Hi there. If you're reading this, it's either because you know me or you spend way too much time hitting "I'm feeling lucky" on Google. Either way, welcome.

Illumination is a perpetual work in progress, so please pardon our dust. The intent of the place is to provide space where I can lay down my thoughts and observations about the world around me and the things I do. That means it could be filled with nearly anything, from silly accounts of my gaming antics to thoughtful political discussion and anything in-between.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Encounters (on life, 1d4 hours at a time)

Well, I suppose there’s no point in delaying the admission that I’m a gamer of all stripes, since a good portion of this blog’s contents is going to be devoted to my hobbies. So without further ado:

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Wizards of the Coast’s new “D&D Encounters” events, which is an all-comers Organized Play series where players gather once a week and play a single encounter in an ongoing adventure.

I signed up for and attended the opening night of adventure –into the Forgotten Realms’ famed Undermountain- at Uncle’s Games in Southcenter Mall, and the event was a huge hit!

WotC’s own Chris Tulach ran and organized the event at Uncle’s, and the store had 42(!) players spread across seven(!) tables, far exceeding both the space available as well as the number of available DMs. The WotC people had to recruit two new DMs on-site and Chris himself ended up having to run his group out in the mall itself, since the store had filled up all of its available table space!

Oh, and they bribed us with cupcakes, because fifty-odd sugar-buzzed gamers packed into one place always makes for an entertaining evening.

Now, I’ve heard some of the naysayers about this new program; how it’s doomed to failure, how it’s just more money-grubbing from WotC [1]; how nobody is going to care about it. There has been a notably mixed reaction to the idea out in the Wired and even on WotC’s own community site. It seems that a lot of people, or at least the vocal minority, aren’t too pleased with the idea.

To all of those people, I say: put your money where your mouth is, fellas! Grab some dice, roll a character, and come on down. Sign ups at Uncle’s start at 6:30 and the dice hit the table at 7. If you’re not on my slice of the world, then give your FLGS a call and see if they’re running D&D Encounters (and if they aren’t, ask them why not!).

Our DM for the first night was Chad Brown, an imposing but friendly fellow in an official-looking “DUNGEON MASTER” shirt. Credit where due: the man knew his stuff. Throwing down an entertaining adventure for six complete strangers, two of whom hadn’t even played 4th Edition before, is no easy task, and Brown proved he’d earned the shirt by doing exactly that, keeping the 4e veterans like myself entertained while giving quick, clear explanations to the newbies.

Our group took just over 90 minutes to finish the night’s encounter, a back-alley brawl against a gang of thieves and ruffians, and we were the first of the seven tables to finish up. Part of that was the group: Four of us knew each other and we had prearranged to have all four of 4e’s roles covered [2]. Both of the table’s walk-ons ended up bringing Warlords, giving us a triple-threat of leaders with which to crush the encounter.

I didn’t contribute much to the fight itself, unfortunately, since my dice decided it was a good time to take a night off and I found myself unable to roll above a 7 on any of my attacks, but that happens from time to time and I think my peppering everything in the area except the bad guys with arrows only added to the entertainment of the game.

It was refreshing to be able to just jump into the action for once without having to worry about any of the usual minutiae of playing or running a D&D game. The short-form style of Encounters is designed to be easy to get into and easy to enjoy: show up, roll dice, have fun. The bite-sized experience is different in a fun way, and I’m looking forward to more.

I can’t speak much on the long-term plans WotC has for this first “Season” of Encounters or whatever may follow it since I haven’t honestly looked into it much, but I hope things continue to be as awesome as Tulach and his crew made the opening night. Most of the downers I’ve heard about Encounters have had to do with its format or the mechanics and organization behind it… but screw all that. I had fun, my table had fun, and from the roaring laughter and high-fives emanating from the rest of the room, so did everyone else. That’s what really counts.


Okay! That’s enough of that for now. It’s time to take a short rest, refresh my encounter powers, and spend a couple of healing surges. I’ll be writing more about my experiences at D&D Encounters as the 12-week season continues on, so stay tuned!

And it bears repeating: If you can get to Uncle’s Games Southcenter Mall (upper level, near JC Penny) on Wednesday nights at 6:30, come join us! If you can’t, then give a call to your favorite gaming store and see if they’re hosting the event as well. I guarantee you’ll have fun.

[1] – D&D Encounters rewards players for using the subscription-based D&D Insider services as well as for using material from new-release books like the PHB 3, encouraging players to purchase them. The awesomeness that is Insider is worthy of a future post itself, but suffice to say that my gaming supplies now consists of nothing but a laptop and dice! I’m also a fan of psionics in D&D, so the PHB 3 was a no-brainer for me. It’s hardly money-grubbing if the products and services they offer are things I was going to buy anyway.

[2] – If you don’t know, D&D 4th Edition has divided classes up into four “roles,” based on their function within the adventuring party: Defenders are front-line bruisers who are tough to avoid and can punish enemies who attack their allies; Strikers are high-mobility skirmishers who specialize on laying down heavy firepower in melee or at range; Controllers are masters of battlefield manipulation capable of inflicting crippling effects on their enemies and directing the flow of the battle; and Leaders are inspiring healers dedicated to bolstering the effectiveness of their allies. A well-rounded adventuring party has at least one of each role.

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