.the ramblings of a radman.

Category: Board Games

Targets can be killed in their sleep in D&D: prove me wrong

A topic of conversation that regularly comes up in the various D&D communities in which I’m involved is that of attacking an adversary that is sleeping. The argument breaks down into two camps: those that believe the sleeper can only be immediately killed if the attacker can deliver enough damage to the sleeping target to reduce its hit points to zero and those that believe a sleeping target can’t defend itself, therefore guaranteeing the player can deliver a killing blow.

As always, I recommend leaving the decision up to the Dungeon Master, but I feel that the underlying argument comes down to one of a misunderstanding as to what hit points are meant to represent. Here’s my attempt to quickly summarize my interpretation of hit points in D&D (and specifically, how I try to utilize them in the games that I run).

Hit points aren’t really a measure of a character’s blood loss or anything so specific as how much damage you’ve taken physically. Instead, they are the numerical component of a mechanic used to negotiate contested combat. Did you, Cordric the Magnificent, hack-and-slash your way through a dungeon full of baddies to arrive at the inner sanctum of the vile Rippah the Malevolent with only 5 HP left? You’re not physically holding your entrails in your body through sheer force of will. You’re just worn out and beat up and could make a mistake that allows someone to slip past your guard and deal a fatal blow at any time.

Sure, you’ve probably been cut here or there, particularly that time Ashford the Axe rolled a nat 20 two rooms back and hit you for 33 damage. But Ash didn’t bury a hatchet in your back and leave you clinging to life. He just landed a blow that cut deep enough to distract you. Sure, if you don’t tend to it soon, it will be a problem, but you’re not in danger of bleeding out in seconds. Instead, you’re distracted, in pain, and struggling to maintain the upper hand.

So what does that have to do with attacking a sleeping adversary?

Let’s presume for the moment that you’re the DM. In the most common scenario, a sleeping NPC isn’t in combat. You haven’t rolled initiative, and your player is likely sneaking into their adversary’s camp. At this point, if you want to allow Francis the Forgiving to die in his sleep, you can. If you don’t, then you should come up with a reason why they don’t. Only ask for a roll if you want their death to be contested. It doesn’t even have to be a combat roll. In this particular case, rolling the player’s Stealth vs. the NPC’s Passive Perception would be my recommended option. You can even give the NPC disadvantage what with the visit to Nodsville and all. Not all deaths in D&D have to be the result of rolled damage. Mix it up a bit. Do what works best for the story you’re trying to tell.

And remember, the rules exist to help everyone have a good time, but the beauty of being a Dungeon Master is that—sometimes—you get to rewrite the rules to make sure everyone has a good time.

Besides, it’s really important to remind the players that if they can do it, so can the monsters. 😈

The Tower of Terror, or How To Almost Party Wipe Your PCs for Fun & Profit

Last year, I started playing D&D with my cousin and a few friends. Two of them had never played D&D before and some had only played a handful of times. A session or two later and my teenage son joined in the fun. As we neared the end of Lost Mine of Phandelver (yes, it took us a year; we are still figuring out ways to improve our combat efficiency so that they don’t take as long), two more players joined us, bringing our party total to 7 (I do say, that’s an auspicious number).

Spoilers for Lost Mine of Phandelver after the break…

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Goblins & giants & bears, oh my!

This summer, I started running my own Dungeons & Dragons game for my friends using the 5th edition starter campaign, Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s a pretty solid opening campaign, especially for a group of people that range from haven’t played in several years to “What’s a d20?” There are plenty of opportunities to learn the ins-and-outs of the Forgotten Realms, how to solve a problem without violence, and what to do when the players go off the rails for a bit. I’ve learned a lot and my players have been really enjoying themselves.

One of the greatest struggles of any D&D campaign, however, is scheduling. With five players and a DM/father to four children, trying to align schedules can be akin to befriending a beholder. Especially during the holidays. After more than a month with no opportunities to play together, we managed to lay our schedules upon the altar of good fortune in a runic pattern capable of opening a gateway to Toril in the Prime Material Plane so that my adventurers could continue their journey. Alas, it was not to be.

Our Druid managed to injure her back and apparently the D&D books don’t actually give you magical powers, despite everything I was told as a child. As such, healing her was not an option and we decided to find an alternate activity for the evening.

Luckily, my cousin (one of my players) decided he would run a one-off campaign for the rest of us. We quickly rolled up a few characters (or grabbed a pre-gen from Wizards’ website) and dove into an Adventurer’s League campaign for a night of mayhem.

One of my favorite aspects of D&D is the collaborative nature of the experience. While the Dungeon Master sets out to guide the players on a journey with delineated plot points, adventure hooks, and designated goals, once the game starts it becomes a joint effort to tell the story. Players often find ways to alter the course of the adventure and force the DM to think on his or her feet. In this particular instance, while being mobbed by a swarm of miniaturized goblins, I decided to keep one as a pet by shoving it in my bags. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that its curse would soon wear off and he would restore to full size. In an effort to keep my new companion, I asked the DM if I could determine the nature of the curse and make it permanent. While explicitly stated within the pages of the adventure that the curse would wear off in time, my cousin let me put the goblin in a confined space and make a Strength check (a die roll with my character’s Strength used to add a bonus on top of that roll) to keep the goblin compressed when the curse wore off, preventing him from returning to full size. My new companion, Pocket the Goblin, gets to travel with me on my journey, all because the DM decided to “Yes, and” instead of “No, but”.

In the end, my character’s choices won’t bear much significance, as our next session will return us to our regularly scheduled campaign. But I still had a blast playing again and have some great ideas for future encounters for my players, thanks to my brief stint as an adventurer. I’m looking forward to digging out the Dwarven Warlock, Thu’udin Hjalgrim, for his next excursion, whatever it may be. He was a lot of fun to play, and I hope his future journeys are filled with laughter in the face of darkness.

Dust off that French Maid outfit, it’s time to play Tanto Cuore!

I’m not sure why—maybe it’s because it’s Friday the 13th; maybe the full moon has got the world’s blood up—but whatever the reason, several iOS app developers have decided to throw an impromptu sale on the App Store. This is good news for the rest of us, though, as some really great games are on sale for just a dollar each.

As you may have guessed from the title, one of the apps is none other than Felicia Day’s favorite card game, Tanto Cuore. In this game, you play as the master of a mansion and you collect maids. Or something. I really don’t know, because it seemed confusing and I was only half paying attention to the episode of Tabletop in which they played the game. But it looked like a pretty good deck-builder, so if you’re into that sort of thing and like anime French maids, then this game should be in your wheelhouse.

Continuing with the tabletop gaming theme, the Euro-style board game Agricola is also on sale. If you’re a fan of the game, this is an excellent adaptation into a digital form. If you’ve never played it before, the game has an excellent tutorial system to get you started while playing your first game. The entire goal of the game is to build your farm from a 2-room hut to the most profitable farm in Europe, saving countless starving villagers.

And at this point in my post, I’m realizing that most of the great games on sale today are all Playdek titles. The one I’m most excited to start playing is D&D Lords of Waterdeep. This game was also featured on an episode of Tabletop, and it’s an interesting take on the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Instead of controlling a group of heroes as they quest for gold & glory, you join a shadowy group of powerful men & women secretly controlling everything that goes on in the city of Waterdeep. It’s sort of like Monopoly but with more backstabbing and less parking.

And finally, the only non-Playdek title on my list is a Disney title. Now, I heard you groaning back there, but hear me out. It’s for Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace. No, wait! Come back! Seriously, I know that the movie is not for humans everyone, but this is a far better way to experience the story than watching the movie. Most notably because George Lucas wasn’t involved. Plus, it has a podracing game! Anyway, check it out. It’s only a dollar. What do you have to lose? I mean, aside from your self-respect.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue on the sci-fi trend we’ve got going here. If you’re a fan of Star Trek and you enjoy strategy games, you’re going to love Star Command. Set out on a mission to save the galaxy and try your best not to lose any of your crew. But good luck, because space is dangerous and humans are fragile. Assign your crew to Command, Science, or Engineering teams and give them jobs. Firing your weapons is a minigame in and of itself, but watch out for invaders on your ship. And hope you don’t get a hull breach, or else anyone nearby will be lost forever.

Bringing it back full circle to the fantasy and tabletop gaming of the start of this post, Warhammer Quest is also on sale. To date, Warhammer Quest is still my favorite tabletop dungeon crawler and it seems unlikely that any game will ever supplant it. While the iOS game is not as great as the actual board game, it’s still pretty fun and provides a heck of a lot of value for just 99¢. Plus, there are several expansions that add all new heroes and environments to explore. Happy treasure hunting!

That’s the last of the $0.99 sale titles that I felt were worth sharing, but there is one more title you should check out, because it’s free. Ridge Racer Slipstream may be just another Ridge Racer title and is not even close to the best racing experience on the iPhone and iPad, but it’s still a fun arcade racer and you can’t beat the price. So pick it up while it’s free, at the very least.

So go buy games and have some fun this weekend. Besides, what else were you going to do with that six bucks?

Today’s awesome iOS releases: Star Wars: KOTOR and Warhammer Quest (plus a free copy of Magicka!)

I’m going to skip the boring lead-in and jump right to the meat of this post.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is out now for the iPad. If you’ve never played it, then you’re in for a treat. KOTOR was built on the same basic mechanics as Neverwinter Nights and an improved engine, Bioware gave players a chance to finally step into a Star Wars video game like never before. While later forays (like Mass Effect) into the RPG market would prove far more ambitious, KOTOR was notable in that it allowed players to essentially play inside a D&D world that was Star Wars themed. Quest outcomes had an effect on story and sometimes even future quests. Dialogue between players could drastically alter one’s “alignment”, plunging the player’s character into the Dark Side (which affected gameplay mechanics, as well as parts of the story).

This review over at IGN has more details on the game, which they gave an 8.8. The game is available in the App Store for $10.


The second piece of news I have to share is that Warhammer Quest was released for iOS late last night. If you’ve never heard of Warhammer Quest, then spend more time reading my blog. :-p

Warhammer Quest is, in my opinion, the definitive cooperative dungeon crawler hack-and-slash board game. If you like rolling dice to chop things up and loot the bloody entrails, then this game is perfect for you. The only issue with Warhammer Quest that any of my friends and family ever have is that it’s too bloody hard. There are a number of times in the game where a bad dice roll means your character is just gone. Forever.

Of course, house rules often allow players to make some sort of exception to perma-death, as no one wants to spend 10 hours building a character only to have him vanish into the aether because the odds are against them.

The iOS release is brought to you by Rodeo Games, the creators of the Hunters series for iOS. While those games were pretty good, Warhammer Quest is vastly improved over those. Where Hunters focused on building a team of mercenaries to complete tasks, level up, and buy new equipment, Warhammer Quest is focused on venturing forth with a team of adventurers to do battle, level… up, and… buy new… equipment… Okay, so it’s basically the same game with orcs and dwarves and goblins and elves and magic and axes. But trust me, it’s better.

Sadly, a few things were lost in the translation from board game to video game: most notably, multiplayer. While it’s still possible to sit around a single iPad with your friends and take turns controlling individual characters, the game just isn’t designed for that. Further, in becoming a video game, some of the charm of the original is lost. Warhammer Quest for iOS is perfect for those that loved to play WHQ by themselves when no one else was available and they needed a dungeon-looting fix. But for those that want the camaraderie that taking a party on an adventure that was almost certainly going to result in one or more deaths, you won’t find it here.

Still, it’s worth the $5 for the single player features alone. And, if you find you’ve burned through the game with all the starting heroes and want more, you can purchase more from the game’s store (however, the price is a bit high in my opinion).

So go check it out and give it a go. And when you’re done, try and find a copy of the board game on Amazon to play with your friends. The iOS release is available in the App Store.


Lastly, I wanted to share the best deal of the day with you. Magicka for iPad is currently FREE! Magicka feels like Castle Crashers but with a much heavier emphasis on sorcery and team-killing. In fact, one of the best features of the game is being able to cast spells on your friends to hurt help them.

I don’t need to explain this one much because it’s free. If you’re not going to download it purely on my recommendation and it’s $0 price tag, then I weep for you. It’s in the App Store, like all the others.

These dungeons are dark. There could be dragons in there.

A couple weekends ago, I got invited to my friend’s house to play some Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition. I haven’t had an opportunity to play real D&D since I was in high school, and so I was pretty out of practice. I’m pretty sure I used either the 2.0 or 2.5 ruleset back then, as THAC0 was still around. I only played once and while I had fun, I didn’t get to really experience the whole of the game.

Some time later, Bioware released Neverwinter Nights for the computer, and I got to experience the game again with the new d20 system that was part of the 3.0 and 3.5 ruleset. Unfortunately, a computer game just doesn’t have the same social and roleplaying aspect that sitting around a table with your friends does.

Thankfully, I got the opportunity to play with Crusher, et al. I decided to roll a Half-Elf Wizard, and he actually turned out to be pretty badass. I chose a Wizard so that I could really try some unique methods to resolving combat and other encounters. It really made the game more enjoyable to be able to work around within the rules of the game to try options other than just murdering everything that moves.

In our earliest encounter, we all fell asleep in an inn and during the night woke to find black-clad assassins fighting the city watch. After a few interesting combat maneuvers (such as one of our party leaping from the balcony to crush the assassin below), we set out on a quest to recover the kidnapped son of the local baron. During our journey, we were set upon by a band of gnolls while passing through a valley. The combat was quick and bloody, with one gnoll left alive for information. We soon discovered that the gnolls mistook us for some humans that had attacked a hideout nearby. These gnolls were part of a raiding party on their way to free their comrades.

We quickly reached the hideout and brought our new gnoll friend with us. Once inside, however, we discovered many dead bodies of human and gnoll alike. In the main room we discovered a battle between them. A battle ensued in which the party did their best to knock unconscious as many gnolls and humans as they could to attempt to get to the bottom of this mess. One of the more entertaining moments of the night happened when one player misunderstood why we were attacking the gnolls and turned on another player. In the end, it provided some excellent character development.

Unfortunately, while searching the other passages, the gnolls escaped, killed the remaining humans (it’s okay, they were evil, anyway), and fled. Soon after we discovered the advisor to the baron had kidnapped the baron’s son and charmed him. We returned to the baron’s castle, but could not convince them that anything was wrong with the baron’s son. The baron died that evening and we quickly found ourselves in prison.

Throughout the campaign, one of the players (the usual DM and a rather argumentative father of one of the other players) fought with Crusher over many of his and the party’s decisions. Mostly he was frustrated that we didn’t kill everything we met. He was quite happy to find the party had no qualms about killing guards that were under the baron’s advisor’s control.

We managed to kill the advisor, free the baron’s son and seek out an inn for the night. It was a very exciting evening and one I hope to repeat soon. I also hope to get some 4th edition rule books so that I can start my own campaign with some other friends and family members that might be interested. I’ll write more if and when I get the chance to play again.

I’ll wait back here where it’s safe. What? Goblin archers? Well, crap…

I love board games. There are a lot of board games that I find to be incredibly fun. The games I enjoy the most are those that are based in fictional realms of fantasy and science fiction: particularly those that require the players to work together in some fashion. You may remember some time ago when I wrote about some of the games we played the last time I had a gaming day.

When I was about 10 years old, Milton Bradley released a game called HeroQuest in the US (the UK got it a year earlier). My cousin got it for Christmas, and after playing it with him, I decided I simply had to have it. Essentially, one player is a dungeon master laying out doors, monsters, furniture, traps, etc. and all other players form a band of Heroes that journey into the dungeon to accomplish some goal, slay monsters, and find treasure. A friend across the street also picked up a copy of the game, and we spent many, many hours playing through quests, building our own, and then playing through those.

I didn’t have the luxury of spending much time playing Dungeons & Dragons (I knew one group that played and spent one day playing, but we didn’t hang out much and I never got to try again), so HeroQuest was the closest I ever came to playing a tabletop role-playing game. Sure, it was more of a “dungeon crawler” than an RPG, but it still stuck with me throughout my childhood and young adult life.

Fast forward to just after college. My cousin Adam and I are sharing an apartment with Andrew (his brother) and then later Jesse (my brother). It is at the time when Jesse moves in, that I first discover Warhammer Quest. I had heard of this game before, thanks to a strong similarity between it and HeroQuest (much of the game world for HeroQuest was lifted out of Warhammer’s fantasy world and simplified for young gamers). Thankfully, Adam picked up a copy off eBay one day and we all got a chance to try it out.

The big plus to Warhammer Quest was the ability to randomly generate dungeons, eliminating the need for a player to be “the bad guy”. After a handful of games, however, it became obvious that in order for us to play a game quickly, we’d all have to either read the rather large instruction books cover to cover, or play several games with someone that had until we felt comfortable not looking something up every 30 seconds. The game went into a closet and began to collect dust.

I was at Adam’s house a couple months ago, picking up some stuff for my newborn baby, when I found my old HeroQuest figurines in his closet (I had been searching for them for 6 months or more). And sitting there, untouched for the last couple years, was Warhammer Quest. Adam took it down and told me that if I’d actually play it, I could take it with me. Nerd joy exploded in my heart.

And so it was, that on Saturday, November 7th, I invited my cousins over to play. The plan was to have a complete Saturday doing nothing but having some “nerd fun”. In the end, Andrew, Alex, Rachel (Alex’s sister), and Bri (Alex’s girlfriend) arrived for some Warhammering.

I chose, as always, to play the Elf. Andrew picked up the trusty old Barbarian, Rachel snagged the Dwarf, and Bri took up the Wizard. Since we had five players, Alex chose to play one of the add-on characters that Games Workshop released after the game was available: the Warrior Priest.

The first dungeon went fine, and fairly quickly even though three players had never even touched a Games Workshop game before. We each got to learn a little about how best to work together and the newbies got a good feel for their characters. The second dungeon, however…

We came to a t-junction in the dungeon early on and chose the wrong path. Of course, by the time we discovered it was the wrong path, we had encountered a fair number of murderous beings. Although the Warrior Priest was able to heal (Bri, unfortunately, drew only Resurrection for her healing spell as the Wizard, making it difficult to assist much), his Blessings were erratic at best, and did not restore health at a quick pace.

Thus, when my Elf was down to a mere 1 Wound remaining before death, my companions decided to simply walk off without me, leaving me several steps behind and unable to catch up to the healer. This actually turned out to be slightly advantageous. I say slightly, because in Warhammer Quest, when an Unexpected Event occurs and monsters are placed on the board, they are placed in the room with the Heroes. However, if one or more Heroes are in separate rooms, then they are randomly placed into one of the rooms.

I was quite thankful then, when the room they were to be placed into was not my room. That was, until I discovered that the enemies we would be facing were Goblin Archers. Thanks to a number of fortuitous dice rolls, I was able to remain standing until the villainous creatures were thrust out of this world and into the next (mostly via the application of pointy objects to their vital organs, though once or twice via blunt objects to the same and/or magic lightning to their everythings). I rejoined my compatriots, received my healing, and promptly smacked the Warrior Priest upside the head.

I mean, my character did that. Not me. I’m not my character.

Please don’t tell my therapist I said that.

And so we journeyed onward, found the chamber of evil bad things, murdered them all, and everyone went home mostly happy. Alex even remarked, during the course of the last dungeon, “Can we do this more often?” I’d say that counts as a win. I can’t wait until the next time we get together when I will be playing as an Elf Ranger, one of the add-on characters. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Beer, buddies, & board games

Got a chance for a Guy’s Gaming Day this weekend, because my wife is awesome and loves me. Starting shortly after noon, my cousin Andrew, friend Jeff, and I all sat down to play Shadows Over Camelot.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing this game before, I highly recommend it. There have been a number of great board games that pit players not against each other, but against the game itself: Warhammer Quest, Lord of the Rings, and The Omega Virus. However, what makes Shadows Over Camelot unique is the potential that one of the players may be a traitor, secretly trying to undermine the various quests that the knights set out to achieve. Worse, once accused, the traitor loses some abilities and gains others, making the timing of his accusation a delicate proposition. Worse, since there may be no traitor at all, mere mistrust of one another can make some quests more difficult to defeat.

The game was exciting. Andrew turned out to be a traitor and Jeff and I barely won the game from him. It was an incredible first-time play. Jeff told me that the gameplay ideas in Shadows Over Camelot had been taken to the next level in the Battlestar Galactica board game. I’m looking forward to picking it up soon.

The second game that we played was Pandemic, a game about a global outbreak of four different diseases and the research team fighting to stop them. The game is brilliant in its design, due to the fact that the Epidemic card can cause all cities that have already been infected get placed back on the top of the deck to become infected again. This can lead to outbreaks that spread diseases quickly. Worse, the 9th outbreak ends the game, as does the depletion of the deck. This keeps the game a desperate race to keep the diseases under control long enough to find the cures. It gets hectic as the number of outbreaks climb and the cards in the deck dwindle.

My brother-in-law, David, joined us for this game. We played two rounds. The first one was a Beginner-level game (which places four Epidemic cards in the deck) and we were slaughtered. Absolutely devestated. All four Epidemic cards came up in the first half of the deck. Gonoherpesyphillaids wiped out all of Asia and North America in minutes. It was an excellent learning experience and made the second round much easier.

In the second round, we got extremely lucky. We raised the difficulty by adding a fifth Epidemic card, but they were so well spaced that we were able to prevent outbreaks. With only two cards left in the deck, Jeff cured the final disease and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Later that evening, we played several rounds of Munchkin: Impossible (one of the 7 billion variations of the card game Munchkin, this one with a spy theme) sans Jeff. We were up until 3 am playing and had a blast.

Jeff and Andrew have been known to play lots of board games, so I knew they’d have a good time. But David is generally uneasy to try the various games we like to play. The fact that he enjoyed them as much as he did made me feel optimistic that he might play with us again in the future.

If you have any interest in checking out these games for yourself, I’ve linked to them on Amazon above (where available), but you can find much more info at BoardGameGeek, as well.