Tag Archives: tabletop gaming

Numbering Days

This month, I turned 40. While that number itself doesn’t seem like some monumental change or drastic milestone worthy of a mid-life crisis, I do find myself thinking of a familiar passage from Psalm 90.

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
‭Psalms‬ ‭90:10, 12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Well, that’s bad news. At best, I’m at the half-way point… and I’ve never been super fit or strong, so let’s be honest about those odds!

Obviously, this is biblical poetry and not some literal maxim about the extent of human aging. Thanks to modern medicine and the progress of civilization, we have folks who live much longer. Sadly, we all know people who never reach 70 years of age.

I can’t find the source of the quote, but there’s a phrase that comes to mind: 

To be clear, I post this without any morbid contemplations of aging or death, without any fear of a life wasted, or opportunities missed. It’s just the thought that comes to mind as I considered my birthday and the significance of turning 40. 

Going back to Psalms, the only day that’s guaranteed in life is your last, and there’s no telling when it comes. Like a game of Russian Roulette played with years or decades, sooner or later, that final day arrives, whether you’re 17 or 70 or 107.

I focus on verse 12–its reminder that there is an impending finality, its encouragement that wisdom is found by living in light of that truth. Not that I believe I can number my days, at least not with any fidelity… but I can remember that, however many there may be, that number is ticking down.

This forces a refocusing onto what I believe matters. My faith; my relationships; those I love; the sharing of good times and fellowship; ministering love and kindness and connection; sparking laughter in a heavy heart; simply being present in a hard time. 

I’ve spent more time lately planning out tabletop games than writing fiction, because to me and several friends of my family, that connection and shared enjoyment around the table is something magical and exciting. Planning a role-playing game also scratches the creative itch of the writer in me… except I’m writing for an audience of 5 or 8 players instead of blog or book readers.

The pragmatic in me says “Yes, but isn’t this a grand waste of time?” (At least, what little pragmatism hasn’t been defeated by perpetual procrastination and my playful, lazy nature.) 

But it’s not about the game; it’s about the people. Shared humanity and my faith both lead me to see lasting value where others might not.

For now, I still need to learn to number my days so I can live wisely. But I know that 80 > 70. So I’m off to the gym to hop on a bike, plot out some interesting stories for the next gaming session, and work on that “by reason of strength” thing.
What do you do to “number your days” or invest in what matters? Let me know in a comment – maybe it’s an idea I could use too!

In Defense of Railroading

The players sit, holding their lucky dice. The lights are dim, and eerie music plays from a YouTube video to set the mood. The Dungeon Master looks over his screen and describes the setting…

DM: You see a well-worn path that winds between the trees, leading deeper into the gloomy forest.

Player 1: Well, forget that noise. I’d rather stay on the road and finish my journey into town.

DM: An overwhelming mist has descended, obscuring everything from view… everything except the path.

Player 2: Uh… I really wanted to get to town to purchase some new weapons and talk to the Mage’s Guild about new spells. Can we maybe set up camp and wait out this weather?

DM: You could… but now arcs of electricity tear through the clouds of mist, and the hairs on your skin rise. Anyone close to the mist is likely to take damage. But the path remains clear.

Early on in my development as a DM, I learned about “railroading” the players toward your intended destination. If a Dungeon Master / Storyteller forces players toward a particular path in obvious, heavy-handed ways, the game feels like the characters are passengers on a tour bus, being shown the sights but unable to direct the vehicle’s course. When a game about choices feels like you have none, you’re probably being railroaded.

That’s a bit of an excessive example, but this sort of thing can be pretty common if the DM has prepared an adventure and expects or demands that the players go along.

Railroading always ruins the fun… except for when it doesn’t.

The beauty of a tabletop RPG over video games is that anything’s possible. Any genre, any style, any action, any decision is available as an option to the player.

While that can lead to sensible decisions, increased immersion, and even awesome RP-ing, in certain groups it can also go awry. When problem players are willing to affect the entire group in order to get their personal jollies, the abundance of options creates opportunity for their hijinks. And when several players are new to the game, infinite choices can lead to no choice being made in a timely manner.

For example, upon entering a new setting and receiving a map of a mining village, some parties will see opportunities to go off on their own instead of staying with the group.

The same scattered attention can happen when players are provided a few different choices outside of civilization. When they come upon a wrecked wagon with signs of goblin prints but no indications of an attack, one person will suggest following that trail while another might try to chase down the other wagons in the caravan. And yet another is convinced there’s something in the ransacked wagon worth investigating or discovering.

Players can debate at length about what to do, where to go, who to talk to, how to accomplish a task… and every new bit of information starts the whole process over again.

This is where a little railroading may be better than none. I typically see three ways the game gets derailed: individual player actions, lack of personal motivation, and lack of flexibility on the DM’s part.

Moments in the Spotlight

It’s great for each player to have their time to shine, their moment when their character’s set of skills or connections can make the difference between victory or defeat. “Moment” is the key word, however.

When an individual turns the session into their private quest, it may make sense for the character’s story and motivations, but it also makes for a slow game. The other players are left “watching the show” as the DM has to interact in character(s) with this party member who has gone off on their own.

If multiple players do this at the same time, it turns into a nightmare of interwoven conversations and distractions. And while they all sort out their personal interests, players focused on the primary party goal are left staring at the walls or fiddling with their dice.

DM: You follow the leads for the missing caravan driver and arrive in the village of Choraulis after nightfall. The so-called guardsmen posted at the gate — miners, really — give you a close eye but let you pass. There’s a good bit of laughter, music, and noise at the finely-decorated inn to your left. The miners also have a raucous dive of a cantina set up near their shanties.

PC 1: I want to search around the inn, just to get a feel for the place, see what sort of people are in there.

PC 2: That orchard over there… is that, like, a nature shrine? I want to go over there and check it out.

PC 3: Is there something like a Mage’s Guild here? I’d like to find out what kind of magic spells and items they have.

PC 2: So am I at the Shrine?

DM: Yes, it’s a shrine of Nature, and the two ladies who run it are surprised and excited at the idea of a Dragonborn Druid – (chipper voice) “What an oddity! How pleasant to make your acquaintance!”

PC 1: If those guards are still there, I’d like to see how approachable they are, if they seem friendly, that sort of thing. Perception, I assume?

DM: No, that’d be Insight. Give me a roll. Ok, you spot one with a small insignia, and it seems like the other guys defer to him. He looks friendly and inviting, although a little on edge.

PC 4: Would I have contacts among the merchants in this town?

DM: Yeah, certainly. Um… this store over here – the gem cutter? They work with your guild on the regular.

PC 1: (to the guard) My good man, I am seeking a traveler who may  have come this way with a merchant caravan. Have any wagons reached the village in the last day or two?

DM: (Gruff voice) Why, yes, three came in a couple days ago, from Delfindor.

PC 2: While in this shrine, can I commune with nature and see if there really is some corruption or negative influence affecting the area?

DM: Yes, a Nature check, please. (Chipper voice) It’s been hard these last six months since everything started turning strange. Wild growth in the mountains–like a whole summer passed in a tenday’s time. And then there’s the undead–

PC 5: Guys. Can we go find the dude we came here for? Maybe someone in the noisy inn knows something.

PC 3: I’d also like to find an alchemist or maybe an herbalist?

PC 1: We’re looking for a man who came in with those wagons. Any chance you’ve seen him or know where they’re staying?

Solution:  A place like a city or friendly settlement might feel like a lot of available options. For groups where this becomes a problem, consider if there’s an in-game reason to restrict those options until the primary story or quest is sorted out.  A town under siege because of some rogue “heroes” or a teeming horde of undead isn’t going to have shops open for business, nor are the town leaders going to take time to chat about the latest rumors of interest to the party.

As a positive spin, find a way to interact with the players in the downtime between sessions. While it may seem awkward to go back over “here’s what I wanted to do in town during the middle part of our group game session,” it’s infinitely better than destroying the ‘group’ part of game play.

I’ve had tons of fun working over instant messages or in later conversations sorting out with players what their character would do. These sidebar conversations, handled outside of game time, have created new plot hooks to weave into the main game, developed the characters’ motivations, advanced their stories, and provided opportunities for players to role-play who might not be as comfortable with it at the table in front of peers.

“My character does/doesn’t care about that.”

Some players are happy to let you know they’re not about whatever’s on the menu. On the one hand, if they’re really trying to role-play their character’s ideals and interests, this is good feedback. A party of chaotic neutral characters might not be interested in saving the princess from the evil demon for the Greater Good of the Kingdom and all that is Just and Right.

Conversely, a snippet of setting or information might look like a really interesting side quest to one of the players, if that’s a lead their character would pursue.

“There’s a shelf full of old tomes and parchments detailing magic rituals? Uh, guys, I know the orc warlock is going to sacrifice the villagers to open a portal to the Abyss, but… can we just hang out here for like a day while I thumb through all of this?”

“Look, near the wrecked wagon–a cry for help in the language of druids. And judging by the tracks, it was left by one of the goblins. Why does one of those creatures know Druidic? How strange. I’d like to find this goblin…”

Likewise, these reactions are great feedback for what to include when you do want to hook that player… and what to avoid if distractions are a problem.

Solution: First, be sure to take these things into account when devising how your PCs get quests. Not everyone is a do-gooder out to save the world… similarly not all characters need a bag of gold jangled before their eyes to gain their assistance.

Place the individualized hooks where a distraction won’t matter. Sure, it might make sense that all the books full of magic are in the library the players find early on as they explore the castle…

But why not have large empty spaces among the books where it’s clear that a significant number of tomes have been carried off? Perhaps even a note from the big bad evil guy’s magic-user sidekick, explaining, “I borrowed these and brought them downstairs to my study. I think these are the key to opening a rift between our world and the realm of our masters…”

Now the distraction points the interested player and the party toward the confrontation you’ve already planned.

Perhaps the sight of a crude message in Druidic would be better placed at the opening of a goblin lair, to create questions and unique twists where the players already are instead of offering a detour from where you’re hoping they’ll go.

All Aboard? or All a-bored?

The DM has a huge role to play in keeping things moving smoothly, and illusion of choice is a great tool in the toolbox.

It’s awesome to create that “sandbox” feel of a living world where something could be happening anywhere the players go. However, in creating such a setting, a DM can get overly focused on the geography and current state of the parts the players will see.

I prepared an encounter with a band of orcs… but they decided to take the road south instead of east to where the orcs actually are…

The players wanted to get information about what the zealots are planning, but the leaders of that sect aren’t located in this part of town…

In a recent session, I made the mistake of focusing heavily on the map I’d created of a settlement. As one of the players sought out contacts and information, he ended up getting sent back-and-forth across town because that’s where those people and places are. (After all, it’s on the map.)

It’s great to know what exists where in the setting, but a rigid approach can lead to the DM getting frustrated because the players turned down the wrong tunnel or traveled to “the wrong spot” when literally anywhere can be the right spot.

Solution: The hated part about railroading is when it looks like there is no other option or choice but forward in an undesirable direction. “The tunnel is a one-way path, and oh you want to go back up and out? Well you can’t because the tunnel collapsed behind you.”

Having options such as branching tunnels or different locations of interest in the region gives the players a sense of agency. “I want to turn left instead of heading deeper into the Underdark” is a choice.

But as the DM, you control the outcome of the choice. Whether they turn left, turn right, or go straight, they can still find their way to the encounter you have planned or receive the clues that they need to advance the story. Whether they go east to the forest or west to the mountains, they can still encounter the band of bad guys who happen to have items of value or plot hooks to move things along.

This isn’t so much “railroading” as it is teleporting a destination to the end of whatever tracks the players are on. (Okay, yeah, that’s railroading, but it can serve a purpose of keeping the game moving.)

One method I used in the past was to have short episodes or level-appropriate encounter settings prepared in advance — an orc camp, a bandit fort, a small drake’s underground lair. If it became obvious that the players weren’t heading the direction I’d assumed, or going after whatever “main” storyline I had prepped, these plug-and-play encounters could easily drop into the session without any significant disconnect or lengthy explanation.

I think of games like Skyrim. The beauty of it is that after the initial tutorial quest, you reach a road you can follow to the next main quest… or you can turn left and wander into the wilds. All throughout the world, you find sites and encounters, people up to no good or monsters in search of prey. It seems like a living world where other creatures are doing their thing whenever you’re not there. But each of these settings has its own segment of story or plot that triggers once you enter.

Fourth Edition had a book called Dungeon Delve which basically served this purpose – several pre-made sites and dungeons that could easily slide into an ongoing campaign when the DM doesn’t have a ton of time to prep something or when the PCs decide to go an unexpected direction.

Next Stop: Fun

For experienced gamers, it’s probably clear that the “collaborative” part of collaborative storytelling means the PCs should be somewhat willing to go along with the adventure provided. Most groups have no problems seeing some of the possible options and choosing which to pursue. For those, railroading is unnecessary and probably detrimental.

But if players seem confused about where to go or what to do, maybe a few tracks concealed beneath the mechanics of the game would help guide the players along toward the fun everyone seeks.

Adventuring and Spellcasting in 5E

Continuing my read-through and thoughts on the D&D Starter Set, this post covers Chapters 3 and 4 (and the appendix) of the Starter Set Rulebook.

Chapter 3: Adventuring feels to me like the Miscellaneous segment of the book. It covers important rules, of course, but they’re just a mash-up of everything not Spells, Introduction, or Combat. You get a description of special movement situations (long jump, high jump, climbing rules, that kind of thing), a break-out of short vs. long rest and how the characters benefit, a brief discussion of rewards, and then a few pages of specifics on gear the characters might need to purchase with the wealth they gather over the course of the game.

Can I just say electrum pieces and their value at 5 silver pieces annoys the crap out of me? If everything else is going to be based around a 1:10 ratio, why make an unnecessary complication? But whatever, I digress (since magically I can decide that my game world has no such thing as an electrum piece).

All the basic weapons, armor types, and adventuring gear gets listed along with some common expenses like food, drink, and lodging. Weapons give a pleasant variety of options; the keyword versatile remains, allowing a one-hand weapon to be used with two hands, improving damage slightly. Finesse is the term for a weapon a character can used based on Strength or Dexterity, so if you want that Zorro-style masked fighter hero wielding a rapier, it’s a viable option.

The entry for “Oil (flask)” kindly lays out the rules for using a flask of oil as a thrown weapon or dousing a nearby foe, since it seemed every group I’ve run with had a player who had to try that at least once.

And there is even an entry for playing cards. Yes, it assures the reader “if you are proficient with playing cards, you can add your proficiency bonus to ability checks you make to play a game with them.” Or you can just go play cards with someone else because this is Dungeons & Dragons, which is designed to be played as a group where everyone has fun, not “Chaotic Neutral Rogue With a Gambling Habit”

…because it’s always the chaotic neutral rogue…

And for the DM who loves to force players to keep track of things, there are two entries for rope: Rope, hempen (50 feet), and Rope, silk (50 feet).

“Sorry, but don’t you only have 37 feet of rope left since you tied up the goblins during the last session? You can’t climb down the 50 foot chasm. Go back to town.”


Chapter 4: Spellcasting got me excited again. Chapter 3 was the pile of plain steamed vegetables on the plate; necessary and good for you, but bleh! The chapter on spells is the delicious cake Mom brings out as a reward for finishing dinner.

(Disclaimer: I’m 37, and I’m married with four kids of my own. I’m so not living in my parents’ basement playing D&D with my unemployed friends. Death to stereotypes!)

The chapter starts out with a primer on everything your magic user needs to know about casting a spell. I particularly like the breakout on components needed. A spell may have a verbal component (words the character must say), a somatic component (gestures the character must make), or a material component (reagents needed for success). More likely, it’s a combination of two or all three.

So if a character’s arms are bound, somatic spellcasting is out of the question. If the wizard’s component pouch is taken, material-based spells are going to be problematic. Yes, this sort of thing is in 4th Edition, particularly for rituals. But I don’t remember it being so clearly laid out as it is here. (Maybe that’s why 4E gets ridiculed as being too much like World of Warcraft, where all my mage needs me to do to cast spells is to roll my face on the keyboard.)

Clerics have 28 spell options in this starter. Wizards have 30. There’s plenty of room for creating the desired style of magic-user instead of a cookie-cutter wizard. The level 1 wizard knows 6 spells in his/her spellbook, and can prepare 4 of them, but only has 2 “spell slots” to utilize. Clerics are similarly structured in how they can use magic.

While 5E does put restrictions on the number of spells available to the character between long rests, it also rectifies the old problem of the wizard with no spells left, trying to hit creatures with a 1d4-2 dmg dagger stab. Each class has at least one offensive cantrip, an “at-will” spell to use the 4E terminology, that the character can cast repeatedly to deal some damage.

Spells once again have spell levels which are completely separate from the level of the caster. It takes a level 5 wizard to cast level 3 spells, and he/she only gets 2 of those level 3 spell slots between long rests. There’s some strategy to spell slots, too; a level 1 spell cast from a level 3 slot gains significant power and damage, so it might be a better bet than a giant fireball.

”I cast Magic Missile at the darkness… from a level 3 slot! Boom! What!”

The almost 60 spells give a wide variety of effects, and plenty have no combat application. “Charm Person” in particular is one I can’t wait to see crafty players employ, even though I know it will shatter any devious DM chicanery I have planned. I picture “Command” being used to great monster detriment as well.

And if your cleric leans a little Evil, there’s the 1st level necromantic spell “Inflict Wounds” to capture the idea of a touch of death. (I simply must have a dark cleric-style villainness with a kiss of death… what DM doesn’t want to slam 3d10 necrotic damage into a player’s face?)

Finally, the Appendix lists a number of mostly impairment conditions frequently encountered in D&D, like blinded, deafened, petrified, prone, stunned, and so on. It’s on the back cover of the book, so while it’s no DM screen, it’s a handy reference tool for DM and players alike to know what effects mean.

All in all, the Starter Set Rulebook does its job and gets a DM (and hopefully the players) ready for the more important part: the adventure itself!

The included adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, will be the focus of my next post.

Look What Came in the Mail

Ok, to be fair, I got this a couple days ago. I figured it might be nice reading material on my current business trip.


I started working my way through the 120 page PDF that Wizards released a month or two ago… and free is always a nice price to pay for a new edition. But Amazon had the starter set at a ridiculously low price, so I figured $12 isn’t too rich an investment to check out 5th Ed.

This really does strike me as a “starter” – something I’d use to introduce new players to D&D or to share with some of my RPG-phobic Christian friends to show them “This isn’t really a pact with Satan, I promise.”

The premade character sheets give the player an idea of what this character is about, with a personal goal that fits with the adventure and a description of how the individual’s alignment looks in action. Since it’s a starter set, the character progression is mapped out on the back of the sheet with what perks and abilities each gains at each level. No 4th Ed scrounging through all the Player’s Handbooks for the just-right complement of powers and abilities.

The party presented is made up of some traditional fantasy faire along with the four core D&D classes: the elf wizard, the halfling rogue, two human fighters (one a noble, one a commoner), and a dwarf cleric.

Needless to say, I have some fun reading on my hands. Might be just what the DM ordered for my wife and kidlets when I get back home…

D&D Next: Combat

D&D Next: Combat

AKA Lamoncha, the One-shot Wonder


“Oh, man, I might need to level those guys down a bit.”

On the list of Things I don’t want to hear the DM say, this might not be tops, but it’s close.

With the character creation process complete, my friend and I decided to check out combat. He took two level 4 monsters and put them up against my one level 1 ranger. Sure, it was going to be a challenge, but we figured it might work out fine.

We’re testing out a few things at once. Our conversation takes place over Skype. He set up a campaign page on roll20, something I’ve wanted to do but never got around to doing. So I’m looking at a grid with a couple features, two circular pics of enemies, and one pic for my character. As a joke, I send the DM a whisper using roll20’s in-window chat function. I’m using Dicenomicon on my iPad to roll everything. If there were any doubts, the app lets you copy a history of rolls to show proof. But we trust each other so that’s not necessary.

Keep in mind, these are just my initial experiences as a player. I haven’t dug into the rules packets yet.

We roll initiative. I get it, and I roll something low for my attack. Maybe a 3. Better luck next round.

One of the two walks up, hits me with its weapon, and the end result is 4 damage. 4 out of 10 total hit points. My character already feels much more fragile than 4E.

“Oh, wait, they have poison, sorry. Roll to save against that.”

I roll incredibly low again.

“Yeah, the poison hits you for…” Dice roll in the background, determining my fate. “Six damage.”

I laugh. “Uh, I’m dead. Well, unconscious, I guess, but defeated.” In one round.

That’s when he utters the quote at the top of the post. Maybe levels make a more significant difference here. Also, I didn’t create the “ideal” character, otherwise I’d have had a few more HP. But still… one shot kills hurt the confidence a little bit.

Round 2…. FIGHT

A few minutes later, healed up and ready for a fight, Lamoncha faces off against two level 1 fire beetles. This goes decidedly better.

Unlike 4E, with multiple powers to choose from each level, Lamoncha has exactly zero combat powers. He has his hand crossbows, with blades built into the structure like handguards in front of the pistol grips. So I declare I am shooting a loaded bolt, or I am slashing something up close.

No dailies. No marks. No encounters. No burst attack. That’s it.

Of course, this is only level 1. There will be special abilities and cool combat attacks coming with later levels.

While I liked the 4E descriptions of what each attack looked like, I see how this is more beneficial both for ease of creating the materials (they don’t need a new list of powers and crazy description of each action every time something comes along) and for running the character.

For one, this cuts down some of the potential delay in combat I see with 4th Edition. No one has to stop and consider what power to use out of a page full of text. Two, this might force some thought and role-playing into the combat.

What if I want to fire both crossbows? That’s something to discuss with the DM. Maybe I want to jab the blade on the crossbow into the creature, then fire the bolt point-blank. I picture this working like called shots, where the DM could set a higher difficulty to hit, but allow the roll as an expression of creativity.

One of the beetles is dead, and the other closes in. I ask, “Are there still opportunity attacks if I use a ranged weapon next to an enemy?” There are.

Lamoncha has taken a hit, and is about half conscious. But the way I pictured him working involves shifting around or between foes and using something like “gun-kata” in a dance of crossbow-bolting death. So I take the risk.

He shifts around the beetle and takes aim, giving it the chance to strike. It rakes its clawed legs at him, scratches leather armor, but does no damage. He fires and kills it, and the DM sings the Final Fantasy victory theme for me.

How is combat in Next?

It’s different, for sure, and a huge shift from 4E. But that’s not a bad thing.

D&D Next: Character Creation

Note: My updated post concerning my character creation experience in 5th Edition D&D is found here. Check it out and let me know if I’ve missed an important subject or left a question unanswered.
This post was written when a friend and I were trying out the then-newly-released rules for D&D Next, almost a year before the Player’s Handbook for 5th Edition was published. This post receives more weekly views than anything else I’ve posted, but it’s based on out-of-date material.

“Where are the skills on this character sheet?”

That’s the first comment my friend-turned-online-DM made when I opened the D&D Next playtesting materials. He made it as a joke, because my reaction amounted to “What the–?!”

Yes, the character sheet is a little bit different.

As promised before, here are some of my first experiences with D&D Next, or D&D 5th Edition, or D&D “Wizards of the Coast tries to fix what everyone hates about 4th edition” Edition, or whatever you want to call it.

The playtest materials consist of a bunch of .pdf files for various excerpts of rules. We popped open the Character Creation document, eager to see what else changed. Step 1 was comforting in its familiarity.

Every character needs attributes. The rules present a basic set of stats, a point-buy system, and 4d6 minus the lowest. Since I had no attachment to my experiment, I chose to roll. And since I had no goal in mind, I thought the stats might help guide the rest of the character creation process. So I plugged in the numbers as I got them instead of taking the best rolls for the stats that might suit a particular class.

Nameless ended up with some unfortunate rolls. He’s a little strong, and very dextrous. He’s also slightly smarter than average. But his constitution and wisdom are average, and his charisma is poor. (Str 12, Dex 16, Int 12, Con 10, Wis 11, Cha 9, if you care. These stats include racial bonuses.)

So, whatever else is true, I knew nobody liked Nameless. Step two is choosing a race. The DM thought the high Dex might fit a half-elf, and I was fine with that. That also gave me a choice of another language. For no real reason, I picked Gnomes.

Then we discussed why it might be that no one likes this character. Perhaps he lived among elves that were strict worshipers of nature. On a trip outside his home, Nameless encountered some of the clockwork mechanisms of the Gnomes and fell in love with their intricate designs. His passion for technology and machinery ran counter to his tribe’s culture, so he became an outcast and apprenticed with Gnomish tinkers to learn the craft.

His outcast status also gave me an idea for a name. Since he is arguably crazy in the view of his peers, and since he is consumed with a sort of idealism, I went with LaMoncha, thinking of “the Man of La Mancha,” Don Quixote. Instead of charging windmills, he might build them, to the chagrin of his people.

Step three is to choose a class. Next keeps the standard four: cleric, fighter, mage, and rogue. It also offers six less common classes that may or may not fit a particular campaign: barbarian, bard, druid, monk, paladin and ranger. It doesn’t specify what particular stats are ideal for a given class, but you can look at what gets used in a few class abilities to make your decision.

I did not desire a rogue, though Dex is the obvious high stat for a combat rogue. (Then again, maybe not. Next seems to allow for a thuggish Strength-based rogue, and I’m sure there’s room for the smooth-talking Charisma-based charlatan.)

The description for ranger was that of a loner, which fit my outcast well. I thought of an old character idea for a ranger who uses twin hand crossbows as a sort of “gun kata,” spinning his way through fights and planting bolts in the skulls of his foes. This guy is supposed to be good with intricate technology. Modifying hand crossbows to suit his combat tastes would be easy.

What the class does not do is provide automatic skills like 4E did. The Ranger isn’t automatically the expert at all things nature and dungeoneering. The rogue doesn’t get perception and stealth by default. Also those skills don’t exist.

Each class does get some special features or proficiencies that make sense in the context. A druid gets proficiency with an herbalism kit. Sure, your druid might not want to mix potions, or your fighter may choose to do so. But there’s an inherent benefit for a druid to take up that trade. Rogues have a similar proficiency with thieves’ tools. For the Ranger, the special feature is tracking.

So what about skills, or their equivalent? Step four is to choose a background.  This provides the character with training in certain “lore” that sort of replaces skills. There are eleven sets of lore to choose from, some of which you can break out into subsets. For example, “cultural lore” might mean elven culture, or dwarven, or human, etc.

Any time you have a check that requires the use of lore you’re trained in, you get a +10 bonus to that check. It’s not skills per se, but it serves many of the same purposes.

Your background might be as an artisan, working some particular trade. That worked perfectly for my character. Others include soldier, thief, jester, court noble, minstrel, priest, sage, and spy. Maybe I skipped one or two. Each comes with a basic description of the back story of the particular background, a trait which might provide material or assistance in RP, a proficiency with some other item (disguise kit, artisan tools, navigation tools, etc) and suggested fields of lore. There’s a suggested equipment pack as well.

The rules suggest cooperation between player and DM to create a background that fits just right. The backgrounds provided are given as options to spark that imagination. My DM and I chatted and settled on the Artisan with minor tweaks.

Really, that covers the key steps of character creation. Step five is assigning those ability scores, but I did that on step one. Step six is purchasing equipment. I paid a little extra for the various modifications LaMoncha would have to make to his gear. The DM was fine with it. LaMoncha now has twin hand crossbows with partial scimitar blades installed underneath like handguards for the pistol grips. He wears metal hooks on his hips and carries crossbow bolts in bands around his thighs so that in one smooth motion he can cock both crossbows and retrieve two bolts to reload.

Step seven is to fill in numbers. Step eight is the final details like alignment, personality, and appearance. The 9 traditional alignments return, with Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil.

And now I have my D&D Next character. It started as a joke and an experiment, but the character creation process helped solidify a picture in my mind for a character that I came to enjoy.

Next I’ll recount how it felt to actually play the character in combat and in a skill challenge.

UPDATE 5 Jan 2013: I received orders to move overseas, and in the ensuing changes to my life, this project fell by the wayside. My friend and I have not completed any sessions in the last two months, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to restart the effort in the future. D&D Next continues to go through changes too, so this may not be entirely current. Nevertheless, it was a fun exercise, and I appreciate the attention it has received.