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Nerd Watching: Lessons from a Wizards of the Coast DM

Written by Nicholas - Published on August 15, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Howdy all from Indiana! Battling the allure of sleep after a long day of events, I bring you the news from Gen Con!

The Next World

Wizards of the Coast has announced the next campaign setting to be coming out for 4e, Dark Sun! The barren desert world pits players against all manner of apocalyptic unsavory threats. The world represnts a darker bent to 4e that could really show off some versitility to the system. I hope that the campaign books introduce some optional rules for very mundane problems like food shortage, heat exhaustion and illness. Those things are already in the game on some level, but definately take a back seat. I think the Dark Sun setting will remind us that even if you character starts out as an uncommonly good fighter or wizard, they can still fall to a lack of water. You can find James Wyatt answer a lot of questions about the new iteration of the setting here.

Wizards of the Coast has announced the next campaign setting to be coming out for 4e, Dark Sun

I am excited about Dark Sun, but some of you may recall my vocal wish for new Ravenloft. While I am disappointed it is not the new setting, WotC has thrown me a consolation prize. They have also announced work on a new board game set in the Ravenloft world. Details are scant and the project is still almost a year away, but I’m intrigued already.

The ENnies

The ENnies awards winners have been announced. Not surprising, WotC did quite well. D&D 4e won for Best Rules, Best Product and Best Game. Insider took home the gold for Best Game Aid and Wizards of the Coast was voted as the best publisher by the fans. Paizo’s Pathfinder almost snagged itself a number of awards and the Dark Hersey system was something of a surprise favorite.

We’ve discussed here before a particularly close category for the ENnies. The Best Website award had many worthy contenders, such as Kobold Quarterly, Critical Hits and Obsidian Portal. While all the sites deserved it, only one could take home the gold. That gold winner was Obsidian Portal, the popular campaign wiki website! Having spent some time with Micah of Obsidian Portal at the con, I can honestly say he’s the nicest man in the world. I say not just because he bought me a sandwich (but that doesn’t hurt!). Congratulations Micah!

You can find the full ENnie results here.

Over the fight, the use of changeling powers and another player’s telepathy drove the poor thing to near totally madness. It had no game effect, but it brought a fairly normal little goblin to life.

Lessons From a WotC DM

I had the good fortune to be invited to a D&D press game here at Gen Con. This game was run by Jeremy Crawford, contributing author of, among other things, the Player’s Handbook 2. Despite being just a short dungeon crawl, I observed some behaviors from this talented DM. I’d like to share those lessons with you.

1. Be Open and Adaptable – Our game began down players for the pre-made crawl. Jeremy just smiled and said no problem, adjusting the encounters on the fly. During one of our fights we had a walk-in player who asked to join. Again Jeremy agreed without a flinch. He organically introduced our new player and new enemies into the mix to rebalance the encounter.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Make Suggestions – We had a very mixed skill level in our game. Sometimes players took actions which were not the best move. Jeremy never contradicted us, but sometimes made slight suggestions. Things like “if you moved one square over you would be in a better position for next turn” or “you have a minor action left, would you like to use it to mark someone?”.

3. Bring Even Minor Enemies to Life – Our first battle was against a group of goblins. Quite generic, right? Well the leader of this band showed extreme paranoia when we first entered. Over the fight, my use of changeling powers and another player’s telepathy drove the poor thing to near totally madness. It had no game effect, but it brought a fairly normal little goblin to life.

4. Hunter’s Quarry and Sneak Attack Do Max Damage on a Crit – I have a signed statement to that effect. Take that, Dungeon Masters who have been robbing me of damage!

What is your favorite bit of Gen Con news? Are you exicted about playing in Dark Sun?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



28 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Lessons from a Wizards of the Coast DM”
  1. Yax says:

    I gave a shot to 4e Forgotten Realms and liked it – it was broken down in easy to use and mostly independent modules and regions. I’m hoping Dark Sun will be as good.

  2. Laithoron says:

    “Paizo’s Pathfinder *almost* snagged itself a number of awards…”

    I think you meant to say *also*.

    Paizo won 6 ENnies — four gold, and two silver:

    Gold: Best Setting, Best Adventure, Best Cartography, Best Minis Product
    Silver: Best Cover Art, Best Publisher

  3. Nicholas says:

    @Laithoron: I did, whoops. This was written at midnight after a long day of Gen Con.

  4. The Reaper says:

    Wow! I didn’t know that sneak attack and hunter’s quarry do max on a crit. However, does warlock’s curse?

  5. Nicholas says:

    @The Reaper: Sure does! It makes sense if you think about it. Sorcerer’s and Barbarians just deal more raw damage instead of those attack boosting powers. You wouldn’t think to not max their damage on a crit.

  6. Leucis Aurboda says:

    Hi, I’m a new DM, and I was just wondering (and yes, I know this is off topic for this page, but this is the newest one, ergo, there’ll be more traffic to this page than the place where I first posted this) if anyone knows if the published version of Keep on the Shadowfell includes Dungeon Tiles for the maps and tokens for the monsters. I’m considering running it for my first group and I only have the PDF version from the WotC website.

    Also, super excited for Dark Sun. :)

  7. Leucis Aurboda says:

    Edit To My Last Post

    I’m considering running it for my first group and I only have the PDF version from the WotC website, so I don’t know if it includes those and, henceforth, whether or not to buy it.

  8. Nicholas says:

    @Leucis: Keep on the Shadowfell, like all the pre-made adventures, comes with a big printed battlemap of only some of the encounters in the adventure. It doesn’t come with any tokens. The 4e starter set comes with an intro adventure, dungeon tiles, tokens and dice. That may be the way to go for you. It retails for $17 and you can find it on Amazon, local gamestores or big bookstores.

  9. Leucis Aurboda says:

    @Nicholas: Thanks! I actually already bought the starter set, but I wasn’t sure that the tiles and tokens included with it would incorporate well with Keep on the Shadowfell. Again, a very big thanks for the info!

  10. Roger Ramirez says:

    I am SUPER excited about Dark Sun. Back in 2nd Edition I had an awesome campaign where all the characters were gladiators. I ran them through gladiator training and then had them sold to another city. On their trip they were attacked and freed from bondage. From there it was all exploring the ancient tombs in the desert.

  11. DandDGuy says:

    I happen to be on the other side of this. I don’t like forth edition and never have. The Open Gaming License and the D20 System was the best Idea that wizards has had in recent years. By wotc changing there systems license mid stream just for the money is going to divide the gaming industry into people that publish products for the OGL and those that don’t. 4th ED does have it good points but wizards should have kept the OGL with this version of the D & D franchise. I am quite happy that they are bringing the Dark sun Campaign setting back into print and I may purchase it in a PDF format most of all of my collection of books now are in a PDF format it’s just easier to carry around than lugging tons of hard copy books around with you.

  12. Alan De Smet says:

    4e Ravenloft? I like 4e, but the best horror exist primarily in the mind. A key strength of miniatures combat in 4e is that is makes the world concrete and certain, giving the players a clear representation with clear rules that players can learn and understand. This informs their decisions and makes their more meaningful. The flip side is that much of the messy weirdness had to be excised. Seeing Strahd represented by mini on a battle grid is going to destroy a lot of the spooky uncertainty and dread.

  13. DandDGuy says:

    With 4th ED it has added the miniatures and decreased the role-playing aspect of the game. It’s no longer a game of imagination and is now driven by the sales of miniatures and the core rule books and supplements that are out are at a higher price. That is only one of the reasons, that people are playing both 3rd ED and 3.5 ED and the young teens and newer gamers that are just getting into D & D are buying 4th ED. “I know that I am probably going to hit a nerve with this as I have done on many sites before this one and I probably will again.”

  14. Alan De SMet says:

    DandDGuy, you’re talking about a game that was originally marketed as “Fantasy Wargame.” A game whose previous edition’s second largest chapter (after the spell lists) was about combat, and was chock full of details on using miniatures and battle mats. A game where the D&D Open has been focused on optimizing numerical play for many years.

    A seven-year-old kid can manage to role-play and generate compelling stories. My wife, with decades of gaming experience, has played D&D that entire time and always had hesitations about it. She found the rules overly complex and fiddly, and they rewarded close readings of the rules that detracted from actual role-playing. 4e changed that, she found a system that get less in the way of the role-playing, and is the first D&D she wants to actually GM (despite having GMed plenty of other systems over the years).

    If you’ve actually played 4e and found the role-playing decreased, have you considered that you might be what changed? Perhaps your preconceptions have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    4e is not a perfect game. I have many problems with it. But I can appreciate both Pathfinder (which looks like a very worthy 3.5e successor) and 4e as good role-playing games.

    “I know that I am probably going to hit a nerve with this as I have done on many sites before this one and I probably will again.”

    You know there is a term for that, right? It’s called trolling. If you’re interested in a serious discussion, don’t immediately start being defensive or threatening.

  15. Yax says:

    @Alan De SMet: I’m with you on that one. I like that D&D is combat-centric because I like tactical fights and 4e combat is more entertaining and quicker to prepare for.

    I don’t really need rules to roleplay – but I think the skill challenge concept is great too.

  16. Mike Kenyon says:

    @Leucis: FieryDragon has counters specially designed for Keep on the Shadowfell. Check them out!


  17. DandDGuy says:

    Alan De SMet You’re right D and D was originally a Fantasy War Game and still is. It has not changed in any way I have, that is why I am just a player now and I don’t run games any longer and lately I have not been doing that because of work. It’s great stress relief to be in combat and walk away from it at the end of the night.

    I have changed a great deal sense I started playing D and D and I have grown up over the years and I am more critical of things. I would like to get back into Playing on a regular basis and I have thought of DMing again but, work prevents me from doing that at this time. If you are wondering what I do I am a Project Manager for Lockheed Martin. I have to be very critical in my job as senior drafter / Project Manager and I guise it caries over into my life as well.

  18. Bobby Jennings says:

    @DandDGuy, there’s nothing wrong with that, and you should be critical(to a point) about the games you play.
    I love playing. I run a 4e game. Is it DnD to me? Yes and no. There are alot of things I miss(spell selections) but things I don’t. Role-playing is only limited to you and your players. I have two tactically heavy players who role-play less than anyone else at my table. And while I encourage role-playing, I don’t discourage their enjoyment of combat. It’s a game. People come to play and have a good time. I hope you are able to either a) find a group and play, show them how to role-play! OR b) run a game of your own and do the same. It doesn’t have to be a weekly thing. I know how life can interfere with our hobby, ahem… I have a wife, job and two teens that keep me busy. I run a bi-weekly game. And sometimes we dont’ even do that, it might be once a month. yeah, thanks for mucking up my story, GenCon.

    But we play, visit and have fun. I hope you’ll do this too, no matter what system you pick.

  19. DandDGuy says:

    I am not the only one that believes this check out this article that I found.


  20. DandDGuy says:

    The article makes a good point that there are no rules for role playing in 4th ED. However, it is up to the players and the DM to make interesting and believable characters. A good character should have three basic elements, Physical description, Social Description, and Finally the Physiological Description it is really all about the description not the numbers. The numbers are their for combat purposes, I now know that its not just me that has issues with 4th Ed it is here to stay until they make the next Incarnation of D and D.

  21. Mike Kenyon says:


    The article you linked to explains how there are many roleplaying opportunities in 4e. “If you think that your game doesn’t allow for roleplaying, maybe you need to look at the room you are playing in as opposed to the game on the table.”

    Are you sure that’s the article you wished to provide?

  22. DandDGuy says:

    I think I may end up sticking with what I know best and that is Star Wars.

  23. Alan De Smet says:

    @DandDGuy: The article you linked to praises, “Our actions as players turned our minis into cinematic versions of their ‘class,’ something I never experienced in Third Edition, Savage Worlds, Shadowrun, or any other game I’ve been exposed to.” The same author complains that they abandoned 3.5e because “we were tired of the number crunch. We were tired of the same old routine: I roll, I miss; I roll, I hit, I damage! I roll, I miss. Rinse, lather, repeat.” This is hardly a condemnation of 4e as inferior to 3e. And as Mike Kenyon notes, the author seems pretty happy with the role playing he found in 4e, despite the lack of explicit rules for… well… I’m not entirely sure.

    Maybe 4e isn’t what you’re looking for. I can’t begrudge you that. Wizards made harder choices than any previous edition. The resulting tradeoffs have many benefits (Harder to accidentally build a crappy character; more consistent play, especially in tournaments; more cinematic fights; more novel-like stories; faster combat; roughly balancing characters both in and out of combat), but there are also things that were lost (colorful, “weird” magic; much of the resource management sub-game; creative uses of spells; a more realistic economic simulation). I love and hate 4e, because it brought much awesome, but also tossed aside many things I loved. Fortunately, I know where to find Pathfinder when I crave a 3e experience. Some people will prefer one over the other, and that’s fine. It certainly isn’t just you who reject 4e!

    Out of curiosity, what do you feel 4e changed that was better in 3e or 3.5e?

    (Thanks all for being careful to reproduce the capitalization of my name. Unfortunately it was just a sloppy typo. :-)

  24. DandDGuy says:

    Well for starters they meaning WOTC with the 4th ED incarnation of The Forgotten Realms WOTC has really changed it around and it was about time. However, it could have been done a little differently and they should have kept Mystra. Unfortunately, when Wizards Streamlined D & D for the 4th ED they eliminated a lot of the fluff in character development that made a lot of the older additions of the game classics. WOTC cut a lot of the character classes that were interesting to play. I will give 4th ED one thing though it has speed up the combat system tremendously and made it easier for younger players to learn. It has also eliminated a lot of the book keeping and streamlined the statistics.

  25. DandDGuy says:

    I have looked at pathfinder RPG from Piazo.com and it looks like what I am after I reed through the rules I will let everyone know what I think of it.

  26. Nicholas says:

    I’ve started reading Pathfinder. I like what they do for some of the old classes. Clerics, Sorcerers and Wizards got some cool new flavor stuff. It doesn’t fix a few fundamental problems I had with 3.5, but it certainly ramps up the coolness. If you like 3.5, Pathfinder is worth checking out.

  27. DandDGuy says:

    Yes I like D & D 3.0 and 3.5 then I will check out pathfinder and download it in PDF from RPG Now.com. I may go direct to the source at Piazo.com being since I’m not too keen on 4th ED.

  28. Paradox Backlash says:

    I wonder if they’re still going to make you roll to find water, or die.
    Darksun FTW!

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