Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Mini-Review of Castle Whiterock

In case you didn't know, Goodman Games will discontinue selling their line of 3.5 D&D products TODAY! Most are available in PDF format for only $2, with a couple of the big boxed sets priced at $5. Included in the sale is the megadungeon Castle Whiterock.

I purchased the PDF of Castle Whiterock from DriveThruRPG. It is delivered as four zipped files. The files include the box and index, adventure books, extras and poster maps. The PDFs are bookmarked and either have no background or include a no-background version for easy printing.

Castle Whiterock is a megadungeon in the classic sense. It contains 15 odd levels of dungeon crawling spread over almost 600 pages of content. The dungeon is spread out over four books that are colored red, blue, green and black (a sort of easter egg for the old BECMI players I assume). I was impressed by the amount of detail the authors included. You get information on everything from how the residents of a particular level respond to the adventurers' incursions to using particular sections of the dungeon as separate adventures.

In addition to the dungeon itself, a gazetteer is included that describes the Kingdom of Morrain and the town of Cillamar that players can use as a base while exploring the dungeons of the Castle. On top of this you get a comprehensive index and glossary, a poster map of Cillamar, player handouts and probably some other stuff I have left out.

I was truly astounded by the amount of content included in Castle Whiterock. And while I have only briefly read through the descriptions of the various levels, the quality of the content also appears to be high. I could not be more pleased with my purchase. Check it out today before it's gone!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Defense of Big Print

One of the criticisms that I read concerning the books coming out for 4th Edition D&D is that the print is 'too big' and that there is 'too much whitespace'. I can agree with those critcicisms if you just consider them from the standpoint of word count for your money. However, I belong to a very specific minority that highly benefits from the design of the new books - the extremely nearsighted.

My vision is very poor. Without glasses or contacts I am effectively blind. So I am actually very pleased that the new 4th Edition books have larger print and plenty of whitespace. It makes them much easier to read for me. I doubt that consideration for the myopic was behind this particular design decision, but I will still happily reap the benefits.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Manual of the Planes: The Evolution of Rules Complexity

I often hear the cry from D&D grognards that the new versions of the game are 'too complex' or have 'too many rules'.  The game has certainly grown more detailed and complex in many ways, but I noticed something curious while I was leafing through the new 4th Edition Manual of the Planes.  Take the following rules snippet on moving in the Astral Sea:

"It gains the ability to fly at one half its normal speed if not under the effect of the gravity.  It can hover, but it is a clumsy flier."

That's pretty much it.  When characters are on the astral plane, they gain the ability to fly at half their normal movement rate (unless they can already fly).  Pretty simple and to the point.

Here is the equivalent rule snip from the 1st Edition Manual of the Planes on moving in the Astral Plane:

"Mental movement is achieved by willing oneself in a direction.  The maximum speed possible by this method is 10 yards per minute (30 feet per melee round) per intelligence point...Encumbrance slows down the astral traveler by 10' per round for every 10 lbs (100 gp) carried.  Intelligence determines additional carrying capacity (use the Strength table on page 9 of the Player's Handbook).  Magical items (but not normal items under an enchantment spell) have no encumbrance."*

*NOTE: I left out the information about physical movement versus mental movement, etc.   I think that even the excerpt above more than proves my point.

Good grief.  How clunky is that?!  It seems that not all rules have gotten more complex over time...

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's In A Name?

As a Dungeon Master, I am always on the lookout for names.  If I need to name an NPC or the tavern that the PCs just stumbled into, I need a cool name.  I also hate to resort to cheesy or trite names and so it becomes a real chore to come up with fresh, campaign appropriate names.  One resource that I just stumbled on is Gary Gygax's Extaordinary Book of Names.  It has thousands and thousands of names, all divided up into regions.  It also has chapters on place names and creating fantasy names.  DriveThruRPG has the PDF on sale for $10 HERE.  I also assume you can get the hard copy directly from the Troll Lords for $10 as part of their 12 Days of Christmas Holidy Sale.*

*As a side note, it looks like the Troll Lords have lots of goodies on sale for the Castles & Crusades and Gary Gygax fans.  Make sure to check the sale out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WotC Hates Internet Explorer

When I try to view the latest Dungeoncraft article on the Wizards of the Coast website with Internet Explorer, I get a big HTTP 500 error.  When I try with Google Chrome, it works fine.  It seems that the web designers at WotC hate IE...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Five RPG Gifts Under $20

Role-players can be hard to shop for, but I took a shot at coming up with five quality products that should fit almost any taste. Hopefully at least one of these should satisfy the gamer on you list.

For the GM in Your Life - Gamemastery: Combat Pad

The Combat Pad from Paizo Publishing will make life easier for the Game Master in your life, no matter what system he chooses to play. The combination of erasable surface and colorful magnets makes the chore of running combat easier and that much more fun. I own one and it is a really neat product.

For the 3E Fan Who Loves eBooks - Castle Whiterock and Gazetteer of the Known Realms

The Dungeon Crawl Classics line from Goodman Games combines old-school feel with Third Edition D&D rules compatiblity. Castle Whiterock is a huge mega-dungeon and the Gazetteer of the Known Realms is a complete campaign setting with adventures. You can get both in tree-friendly eBook format from DriveThruRPG for only $10 (original price $99!) until December 31st when they have to cease sales. That's literally hundreds of pages of game material for less than the price of a movie ticket.

For the Fourth Edition Fanatic -Dire Tombs

It's pretty darn hard hard to run combat in Fourth Edition D&D without miniatures and some sort of combat grid. Dungeon Tiles from Wizards of the Coast are an inexpensive and colorful solution. One fairly generic (and still available) set is DT6: Dire Tombs. It's got everything needed to build an interesting little dungeon environment.

For the New-School Gamer - Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set

If you want to pick up something for that really smart nephew, you could do much worse than the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. It has everything he'll need to get started, including rules, Dungeon Tiles, tokens (to use in place of miniatures) and dice. If you want to know more, check out my review of it HERE.

For the REALLY Old-School Gamer - Swords & Wizardry

If you know someone whose idea of D&D involves three little brown books in a box, pick up Swords & Wizardry. Matthew Finch's take on the original edition rules is well-written and (in my opinion) much more coherent than the rules it is based upon. The book looks nice too and you can get it from Lulu in softback for around ten bucks.

The Road - Not a Great Campaign Setting

I have been reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road and while it's an ok post-apocalyptic story (but not nearly as good as I expected based on all of the critcal praise that I have read) my geek side has really kicked in while reading it. I just don't feel like it would make that interesting a world to run a game in.

It's sad really that my enjoyment of a book can be so greatly affected by my perception of it's suitability as a campaign setting...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Top RPGs of Fall 2008

ICv2 has published a list of the top rpgs for the this year in the months of August, September and October. No REAL surprises, but I continue to be amazed at the staying power of Shadowrun over the years. It's amazing to me what an 'evergreen' product it has become.

RPG Bloggers Application

I put in my application to be part of the RPG Bloggers Network. Hopefully it will get approved soon so Dungeon Mastering 101 can be exposed to more eyes. I have my fingers crossed...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

First Impressions of Martial Power

I just picked up Martial Power and so far I like it. It has LOTS of new goodies for Fighters, Rangers, Rogues and Warlords. Here some quick impressions:

  • It more than doubles the number of powers available to martial characters in the Player's Handbook. More options is a good thing.
  • NO new equipment or skills. This is either a bug or a feature, depending on your point of view. For me it's a feature.
  • There is no forced symmetry. Unlike the Player's Handbook, some classes get more powers at some levels than others. Some classes get new at-wills at certain levels and others do not, etc. At first blush, I like this. I do wonder if this represents a change in philosopy for the design team.

I will try and post a honest to goodness review in a week or so after I have had time to digest the book a little more thoroughly.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Getting Started with 4th Edition

This post is primarily a review of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set and so it is probably most useful for those of you that are brand new to D&D. But even if you have dabbled in one or more of D&D’s previous editions, I hope you will find at least some useful information here.

There are several products aimed more or less at the new 4th Edition D&D gamer. They include:

Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set
Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition For Dummies
H1: Keep on the Shadowfell

Recommending the Starter Set is a no-brainer for anyone new to 4th Edition D&D, and I am going to focus on it in this post. However, the other two items above can provide a decent introduction to the game and I will try and cover both in future posts.

Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set

The Starter Set is specifically designed as an introduction to 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons for new players. It contains everything you need to learn the basic rules of the game and play a session or two with pregenerated characters. By the time you have played a few sessions, you will probably be ready to pick up the Player’s Handbook and create your own characters.

What’s in the Box?

- 16-page Quick-Start Rules book
- 64-page Dungeon Master’s book
- 3 sheets of Dungeon Tiles
- 1 sheet of character and monster tokens
- A set of six polyhedral dice

The Box Itself

Let me rant for a minute about boxes. I really like good game boxes because you can chuck all kinds of goodies in them like dice, miniatures, pencils, etc. The boxes for both versions of the 3rd Edition D&D Basic Game were a little big, but sturdy. The box for the Starter Set sucks. It’s not really a box at all. You just get a thin, outer ‘shell’ with a cardboard liner to give it some stiffness. It is not useful at all for future storage of the Dungeon Tiles, tokens or dice that you get in the set. I give it a D-.

Quick-Start Rules Book

This is a very quick and dirty introduction to the rules. The booklet does a pretty decent job of covering the game’s major concepts in a short span of six pages. The focus is on the game’s tactical elements – movement and combat. The rest of the book's 16 pages are taken up by five sample characters; a Dwarf Fighter, a Halfling Rogue, an Eladrin Wizard, a Human Cleric and a Dragonborn Paladin. Each includes enough information to advance the character up to 3rd level. Unfortunately, there is basically no advice on actually playing a character; just the nuts and bolts of how to move and fight.

I would have also prefered that each character had been provided on separate sheets to hand out to players or even if WoTC had provided PDF versions of the character sheets on their website. As it stands now, you will have to head to the photocopier/scanner or rip up the book. I give it a C+.

Dungeon Master’s Book

As the name implies, this book is designed to be read by the Dungeon Master (DM). In D&D, the DM bears a heavy burden. It is his responsibility to know the rules, create the campaign world (including adventures) and run adventures in that world. He is also ultimately responsible for a large part of what makes the game ‘fun’. The DM's book puts it this way:

At the DM, you ...
  • Narrate the story of the player characters
  • Play the monsters
  • Design the dungeons
  • Reward the treasure
  • Referee the game rules
  • Build the world

The book provides a suprisingly good introduction for the prospective DM. Good advice is given on everything from playing monsters fairly to vividly describing combat. Also included is plenty of crunchy stuff including most of the same combat and encounter rules from the Quick-Start book. You also get a (very) short three encounter adventure and rules for building encounters, running skill challenges, traps and hazards, and creating dungeons. The book is rounded out with a surprisingly robust monster section. If you count all of the individual types (five varieties of goblins for example) you get more than 50 different monsters from levels 1-4.

The Dungeon Master's book is the strongest element of the Starter Set. The only problem that I could find with it is that it leaves out rules for some of the monster abilities like insubstantiability for the Phantom Warrior and disease for the Dire Rat. It also makes a cardinal sin for me by not including an index. Any book of this length (especially one designed for a beginner) should include an index. I give it an A-.

Dungeon Tiles

The Starter includes three sheets of WotC’s nicely produced Dungeon Tiles. All three are from previously released sets. Two sheets are from DT7: Fane of the Forgotten Gods and one sheet is from DU1: Halls of the Giant Kings. The tiles provide a pretty decent selection of generic elements, but the inclusion of the tile from DU1 has less useful stuff like giant-sized doors. I have a sneaking suspicion that these particular tiles might have been included because WotC had a surplus of them, but that’s just a guess. I give them a B+.

Token Sheet

The token sheet is of the same thickness and material as the Dungeon Tiles. The art is nice and taken straight from the DM’s book. The monster tokens are all double-sided with a different monster on each side. I thought it was a nice touch that you get eight tokens each for common monsters like orcs and skeletons. The five player character tokens have a green normal side and a red ‘bloodied’ side. These are really nice and make for a great portable alternative to miniatures. I give it an A.

Review Score:

Box D-
Quick-Start Rules: C+
Dungeon Master's Book: A-
Dungeon Tiles: B+
Token Sheet: A

Total Score: B


The Starter Set is a decent enough introduction to 4th Edition D&D, but less successful as an introduction to roleplaying in general. I also think it is more valuable to prospective DMs than it is for prospective players. With the Starter Set and a Player's Handbook you could actually get started running a campaign with no Monster Manual or Dungeon Master's Guide. If you are interested at all in 4th Edition D&D, pick it up and see for yourself.