Thursday, March 21, 2019

GM 101: Con Game Lessons Learned

Paranoia, 2nd Edition cover
PARANOIA 2nd Edition
As with many of my articles, the advice I give is not necessarily "You should do this" as much as it is "Don't do what I did wrong". This is another of those.

Now that I've been to a dozen or so cons over the past decade, I've experienced my share of good and bad GM issues. This year I decided to throw my own hat into the ring to help out my local con by running my first ever con game... and I ran into my own issues.

I've been a game master for various systems over the years, but running a con game adds elements that you just don't get with a home game.

1) Players generally don't know one another, so their comfort level is much lower.
2) As GM, you also are not aware of how comfortable the players are getting into character or immersing themselves into the setting.
3) Players may not be familiar with the mechanics of the system if they are testing out a new game.
4) Time is the enemy. There is a lot to get accomplished in a 2 to 4 hour time slot, so there is literally no time to waste.

I made a few rookie mistakes for my first con game.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

D&D: More Cheap Terrain Options

I've posted before about cheap terrain, but I've also come across some other fantastic options for putting together a table for use with Dragon Heist or Ghosts of Saltmarsh. There are several cardboard-craft publishers that provide genre appropriate buildings and ships.

Medieval merchantsFirst, for Dragon Heist (or any other town, village, or city adventuring), there are an amazing array of cardboard scenery options that are significantly cheaper than resin or other 3D options. These buildings run around $15 to $20 each (if you find them available with Prime shipping).

Burgher's House:
Town Walls:

Search around a bit and you can discover all kinds of variety.

Medieval town wallsstables

CaravelFor Ghosts of Saltmarsh, I also found some excellent naval options to enhance your wharfs and set sail for adventure. Again here, these ships are anywhere from $15 to $20 and would be highly useful for a sea-faring campaign.

It just goes to show you don't have to spend $200 for a sizable ship to add some 😮 to your table. For a little bit more, you can upgrade to a plastic pirate ship model, the Queen Anne's Revenge (requires a repaint).

Queen Anne's Revenge:

CogPirate ship

Monday, March 11, 2019

Nentir Vale - Best of D&D 4e

A farmstead burns in The Reaverns of Harkenwold
A farmstead burns in The Reaverns of Harkenwold
Best of 4th Edition, Part 5 - The Nentir Vale

In previous Best of 4th Edition posts, I've talked about a couple locations that were ripe for adventuring, Harkenwold and the Chaos Scar.  But, I did not talk about the larger setting, the Nentir Vale.

Let me just put this out there...

In many ways, the Nentir Vale is the best setting available in D&D.

This is coming from a guy who has lived and breathed Greyhawk for most of my life (and a fair amount of Forgotten Realms). The Nentir Vale started its life as nothing more than few paragraphs describing the region around Fallcrest, an example "home base" town in the Dungeon Master's Guide. However, more bits of Nentir Vale backstory and lore were published in 4th Edition adventures such as the Keep on the Shadowfell, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and the Reavers of Harkenwold. I love Nentir Vale so much, I'm currently running my 5th Edition campaign in the setting.

A Tabula Rasa Sandbox Toolkit

As noted, the Nentir Vale is not burdened by a lot of canon or detailed down to smallest the villages and towns. A duchy here, a city-state there, but mostly only vaguely defined geography. The map contains a variety of terrain with a few dots on the map. Temple of Yellow Skulls. Ruins of Fastormel. Raven Roost. Kalton Manor. Kobold Hall. The Sword Barrows. Guardmore Abbey. The Keep on the Shadowfell... What are these places? No one really knows...

Nentir Vale map from 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
Nentir Vale map from 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
Ok, it is true that some of these locations eventually got their own adventures, but for the most part, the setting is still a largely undefined sandbox within which the DM can build their own sand castles.

To me, Nentir Vale feels a lot like the original Greyhawk map folio or the very, very early days of the Forgotten Realms where there are swaths of land and map features which are largely undefined. However, even Greyhawk feels "settled" by comparison when you look at all the political borders. By comparison Forgotten Realms is over burdened with canon and detail after 30 years. Nentir Vale feels fresh and open. There are even maps of the larger world of Nerrath if you desire more huge tracts of land.


Fallcrest Map from D&D Doodles
Artist: Brandon Kruse, D&D Doodles
I've already written about my Reavers of Harkenwold campaign and how my players enjoyed that corner of the Vale. Fallcrest is another wonderful backdrop with a variety of hooks and adventure locations. Fallcrest sits upon a broken plateau with an upper and lower city. Could some natural or magical disaster have created the elevation difference between the city halves? Much of the lower city in ruins, but it is unclear whether the it is the result of Orc incursions in the Vale, or other cataclysms that may have befallen the city. It's up to you to decide!

A number of locations are defined in the Dungeon Master's Guide with several adventure hooks. Further hooks and political intrigues are detailed in Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale. However, like much in the Vale, Fallcrest has a large canvas upon which the DM can fill in the details. I love this city. It's large enough to have lots of different encounter options, while still not feeling so massively sprawling that it is overwhelming for the DM to detail.

Points of Light

The points of light concept from 4th Edition is one which brings D&D back toward its roots. Life in town is relatively safe... but the wilderness is not. You take your life into your hands when traveling outside of the safety of your home, even along important trade routes. Civilization, for the most part, has fallen into a dark age leaving behind the ruins of the past. There are still small, sporadic kingdoms, but no vast empires or major political powers. Leaders hold mainly onto smaller parcels of land and rule locally.

Factions and NPCs

 Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale took the Nentir Vale lore to the next level. As a creature catalog, it was an excellent resource for building non-homogeneous encounter groups. However, the absolute beauty of this supplement was how much NPC lore it contained.

Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale Whether it is Calastryx, the three-headed red dragon, the savage Bloodspear Orcs, the warring Treants of the Winterbole Forest, or the druids of Harken's Heart, there are a multitude of unique villains and faction groups which the PCs may encounter directly or indirectly through their agents.

Take this entry from Vestapalk for example:
    Rousted from his lair in the Cairngorm Peaks by dark visions, the green dragon Vestapalk and his kobold wyrm-priest companion are bound by what they believe to be a common destiny.
Threats to the Nentir Vale is a supplement book done right. Not only did it improve upon the monster mechanics for D&D 4e, it is filled to the brim with the kind of setting fluff that sets a DM's imagination on fire. Even if you never played (or ever plan to play) D&D 4th Edition, this book is an amazing read for ideas and campaign hooks.

Final Thoughts

Although the Nentir Vale never got its own full setting book, plenty of setting detail can be gleaned from lore within the Dungeon Master's Kit, Monster Vaults, Hammerfast and Vor Rukoth supplements and occasionally the pages of Dragon and Dungeon PDFs published under D&D Insider. Taken all together, the Nentir Vale is a rich setting filled with potential plot hooks, but sparse enough for DM's to paint in their own details.

Postscript: An amazing collection of Nentir Vale setting lore has been posts on The Piazza. This is your first go-to for a Nentir Vale based campaign.

PPS: Read about more things I love from D&D 4th Edition...

Other Owlbear musings