I told the story several times already. This year Christine asked the boys to put together Christmas lists. She requested several items needed and several items wanted. I never ask for anything for Christmas. While I love the spirit of Christmas, I find the actual holiday abhorrent. A day dedicated just to buying stuff? Gross. For some reason, though, I gave in this year and put together a list. On the list, I included Dungeons and Dragons books. I meant Shadow of the Dragon Queen.
Instead, Christine bought me Dragons of Deceit. Initially disappointed, I quickly recovered. Weis and Hickman, as you know, wrote the book. I love Weis and Hickman. Also, I got the idea to record the book club podcast and actually kept a schedule, more or less. Episode 3 comes out tomorrow or Saturday (pending a snow day) with Chapter 4 and 5.
From Disappointment…Hope, Then Disappointment
Because Santa dropped off the “wrong” present for me that actually ended up working out okay, I ordered the source book myself. I kept trying to talk myself out of the deluxe edition with the board game and ultimately failed. What can I say? I’m a sucker for those gimmick board games based on the other successful franchises I enjoy.
I can’t comment on the quality of the game. I haven’t had a chance to even look at it other than the box. It looks interesting and I always like to play those cooperative board games. We played Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time often and everyone joins in. I need to read the rules so that we have a chance to play over February break. Come back in March for my review.
The source book itself underwhelms. I expected a more robust campaign setting updated to 5th edition. Instead, they give us some rules on the special ancestries and subclasses of Krynn for the first few chapters. Then, the rest of the book is simply an adventure. Funny how things change. I remember wishing as a teenager that they released more adventure modules for the characters I built in Dragonlance.
Ultimately, like the novel, I like Shadow of the Dragon Queen in spite of potential warts. The adventure promises to bring some joy to a playgroup either at home or in school. At least Quinn and I will play through the board game once. Christine suggested that I try it with Quinn and his friend Tristan. Okay, plan on meeting here in about a month and a half for that recap.
I missed a couple of days of updates. I planned on doing this one on Thursday and 2022 Console GOTY yesterday. If I’m being honest, which I often am, console GOTY would be only slightly less difficult than choosing PC GOTY was. I played about an hour of the Red Dead Redemption II prologue this morning. Great game. Also, released four years ago. Other older games we enjoyed this year; Mario Kart and Mario Party on the Switch. Liam and Quinn played a ton of the new Pokemon, so I could have them write a guest article about that one. Thankfully, 2022 Tabletop GOTY is much easier to pick.
An argument that the choice is virtually automatic has merit. But, we tried other games this year. Quinn and I played Roll Player Adventures a couple of times. Our family broke out several family trivia games during the year. I know those aren’t traditionally thought of in the same category as Dungeons and Dragons, but they are all tabletop games. So, let’s explore why the old lady gets our 2022 Tabletop GOTY.
Dungeons and Dragons with Quinn
We started the year with momentum on the D&D front. I wrote one adventure that Quinn and I played through. That gave me ideas for other adventures. I finally followed up by writing almost all of a second adventure that starts on a haunted ship and ends in a harpy cave. I wanted to play that adventure during this vacation, but most of our plans went for naught this vacation.
Just looking at that map makes me want to finish the adventure the whole way through and play it with Quinn. In fact, I just searched for the Starter Set box with all of our characters in it. And, I found it! So, after I finish this article, time to finish that adventure. We still have a couple of months until February vacation, but maybe I can convince him to play one of these weekends. I think this one might take a couple of play sessions to complete.
Dungeons and Dragons at School
I started running the D&D club at the high school at my old job a couple of years ago. Mostly, I just sat there and planned or corrected as my faithful group of 4 to 6 gathered in spite of the threat of Covid to play their favorite characters. The group expanded to 8 regulars last year and even grew as much as 12 during a couple of the meetings.
This year, they talked me into taking the middle school club as well. Before I left the job, my reputation (and, more likely, Stranger Things) helped grow the club to two high school groups of about 6 to 8 and three to four middle school groups. One played consistently from week to week. The other groups moved, merged, and sometimes fought among themselves. Mostly, we enjoyed our time together. I even ran a group for several weeks. We finished most of the prologue for Curse of Strahd and then played through some of the Dungeon of the Mad Mage in my last session with the group.
I think I made a case for Dungeons and Dragons as our 2022 Tabletop GOTY. Looking ahead, there might be some competition for the old lady. I bought a Pathfinder starter set from Humble Bundle that has a solo adventure that might inspire me to play that more. I also bought some Warhammer 40k books and want to make some characters for that game. Finally, I somehow acquired a starter set for a Fallout RPG that might or might not be discontinued. So, look out for them in addition to D&D in 2023.
At the beginning of the month, I realized that I needed to play the role as DM in our humble school Dungeons and Dragons club. Thanks to Stranger Things, the game blew up this year and everyone wants to play. In a flash of inspiration (or dorkiness…or both), I decided to pick up a Halloween related adventure to lead a group through. This is the last week in October, so I expected to go out with a bang with our Curse of Strahd finale.
Best laid plans and all that. The sixth grade and, my entire play group, went on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. They told me the day before that the trip would end around 3:30, which is when the group usually started to get antsy and disbanded for the afternoon. So, imagine my surprise when I heard a knock on the door at about 3:15.
Sometimes Teaching is About Cutting Your Losses
Initially excited to be able to lead the group again, that quickly changed. They took almost 20 minutes to settle down. One would say, “Let’s get started.” to the others, then jump up and another would repeat the process. So, I should have known that things might not go well.
When we finally sat down to play, things initially went okay and my fears started to subside. Then, one of the players tried “massaging” a die roll here and there. I called him out on it once during a “hit roll”. Towards the end of the session, I let one go. It was only an initiative roll. It felt like the right thing to do, but it clearly wasn’t.
Another player got angry about it and refused to roll for his turn during combat. When we finally convinced him to do so, he rolled a hit and then intentionally knocked the die over to a miss. I threw my hands up and said, “Sorry, guys, I can’t do this today.” They started some in fighting and I laid my cards on the table. “No, it’s all of us. This just isn’t working right now. We’ll try again next week.”
If this ends up being the Curse of Strahd finale, it ends not with a bang but a whimper. I knew from the beginning that things might go sideways and they ended up doing just that. The fear that I ruined D&D for my family by not being a great Dungeon Master the one time that we tried to play is now rising with these guys. They asked the last couple of weeks to play more on Friday and now I leave them with this bad taste for week. Maybe I’m overthinking things. Even so, I think I might try to find another adventure to run for next week. One of them said that they wanted to fight dragons.
Last week, our intrepid group played without two of their players. So, instead of continuing our adventures in Ravenloft, I convinced the remaining player to hack and slash his way through some goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. Other than a mishap with another player who joined the ranks, he enjoyed the experience. Check out that article for that summary. This week, our party plays Curse of Strahd Part 2 for real this time.
In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he asked for another hack and slash after one of their group got picked up early. They tried to convince me to let them keep playing the main adventure, but I got them to abandon that idea with some slick DMing. I’m getting the hang of this. But, join me for a quick recap of the adventures for this week.
Session 2: To the Attic to Get to the Basement
In anticipation of this week’s (it might have even been last week) session, I reviewed the map and where our party explored already. Since they are young, they don’t always think to check for traps or secret doors. So, this time I gave them some grace and more or less pushed them through those secret doors. Being a Dungeon Master is sometimes a delicate balancing act between rules guru and storyteller. Not with this group. With this group, I’m all storyteller and as a result, I sometimes need to dispense with the rules and take matters into my own hands.
So it became that they “found” the secret door to get to the attic and then “found” the secret door to get to the basement. I actually screwed up and needed to improvise by saying that one of them bumped the second secret door with their butt while searching the room. Of course, that got a laugh from all of them.
They also experienced a wider range of combat this time. Fighting both a specter and an animated broomstick got them some experience points and closer to leveling. And, isn’t that the real reason we all play this game? To grow ever more powerful and eventually challenge the gods themselves? Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But, by the end of their senior year, I expect that to happen.
Playing Curse of Strahd Part 2 (for real) went rockier than last time. I continually needed to remind them not to touch each other’s dice, not to hit one another, and not to swear. Honestly, much more on par with how I expected a Dungeons and Dragons group with middle school aged kids to go, so not a huge deal there. We only have one session left in October, but if they finish the introduction, maybe I can get them to play another theme adventure for November and December.
Last week, I played the role of dungeon master for three middle school students in my Dungeons and Dragons club at school. I got the idea to play through the Curse of Strahd module with them because…Halloween. Later in the week, I then worried that they might get bored with the adventure because it is mostly story and, being middle school age, they’d want to beat stuff up. I need not have worried as they enjoyed it so much, they wanted to play again on Friday. Alas, I told them to wait until this week for Curse of Strahd Part 2.
Well, cut to this week. Because, well, middle school, many of them never showed up for the club this week. In my group alone, two of the three ended up as no shows. To his credit, the one who came still tried to convince me to let him play the adventure by himself. Granted, I probably could have pulled it off, but that’s bad D&D etiquette to play without your group.
Hack and Slash One Shot
Looking through the resource books I brought to school, I stumbled on a map for a goblonoid war camp. I quickly came up with the idea to allow the player to hack and slash his way through some goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears in a one off adventure. I know this doesn’t have a Halloween theme, and halfway through the adventure, I could have added Halloween and made it funny by making the hobgoblins throw pumpkins like the comic character. But, I kept it straight.
The player appreciated my efforts and played along with the bare bones story that I told to keep the narrative going. I even got two other players to join us briefly. I told one he couldn’t play because his character was too high level. The other played a level 1 character but ended up meeting his ultimate fate at the hands of two bugbears. These kids are too young to watch “Stranger Things”, so I should have given them the advice. You never split up the party!
We were both bummed that the other kids didn’t show up. But, thinking quickly, I made the best of it and enjoyed my experience being a DM with limited preparation. I need to take in some of my other resource books, though, so I have more ideas for when these things inevitably happen again.
I can also write down ideas as I get them and flesh them out over time to make them more entertaining and engaging. Sure, I got away with it this time, but I might not be so lucky next time. So, with all of this being said, hope for Curse of Strahd Part 2 next week.
I teach middle school and high school this year. Granted, I have more middle school classes than high school, but I prefer high school for now. I taught middle school over a dozen years ago and that ended in disaster, so maybe there is some residual processing that still needs to be done on that end. Last year, I took over for the Dungeons and Dragons club in the high school. This year, I also took on the middle school. A couple of the newbies wanted me to DM for them. I took advantage of Spooktober to lead them in a campaign with the adventure Curse of Strahd.
Session 1: Tarokka Cards and Creepy Kids
Another kid decided to join us for the session this week, so I had three players to DM. Even though they are all relatively new to the game and middle school kids, I felt nervous. When I tried to DM for my family, it went poorly and only Quinn asked to play again. I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t be repeated this time.
So, I took about an hour to read through the adventure ahead of time. I’m glad I took the time. I set the mood by reading from the Tarokka cards for them during the introduction. They loved it. I then wasted no time in getting them to Barovia by using the shortest method and dropping them right into the Death House mini adventure.
I worried I might lose them because, as the introduction says, “Curse of Strahd is more of a story driven than combat driven adventure” and they seem more like a hack and slash group. Plus, they missed many of the secrets in the beginning of the house. However, they got fixated on the stairs and ended up on the balcony fighting an animated armor. I also allowed them to loot the rooms along the way. That kept them going.
I finally got them to the point where they knew to look for secrets as much as possible. They got one of their partners to squeeze into a dumbwaiter to go up to the master bedroom. They looted the bedroom and are now in possession of almost 1000 gold worth of jewelry. I had so much fun and they did, too. They actually asked me to stay after today to continue the adventure.
I took the books home to do more research into the adventure so that it goes more smoothly next time. I ended up searching a little bit too much. Granted, they didn’t mind at all, but I want to get better as a Dungeon Master. Aiden said he’d play again if we got the Stranger Thing module. Of course, it now is a collector’s item, but I (*shhhh*) found a PDF of it. So, now I can use Curse of Strahd (and Quinn’s ghost pirate adventure) to continue to hone my skills for the next time we play as a family.
Last night, I finally received my official Pathfinder introduction. A few months ago, Humble Bundle ran a deal that included a coupon for the Pathfinder Core Rule Book. I forgot about it until nearly the expiration date, then finally ordered the book. Yesterday afternoon, I pulled into my driveway. Several packages waited on the porch.
I assumed they both belonged to my wife. I thought one of them might finally be the anime Loot Crate that we ordered for Aiden for Christmas. He didn’t receive the one for Christmas because they were back ordered. The box read Pazio.com and a slogan that had something to do with an ogre or orc. I could look it up, but the box is all the way downstairs in the pantry waiting for dump day. I don’t have the time or energy to walk down there right now.
That only strengthened my assumption that it belonged to Aiden. Then, as I carried in the groceries and put them away, a thought occurred. Oh, this must be my Pathfinder book. Sure enough, that’s exactly what was in the box. Admit it, you read it in Brad Pitt’s voice. And, so, during dinner I read through the book to get my Pathfinder introduction.
Additions: Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about how familiar Pathfinder feels to D&D in the next section. You will see that I consider that to be a strength. However, why would I play this in addition to D&D (as I plan) if it was just a complete clone? Answer: I would not.
The first thing I noticed about the difference between Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons was the player character classes. More or less, the races are the same in both games. Also, Dungeons and Dragons expanded their offering of character classes, especially with some of the new Magic the Gathering worlds. While reading through the book, the alchemist and champion classes both jumped out to me. I mean, the champion is basically just a paladin. Perhaps I’m grasping at straws with this one. What can I say? Sometimes I’m an easy mark.
Is one class strong enough to propel this section? I leave it too you to decide, but give you the following as evidence. “The alchemist throws alchemical bombs and drinks concoctions of their own making.” That sounds pretty sweet to me.
Additionally, I enjoyed reading about the various subraces in the game. Finally, skimming the spells excited me at the possibilities. Yes, Pathfinder is a D&D clone. However, there is enough new content in the game to make it feel less like and expansion and more like another game I want to introduce to the family to see if I can get them to become a regular RPG play group. Yes, I refuse to stop trying to make fetch happen.
Familiarity: Regular readers of the page know all about my history with Dungeons and Dragons. So, please, bear with me while I catch up the newbies. I received a novel from my mother as a gift, Firstborn. It is the first book of the Dragonlance trilogy, The Elven Nations. Fun fact: I originally, for weeks, read that title as The Eleven Nations. Imagine how much more sense it made when I figured out what it really said.
That book led to me discovering the game upon which it was based. As is my personality, I became obsessed. I purchased the 2nd edition Player’s Guide and Dungeon Master’s Guide. Then, I got several of the monster manuals and other supporting books. I branched out into Spelljammer and Dark Sun. A friend and I played several of the MS-DOS games released at the time.
As I experienced my Pathfinder introduction, it took me back to those simpler times. I often say that I’m above nostalgia, but it’s simply not true. While I don’t experience it often, when I do it is strong. Pathfinder triggered that nostalgia strongly. I don’t want to say that it is a rip off of D&D, because that has a negative connotation. But, the similarities are strong. I believe that to be a good thing in this case.
Complexity: Dungeons and Dragons simplified their rules over the years. They removed some things completely and tweaked others. I believe most of it is in the service of the player experience. At least, they explained most of the changes in that context.
I refuse to be one of those “things were better during D&D edition *fill in the blank*”. I grew up and played mostly 2nd edition, but I have dabbled in 3, 3.5, and most recently 5 when I played with the family. All I have to say is every edition feels like D&D, except for the d20 phase. I never could understand the reasoning behind that. Give me all the polyhedral dice.
The point of all this is that Pathfinder seems to have kept most of the complexity from D&D. I remember when I first learned of Pathfinder, via another Humble Bundle with adventures that I purchased, a friend told me that the game was more complex than current Dungeons and Dragons. Again, while not a deterrent to me, I found that even the minor bit of rules enforcing that I did during our family’s play group slowed the game down and made it feel like they weren’t having fun. Perhaps, it’s just something I needed to learn as a DM of a first time group. For now, Pathfinder will remain a game that I research until the family can put together an entire adventure in D&D.
It sounds like I already gave the verdict in the previous paragraph. So, what will I write here? That’s a good question. I honestly don’t know. My Pathfinder introduction was a positive one. Until we become more used to D&D and each other as a play group, I won’t try to play the game with the family. However, maybe I can use the game in the meantime to generate content for the page and try to extend reach.
Okay, this one is a lie, too. Sort of. Remember last time when I said that I would take this week to discuss games that we received for Christmas. Well, that’s not strictly true. I actually just pressed purchase on the D&D horror bundles from The Arcane Library about an hour ago. Since then, I’ve been looking at the adventures to see if they will, in fact, be good to try to get the family to play D&D again.
If this all seems to have come out of left field, you’re not entirely wrong. I mean, if you followed us on Twitter, you’d have seen that I was searching for an appropriate adventure to try to get the family hooked on Dungeons and Dragons. I want to get a weekly session going, if possible. This led me to purchase The Lost Mine of Phandelver on D&D Beyond before realizing that was the adventure we tried to play last year from the beginner’s set. Oh well, WotC can use the cash, I’m sure.
Well, Facebook ads finally got me this time. I saw an ad for The Arcane Library and visited it. Rarely does this ever result in me purchasing anything. However, this time it did. First, I downloaded the free adventure to see if the writing was any good. It’s very well designed. More on that in the review, obviously. Then, I bought the bundle meant to follow characters from 1 until level 20, I think. There may be some gaps needed to fill. Not entirely sure on that one. However, I then saw the D&D horror bundles. As the lone hold out from the first time, I think Aiden will get a kick out of some horror RPG. Let’s see if I’m right.
Writing: This doesn’t come as a surprise now that I’ve read the author’s biography on the web page. She’s a former journalist and English teacher. Nevertheless, and this will come as rich from someone who hasn’t edited a single post on this web page in several years, it is good to find web based content that isn’t riddled with spelling and grammar errors. Especially in a D&D adventure, that takes you right out of the fiction.
Well Organized: Along with the good writing, the adventures follow the well established outline for adventures set by the official versions. Each adventure starts with a synopsis and some background. This is followed by some nuts and bolts to further explain. Each encounter flows smoothly, building a rich tapestry of the story. As I read, I saw how the encounters worked and, more importantly, how they worked together.
Minimalist: Piggy backing off that last point, the books contain only the information needed to continue the story. I feel like part of the reason our play session last year got bogged down was all of the reading necessary to run the adventure. As a DM, I try not to be a rules extremist when playing D&D, but I think I might have just been nervous. I really wanted my family to enjoy playing D&D with me. It just felt like a natural play group.
Horror: Granted, it is mostly up to me to set the proper mood. However, if you’re going to advertise an adventure as horror, there should obviously be the seeds of that horror in the adventure. These accomplish that quite nicely. I already said that I saw the story grow as I read the notes. The same can be said for the horror setting. These stories have great creep factor.
Story: This may seem strange given all the nice things I’ve already said. However, even as a criticism, please understand that this is minor. To be fair, it’s said that there are only 7 types of stories that can be told anyway. This may even be more limited in science fiction and fantasy settings. Even the official adventures are limited in their scope. Just know that these stories aren’t terribly original. But, they are still very good.
Not beginner friendly: Look, I also understand that if you are considering a non paying career as a D&D DM, you probably aren’t a beginner. With that being said, everyone gets their start somewhere. But, if you are getting your start as a DM, I wouldn’t recommend these adventures as your first campaign. They’re just so sparse in their notes for DMs.
The D&D horror bundles from The Arcane Library are, overall, very good. The stories are compelling enough. They have a definite horror vibe, even just from reading through them. That can, obviously, be tuned to your individual play group. I don’t regret purchasing them or the other bundle one bit. Now, I just have to get my family to want to play them. Stay tuned for that.
Thank goodness for High Score episode 3. After episode 2, I was worried that it was a one hit fluke. Even early in this episode, I started to wonder if it was going to be worth my time. Even though it took a bit to warm, up, eventually I was sold again. Plus, it looks like episode 4 is about SEGA!
This one centered around role playing games and their impact on video gaming history. I have been a role playing game enthusiast since I discovered Dungeons and Dragons through The Elven Nations trilogy. I then read the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends and I was hooked.
Ken and Roberta Williams – “Nerds in Love”
This is the part of the episode that I thought was going to continue the slide into mediocrity. It was a story of a man and a woman who bonded over their mutual love for both role playing games and programming. Actually, I think only one of them was a programmer. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised.
I don’t know if I just had a hangover from the Nintendo episode or what. But, initially, I reacted quite viscerally to this love story. However, as they both told their story and the episode incorporated more stories into the tapestry and I walked out with a warm and fuzzy feeling for these two people. Good story and great story telling.
Dungeons and Dragons – “Cult Following”
As soon as they mentioned Dungeons and Dragons in the episode, I knew they’d drag up the old Satanist fears. Granted, they telegraphed their move a bit by calling it a “game with a cult following”. Plus, the mention was minor and barely even registered. I was much more bothered by their coverage of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. I don’t mean how they covered it. Simply, it brought up bad memories and made me realize, yet again, that we simply don’t learn from our pasts.
Random Fact: It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these. But, it’s one of the few “fun” facts that I have from the wild and crazy D&D games of my youth that people will actually care to hear. The “Satanic cult” rumors about the game traveled so far and wide that the company (TSR at the time) chose to change the name of their Wicca to Wokani out of respect to the witches. So, those of you who say that WotC are being to PC. They might be, but D&D has a long history of being inclusive.
Final Fantasy – “Born of Art”
Final Fantasy has been with me almost as long as Dungeons and Dragons. I played the original Final Fantasy Legend I and II on the original Game Boy. Yes, that green screened monolith of portable gaming entertainment. The Final Fantasy Legend I, along with Final Fantasy 3 (V in Japan, I think…nope, VI), are two of the best games that I’ve ever played. I don’t know if I’d put them both in my top 5, but they’re definitely top 10.
The most interesting part of this story was the way that they introduced the game. They showed and talked to an artist. Even though I didn’t remember his name, I knew as soon as I saw his art exactly what game they were talking about. It’s just so iconic. Even though back in the 8-bit days, it barely did him any justice, you could still see the seeds of that art in those tiny sprites. Also, he was a good sport about it and said the conversion process made them “cute”.
Gay Blade – “The Game is the Quest”
I alluded to this section earlier when I talked about their coverage of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It is told through the context of a gay and lesbian RPG created by a programmer named Ryan Best. I’d never heard of the game before, so the entire story behind the creation, loss, and subsequent discovery of the game again was truly inspiring. I’ve found a link to the game, so I’m probably going to download and play through.
Well, during the story, they went through the 1980s and the reaction to the AIDS crisis. There was the whole gamut of the “AIDS is God’s retribution for homosexuality” from the right wing nutters of the day. Note: Many of those nutters or their proteges are still alive today. So, I’m not sure why I expected things to have changed. But, this story affected me deeply and I found myself crying during the telling.
The Verdict (High Score episode 3 is a redemption)
After the let down of episode 2, I was questioning my undying support of the series. Even early in High Score episode 3, I wondered if the first episode was just a fluke. I’m glad that I didn’t overreact and turn it off. This episode was amazing. And, I can say with utmost confidence that episode 4 is fun as hell, too. Join me next time when I review probably my favorite time in history, the Sega/Nintendo rivalry.
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