The Alphastream Game Design Blog
(Originally posted on my WotC blog in 2010)
It was a blast to meet so many of the people I have traded posts and e-mails with over the past months. It felt like a big family was gathering to play. Getting to know people in real life that I had met online was one of the highlights. The LFR community is a really good one.
I’m a huge DS geek, having run a very long campaign in college, owning just about every product, and having been the Dark Sun list moderator during college. It would be easy for me to not like any changes, but I played the DS preview and enjoyed it tremendously. They have done a really great job of converting DS over to 4E and capturing all of the flavor. The adventure was really cool and fit the setting in all ways. (I think it can be played at PAX Boston, PAX Prime, Origins, Comic-Con, and Gen Con). Our DM (thanks, Wes) was fantastic, getting the arena crowd going and keeping us awake in our Sunday slot despite extreme sleep deprivation.
Mechanics include PC templates (Gladiator, Templar, Psionic Wild Talent, etc.) that provide an encounter power and other bennies along a themed line. My gladiator’s encounter power did 2W, pushed the target back into his buddies, knocked him prone, and slowed him and his buddies – resembling a bar-room brawl type of move. Weapons are usually non-metal and can break on a 1: if you roll a 1 you can choose to re-roll, but it will break. Iron weapons can be re-rolled but a second 1 will break it as well. Thri-kreens and Mul are the new races. Other races use reskins, like half-giants (goliaths). Classes included a Psionic Defender that seemed pretty fun. DS strongly encourages using the inherent enhancements rule by which you apply +x bonuses to normal items instead of needing to find a magical weapon. Preview PCs can be seen here. (Chris Tulach clarifies that the “thri-kreen’s Fortitude and Will defenses are a little wonky. They should be 13 and 16, respectively. Also one other typo – the battlemind’s crystal longsword basic is NOT ranged.”).
DS will have excellent product support in the form of one 224 book in August, a creature catalog with templates and more, desert tile set, at least one adventure, minis as part of general minis offerings, monthly DDI articles, 3-4 Dungeon adventures per month, and the second D&D Excursions will feature 12 weeks of Dark Sun.
From all I could tell, my favorite setting is back with excellent support. Compared to Eberron and arguably even the Realms, DS is getting a lot of emphasis.
LFR Battle Interactive
As some may know, the BI was being written down to the last second (for various reasons) and yet was still a tremendous success. For a lot of players that did not play LG, this was an eye-opening experience and many reported that it was the best thing they had ever experienced. For LG veterans, it was a solid to great BI. There were a ton of very interesting encounters where the combats had creative ways of achieving victory. The story was very good and there were several cool decision points where the sum of what tables did directly impacted the story and the mechanics of the later encounters. Players experienced “changes” as they entered the plagueland and as they made certain decisions. The BI was a bit easy at the paragon levels for many tables, but a healthy amount of freedom was given to judges to exercise judgment and exceed normal DME in order to bring a strong challenge. The judges for Paragon were all strong judges that did a good job in bringing a good level of challenge. Deaths were rare but present. A neat mechanic was the option the table had for each encounter to accept the challenge to fight additional “monster reinforcements” and each encounter provided this in different ways. The ending leaves with a cliffhanger that is to be resolved via an upcoming P2 Core that resembles a Special Mission from the LG days. If I could criticize one single aspect it would be that there was little incentive for tables to interact with one another.
Special awards were available to one random player at each tier. The reward was a cert with a special chunk from a monster. If they can play with other people that have the same special cert, they can then get something special. Pretty cool idea – a special quest for them. I think judges could also receive this, but I am not completely sure.
The BI is ADCP2-1 and thus available for public (not private) play – it is best done at stores or conventions with several tables that can pool results. The BI scales for all current levels of play (1-17).
All-in-all, a huge step forward for the campaign and the credit rests largely on Sean Molley for a huge success despite some pretty big logistical challenges.
Core Specials and Core adventures
The Cores and Core Specials were very well received. This is a huge testament to everyone involved, as the logistical challenges were significant – authors and admins pulled together to really make these happen. As noted earlier, the Specials (and CORE2-1) all had a plot connection and began in Elturgard.
Judges (I think just judges) had an opportunity to randomly receive a special Divine Boon. (I don’t know at this time if everyone had the same power). I was fortunate enough to receive one as a judge and the power seems cool but balanced (Divine Boon magic item minor healing daily power coming from Amaunator, see Pelor’s Sun Blessing in DMG2 p141).
I wrote SPEC-1 P2 and I ran 4 slots of it at the con (and 3 before the con). I was really happy with how it played. Players seemed to really dig the adventure, all while helping me learn about what could have been better – I will take a break from authoring and in the meantime jot down a lot of notes. On the plane ride I couldn’t help but think through what might be a really fun way to start an adventure…
Overall, a strong success here as the adventures were really good and seemed to offer a good challenge. I think it was really a huge plus for the convention to have all the adventures feature interwoven plots.
CORE2-1 and 2-2 were both really well received overall. I am a huge fan of CORE2-1, a fitting sequel to QUES101, but I also enjoyed 2-2 a lot.
I had to skip something, and the only regional I could play/read was the Impiltur one. It was very fun and very challenging. Our DM was excellent and had cool cardstock 3D terrain that made the battles super-fun.
The old delve program is being replaced with a Wednesday (suggested day) gaming program called D&D Encounters. It is a 1-2 hour short play experience that runs for 12 weeks each week. You can bring your own PCs. The first is set in Undermountain and at the end the PCs can enter LFR (but LFR PCs cannot enter the Encounter program). The second 12 weeks will be Dark Sun! You can read about the program here. (2015 note: I edited the link to point to an article I maintain on EN World on current and past organized play options for D&D)
Information was provided on a host of upcoming products. Beyond Dark Sun, Gamma World will be released in October as a mix of 4E-based Sci-Fi RPG play and collectible card-game. The people I spoke with could not share details due to NDAs, but all seemed to really like the playtests. (Global admins and a few others tried it out). From the seminars it sounds as if the game will play fine without buying the collectibles and that they may offer a template you could use to make your own powers. GW is supposed to be light enjoyable play, for short sessions rather than campaigns. An expansion comes out in December.
The Castle Ravenloft Board Game sounds fun and uses simplified 4e rules in a delve-style cooperative (like Pandemic and other recent games) play setting. There will be at least one other D&D-themed board game coming out (Dungeons of Dragonfire Mountain). The Heroscape D&D line will continue to expand. They clearly are providing gateway products to get more gamers to check out D&D via more means. That some of these offerings will fit in at the local toy store is a clear benefit for them and Hasbro, and hopefully for us.
The concept of the “Red Box” is being provided as well. The Red Box is the first part of the “Essentials” line, an interesting approach to provide a specific line of products at new players. The RB will pull all the simple concepts together plus, and this is the key, provide new options. So, they might include just the basic classes and races, but offer new builds. This allows for something cool for new players but for the old ones as well.
Minis have been delayed until August, and they have learned that the visible sets result in people buying one package but not others. Thus, no more visible minis. The set is called Lords of Madness.
Tiles will continue to come out as sets (Dark Sun, etc.) but there will be a master set that includes the same tiles from earlier sets plus new ones. There will be more than one master set, such as one for cities and one for outdoors, with each one being continually reprinted.
New books will continue to drain our wallets. Demonomicon, PH3, Psionic Power, etc. will come out over the course of the year. DMs received Martial Power 2, which so far is an excellent read and has the typical (perhaps even more) drool-worthy stuff (dwarves can immediate interrupt with their second wind, rogue build for ranged rogues to get CA almost all the time, etc.).
(Edit: The DDXP convention was previously called Winter Fantasy and now once again goes by that name.)