Dungeons and Dragons Worldwide Game Day 2009 Report

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This weekend I had the opportunity to judge the D&D Worldwide Game Day for the release of the Players Handbook 2. To my knowledge, all the players left that day having some fun, and that is what is important. However, as happy as I am with D&D 4th edition, the World Wide Game Day this go around rated LOW on my happy meter. And here is why:

Materials.  I know we are in a bad economy right now and companies are having to cut back. But, Wizards of the Coast  is the one that decided to do to three WWGDs per year and not just one. Apparently they decided to to support each game day at 1/3 the cost to make up for it. The game store I ran the game had historically ran about 10 tables / 2 times a day for previous WWGDs. They would average about 15-18 sessions. However, WOTC limited WWGD supplies this go around to 3 sets per store. This means only three judges got materials and those judges had to run both slots (for a total of 6 tables). There ended up being a WHOLE lot of people turned away, even with tables being run with 7 PCs (added difficulty for the DM too). WWGD is a marketing tool is it not? Wouldn’t you want to get as many people to experience your product as possible?

In addition, there was no special prize for the players to remember the experience. WOTC has done thing in the past like giving out a free D&D Dungeon tile or a free mini to the players. This time. NADA. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the players complaining about this. Yes, something that simple does matter.  Wouldn’t you want the players to leave with a sort of D&D business card?

On a positive note, they still provided the DM with a print module, a poster map, and all the corresponding miniatures. Content quality aside (discussed below), the materials for the DM are spot on. And Honestly, the DM getting to keep the mini’s and the map is why I pimp myself out as a DM for these things.

Miniatures: Related to materials; but, I wanted to single this out.  Maybe they were not ready, but this would have been a great opportunity to showcase some of the new D&D mini’s releasing next month. Instead we got all mini’s from the latest set.  Come on guys, leverage your power of having people stare at these things for 4 hours. There were no “ooohs” and “aaaahs”.  Just, “Yeah, I got that mini, too”.

Characters.  Ok, here is the second problem. This is suppose to celebrate the release of  the PHB2. However, the characters only partially accomplished that goal. Here are the five pre-built characters for the WWGD:

  • Dragonborn Paladin
  • Drow Avenger
  • Tiefling Invoker
  • Gnome Bard
  • Warforged Barbarian

The Classes are OK (4 PHB2 classes); but, one person is stuck with a Paladin. WTF WOTC?. You published 8 new classes; so there is no call for having a PHB1 class in there. Did that poor Paladin at least get a new race? No way, only 1 out of the 5 had a PHB2 race. WTF WOTC again? This is atrocious.  Why are you not marketing your PHB2 stuff at the PHB2 gameday?

In addition, the character sheets were rife with errors. It is pretty sad, and doesn’t say much for the game when the creators can’t get their own rules correct. They could have used their Character Creator program at least.  That also could have been another marketing opportunity.

Story: This was the worst part for me as a DM. The WWGD module (One Dark Night in Weeping Briar) story sucked. It was corny and unbelievable. The creatures obviously had to be pulled from the latest D&D Mini’s run only, so the encounters were unbelievable and ill fitting (minus the last one which I thought was decent). Role-playing?  Fugetaboutit.

And the biggest problem, it was billed for 2-3 hours. Did the marketing department bother to talk with the game designer?  This module ran at about the 4 hours mark for all of our tables.  And that was with me cutting ALL ENEMY HIT POINTS IN HALF. A DM colleague ran them at full HP, but skipped an encounter altogether. Ran as is, this game would have taking 5-6 hours (2-3 times the published length).

So in the end, although the players said they had fun, were not playing the full game and were rushed through the encounters. What VERY LITTLE role-playing was even available in the module had to be cut short due to the 6 hour module having to be fit into a 3 hour window. (thought I had 4, but I had to skip lunch).  Don’t you want to put D&D’s best foot forward?

PC Level: 11th level players. Good idea on paper, BAAAAD idea in reality. For the release of the “Monster Manual 2”  or “Dungeon Master’s Guide 2,” it might work. For the release of new classes that players have zero familiarity?  Having the players learn the new classes ate up a bunch of time too. And the people who have never played D&D before? Wow, that was a hard table to get through. Let me recommend level 3 or 5 next time for game days with new classes.

So, in the end I survived the PHB2 World Wide Game Day. And, I look forward to judging the next one, but only for the free stuff. However, personal draws to the WWGD aside, I can not recommend these game days to players until WOTC steps it back up a notch and fixes these problems.

Haaldaar

Stuart Greenwell

My first experiences with serious gaming came from the Hero Quest board game. I then made the next step to the RoboTech RPG and a lunchtime meeting of AD&D Oriental Adventures. My interests now are pretty much the same. Boardgames and RPGS. Some of my favorites boardgames are currently Settlers of Catan, Battlestar Galactica, and Space Alert. For RPGS, it is Monte Cook's Cypher System. But I am always down for a good round of Dungeons & Dragons.

6 thoughts on “Dungeons and Dragons Worldwide Game Day 2009 Report

  • March 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm
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    I concur completely.

    We had similar issues at our area store for WWGD. The owner scanned and printed enough copies of the adventure for everyone, but there weren’t enough miniatures. Players who expected the freebies given at prior events were sorely disappointed, and vented their frustrations at the owner, as if he somehow controlled what WOTC sent to him.

    Hopefully, WOTC will receive enough feedback about this issue that future events will be better supplied.

  • March 23, 2009 at 12:08 pm
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    I DM’d a table for the local WWDDGD event. They ran 3 sessions of 5 tables (15 games total) and had enough materials for everyone to keep their stuff. Not sure why the difference.

    I agree on your assessment about the adventure. 11th level was too high. We spent the first 30 minutes of the 4-hour session reviewing the PCs and answering questions. Encounters still ran long as players pondered their options. We were one player short, so I removed a creature from each encounter, but still didn’t get to the last encounter. I should have considered 1/2ing HP (my biggest complaint against 4E is bloated HPs).

    I didn’t mind the plot/theme of the adventure, though it was nothing remarkable. The skill challenge was horribly designed, and I’m beginning to have doubts that the mechanic works at all as written. Every one I’ve run from a published adventure has required heavy modification in order for it to work as a role-playing encounter with a logical flow rather than a series of mechanical skill check rolls.

  • March 23, 2009 at 12:48 pm
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    I also DM’ed a table at my FLGS and will say a few differences in the experience:

    MATERIALS:
    First, our store had plenty of materials. They had enough to run 5 tables 3 times each through the day. So, sounds like your store got shorted, not sure. Our store had plenty of product and from what I saw was packed, as each session had a minimum of 5 players.
    I could care less about the module, as you stated, it was crap, but honestly I didn’t expect anything exciting from this type of event. I had volunteered for the experience really.

    MINIATURES:
    Wow, do they suck. I mean really suck. They have lost all quality control or don’t even care anymore. I hate them all. The new sculpts suck, the paint sucks, they all suck. The Dire Bear was the only decent one IMO. I let all the player’s keep their respective miniature and character sheet.

    CHARACTERS:
    Agreed, having the Paladin seemed silly, though I do think they gave him some of the new Paladin abilities from the upcoming Divine book, so in theory he had some abilities no one has seen before. Otherwise it was a good set of PC’s with yes, atrocious errors on the sheets.

    STORY:
    OH my…yeah, it was bad. I was thinking to myself, why would a “bandit” group consisting of a Quickling, Dire Bear, and two Troglodytes be raiding a village? They would DESTROY a village like Weeping Briar, not raid it.

    The mistake I realized was not making the trogs minions in the first encounter. We ran that one full strength, and I heavily modified the final two just so we could finish on time. Second encounter the Trogs were minions, and the last encounter I only had one Gloom Trap and only the Mezzodemon and two spitters, left everything out (we had 10 minutes for that encounter).

    PC LEVEL:
    Yeah, 11th level sounds cool, but wow do you get a LOT of encounter powers to choose from. Didn’t help that my table had: 2 players who had played 4th, 2 players who regularly played 3.5, and one player whose never played a role playing game. That greatly added to encounter length for us as well.

    All in all I’m still glad I did it, I had fun and all my player’s thanked me for running the game.

  • March 24, 2009 at 4:04 am
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    Fortunately, when I played, we had more than sufficient minis to go around; we not only got to keep our PCs’ minis, but there were spare monsters that we got to lucky-dip, and I managed to bag a copy of the module as well.

    Otherwise, I agree with all your assessments. The encounters ran far too long—our DM later remarked that the troglodytes only added HP to the combats—and the maps and setup for the mill encounter were ambiguous.

    Having played the warforged, I was disappointed that although its warforged resolve power was mentioned, it wasn’t explained on the sheet. It’s not like it’s included in either PHB.

    And whilst I can’t really complain about something I got for free, if I ever bring those minis out for my own games, they’re going to need a new paint job first. I got pride, dammit.

  • March 26, 2009 at 7:30 pm
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    I put over 16 hours into modifying the adventure and correcting the character, and despite handing out a Player Guide to the Characters, emphasizing certain powers and tactics for working together, at 11th level, the characters were far too complex for the players to play well. Most of them simply gave up on trying to make the best use of their powers, but instead settled for mastering a small subset of them. Each character had over a dozen powers, and between them, over two dozen “triggered” powers (interrupts, reactions, and conditional free/no actions), of which almost none were taken advantage of by the players without prompting. Worse, the character sheets were riddled with errors: incorrect hitpoint totals, missing and extraneous powers, improperly calculated attacks, and in any case, were designed very poorly and in such a way that would drag out the already overly long combats (by favoring defensive powers over offensive powers). The choice of character races and classes did not showcase the promoted material well.

    The complexity of the characters reinforced my initial impression that D&D is only viable for the first ten levels or so, and discouraged me from wanting to play paragon tier.

    The adventure was poorly thought out, vague, inconsistant, badly written, and apparently subject to only the most cursory editting. Terrain was unlabelled, so the DM had to guess what effects applied where. I had to even guess where the characters entered the map.

    The central mystery, as presented, was contradictory and unsoluable. At least a thousand townsfolk are missing, but there are no real clues, no sign of a struggle, no tracks, only a single girl has escaped and is hiding. “Calming Solphi” was presented as level 11 complexity 3 skill challenge with ridiculously low DCs, entirely too many primary skills (almost half the available skills), and supposedly yielding 3,000 XP (when the DMG lists 1,800 for a level 11, complexity 3 skill challenge).

    The combat encounters were long and sloggy, with high hit points under conditions of multiple stacking penalties (for example, concealment plus troglodyte stench). Supposed allies shared no language in common, and negotiations took place between monsters who not only could not speak to one another, but were unintelligent beasts. Demons, which are described in the Monster Manual as being incapable of complex planning and self-restraint were carrying out a complex plan requiring self restraint, with insufficient numbers to actually carry out said plan.

    At the end of the adventure, the thousand or more missing townsfolk are reduced to a dozen cowering people kept in place by monsters that appeared in the text description, but were nowhere else in the encounter: no stack block, no mini, and not indicated on the battle mat. The monsters suggested tactics were lame, suicidal, and tended to prolong the already overly long combat.

    I spent a great deal of time modifying the adventure and correcting the character sheets. Whoever Gregory Marks, the nominal author of the adventure, is, I will be avoiding any products bearing his name, and advising others to do likewise. I only wish I knew who his nameless editor was, so I could avoid their work in the future as well.

    I made the adventure work for my players, who did have a good if confusing time.

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