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Cliff Jones 1964-2014

Cliff-Jones-CJ-1964-2014

Cliffton Anthony Jones

Cliffton Anthony Jones, 49, died February 14, 2014, in Bellevue, WA. He was born April 1, 1964, the beloved only child of Percival and Evonne Jones. A co-founder of game company Wizards of the Coast, he most recently served as IT director at Seattle-based Gen Con. Mr. Jones enjoyed games, music, travel, and sports, and was well known for his warm heart and infectious laugh. He is survived by his parents and the many friends he made everywhere he went.

~

I would personally like to thank CJ for all his contributions to Adventureaweek.com, specifically- creating and managing the development of adventure conversions into the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop by SmiteWorks. CJ was my go-to-tech guy, my Dungeon Master, and most of all- my friend. He will be sorely missed by all of us here at Adventureaweek.com.
-Jonathan G. Nelson
Founder & Owner
Adventureaweek.com

The Seattle Times:¬†CJ’s Obituary Page

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Lords of Waterdeep

If you’ve heard the name, but never played the game, than this review is for you. ¬†Before I delve into a lengthy description let me state this for the record:

To date, this is the best boardgame I have ever played!

That said, the Lords of Waterdeep board game sat, wrapped in cellophane upon my game shelves for almost two months before we finally decided to crack it open. ¬†I think the terrible cover art kept scaring me away, I’m sorry but I hail from the days of Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. ¬†Anyway, I finally gathered the courage to tear away the slick cellophane skin, and that’s what matters.

Cracking open the box was a pleasure, albeit a bit intimidating.  This is actually where I would drop my first tasty tidbit of advice:

Do not let the number of pieces or supposed complexity of this game scare you away! ¬†It’s not as difficult as it looks!

Granted, after popping out all the little cardboard pieces, sorting them, along with the painted wooden figures and cubes, it was a challenge to figure out what did what.  Luckily we had a beautiful red-headed lawyer on hand to help us sort through the rules and figure out how to play.  And this is where my next bit of advice christens this blog post:

If you have a friend who knows how to play, ask them to teach you!

This will at least speed up game play and expedite your learning time.  Alternatively you could simply watch this Youtube video which I highly recommend:


Game Instructions and Rulebook can be found here in PDF format!

 

Now that you have a little background on how the game works, I can continue!

 

THE GOOD

So, we set up and stumbled through the rules for a bit, but gradually got the swing of things. ¬†Before long we were in the thick of it. ¬†To the point where every person’s move could positively or adversely affect the subsequent player’s moves. ¬†This is where things got interesting. ¬†I found myself perched in my chair as if I was a black leather-clad rogue skirting the rooftops of Waterdeep, looking down and pondering my next move in this massive metropolis. ¬†Occasionally¬†someone would make a move which would completely throw off my game and I leapt from my perch, tumbling down many levels toward the rough cobblestone below only to prematurely feel my face come in contact with the far too thin plush carpeting of my home in real life. ¬†I phrase things as such because most board games do exactly what their name personifies… bore me. ¬†I have been bored out of my mind playing “classic” board games, and¬†newer games like Settlers of Catan are great fun, but I still don’t find myself getting lost in the game and “on edge”, watching every player’s move. ¬†Lords of Waterdeep does that for me.

Typically I’m a GM or player in tabletop RPGs like D&D 3.5 or Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG. ¬†Lords of Waterdeep did what I never thought possible, it pulled me out of my mundane existence and thrust me smack into the middle of a fast paced, and dangerous vie for power in a¬†metropolitan beautiful city set in Ed Greenwood’s classic Forgotten Realms setting. ¬†I bet a creative DM could easily incorporate a game of Lords of Waterdeep into their regular gaming session to great success. ¬†If you do this (or have done this) please leave a comment below, I would LOVE to know how it went!

Now, all I have set thus far about this game is good. ¬†It’s time to touch upon a few of the downers this game had.

 

THE BAD

The Ambassador

The rules regarding the Ambassador and how you are supposed to play him are confusing and can be interpreted a few different ways. ¬†Because of this there has been a major argument between players at every running of the game. ¬†It has escalated to the point where the Ambassador is now removed from the game prior to play to prevent continued confusion and disagreements. ¬†It would have been nice if WotC discovered the erroneous text during their playtest and either rephrased or removed this piece entirely from the game. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Ambassador and find it a great twist to the game, but my fellow players did not find things as amusing as I, plus some disagreed (and others agreed) with my interpretation of the rules as presented. ¬†Basically, a pain in the ass game piece is what this is.

 

Missing Intrigue

The game takes place in a huge city, where the Lords of Waterdeep do not even reveal their true identities.  With so much mystery and supposed intrigue I expected the game to be rife with it.  Sadly, it was not.  There were no special cards that allowed me to hatch elaborate plots on my fellow players, no dark deeds done in abandoned warehouses or hidden alleyways.  Yes, there were a few, but they were simplistic explanations performed on cards with little flavor and even less creativity.  Perhaps future expansions will hold some new advanced rules for those of us which hope to reach outside the mundane and into the world of the wicked!

 

Colored Cubes

Each of the colored cubes represents a different class: Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric. ¬†While this is easy to figure out, the game quickly degrades into “I’ll take one white and two blacks.” ¬†Well, that just ripped me straight out of the illusion of being in a fantasy world. ¬†Luckily, there’s a website online which crafts custom pieces for you to use in your games, colored icons which have the words “FIGHTER” and “CLERIC” printed directly upon them. I found some other game accessories here as well. ¬†Let me toss the link up for your hard core gamers of board out there: ¬†http://dapperdevil.com/product/lords-waterdeep-class-tokens

 

THE CONCLUSION:

Overall this game is totally worth the asking price.  You will get countless hours of enjoyment from a single game, and every game is totally different than the last!  Wizards of the Coast may have failed (in my book) with D&D 4th edition and some of their recent products, but if this is any indication of their delve into board games, you can count me among those willing to drop a pretty penny (or platinum) for the next release.  A round of applause from my fellow players and personal family for the team which put together this game.  Here, Here!

The minor perils and pitfalls of the game did diminish the overall enjoyment slightly (including an argument with my wife over the Ambassador), and I did miss out on some of that good old “intrigue” mentioned in the game’s description, thus I give the game 4.5 out of 5 stars. ¬†Perhaps future rule clarifications and a future expansion shall clear this up, in which case I will revisit this post and up the total to the amount I truly wanted to grant this game. ¬†[amazon_link id=”0786959916″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Buy Lords of Waterdeep by clicking here, [/amazon_link]and a portion goes to support NERD TREK and reviews like this one.

Well done Wizards of the Coast!  Your new board games and Magic cards have brought me back!

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HERO LAB: Setting the Standard

In a role-playing game industry flooded with a multitude of time saving tools, Lone Wolf Development has accomplished not only standing out; but setting the standard.

For those of you out there not in the know, Lone Wolf Development is the driving creative force behind several different software based tools, including the one this review will be covering: HERO LAB.

Now officially speaking, Hero Lab is available for several different game systems ranging from various incarnations of D&D (with 3.5 and 4e available), to Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulu, Savage Worlds and 2nd/3rd editions of Mutant’s and Masterminds all being available as core systems one can purchase for use with this program. Why do I point out the officially speaking part? Read on, we’ll get back to that.

At its core, HERO LAB ¬†is a character builder, and quite simply one of the best I’ve ever come across. ¬†Players can use this tool to find the perfect combination of skills to feat to trait ratio for the best all-around perks. ¬†GMs that need to bulk out their encounters for the evening with some fast NPCs find HERO LAB a huge time saver. ¬†Publishers populating their newest books with personalities may not wish to spend hours working out statistics for every single character; once again HERO LAB is a life saver.

I’ve been using this program exclusively now for over a year, and have converted several of my friends into users as well. The first thing that struck me was the brilliant design and intuitiveness of the program.

HERO LAB handles all formula and pre-requisite information. What do I mean by that? Simple: you no longer need to be a rules lawyer to create a character! ¬†The program handles the math and keeps track of what I can and can’t choose as options. ¬†It lets me know why I can’t choose something, and tells me when I’ve gone outside of the parameters set by the rules of the game system I am using.

The error system is simple and highlights anything incorrect in red either in the text or on a tab (as the pages are laid out in tab formation).  Just in case you miss that HERO LAB alerts you with an icon in the lower left corner.  Does this mean you are forced to only color inside the lines?  Heck no!  Creative role-playing games are all about finding a way around the rules, and Hero Lab accommodates.  It allows you (through several different means) to override error messages.

Your Hero got more skill points than he should because he spent time training in an academy?  No problem!  Add some more skill points!

Life on the mountains of Tarqui make you stronger than average with a free attack feat?  Again, not a problem.  If you can think it up, this program can handle it.

As cool and versatile as this program is, its strongest selling point is its simplicity.  I decided to do a speed build this afternoon and see if HERO LAB could handle the pressure.  HERO LAB pumped out 78 different NPCs in five minutes!  The ease of creating fodder for your world is insane and will give any GM back some precious time that can be focused elsewhere. Now of course these were all cannon fodder NPCs, but they were all different and unique in their own right.

Now that we understand this program is designed for building characters, what then? Well, after hooking up all of your players with their characters you have several different options really. The program can be used via its internal combat tracking system (known as the Tactical Console) to run all combat numbers for an evening of play. Simply load the portfolios (saved characters) of your group into one open screen, creating what they call the ‚Äúdashboard‚ÄĚ, load up your NPCs and monsters (also stored as portfolios) and you can very easily as a GM keep track of all combat using nothing more than this simple ‚ÄúCharacter generator‚ÄĚ. Handling initiative rolls, all effects and conditions, an internal dice roller (if you choose to use it), the tactical console has become a trusted friend at my game table. But what of those of you using virtual tabletops like Fantasy Grounds? Well, Lone Wolf has got you covered, with options to export straight to the program format. And that’s far from the only option for export, others include html, pdf, text and of course the various character sheet options.

I would be remiss in failing to mention the rather large amount of additional data packs available for purchase to continue using new material as it is released, with prices ranging from as low as under $5 to around the $25 range for bundles. Now, admittedly this is more so for Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG then the other systems, but for those systems without a massive library of official releases, there is the ‚Äúcommunity‚ÄĚ. ¬†There’s that word again, official. ¬†Don’t worry, we’re almost there, have patience.

When I began using this product, I was a casual user looking to speed up my game prep time. Now, whereas Hero Lab is my trusted right hand at my game tables, it has also become my most valuable tool. ¬†I write .hl files for a small publisher of 3PP Pathfinder compatible material. Yes folks, on top of everything else this program will let you do, you can add and build your own custom database of your creations. And the best part of that is the included editor, which will, after some trial and error, become your gateway to adding everything you’ve ever come across to the database options for your characters. There is a learning curve, but it is an easy one. I didn’t understand a single line of html code the first time I opened the editor, and I closed it scared that I had ruined my program. ¬†Now, less than a year later I am developing packets that are distributed every week. The editor makes it easy to learn, supporting both xml veteran programmers and the total newbies. ¬†I would encourage any small publisher out there who is considering this program to stop considering, and buy it.¬† Customers want these files and being able to say your product includes HERO LAB files alone will increase your sales. ¬†This will very quickly help you recoup the cost of the program and data packs.

And that my friends, is where we get to that word official I mentioned earlier. For whereas the game systems I listed earlier are the only ones available currently, they also have available an authoring kit, with which one can write their own game system to distribute. Additionally there is a thriving online community of folks sharing custom files containing everything from homebrew creations and rules, to converted game systems and current OGL material, with the embrace and guidance of Lone Wolf. Yeah, that’s right, they not only support the idea of the custom file sharing, they help folks figure out how to write code to get things to work that they are trying to add to their files. Talk about killer support for the consumer. There’s an entire section of their forums dedicated to custom files, their development, and the sharing of them.

Now, it would not be a review if I did not cover some of the negatives, as there are a few things that I would love to see in a future update. Currently, there is no method of adding/subtracting finances from the tactical console, now xp. With the tactical console open, you can see your entire playgroup without having to ‚Äúswitch‚ÄĚ between profiles, and this step would greatly speed up that function of game. I would also love to see a method via which a company could instill a logo into their description text for custom created items/races/spells etc. Such that when the choice is highlighted, not only would it show the name of the source, but give the publisher/developer the chance to have a small logo at the bottom of the description, to help identify from whence the selection came.

OK I know; truly horrible stuff to say right? So, wrapping up, best character management tool on the market, multi-game support, fully customizable and seeing more support from the 3PP market everyday, intuitive easy to use interface….Oh, almost forgot, sharing your creations with a friend? As easy as clicking a few buttons and creating a ‚Äú.hl‚ÄĚ file (think program exclusive .exe zip) that they then can click on their end, and everything will install where it needs to go, no muss, no fuss….and my only negatives….oh yeah, I’m lazy and want an secondary money/xp button (lol), and the capacity to a logo on custom stuff…..can’t help but think it’s pretty obvious that this is the type of product that any gaming group would be well rewarded with benefits by picking up.

Oh, and one last thought, before we pass final judgement here….remember the beginner box Paizo put out? The stripped down rule set intended to help get a new generation interested in their game? Well, Hero lab supports it also, and for free. That’s right, If you are a Beginner Box player, go to www.wolflair.com poke around on the product page. The sheer fact that they support this system, and for free, major kuddos, and a great way to get people used to their product at a younger age.

OK, final tally, I promise this time….Seriously, if you are a GM, and you haven’t picked this up yet, you’re going to thank me. If you are a player looking for a tool to make management of your characters easier, this is that tool, or perhaps you’re the kind of player looking for the ultimate GM bribe? I’m not judging, (lol)…point is, you will not regret purchasing this program, its simply that good.

Once you’ve got some time under your belt with it, come join us on the forums and show us what custom goodies you’ve got to share!

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D&D NEXT has a new home on Wizards.com!

Wizards of the Coast has just launched a brand new hub of information for D&D Next, the ‚Äúnext‚ÄĚ iteration of the game, at¬†http://www.wizards.com/DnD/DnDNext.aspx. The new page features all the latest and greatest on D&D Next including articles from Wizards, discussions about the future of the game, and seminar transcripts from the recent D&D Experience event. It will also soon house features like Live Chats, a calendar of upcoming events and, once playtesting begins, materials will be available for download through this page.¬†(Please note that this new site¬†does not¬†signify the start of playtesting ‚Äď we will, of course, let you know once that begins!)

Also, as you may have noticed, the D&D site has been redesigned with a spiffy new look which went live this week at http://www.wizards.com/dnd.

Check out the new pages and, as always, let me know if you have any questions. In the meantime, check out the site and sign-up for the playtest if you haven’t already done so!

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Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition – the Red Box


The first time I held the original D&D Red Box in my hands I was 8 years old. My friend Khidr had received the Dungeons & Dragons Red Box as a gift from his Aunt and Uncle. It came with the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. Those rule books seemed intimidating at the time, but now I think back and laugh at how simple they were compared to most.

We also received what truly got us involved in role-playing games, a set of polyhedron dice. Completely alien to us, these dice were like little treasures that required diligent safekeeping.  Strange shapes in a myriad of colors, this was what caused us to pull up chairs to what would become our gaming table and dig through these newfound books.

As soon as I found out there was a ‚ÄúDungeon Master‚ÄĚ who controlled the monsters and wrote the¬†story line¬†I knew that‚Äôs what I wanted to be. I have always loved creation. ¬†I get excited about writing songs, building model scenery, and building websites. ¬†These things give my life purpose and get my gears turning.

Fast forward 25 years and at Christmas we happened to find our old gaming group in the same room again. ¬†Despite thousands of miles of¬†separation, our parents living in the same city had reunited us yet again over the holidays. ¬†As we leaned on the kitchen counter chatting over the eating bar and drinking coffee our eyes wandered to the Christmas tree. ¬†My son had just received the Dungeons & Dragons Red Box for 4th edition as a Christmas present. ¬†The very same box that we had used to learn D&D as children. ¬†Wow, 25 years ago… had it really been that long?

We told my son to call up his friends and get his dice.  We were going to sit down and play D&D with them.  We would teach them a thing or two, or so we thought!

Apparently D&D has changed drastically over the years.  This version of the game came with character sheets, a flip-mat, miniature tokens that represent heroes and monsters, playing cards, and two small books.

Dashiell decided to take the role of party leader showing everyone how to roll up their characters.  While Khidr assisted in drinking all the coffee.  I sharpened pencils and prepared the miniature tokens.  Rolling up characters proved a difficult task as the initial character stats were already determined for you.  Perhaps this was to assist new players and GMs in getting started.  Hopefully this would speed things up and we would be playing within the half hour!

Almost two hours later we still weren’t playing. ¬†The statistics for each character were hidden deep within a detailed story meant to help new players. ¬†If anything it complicated things and was very frustrating digging through all this fluff just to begin playing. ¬†We felt cheated out of creating our own characters. ¬†One of my absolute favorite parts of playing a RPG is rolling up and creating my own unique character! ¬†At least the Pathfinder Beginner Box provided your stats and gear already printed on the ready to play character sheets. ¬†If you’re going to start me out with a pre-rolled character at least get it ready to go so we can get started and learn the game.

So, like I said… 2 hours later and we only had a bit of time left, luckily we had finished our characters. ¬†We initiated the trial combat contained within the small Dungeon Master’s Guide!

I played DM and set up the mini tokens and flip-mat.  Everyone rolled initiative and battle began.

 

As combat progressed I noticed many changes in regards to combat in 4th edition:

  • Combat has a faster pace than most RPGs
  • Players and Monsters hit 90% of the time
  • Damage caused is¬†almost 4 times what we experienced in¬†older editions
  • Players have a smattering of cards which can be¬†used strategically
  • All players can use a special ability called a “Healing Surge” to regain lost hit points

Introducing cards into the game seems like a good idea and I’ll need some more time to see how I really feel about this. ¬†I do enjoy a faster paced combat, but it sure seems like the constant barrage of wounds is more akin to a video game than a tabletop RPG. ¬†When flipping through the books I did notice that a focus on combat encounters overshadowed the exploration or role-playing factor. ¬†The latter two aspects of role-playing games are what puts the “role” as opposed to the “roll” into the game for me.

Surely we need more time with the game than just a practice encounter, but I fear that Wizards is on a path which leads away from the dreams of the late great Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

My son and his friends enjoyed the encounter and were ready for more. ¬†During combat one of the kids came up with a creative use for the Mage Hand spell and moved a small boulder over the head of an enemy and dropped it causing extra damage. ¬†He wanted to keep going after his turn was over so he could cast spell after spell. ¬†I told him if he got to do whatever he wanted, so did I and would loose an army of enemies upon the group. ¬†He said “go ahead, I have a ton of spells I want to use!” ¬†Wisdom 3, Enthusiasm & Courage: 18!

When all was said and done I realized that this version of D&D, although different from previous editions was original in and of itself.  It is a NEW game and thus is an interpretation of the great D&D game, played for generations.  Surely it has a place among my other gaming books and boxes.

It is my son’s turn to start a collection and forge his own memories and experiences in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. ¬†Perhaps in 25 years he will be teaching his son how to play.

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THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT Board Game

The Legend of Drizzt board game is part of the Adventure System Board Games by Wizards of the Coast. These games are designed as a co-op experience with no DM required! In this game you get to play as Drizzt and his companions.

It contains scenarios set around the city of Neverwinter. You will be getting a lot of Drizzt and his followers throughout your adventures in this board game. ¬†For those of you who don’t already know, Drizzt Do’Urden is the most famous character in the Forgotten Realms world. ¬†Created by R.A. Salvatore and featured in his New York Times Best Selling novels, Drizzt and his companions have become a fantasy staple for fantasy fans and RPG fanatics alike!

This is a great game for families. My wife enjoyed the Neverwinter Nights computer games but has never been very interested in joining my friends and I for tabletop D&D games. My son is 9 years old and although shows much interest in the D&D RPG, still has a tough time with the vast amount of rules required to play a fair and balanced game. The Legend of Drizzt Board Game is a perfect introduction to a family who has not yet played D&D or anyone who has trouble fully grasping the concept of tabletop role-playing games.

My family decided to set up the Legend of Drizzt game on our dining room table at home.  We started a timer to see how long it would take to get all the pieces out, read up on the rules, and start playing.

It took almost an entire hour to get all the dungeon tiles and other icons punched out of the large cardboard sheets and read up on the rules.  Even after reading the rules multiple times we were still all a bit confused despite my 25 year background playing role-playing games.  We decided to just dive right in and figure it out as the game progressed.

My suggestions for first time players:

1.  Make sure you read ALL of the rules by yourself prior to having friends over.  

2.  Punch out, organize, and bag up all the cardboard pieces in advance of your first session.

To start out you choose one of multiple adventures you would like to play. ¬†Next the adventure tells you which cards and items you will need. ¬†After gathering these you mix the specific dungeon tiles up with the generic tiles and place them within a stack of tiles from which you draw each round. ¬†I know, it’s a bit confusing but it’s much easier if you can sit down and look at the pieces. ¬†Then you choose which hero you would like to play and find the required cards for that hero. ¬†Each hero has an attack they can do every round, an attack or stance they can do once per day, and some other one-time use abilities or items. ¬†As the game progresses you find treasure which helps you reset these powers or obtain new powers in the form of magical items.

The game progresses like this:  

  • Hero Phase: This is the phase in which your hero moves through the dungeon and makes attacks against monsters.
  • Exploration Phase: This is the phase in which you add new Cavern tiles, draw Monster cards, and place Monsters.
  • Villain Phase: This is the phase in which you draw and play Encounter Cards as well as activate Villains.

Each player performs all three of these actions each turn, so by the time it is your turn again as many as 3 additional monsters may appear on the map and engage you in combat!  If you would like a detailed play by play (with images) of a session check out this site!

Opinion: ¬†As a¬†veteran RPG Game Master I found the game to be fun, but lacking and repetitive in many areas. ¬†¬†Take in mind that I have over 25 years of role-playing experience under my belt so my opinion is a bit biased. ¬†As an introduction to D&D or a “D&D gateway game”, I think the Drizzt Board Game is excellent. ¬†My family had a lot of fun playing it. ¬†My 9 year old son enjoyed the game immensely and was quite excited each time his turn came up. ¬†He played Drizzt and mangled most enemies he encountered very quickly. ¬†My wife was interested in the game, perhaps a bit more so than traditional tabletop RPGs, but she found many of the rules constraining and suggested we throw out some of the rules and play it our own way.

Overall family score: 3/5

Name: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game
Company: Wizards of the Coast (HASBRO)

Price: $65 US

Type: RPG/Adventure

Number of Players: 1-5
Target Audience: 12+  (9+ will do fine) 

First time set-up: 45m-1hr
Subsequent set-up: 10-15m
Game time: 1-2hrs per adventure 

This game includes the following components:

  • 42 plastic heroes and monsters
  • 13 sheets of interlocking cardstock dungeon tiles
  • 200 encounter cards and treasure cards
  • Rulebook
  • Scenario book
  • 20-sided die