D&D 5e Kids Campaign

DND_5e_LogoLast week saw the start of the D&D 5e Kids Campaign I had mentioned in a couple of different places. While I have run for my own kids many, many times – I have never run for kids I am not related to! But my son has reached the age where he has like minded friends in school and the time seemed right. Over the holiday break we scheduled the first game for a Friday night.

The Setup

We had 6 kids total playing, ranging from 2nd grade (my daughter) up through 6th grade. My kids and two others had been exposed to RPGs before. The other two had played the Dungeon board game. So we had a good sized group to get started with.

The parents hung out for the game. One plays with her kids, and though offered a chance to roll up a character decided to just assist with the character generation and such. One father had played in the past and chose the same, offer assistance during character generation and during the game.

I must say the help received was a tremendous benefit – especially during character generation. It was hard for me to help everyone with character generation. And even though not all had played 5e, just being able to listen to directions and help guide their kid through the process was extremely useful. They both helped a bit during play too, which was useful if I was in conversation with one part of the table regarding their actions.

Character Generation

This was my first time running 5e, which did hamper character creation just a bit. While if we had been playing D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord, etc I could have been much quicker and confident with some of my character generation answers. As was I did need to look several things up during character generation. It wasn’t bad, but it did slow things down just a bit.

I did have character creation cheat sheets printed prior to the game, so they could be used by players to help walk through character creation and guide the process. I also had tons of extra dice (with enough to give way to the kids so they had their own set – only two kids didn’t already have dice though).

All in all it took about 2 hours to get characters generated by the time I had helped each kid with their character. The 5e character gen process is pretty solid, it was just a matter of helping so many people at once and needing to do a fair number of rule lookups to answer their questions. In hindsight I should have rolled up more of my own characters just for practice!

By the end we had the following characters in the party:

  • Elven Rogue
  • Elven Ranger
  • Human Sorcerer
  • Half-Orc Paladin
  • Elven Sorcerer
  • Gnome Wizard

A bit of a magic heavy party, but really with the cantrips 5e has, that was not too concerning. Plus the short rest mechanics contribute to making things acceptable even without a cleric.

Choosing The Adventure

I wanted to hook the kids early, so I really wanted to get them into an adventure where they could accomplish something, knowing I wouldn’t have much time to run by the time character generation was done (I had guessed more like 75 to 90 minutes on character generation).

I didn’t have to look far for a solution for that, as this is the very problem the Pocket-Sized Encounters from Iron Tavern Press attempt to solve. Shorter sized adventures to drop in when time is short or when you need an option that doesn’t derail a campaign. For the need I had, I chose Kajak’s Kave.

Kajak’s Kave is a 4th-ish level adventure for Swords & Wizardy and Labyrinth Lord, so I needed to do some tweaks to get it appropriate power level for a group of 1st level 5e characters. The biggest change I did was to swap the final BBEG out with one of the more powerful gnolls from the 5e Monster Manual. The other creatures in Kajak’s Kave I just used the 5e stats from the Monster Manual for as well. This swap worked perfectly.

What Rating?

So going into the game I wasn’t sure at what rating to run the game (i.e. G, PG, PG-13, etc). I mean I knew not to go too extreme obviously, but what was going to be appropriate for this age group? Anyone that listens to the actual play know things get pretty crazy with that group. So what about the kids?

It didn’t take long to figure that out! I was no more than three sentences into setting the scene in Hommlet (yes, that Hommlet) before one of the kids loudly stated he was hanging out at the bar! As the game evolved the kids pretty much picked the rating for the game by skinning dead critters and in some cases taking their head.

The Adventure Unfolds

The characters were hired by a local townsperson to track down what had happened to Shaerie, a huntress who had not come back from her favorite hunting grounds. The kids immediately started bargaining payment! Negotiating what they felt was a good deal they headed out, making a stop at the local blacksmith to check out his wares. Then they were fully underway!

The ranger got to use some tracking and eventually they found the area they needed to. Kajak’s Kave is pretty short with only a couple of encounters in it. They cautiously explored the cave and successfully tracked down what they needed.

When the adventure ended the whole table was disappointed the adventure was already over! They wanted to go more, even though we went about 45 minutes past the time I had thought we would wrap up. It definitely seems like a good time was had by all!

What’s Next?

The next session has already been scheduled and the group is back in Hommlet. I already have a couple of hooks dropped for them, but they will have plenty of time to poke around town and possibly learn a few more before they determine which direction they will head next!

The session was very successful and I am looking forward to the next one!

D&D 5e and PDFs

D&D 5e PDFsI have been buying the D&D 5e products as they have been released. I have been very pleasantly surprised with the system since I started reading the Basic Rules. The Starter Set seemed very nice (though lack of cardstock covers was a stupid decision) as well. I already had the Player’s Handbook on pre-order and ordered Hoard of the Dragon Queen shortly after starting my read of the PHB.

Rules wise D&D 5e looks like it will be fun to run and play. It seems a nice mixture of some older school though with some newer mechanics. The things I don’t like about it are often called out as optional (Dragonborn, Tieflings, and feats – I am looking at you). And that is what led me to order Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I am looking to run a weekend family game (plus some close friends) and was trying to decide between the Starter Set adventure and Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Both look like fun to run, so I am still a little in the undecided camp. But, this post isn’t about that – I just wanted to be clear up front that so far I am very impressed with 5e and supporting material.

Except for one thing. I need PDFs!

Mearls on PDFs

PDFs and 5e is of course a frequent question from folks. All the major game systems have PDFs of the rules. Just in games I play – Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, etc, etc – all have PDFs of the rules. Most, if not all, have PDFs of the adventures available for them as well. We’ve had this option for years.

Now we know Wizards isn’t entirely afraid of PDFs anymore. Just look at http://www.dndclassics.com/ Lots of PDFs available for versious D&D versions and supplements through the years. Awesome stuff!

So why no PDFs for 5e yet?

Well – between the recent EN World interview and Tome Show interview with Mike Mearls we can piece together some of what is going on. Let’s look at each point (summarized by me, but feel free to read or listen to the actual interviews at the links above).

There has been no official announcement on PDF support. It sound like Wizards is interested in some form of electronic distribution, but haven’t decided what will work best. So they are playing it safe and possibly watching how things evolve.

Eh – sort of makes sense. But the lack of official announcement or being very forthcoming with what is going on is actually causing some of the bad rap Wizards is getting out there in the community. Talk to us. Let us know what is coming. Folks are making decisions now – PDF support factors in for some people.

They want to avoid people feeling cheated because the bought the PDF of something, but then find out they have to pay for Dungeonscape content.

Hey! That’s why you make official announcements and let people know what is up. Tell people – here is a PDF version, but be aware we have this cool new tool coming where you will need to buy content in it as well. So if you want the cool new tool you might want to hold off on buying the PDF. But for those who don’t care about the new electronic tool, here are the PDFs.

So much of Wizards bad feelings on the 5e release has been the lack of communication. Which has left people guessing and something thinking the worst. Communicate! It would solve the PDF vs. electronic tool purchase decision for a lot of folks.

They don’t want to cause undo competition with Dungeonscape, the electronic tool coming for 5e by the end of this year. So rather than harming the Dungeonscape initiative Wizards is holding off on anything that might compete with that electronic product.

I only know what I have read online about Dungeonscape. Again – folks are pretty vague about this. But some info did trickle out from Gen Con and here is what I have to say to this. Dungeonscape sounds more like Hero Lab for Pathfinder than a PDF replacement. It can handle character generation, let me add some custom items, and walk me through several rules based things. But it doesn’t sound like a PDF replacement, just a character generator/campaign management tool. It sounds neat, but not the PDF format I desire.

Again – up front communication would solve the competition issue I think. I suspect it would become clear these aren’t really identical products. Or at least with enough official info we could determine which path we wanted to take as a consumer.

I will have more on Dungeonscape in a minute on what if it is the PDF replacement, but read on.

Wizards wants to figure out a way to provide a stripped down utilitarian format PDF type electronic distribution, because that is what people want.

What!? If this is the thought I think Wizards is way out of touch with what us folks that like PDF versions of products expect. I don’t want a stripped down utilitarian version. I want art, I want maps, I want tables, I want bookmarked PDFs, and hyperlinks between sections. I like layers in adventure PDFs, because that helps me with online games. By no means do I want a stripped down utilitarian PDF.

I understand there is a group of folks that want ePub format. I don’t really fall into that camp as I find the PDF format extremely versatile, multi-platform, easy to use with cloud storage, etc, etc. But I don’t even think the ePub folks want a stripped down version, they just want a fully featured electronic format that is actually useful.

There is some note of splitting a PDF or electronic pieces – i.e. just the fighter, just the spells. Uh – no, I don’t want this either. I don’t want to buy my electronic document via microtransactions. I want the whole thing.


A lot of attention is going towards Dungeonscape as the answer for electronic distribution. First, from what I have read I am skeptical it is going to actually be in a position to replace PDFs. It sounds much, much more like a character generation tool and/or campaign management tool. Cool stuff to be sure (I love Hero Lab for Pathfinder, but it doesn’t replace PDFs of Pathfinder products – they are different tools).

But let’s say Dungeonscape does let me read the rulebook from page 1 to the end. And that it can handle adventures (because, really – I want a PDF of Hoard of the Dragon Queen which I am getting to…).

This is a no deal for me. I simply don’t trust a 3rd party for a niche hobby to be a long lived company. I certainly hope they stick around while the edition is supported, but I am thinking longer term. Small companies just don’t have the resources to keep up as easily as someone like Adobe who makes my PDF reader.

Supposedly you can use Dungeonscape offline which several have said is good enough. But what if my iPad crashes and Trapdoor Technologies is no longer around? Did they let me make backups of my data files? Or do I need to redownload them from their servers (ooops, they shut them down for 6e). Or say iOS jumps in version, will their app still work? I have apps that are still supported that need to release updates to work with the new iOS versions. How about web browser updates? There are just way too many things that I can’t get from a 3rd party who may or may not exist in 5 years.

Meanwhile PDFs are a standard. There are multiple companies that make readers for PDFs. Big companies. If the PDF standard gets passed to the wayside for something better, I can count on some company to build in a tool to save existing files in the new format. A pain to be sure, but an option. And given the predominance of the PDF format I can simply trust that I can access or convert my PDF files in some form or fashion for many, many years to come – regardless of what happens to Paizo or Wizards as companies.

Hoard of the Dragon QueenWhy I want a PDF

A lot of people want a PDF version of the PHB. And I am in that camp. But this post is more about a PDF of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. So much of my adventure prep these days is done from PDF. I can put the file in my Google Drive and access it from any computer I use regularly, my iPad and even my phone. This is extremely convenient for me. I do a lot of game prep away from home. Having the adventure (and rules) in electronic format is a huge plus for me.

As I noted earlier, a large number of companies already give me this ability. So here is how I use the PDF for game prep.

First, just a general read through of the adventure while at lunch, while waiting for an appointment, etc. This need is pretty easily met in nearly any electronic form, but I prefer PDF for the supportability and lifespan of PDFs as opposed to 3rd party proprietary software that I must use to read the material.

Second, I extract the maps out of the PDF for use in online play via Roll20 or something similar. Paizo used layers on their maps so I actually ended up with player ready versions of the maps in mere moments. Super cool. Without a PDF I am left with the cumbersome option of scanning actual book pages. While I can do this, it takes a lot longer manipulating the scanner and rescanning the ones I inevitably mess up by not having the book straight, etc.

Third, if so motivated I can capture images of NPCs or generate handouts for the players. This is especially true for online games. This again is much more difficult without a PDF version of the adventure. My prep time increases and it is a hindrance to online play. And a lot of my gaming happens online these days.

Maps for Sale

To be fair, in regards to Hoard of the Dragon Queen the maps are for sale by the cartographer in digital form. At quick glance it looks like it would cost $18.50 to purchase all of the maps from the adventure. That could solve my online map issue. I do question spending $18.50 on maps and still not having a PDF version I can use anywhere and still not having an easy way to handle handouts, or NPC pics though. I also have no guarantee future cartographers for future adventures will do the same thing.


These are the reasons why I want a PDF of the rules and adventures. The face of gaming has changed over the years and more and more of us rely on PDFs for game prep – both for face-to-face games and online games. The other big player in the gamespace provides PDFs for all of their supplements. So to woo some of those folks away, Wizards will need to provide similar materials to help support the way we prep for games.

I like what I have seen of 5e so far. It looks like a solid system. I am just getting frustrated as I prep this adventure with no electronic support. I get even more frustrated when I see Wizard’s representatives trying to tell me what I really want is a stripped down, utilitarian electronic format of the rules or adventure. No – I want the PDF – my game prep is centered around having such tools at my disposal and I feel safer in my “investment” of a PDF than a proprietary 3rd party software app for a niche industry.

A Look At 5e So Far…

DND_5e_LogoPerhaps the only thing on the net to rival all the talk of Johnny Football is conversations on 5e D&D. They have a lot in common with people speculating on if they are good or bad without a game being played. At least in the case of Johnny Football we have tape of him in college. With 5e we just have previous editions. But with the new game of D&D just like the NFL the rules are changed in ways that make it tough to judge them before the first snap or die is rolled.

When looking at 5e D&D I do so through my own eyes. I am not going to talk about or be concerned with it the Starter Set does its job to allow new gamers to understand and be attracted to the game. I am also not interested in the started adventure except to say it should have included Aleena and Bargle in it. I also will not look at every aspect of the new game that is out. There are some things that just don’t interest me to write about. I do hope to get everything correct but it is always possible I get a rule wrong as this is a new game.

I don’t like the way it is being released with little nuggets at a time and lack of solid information. I am not sure it will help the game. Gamers will be taking what little info they have and making guesses about the rest. These guesses will become assumptions that will be harder to disprove and we all know few people ever fully read the rules to correct themselves. There will be a lot if inaccurate information that Wizards will have to overcome.

The game is D&D so it is of no surprise that the six attributes remain the same. It is interesting to see random attribute generation is back and encouraged. I was never a fan of that but then point buy came along and showed me there is something worse. I think it will be challenging for players of previous editions to accept that these lower attributes in this game are going to be adequate. To aid in that I think Wizards should have gotten rid of the numbers and just left the modifiers. Having a 14 in an attribute doesn’t mean much and the 14 is never used. The game uses the modifiers one has to look up on a chart to get. They should have gotten rid of that chart and those numbers and just left the modifier. This is not a new idea True 20 did it and it worked great there.

The proficiency bonus is going to be interesting. With everyone having the same bonus it means that characters that want to do something everyone can do better than them like fighters with weapons of rogues with certain skills will have to get those extra bonuses in the class. I like the idea of the proficiency bonus has the same number being added to saves, skills, and attacks. I hope we see more uses in the game that takes advantage of this system.

I like the idea of a few core races and with many of them having sub races. It should make things a little easier than having every sub race be its own race entry. Of course this could make tons of sub races happen and there could be an issue with should something be a race or a subrace. There will be a Dragonborn race at some point and I would prefer it being a subrace to each class that some of them change into a Dragonborn like in the 3e book that had them. I liked that a lot better than a race of humanoid dragons when we already have kobolds in the game.

With classes I can see a similar problem. What makes a Sorcerer so different that it will be its own class separate from the Wizard? With also the Warlock and Bard class all arcane spellcasters there will need to be more mechanical differences to make them stand out.   Even the Druid could be made an archetype of the Cleric or the Paladin a version of the Fighter or Cleric. Most of the D&D games continually had too many classes and options that were not well thought out. I do like the options that can be built upon to help shape the characters. I hope we see many options that used to be feats become part of the archetype system. I also like that the game moves in some way away from the Vancian magic. The versatility of the spells is also a nice improvement. Spells that can be cast at a higher spell level is also a good addition. It will hopefully keep the spell lists smaller and I cannot wait to see some creativity in the higher spell slot system. It can be used for better things then just rolling more dice.

The advantage and disadvantage system is a great addition, though it is going to matter on less than fifty percent of those rolls. People have done the math on line of course but even if it does affect less than half the rolls that use it. It will be easier to remember to roll a second d20 than to add all those damned small bonuses that plagued some of the earlier games.

Magical items look pretty good so far. I hope to see wands and staffs that have spells that can be used by anyone. If people want to weaken casters open up spell casting to all characters just don’t make them as good at it. I do like that the charged items regain random charges each day. When they run out of charges though the chance of the items destruction needs to be greater than five percent. I would like to see some items that have the possibility of losing charges per day do there is no guarantee. Say an item that gets back a d6-3 charges per day. Items that have to attune with the owner are also interesting. Hopefully a person can only attune with a few items at once. I am also hoping cursed items have the ability to attune with their owner taking up an attunement slot but still being useful in some way. The best cursed items are the ones that have a negative that does not completely overshadow their positive.

August will be a good month to learn more. Cleveland plays four preseason games that month and we should see Johnny Football some in each of those games. For D&D the Player’s Handbook comes out and it will fill in a lot of blanks and hopefully end much of the speculation.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Review: D&D Starter Set

D&D Starter Set Cover

Review by Guest Blogger Kelly Davis

The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Box (MSRP $19.99, Preorder Amazon $12.65 at time of this review) is worth the price for groups wishing to try the new version of D&D.  I would recommend only one box purchased per group, as the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules are available as free download from the WOTC website.

The large starter box is mostly filled with air, but your printed copy of the basic rules might help fill the empty space. Inside, you will find a 32 page rulebook, a 64 page adventure book, 5 pregenerated characters, one blank character sheet (intended for use in the D&D Encounters organized play program) and a set of polyhedral dice.   The rest of the space is taken up by a cardstock spacer.

The rulebook covers what you would expect. A brief introduction to the hobby of roleplaying, dice conventions and a brief introduction to all the rules, equipment and spells that the players would ever need to complete the 4 adventures in the other booklet.

The Adventure booklet contains 4 linked smaller adventures, each probably playable in two 4 hour sessions depending on how your group operates. They are written to help the new DM, with hints at enemy tactics, hooks on getting your characters into the adventure proper, and the back of the book features a mini-monster manual for any creatures found in the adventures. The four adventures are designed to take a group of 4-5 characters from 1st to 5th level.

The adventures are decent. They give the characters options, it’s not simply a set of encounters done one after the other (like 4E published adventures seemed to be). There are consequences for actions – perhaps being too noisy alerts the enemy, or catching them by surprise allows for some tactical advantages.

The game comes with 5 pregens. 2 very different fighters, a dwarven cleric, an elven wizard and a halfling thief. Each character has a few sentences that describe their personality, background and some character flaws that, if roleplayed, gain minor advantages later on. The reverse side of the character sheets feature info on the race and class  of the given character and the pre-selected improvements that occur with each new level. This takes a lot of the guess work out and allows people to play without even looking at the basic rules or the forthcoming Players Handbook.

I really like these pregens! They are likable characters who are well thought out. Some of your players may want to keep them rather than build their own once you get into the Basic rules.  There is also one single sided blank character sheet with a blurb about the Encounters program on the other side. With the popularity of Living Campaigns and Pathfinder Society, can you blame WOTC for starting 5E’s organized play program before the Player’s Handbook is out?

The dice are nice, too. They are a marbled blue with white inking. They are slightly more ‘precision edge’ than your typical rounded/polished dice, although they are very light – perhaps made of a cheaper plastic?

All of this in a study box (like the old days!) for a small price.  What could have been added? Maybe some stand up cardboard minis?  Sure, but the new approach to D&D makes ‘theater of the mind” OK again, so don’t want to send the wrong message.   I would have liked the two booklets to have more substantial, cardstock covers , too.

So, I recommend this as a purchase for your group. Everyone doesn’t need one. Only one box – for the DM of your group , should be fine.

Kelly Davis has been playing roleplaying games for most of his 40 something years. Most of that time has been spent as a game master.  He works as a contract system analyst for General Motors and is happily married with two creative kids who he is hoping will take up his hobbies.  His favorite games include D&D (all editions), Gamma World, Savage Worlds and Dungeonslayers!

The Year of D&D

dnd-logoI have been welcomed back to the Iron Tavern! I am as surprised as you so I thought I would start of with a little diatribe of my prediction for this year. Of course that prediction is all about the up and coming edition of everybody’s best known game, Dungeons and Dragons.

If you are a regular reader of my posts (may Besmara bless you) you will realize the love-hate relationship I developed with the D&D Next material from last year. I liked it a lot because it is no longer a board (bored) game and is swinging back to its roots with some interesting mechanical choices and a somewhat retro feel. You will also recall I could not organize a game of it. Sure, after I declared it dead to me people came out of the woodwork to give me a game but I stayed true. It should not have been that hard to have played a game.

I am now looking at some of the release schedule for the coming year and I have to say it is hard to go past the release of this new edition for excitement and anticipation. I personally have made the decision to not invest in the game as I believe this year will be the year of Shadowrun for me. But the players of my regular Pathfinder game are keen to give this new D&D system a go.

I have to say the release schedule for Pathfinder is looking pretty bleak in the way of major game releases. There are of course the regularly scheduled releases of Adventure Paths and modules, Golarian updates, players companion material but nothing really to enhance the core system in a major way. There is the Advanced Class Guide currently being playtested but will be up for an August release, so some time before I need to spend money. I have to say that the idea of a Class Guide (I have not downloaded the playtest so I may be very ignorant here) leaves me a little cold. There are a LOT of customization options available for most classes already so it makes me nervous to consider what may be in this book.

Release of Dungeons and Dragons will more than likely occur sometime in June, July, or August. I am not sure how the release will be structured. Will they follow the tradition of having a players handbook, a dungeon master guide and a monster manual? Or will they finally change up this tired and expensive process. The site that announces the “Summer” (won’t be summer here) release has no further details and points to dungeonsanddragons.com which is a parked site with no detail on it yet. What would be nice is a boxed set. Just saying 🙂

Of course there are some other fantastic game developments coming up. Pathfinder Online is set to move into testing stages after the next quarter (I have early access – woot!) and there are a bunch of other exciting projects coming to fruition in 2014. FATE turns officially one this year and it seems to still be going strong with a stream of really useful material now out for it. Earthdawn Kickstarter is in its last days and is promising to be a great new start to a troubled title that has floundered for a little too long (Earthdawn is my favorite fantasy game ever). You can still back it though there are only two days to go. The details are here.

2014 is shaping up as the year of the Dungeons and Dragons but what are you looking forward to most? Hit us up in the comments section and let me know what I should be getting excited about! Keep rolling everyone.

Mark Knights is  40 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Fantasy System Customization

Questioning BoyToday I come to you asking for help. I am trying to find a system that matches requirements for a certain type of play style that arose out of a conversation I got involved in yesterday. I was asked recently by an American friend to investigate games based on customizability. There was a large discussion about the systems we know about and I think he shaped precisely what he wanted from that discussion. We talked Pathfinder a little and I lamented about the one thing I don’t really love about the system that was introduced with D&D 3rd Edition and that is Feats.

What my friend is wanting to do is find a game where he can take an off the rack class (say a fighter) and through options of customization, turn him into a stalwart defender so to speak. Or it might be he wants a rogue that customizes to become an excellent burglar. Just the ability to take an off the rank archetype and make it your own. I talked a bit about feats as they were topical at the time I joined the conversation and I stated how I really did not like them. Feats as a tool for customizability are good but they make the rules systems intricate and complex.

I have been watching a person on Google Plus (Keith J Davies) who is currently trying to model the feats and their dependencies in UML (maybe, but definitely some kind of flow chart) and he is coming up with some intensely complicated diagrams. These diagrams are just for the requirements too! Let us hope he doesn’t try to model the effects also! From a GM perspective, feats are a nightmare as there are hundreds of them and they all essentially change, tweak or break the rules in some way. In an ideal world the players would all know their own feats but I get asked at least once a game what a feat does. Not to mention the NPC feats and monster feats that you have to be across to utilize your opponents well.

OK, feat rant over. They are good for customization but they introduce a massive bloat in complication. Once we had reached this point in our discussion we started to look more broadly at the customizability of other games. D&D Next was looked at favorably apart from the removal of the skill system introduced also in 3rd Edition D&D which we thought limited the customization of a character. Instead the system relies on a very poor amount of proficiencies (taking it back to similar to first and second editions). Dragon Age was mentioned as a possible option though we do not like the proprietary feel of the system. Exalted came up and was looked at favorably but the “charms” it uses create new rules and thus has the same problem as Pathfinder with every “charm” offering more complexity to the game.

So what I guess we are looking for is a fantasy system that does the following things;

  • offers a healthy level of character customization so you can build different characters from the one archetype;
  • contains a skill system that is variable (i.e. not a binary system of you know it or you don’t, but a system that offers levels of understanding)
  • customization mechanics need to build off present rules so that the effects only modify what any character can already do
  • customization options must not be “overly” extensive (i.e. there can’t be so many that the games complication outweighs its usability); and
  • it has to be a game with a certain amount of “crunch” value (where “crunch” means a robust rules set and the game is not considered rules-lite)

This is a challenge that I put out to you all dear players and GM’s of the interwebs. We all have our favorite systems (and despite my rant about Pathfinder feats it is still one of my favorites) and I am hoping that for some of you the points above may be ringing true. There are a lot of fantasy systems out there and hopefully one will fit the bill. Do you feel the game that you play meets those dot points? Does the game you play fit the points because you house ruled it? Do you feel that these points would represent a game you would like to try or do you not value customization in a game? Please help us out and share your systems with me that you think will meet our needs. Until next week, keep rolling.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

D&D Next is DEAD to me…

D&D NextI am now hanging my head in shame. A shame that I would never have thought to be possible. For two weeks I have lead a public charge to find players to test the final play test release of D&D and in each of these weeks I have found no one. I even tried to appeal to my American compatriots (where I have the largest readership) and run it in an American friendly time which would have meant me getting up early. But alas, my inbox was a place for tumbleweeds to breed and blow across the empty folders of my D&D Next playtest folder.

Melodramatic? Maybe. Over the top? Perhaps. Serious? Definitely. I am but one person who is trying out this game but I can honestly say that this is the first time ever I have tried to get a game up and running and failed. The sadder thing is it does not seem to be an isolated incident when it comes to play testing this game. I have had comments on my blog asking for me to keep people in the loop of what the game runs like because they can’t find anyone willing to play it. I have had other comments where they played a game or two but it all fell apart due to lack of interest.

Is D&D dead?

It looks as though it is to me. I find this very disappointing as the game that I have read offers a lot of potential. It looks like a game that packages together a really workable system of the game. I mentioned last week that it feels like a retro game, and it does. But I have now worked out why. It is because it does not bring anything new to the table but what it brings is a really solid combination of rules and playability that comes packaged in a familiar way. D&D is the security blanket to a lot of people, or at least used to be. I have seen all of the mechanics that are included in these rules elsewhere. There is no smoking gun. No mechanic that illustrates a system of brilliance I can’t live without but it has an excellent balance of good, proven mechanics that do not get in the way of playing it.

It is disappointing to me in another way too. I got excited about D&D again. I have not been excited by D&D since I got the first 3.0 players handbook in my hand (and that wiped the excitement away very quickly). This system makes me think I would enjoy it just as much as I did the Basic set of D&D. But I just don’t know and that irritates me. Do I go out on a limb and buy the books anyway? Possibly running the risk of purchasing dead weight that will never see a game?

I am now calling it, good people of the Iron Tavern Blog. My D&D Next reviewing days are over. My conclusion on the whole scenario can be surmised by the following statement. “D&D Next is perhaps amongst the sleekest designed systems I never played and may go down in history as the best version of D&D that killed the franchise due to lack of interest” RIP D&D, you created many hours of fun in my life and I will be sad to see you go. Keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

Failure to Launch

D&D NextI promised a play review of D&D Next this week and I am afraid that I am going to fail to deliver. But this was not through lack of trying. This makes me now wonder have the D&D crew lost too many people now for the Next generation to be a roaring success.

It is hard for me to pass judgement on this. I walked away from D&D 4th Edition after a year of playing and never even looked like going back. I sold books that I had never even opened the cover of to read when I found Pathfinder and decided to make the shift. Now I am in an amusing position of running Pathfinder mainly as my system of choice, a classic system for my sci-fi games and a very successful Indie game called FATE for everything else. I also live in a rural community in Tasmania, Australia which is far from the bustling areas where gamers gather. Honestly, where I live I am lucky to have an in person group.

The thing I do have though is a modicum of charisma and generally if I really want to get a game I can persuade people into it. This week I really wanted to give this game a try. Next looks good but I need to run it to see if it plays as well as it reads. I think this game is a worthwhile addition to the genre and honestly should have been 4th Edition. So there are two things that I can put me failing to get a game running over the past week to.

The first is that my good old charisma is failing me and the ravages of my overwhelming ego are obscuring reality. Some people that know me would certainly have a giggle at that whilst privately believing it. But I seriously think that it is case two. Case two is that the D&D brand is so badly thought of now that few people actually want to give it a run.

The reasoning of why this may be the case is tied up in conversations that I have had this week with individuals online and in person, as well as comments that came on one of the posts on my own blog (www.thepathfinderchronicles.com) when I posted a little bit more on the detail of the system. Much of the commentary I read was that people who had read the rules of the game are struggling to get groups together that have a desire to play the game! One commenter stated they began to play it but the group fell apart because of apathy and real life!

I do find this hard to reconcile. Most gamers have fond memories of this system and while it has suffered (arguably, I am not trying to troll) in the past few years I would still think there is interest as Hasbro’s bottom line says their role playing division is still profiting away. I announced out my regular Tuesday night game that if the players were keen I would run a game at my work for them on the Saturday and it appeared to interest a couple.

On the Saturday (I work in a service station Saturdays) one of them came in. But just to buy a coke. Apparently he had too much going on in an online MMORPG to come and play. The other that I thought may have come popped in for five minutes to say hello, get some of his pay and go again. It was then that these comments I had been reading began to hit home. The two players are the ones who were super hot on the idea of Next when they heard about it and got me interested enough to do the download the material.

I can honestly say I am a little bit disappointed at the moment with my “failure to launch” a game. I have to say though that this week I fully intend to run a game of Next. I had wanted it to be an in person game but it seems that I may not be able to achieve that so I am willing to run this game virtually via hangout. So I am putting the call out here first. If you are keen to give D&D Next a run for its money this Saturday evening (for our American compatriots) which will be Sunday morning Australian time send me an email direct at mark DOT knights AT gmail DOT com! I make this offer initially to the Iron Tavern readers. I want a crew of four to six players for the game which will run between two to three hours. I will put the request out on Google+ after this post has been on the Iron Tavern for a day.

So, what say you fine sturdy adventurers? Are you ready to find out what happens Next? Until next week, keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

What is Coming up Next?

D&D NextI have publicly declared my dislike for Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) much to the chagrin of many fans of the system.  I did not take this lightly, as my group and I played the system for over a year solid but we found we were just not getting any enjoyment out of it.  That is when a friend of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and I have step by step been indoctrinated into the system.  I even publicly stated that I would not even look at 5th edition D&D as they had lost me with the franchise.

A few days ago though a blog from Mike Mearls who is the senior manager for D&D R&D at Wizards of the Coast (WotC) entitled “The Final Countdown” caught my eye.  He talks in it about how the public playtest has gone, what they learnt from it and what is to come.  It appears the final playtest is almost over and that the recent release to the DnD Next community was to be the last before they did the hard work working out the maths of a balanced system and creating what will become the 5th Edition of D&D.  I had previously downloaded the Next documents as I had mentioned to Jeffrey Tadlock (the fine proprietor of the Iron Tavern) that I may do a review or two.  When I looked at it though I just could not bring myself to get into it.  I saw good and bad in the first few pages and so I left it.

But this blog has gotten me to download the system again and I have been doing some reading of the contents over the past few days.  What in this article got me to reconsider?  It was this quote from Mike that offered me hope “So, what did we learn from the public playtest? In some cases you confirmed things, in others you dispelled some notions that had become lodged in R&D’s view of you.”  Then he lists his five points that they learnt the most which were:

  1. We like simplicity.  We like games where we are up and running quickly and are able to create games quickly with simple tools

  2. We want classes that can contribute in every situation though we are OK with specialised classes if they balance things out on a broader scale

  3. We want tools that build adventures quickly and easily allowing us to focus on the plot rather than the mechanics

  4. We like flexible rules.  Give us a general rule that can be applied across many instances rather than a rule for every situation

  5. We want a game that will fit several styles of play and above all, a game that works

So I have now retracted my statements about fifth edition and I am looking at the Next material through new eyes.  If the D&D R&D take the above five points on in the system D&D should be looking like a very good game.  I have read a bit of the material now and am ready to make a few overall observations on the new material.  I have double checked the FAQ page and the people over at WotC are happy for me to blog about my experience with the system and so here we go.

I am really quite excited about what I have read and seen so far in the system.  I was trying to explain it to my Pathfinder players last Tuesday night by saying that the system felt like a nod to the retro systems without it actually being retro.  I really do feel like I am reading D&D, not a complete rehash of the system!  The system feels restrained, checked, simple.  I really felt it was a bit like Dungeon World with some of the ways that it has reigned its previous editions excesses in.  The system has been scaled back and a lot of effort has been placed into making the character classes have a lot of flavor and role-playing potential.  Previous editions really seemed to lose a lot of the character class flavor and they have drawn it right back in this edition.

The core classes remain, and I mean core.  The Cleric, Fighter, Mage (no longer Wizard) and Rogue make up the core contingent of classes with Barbarian, Druid, Monk, Paladin and Ranger also present as options that are not pure classes.  But each of these have a really distinct feel to them that makes me feel retro but offers some great color to the classes.  It is not only the classes that have had an injection of flavor, the whole text has with many Forgotten Realms references made in examples (this crushed one of my players who loves Greyhawk!).

All the traditional races are present with some variants (e.g. High Elf) so you will find the Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling and Human in these pages.  Variants are treated as off-shoots of the main race so you would find the High Elf detailed in the Elf section.  Again, these are delightfully portrayed and have a nice flavor to most of the races with only the half-breeds being terse on information apart from their statistical effects.

Skills have gone by the wayside, kind of.  They have now been wrapped up as attribute rolls.  You do not get skill points to spend each level so it really depends on your statistics how well you are at most of the skills that were included in third and fourth edition.  For example, if you wanted to patch up a bleeding companion it would ordinarily require a Heal check but now it requires a Wisdom roll.

Lolth SymbolThe rules on How to play are fantastic.  I was through them so quickly that I was shocked!  They have some great rules supporting a very intuitive, simple system!  Intuitive and simple?  Words I never thought I would say in connection with D&D again!  I laughed out loud after the combat section because it was so simple and so short that I figured there had to be more.  But you know what?  There wasn’t and it looks like it will work seamlessly which is something I craved for in these games.  One of the problems I had with third and fourth edition was the fact that anytime someone moved you had to reach for a rulebook to see if it met one of four hundred different criteria for various triggers (yes, I know I am exaggerating but not much).

Feats exist still but they are not the broad range of multi-configurable minor benefit wielding mechanics that they used to be.  In fact they are entirely optional and to take a Feat you have to give up one of the flavor powers that are offered to your class.  There are only twenty odd Feats listed in the section although I am sure that will grow before the final product is released.

That is about as far as I have looked in the system so far, although I have flicked through the Bestiary and made one major discovery.  Things have really been toned back.  Do not expect to see creatures in the coming edition with horrendously huge Armour Classes any more.  their stats have been toned right down as has the increase in player character to hit bonuses etc.  But I will talk to that after I have actually run a game of the system which I hope to do soon.  There is no telling how good a system is just from reading it so I already have a couple of people keen to give Next a run before next week where I hope to do a play review of the system here for the Iron Tavern.  Until then, keep rolling!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

En Route Encounters

En Route IIt has been a while since I ran a good sandbox fantasy campaign.  I like the adventure paths and enjoy going through them, but they are linear and it can be tough to really have the feeling of go anywhere and try to do anything.  Even though I haven’t run that kind of campaign lately I still hold on to and seek out books that aid in that kind of campaign.  There are not a lot out there that are easily adaptable and portable into different fantasy games and worlds.  This week I am going to look at three books of the En Route series by Atlas Games for their Penumbra line.  These books offer a variety of different encounters that can easily be dropped into almost any fantasy campaign.

The En Route series of books boasts some impressive writers.  We have author credits by Keith Baker, Brannon Hollingsworth, Chris Aylott, Spike Jones, Justin Achilli, and many other familiar names.  The first two are written for 3e and the third is written for 3.5 ed D&D using the OGL, but these are very mechanics light products making them very easy to port into any other fantasy game.  Since the books are older it should be easy to find them relatively cheap.  A quick look on Amazon.com shows they can be purchased for around $5 a piece.

En Route IIThe En Route series are books featuring simple encounters designed to be used when the PCs are traveling from one place to another.  Some are for on the road, in a city, a tavern, in a forest, on the sea, and other places.  There is a variety of different locations with some unusual ones like in a goblin encampment or whenever the party teleports.  Each encounter is a bit more in depth with great plot ideas that a DM can carry forward.  This is one of the great things I like about the books, the encounters can be throw away encounters the PCs run into and then can forget about.  But I like encounters that might originally feel like that but a DM can cleverly use something established there and showcase it later in the campaign.  I think it helps tie different adventures together and helps the players remember what is happening in the campaign because they know something that is happening now can come back and help or hinder them in the future.

Between the three books there are approximately 50 different encounters.  Each covers about four to eight pages.  There are simple ones like the Door.  It is designed for second level characters and while wandering a road they encounter signs that say something like “Are you Worthy?” and “Do you think you have what it takes?”.  Ahead off to the side of the road is a small trail that leads to a door in the side of a rock facing covered in mystical runes and animal carvings.  The door is locked and trapped.  What lies behind the door will be remembered by the party.

En Route IIIThere is the Haunting Place, which says it is for level 10 but I would reduce it to lower level.  The magic of a level 10 party could easily make this encounter too easy or they could kill the creature they are trying to help.  It is built on the idea of a summoned monster trying to get home but there is a communication problem between it and anyone it tries to get to help it.  It can really set the scene for a spooky encounter as the players are trying to figure out exactly what is going on.

Many of the encounters are not combat encounters.  Some use illusions or tricks to set up situations that are not quite apparent to the players at first. One of my favorites is the Glass House by Keith Baker.  It is a simple situation in which a magical experiment inside in Inn turns the place and everyone inside invisible.  The PCs are assumed to be outside and witness the Inn and everyone vanish.  There is a mystery of what happened and how to undo it all but it sets up for some fun and different kind of encounter.

The En Route series is perfect for DMs looking for something a little extra to help out a gaming session or serve as a small distraction.  None of them will take a full session or even a half of session but all of them could if the DM wants to put in a little work to add additional levels of complexity.  I like these for a sandbox campaign as it would be easy to just have the books handy and grab them when needed.  There are a few that could be used in Adventure Paths to just put in something different and not directly connected to the AP.  Most of them are for lower level groups and any of these that say they are for higher ones like level 10 and up I would pay close attention to, as most of them I feel would work better for lower level characters.  There is a lot of creativity and cleverness in these books coming from authors who were not as well-known as they are today.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.