Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is Dungeons & Dragons Evil? - Part 1

Upon announcing that I'd be hosting a Dungeons & Dragons party, I was immediately looked down upon and told "Dungeons & Dragons is evil and leads to witchcraft and Satanic worship! Why would you do this?!?". I was shocked by this response and more so as it was presented by educated, well spoken, and generally open-minded people.

Dungeons & Dragons draws it's roots from wargames - the recreation of historical battles using little metal miniatures. In 1971, Gary Gygax created a new set of rules called Chainmail which allowed fantasy elements to be added to these massive miniature battles. Many games based on similar ideas still exist today, including Warhammer Fantasy, Lord Of The Rings Miniature Game, etc. Dave Arneson approached Gary Gygax in 1972 with the idea of having the players control only a single character instead of an entire army. As the D&D Dungeon Master's Manual describes it,
"This combination of rules, miniatures, and imaginination created a totally new entertainment experience, and in 1974 Gygax and Arneson published the first set of roleplaying game rules with TSR, Inc. - the Dungeons & Dragons game."

The Character You Play

To play Dungeons & Dragons, you first have to have a character. A character is a representative inside the fantasy world that you control. You say he jumps, he jumps. You say she attacks with an axe, she attacks with an axe. Characters live, eat, fight, hurt and even die in Dungeons & Dragons. So what about playing a character in D&D makes it evil? Let's look a few a parts of the character to see what we can discover.

Character Alignment

What is character alignment? According to the D&D Player's Handbook, character alignment is:

"...your character’s dedication to a set of moral principles... ...in a cosmic sense, it’s the team you believe in and fight for most strongly."

In the 4th edition of D&D, there are 5 different alignment possibilities:

  • Lawful Good - "An ordered society protects us from evil."

  • Good - "Protecting the weak from those who would dominate or kill them is just the right thing to do."

  • Unaligned - "Just let me go about my business."

  • Evil - "It is my right to claim what others possess."

  • Chaotic Evil - "I don’t care what I have to do to get what I want."

These all sound like pretty simple definitions for each alignment and there are both options for good and evil. D&D does not force an evil alignment onto a player's character. In fact, the Player's Handbook states:

"If you choose an alignment for your character, you should pick either good or lawful good. Unless your DM is running a campaign in which all the characters are evil or chaotic evil, playing an evil or chaotic evil character disrupts an adventuring party and, frankly, makes all the other players angry at you."

Did I just read that right? The Player's Handbook actually tells players to not pick evil! It basically calls evil rude and socially unacceptable. Very interesting.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dungeon Delves #1

In May of 2009, I started my current D&D campaign. I created some 3D terrian for the very first session and documented the work I did.  I had intended on posting on a wordpress blog each month with information about the campaign story, allowing the various players to post from their character's point of view. Well, things fell through with all of that, but I wanted to repost a few of my old posts from the old blog that never became anything. So, without further ado, I present: Dungeon Delves #1 (parts 1 and 2 combined in a single post).

Well, I've begun working on some 3D terrain pieces for the first delve listed in the dungeon delves book. Take a look at my (admittedly slow) progress. These pictures are from my iPhone and auto-resized by wordpress, so I hope they turn out alright.

Ah...the unadulterated piece of foam. An empty canvas for the taking.

I started by marking off the 1" squares to help me keep perspective while cutting.

Next I started working on the corners. There's supposed to be a lot of rubble here in the end, so I roughed it up a bit and will add rubble-y pieces to it later.


Here's an overhead shot showing both corners.

Next, I either forgot I was taking pictures for this blog, or decided I didn't want to share my hole cutting secrets...because the next picture is from about an hour later. I cut out the center piece, made and glued stairs in and added the hole (entrance to the underground dungeon).

I still have quite a bit of refining to go but in the end I'm hoping to have something pretty close to this:


I have to be honest, I was disappointed with the progress I showed in my last post...even though building the 3D terrain is all new to me and I am learning as I go. I feel much better and more encouraged by tonight's update! Woo hoo!

Ok, now the jubilation is out of the way, here's the update! If you recall from my previous post, I ended with this pieces:

As I was looking at it tonight I was thinking about the different places where an athletics check would apply. According to the Dungeon Delve book, there is a fence (obviously not on my terrain yet) that requires an athletics check if you hope to hop it. There is also another check if you jump down into the pit instead of taking the stairs. It is a 5 foot drop after all. Since my brain works in very literal way at times I would then - if strictly following the rules - need to require an athletics check to actually get the player's miniature onto the this terrain piece. Now I know, you're probably thinking "...that's stupid, it's just a prop for the game! Why ruin all the fun for the players with needless checks?!?!" Yeah yeah, I know...but like I said, my brain...

So, what to do? Well, supposing this terrain piece is truly raised 5 feet from "game table level" I need more terrain that has an incline to allow the players to walk up to the terrain level without any undue hinderances. To do this, I decided to cut me out another piece of foam:

I then measured it out into 2 inch pieces and cut it up.


So now I have 2 pieces that nicely fit around the main terrain piece (it is technically a corner piece). Then, using clay modeling tools on borrow from my wife, I shaved and cut and whittled and shaped the foam into a ramp.



That turned out rather nicely, don't you think? The 2nd ramp I did a little differently since they have to meet at a corner. it would be silly for these pieces not to match up!


The slant is at a steep enough angle to reach the main terrain piece but not too steep that the miniatures can't stand on it. My brain has been satisfied. :)

Now it's time for some detail. Obviously if I went through all the trouble to build little ramps, I don't want to leave these terrain pieces an ugly blue-ish green color. I really don't have a lot of painting materials right now, but any little bit will help so let's see what I have...

This will do nicely. Next I laid out some trusty local newspaper and began spraying down my pieces. A few light coats and things are turning out nicely. I also sprayed down some rubble pieces for the corners.



Let's see how it looks all together again!

Sweet! Now for MORE detail! It just so happens I have some special water-based glue spray and this....

BAM! I love this little grassy stuff. After a few layers of glue and grass and glue and grass, we now have...


I still need to find a nice cardstock to glue these terrain pieces onto and a green felt or something to serve as grass as the players approach the cave entrance.

Well, that was fun! With the addition of the rubble and trees, I think this turned out waaay better than I expected. Please let me know what you think here in the comments!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mining Other Games For Props

I try very hard to keep the quality of my games at a high level for my players, not just in the story and encounters, but with the props and terrain I use as well. I have received compliments from each of my players about the various pieces I’ve used and would like to share my secret: most of my props are from other games. Originally, I started out making my own props and terrain, and although it was rewarding to be in control of every little detail of the pieces, I found it took entirely too much time to make them meet the quality I was expecting. At the next visit to my FLGS (friendly local game store), I walked through their Warhammer Fantasy/40k battle tables and saw all kinds of interesting terrain pieces and status markers. This prompted me to looked through the Warhammer and other tabletop gaming sections of the store and found all kinds of goodies.

fire explosion markers

As it turns out, the predominant damage type done by my group of players is fire – the Druid’s flame seed, the Sorcerer’s burning spray, the Dragonborn’s firery dragon breath, etc. – and the attacks usually have an area that is burning afterwards (or I, as the Dungeon Master, allow the surounds to catch fire as well and cause other problems across the battlemap). So when I saw the Gale Force Nine fire explosion markers, I knew I had found what I needed to bring my game to the next level. I also picked up the wall of fire markers for good measure and have used both extensively.

wall of fire markers

Further investigation throughout the store brought me to a section of terrain called Battlefield In A Box. These are high quality, prepainted terrain pieces normally used with various tabletop battle games like Flames of War. I ended up purchasing three different battlefield in a box kits, but have only used 1 so far.

gothic ruined walls

These are just my most recent purchases, but previously I came across a the JR Miniature website (and spent a little over my D&D budget at that time, heh). This purchase included river pieces, a bridge, some wall pieces, barrels, a blacksmith set, a tavern set, market accessories, and farm accessories! These pieces really brought my game into the next level of high quality for the players. (Note: Even though some of the JR Miniatures come prepainted, most of the little stuff does not. I still have a lot of painting to do with all those goodies.)

river, bridge, walls, barrels, and various other accessories

Before I got back into D&D and started using the 4th edition rules, my wife and I tried out The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. It is a very interesting and fun game, especially if you enjoy the books and/or movies. My interest waned after a while as I started getting back into D&D, but I still have the old sets laying around. I went looking for the goblins to reuse them and came across the other terrian pieces of the LotR game. Of all of the terrain I own, I've reused the stone columns from the LotR game the most.

terrain items from LotR:SBG

Other games are just a few places Dungeon Masters can find terrain and props to use in their D&D games. What kind of terrain and props do you use? Where did you find them?