Archive for the ‘Advice/Tools’ Category

Tips For Running One-Shot Games

May 11, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons is a game meant to be played week by week over a long period of time. Sometimes, however, we just want to play some quick D&D with some friends. Maybe we have a group that only gets together once every couple of months. Maybe our regular group could use a side-track for a night or two. Maybe two of your five players aren’t able to show up next time and you don’t want to play your main story without them.

All of this leads to the one-shot game, a game with some pre-generated characters and a one-night adventure.

The Newbie DM recently discussed his challenges running a Paragon-tier one-shot game. Having recently ran my own level 26th pre-gen game, I too saw the difficulties in running a high level game with pre-generated one-shot characters. Today we’ll discuss some tips for making these one-shot games better.

Use Low Level One-Shot Games for New Players

If you have more than one new player at your table, consider running a lower level – even level one – one-shot game instead of a higher level game. As a DM, you may want to experiment at the higher tiers and some of your experienced players may want this as well, but new players will have a hard enough time understanding the mechanics of 4th edition without having to learn about paragon paths, epic destinies, and dozens of powers and feats. The level of your one-shot game should be proportional to the experience level of your players.

Use Known Character Classes for One-Shot Games

Again, playing those new character classes in the Players Handbook 2 may seem like a great way to use a one-shot game, but probably not at higher levels. A good experienced player may be able to understand the mechanics of a higher-level Avenger but only of they took the time to read it through before they show up at the table.

If you’re a DM generating characters for your players, avoid complicated character classes that will not be well understood. Stick to the core classes from the Players Handbook for players who will be seeing their characters for the first time at the table. If a player is interested in running one of the new character types, tell them they can either run that class by building the character themselves or play one of the core classes if they’d rather not.

Select Simple Feats and Powers

If you’re generating pre-gen characters for your players, stick to the most basic and direct powers and feats. Always-on feats like weapon focus, weapon specialization, weapon training, and feats that boost defenses are much easier to manage than feats that require thought to use effectively. Complicated powers may offer some truly outstanding effects at the table but only if well understood. For pre-gen characters, stick to direct and powerful powers that are easy to understand.

Use the Dungeon Delve

The Dungeon Delve sourcebook is quickly becoming my favorite 4th Edition sourcebooks. It has some excellent one-shot adventures that will fill two to four hours and already have the detailed encounter designs needed to run such an adventure. Each of these micro-adventures work very well for one-shot games and, with their extensive use of D&D Dungeon Tiles, they’re easy to set up and run.

House Rule your Monsters

The easiest way to speed up a one-shot game and still make it challenging is to apply some house rules to your monsters. Currently I have three favorite house rules for speeding up combat at Paragon tier and above:

  1. Monsters have 75% of their published hitpoints.
  2. Monsters, including minions, deal +1/2 level in damage.
  3. Solo monsters have the following resistances: Stun removes one standard action; Daze removes one minor action.

These rules will speed up the battles, increase the threat to the players, and ensure that high-level solo monsters aren’t completely incapacitated by stuns and dazes.

Hopefully, with these simple rules, a good DM can build and run fun, fast, and exciting one-shot adventures at any level of D&D 4th Edition.

Getting Ideas for D&D

May 4, 2009

In his excellent book, On Writing, Stephen King discusses the most common question he receives when he’s talking to his fans. “How do you get your ideas?” seems a common question given to many fictional writers. Neil Gaiman had one of the best responses: “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis”.

Of course, the real answer is “everywhere”. Creativity comes from every part of our lives, from the strange guy who sold us Starbursts at CVS to the smell of a collapsed and rotting tree.

Like authors, DMs can likewise get their ideas from everywhere. The world is a source of inspiration, all you have to do is recognize it.

That all sounds well and good, but how do you go about doing it? First, recognize it when you see it. Second, record it.

I always carry my trusted Moleskine notebook in my pocket along with my favorite fountain pen. Anytime inspiration strikes, whether it’s for a story or a Twitter DM Tip, I whip out the notebook and record it. Sometimes a song will stir up an idea or a scene for me. Sometimes I’ll remember a favorite scene in a movie. Writing these down and letting them jumble up in your head is how good creative works happen. It’s no different in D&D.
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There’s another common understanding among authors. There are few truly original ideas but there’s lots of mashups. D&D is all about taking concepts found elsewhere and wiring them together. Take the story of “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” and set it in a cave you once visited under a resort in Bermuda. Take the main characters from “No Country For Old Men” as your NPCs and villains. My next adventure is going to be based on gangster-house slaughter in the TV show “Rome” and the bride’s bloodbath in House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill 1. Then I mix in just the right amount of Iggy Pop and Supertramp and I have something pretty unique.

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Another good idea, if you use the Twyla Tharp campaign box, is to write ideas down on 3×5 notecards and throw them in the box. When it’s time to come up with your adventure or campaign thread, pull out the cards and start putting them together.

Start to think of your dungeon mastering the same way an artist thinks about his or her artwork. This is our medium. We’re part writers, part performance artists, and part battle strategists. We have to combine all of these talents into a single performance of storytelling and game management that others find entertaining. The more we consider the habits of artists, the more creative our games will be.

If you want to read two great non-D&D related books to get you in the right spirit of this, read Stephen King’s On Writing and Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit. Neither one has any direct relation to D&D, but both of them have extremely valuable tips to make your D&D game better.

DM Tips, 22-30 April

May 1, 2009

More DM Tips from the SlyFlourish Twitter feed!

Need a quick attack or defense score? Try level+4 for a base attack and level+14 for a base defense. Use + or – 2 to tailor it. #dnd

Very much liked the idea of chaining multiple short 3/3 skill challenges together into a large meta-challenge. Thanks @mikemearls #dnd

Skill challenges don’t always need to be big deals. Use three-step challenges for quick NPC discussions, traps, or in-battle action. #dnd

Take joy in the success of the characters. Take no sadness in the defeat of your monsters. #dnd

Change the default atk bonus on the front of the Character Builder sheet to your main at will. Makes your main bonus more accessible. #dnd

With each encounter ask yourself “how have I made the room interesting today?”. Walk through the battle in your head to prepare #dnd

@XeroSided Great idea on using cheaper metal tokens instead of minis! http://bit.ly/kLXxl I’m surprised I missed this article. It’s great.

Want to play D&D; but only have time for a battle or two? Write a one-page dungeon and use the new DDM cards: http://tr.im/ii9T #dnd

4e Tip: For quick fights try avg damage rather than dice. For scary swingy fun, max damage! Double damage on crits. #dnd

When using 3×5 cards for init, put the character name, not the player name, to keep people in character. For one-shots write both. #dnd

@Milambus Wow. http://www.hobbiesandgames…. is great! Good prices and I love the sort by price. #dnd

RT @tonym26: “I have found http://www.alterealitygames… to be great for minis, I’ve gotten some as low as 25 cents. (no relation) #dnd”

If you’re trying to buy individual minis, try Auggies: http://tr.im/jGDZ Good service and great prices. I am not affiliated with them. #dnd

The D&D; Character Builder quick-gen is a good way to whip up some default high-level characters. It seems to do a good job. #dnd

@mikemearls layered or phased skill challenges. More skill challenge templates. Quick combat without maps or minis. #dnd

Good use for minions: Aid Another (PHB pg 287). Standard action: basic atk vs AC10; on hit, +2 to allies next attack vs. this target. #dnd

Use the maps in the Dungeon Delve book for all sorts of encounters. Beyond everything else, the Delve is a great sample-map pack. #dnd

Here’s a nice but imperfect list of weapon names to name all of the weapons that you reward. Cool weapons have names. http://tr.im/jysT #dnd

Use a token for action points so people have something to throw at you when they want to spend it. Black poker chips perhaps. #dnd

Three Tips for Keep on the Shadowfell

April 27, 2009

Update: Wizards recently released Keep on the Shadowfell and the 4e Quick Start Rules for free on their website. The tips below can help make this excellent free adventure even more fun.

Though nearly a year old now, Keep on the Shadowfell (KotS) remains the most-discussed adventure for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Today we will discuss three tips for running and improving this 4e starter adventure. Though these tips focus on the Keep on the Shadowfell, the philosophy behind these tips also apply to other published adventures.

Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you plan to play through this module, you may want to stop reading now.

And now, the tips.

Tip 1: Who Is Kalarel?

kalarelKalarel, the main boss of KotS, is an excellent villain without much backstory. All we get from the adventure is that he’s a priest of Orcus attempting to spread the plague of undeath to the mortal world. Kalarel can be much more than the boss of the final encounter. How did he come to the Keep? How did he get an army of kobolds, goblins, and hobgoblins to do his bidding? Where did he come from and where does he want to go? Why does he believe what he is doing is right? What pushed him to become a priest of Orcus?

Answer these questions and you’ll have a much more believable villain. Give tidbits of this information to your players through background stories, lost journal entries, discussions, or interrogations with Kalarel’s minions. Make Kalarel a villain known to the PCs from the first day.

In my own run of KotC, Kalarel was a Ted-Bundy-like serial killer and the party tracked him down through his grizzly crime scenes. Kalarel also left wells behind, cauldrons of vile necrotic substances used to create his undead minions. These showed the party his growth as a priest of Orcus as they came closer to the portal at the end of the adventure.

Tip 2: Forshadow the Long War

Keep on the Shadowfell’s story can be the driving force for an entire campaign against Orcus himself. Kalarel’s fate at the end of the adventure leaves room for a return later on. “Death’s Reach” would be a great adventure to re-introduce this villain. The central seed of your campaign against Orcus can be defined by the events in Keep on the Shadowfell. Also, introducing NPCs from later adventures in these first days can build relationships between the PCs and these NPCs further down the road. The prince’s seed from King of the Trollhaunt Warrens can be much more powerful if the PCs met him early on.

Tip 3: Enrich the Winterhaven NPCs

As you introduce NPCs from further adventures, also fill out and define the NPCs from KotS that will re-occur in later adventures. In particular, the mage Valthroon and the lord of Winterhaven, Lord Padriac can be campaign-long friends and allies of the party well beyond this adventure. Likewise, Winterhaven itself makes a fine recurring city for the party, though the Seven-Pillared Hall in the Thunderspire Labyrinth module makes a somewhat better home town.

Keep the number of fully-rich NPCs small. A group of players might not be able to keep track of a dozen different NPCs, but three or four good friends or arch enemies can really add to the story of a campaign. Keep it simple but keep it deep as well.

While the above three tips focus on expanding Keep on the Shadowfell, expanding the right NPCs can improve any module or series of modules you are running. Our “Three Tips” column will focus next on Thunderspire Labyrinth. Keep watch!

Slyflourish Tweets, 15-22 April

April 23, 2009

Below are the tweets for the seven days between 15 and 22 April 2009.

Un-cursing a possessed Treant during combat made for a fun skill challenge when the treant was bloodied. Good for earthday! #dnd

Having a lot of trouble with the Paladin “Healing Boon” paragon ability. It totally negates elites, solos, and area attackers. Help! #dnd

@DMingNicholas I found the Manual of the Planes too fluffy. I wanted crunch like Draconomicon and Open Grave. Planes Below looks good. #dnd

Every good villain thinks they’re a hero. What drives your villains to do what they do? The best villains have good reasons for evil. #dnd

@Dragonshaos For a named boss, standard actions can be converted to minors they can use once a turn. Gives them a variety of actions. #dnd

@AsmodeusLore Groups of five are ideal. I mostly run groups of six but its a three-ring circus of constant “You’re up!” shouting. #dnd

For major elite or solo villains convert standard actions to once-per-turn minor actions. Recharges still apply. #dnd

Received “Death’s Reach” epic tier module. Very epic. WOTC finally started using Dungeon Tiles directly as adventure maps. #dnd

@exedore6 That’s always a good idea in theory. Show a monster that can eat another party and your party will be more afraid. #dnd

Higher level solos aren’t harder, just harder to kill. Keep BBEG solos equal level to the party and add some strikers or brutes. #dnd

Simple Caesar ciphers make for fun secret messages for players to decode. Make it crackable and don’t make it vital. http://tr.im/jhkp #dnd

Excellent article on shaking up Minions for your players by Sterling on Dungeon Mastering: http://tr.im/jef2

Great tips for integrating new players, from RoleplayingTips.com: http://tr.im/jdDV

Have your boss villain wielding that fancy weapon you want the players to have. Let them feel it before they own it. #dnd

Gaiman’s description of Ghoulheim in “Graveyard Book” makes for a great description of the Abyss, Hell, or the Shadowfell. Page 82. #dnd

For a twist, build a large elite creature with a built-in skill challenge to defeat or redirect his wrath.

and so begins the great Crashing of the Gencon Registration Servers! Yeehaa!

Make the Feywild really fantastic. Ten thousand year old trees. Cyclopean ruins. Mile high waterfalls. Mountanous fallen statues. #dnd

Write out your own flavor text before your next game. It’s easier to read your own prose than it is to describe the Feywild ad-lib. #dnd

Three Cheap 4e Game Aids

April 20, 2009

We all know the primary needs for a good D&D game. Books, dice, pencils, miniatures, a battle mat, these are all either required or very helpful in playing D&D 4th Edition. There are, however, a few gaming supplies that will greatly improve your game, speed up battles, or make it easier and more fun for your players to play. Today we’ll talk about three of these cheap and useful game aids. Please note, I am not the original source of these ideas, many came from Enworld’s forums, but I felt they deserved a deeper discussion in a dedicated article. Let us begin.

The 3×5 Note Card
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A lot of DMs have used 3×5 cards to run most of their games. A 3×5 card is just big enough to pack in the important details of a monster, write out a quick skill challenge, outline the five main scenes of an adventure, or pass them as secret notes to your players.

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These cards also work very well as initiative trackers. Take about five 3×5 cards, cut them in half vertically, fold them in half, and write the name of your characters on the bottom edge of both sides of the card. Have your players yell their initiative, and drop the cards from high to low over the edge of your DM Screen. Make one card an arrow card, ” ->”, to show the direction of initiative. With the names on both sides of the screen, both you and your players can see who is up and who is up next. Write more cards labeled “monster 1” to “monster 5” to mark monsters in initiative order. This is a nearly free way to track initiative and is the best method I’ve seen so far.

The Soda Bottle Ring
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The soda bottle ring has quickly become a popular way of marking miniatures with quarries, curses, challenges, and marks. When pried off of the bottle, these colored rings can represent every possible mark from a Warlock’s curse (black) to a ranger’s quarry (green). They are easily draped over a miniature without having to lift the miniature off of the mat. The only disadvantage is the crooked eye of your co-workers as you raid the recycle bin and run off with a pile of soda rings yelling “YES!” when you find one of the elusive purple rings.

The Poker Chip

There are a couple of uses for physical tokens in D&D 4th Edition outside of miniatures or marks. Using tokens for action points makes them easier to track and more fun for players who can throw them in right before rolling a 20. Poker chips work very well for this. They’re cheap to acquire, at about a buck for a box, and come in a range of colors. DMs can use white chips labeled “+1” with a Sharpie as a reward for playing a turn quickly. This “momentum” bonus helps speed the game along when your more tactical players might spend valuable minutes worrying about the right positioning.

Not every D&D accessory need cost a lot of money. With these three aids your game will run faster and smoother without breaking the bank. Please share any other cheap game aids have you found over the years so we can all make our games that much better.

D&D Dungeon Tile Tips

April 5, 2009

With the recent release of Dungeon Delve and the strong push to table top combat in D&D 4th Edition, D&D Dungeon Tiles are becoming more and more important in people’s games. While the truly insane gamers use the excellent (and expensive) Dwarven Forge 3D terrain, Dungeon Tiles are far more affordable. How do you use these tricky things? Just laying them out on a table doesn’t always work, and how do you store the stupid things when you’re done? This week we look at three tips to making the most from your D&D Dungeon Tiles.

1. Use Blue Poster Tack & Black poster board

A big problem with the Dungeon Tiles is that they don’t stay together very well when you’ve built a room. You can try just laying them out but any jostle of the table will send them flying. The best way I’ve found to keep your rooms together is to use blue sticky tack, the sticky putty used to tack posters to walls without thumb tacks, to fasten the pieces to black sheets of poster board.

There are a lot of advantages to this. First, you can build out all your rooms well before you need to use them at the game. They also store well when stuck together so you can carry them around pretty easily. Second, they won’t move around when you’re actually playing. The rooms are all very solid. Third, the black poster board doesn’t distract the eye away from the dungeon room itself.

One additional tip: don’t leave your tiles stuck to the board for very long. If they stick together too long, you may tear the tile when you tear it away from the board.

The poster tack runs about $5 a pack, but that pack should last you a long long time. It’s well worth the investment.

The black sheets of poster board can get expensive. I recommend the 11 x 17 sheets for about $4 a sheet. A larger sheet can build out an entire dungeon floor for those huge Gygaxian old-school dungeons. You’ll need a lot of tiles for these, however.

2. Store Dungeon Tiles in Large Zip-Loc Bags

The best way I’ve found to store Dungeon Tiles is in large one-gallon or two-gallon zip lock bags. Store each set of Dungeon Tiles in its own bag to make it easy to find the piece you need. I prefer the bags with the actual plastic zippers on them – they’re far easier to close. In a large transparent zip-loc bag, you can quickly look for a particular piece without opening the bag. Once you have a good collection of Dungeon Tiles, stick all of your zip-loc bags into one of your Twyla Tharp Banker Boxes.

3. Buy two copies of each set.

One of the big complaints with the Dungeon Delve was the heavy use of the Hall of the Giant Kings tile set which was out of print before the book’s release. I was lucky enough to find two sets of the tiles for $6 a piece on Ebay, but many others weren’t so lucky and the price is now as high as $50 a set.

The lesson we can learn from this is to buy two copies of each set when they’re still in print. At $10 a set, they’re affordable and we can’t be sure which sets we’ll need for future sourcebooks. The nice thing about Dungeon Tiles is that every set improves the value of your overall collection. You can build bigger and richer dungeons with every set you add.

So there’s your Sly Flourish Tip of the Week. When using D&D Dungeon Tiles, use sticky tack, black poster boards, and zip-loc bags to make the most of your collection and buy two copies of every set to ensure you always have what you need.

Build a Twyla Tharp Style Campaign Box

March 29, 2009

I’ve spent the past couple of months reading Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. Over the past couple of weeks, as I finished the book, it dawned on me how many of these habits – habits formed by a woman who produces and directs dances and shows on Broadway – could improve dungeon mastering.

For example, one of her more popular concepts, is Twyla’s Box. For every project she begins, she takes out a cardboard banker’s box, writes the name of the project on the box, and begins to fill it with all of the materials she’ll need for that project. To begin, she takes out a 3×5 note card, and writes her goal or key concept for her project on it, and throws it in the box. As the box fills and the project moves forward, she often refers to this card to see if she is on course.

Given the strange things we might use in a good Dungeons and Dragons campaign, this box metaphor need not be a metaphor at all. Why not take one of these $2 bankers boxes and turn it into your Dungeons and Dragons campaign box? Consider all of the things you might throw into it. Props, maps, hand-drawn notes, 3×5 cards filled with NPC personalities, lists of random names and backgrounds, miniatures for the campaign, parts of D&D Insider articles, hand-written skill challenge ideas, maybe even some music or sound effects files on a USB drive.

Probably a lot of us save our campaign information on our computers. I have a folder for each campaign I have ran that I fill with clip art, story outlines, NPC descriptions, customized baddies, villain descriptions, and any other adventure stuff I need. With D&D being mainly a physical game, though, a campaign box makes a lot more sense. Why not print all that material and jam it in the campaign box?

This isn’t the only tip applicable to Twyla Tharp’s book. There are many others I will likely write about in the future. If you’re looking to branch out and think of Dungeon Mastering more as a creative discipline, you could do a lot worse than buying her book and giving it a read. I highly recommend it.

So there’s your Sly Flourish tip of the week. Buy a $2 bankers box at your local Staples and turn it into your very own campaign box.

Dwarven Forge Caverns Review

December 28, 2008

Every time I open a new box of Dwarven Forge dungeon tiles I am always surprised how much I love them. All concerns about the price, all concerns about the “investment”, all concerns that my money would have been better spent elsewhere disappear when I start to lay them out, build some rooms, and imagine the encounters I will run within them.

After using the cavern sets for a couple of months now I can say without doubt that the Dwarven Forge cavern set is the best set I’ve used. The size of the pieces, being mostly four by four blocks, make it easy and quick to build out a nice-sized cavern complete with stalagmites, platforms, and other interesting scenery. Adding in the Cavernous Passage set, the Chasm set, and the Cavernous River and Wall set all work together to build large and detailed caverns.

My primary intent for the cavern set was to run the module “King of the Trollhaunt Warrens” and I believe these four sets will do the job very well. Beyond that, however, I was able to use the set immediately in my Pyramid of Shadows game. All of the players remarked at the detail of the set.

With most of my collection consisted of the Fantasy Room and Passage sets along with the Fantasy Floors and Wicked Additions sets; I was nervous about getting into a set drastically different from the original. The nice thing about the sets I had is that they all worked well together, but the cavern sets look so different I worried that I wouldn’t be able to use them together.

My fear was unfounded. The two sets work very well together. The cavern set includes seamless transitional pieces that take you from the room and passage set into the cavern set. It is very easy to use all of the Dwarven Forge pieces together to build out an infinite array of encounter areas.

Dwarven Forge enthusiasts refer to their hobby as “the addiction” and it’s easy to see why. Starting with only two sets – the Medieval Building set and the Medieval Expansion set six months ago, I now have twelve sets. At about $120 each, that’s a hell of an investment for a roleplaying game. When I use them, however, there is no doubt where that money went. Sure I could us an erasable battle mat or D&D dungeon tiles or even large sheets of graph paper, but when I use Dwarven Forge, it’s a whole different game.

My only real worry, the only disadvantage I might apply, is that you better have a good consistent group of players to use this. I always worry that my gaming group will break up and I’ll be sitting and staring at a large pile of dungeon accessories I can’t really use. Getting a good roleplaying group together is the hardest part of the game and the one most likely to invalidate an investment of this magnitude.

My only other complaint would be with the Cavernous Chasms set which is harder to use than the others and doesn’t clearly integrate as well as the others. It’s still a good set and has a lot of nice pieces for building multi-level rooms, which I think is a clear advantage of Dwarven Forge overall, but doesn’t fit quite as nicely together as the other sets.

Last year I had a chance to chat with the owner and creator of Dwarven Forge. He made a bold statement but one which is easy to defend once someone puts their hands on the pieces or sees them in use in a game. His statement was that Dwarven Forge are the best 3d dungeon models in the world. I couldn’t agree more.

Dwarven Forge 3D Dungeon Terrain

August 5, 2008

You know you’re beginning to fall too hard into D&D when $100 a set for 3-D dungeon pieces seems reasonable. You really know you’ve hit heroin-levels of addiction when you look in your dining room and see seven such sets. Like my love for home theater back about ten years ago, I am finding that there is no upper limit when it comes to hobbies. Though D&D can be played with little more than the three core books, some paper and pencils, and some funny dice; there’s quite a bit more to spend your money on if you want to.

Dwarven Forge is a modular dungeon tile system that uses ceramic-like 3d blocks to build out dungeons. The blocks come in various sizes from 2×2 floors and walls to smaller steps and accessories and 4×4 or 6×6 floor pieces. Putting them together you can build small, medium, or for those with too much disposable income, very large dungeons.

The allure of Dwarven Forge is easier to see in pictures than it is to describe, though you can’t really appreciate them until you see them in person. Check it out on Flickr and from the Dwarven Forge website’s own photo gallery. True gamers instantly begin to drool at the idea. I know I did.

For the past two years I had successfully avoided Dwarven Forge for a few reasons. First, it was clearly expensive and I had no idea how many sets I would have to purchase before it was really functional. Two, I wasn’t sure how practical it was at the table. I have a hard time setting up D&D Dungeon Tiles at the table on the fly and I was afraid Dwarven Forge would be as hard or harder. Third, I never know if my gaming group is going to last a while or not. What happens when I hit that stage in my life where I can’t find a full group to run a game? A few books isn’t much of an investment but with an investment in D&D miniatures and Dwarven Forge, not having a group would be a real waste of such a collection.

Then last May, for my birthday, Michelle and her folks bought me two sets of the Medieval Building set for building inns, cottages, and other above-ground structures (have I mentioned that I am married to the greatest woman in the world?). It blew me away and I instantly had to have more. By the end of May I had four more sets. Earlier this month I ordered one more.

So how did it work out? So far, very well.

The cost is still very expensive. This is the sort of purchase that pushes you well into the hobby. You better plan to use it a lot to get the value out of it and I hope to. Right now I have a weekly D&D game and I use it nearly every game. It’s also great for running D&D miniature scenarios with even just Michelle and I as a sort of board-game version of D&D. I hope and expect to have a gaming group for years to come, even if it means hunting down new people to play. I recently expanded my group to six just to make sure we always had enough players at the table.

As far as setup is concerned, it turns out that Dwarven Forge is easier to set up than D&D dungeon tiles. For one, every piece is more useful than most of the D&D dungeon tile sets. Second, since all the pieces come in styrofoam packs, you can easily see where the piece you need happens to be. At the game table I’m able to quickly build some basic rooms in just a couple of minutes. The night before a game I’m able to build entire dungeons and reveal each section as it is explored. Both systems work though the room-at-a-time approach seems to be more enjoyable to the players and cheaper since you don’t need as many pieces.

The construction and design of the Dwarven Forge pieces is astonishing. Every piece has amazing detail, from the drips of candle wax coming from wall-mounted candles to the individual pits in the rocks that make up a rock wall. They’re beautiful and wonderful to use. Each piece feels like it is made out of stone. Though I haven’t exactly beaten them up, the pieces have survived many games without a single broken piece. They fit together well and are heavy enough to stay in place when you piece them together. One of my only problems is that the pieces are so beautiful and fun that players often start messing with their own little constructions in the middle of the game. They’re just too cool not to screw with. I’d go to the kitchen for a drink and come back with an entirely new design to whatever room I had. Everyone wants to play with them when they see them.

Unfortunately, individual Dwarven Forge sets don’t work well on their own. You can’t just buy one and figure it is enough to build out a room. Even with four sets of the fantasy dungeon rooms and passages, I had just enough pieces to build two medium sized rooms, one large double-layered room, and a few halls. Even with four sets I just barely had enough to build out an entire adventure worth of rooms. Now if you’re building out every encounter individually, you might get away with as few as two or three sets but that would be stretching it. Even as few as three sets still costs about $300.

I’ve been using my Dwarven Forge sets for two months now and I love them. They make me smile every time I set out a few rooms or passages. My players enjoy them, though they don’t distract too much from the story. They certainly aren’t necessary. D&D Dungeon Tiles, large poster maps, and erasable battle mats work just fine. However, they do add a whole new dimension to tabletop gaming.

Like my love of fine fountain pens, it is very very difficult – probably impossible – to justify the cost for such a thing, but that doesn’t stop me from loving them as much as I do. Dwarven Forge isn’t for everyone, but if you decide to make the plunge, you won’t regret it. Though the Dwarven Forge community is small, for who can really afford such things these days, every member clearly loves it.

I know I do.