D&D in the Age of the Lockdown

I’ve post­ed here before about play­ing Dun­geons & Drag­ons with my kids. We played a few nights togeth­er last Sum­mer, but most of our fam­i­ly game nights in the months since were spent play­ing board games or pok­er. But, as the coro­n­avirus forced us all to stay put far more often than we’d all pre­fer, we need­ed to think of more things to do. For­tu­nate­ly, my friend, Ted, has a son who has got­ten very inter­est­ed in all things D&D as of late. Ted and I had dis­cussed the idea of play­ing table­top games with the kids and I’d always thought it would be inter­est­ing to try a dig­i­tal table­top site.

So, about three weeks ago, we all got togeth­er via speak­er phone1 and on Roll20.net. I end­ed up pur­chas­ing a dig­i­tal pack­age of the same adven­ture my kids had start­ed (they for­tu­nate­ly had­n’t made it too far and you’d be sur­prised at the re-playa­bil­i­ty of an adven­ture with total­ly dif­fer­ent deci­sions). The kids all rolled up char­ac­ters based on what they want­ed to play: a tei­fling fight­er for my daugh­ter, a drag­onborne ranger for my son, and a halfling wiz­ard for Ted’s son. Ted just picked the clas­sic dwar­ven cler­ic out of the pre-gen­er­at­ed char­ac­ters. Don’t wor­ry if half of those words don’t make any sense; just know that this is a fan­ta­sy adven­ture where they’re all play­ing fan­tas­ti­cal races of crea­tures who fight the evil hordes to save a vil­lage and sur­round­ing area.

Roll20 Screenshot of Dads and Kids Game Night
The play­ers fight some orcs in the Roll20 dig­i­tal tabletop

My kids are inter­est­ed in play­ing and seem to be enjoy­ing. Ted’s son is real­ly lov­ing D&D and is even run­ning his own game for some if his friends, which is awe­some! But it’s def­i­nite­ly a great way to be able to do some­thing with anoth­er fam­i­ly while still being togeth­er with the kids. All three of the kids have some inter­est­ing nam­ing schemes for their char­ac­ters, to be sure. We’re gen­er­al­ly keep­ing the ses­sions to about 2–1/2 hours each week. This ends being about two encoun­ters (read: fights with mon­sters) and the gen­er­al deci­sion mak­ing and role play­ing that comes along with the game.

As for being a dun­geon mas­ter, I can’t claim it was ever some­thing I was espe­cial­ly great at, but I’m hav­ing a real­ly good time doing it. I’ve learned a lot about 5th edi­tion D&D as well as the Roll20 plat­form (both are pret­ty great, if you ask me). I like to think I’m get­ting bet­ter as we go, too.

I hope it’s some­thing we can keep going, at least for a few weeks longer. Of course, at this point, it’s not at all clear how much longer coro­n­avirus response shel­ter-in-place orders will be in effect here (or any­where, real­ly). Of course, we could always just play in-per­son with our friends down the street should those ever let up. Imag­ine that, play­ing a pen-and-paper RPG togeth­er at the same table!

  1. My kids and I play togeth­er on PCs in our din­ing room while Ted & son play togeth­er in his home office. Though Roll20 has an audio chat fea­ture, it has ter­ri­ble feed­back in gen­er­al when every­one isn’t on head­phones. So, since we’re just con­nect­ing two house­holds, the speak­er­phone seems to work well enough for us. []

Dark Sun Worldwide Game Day Recap

While I might not be the strongest believ­er in fate, I hap­pi­ly rec­og­nize and accept serendip­i­ty when it occurs. I had signed up for the lastest Dun­geons & Drag­ons World­wide Game Day — to get play­ers famil­iar with the new Dark Sun Cam­paign Set­ting sup­ple­ment — with my local gam­ing group. As it turns out, I went to the wrong of the two venue address­es list­ed on the page. As luck would have it, there was anoth­er group there play­ing the same adven­ture (it is world­wide, after all) who had a seat for one more per­son. Not want­i­ng to let me sched­uled after­noon of gam­ing go by (thanks, Angela!), I jumped in.

It can be a mixed bag when going to a game table blind, but gen­er­al­ly it is a good expe­ri­ence. This was a great expe­ri­ence. The indi­vid­ual run­ning the table had loads of give­aways and free drinks arranged for play­ers. The group I was gam­ing were friend­ly and eager to play off one anoth­er dur­ing the four fiveAs it turns out, Dark Sun can have some addi­tion­al ran­dom encoun­ters due to the nature of the set­ting. We end­ed up run­ning an hour lat­er than sched­uled but it was no less fun and my ter­rif­ic wife enter­tained the kids with­out once call­ing me to ask where in the hell was I at. I’m not sure I’d have had that kind of patience in her shoes, and she’s awe­some for being so cool about it. And if you think I’m just try­ing to score some points; I can assure you she nev­er reads this site. hours of gam­ing. I missed the chance to play with some old gam­ing pals of mine but mak­ing new friends is always fun for me and these are guys I hope to roll some dice again with soon.

WWGD Dark Sun
Play­ing the Dark Sun set­ting adven­ture at WWGD 2010

The ambush­es just kept com­ing in this adven­ture. Dark Sun is a place where elves and tem­plars are trou­ble, and we kept run­ning into them.

As for the adven­ture itself, it was a good one. Sure it was the typ­i­cal “You’re in a bar togeth­er in the vil­lage and are approached by some­one offer­ing gold to find some­thing … ” but it did cap­ture some of the ele­ments that make Dark Sun a unique set­ting and offered some nice oppor­tu­ni­ties for role play­ing. As a mat­ter of fact, I a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to ham it up when my char­ac­ter lept into the dark pit ahead of the group and them climbed back up to report what he’d seen. I’d have glad­ly done so with­out the promise of real-world reward, but I got vot­ed best role-play­er of the ses­sion and won a set of con­di­tion cards for it.

D&D Condition Card Set
D&D Con­di­tion Card Set

Thanks to the group for vot­ing me to get these cards; which I will be using in every game from now on in 4th Ed.

So, enjoyed play­ing Dark Sun enough that I’m going to (lit­er­al­ly, as soon as click the Pub­lish but­ton) go pick up a copy of the Dark Sun Cam­paign Set­ting book. It’s like Dune meets Mad Max, but with d20s and I can’t wait to play some more.

Update: No, I was­n’t using “lit­er­al­ly” in a fig­u­ra­tive sense.

Dark Sun Campaign Setting
Dark Sun Cam­paign Set­ting — I was­n’t kid­ding about get­ting it today. Can’t wait to read through this.

Steam on the Mac

While I think it’s great that Steam is final­ly avail­able for mac users, I’ve still yet to ben­e­fit from it. I first bought Por­tal about two years ago and played it via Boot Camp on my iMac. It was just as won­der­ful as every­one said it was and I had a great time. Some time lat­er, Par­al­lels 4 allowed me to play it on a vir­tu­al machine. No longer need­ing to reboot was nice but the video was still a bit chop­py. I would have nev­er made it past some of the lat­er lev­els if it had been that way in Boot Camp. For­tu­nate­ly, Par­al­lels has only got­ten bet­ter with gam­ing and Por­tal looks and plays great on my iMac.

Portal On My mac

Iron­i­cal­ly, a year and a half lat­er, Valve releas­es Steam for the mac and gives Por­tal away for free to every­one. Okay, that’s not the iron­ic part; that’s actu­al­ly real­ly awe­some of them. The irony is in that I can’t play Por­tal on Steam for the mac because my video card does­n’t meet some as-yet-unknown sys­tem requirements.

The Cake *IS* a Lie

It’s pret­ty clear this dia­log box has­n’t been updat­ed for the Mac port. Yes, there is a link there for “Show Min­i­mum Require­ments …” and no, it does­n’t do anything.

That’s right. Valve does­n’t know what the sys­tem require­ments are and I can’t find them any­where on their store/site/steam/labyrinth. But they know that my mac can’t han­dle it. Except that it has been play­ing this same game for over two years.

Let’s face it: my iMac isn’t that new. It’s over four years old now and is on it’s sec­ond video adapter. But, it still works fine and the video adapter is far from being a poor one1. So I can under­stand that it might not be able to play every game; espe­cial­ly not the lat­est. But Por­tal isn’t a new game. Por­tal is was released three-and-a-half years ago and it did­n’t real­ly push the lim­its of PC gam­ing hard­ware then.

The real issue in all this actu­al­ly has lit­tle to do with Por­tal. I’ve already played it through three times over2. My issue lies in the fact that I have no way of known what the sys­tem require­ments are for a game. I would­n’t even know if I could play it at all until after I’d bought it. Even then, the mes­sage is so cryp­tic as to be use­less. Is this some­thing that is a true lim­i­ta­tion or is it as arbi­trary as hav­ing a “white list” of hard­ware? I don’t know, but I’m not going to spend a pen­ny on a game until I know for sure I can play it.

Not that I have any time for gam­ing any­way, mind you.

Update: I did find some sys­tem require­ments at the bot­tom of the Por­tal prod­uct page. I sus­pect I just did­n’t look there (despite it being the obvi­ous place). As you can see, I did find some mixed mes­sages. The clear­ly state that Mac requires a GeForce 8 card or bet­ter, which is both unfor­tu­nate and still con­fus­ing. In the mean­time, I down­loaded the demo for Torch­light, which plays just fine on my mac (if a bit slug­gish when a lot of ene­mies are on screen). I’m hooked and will cease to com­plain about Portal.

Update 2: I just down­loaded an update for Por­tal. I now get an error mes­sage with data for my OS and graph­ics card. The link to min­i­mum sys­tem require­ments for the game also now takes me to the prod­uct page sys­tem require­ments section.

There have also been a num­ber of reviews and news pieces for Steam on the mac which have point­ed out that a lot of my issues are due to the fact that Mac OS does­n’t take full advan­tage of the graph­ics hard­ware (poor­ly writ­ten or old­er dri­vers) when com­pared to a Win­dows machine. This par­tial­ly explains my issue. How­ev­er, the vir­tu­al machine does­n’t have native access to the graph­ics card (as evi­denced by the fact that the graph­ics card is dis­played as a “Par­al­lels Graph­ics Adapter” and not the actu­al card. Still, Par­al­lels does taught bet­ter graph­ics sup­port and I have no doubt they have squeezed every ounce of per­for­mance they could get out of Win­dows for VM gam­ing purposes.

On a some­what relat­ed note, Steam for mac seems to not play very well with Spaces on my iMac run­ning OS X 10.6.3. It seemed to leave pop-ups, tool tips, or some­thing on oth­er Spaces when it was­n’t in focus, and would then try to jump back to those at odd times. I final­ly had to turn Spaces off just to pre­vent me from scream­ing at my com­put­er any more.

  1. It’s an NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT []
  2. That 6 hour fig­ure you see above does­n’t real­ly seem cor­rect to me; I’m not that fast of a gamer. []

Portal Gets a Mysterious Update

Also in the sur­prise-to-me-release cat­e­go­ry, Valve released a rather strange update to their 2007 hit Por­tal today. Though not much in terms of game­play was added, the ever-present radios placed through­out the game now seem to have some sort of sig­nif­i­cance. Car­ry­ing the radios to var­i­ous points with­in the lev­el unlock a new game achieve­ment. What’s more, the radios begin to broad­cast var­i­ous sig­nals such as Morse code, data trans­mis­sions, etc. Some very crafty gamers have found that this is actu­al­ly a rab­bit hole lead­ing to a out-of-game alter­nate real­i­ty cam­paign. Por­tal remains one of the most amaz­ing games ever and if this is the how Valve choos­es to start a mar­ket­ing cam­paign for a sequel, then this bodes well for the future of the game. Here are a cou­ple of screen­shots I took while explor­ing some of the new game features:

Updat­ed: It looks like Por­tal 2 is offi­cial (this Decem­ber) and it is like­ly com­ing to the mac, too.

Wednesday Night D&D Group

Some­time in the Fall 0f 2008, I joined a group of folks I met through a Meet­up at Mike’s place in Spring Hill to play 4th Edi­tion D&D. This is a back-post of some pho­tos I took from a cou­ple of games in Feb­ru­ary 2009.

The orig­i­nal pho­tos (and com­ments) are on Flickr.

Battle at the Lighthouse

I played D&D at Mike’s place on Sun­day evening. We play-test­ed a new LFR adven­ture before its release lat­er this year.

Battle at the Lighthouse
The mini almost between the two columns is my char­ac­ter: a tei­fling Warlord

The areas above rep­re­sent the bot­tom and top floor of a light­house the par­ty was storm­ing to take back from an evil skull lord. What’s a Sun­day after­noon with­out pre­tend­ing to defeat pre­tend evil?

2008 Worldwide D&D Game Day

Sat­ur­day, June 7th at The Game Keep in Her­mitage, TN. About 30 play­ers, both new and expe­ri­enced, came out to learn the new 4th Ed. rules and play a short game in Wiz­ard of the Coast’s World­wide Game Day.

2008 Worldwide D&D Game Day
This was the table card at each of the game tables that day.

This is back-post of my pho­tos from that event. I was at Table 1, if that’s not evi­dent by the pic­tures of game­play below. As I recall, every attendee got a free mini and a d20 to take home. The adven­ture was titled “Into the Shad­owhaunt” (I had to look that up; I remem­ber next to noth­ing about it). I do recall that every­one at the event was real­ly nice and the whole day was a lot of fun.

The orig­i­nal pho­to album and com­ments is on Flickr.

Miniature Minotaur

This mino­taur was always one of my favorite min­is when I was a kid. It was paint­ed by my friend, Tim M. — who was the best minia­ture painter of any­one I knew then. Every­one always want­ed to trade min­is with Tim; so he seemed to always have a fresh sup­ply of new ones.

Miniature Minotaur
Minia­ture Minotaur

I know that there are some ridicu­lous­ly detailed paint­ed min­is and no short­age of pho­tos on the web of them (ex.). How­ev­er, back then Tim was an artis­tic god.

So, any­way, yes­ter­day while we were hang­ing out at my moth­ers. Dave had got­ten out a chil­dren’s xylo­phone for Ains­ley to play with and it hap­pened to be in the same clos­et where my old D&D min­is, mod­el cars and air­planes were in. I got this guy out, along with all the oth­er junk lead min­is I had from back then.

This post is a re-post of a pho­to on Flickr.