It’s been about two months since I first shared my progress on my family’s D&D adventures. Unlike many D&D players who can clock in whole afternoons or weekend-long marathon sessions, my family typically only has a few hours a week in which to play. So it’s taken us about two months to get about six-eight hours of playtime in. But things are going well!
Since my last post, my wife and children searched the site of the ambush and discovered the trail back to the goblin’s cave lair. When encountering some goblins outside of the cave entrance, they decided to take one of the goblin guards captive. Hence, the character of “Gronk” was born. Despite trying to follow the adventure as detailed in the book, Gronk ended up being a creation all my own, but one that is also likely to be one of the more memorable parts of the story.
Gronk provided the party with various bits of information (and misinformation) regarding the goblin’s hideout. My youngest son actually became quite fond of the character, and as a result was vastly disappointed when Gronk seized the first opportunity to alert the other goblins in the cave to the party’s presence. As the PCs explored the hideout they came across both the goblin’s bugbear leader and his ambitious second-in-command (who was more than willing to trade a human captive in exchange for the bugbear’s head).
The small hideout detailed in this part of the adventure served as a fantastic introduction to the concept of the “dungeon crawl”. By the time my family was ready to exit the cave, they were very careful to check for traps and other unexpected nastiness around every corner. (Experience can be a brutal teacher). So far, this adventure has truly proven to be a fantastic introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Next session (assuming my family doesn’t do something completely unexpected), they should end up in the town of Phandelver itself. So far, any actual roleplaying interactions have limited to conversations with Gronk (who was not much of a conversationalist), so I’m interested to see their interactions with actual NPCs over the next few sessions.
If you follow the Dungeons & Dragons posts on this site, then you’ll know that my ultimate plan has always been to chronicle an ongoing D&D campaign. Ever since I was first introduced to the game as a child, I’ve been a rabid fan. However, my desires to play were often squashed by my inability to find other like-minded people. Growing up in a rural area certainly contributed to this. And, when I did manage to find other people interested in the game, I was often put off by various things about them. For example, their immaturity, drug use, or sometimes even their personal hygiene. Yes, as sad as it is to admit, many of the stereotypes about greasy, neck-bearded nerds are sometimes very true. Thankfully, with the popularity of the Internet, it is easier than ever to find normal people to play with. Of course, my biggest obstacle today is finding the time to actually sit down and play the game. So, I decided to take the problem into my own hands and start a game at home. This way, I can play with my family on a timetable that works for us.
I’ve toyed with launching a family campaign for quite a while now. Of course, I needed some time to collect materials, brush up on the rules, and prepare myself mentally for the task of hosting the game. Now, I feel that I’m finally ready. Yesterday afternoon, I sat behind the Dungeon Master’s Screen for the first time in over twenty years.
Our family game consists of myself as Dungeon Master, my lovely wife (who has never played D&D), as a tiefling sorcerer, my fourteen-year-old son (who has played), as an elf sorcerer, and my-ten year-old (who also has never played), as a human fighter. To simplify things, I helped my wife and oldest son create characters several weeks ago. We then revisited them a few days ago to tweak some of the smaller details, (character backgrounds, flaws, etc). For my youngest son, however, I decided to simply provide him with a pre-generated character. (His focus is on the actual experience, and not the number crunching).
Considering that it had been a while since I last played and that most of my family was new to the game, I decided to start with a simple adventure scenario. In this case, I chose the Lost Mine of Phandelver module that is actually included with the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. This scenario is written specifically for both new DMs and Players. The text itself offers a little hand-holding so that new DMs will be able to ease into their role. I spent about a week reading over the module in my free time, so that I would have a pretty firm grasp on the material.
Despite all my preparation, as soon as I sat down behind the DM screen, I began to feel apprehensive. In fact, I was downright nervous. I suddenly felt extremely unprepared and I was worried that I wouldn’t live up to my oldest son’s expectations. A part of me wanted to retreat and call off the game, but I knew he would be even more disappointed if I did – so we continued. Before beginning, I gifted each one of them with a polyhedral dice set to call their own. I broke the ice by having everyone discuss their character backgrounds a little. We fleshed out how the characters met and I provided the set up for the adventure.
Like all of the early 5E content, this adventure takes place in the Forgotten Realms. I toyed with the idea of converting it to a homebrew world, but in the end, I decided to keep things as simple as possible.
Now, if you have not played this scenario and plan to, you may wish to stop reading now. The next couple paragraphs are going to be very spoiler heavy. You’ve been warned! Spoiler alert!!! :
In the first part of the adventure, the characters are tasked with escorting a supply wagon from the city of Neverwinter to the small mining town of Phandelver to the south-east. The journey is largely uneventful until the party is a few miles from their goal, where they come across evidence of a previous ambush. While stopping to investigate the scene, the party is attacked by four goblins lying in wait in the forest on the side of the road.
This encounter serves as an early introduction to combat. Having never refereed combat in this edition of D&D, I was a bit worried that I’d mess something up, but we took our time to read over the rules and it didn’t take long for things to click. The party was able to defeat the goblins with little effort. It was after this encounter that we ended the game for the afternoon, with plans to pick it back up Thursday evening.
All in all, I felt our first session went pretty well. Looking back, I was able to identify some mistakes that I made when presenting some of the material. For example, during the goblin encounter, two goblins were supposed to rush forward and attack the party while the other two were supposed to keep their distance and attack from afar. In the heat of the moment, I overlooked that block of text and had all four rush out to meet the adventurers.
As for my family, everyone did wonderfully. My wife enjoyed herself more than she expected to, and both of my sons were very excited to play. I was glad to see that my youngest was attentive and actually thought things out before simply rushing in blind. In closing, it was a very positive experience!
I’m excited to see how things progress and I will post an update after a few sessions.
I’ve been waiting a couple of months before posting a discussion of this book so that I could fully digest its contents. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is not your everyday D&D release. Aside from a few optional races/subraces, there’s not much here for players to enjoy. Instead, it is a book that is aimed mainly at Dungeon Masters. If I had to describe this tome in a nutshell, I guess I’d say that it is mostly a lore book filled with campaign-building material. However, the last section of the book is filled with stats for new monsters (many of which are found in the outer planes).
Yes, I said the outer planes! One of my favorite pieces of D&D lore. Long have I waited for a 5th Edition Manual of Planes. Well, this book is NOT that, but it’s the closest we’ve seen so far. This books is broken into six chapters. The first chapter focuses heavily on outer planes lore, namely 5th edition details for the Blood War. Fiendish lore has long been a favorite subject mine when it comes to D&D. Ever since the old days of 1E, I’ve been fascinated with the war between the Demons and Devils of the lower planes. This section of the book provides plenty of details regarding the current state of the war, and it does not disappoint.
The second thru fifth chapters focus on lore and background information for some of the various races in the game. These chapters also include optional rules for playing some of the the more obscure, but long requested subraces. For example, Eladrin, Deep Gnomes, Duergar Dwarves, and even a whole chapter dedicated to Gith. These subraces can certainly add color to any campaign, but playing characters of these heritages can often prove troublesome. That being said, it is great to finally have some official rules and stats.
The sixth and final chapter is a bestiary. It is comprised mostly of monsters related to the first five chapters of the book. That means there’s plenty of outer planes baddies as well as a number of subrace specific monsters. This chapter alone makes the book worth getting for nearly any DM.
All in all, I was extremely pleased with this book. It is refreshing to see WotC ramping up their D&D release schedule. They’ve already announced a pair of upcoming adventures for this fall, and I can’t wait to see what supplements they provide in the future.
I love to read. When it comes to books I consume everything I can get my hands on. Most of the time I read fiction, but occasionally I enjoy non-fiction as well – especially biographies. A while back I posted a review of Richard Garriott’s autobiography Explore/Create. Being a fan of RPG games, it was just the type of non-fiction I enjoy. A few months later, I found myself itching to read something similar. That’s when I found Empire of Imagination, a biography about the the Dungeons & Dragons founder, Gary Gygax.
That’s right. For those that might not be familiar with Mr. Gygax, he is the original inventor of Dungeons & Dragons. A game that he created out of love rather than for profit. This book covers Gygax’s life from his early youth all the way until his final days, with of course, the main focus being his time as CEO of TSR. Gary, while beloved by many gamers and grognards, was infamous for his temper and over-indulgent behavior. This book takes a very unabashed look at every aspect of his life. Nothing is off the table here.
Each chapter starts with a mock D&D session that ties-in with the overall theme of the upcoming content. This is an interesting presentation that starts off strong, but eventually ends up feeling a bit weak after a few chapters. Despite being a biography, the book is written in a strange mixture of both historical narration and dramatization. I found this to be a bit odd. Writing out real-life events in a fictional-style narrative tends to cast doubt on the authenticity of the story being told. I have no doubt that the author took a number of liberties when discussing Gary’s life in this regard. However, in the end, I feel like this was nothing more than an artistic decision.
Having been a fan of D&D for many years, I thought I knew nearly everything there was to know about Gary Gygax. This book opened my eyes to a number of details about his life I was unfamiliar with. Namely, how his youth and his deep-rooted love to his hometown inspired his artistic vision. For this alone, I found it to be an excellent read.
If you’re a fan of D&D and you’re interested in learning some of what went on behind the scenes in the glory days of the game, this might be a book for you.
Story: Despite the odd presentation, this book is well written and interesting. Gary Gygax is an interesting case-study. When it comes to running a business Gary seemed to have his heart in the right place, but ultimately made a number of bad decisions that he ended up paying for until the end of his days.
Recommended: This is a book that’s likely to only be appreciated by hardcore D&D grognards or those with a working interest in tabletop role playing. I personally found the book to be insightful and interesting, but admittedly it’s only going to appeal to a specific audience.
Anyone who has followed D&D since the older days will recognize the words “Unearthed Arcana“. This was title of a rules supplement for the first edition of AD&D. That book added a plethora of new optional classes and rules to the core game. Over the years since, there have been other Unearthed Arcana books released for various editions. These days, “Unearthed Arcana” comes in the form of downloadable rules and options that Wizards of the Coast release to players for testing purposes. This book, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a compilation and a refinement of several of those releases.
This should not really be looked at as a core rulebook. But instead, as a compendium of options for both the players and Dungeon Masters to consider. It contains information that should interest both. Let’s take a look at what’s included:
New Character Subclasses and backgrounds
New optional rules for DMs (resting, player skills, situational damage, traps, items, encounters, etc)
New magical items
Tables for name generation
The bulk of the book focuses on new options for existing character classes. Many of these options were previously presented in Unearthed Arcana articles, but they appear here more polished and refined. These, combined with the new spells and magical items really make up the most appealing content. The middle section contains new rules and options for Dungeon Masters. A lot these are very specific and situational, but come in handy nonetheless.
I personally find the subclasses included here to be of exceptional quality. There’s so many good options presented here! But, players hoping for entirely new classes and races are out of luck. It seems that Wizards of the Coast is a bit gun shy about releasing such things. (Although we did get a taste of some new races in Volo’s Guide). Regardless, this book makes a fine addition to the 5E lineup. In my mind, this is a resource that DMs and players can borrow from in pieces. It has the potential to enhance and expand an already excellent game.But without stepping on the toes of the DM but overriding whatever house rules he or she might already have in place. That being said, I would like to see something a little more substantial in the future. I think 5E has played it safe long enough. It’s time to see some new campaign settings, classes, etc. I want to see a Manual of the Planes, a DragonLance book, a Monster Manual II.… something! May 2018 will see the release of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, this new rule expansion will include monsters and playable races. So we’re getting there.
With this post, I am now all caught up on official Fifth Edition releases. From now on, posts will be made as products are released. I may occasionally take a look at some of the more popular third-party releases. I also plan to post updates on the site in regards to my upcoming home campaign. So stay tuned!
Finally! We are up the most recent D&D adventure for 5th Edition. In fact, at the time of this writing, this is the adventure that is currently being run in official game sessions. Of course, I’m talking about Tomb of Annihilation.
Tomb of Annihilation is an adventure set in the world of Forgotten Realms. It takes place in tropical region of Chult. This is an area that could be best be compared to the jungles of South America. Chult is also popular as a location populated with Dinosaurs! Yes, we finally have some official dinosaur action in fifth edition D&D. The adventure is designed for players of level 1 and will take them to level 11 or even higher.
The storyline to this adventure is an interesting one and it actually ties-in to the classic D&D adventure Tomb of Horrors (which can be found in the 5E book, Tales from the Yawning Portal). The focus of this adventure revolves around something called The Death Curse. This mysterious event is causing anyone who has been raised from the dead by magical means to begin rotting away into nothing. The source of this curse has been identified as coming from a strange tomb hidden in the depths of the jungle. Players must brave this deadly dungeon and eliminate the cause of the curse.
This seems to be a very well put together adventure. The book contains more than enough information and resources to give the DM everything he needs to referee the game. There’s also plenty of content here. This will not be a short adventure at all. So expect this to provide weeks or even months of entertainment. The biggest challenge to this adventure seems to be the sheer difficulty level of the dungeon itself. This is certainly not a storyline to present to rookie players. It’s also not one that should be attempted by an inexperienced DM. The traps and encounters in this book are downright brutal and punishing. This is made more so due to the fact that the Death Curse prevents any normal means of resurrection. It’s also worthy of mentioning that this book also contains two new background options for players. But this alone does not make it a worthy purchase for players, in my opinion.
I’m looking forward to diving into this book once I have managed to get my DM skills up to snuff. But I don’t expect that to be any time soon. Regardless, Tomb of Annihilation appears to make a fine addition to the growing selection of adventures for 5E.
We’re almost caught up with our look at Dungeons & Dragons products. Today, I’m going to talk about a book that I’m super-excited about; Tales from the Yawning Portal. This book is a collection of classic dungeons that span all ages of D&D. Here they have been archived, polished, and given the official 5th edition treatment. Let me be clear and state that this book is not an adventure module. It’s also not a cover-to-cover campaign. But rather what we have here is a Greatest Hits collection of classic D&D dungeons and scenarios.
So, with that in mind, what does this book actually contain? Well, here’s a breakdown of the dungeons included in this product:
The Sunless Citadel – Originally published for 3rd Edition, The Sunless Citadel was an instant classic. It’s often been said that the original adventure is what brought D&D back into the mainstream in the early 2000’s. This is an adventure designed to take players from Level 1-3.
The Forge of Fury – A sequel to The Sunless Citadel. This adventure piggybacks off the previous classic. The contents of this module will take players from level 3-5.
The Hidden Shrine of Tamochan – This is an old one, dating back to 1979! First edition D&D at its origin. Originally a Greyhawk adventure, this dungeon has a very Mayan feel to it and focuses on traps and out-of-the box thinking. This is a classic, tricky dungeon crawl designed for 5th level characters.
White Plume Mountain – Another classic 1e dungeon filled with traps, monsters, and old school tropes. This one is a long time favorite of grognards like myself. In fact, this was the first D&D experience I ever had as a player back when I was about twelve years old. This version of the dungeon has been tweaked for 8th level players.
Dead in Thay – This module was originally invented during the 5th edition playtest as part of the D&D Encounters series. It has been modified for home play and slightly redesigned for 9th level characters.
Against the Giants – This adventure is actually a combination of three classic pre-1st edition modules. They have been refined and linked into one full-scale adventure. Again, this is CLASSIC retro D&D. I can’t stress how excited I am to see this in modern print. This adventure is designed for players of 11th level.
Tomb of Horrors – THIS IS IT! The one that started it all. Tomb of Horrors is one of the most revered and celebrated dungeons of all time. Finally, it has been officially modernized and brought to print for 5e players. This dungeon focuses more on role playing and tactics than simple hack and slash. It’s a brutal, unforgiving deathtrap that is designed to be undertaken by high level characters.
As you can see, the adventures found in this book are not presented as part of an arching storyline, but rather they are intended as standalone encounters that can be cherry-picked and inserted into any ongoing campaign. After several full 5e campaigns, I’m glad to see WotC has decided to step back and provide a collection of classic time-tested adventures that DMs and players can enjoy however they see fit.
This book also contains a small appendix of magical items and monsters, making it even more valuable for any DM’s collection. I personally look forward to running a number of these dungeons in the future once my home campaign gets started. In my personal opinion, this book is a MUST HAVE for any serious 5th edition DM.
Still working through my backlog of 5th edition D&D products, I am proud to share my thoughts on another official adventure: Storm King’s Thunder.
This adventure returns to the familiar setting of the Sword Coast in the world of the Forgotten Realms. This adventure is designed to take players from level 5-11. However, if needed, the book also presents a small lead-in adventure to get new players up to the level 5 cap. Another interesting feature of this adventure is that the storyline itself piggybacks off of the events in the previous Tyranny of Dragons campaign. In fact, Wizards of the Coast even took the initiative to provide some potential story hooks to link the events of this book to all of the other adventures they’ve published for 5E thus far. It’s nice to see the lore being tied together between all the products.
As with the other adventures published thus far, I’ve not actually ran this module at the table. But just by reading and flipping through the pages, it’s very obvious that Wizards of the Coast is upping their quality control. Of all the modules they’ve put for 5E to date, Storm King’s Thunder may be the cleanest and most sensibly structured. For this reason, running this book should be manageable for even a rookie DM as long as they are willing to spend a little time reading the adventure and learning the material. That said, this is no “on-rails” module. Storm King’s Thunder is actually a very open-ended adventure. But one so well written, that it makes the life of the DM easy.
The biggest drawback might simply be with the content itself. The story focuses on the Giants, which are very Nordic by nature. For many players, this may not feel like a very “swords and sorcery” adventure. But personally, I praise WotC for being unique and a providing a variety of settings for their official publications. If anything, I feel that the storyline in this book actually helps the Sword Coast thrive and grow as a campaign world.
The book also offers a few perks that have become standard with officially published adventure modules. It contains a handful of new monsters and magical items that can easily be adapted for other campaigns.
On a personal note, this would not be my first choice for a 5E game. I think I would prefer something a little more traditional. But Storm King’s Thunder would certainly make for a good change of pace further down the road. It’s variety like this that allows Fifth Edition D&D to claim the tabletop crown.
My first Dungeons & Dragons post of the new year is a look at the long awaited adventure: Curse of Strahd. For those of you who might not know, “Strahd” is a popular villain. Count Strahd von Zarovich is an infamous vampire. Essentially, he’s D&D’s version of Count Dracula. He rules over the mysterious country of Barovia (which is actually not a country, but its own demi-plane), from his castle Ravenloft. This adventure is actually a 5E remake of the original “Ravenloft” module that was released back in the days of 1E. When I learned that Wizards of the Coast were modernizing Raventloft for fifth edition, I was elated. This is an adventure that I had read about countless times, but never had the opportunity to play or host.
Curse of Strahd is the first 5E product that doesn’t take place exclusively in the world of Forgotten Realms. Instead, players find themselves mysteriously trapped in the plane of Barovia. Their goal is to escape and return to their homeworld. The book does include a few mini “hook adventures” to help DMs get the players to Barovia. One of these is a Forgotten Realms specific hook, (so we still haven’t broken those Forgotten Realms chains completely). The adventure is designed for players of level 1-10.
Curse of Strahd is a very open-ended adventure. The entire story takes place in a relatively small area, but players are not railroaded down a particular path. The flow of the adventure is unlike anything published for 5E thus far. This can make the adventure a bit of a challenge for rookie DMs, so be warned.
With that being said, it is the mood and setting of this module is what really sets it apart from other adventures published so far. This is a classic horror campaign and it’s done very well. Instead of a medieval swords & sorcery, this adventure has a very “Transylvanian Gothic” feel to it. Personally, that is a something that I find very appealing. And I’m not alone in that assessment. Barovia was so popular at one time, that back in the 2E days, it was even given its own campaign setting: Ravenloft.
This is an adventure that I can’t wait to experience firsthand. But, just like with the previous adventure Out of the Abyss, I’m certain I’ll need a little more experience before trying to DM something on this scale. But the day will come! I’m glad to see WOTC modernizing and reprinting some classic modules, I hope the trend continues
Next up on my list of 5th Edition D&D products is the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. This is a sourcebook that provides information on world of the Forgotten Realms, the official gameworld of 5E.
Old school fans might remember the original Forgotten Realms campaign setting boxed set from the days of 1E and expect this to be the modern equivalent. Sadly, this is nothing of the sort. Instead, what we have here is a relatively short book that glosses over many of the famous NPCs and locations found in the Sword Coast. The lore and color-text is certainly interesting, but it does not provide much of the deep info that most Dungeon Masters may be looking for when planning to run a full campaign in the realms.
One thing that the book does very well is provide some new mechanics for various races and classes. Much of this is specific to the Realms, but can be easily adapted to any homebrew campaign. There’s options for some realms-specific subraces, game mechanics, and character backgrounds. All of this is very well done. Sadly, I had hoped to see a bestiary or some new spells to add to the game. None of that is included here.
The information included in the book is certainly useful and welcome, but I really would have liked to see a more complete “campaign setting” instead of this small sourcebook. The book is priced at $40.00, which I feel is a little steep. I feel a $20 pricepoint would be more acceptable.
All in all, I feel this book would be best enjoyed by DMs who really enjoy the world of Forgotten Realms or are looking for some worldbuilding ideas. But the majority of players can probably skip this by.