Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Be Kind, Please Rewind

Don’t worry as I’m not referring to the Blockbuster VHS tape motto from yesterday. Rather to think back to when some of us started playing Dungeons & Dragons, so long ago. You know, those early years when the game was new, and we were still learning as we played? With that foundation in mind I wanted to talk about something that really irked me this past weekend. At first I wasn’t going to follow-up on the event, but it just keeps gnawing at me. What could it be? How about a very young DM being pushed around by some older players.

For background my 10-year-old son and I decided to visit all the local game stores, and do some shopping together. Now an avid gamer, it’s great quality time together with my son, who admittedly is still wide-eyed when it comes to role-playing games. One of our stops landed us in a store which had several Adventurers League games going in the back room. While browsing the miniature racks, I could not help but overhear the session being played right next to me.

The table was being run by what appeared to be a very young tween (maybe 12-13). The players were in their 40s based on appearance alone. Our young DM is describing what a temple room looks like, to which one of the players obnoxiously makes a sexual reference. The latter is never appropriate in a public game, but that is the subject of another post. Soon thereafter a combat ensues in which the real problems started.

As soon as initiative was rolled, the older players at the table took every opportunity to quote rules and mechanics nuances. It was not done in a helpful way at all, but rather a chiding manner, which quite honestly, I found offensive. Exasperated and literally ganged up on, our young DM caved and went with the crowd at every turn. At one point my son looked to me quizzically and said, “why don’t they just let him DM?” It was that question that hit the nail right on the head in terms of this event unfolding before our eyes.

I could empathize with this young DM, since my time behind the screen started when I was ten years old. Very quickly my player circle exploded, many of which were seniors in high school. Some of those early sessions were rough with the older kids trying to exert control. That said, I learned to establish rule zero if I was going to maintain any semblance of order at the table.

When DMing in a public venue it’s even harder since you never know what sort of personalities may show up to play. A DM already needs thick skin, and the ability to deal with many different idiosyncrasies. Now add to that being potentially decades younger than the players at your table. Why is this important? Because it’s going to start to become more common place around gaming venues everywhere. There is a whole new generation of players growing up in a time where role-playing games enjoy a popularity never seen in the past.

But as always there is a shortage of game masters, regardless of the system. Putting yourself out there, in the public to run a game session, takes a tremendous amount of courage. Some people are just naturals, and others take the role out of necessity. Some players, myself included, prefer to make a world rather than just one single character. Whatever the reason may be, there is a whole cadre of new Dungeon Masters coming up through the ranks now. The older generation of players and DMs alike need to be supportive, and help grow the hobby. Admonishing a young DM for not being a rules encyclopedia, and embarrassing them publicly helps no one.

DMing is arguably a thankless job sometimes. You are the director, production crew, all the supporting characters, and ultimately the organizer. Ironically over the years I have found the players most critical of a DM have spent little to no time behind the screen themselves. It always reminds me of my children’s sporting events. The parents which are barking and being the most obnoxious are usually the ones that never played a sport themselves.

If a young DM has their enthusiasm lessoned by bad public experiences, chances are they will eventually hang up their hat. Or alternatively, they will switch to only home games with friends and family. Either way this is not good for the hobby, and older players need to be mentors when afforded the opportunity. Sure, all the memes like “I have dice older then you kid” are funny, but where does that ultimately get us? I think sharing the love of this awesome hobby, and helping to bring new players and DMs up through the ranks is much more important.

Before leaving the store that day I found that young DM outside opening a tube of dice he had just purchased. I spent a few moments offering some advice and directed him to my blog. But most importantly, I thanked him for being a Dungeon Master, and encouraged him to keep forging ahead. He was very receptive, and seemed genuinely uplifted by our short talk.  Who knows, he could be the next great fantasy writer, a game designer, or perhaps a DIY publisher someday. Or maybe he will just continue being a DM, because another gamer took the time just to say thank you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Demon Idol Dice Cup

Today I received arguably one of the coolest pieces of game swag I own. This is a custom-made leather dice cup by Foster Leathercraft. This cup is an alternative to a dice tower or tray since you can roll the dice into the lid. As you can see the front has an interpretation of the Trampier artwork from the original AD&D Player’s Handbook. The latter just happens to be my favorite Dungeons & Dragons illustration of all time! Then as if it could not get anymore metal, the lid has the infamous Green Devil face from the Tomb of Horrors. This is more then a dice cup, it's a conversation piece full of nostalgia and Dungeons & Dragons history.

On top of all the coolness factor, this is a very well-constructed item. The design features beautiful stitching, vibrant colors, and just screams Dungeons & Dragons. Even the ruby eyes of the Demon Idol are riveted into the leather, as well as the keeper handle. The cup measures approximately 3.5" by 3.5" and the keeper strap is optional. If I could change one thing it would be to make the cup slightly bigger. That being said, it can easily hold several sets of dice as constructed now. Please find below more pictures of this awesome gaming accessory. I can hardly wait to unleash its power on the players during our next session!

A close-up of the Green Devil Face lid.

A close-up of the Demon Idol design work.

Here you can see the stitch work on the leather.

The bottom of the cup complete with Foster Leathercraft rune.

The eye and keeper rivets inside the cup.

An example of a dice set inside the cup.

Comparison of the art with the AD&D PHB.

Size comparison with a D20, D30, D100, & D120.

Example of dice rolled into the lid from the cup.

This is a dice cup any seasoned adventurer should consider adding to their equipment list. Foster Leathercraft offers other leather goods and is more than capable of doing custom work. Please visit their Etsy store to view more fantastic gaming accessories, or perhaps order your own dice cup!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Stranger Things: Giant Spider

So, last night the Stranger Things season 2 trailer aired during the Super Bowl and left all sorts of questions. As a D&D player all I have been focusing on is the massive spider creature. I quickly took to Twitter and G+ to see what fan theories everyone had before developing my own this morning. I started to think about the Demogorgon and Thessalhydra from season one. Both creatures arguably have Greek origin and carefully avoided the intellectual property minefields of Dungeons & Dragons.

The creature depicted in the trailer sketch, and inside the Upside Down looks very arachnid to me. I can count eight legs, yet there appears to be a head looking down with a large tuft of hair. This immediately makes any D&D player think of Lolth, the evil spider goddess. Or could it be a variation of Arachne, the Greek goddess turned into a spider? If the Duffer Brothers wanted to use a Lolth like entity for the D&D games played by the kids, Arachne certainly does that nicely.

Obviously, the lore of the Greek Arachne does not totally fit the show, but I don’t think that necessarily matters. If you recall it almost seemed as if there was web like material within the Upside Down in season one. And what about the egg sac that Chief Jim Hopper stops to look at? In the very least it would seem that the appearance of this spider like creature is no coincidence.

What do you think the giant spider creature is? I always find it fun to take what clues we have and theorize together. I cannot believe we must wait until Halloween to find out!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Side Trek: The Winter Garden

While staring out at the falling snow a week ago, this idea started to brew. I have always been fascinated with faeries, which can be used to great effect as a campaign boogeyman. Especially when you consider the colder months are often associated with death. What if in desperation the PCs were forced to seek refuge at the crossroads of the fey? Or maybe one of the characters has experience with these winter gardens and seeks one out. There are many adventure seed doors which can be opened with this side trek. So enjoy…and dress warmly adventurer, otherwise you may need to find a winter garden!

Winter Garden

Old rangers tell stories of their existence, and secluded druid circles whisper about them. A winter garden is a location where the boundaries of the prime material plane thin. They are a crossroad into the world of the fey that may bring solace or doom. Winter gardens usually occur do to some magical phenomenon or the vile intent of their creator. They are typically an oasis compared to the harsh conditions around them. These small pockets of the fey world normally do not last longer than half a day.

A winter garden is normally idyllic in appearance and may even have certain ethereal qualities to it. Depending on the type of faeries that care for the garden, this may all be an elaborate illusion. As most learned sages would explain, this is the inherent danger of seeking refuge in a winter garden. However, travelers suffering from hyperthermia, or trying to escape some predator are often willing to take that risk.

Rangers and mountaineers often use frozen bodies as landmarks when navigating. That said, new bodies found which appear shriveled and withered are avoided. These unfortunate souls are believed to have fallen victim to a dark winter garden. This visual omen has caused entire villages to pack up and move a great distance away. For these reasons, if planning an expedition to the cold north it’s often wise to hire a skilled guide.

Types of Winter Gardens (1d4)

1. This winter garden is comfortable and enchantingly beautiful. Not only is it picturesque, but also functions as a Ring of Warmth for up to eight medium sized creatures. Those inside can see out of the pocket as if peering through a frosted window. No creatures of evil alignment may enter this winter garden as it’s maintained by good faeries. But the fey are fickle, and use of their garden does come at a price. If not offered some sort of magical restitution, the faeries will attempt to use a Geas spell to gain one.

2. This winter garden is more of lair and contains a large ice cave. Those passing through into this fey pocket will notice tufts of white hair, crumbled bones, and ursine odor will assault their senses. A very used fire pit also completes the area, which includes stacks of chopped wood. A low rumble can be heard from within the ice cave and the temperature here is just hospitable. The inhabitant of the cave is a terrifying fey which appears as a massive polar bear. Good role-playing or high Charisma based rolls should be made to share this garden. Otherwise the PCs will be asked to leave…once!

3. This winter garden is a crumbled ruin, its remnants covered in slick ice. Dead trees with twisted limbs reach for the sky in poses of sadness. Everywhere the snowy ground is punched with hundreds of small footprints and the red stains of blood. The area is oddly steamy, so much that the temperature immediately warms anyone passing into the garden. This is how the Redcaps who maintain this garden like their victims, thawed and easily drained of blood. Anyone fleeing the garden will be pursued for up to a mile by the Redcaps if they are lucky enough to escape.

Note: If playing 5E D&D, statistics for Redcaps are available in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. If you prefer a more system agnostic or OSR approach, Redcaps are detailed in Tales from the Game Tavern issue #3.

4. Perhaps the most coveted of all, this winter garden can show imprints of the past. It usually manifests as an open clearing with a ring of low stones. Within the pocket the harsh conditions of the winter are repelled completely, and it exists as a nice Autumn day. The faeries who maintain the garden will exchange one vision of the past for one sacrifice by the PCs. The latter may include a coveted possession, a lock of hair, or a favor they will owe the fey. The vision can be from anywhere in the surrounding area (2x2 mile radius) within the last 100 years. The visions never last more than one round as the fey voraciously seek new sacrifices.