I come back to you now at the turn of the tide…

2014 August 9
by Dante

New D&D Starter Set!Well, that was a nice long break.

Amid the relative insanity that is having a three-year-old, it seems that two years have gone by.  Our gaming group dissolved quite some time ago, mostly due to scheduling challenges.  While I haven’t been closely monitoring the situation, I was very pleased to see the release of the new version of the D&D Starter Set and the new Player’s Handbook this week.

I have been watching on social media as the D&D development team worked diligently to gather feedback, and based on the little that I’ve explored so far… this feels like D&D again.  I have briefly scanned through the new (free) D&D Basic Rules PDF and the PHB spell list and there’s a lot of classics present.  Several lucky sites have been previewing the different classes and it evokes a very D&D 3.0/3.5 feel to me, which has piqued my curiosity quite a bit.

That being said… I think it’s time to get the band back together.

 

GenCon once again!

2012 August 15
by Dante

As I write this, we are waiting for the baby to wake up from her nap.  After that, we make the trek to the storied heights of Denver International Airport where we will wing our way to GenCon.

I can distinctly recall the state I was in at the last convention.  Stupid Ranger was 7 weeks pregnant with the baby and it was still too early to tell anyone (since we had yet to see the doctor), so I spent a fair portion of the convention pensively wandering around the Marriott lobby fretting about how my wife and potential child was doing.  I also saw the gamers around me, and wondered if I was headed toward a life event that would handicap or eliminate my ability to ever attend and enjoy this convention again.  Suffice it to say, I am very excited about heading back to Indy and back to GenCon to be among the bulk of gamer-kind.

I’m sure the 20 of you that still read this blog are rife with anticipation, wanting to know what it is that the StupidRanger crew will be doing at the best four days in gaming.  Here it is, in short:

Wednesday

  1. Arrive at the hotel.
  2. Text Vanir to inform him that we survived.
  3. Sleep until further notice.

Thursday

  1.  Get badges, go to sales floor.
  2. Attend the Patrick Rothfuss reading at 4 pm.  Hopefully stick around and get him to sign some things and receive our adulation and/or hugs.
  3. Hopefully meet up with some of the Greater Nerds from Critical Hits.  Visit and/or game.

Friday

  1. More sales floor.
  2. Second chance to meet Patrick Rothfuss if the stars do not align on Thursday.
  3. Possibly attend signings for Wil Wheaton and Nichelle Nichols.
  4. ???

Saturday

  1. Last, final chance to impose upon Patrick Rothfuss, if all other attemps to name the wind fail.
  2. More sales floor.
  3. ???

Sunday

  1. Weep openly that the con has drifted by so quickly.
  2. Enjoy the benefits of time travel as we head back toward the mountains and pick up two hours of time, landing basically at the same time we took off from Indy.

And that’s the plan.  Sense a pattern here? :)  Both Stupid Ranger and I have recently read “Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear” and I very much want to meet Patrick Rothfuss and express my enjoyment of his work, possibly using some form of interpretive dance.

For those of you that we normally hang out with at GenCon: we are looking forward to seeing you all.  Understand, however, that our plans must remain more fluid this year since we are toting around a feisty 16-month old.  Any plans that we have made will be subject to change with little/no notice, you can blame said 16-month old for any schedule interruptions.  Another likely scenario: Stupid Ranger OR I will be able to attend to game with you, but chances are unlikely you will get us both in one place unless you also intend to endure splintered attention and a roving toddler.  Consider yourselves warned.

The good news: the baby has her own costumes and will be able to impart a +2 CHA bonus on your game or event.  That is all.

Countdown to GenCon!

2012 August 12
by Dante

Yes, ladies and gentlemen… we are still here!  In fact, we’re eagerly anticipating the start of GenCon!

This year I am pleased to report that the entire StupidRanger crew will be back together again, including our new addition.  That means we’re going to have to play the convention considerably more free and easy this year to accommodate the demanding schedule of a toddler, but I am certain that much fun will be had by all.  As I write this post, Stupid Ranger is upstairs getting our bags packed so we can hop a flight to Indy Wednesday and then the festivities can begin!

If you are looking to get together with us, even for just a short time let us know!

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

2012 July 4
by Dante

Even though our mean time between gaming encounters can be measured in months instead of weeks, there are still many ways that a man can find enjoyment from the gaming world.

Specifically, I have been watching my good buddy Vanir take his first steps into the world of being a Dungeon Master himself.  Most of these steps, missteps, and musings are chronicled in his Dire Flailings column at Critical-Hits.  He has been doing a tremendously good job at forging boldly ahead into the world of running games, but even moreso in the transparency he brings to his post-game show.  One particular column struck me, because he was recounting experiences that he had in a game that I was running for him.  He recounts a particular look that ran across my face when he rolled a 3 on the third chance I had given him to avoid the environmental hazard to escape the scene alive.  I realized in reading this sentence that, by God, he gets it now.

For me, running a game is about ensuring that the players have a good time but at the same time you don’t fight reality hard enough that people can see the puppet strings.  I rarely set out to kill the entire party.  Instead, I set out to present encounters that stretch them and if they fall they get the experience of getting back up and getting themselves out of a hard situation.  I’ve had moments when only one member of the party “survived” and usually their first action was to try to recover the remains of their friends and embark on the process of restoring them to life.  Sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn’t but every time it makes for a rich story and it invests the player with some level of control over their destiny.  Just like in real life, however, sometimes our destinies are unclear to us in the moment.  Vanir’s doing a great job of finding his way in these shoes, concerned desperately with the enjoyment of his players.  He’s on the right path.

While our gaming has slowed as our gaming group experiences the realities that busy life and childbearing brings, I am encouraged by those that I have played with going out and doing their own thing.  In fact, it makes me hungry to game again myself and I can promise one thing: GenCon Indy is coming, and our family will be there.  Gaming will occur, and rust will be shaken off.  I might even put Vanir through his paces as a player in his world for a change, and that would suit me just fine.

Stupid Ranger Memories

2012 May 16
by Vanir

The week before Gen Con 2007, my best friends and I started StupidRanger.com, a blog about D&D, Dungeon Mastery, and roleplaying.

When we first launched, we had more plans than just blogging. We had a t-shirt shop. We even had TWO webcomics.

As it happened, people liked our writing a lot more than our wide-spectrum “business strategy” (and they were an awful lot of work), so we don’t have those extras anymore.

Stupid Ranger still lives, albeit a little more quietly these days. Here are a few relics from our beginnings.

Hope you enjoy them.

stupidranger.jux.com

Behind the Screen: The indignity of a reboot…

2011 September 12
by Dante

My gaming group is a very dedicated group of roleplayers, however we don’t gather with a decent frequency.  Even with a recap, notes, session journals and as many remedies for remembering the details our group doesn’t have a tenacity for remembering where we were last session or the plot lines, let alone specific details surrounding either of those things.  For this reason we tend to have a fairly long social time prior to our gaming session, where food is shared, laughs are had, and then we get down to serious gaming… but it’s a journey.

Let me tell you about my campaign

Yes, I know.  Deal with it, you’re going to have to hear a little about my campaign to understand the point of this exercise.  The quest began with Keep on the Shadowfell and then evolved into one of my favorite homebrew settings.  I had a grand plan, which involved leveraging the time travel hooks of the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 to go back and rewrite the timeline of a previous campaign.  I figured this served me in a few ways, and them in a a few ways: the history of this setting is well developed, the characters were fun, and their enemy is known to them.  Add into the mix that at least one of the players had participated in the past campaign and I figured that I would be scott-free on keeping their attention and keeping them engaged.

Cue Summer of last year.  One of our group couldn’t make regular games and I had just gotten the Tomb of Horrors, so we agreed outside-of-game that we’d like to suspend any serious activity on the main plot and play some sessions of the module.  I even devised a way that it could be organic to the plot, so we did this.  This went swimmingly, and we had a few months at the end of last year to further dive into the original plotline.  All was well.

The Return to the Past

So the group tracks a cult along their plot to return back in time to prevent the destruction of the Big Bad Guy so they can bring him back to take over the world.  This goes great, and back to the past they go.  After interacting with the previous incarnation of their hometown for a bit, they follow the original threads of the plot to a few key points.  They had puzzled out the plot lines to follow, but didn’t really commit fully to one line…. instead they flipped back and forth between the plotlines and didn’t really accomplish much.

A few sessions of this go by, and before long my inability to plan a coherent way to get them back on course manifests itself… I had determined that enough time had passed that surely something must have happened.  The plotlines remaining would have stretched out for another year or so at the rate we play and the lack of general focus was annoying (at the worst) and obvious (at the best).  I decided there was no choice but to reboot the situation.

I chose a Hiro Nakamura style event to reboot.  I did a few very obvious SOMETHING HAS CHANGED time skips in the course of a single session, culminating in the group’s return to their now abandoned hometown (previously a bustling city).  The ranger and avenger opted to check out the temple, and found a man with a giant broadsword strapped to his back in strange clothes.  He was there to warn them that this timeline was doomed and they must leave it as soon as possible (they have a means to do this).  I also opted to use this opportunity to illustrate to them that excessive time travelling was detrimental, this gentleman was pretty messed up from the process.

Finally, they took the bait and we ended the session at the crossroads where they can choose where in time they want to go.

The Retrospecticus

So what could I have done differently?  Many things.  A word to the wise: when introducing time travel, have both an entry and an exit plan and give the players some real motivation to follow a plotline.  This could have easily been solved by a little more detailed planning on my part.  Also, there were many opportunities for me to nudge the group along (possibly even in narrative style) to get them down the line enough to pick up the proper path.

The other big thing that I could have done is used other means to keep the plotlines alive between sessions.  DNAPhil recently authored an excellent article at Gnome Stew entitled “Keeping The Home Fires Burning” covering this very topic.  There’s some great advice there, some I have even heeded in the past.  For the original campaign (the one that established the plot, characters, and setting that my current group returned to) we employed a group blog where the players could write articles in the form of diary entries or letters to their family.  It succeeded in giving the players another outlet to develop their characters and gave me an easy medium to collect additional side-plot ideas.

Suffice it to say I’m a little dismayed that I had to go so far as to reboot this portion of the campaign.  I can only look forward, because unlike my campaign there’s no way to go back and fix it.  More soon!

GenCon – Home Edition

2011 August 3
by Stupid Ranger

Friends of ours from Role-Playing Discussions are bringing the fun of GenCon to all of us trapped at home this weekend.  You can play along by participating in their Bingo contest.

Thanks, C and K, for bringing some of the fun to the rest of us! :)

On verdant soil treads the Dracolich…

2011 July 3
by Dante

Our gaming group reconvened for the first time in two months for our campaign.  They had left off just prior to a perilous battle with an unknown evil.  I was grateful as DM that they left off where they did, because I wanted to find them a particularly butt-puckering iconic encounter to welcome us back to semi-regular gaming.  As with most things these days, Real Life happened and I didn’t get time to prep very well but I did leaf through my Monster Manual enough to see that there was a like-leveled dracolich.  Yes, this will do.

Sadly, I didn’t read the fine print and just assumed that the terrifying dracolich of yore would provide an adequate solo creature to both frighten and challenge my players.  Frighten, yes.  Challenge, not so much.  You see, in 4e the dracolich is a controller.  This job it does admirably, having stunned most of the party for several consecutive rounds.  The trouble came in dealing the damage.  Unintelligently, I split up the yuan-ti’s that they recommend as being a Level 20 encounter into a second room and they were dispatched the previous session… so there was nothing in the way of big damage dealing to really threaten the party… what a shame.

So the moral of the story is this: when designing an encounter, be very sure to read what creature type you’re setting up to be your solo baddie… controllers don’t fit the bill very well, aside for dragging out combat extensively due to most of the party being stunned.

The upside: one of my players took the dracolich skull to ornament his bachelor pad with.  I really love my current group of players.

This is the face of a Game Changer

2011 May 20
by Dante

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the face of our personal Game Changer.  In March, Stupid Ranger and I welcomed into our adventuring party a little girl named Eve.  The last two months have been filled with the machinations of learning to care for a sleep-eating, cuteness-oozing little bundle of joy, so our regular gaming efforts have been largely on pause and so goes our blogging inspiration.

The good news: we have taken a few opportunities in our own way to continue to game.  We have had our D&D group together for a session just recently, which also coincided with Free Comic Book Day and an outing to see Thor (which was much better than I expected).  This day of epic nerdity helped to restoke the fires.  Stupid Ranger has been spending her spare time diving headlong into Dragon Age 2, and she has mentioned more than a few times that she wants to write a review up on that to tell you all of her experiences in Ferelden.  The point of mentioning all this is that you might see a bit of variety to our posts, reflecting the type of nerdy behavior that we’re able to participate in.

The bad news: I had to use most of my vacation time this year to welcome our new addition, so Stupid Ranger and I will not be able to attend Gen-Con this year.  But fear not!  Our very own Vanir will be attending and will be sure to bring his ultra-special roleplaying expertise to the convention center and the surrounding three mile radius.  We will be sure to share liberally his event schedule so you can meet up with him and receive your own free hair trimming to improve your gaming fortune.

Finally, I’d like to thank our loyal readers who have stuck around during this sabbatical.  With any luck we will return to a more frequent blogging schedule as things return to normal and our gaming resumes in earnest.  More soon!

It’s not cheating. It’s really not.

2011 April 5
by Dante

My good buddy Vanir recently posted a lament for his innocence over at Critical-Hits.  You see, Vanir has recently began filling the role of Dungeon Master and he’s having to grapple with the reality of how situations tend to unfold behind the screen.  It’s approaching a decade since I first took up the mantle and began running games, and one of the cardinal rules of filling this role was summed up concisely on page 18 of the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide in a section titled “DM Cheating and Player Perceptions”:

Do you cheat?  The answer: The DM really can’t cheat.  You’re the umpire, and what you say goes.  As such, it’s certainly within your rights to sway things one way or another to keep people happy or keep things running smoothly.

Other editions of the D&D rules have stated the case in similar but slightly different ways, and ultimately the responsibility comes down to you and the DM to take the appropriate action to keep the game fun or running smoothly.  Please note: this does not define what “keep people happy” or “running smoothly” means.  In my games, I considered my plot an outline… a mere suggestion… so that the players can choose to stay in the lines or to color way outside them.  Vanir often chose to color way outside the lines, onto the table, all over the walls, and perhaps two or three houses down the block.  I have always enjoyed letting my players define the world that they act in to a certain extent, allowing them to define where the railroad tracks get laid down to get the story from point A to point B.

So what’s a man to do?

To address Vanir’s problem specifically: every good DM cheats.  The trick is to provide the players with enough breadth so they don’t necessarily see you cheating.  For example: we’re fighting a long battle.  The players are expending their abilities and skills and it is depleting them, but not far enough that they are in any real danger of dying.  Could I run this encounter out to the very last hit point that the bad guy contains?  Sure I could.  Would it be boring, providing that the bad guy can’t really do enough damage to exhaust the group?  Absolutely.  So you fudge the bad guy’s hit points a bit to make the encounter end.

What I don’t like doing is (unfortunately) what Vanir did in his campaign: not being used to his players acting off-script, he magically teleported them to the next plot point.  There’s nothing really WRONG with doing this, but I do like some cause and effect to occur if the players act differently than they should have.  Just leading them to the next battle or skill challenge can feel pretty obvious to the players and take them out of the story.  I’m not beating up on Vanir any more than he already has himself, but better ways to deal with this type of situation mostly come with experience.  Figuring out a few contingency plans for what will happen if the players don’t take the plot hook or interact with NPCs in a non-ideal way will help to smooth these bumps.

The other main thing that Vanir mentions in his article is the loss of innocence from being a player.  Now you KNOW the fudging that can occur, and you start to ask yourself if every fun or exciting moment in a campaign was because of the DM acting to favor the players in some way.  The only advice I can give is this: sit back and enjoy the ride.  Have some caffeine and sugar, and let the game unfold.

It’s actually pretty fun sitting in the player’s chair again to see if you can detect when the DM is making stuff up.  I’ve found a few of them have a “tell”… they shuffle some papers, roll some dice that have no outcome on the encounter at all, or stare at the players with a blank or angry expression when things aren’t going as they anticipate.  It’s also fun to see how they resolve the situations as well, you can learn something from their responses too.  If I possessed the insane ability to play off-script player characters like Vanir does, I would be doing that all the time and see how the DM reacts.

But back to the main point: you never really can “un-know” the fact that the DM does some trickery to make the game move forward.  Just know it’s part of his job, and it’s part of your job to enjoy the story and be invested in your player character.  That’s the real fun anyway… building up a hero based on your own imagination.  There’s no rule set or die roll that should affect that aspect of roleplaying games one bit.