Sunday, September 07, 2014

Dragon Con 2014 Recap - Never Split the Party

Last weekend, my friends and I went to Dragon Con, the Southeast's largest and most raucous multigenre fan convention. Here are some of the highlights from our adventures...

There's a lot of live music at Dragon Con, mostly played by indie rock and folk bands in out-of-the-way hotel rooms. These performances make up for their lack of production value with intimacy and enthusiasm. I attended a lively one by Dragon Con regulars Emerald Rose, and it felt more like a jam session with friends than a formal show.

My friend Ziggyzeitgeist cosplayed as Pool Party Lee Sin, from "League of Legends." Turns out Riot Games was actually sponsoring a lounge area in the Marriott, which led to predictable photo ops.

Another highlight was a late night Mystery Science Theater 3000 panel featuring Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, and Trace Beaulieu, followed by a screening of a classic episode, "The Magic Sword." It was a ton of fun chatting with all my fellow MSTies in line, and there were costumes only a diehard MST3K fan would recognize ("Rowsdower!").

Puppet shows are a big deal during Dragon Con, both on the premises and at Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts. These events are invariably packed, so you need to get to one early if you want to see anything. Here's a shot from a solo marionette show to give you an idea.

Astronomy Cast recorded a live episode of the podcast, fielding tough space science questions from the fans. It was really neat seeing the banter between Fraser Cane and Dr. Pamela Gay up close.

As for my cosplay, I dressed as "Doctor Deadpool," a mashup of Tom Baker and the Merc with a Mouth:

Some costumes were much more elaborate than mine, though.

Still, I thought my outfit turned out well. One caution - wearing a wig, a frock coat, donegal tweed trousers, an argyle vest, and a long scarf during Labor Day in Atlanta can be a little...warm.

Ziggyzeitgeist ran his annual D&D convention game, set in his "Dead's End" campaign world. As usual, we quickly drew crowds of onlookers and guest players, including some who had played with us the year before.

See ya next year, Dragon Con...

Miscellany: Dungeons & Dragons box sets, then and now...

To celebrate the release of the new fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I'm taking a look at two D&D box sets: 1994's "Classic D&D game" (a reprint of the 1991 boxed set) and the 2014 fifth edition "Starter Set." Read on to see how they compare...

The Old: "The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game" box set, circa 1994

Twenty years ago, I walked into a bookstore looking for a way to teach my kid sister to play D&D. Rather than overwhelm her with the 2nd edition AD&D Player's Handbook I had at the time, I wanted a simple, fun way to get her spelunking into dungeons and kicking kobolds in the face.

The "Classic D&D game" box set fit the bill exactly. It came with one softbound "Rules and Adventures Book," which packs in rules for creating characters (with classes like "Elf" and "Magic-User"), a condensed tutorial adventure, and a bestiary of monsters for the DM. The book was big, and still a bit daunting for a grade-schooler, but it was more approachable than the PHB:

The set also came with dice, fairly well-detailed (but nonpainted) plastic figures for PCs, cardstock standees for NPCs and monsters....

...a large, attractive poster-sized battlemap to use with the tutorial adventure...

...and a DM screen.

The set had two major downsides. The included adventure only supported two or three gaming sessions, and the characters and rules in the set were largely incompatible with the main 2e AD&D rules being used by everyone at the time. Still, I thought (and still think) the set was a great value.

The New: D&D 5th Edition Starter Set, circa 2014

In terms of physical components in the box, the new Starter Set is a little underwhelming. You get a set of dice, a rulebook, pre-generated character sheets, and a booklet that runs you through the adventure "Lost Mine of Phandelver," but there's no battlemap, miniatures, or DM screen. The slim rulebook is especially disappointing considering that Wizards of the Coast released the "Basic D&D" rules as free downloadable PDFs.

In terms of content, though, this is perhaps the most complete game tutorial ever released for D&D. The "Lost Mine of Phandelver" booklet aims squarely at newbie DMs and players, and does a pretty good job explaining how to handle common D&D tropes (an ambush on the party, a dungeon crawl, pumping NPCs in a town for quests/information, and the like). There's enough story, monsters, encounters, and dungeons here to support a couple months' worth of play, and everything is 100% compatible with the complete set of D&D 5th edition rules.

[One word of warning: they had to condense everything down a lot, so some encounters don't give as much explanation to the DM as they should. For instance, there's a dragon midway through that will easily kill off the entire party of adventurers in a straight fight, but no explanation that the PCs should try bargaining or sneaking past the dragon rather than attacking it.]

Final Thoughts

These starter sets do different things. The old "Classic D&D" game shows off all the cool chrome of the D&D world - plastic figs, funny dice, a DM screen - but basically assumes that people will graduate to AD&D afterward. In contrast, the "Starter Set" targets folks who want to play 5th edition D&D but don't know how, whether it's because they're computer/video gamers or because they're coming from other tabletop RPGs (i.e., Pathfinder). As such, including little toys in the box isn't as important as giving people a serious look at the new game system.