Sunday, August 9, 2009

Neverwinter Nights Character Lab

I've been playing multiplayer Neverwinter Nights with my daughter off and on for - sheesh - five years. This year it's gotten serious and we've been through conversions of the old D&D B1, B2, U1 and U2 modules. To top that off, my son is now joining in with us. That's a lot of fun from a game that now sells for $15 new.

As a result of all of that, and my lack of knowledge of the 3rd Edition D&D mechanics, we end up wanting to tweak characters from time to time. I switched my dwarf from fighter to cleric a while ago. At the time, I used two computers, one with the DM client, to create a new PC with the same name and level him up to where my other dwarf was and painstakingly create the right gear for him. Now I'm considering retiring the dwarf and switching over to a wizard or sorcerer, now that we're high enough level to make that more fun and survivable. I wasn't looking forward to shuffling around with the DM client and trying to figure out the best skills and feats.

But I recently found the Novice to Epic Character Maker. It's a module that lets you tweak a character in many ways. There is a mechanism to give and remove experience points and levels. There is an ulimited supply of gold and stores with all the game items, organized in several different ways. There is also a way to tweak the appearance of items if you're into that. Then there is an arena to summon and fight appropriately challenging creatures if you need to test out gear, spells, skills, etc. It's a great time-saver for me and a way to get more out of NWN.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One Page Dungeon - "Under Construction"

I did manage to get a simple One Page Dungeon submission finished. I had originally wanted to do a ruined keep and still have the more involved map from that, but I couldn't finish it on time.

So instead I threw together a simple first adventure challenge that I titled Under Construction. I posted it on Scribd here.

It's an evil temple still in the construction process. My vision is that it's carved into the side of a cliff (like the Buddhas of Bamyan) on the site of an existing cave. An evil cleric, a few undead, and a near mutinous goblin construction crew provide plenty of challenge for a first level party.

I had fun getting this done even though I really didn't have time due to some work stuff. The map never got shaded, I didn't get to sketch a view of the entrance, and the text is horribly quick, but hey, I finished it!

Update: The 'Hobbyist' version of the One Page Dungeon Codex 2009 is now available here, as well as a single PDF file of all 114 entries, all for free.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Neverwinter Nights for Kids

I've gone back to playing Neverwinter Nights with my daughter. I keep stopping because I get so frustrated with the scripted quest model, but NWN really is an amazing platform to play with.

We've finished the user-generated conversion modules of the pen-and-paper B1 - Palace of the Silver Princess and B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands. The B2 caves were especially good, with some old-school respawning monsters (which is exactly how we played B2 in the first place, back in 1979).

We just started U1 - The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. We had to stop because the "haunted" house was creeping her out a bit. That was awesome to see. The environment is excellent, from creaking floorboard sounds to the unstable floor that gives way. I'm struggling to pretend that I don't know that the house isn't really haunted or that our new friend, Ned Shakeshaft will betray us at some point. It brings back a whole flood of memories from 25 years ago, when the Saltmarsh series shifted our campaign to shipboard adventures for several months.

I'm beginning to realize a few things that have helped keep the game fun.

It's hard to resist focusing on maximizing stats and having a lot of out-of-game talk, but my daughter does a great job of sticking in character and using the voice and animation emotes. It helps me that I'm playing a familiar and simple character.

I've been playing as a basic dwarven fighter, to give us a tank so my daughter's elf can cast her lower-level spells and play archer. (She's a multi-classed elf fighter-mage-thief, which is exactly what almost everyone I grew up with wound up playing as their first AD&D character.) But with this new adventure, I swapped out my fighter for a cleric version of the same character (after leveling him up to catch up). That gives me better healing and the chance to use some offensive spells. I'm thinking that a bard might be the best choice for a "helper" character like this (or multi-classing like crazy), since they get access to so many items and spells.

I built a "DM bag" that my character secretly carries. I used the DM client to connect and create a bag of holding and a collection of scrolls, potions, healer kits, etc. Then my character later came by and picked it up. Now I always have the tools to fix some things to keep the game moving, without having to drop out and connect with the DM client. Instead of constantly saving and reloading the game or respawning and hiking all the way back, I can quickly heal anything or even raise the dead. I try not to use it very often, but it's been very helpful, especially on B2 where resting is so limited.

I need to try using the DM Client but possessing an NPC henchman for most of the game. That would give me a lot more control, especially when things go wrong in the user-created modules like missing plot items, stuck characters, or just unkillable monsters.

Unfortunately, playing NWN with her so much is keeping me from a few other projects, like the One Page Dungeon entry that I want to build. I also want to recruit some of her friends to see if we can give pen and paper D&D another shot. She loved it, but it would go so much better with a couple players.

Neverfinished Nights

Just yesterday I finally finished the original Neverwinter Nights, almost 3 years after starting. I pretty much abandoned it after a few weeks and have only occasionally come back to it. I clearly couldn't make it through the game the way I wanted to. I went in with my trusty hobbit halfling thief rogue that's been my favorite character since Fineous Fingers was still in Dragon magazine.

Unfortunately, the appeal of my thief in the pen and paper D&D is that he went outside the box and often side-stepped whole encounters, to the frustration of many a DM. He was strong enough to handle himself in a fight though. At least he was until Neverwinter Nights.

I'm still on the fence about continuing the solo campaign. I might start the next one with a different character, or create a new version of my favorite halfling rogue.

I'm still playing a lot of NWN, but it's been all multiplayer with my kid(s).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stone Mountain

I cut my teeth on the Holmes Basic Set, a gift for my 11th birthday back in 1979. I struggled to understand this new game and couldn't quite understand how turns worked or how to use this weird blue cavern map. 

But I was hooked as soon as I saw this cross-section of Stone Mountain. I'm sure many others wanted to visit the Domed City and the undersea lake or just rappel down The Pit straight to the 6th level. Maybe that's why we all carried so much rope back in those days.

The sad thing is that I don't know who drew this cross-section. The Holmes book has illustrations from Tom Wham and David Trampier, but the majority of the artwork appears to be by David C. Sutherland III. The Stone Mountain does appear to match his style. (The somewhat less inspiring cross-section from the later Basic book is by Erol Otis, but it's clearly a different style. The stalactites and stalagmites are black and the the stairs are different.)

I find many of his smaller illustrations flat and amateurish, but David C. Sutherland III drew much of the iconic art of the early D&D game, including the cover of the Holmes basic book and boxed set as well as the covers of the 1st Edition Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide. His look helped define the game from the beginning.

I'm hoping to continue to look at the art of the early Dungeons and Dragons game. It's obviously all copyright TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro but I believe I am using it within the bounds of Fair Use.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Welcome to my new blog. I'm starting this to give me an outlet for some more heavy-duty RPG writing than I post to my mostly unnotable personal blog. I will eventually think of a better name for this blog, but apparently most of the witty variations of Keep on the Borderlands are already taken. 

I'll save my long history with RPGs for a later post, if ever, but a little context is in order. I started playing D&D in 1979 when I was 10. I was heavily into 1st Edition AD&D before I shelved D&D for several years in college (playing other games instead). I got back into D&D a few years later when 2nd Edition was still relatively new and played heavily for a year or two, then shelved it again for more college, marriage, etc. It's pretty much remained on the shelf ever since. And by "on the shelf" I mean 6 big boxes of almost every single 1st Edition product and most of the core 2nd Edition products. I have a decent collection of the "basic" game products but have not really played them since the very early 1980s. I even own a complete set of the original D&D products, except Chainmail, but including the suggested Outdoor Survival game.

So back to my purpose for this blog... I'm getting more and more interested in D&D again. I've had some interest in publishing my own material for a while and might finally make some progress there. I've recently spent a fair bit of time learning to draw, having all but given up art many years ago. I also love maps and am a big Photoshop geek, so cartography scratches those itches well.

Finally, a big reason for me getting back to D&D these days is that my kids are finally of an age where they want to play. I'd like to spend some time building more kid-friendly, approachable D&D material for today's kids.

[Photo via heath_bar]