Archive for WotC

I Never Wanted to Be a DM…

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons with tags , , , , , , , on March 5, 2010 by Angry Johnny

When Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons was released, I was in a place in my life where playing some D&D seemed like an extremely good idea.  I was in a job I liked, my finances were essentially secure, my home life was peaceful and beautiful.  It was time for me to have a hobby, and I knew just the one.  I hadn’t played D&D in years, but I had loved it back then and thought it would be great social exercise for me (my social calendar was a bit lacking at the time).

The new system had a certain appeal to me, since I work in computer gaming and there are many design similarities to what I was already doing for a living.  I picked up the new PHB and started looking for a group.  I wanted to play D&D, not DM,  so that meant I needed a group and a DM.  Well, in Austin, there are either very few people who want to be DM or they already have full groups.  Plus, it seems that people tend to play with people who are already in their circle of friends (and though I knew some people who would probably play, none of them wanted to DM – and I certainly didn’t).

I tried a couple of local groups that had a spot open, or were created out of essential strangers, but none of them felt like the group for me.  Sometimes the mix was just wrong, or the DM was heavy-handed about how the story should go, or there was a min/max munchkin present (it only takes one to ruin my day).  Plus, I found that I didn’t like being away from my girlfriend, house, and dog for an entire afternoon/evening (apparently, I’m quite attached to them).

I grew despondent and kind of gave up on the idea for a while.

Then one day, I was sitting here at my computer with nothing to do.  I had found this blog, and had been reading the backlogs of it, because it was so interesting (girls playing D&D seemed so novel to me – and cool, good-looking girls, no less).  My girlfriend was surfing on her laptop, the dog curled by her side, and we both kind of had a bit of cabin fever, having been cooped up most of the winter.  I thought to myself, “we need some kind of hobby that we can do together.”

Of course, lightning struck my brain right then.  And I died.  No, I had a rare flash of creativity.  I realized that if I acted as DM, I could introduce her to the hobby that I used to love, and at the same time, we could do it without leaving the house and dog that we are both very tethered to.  All that was left was for me to learn to DM and us to find a group.  Oh, and she had to agree to it.

Luckily, she agreed to it.  We decided to ask a friend of mine from work and his girlfriend to join us, because we thought having another “couple” there would be kind of cool.  (Plus, in my mind, I was still thinking about how cool it would be to play with girls at the table.)  They agreed, too.  We only needed two more to have a “perfect-sized” group.  We invited another couple, but found out they were no longer a couple (open mouth, insert foot).  But the woman from the couple wanted to play, so that left just one slot empty.  My girlfriend asked me why I hadn’t asked my best friend.  Honestly, it just hadn’t occurred to me, but seemed exactly the right idea.  He totally was into the idea, and so we had a full house – five players, one DM.

I really thought it was going to be harder to learn to DM.  I picked up the DMG at the local games-and-comics store, though, unwilling to be defeated by my anxiety.  To my surprise, WotC made it very easy.  The book had most of what I needed to know, and plenty of material was provided for me online.  It occurred to me that if I used published material, I could just learn the basics, then learn the rest as we played (or make it up).

The whole configuration isn’t what I originally pictured when I first wanted to play.  But now that I’m settling in to the idea, I think it’s going to be big fun regardless of what side of the screen I’m on.  Plus, if I can provide a space for my girlfriend and my friends to have fun in, that will really make my day (especially my girlfriend – I love her very much and am very happy to be able to share this thing that I find so much joy in).


Posted in Computer Gaming, Dungeons and Dragons with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2010 by Angry Johnny

Since the release of WotC’s Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, there has been talk of “online tools” to assist players and DMs in the operation of the game.  At launch, several were available, and several more listed as “in production”.  Some of the planned tools were later scrapped.  Most of the existing tools weren’t really all that helpful, in my opinion.  (I know, I’m supposed to be trying to be less negative, but just come with me on this one.)

Now there’s a new suite of tools in production (one is even in Beta testing at the time of writing this post).  If they’re going where I think they’re going with the new tools, I think WotC is finally taking a step in the right direction.  Hopefully, the tools will be designed to work with one another, allowing players/DMs to create monsters/maps/treasure/etc, then combine them in such a way that a meaningful story can be put together.  I don’t know exactly what they have planned, but I’m hopeful.

* * * * *

My first question is:  Did WotC drop the ball on creating PC tools for D&D?  In my opinion, yes.  They did drop the ball a bit by not having a functional and useful suite of PC tools available when 4E launched.  The majority of the existing D&D player-base is typically very computer-savvy.  By not having computer integration at launch, they missed and opportunity to bolster their existing player-base, and to expand it by increasing appeal to other markets.

There are a lot of people out there who might be interested in playing D&D, but find the game to be too much “work”.  The math, the note-taking, the mapping – all of these can be daunting to someone new to the game.  Aside from people with OCD tendencies, obsessively noting every detail – on paper, by hand – is rarely considered “fun”.  Taking the calculations out of the calculation, as it were, might help people feel more like they are playing a game and less like they are doing homework.  (The Character Builder, available soon after launch, was a good start.  Why has it taken so long for WotC to follow up n a good idea?)

A good example of a specific market that is being marginalized, I feel, is the video-game-player market.  There is some overlap between these two markets already, but there are a lot of video gamers who are essentially lazy.  They like the fact that the computer/console do most of the work for them, behind the scenes.  If the post-character-creation workload was reduced to dice-rolling and mini-moving, these people might be more inclined to join the fun at the table.  This leads me to my second concern…

* * * * *

The new tools suite that is in production seems to be geared toward pre-game setup.  (Having not seen the finished product or even the production plans, I am only peculating at this point.)  That’s good, but what about tools for use while the game is happening?

Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of things that would be very useful for players, and I can imagine a couple more for DMs (having not been a DM yet, I’m still just speculating on this, but I can think of a few things I’d like to have on “opening day” that would make my job less stressful).  No, I’m not going to list them here.  Yes, I’d be willing to discuss them with WotC, assuming they’d sign a NDA and/or pay me for their use.  I’m not stupid and I’m certainly not doing any work for free.

The strangest thing to me is that I’ve gone searching online – albeit cursorily – and haven’t located any consumer-created tools like this, either.  I’ve found random encounter generators, random dungeon generators, character creation tools, map-making programs – all generated by players, most for free, and all of them designed for use before the game even starts.  But I haven’t found any tools that can be used while the game is in progress.  Are computers forbidden at D&D tables?  (And almost two years since the release of 4E, but most of the tools I located are for 3E and 3.5E…)

* * * * *

Since we are a more computer-savvy culture than when D&D was first created – and D&D nerds often more so than the general public – I can easily imagine a scenario where a number of people are sitting around a table, minis on the battlemat, dice at the ready, and laptop computers at every player’s hand.  Am I the only one imagining this scene?  It would be worth it in reduction of book-pile-clutter alone!