Pen and Paper Birthday Adventures
Posted by Erik Hyrkas [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 August 2013, 4:58 pm
My birthday is coming up in a few days and, to celebrate the big four zero, a few friends came over to play games. We started off with some League of Legends, in which the twenty-one year old in the group promptly crushed us senior gamers, and then transitioned to the cooperative game Torchlight II. Both of these endeavors were a ton of laughs and good times.

At the beginning of our get together, we spent a little time ogling the pictures for the next Everquest... er... Everquest Next. (

After daydreams of old EQ raids, we started playing some LoL. I had never actually played a 1v1 against any of my friends in League of Legends, despite having played it countless hours and owning all of the champions. I knew that I would get crushed and that outcome was not a surprise, but still a great and fun experience.

Torchlight II is so fast paced and frantic that it is tough to really absorb the storyline in a multiplayer setting. You grab quests in World of Warcraft-esque click-accept-as-fast-as-you-can fashion and then continue on hacking and slashing. The game is attractive looking and it was just entertaining to spend time with friends, but I think that as a game, it wasn't very immersive in this format. We moved at breakneck speed and there wasn't time for reading quest text or even really making detailed and informed decisions about which skills might be best. Just keep pushing and clicking. We would have had an equal amount of fun playing Monopoly.

However, after about seven hours of digital gaming, my good friends indulged me in a little old fashion pen and paper gaming. In anticipation of this get together, I had invested about three hundred dollars in all of the latest core Dungeons and Dragons books, dice, and tools. A very expensive investment for one night of fun with little chance of using those books ever again (if my purchase of the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons books is any evidence. I think we played one time.) Forget the money, though. It was a blast.

I suspect that if you were trying to play on a budget, you could get away with buying the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual, and then getting a one month subscription to the D&D online site that lets you build characters. ( This tool, though a little buggy, is totally worth the ten bucks. Hell, if you really know the rules, this is the one and only thing you need to play in many situations -- well besides either dice or an app for your phone/computer that acts like dice.) Having the official Monster Manual is not essential, but I would definitely recommend it. If you don't really know the rules, you probably should have the Player's Handbook handy.

I spent roughy twelve hours rolling up characters this week in preparation for the get together. Why so much? Well, I hadn't played in ages, and I know from experience that it normally takes a long time to roll up characters by hand. So, I wanted to make sure that we had a bunch of pre-built characters ready to go before starting to play.

How many times have you and your friends gotten together to play D&D and then spent the next 6 hours creating characters on that first night, without killing a single kobold?

As this was likely the only time I'd play in the next decade, I wasn't going to let the entire evening be about rolling new characters. So, I made a slew of choices for my friends to pick from. Once I got good with the character builder tool, I was able to go a little faster. Still, as I wasn't familiar with the fourth edition classes, races, or any details of them there was a lot of reading to do to make every decision. You could have the character builder generate decent characters for you, but I really wanted that handcrafted feel.

Because I was perfectly aware that this was not an ongoing campaign, I decided that all loot and experience would be accelerated and that we'd level up after each major milestone of the night -- about once every two to three hours. We'd go back into the fancy online character builder, level up, have new loot assigned and equipped, and then print up brand new character sheets. Yes, we went through a fair amount of paper. Had we thought about it more carefully, it might have been easier to distribute PDF copies of the characters after each level up. However, it is so nice to have real paper sheets to write on during combat, encounters, and to take notes on about the adventure. By the end of the night we were printing two pages per sheet in landscape mode, just to save ink and make the stack of used paper smaller.

On the whole, I think this accelerated advancement was a good choice. It kept the game interesting and allowed players to continually do something they like to do: develop and improve their characters in dramatic fashions. We were leveling up and roughly the same rate you might in World of Warcraft, and for this occasion, I think it was perfect.  Even if this was going to be an ongoing campaign, I think I would still choose to advance the characters faster than traditional -- and if we reached some pinnacle of power, then simply start new characters and a new story.

In general, the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons is better than older versions. There were a few gripes that I had. The indexing was horrible. If you wanted to know about a rule that you were certain you saw five minutes ago... good luck. Between the table of contents and the index, you might have to dig through three to five books and still not find it. It was easier to do a Google search about the rule. On the plus side, most of the new rules are much simpler and once you got the hang of it, you didn't need to consult tons of ridiculous charts and tables to do things. It was a more streamlined process than the D&D of yore. I won't say that the Dungeon Master's guide was worthless, because that would be mean, but really, if you've been a DM at any point in the last thirty years, you probably don't need to see it. They actually have two Dungeon Master's guides now. Complete waste of money in my opinion. They seem more like feeble attempts to pick gamer's pockets than to actually provide real value.

The new Monster Manual was, in many ways, superior to older versions. It gave tips on encounter groups and offered encounters by level that let me put together many impromptu ambushes. It lacked the detailed charts by terrain types and such that you might have found in the old Dungeon Master's guides from back in the day, but it was still functional and contained a lot of my old favorite monsters. For the new DM, it might be a little overwhelming to find monsters appropriate to the climate, geography, and setting that your adventurers were in. As an old hand, I wasn't hindered. I do think this was an oversight on the part of Wizards of the Coast.

We played until sunrise -- roughly twelve hours of hacking, slashing, and falling into pits that were completely avoidable. Laughing and giggling like teenage boys. The time was definitely well spent. Now I itch to play again, knowing how unlikely that is.

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