A new game of Dungeons and Dragons is always a nerve-wracking event as a Dungeon Master. There is so much to do, especially if you want to write your own adventure. Then you have to consider your players, you never really know what they are going to do, or if the content you’ve written will be “enough”.
Well last night I embarked upon a new campaign, written in about a week, using a digital tabletop which I’d never used before (I also haven’t ran many campaigns online), with an entire party of players I didn’t know. I don’t think it’s possible to present a DM with more of a psychological or physical challenge.
And frankly it was one of the best sessions I’d ever had.
This article is an attempt to get more people into DnD online. As a DM, you invest so much time and effort that it can be hard to step out of your comfort zone, but this session reminded me why that’s important.
We used Roll20: the free virtual tabletop which provides an absolute ton of functionality and really brings you as close as you can possibly come to being around a table. The dice roller even lets you roll big 3D dice!
As the DM, I found that every little need I had was met: I could set up encounter tokens, NPCs, new maps, handouts and even track initiative on the tabletop. This allowed me to involve the players in every part of my preparation. They could see the gears in motion so the session never really stalled or lost pace when I was setting up the next encounter.
For tracking characters we used DnD Beyond. An amazing official website by Wizards Of The Coast, which basically gives you every tool and rule to set up a campaign and actually play it. The site requires an entire article of its own, but suffice it to say that as a DMs and character’s toolbox, this site has it all.
Then lastly we come to my players. I was so nervous about these guys, I’d never met any of them before, we just set up the game on a discord server I frequent before christmas then last night, there we were, confronted by a whole slew of new experiences.
As a DM, you always hope that your players are going to “get” your game, and certainly I was worried that my game style wasn’t necessarily going to be compatible with how they wanted to play. My fears turned out to be completely unfounded, as they really got their teeth into my session in a way that made the effort totally worth it!
This proves to me, that playing DnD online, with strangers is not such a daunting task as it used to be. The free tools are so good these days that you hardly feel divorced from the table. It certainly opened my eyes and I hope you give it a chance too! Especially if you can’t give up the time and effort it takes to get together with people on a particular day. As a 29 year old who works odd hours, that’s become of great concern to me in recent years, so last night’s session was almost a weight off my mind: As long as you have a computer, you can play DnD.
Prior to the Festive period we got our hands on a box of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. So far we’ve been loving the game. Some of us have had reservations about Games Workshop in the past, their ability to piss their hardcore fans off – which seems to be normal for any company in the 21st Century, but more so because of the blatant greed. I digress, I actually enjoy the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K universe.
Over the festive period we’ve managed to get in three solid gaming sessions; the first to get to know the game and try to figure out the rules; another to start a proper campaign and see how far we could get; and the most recent session to take on the first of several strongholds in the game. Allow me to explain…
In Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress you play characters from a band of adventurers in the 41st Millenium, investigating an ancient and monolithic structure drifting in space. Access points to this fortress allow you to gain entry into different parts of the fortress, where you seek clues to find the much sought after Hidden Vault.
In game terms you need to find clue cards from your expeditions into the Blackstone Fortress. At first glance we thought this could take a good number of games, and now after a few more sessions we have a better understanding…
In session 2 we ploughed our way through a regular expedition, taking some heavy fire but actually finding a total of 5 clues, 1 more than we actually needed. This allowed us to gather the information and put it together into locating one of several strongholds which held a higher echelon of clues, to eventually permit us deeper into the fortress (we guess). So in actual fact, we don’t need to play hundreds of games as we at first thought. No, you can get all the clues you need in a single nights session of gaming.
So in session 3 we blitzed the run-up to this stronghold, the Descent, where the players must traverse a two layered dungeon map (sorry, Combat map) and then get to a focus point and access it several times to end the game. Whilst this was happening, the monsters and bad guys were spawning 50% of the time, because reinforcements in Strongholds happens on a 1-10 of a 20 sided dice.
But we cheated..!
Ok, so we had 6 players this time round (usually its 4 characters tops), so it was much easier. But in our defence, we still nearly lost several characters in the process which would have crippled our chances of completing the game as a whole and never opening that secret envelope for the Hidden Vault.
So, to the naysayers on reddit who told me that the price of the game (even discounted to ~£70) was not worth it because, on average, people would maybe play the game 4-5 times a year: your loss. Even if you hate Games Workshop for being the money making powerhouse that it is, they’ve actually hit upon a good game, that has more depth and story than any of the current or previous games they’ve made.
You see, the game relies on players not always being present every gaming session, so that the characters they play, which are persistent throughout the gaming sessions, get played by other members of your gaming group. If that character dies, there’s no chance of them coming back, they lose all of their equipment, focus and abilities not only of themselves, but of the adventuring group. That adds up to quite a loss.
Why is this a good thing?
Because it adds a sense of realism and makes the game harder challenging.
We’ve felt challenged by this game each session, more so because there is no genius mastermind controlling the bad guys. Cooperatively, we were still getting our buns handed to us by an insubstantial entity that is the games master.
A bit like a omnipresent entity in the form of a floating space fortress…
Our advice for the average gamers with families (thus limiting your game time) – play Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress with less Exploration Cards. Normally you create the deck of Exploration cards by taking 4 from the challenges and 4 from the Combat decks. This, in our opinion, can take more hours than are fair in an evening.
Three cards from each can take you 3 hours, you just get less chance of finding clue cards, but then you just play an extra session later. It’s pretty straight forward!
Blackstone Fortress is the latest adventure board game to come from Games Workshop set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, Warhammer 40K to most nerds. It is labelled as Warhammer Quest. For those you in your thirties this will take you back to the glory days of heroic ineptitude – the golden age of adventure. For everyone else, it’s the latest in the Warhammer Quest Series. Alongside Blackstone Fortress in the Warhammer Quest series are Silver Tower (currently discontinued) and Shadows of Hammerhal both of which are set in GW’s fantasy setting, Age of Sigmar. All of these games follow similar game styles and mechanics, so if you’ve played one you should be able to pick up the others with relative ease.
Blackstone Fortress promises exploration and adventure in the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium, a vast void of horror and terror.
With character choices ranging from outlawed Artificial Intelligence robot, rogue trader and Imperial Navigator to fanatic, Ratling snipers (who are twins) and alien hunters, there should be something for anyone who has an interest in grim and gritty science fiction.
A few of you older players out there who have not ventured in table top adventure games in some time may be thinking ‘is this just Hero Quest in the modern era of gaming?’ I think it’s a fair and realistic question. So is it just Hero Quest in space? Well yes, at least in concept.
The whole point of Blackstone Fortress is to find your way into the Hidden Vault, deep inside the drifting hulk of the mysterious Blackstone Fortress. To do this, players need to discover clues during their expeditions. These clues will lead to special scenarios called Strongholds, which will eventually lead to the hidden vault. Even when a stronghold attack can be mounted, the players still need to get to them, with a 4 card expedition, purely of combat – more of this later. Getting to the hidden vault will take a lot of gaming hours, but I am certain that it will be a challenge and a worthy one at that!
In the game fluff, the Blackstone Fortress learns and adapts after each incursion of adventurers. Legacy cards add to the danger in this aspect, increasing the threat level for some monsters, such as the Spindle Drone. They up the ante during the expeditions. Once in play they stay and generally add flair and layers of danger to the expeditions. Once there are no more legacy cards in left in play, you’ve run out of time, and lose the game, no matter where you’re up to!
Let’s take a look at the goods first though…
The important bit to most gamers and war-gamers: are the miniatures any good? Yes. The miniatures are amazing and better still, they clip together – no glue required. You just need something to cut them from the plastic sprue. This took me a couple of hours whilst watching a series on Netflix so anyone with more experience may get it done in half that time.
The miniatures are constructed in such a way that they appear seamless, which took a bit of jigsaw magic to see how they fitted together – but as previously mentioned, no glue is required, so you can take your time. The same great GW quality of miniature manufacture is found throughout. I think my Kill Team just got bigger too – the models are in hot demand, check out ebay if you don’t believe me.
The game tiles are a really thick and good quality card. They pop out easily, which reduces tearing of the precious printed sides. They’re double sided but unlike Imperial Assault by Fantasy Flight, there’s not a million small pieces to get lost or confused with. The game counters are all pretty unique, with the majority of them being wound tokens (which are double sided for critical wounds). The rest are for game effects and inspiration points, which I’ll mention later on.
There are three rule-books.
Each one is written chronologically for each section of the game as you progress. They are written to the usual standard for GW, guiding you through in simple steps. The terminology may be a little different if you haven’t tried GW games before, so take your time. If you are familiar with any of the GW games, such as Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, you’ll find the turn sequence and rounds familiar.
Once you have the turn sequence in your mind, it’s pretty straight forward from there. There is a bit of juggling with the game on the first play through, as you consult different books to figure out when you can heal or how to carry out certain actions. This is a minor point, however it does highlight the importance of reading through the rules before the gaming session!
Blackstone Fortress is split into two game sections by exploration cards; challenges and combats, which are drawn randomly from the Exploration card deck. The exploration deck is large, 36 cards, so it should always be a different combination. You randomly pick 4 challenge cards and 4 combat cards which make up the Exploration deck for the Expedition. When combined, these are like a campaign story arc. These are shuffled and placed on the Precipice board, which is like the character staging area.
There are 18 cards each for both challenges and combats (36 cards in total). By drawing 4 of each randomly, you’re looking at 1 in 18 chance of drawing the same cards each time you create the exploration deck. The chances of drawing the same 8 cards are something like a 1 in 105,000 chance, by my shoddy calculations. That’s a lot of gaming before statistically you get the same play-through.
The challenges are narrative encounters which do not make use of models and board pieces. They are usually a way of grabbing gear and tech (treasure, clues to future explorations), usually by causing damage to assailants. They include short narrative pieces such as ‘Get them all!’ where the players are required to inflict as much damage as they can to a fleeing group of hostiles – anyone who can deal 4 or more wound gets to draw a card from the discovery deck. Simples.
On a balancing note, these may be to help characters build up with less risk than combats or offer special cards for future explorations.
Combats involve board pieces and miniatures and are the biggest portion of the game. Each combat exploration card shows how the map tiles are set up so anyone can setup the board while others are chasing through the rules books or determine where the bad guys and monsters are placed. They also mark where certain mission specific specials may be placed.
Keeping track of the game during combat is achieved with the Initiative tracker. The players get the option to attempt to help each other by swapping places with allies or attempting to swap their place with the enemy to get the drop on them. This all happens in the Initiative phase, followed by the Gambit phase. The Gambit phase can be costly as an action dice has to be spent, followed by an ability roll to determine success. These mechanics help to really bring the tension to the game, forcing the players to plan ahead. The players feel the pressure when the cards are redrawn each round, as their plans will likely need to change.
Hostiles and bad guys are drawn from the Encounter cards deck and placed in the starting positions according to the combat exploration card, which are given a specific place on the board and the tracker. The number of hostiles on a card are determined by where on the tracker they are, for example, you may get 2 drones on position 1, or 4 on position 2. Hostiles gain reinforcements each turn and are spawned on their turn in the Initiative track with a roll of a 20 sided dice, called the Blackstone Dice (which is black and looks like a stone if you’re not familiar with 20 sided dice). This adds threat, because even if all the bad guys are dead, they can keep re-spawning as happened with our test games!
Hostiles in the game are given over to an AI system, where they react depending on a dice roll. It is not completely random, as each action they are given depends on a set few variables which allows them to act organically. Each set of rules for the monsters appears on very handy cards, giving you everything you need to know in a single place. So much easier than consulting multiple books!
Hostiles are terrifying in their own specific ways; if they’re not ripping you to ribbons with frenzied claw attacks they’re punching through your armour and ignoring your save rolls with shocking power! Case in point, UR-025 (or Mr Robot man to you and I) is a heavy duty fighter, with a better chance of rolling saves against wounds, with an added re-roll too – then he gets hit by a Negavolt Cultist and suddenly he has no armour saves. Surprises await those unprepared!
Characters in the Game
At the start of each combat round Characters are allocated action dice, regular six sided dice. The dice are stored on their character card with whatever score they rolled. These dice are used / spent on actions which require a set number on one or more of those dice. Moving require a dice with a score of 1 or more, other actions may require 4 or more on a dice etc. There are standard actions and character specific actions, which are found on the character cards, usually weapon actions.
Explore with caution. When you are wounded the dice you roll at the start of each round are blocked, covered by wound markers, meaning the potential number of actions you can make are severely impaired! Fear not however, each round an extra pool of destiny dice are rolled which any one can use – but the power of the warp means that any duplicate scores on these dice are removed, so you better roll fresh to get the most out of destiny! A lot of dice multiples came up during our game, causing tension and nail biting in equal measure.
A second type of dice rolls are attribute dice which are used to evade damage, carry out special tasks and try to recover wounds. There are wounds and then there are critical wounds – wounds can be recovered during the combat part of the game, whereas critical wounds require a trip back to your ship to try and heal. As with Warhammer Quest back in the golden age, however, there’s always a chance something may not heal fully…
The dice rolls are easy to interpret: you either fail, succeed or critically succeed. Each of the ability dice (6, 8 and 12 sided dice) are colour coded to match the information on the character sheets. These dice rolls are not always friendly, you can feel like the end of times can result from a failed roll. On the plus side, there’s very few calculations as in some GW games – just check to see how many symbols you rolled and away you go. GW have followed Fantasy Flight in this – so don’t lose those dice! Otherwise you could end up paying for more specialist dice in the future…
Toward the end of the combat sections, characters need to escape by summoning the escape lift, usually under duress. There’s no way out otherwise! When the remaining characters get to the escape lift, they have to decide to carry on fighting the growing horde, or to head back to their ships to lick their wounds. Heading back restarts the exploration so if you really need to finish you’re gonna find it hard to do!
When a character kills a number of monsters on their turn, they can roll the Blackstone Dice to see if they gain Inspiration points, where they are required to roll under the wounds they caused on a 20-sided dice. Inspiration points are used to re-roll some dice throughout the game, usually the activation dice at the start of the round, or give flip your character card over to increase their effectiveness. A bit like leveling up!
At the end of each round of the game, in combat or otherwise, a leadership token passes around the table, allowing each player to call the shots in equal measure (with a discussion, of course).
First Impressions & Thoughts
In a single evening gaming session, including learning how to play the game, we managed to get through 1 challenge and 2 combats. Assuming we don’t have to relearn the game, we could probably manage drawing 4 of the Exploration cards, which equates to half an Expedition. At this rate, in theory, we could spend hundreds of hours playing this game. So unlike Hero Quest, there is a seemingly limitless combination of events from challenges, combats and encounter (monster) cards. There’s probably scope for fan made or self made encounters too, let’s watch the internet pensively for these.
The game has a very nostalgic feel to it, similar to previous board games from GW decades ago. The hostile creatures are just as deadly as you’d expect, in their own ways. Players without prior knowledge will make mistakes which make the game intense and ups the challenge rating greatly. In this way, very much like Hero Quest!
The open form and random generation of each Expedition is a similar mechanic used by other games and it works just as well in Blackstone Fortress. It will take some serious play testing to get through all of the different combinations. In our initial play-through we had four players and one person acting as the games master. We felt this worked best for our first game so we could focus on the different parts of the game – just like in Hero Quest! You can play this game solo or without a games master, as the monsters follow an AI system, meaning all you need to do is move the pieces around and roll the dice.
What we did wrong…
We went wrong in some parts, missing the exploration round which would have made the combat a little easier if we had rolled on the event table. Although, the table isn’t all good – sometimes it can go horribly wrong… So it’s not all bad!
Why did we miss this section? It’s right at the end of the combat book, and there’s a lot in some sections. As we frenziedly played through the rounds we completely missed it! No one said nerds were thorough. So be sure to have all books to hand and refer to them often.
It is a thorough and playable game. It has the same high quality of most Games Workshop products, but you will pay through the nose for it if you don’t shop around. I was lucky, I found an ebay seller with about 20% off the RRP, I then applied a free 10% discount from ebay to get it even cheaper.
If bought from a third party retailer the price becomes a little more affordable for a game of this type. The miniatures are worth a heavy bit of gold. The card tiles are sturdy. Even the box is sturdy (I mean, it has to be, it’s a heavy one). You get all the dice you need.
Edit: This may look like a silly thing to say, but £95 is a hefty price tag for any board game. Shop around, GW will get their money, so it helps smaller businesses if you go through them!
Since this is a complete game (£95.00), there’s no expansions as far as we know, and given the replay ability of expeditions is very high, it is feasible to play over a hundred games. Maybe even twice that. So you’re looking at about £0.5 – £1 per game. Let’s be conservative and say each full expedition takes 4 hours. You’re looking at £0.25 to £0.50 per hour of play. That’s really good money for a game that should be different each time. You’re snacks will cost you more to eat!
The Feels – a dark, desperate setting with mechanics that fit those feelings. Thrilling, because when you do score a critical roll it feels like the cosmos is backing you up – any other time it’s trying to eat you!
No silly measuring distances, just count the hexes. Can you draw a straight line from the centre of a hex to the hex your target is standing in? Then you have line of sight, roll your dice. It’s that easy.
Edit: Downsides include what some players have described as ‘chaff’ play. This means that a few players think the amount of combats that are required to complete the game can get a bit samey. GW, do we need to go through quite so much to complete the game? On a personal level, I think it’s important to understand that the fighting during the combat sections are not about clearing the board – it is about surviving the battle and gathering the clues before time runs out. Perhaps GW could do with giving us more information on the bigger picture of the game earlier on.
So is it like Hero Quest? Yeah I think it is, it certainly has that heroic quality to it, and I’m sure it will one day be one of those nostalgic games we all reminisce about.
If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them! you can find us on our discord server.
You can get a few more articles by us on other Games Workshop products here or here.
*Edited 24/12/18 to reflect some feedback from our gaming group and affiliates.
In the late Seventies, when the boardgame landscape was dominated by Risk, Cluedo and Monopoly, two enterprising British Chess nerds set out on a quest to invent the game that they had always wanted to play.
This game became Kensington. Named for the park in london where they met and where the game took shape. In their own words (from the extensive story on the back of the vinyl-record style packaging) “On a bench in Kensington Gardens in the spring of 1979 and over a period of four months in london, the game took shape.” You can tell that these guys are top-class nerds, as they then go on to say: “Satisfied at last that they had invented the greatest board game in a thousand years, Kensington, dreamed up for you by a peculiar pair of originals.”
Well, it’s certainly orginal. It’s also the most mensa-nerd, smell-your-own-farts, middle-class looking/sounding game and packaging I’ve ever seen. What they are trying to get across for this endeavour is very intellectually presumptuous for an insanely colourful, almost Tron-looking game. They basically state that this is an innovation that will rival Chess.
While the game is very easy to play and quite easy to learn, I don’t think it has enough staying power to even land on the same shelves as most of the abstract games out there. Speaking of the rules, you basically place discs on the vertices of the board and turn by turn you move your discs in an attempt to out-maneuver your opponent and surround a hexagon of your colour with your discs.
There is also a capture mechanic, if you surround a triangle or square with your colours, you can reposition one of your opponents pieces anywhere else on the board, but that’s really it. A game can however take a surprisingly long time as play passes back and forth without one side really gaining the upper hand.
It is however a decent distraction that doesn’t take forever to set up and takes a minuscule amount of space on the shelf, and if you really do love abstract games (like me) then it’s an interesting and fun addition to your collection. Cheap too, you can pick it up for a few dollars on ebay.
The biggest positive though is the old guy in the middle spread image with the corncob pipe.
It is often all down to the DM to run the game and make it a good one. There’s always the expectation that this game is going to be as good as the last one or better. It’s capitalism of the RPG world – they want more and more each session. But the game isn’t purely the responsibility of the DM; players are there too and the expectations of all involved should be considered.
The expectations of the players are more varied than we might think; some are there for the story, others for the thrill of the dice and fewer, thankfully, are there to roll dice and crunch the numbers like Scrooge on Tax Day. Unfortunately for you, as the DM, you have to balance all of these aspects, but you shouldn’t pander to them all – it’s your game too.
I’m going to assume that you play with people you know, that they are reasonable people. I expect there are unreasonable players out there – the internet is full of those stories, so I’ll touch on those style of players too.
This article is about the bad players, the awkward players, but also the good players – and we’ll cover how to deal with the bad ones, and encourage the good ones. But first, let’s talk about the ones that aren’t bad players, they’re just… awkward.
This is all my opinion, and you’re welcome to discuss them, share some stories of your own – we can only learn more.
The Awkward Ones
The awkward ones, like the Deep Ones, are often hidden at first. We may think that their first character is just a bit of a buffoon and that soon they’ll get into the story. Sadly however this will not always be the case; sometimes we see an Awkward One develop and we need to make sure they don’t derail the story accidentally, or otherwise.
Comedic or one-dimensional characters may seem like a little light relief the first time have a tendency to become habit for some players. The first time it’s all fun and there’s no problems, but often these players will see it as scoring social points for themselves; it will feel good for them and so the habitual pathology sets in, the player now thinking that funny = best game ever! Eventually this will ruin the flavour and immersion of the game.
How do you deal with this sort of situation? In my experience the best solution is tact. Quite often a player like this needs attention, which in itself is not a bad things; we all need attention sometimes, but for the comedic player, it feels new and good and they probably don’t realise.
Give them a bit of space to enjoy being comedic, but encourage wit and humour rather than outlandish and excessive. A quiet chat after the first session to explain to them that actually, yes it can be amusing, but the harmony of the game is broken by the ever increasing hair brained ideas. People will laugh, then chuckle, then get tired real quick of it. There’s no need to kick them out of the group, if they’re willing to keep their exaggerated theatrics in check. Promise to reassess the situation if they seem amenable to the idea.
The DM who Hijacked your game thinks they know better or perhaps don’t realise they are not the focus of attention anymore. This is normally purely accidental; as DMs we can grow accustomed to the idea of being the focus of attention, since we run the game and very little interaction or action occurs without our help. This one is fairly simple, you call the shots for this game, don’t be bullied into changing your mind, unless of course the idea they put forward is sound.
Chatter boxes, or social annoyances, who talk about non game stuff and don’t know when to stop, potentially ruining the immersion and tension in the game. I tend to get this out of the system of players before the game starts by having a catch up chat, getting all the news out in the open and discussed before sitting everyone down. I also ask that all media that isn’t relevant to the game is taken away or turned off, or at least not in sight.
If it’s persistent, you can ask that player, politely and aside from the others at a later time, if they want to be there to play the game or just because their friends are there. It’s cool to hang out, but don’t detract from the fun of the game that we enjoy.
Showboaters just love the attention and want to get in on the action whenever they can. This isn’t bad for a game that needs a bit of life injected into it (especially if it has been a hard day at the office). What isn’t cool is overriding other players or butting in on their turns to act.
This is a hard juggle, but as DM you are justified to point out whose turn it is, and that if a player needs the showboaters help or advice, they can ask for it. Remember, we don’t want to cut off their enthusiasm, we just want to let them know that other players are entitled to the limelight too.
The Bad Ones
Before I get into the stereotypes of bad players, I’m going to talk about the nature of the conversation around your gaming table (or wherever). It is best to openly discuss with your players before you start playing what sort of behaviour you all find acceptable during the game and on the sidelines; I’m talking about racism and sexism, amongst others.
It is perfectly acceptable to have these as elements in the game, it is after all usually set in a backward or less liberal society than our own. For this reason, you should let people have a say in what they find comfortable. If it’s a no from them, it should be a no from you, and vice-versa. D&D is an inclusive and cooperative game, and relaxed participants make far better adventuring buddies!
If it does crop up during play, as the DM you should be able to tone it down and talk to the offenders after the game session to suggest they tighten up – it’s ok to hate another race of people in character, but it shouldn’t spill into the real world, the same applies for sexism. If it happens that either of these topics comes out into play and is directed player to player, rather than character to character, you must stop it right away. Call it out, quash it dead. You are the DM, and you run this game.
So, the Stereotypes…
Player stereotypes have come to be identified from the internet – the internet has given us names for the power gamers, the min/max’er, rules lawyer, and the metagamers. Before the internet (I know, was there ever such a time?) we just thought they were annoying players who happened to enjoy the same hobby, so we were delighted at having the new player along for the ride. How wrong we were!
I’ve run a good number of gaming groups beyond my primary group over the years, this is how I dealt with the unhelpful ones.
Not to be confused with the player who creates an efficient or optimised character, the power-gamer and the Min/Max player are those who either have to have it all at the cost of nothing, or throw everything out of the window to maximise a single attribute, ability or power – and use it at every possible moment. Normally a maturity issue, or the feeling of helplessness in their real lives leads them to want to show the world that they can do the thing, and force it on every situation.
Dealing with these players can be tackled in two ways in my experience: critically evaluate any character sheet prior to your game, with time to allow for changes, or subject your players to constrained resources, for example, only character material from the core Player’s Handbook may be used. As much as I love unearthed arcana and supplemental material, they tend to promote niche ideas into the game which can feel over balanced. These players will then latch onto these cool ideas, and completely overplay them.
Rules Lawyers: Players who spend most of their game in the source material, or spend all their free time reading the books and remembering every single bit of detail are fine, even helpful, like little biological libraries you can call on just by asking. However, it is the ones who keeping calling you out as the DM for your mistakes or lax enforcement of the rules who are the problem. Nothing ruins a cool cinematic moment when the party are about to hit the jackpoint with an amazing idea when the Rules Lawyer calls a stop to the game with the immortal opening line “I think you’ll find…”
There are very simple ways to explain this or overcome the problem.
First, all the source books ever made for games like Dungeons & Dragons, every single one, are purely guidelines given the misnomer of rules. You, as the DM, are capable of overriding some of those rules now and again if you think it works or if you think for this occasion they can be fudged – heck, most of being a DM is fudging the rules to get the most out of player interactions.
Secondly, if you’re more diplomatic and want to avoid arguments in game, call upon your powers as a DM to completely override their opinion, but only with the promise to review the rules stated after the session and come to a compromise. Or, for this session only you can maintain your DM ruling, and endeavour to assess the rule for next time. Rules lawyers can be compromised with – if they don’t want that, then they are free to evaluate their expectations of your game. You’ll welcome them back with open arms if they wish to return.
Metagamers are those players who use information or knowledge beyond the scope of their character. Weirdly, if you’ve been playing D&D for decades, it is almost impossible to not metagame on some level. There are always repeat or extreme offenders though. It may seem like they’re just being lucky in their assumptions about that monster at first, but eventually you’ll realise that the metagamer is using his or her outside knowledge to influence their actions and maybe even the actions of others.
I deal with this foible in a few different ways: I can ‘reskin’ my monsters in their appearance or stats to keep the metagamer on their toes by describing monsters differently or altering their behaviour style and resistance qualities and combat abilities (which can get exhausting without proper planning). But what if the player is metagaming the plot or story?
Plot metagamers use their vast knowledge of fantasy and sci-fi to guess where your adventure story is going by relying on troupes, or popular fiction to base their predictions on. When this happens, it can be frustrating; the story is often the most creative part of the DM process. How did I deal with this? Well if you can’t avoid current popular stories from movies and fiction, I suggest you plan your adventures with an open ending – whatever the plan was, whoever is the bad guy, make them the second to last badguy, and put someone else who they’ve met previously as the badder bad guy.
Or tell them to get out. 😉
Good Players and Encouraging New Players
This is the nice, positive part to being the DM.
I’ll make this brief, but you get the idea:
Role-play and encourage role-play from new and old players.
They go with the flow regarding your narrative choices and instead of sulking justify the response of their character to keep things going without selling out on their character.
They don’t argue with your choices but if they get really narked, they’ll talk to you about it after the session, like a grown-up.
They ask pertinent questions, sometimes thinking aloud and usually on their own turn.
They play balanced characters, even after 20 years of gaming and realise there’s more to the game than crunching the numbers.
Characters they create have flaws, and if they didnt at creation time, they relish the flaws that develop organically from the game – they don’t whine and resist when things go bad – its part of the game.
They don’t expect special treatment, but they enjoy their share of the stage lights.
The board of this game is so big that audible gasps come from anyone who sees it emerge from the box. Expect more gasps as you shovel out the hundreds of cards and components. The amazement quickly tails off into some form of shock as you and your compadre realise that you have no idea how to play this game and won’t understand how to play this game for the next few hours.
I’m the kind of person that loves complex games. I see them as a challenge, a mountain to be climbed. I find that the more complex the game is, the more time I’m willing to spend getting to grips with it. It’s a value proposition as well as a preference.
Well, War Of The Ring provides complexity in spades. Of the five or so (3+ hour long) games I’ve played of this, the first two were basically write-offs as one player made some serious mistake that crippled their chances for the rest of the game, it’s not really the game’s fault, just the nature of playing something with so many (metaphorical) moving parts.
The story is as old as time at this point. One player takes on the role of Sauron and his limitless hordes while the other picks up the tattered banners of the free peoples, attempting to give Frodo and the boys time to trek half way across the world to chuck the infernal jewellery into the volcano and save the world.
What this translates to is the Sauron player grinning with glee as his orcs pop up every turn and constantly flow over the board towards the scant strongholds of elves and men. As the good player, you find yourself glaring out from just above your excessive hand of action cards as you frantically try to juggle all the different mechanics (diplomacy, moving the fellowship, separating your heroes, recruiting troops and many, many more) to try and get any edge you can against the forces of evil.
As the good player, you’ll lose a lot until you get the hang of managing everything, and at the end of every game, the Sauron player will look at you with some small pity in their eyes and ask “Do you want to play evil next game?” and you will sit up straight, puff your chest out and defiantly say “Hell no. Set up the board again, damn it.”
I think that is all that needs to be said.
Escape From Colditz.
In every gaming group, you will find one person who just loves being the authoritarian. Whether they always DM your games of D&D, play The Emperor in Dune every time or cackle with glee and search your pack without fail in Sheriff Of Nottingham.
This game is tailor made for these people, as one player actually plays as a group of dastardly Nazis hell bent on keeping the noble allied soldiers locked up tight inside Colditz Castle. The others play different nationalities of POW, all trying to evade the guards and escape from their prison.
This is sort of a worker placement game with movement, item collection and capturing mechanics. The German player gets a ton of pawns to patrol the gorgeously designed map of the castle grounds. There are rules that determine in which places the POWs pawns can be seen to be escaping, captured and sent to the “cooler”, to have the items they have collected taken off them and spat out into the central courtyard, to try and try again.
The items are used in specific places to cut through wire fences, descend towers through windows and aid you on the way to Switzerland when you make good your escape. This portion of the game is quite amazing, and you really do see your plan unfold as you evade and befuddle the German player and the game inevitably always ends in a madcap chase, as the German sends all his guards after you as you make your mad dash to one of the few escape points at the edge of the map.
One strange downside is that if you’re playing with more than two people, the POWs can’t work together (explained in the game as that they all speak different languages. A bit lame if you ask me.) So you sort of become a bit competitive about who’s going to try their plan next, but instead of ruining the feel, it just makes things funnier, as one player’s escape plan failing could provide you just the opportunity you need to see yours succeed.
This game always ends with one player swearing angrily at another.
We’re ending on a light note here as Space Hulk. While doling out heaps of punishment upon the loser, it is at least set against a backdrop of Grim Darkness. Nobody is the hero in the Warhammer 40k universe, so you can both laugh heartily as the horrible alien devourers rip your authoritarian Imperial oppressors to pieces.
So yes, one side will play the noble Terminators, who are attempting to secure sites of strategic importance aboard the moon-sized accumulations of ancient spaceships that float eerily throughout space. Apparently, these Space Hulks are always infested with ravenous horrors from another galaxy as the other player plays the hordes of Genestealers, whose objectives, while ephemeral, seem to revolve around trying to hug the Terminators to death.
This is another boardgame where you really get what you pay for. The massive box opens up and the thick cardboard tiles of the modular board almost jump out at you the box is so full. You get proper 40k models as well, including exclusive sculpts of the Blood Angel Terminators, Genestealers and the massive Broodlord.
When laboriously setting up one of the many scenarios in the thick book, you will be surprised at how long it takes and how big the boards get as you place tile after tile in an expanding maze of tunnels and corridors.
You will silently hope that you have all the right pieces for the map. But after the anxiety and half the night pass by, you can finally get to playing. You take your gun-toting superhumans and set them plodding along the ship’s decks, while the genestealer player places “blips”, counters representing an unknown number of aliens, at the edges of the board, usually inbetween the imperial player and their objective.
I do have some misgivings about this game, while the value proposition is good; I mean this box is packed full of gorgeousness, every game can sort of end up the same, with your terminators trapped in a room, hoping the other player runs out of genestealers before you succumb to their rending claws.
At the end you will both be exhausted and the winning player will shrug, smile and ask for another game. The other will then wipe the stress-sweat from their brow and politely decline.
With a lot of boardgames you see resting on the shelf in the shop, the art jumps out to you, but then you open the box and while the contents may be like a veritable chocolate box of delights, it doesn’t necessarily live up to that “judge a book but it’s cover” first impression. Well with Tokaido, those first impressions carry all the way through the beautifully designed and printed contents.
You play the part of a traveller, walking down the old Tokaido road from Kyoto to Edo, picking up souvenirs, chatting to interesting people and stopping at taverns on your way – hopefully with enough money to pay for a meal.
It’s a competitive victory-point based game where you move along a detailed board, stopping at discreet spaces and attaining cards worth victory points or money to plan for later rounds. You take turns like in golf, where the person who is closest to the start goes next, which produces a really unique dynamic of trying to leap-frog your opponent to try and intercept what they need the most while also trying not to go too far and upset your own chance of earning those sweet meal-based points because there is only one catch – the tavern spaces, where you must stop and wait for everyone else to arrive while you buy your (daily?) meal and sit on the veranda gazing out at Fuji-san.
One person might be stopping at every vantage point along the route, to accumulate a tableau of beautiful views painted in classical Japanese style while another spends their time bartering with the locals for souvenirs. The game gets quite intense as it becomes clear what every player is working on and inevitably finds the space they desperately needed occupied by another player. Tokaido is a revenge-based experience.
You physically build tableaus and buy souvenir cards. you collect memories from the interesting people you’ve run into and even macaque-laden hotsprings ring in your mind as your point total rises and the table becomes ever more colourful. Most of the time in these types of games, where you collect pieces of cardboard to win, they sit in a stack, never to be touched again until the end of the game. In Tokaido, while your opponents are deciding where next to go, you find your eye pondering the pastoral landscapes and quaint curiosities laid out before you.
The hours pass by as each 30-45 minute game makes you hungry for another. Just to try a different play style or a different character and in the end you’ll be disappointed you put it away.
The only downsides to the game is the Meeples included as playing pieces – I never did like Meeples , the card stock while beautifully printed is a little thin, possibly it’s 2012 heritage showing through and the lightness of the rules/mechanics may put some people off, but if you are looking for something fresh, easy and fulfilling to while away an afternoon, then Tokaido fits the bill.