Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to play DnD in your underwear (and not gross out your friends).

Hello again everyone,

This topic will be all about how to play DnD over the net from your home over the interwebz (hence the underwear topic).

The hardware you will need will be a computer (duh!), a headset with mic and headphones.  Here is the one I use.

The software you will need is a voice chat program that supports a conference call feature like Skype, Ventrilo or the like.  You will also need the all important virtual game table.  There are plenty out there, some free and some not.  I have found that, for the modest price of FREE, you can't find anything better than Maptool (located at

I won't be walking you through the setup of these programs as any voice chat program is fairly self explanitory.  However, I will be talking about Maptool a little.

Maptool is an EXTREMELY versatile game table that can support just about any game you want to play, no matter the core system. 

Building maps in Maptools is fairly simple, if a little time consuming.  This is where I spend at least 1/2 of the initial campaign setup time for my games.  There are plenty of sites out there that have premade maps from the user community, so if you stick to the official DnD adventure modules, that will save you a lot of map making time as someone else has probably already created the maps and your only task is to input them into your campaign and set up fog of war and vision blocking.

Maptools also has the added benefit of being able to load the campaign files someone else has created.  For instance, I can make a maptool campaign, send the campaign files to you and you can load it up and play it.  On this occasion, loading up someone elses campaign file saves you a metric ton of time.  Again, if you stick to the official DnD modules, there is a good chance you can do this.

See the screenshot from an old campaign of mine:

Double Click for Enlarged Image

As you can see, my merry band of foolhardy adventurers are about to be eaten by a black dragon....should be fun.  On the upper right hand side of the screen are my paladin's macros for attacks, skill usage, etc.  The lower right are my macros (As the DM) for damaging monsters, players, applying various states (stunned, dazed, etc) and controlling most other aspects of the game.

Maptools macro system will allow you to automate just about every function/action your game needs.  It only depends on how much time you want to spend setting up the program to suit your personal needs.  On average, I spend probably 20-30 hours setting up the average DnD 4e campaign module and another 2ish hours every time characters gain levels and new feats/powers.  Beyond that time, it's extremely easy to jump in as the DM anytime and play.  There is no need to get out maps, mini's dice or anything else.  There's also no need to drive over to a friends house with $20 worth of snacks in tow.   Bonus!

Another good point about Maptools is the fact that there are already many frameworks developed by the user community for various game systems that will allow for a quicker setup of your campaigns/macros from the start. 

The user community is also EXTREMELY active and helpful!  I have never had a question I have posted go unanswered for more than 24 hours....ever.  There are regular updates to the program to implement new features and squash bugs.  Overall, it's the best, most well supported freeware application I have ever seen.

There are many video tutorials that will get you started and more tutorials and FAQs going up all the time.  Over all, it has a learning curve, but one that is as simple or complex as you want to make your adventures.  If you are like me, you will start out with macros and look something like [d20 + Weapon1Attack] and end up with how mine look today which is about 1/2 a page of code whose output looks identical to the DnD Player Handook power boxes.  See this screenshot:  (P.S.  I love how I rolled a fumble on this attack.  That is totally my Paladin player's luck.  :)

Double Click for Enlarged Image

That's all for now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Come with a plan....even if you don't have a plan.

When I 1st started DMing again after nearly 15 years, I just grabbed the first new DnD 4th edition module and dove right in.  There's no problem in doing that, but as I went along and started progressing through more modules both the players and I started to feel like tings were getting a little stale.  I didn't really have much back story, no over arcing campaign ideas that I could drop in as hints that might elude to some larger scheme than just what the module provided as "local quests" to solve.

Here's what I am talking about.  First, you need a villian....someone the players either know from past dealings or have some special hatred toward.  In my own personal experience, these proved to be one of the following, Strhad from Ravenloft, Tiamat, Asmodious or Lloth and maybe a few others.  All of which have vexed my players in the past and would provide some instant hatred for my players.

Now all you need to do is come up with a simple, yet diabolical scheme on why that villain is screwing with the players.  Something involving gaining more power and using said power to devastate countless lives always is a good motivator for your players, especially if any of them have a decent "goody 2 shoes" player among them.

So far you have the who and why, now just start creating the how.  How is the villain going to pull the strings?  Through the use of some minions of his?  Directly intervening?  A combination of both?  I tend to use the latter for a few reasons.  1st, it keeps the villain's identity hidden from the players which helps build some suspense.  I just continue to drop some common clues that all point so the same villain (or villains).  Be they symbols etched on the walls of the various dungeons and nasty places the players visit, a recurring vision/nightmare...just get creative and be as deceptive as you want.  In my current campaign, there appear to be 3 rival villains that all are causing the players grief, but they don't know (and won't know until the correct time) how all of it will pan out, nor if even any of the 3 will end up as the antagonist in the end.  I say this because, as much of a temptation as it is to throw out the bad guys name in the early campaign arc, try to hold off a little.  Confuse your players and make them guess about who they will end up going toe to toe with in the end.  Will it be a show down with Tiamat or maybe a romp through the 9th level of hell to take out Asmodeus?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My 1st post!

Hello all you DnD fans!

I am a DM for DnD 4E and have been playing it since it's release in 2008. I will be posting my advice, experiences as well as the pitfalls I have stumbled into in hopes that others can avoid them.

To start with, my 1st piece of advice is for new DMs (or experienced ones).

Don't let your players get too powerful, either by giving them too many magic items nor by allowing them to house rule their characters. I did both in the beginning and now I have to toughen up all my encounters just to make the players sweat at all. More work for me without any more satisfaction for them. I mean, come just took out a solo dragon and still have some daily powers left?!? Even Gandalf shot his wad against the balrog!

That's all for now. Upcoming topics include playing DnD online for those lazy friends that don't want to put on clothes and actually have a face to face game anymore. :)