Well, I logged over 25 hours of running D&D games for Wizards of the Coast and walked out with a mighty pile o’ swag. Amongst my various runnings of the Delve (to be explained shortly), I also ran the playtest of D&D Next twice.
I have so many fun stories to share, but I’ll try to narrow it down to just a few this week.
Delving the Dungeons
So, because of my need to hold Media interviews, I like to keep my schedule for running games kind of open and flexible. Luckily, WotC has the perfect solution: the Dungeon Delve.
The Delve is a timed one hour event, in which I (the Dungeon Master) try to get you, (the players) through two encounters of D&D 4E combat in under an hour. And yes, it’s very doable. I feel like I just had a Ben Kenobi “Great disturbance in the Force” moment there as you all collectively gasped in disbelief. Of the 12 Delves I ran over the weekend, only 2 failed to finish on time. The others were all either TPKs or total successes.
My Delve experiences were very fun. I ran different Delves on all 3 days of the con, one featuring a mad alchemist, one featuring a Gauth Beholder, and one featuring Duergar…yay throwing poisonous beard quills! Through sheer coincidence, I wore my Beholder t-shirt the day I was running the Beholder Delve. I would tell players, “The double doors open, a voice hisses ‘You should not be here’, and you see…” And then I would point at my shirt. Players would blink in confusion a moment, and then groan out, “Oh no!” And the Initiative rolling would commence.
Cosplay for the Win!
I had two very memorable encounters in my Delves, and, oddly, they both had to do with Cosplayers! If you don’t know the term, the rather loose way I’m using it is to mean people at conventions, or elsewhere, who dress up as characters from comics, movies, RPGs, etc.
My cosplaying fun began on Friday. My third Delve was populated by four Cosplayers and two non-Cosplaying friends of theirs. Their costumes were all somewhat medieval looking, and they were awesome. I later learned that most of them were dressed as characters from League of Legends, a game I have never played, and one from Final Fantasy X…a game I have never played. Oh well, they looked amazing, and it was super-awesome to have the paladin played by a guy wearing blue and white armor carrying a huge greatsword.
As it turned out, they were wonderful roleplayers. Despite the timed nature of the event, they spoke in character, swearing “by the Grace of Pelor!” or “by Moradin’s beard!” and generally being tremendously high-energy and a ton of fun. Responding in kind, I DMed at a very high-energy, fun, loose style, and, with only 25 seconds left on the clock, a Magic Missile from the wizard sent the last foe crashing to the ground, eliciting a thunderous cheer from them. It was everything you want in a game, and I couldn’t stop grinning. They thanked me for a great game, and they moved on, and I figured that would probably be it.
(My Cosplayers from the first delve are in the photo. I’m the one in the Superman t-shirt with the derpy expression. Going around the table counter-clockwise we have Tom “Garen” Alongi, Tim “PAX Jax” Barkman, Chad “Gangplank” Silva, the back of Mark Wurzberger’s head, Sarah “Lulu” Cotten, and Chris Day. Hi guys n’ gals!)
Dour Dark Elven Goodness
Now, I’ll share a photo next week of the massive, life-sized Lolth sculpture WotC had at their D&D booth. I had seen a photo tweeted of a girl in an amazing dark elf costume with that statue, and I’d thought she looked amazing. So of course, a Delve or two later, she plopped down at my table! Her outfit was amazing, right down to the red contacts she was wearing.
Unfortunately, she was unbelievably dour. “Oh, man,” I thought. “Someone’s too cool for the room. Yikes.” I made a joke about type-casting, because one of the characters was a Drow Ranger, but she shrugged and took that character when people were choosing. And she played pretty much stone-faced the whole time, occasionally making a comment about “This is why I hate traveling with surface dwellers.”
Imagine my surprise, then, when the Delve ended, and she split into the biggest grin ever. “That was so cool! I’ve got to do another one of these and get my friend here. He’d love to play with you.” It finally hit me; she’d been roleplaying her character since the moment she sat at my table!
Even nicer was when she sidled over to me once the others had left. “I really hope you don’t think I’m being a jerk,” she said. “Did you say you have a husband?”
I was a little cautious. “Yes, I did. I said. We’ve been together almost 15 years and married for almost 8.”
I was rewarded with another stunning grin. “That’s so awesome,” she said.
I laughed and thanked her. And sure enough, on Sunday, she ended up at my table again, bringing her friend along. And we had another great game.
So Sunday morning, after I’d made my rounds doing some interviews in the Expo Hall, I returned to my table and told WotC I’d run more Delves. I was reading the packet, noticing the Beholder (mwah-ha-ha!) when a shadow fell over me. I looked up and found my Cosplyers were back, though some were now out of costume, and others had joined them.
“We signed up for the Delve,” one of them told me, “and we saw your table was open, so we asked for you specifically!”
Now, here’s the thing…I’m not modest about my skills as a DM. I’m a really good DM, possibly one of the best (like I say, I’m not modest.) But there comes a time when, even if you know you’re good, you wonder if your friends are just playing with you out of habit, or if they really enjoy your games. To have strangers, who’ve only played one hour of gaming with you, want to come back and play your game again? Well, that’s just about as damned flattering as it gets.
We had another enormously fun hour of Delving (actually, they beat that one up in only 45 minutes, making by far the best time of that day!), and they asked if I were planning on running the super-secret second round of the Playtest the next day. I allowed that I planned to volunteer, and they were excited. Four of them were on the short list for the playtest, and they wanted to know if they could ask for me specifically again. Outwardly, I told them I was flattered, told them I’d do what I could, while inside, I was getting all mushy as get out.
Okay, so I’m sure some of you want to know what I think of D&D Next. Well, contractually, I can’t talk too much about it, obviously. I want to be part of the bigger playtest, and that means being super-cool about the NDA I’ve signed, especially on a public forum like this. So I’ll tell you what I’ve told other people.
1. It’s fun. You’re going to enjoy it. Over the two playtests I had, I DMed for 12 people from all stripes of experience. Some had only played 4E. Some had played way back in 1st edition and hadn’t played since. Some stopped when 3.5 was released. No one left my table without saying they’d had a good time.
2. It’s D&D. No one thought the game felt odd, or didn’t feel like the game they’ve known and loved. Some said that the differences might take some getting used to, and not everyone loved everything, but that’s the whole point of a playtest.
3. It can be tactical or abstract. I know this has been stated elsewhere, so I have no fear of saying that I ran fights in both playtests with and without minis. If a battle was kind of complicated, I’d draw some rooms on my battlemat and place minis. When it was just a single big monster, or a couple of very small ones, I kept it very mind’s eye, and ran without minis or a map. Everyone agreed that both ways worked just fine.
4. Don’t worry. However you like to play D&D, there’s going to be a way for you to play this game and enjoy yourself. This game is only adding modularity and options, as well as coming up with some fantastic ideas on how to make a core game of D&D that’s simple to learn and play.
Both groups I had, one of which was primarily my Cosplayers, and one of which was just a random group, were both fantastic. There was tons of laughter, lots of excitement, cheering ,and great feedback for the designers.
Wrapping Up for Now
Whew! That’s already a big article, and I still haven’t talked about what’s coming for LOTRO, or about Neverwinter, or Rise of the Underdark, or my chat with Shelley Mazzanoble!
Well, there’s always next week.
Did you attend PAX East this year? What was your experience like? Any awesome stories? Let us all know.