”, perhaps in a creepy voice), is for experienced super-tactical types and is supposed to be extremely difficult. I think I even heard somebody use the word “Gygaxian”.
What I Played On My D&D Vacation
The first game I played at the con was a “D&D Classic” event, a term whose full meaning I haven’t grasped yet but it still sounded like fun. I didn’t know I could roleplay at 8am (7am my time!), but apparently I can. I played a revenant binding warlock named Lorel. I had no experience with binding warlocks and my only previous experience with revenants was from the AD&D Fiend Folio. (Bonus fact: it was the first time I ever saw somebody cast Grease as an attack spell. They died.) Apparently I wasn’t the only one, because I heard several people complaining later that they didn’t know how to play this character. Me, I saw the part on the character sheet about all the voices of the people she’s killed talking to her and her talking back and I was all set. The adventure wound up being a great deal of fun, and I was really shocked about 3/4 of the way through the adventure when I realized that we were all bad guys (it DID explain why we were hanging out with hobgoblins, at least). I was talking with Greg Bilsland later about the adventure, and he told me we’d accidentally roleplayed our way past two potential battles and that we really lucked out on defeating the final enemy. He told me some of the other alternate ways things could have gone, and it made me want to go stand and watch some other groups go through it.
Sadly, I only got to play through two Ashes of Athas adventures (I missed the second of three), but what I got to play was pretty awesome. The only real problem that I saw with it, and I think this might be more with the setting itself, is that I saw multiple people self-destruct when they had to deal with difficult names, and Dark Sun doesn’t really lend itself well to names under 40 characters or having at least two apostrophes. My DM for part 1 kept referring to people as “Big A” and “Big C”, and it made it hard to get properly immersed in the story. Once I did, though, I was in for a treat. We were infiltrating bad guys’ camp and had to come up with novel ways for starting diversions and then unexpected things happened and it was awesome. I have to say though, of the two I played, part 3 was my clear favorite. It started off with this amazing chariot battle that I won’t forget anytime soon. I’ll be using that as inspiration when I want to make an unusual encounter for my own games. It wound up in a temple where we had to fight and solve puzzles at the same time (which had effects on the fight), and it was just challenging enough to be really exciting and a lot of fun. I must administer mad props to the guys who designed AoA (including our own Chris Sims!). It was way fun. And sandy.
My favorite part of these “living” adventures was definitely the story awards. They’re so simple, but they can take a cookie-cutter character and give a player a reason to roleplay. The Knight I was playing for AoA opened a chest and a wee little fire elemental came out and embedded itself in his chest. Now he has some extra flamey combat stuff he can do, and he can feel the emotions of this little elemental (which bleed into his emotions a bit). It wants to burn things, it’s very brave, and it has a really short temper. I can think of about a dozen things I want to do with this guy now, and since I can take him and play elsewhere, the ideas don’t die at the con. You get story awards at the end of adventures, too, and it’s really cool to have your character’s experiences have a lasting effect other than the normal leveling process. I fully intend to do something like this in my own games.
As I’d hoped, I did get to try out Gamma World with a bunch of game designers and bloggy-types. I’d heard a lot of people tell me this game was like someone opened up the inside of my head and made an RPG out of it, and I can see why. The crazy crap that character generation makes alone is worth the price of admission. We had a gelatinous bird-creature, a cockroach-android, a narcissist Transformer, a life-sized Barbie doll, an exploding sphere, and (my favorite) a tank of cryogenic ooze that would occasionally pop a tentacle out and blast people (and was good with the ladies… somehow…). It really does lend itself well to the players doing crazy things and the DM saying yes just because it would be awesome. I’m not sure how feasible a long campaign is, but I can definitely see putting this in the rotation as a change of pace or if you’re down a couple players one night. Although next time, I’d like to play it in the privacy of someone’s home. I was sure we were all going to get arrested, and I didn’t want to have to smuggle dice anywhere uncomfortable so we could continue the game.
I also got to playtest this year’s D&D Game Day adventure, run by Greg Bilsland. It was kind of cool hearing him say things like “haha I love modules that aren’t fully developed” when things would go slightly awry. The NDA-chip WotC implanted in my brain says I can’t say any more, so I will simply leave you all hanging, except to say that it was a lot of fun and I think people are going to enjoy it.
Throat Leeches For Everyone!
By the end of the convention, I was seriously pumped. I’d seen so many cool things and heard so many good ideas. I’ve been without a regular D&D group for awhile since my Stupid Ranger cohorts moved to Colorado, and I only DMed a couple of times. I thought it was too stressful, or I didn’t know how to keep organized, or a bunch of other reasons. I played under some really good DMs at DDXP, and I realized something: I can do the things I really liked about these DM’s (the animated storytelling and roleplay and immersion). I can learn to do the other stuff. (And it’s not like I don’t have really good help nearby, too!)
I heard one of the WotC guys say during one of the seminars last weekend that one of their goals was to create new DM’s. Congratulations, guys. You’ve succeeded.