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PAX East Report

I played my first public/convention game today. Despite having played D&D since I was in elementary school, I really was nervous about playing at a convention. I also wasn’t sure if i would be able to join a game easily as there are a LOT of people at PAX that want to play… Perhaps especially since WotC is running Encounters sessions. I took the advice of my wife and decided to try to play first thing today – perhaps Friday would be less crazy than Saturday? There was no lack of crazy, but I did secure an early line position and sat at a “catch up” table to play the first 5 sessions of the current season of Encounters. I played with a good bunch of guys and had a great time. Really… What was I nervous about? And it was heck of a way to play hooky from work. 😀

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bits, diy

Blast & Burst Template

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Back in November when I played 4e for the first time with my college doggz, our DM had a couple of measured squares of cardboard that proved really useful in visualizing blast and burst ranges. These simple aids came in surprisingly handy and so I recreated them with PowerPoint.

You’ll find a single slide with blast 3, 4, and 5 square templates. I printed these onto a label sheet which I then stuck to a nice piece of stiff cardboard. A bit of X-ACTO work and voila… squares.

Download Blast & Burst Template for Microsoft PowerPoint (56 KB)

bits, diy

Power Card Template

AtWillPowerAt Sarah Darkmagic’s suggestion, I picked up some card protectors for my players… green for at-will powers, black for daily powers, red for encounter powers, and gold for item cards. Very cool. These work great and make the cut-out, paper powers printed from the Character Builder feel more substantial… it’s a meaningful upgrade, sort of like the difference between cheap plastic poker chips and the weight of a nice clay piece.

At about the same time, I was prepping to give my party their first magic items – some consumable, plus a little armor, etc.. While I think you can print out cards for the published items right from the CB, I wanted an easy way to make custom cards (most of the magic items in my campaign will likely be somewhat custom to enhance their place in the story). This template is the result. The styling is based closely on one of the CB power cards… enjoy.

Download Power Card Template for Microsoft PowerPoint (73 KB)

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Happy New Year!

I’m looking forward to 2011… not that 2010 was particularly bad (insert comment about the economy, etc.) but we just got a good group of players together at the end of the year and I’m looking forward to playing again (and more).

I’ve got a few projects lined up for myself to build off of the last game, not the least of which is to spec out the next evening’s worth of encounters and get a story arc down on paper… lots of ideas, but not much holding them together as of yet.

I’m also going to work on a DM screen – the upcoming Wizards screen looks high-quality, but I’ve never totally agreed with the reference tables that they choose to put on those things. I also find that my needs change as the game progresses, so I want something a little more custom. Again, I have some ideas… more on that later.

Santa was good to this gamer, so I got my copy of the Monster Vault and a copy of The Dungeon Alphabet (which looks like a fun read). I also stumbled upon a clearance sale at one of those “only open for the holidays” calendar stores in the mall and picked up the new Red Box for $10. I counldn’t pass it up… so I’ve got some cool bits to play with and plenty of reading ahead of me.

I hope you had a great holiday, and here’s to your game in 2011!

bits, diy

Cheaper than Minis

Combat encounters in D&D 4e are much more tactical than games I’ve played in the past, relying heavily on combatant positions on the map. I’d love to draw from a rich collection of minis to help bring the game to life for my players, but I need to keep to a budget. In keeping with my approach for condition tokens, I decided to print off some 1” labels and stick them to 1” x 1/8” round wooden cutouts. I used the same technique to insert a tiny magnet in the center of each one.

MonsterTokens

Since these are for my personal use, I used images from D&D Insider and other Internet sources (Bing Image search is your friend) for the artwork. On monster tokens, I added a number to help differentiate individuals during play. Once the players invest some time in their character, I’m hoping that they eventually provide their own artwork (found or created) for their character’s token.

I think these tokens look great and I’m sure they’ll help my players picture the battle as it unfolds before them. As for ongoing effort, I’ll just need to use my label template to print off new tokens for new monster types when preparing each game. Over time, I suspect that many of the tokens will see a lot of reuse as well. I’m also thinking I can adapt my system for the tokens in the Monster Vault when I get my hands on that.

First game on Wednesday night! I can’t wait.

bits, diy

DIY Condition Tokens

One of the things that really struck me about my first 4e game was the amount of info the players and DM needed to track during combat. While every player is capable of recording their current conditions on their own character sheet, the colored condition markers we used made it easier for the whole party to see how the battle was going. I was quickly sold on the idea of marking conditions on the battlefield.

Unfortunately, other than the fact that RED=BLOODIED, it wasn’t particularly intuitive to remember which colored token indicated which condition. Also, once you had two or three conditions stacked under a player or monster they had a tendency to topple over. And so I set out to tweak the idea a bit – clearly marked condition tokens that stacked neatly.

The general idea was to fashion 1” round tokens each 1/4” thick around the perimeter of which I could apply a label indicating the condition (e.g. “BLOODIED” or “PRONE”). I was hoping to make use of off-the-shelf craft supplies so as to minimize any actual fabrication time.

First Prototypes

I found two types of 1” round wooden cutouts: a 1/8” solid disc and an 1/8” washer-style disc with a 3/8” hole in the middle. When combined I had a Tokens11/4” thick disc with a centered, shallow hole into which I could embed a small rare earth magnet. Around the perimeter I would affix a narrow inkjet label.

It was a solid attempt, but the washer-style cutouts were beveled and I ended up with a bumpy edge which did not make for a great surface for the labels. Trying to even out that bumpy edge turned out to be a bit of work, so I reworked my approach.

Keeping it Simple

For attempt #2 I chose a solid 1/4” disc. The edge was what I needed, but I needed to drill out a small whole for a tiny cylindrical magnet. Dremel at the ready, I dTokens2rilled a small hole in each disc and inserted a small cylinder-shaped magnet. I also made some 1/8” thick tokens for characters and monsters which will have pictures on top, but no labels on the edge. This worked fairly well, but the tricky part is making sure that the whole in each disc is perfectly centered so that they stack nearly. Truth be told, I never got the holes perfectly centered, so they don’t stack as well as I had hoped.

Tokens3

Final Shopping List

If your interested, my final condition tokens were made with these raw materials:

Round Three?

If I were to make a third build attempt, I think I would try swapping the wooden cutouts for 1” interlocking poker chips. These would stack very neatly out of the box, but they are a good bit thinner, so you would need to pre-stack (and probably glue) a few of them together to bulk up to 1/4” thickness. I’d actually stack them slightly over 1/4” thick so that the condition label doesn’t ride the top and bottom edges (which I think makes them prone to peeling).

You could use single chips either as bases for your minis or counters for characters and monsters. That way they would stack nicely on the condition tokens.

The right kind of interlocking Checkers pieces or something would work well too…

To the Table

OK… with tokens complete, I’m almost ready for the table.

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Chessex Battlemats

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently purchased a Chessex Battlemat from Amazon. First impressions are excellent… this a high-quality product made of a nice think vinyl. We used one of these during our recent 4e weekend and I was impressed with the wet-erase performance at the time. I’m looking forward to using it in my game.

Now, I’m a big fan of Amazon and have always been very happy with the service, shipping, etc.. In this case, Amazon shipped in a nice elongated box within which I expected to find a nicely rolled mat. Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s packaging within the box was less than perfect. The mat was rolled, yes, but then flattened within a slender shrink-wrap sleeve. The net effect was that when the mat was laid out there was definite series of rolled folds in the mat that made it undulate on the table rather than lay flat.

If it had simply been “memory curl” from being rolled up, I’m pretty sure that a few reverse rolls would have flattened it out, but these folds just wouldn’t go away. I found advice online that suggested that I:

  • lay it out in the sun for a few hours – which was not really an option as it is November in CT and only 40 degrees F in the sun
  • hit it with a hair dryer – I tried this, but after 20 minutes I saw almost no difference and lost patience
  • rub it down with warm water (as suggested on the slip of paper packed with the mat) – also tried with no success, how do you keep a warm cloth warm for more than 30 seconds?

In the end I used painting tape to pull it flat on a table, covered it with a large cutting mat, and piled it high with heavy books for a few days. After two days the mat laid flat, but still had a slight wave to it. A week later the mat is almost perfectly flat… success. I’m going to keep it stored under that cutting mat as a general rule, rolling it up only for travel to and/from games. Come summer, I might try laying it out in the sun to melt away the last vestiges of wave, but it’s probably not necessary.

So, fear not and go ahead and buy one of these mats from Amazon (or elsewhere), just don’t plan on using it for a few days after it arrives… a week’s rest under weight will do wonders.

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Stuff to Get Started

While my local gaming group hasn’t quite gotten started yet, November was a great month because I was able to do a lot of prep work. In addition to doing a lot of reading and podcast listening, I saw some of my college buddies with whom I used to play D&D. We get together once a year and this year we decided to play a little 4e in addition to our normal geocaching excursions. We played 4 encounters I think, mostly out of Dungeon Delves. Our DM for the weekend has been playing in a regular campaign back home, and so he was a natural to introduce us all to 4e. We had a great time and I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed 4e as much as I thought I would. It’s actually very similar to the house-ruled game that we actually played in college based on AD&D… but that’s another post.

Tactically speaking, the weekend play experience gave me some great insight into what I needed (and what I wanted) for my local campaign. I’m not talking about the story or the campaign yet, but just the mechanics of introducing a new group to the game. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Rules Compendium
    I actually bought this for the weekend, and I’m glad I had it. I may never accumulate all of the printed literature for the game, and certainly not all of it to get started. So the Rules Companion is the perfect summary for me, and the classes, races, feats, powers, and magic items we’ll pull from a couple copies of the PHB in the group and from D&D Insider. I considered the new Red Box Starter Set but, while I’m new to 4e, I’m not new to the game and felt that the Starter Set would be a bit too introductory.
  2. Dice
    Yeah, everybody’s going to want their own set of dice… but I learned a long time ago that one set of dice per person slows down a game. I picked up a Pound-o-Dice from Chessex and will have plenty to go around.
  3. A Dedicated Gaming Table (with a 1” grid and erasable surface)
    OK, that’s not going to happen… so I picked up a Chessex Battlemat. Very nice quality, unfortunate shipping practices… more on that later.
  4. Condition Tokens
    This is a big one for me. Our DM had these great little colored, wooden rounds that we could stack under our mini or token on the battlefield to indicated conditions like “bloodied” or “prone”. It really helped us visualize everything that was going on, so I knew I wanted something similar. But I had a hard time remembering what color meant what, so I thought an improvement could be made… that’s another post.
  5. Miscellaneous Encounter Bits
    There is no question that 4e is still a role-playing game, but I think Wizards was smart to introduce some elements from board and card games to enhance the experience. To that end, I’ve got a simple burst/blast template for quickly visualizing area of effect (thanks for the idea sLim) and an idea for a simple initiative tracker so that the players can all easily see where they are in turn order. More on that to come.

That’s about it I think. Oh sure, there’s tons more to prepare around the campaign itself, but don’t despair… we’ll get there.

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Getting back in the saddle…

First, some history.

A friend introduced me to D&D (AD&D actually) when we were in the third grade. I’m not sure how closely we actually played to the rules in those days, but I loved reading the books and it was a great catalyst for what we should probably call “interactive fiction with dice”. I played with a variety of friends through Junior High School, and then maybe a little in High School.

Then, in college, I got involved in a game an upperclassman was running in my Sophomore year. We had a great time and by my Junior year, I was running a regular weekly game that peaked with 7 or 8 players. The party’s journeys were epic and there are moments that are retold to this day at reunions and picnics.

Fast forward to the present (I’m 38 in a few days) and I stumbled across the Penny Arcade’s Dungeons & Dragons podcasts… I’d never played (or even really heard of) 4th edition before listening to those sessions and they were a great introduction. They made me want to play again. So, with the help of a friend, we pulled together a few recruits for a new campaign. I’ve been working behind the scenes to prepare to DM the new game and we’re hoping to meet for the first time in December.

On this blog, I plan to do a couple of things:

  • First, I’m going to chronicle the party’s adventures for friends of mine that might enjoy reading their (mis)adventures
  • Second, I’m going to post thoughts/observations/ideas on the game itself and the things that I’ve been working on as a DM to make the play experience easy and fun for “grown-ups” that have a limited amount of time to prep and play

Well… I think that’s enough to get us started. First couple of posts will be about my prep work and I hope to have a report from our first session by the end of the year!