Archive for May 10th, 2011

Divine Eselda

Dissatisfied with the lack of Heroes of Shadows pre-gens for this season of Encounters: Dark legacy of Evard, I went to the considerable effort of making a set of four to offer to my players as options. The official pre-gens for this season are the same 6 from last season, which are all basic Essentials characters. I can see why Wizards of the Coast went this route, since Essentials and Encounters are such a good mix, and last season’s pre-gens were very well crafted. It saves them time and money to re-use them, but it still feels a bit stale having the same race-class combinations season after season.

Season 5 Heroes of Shadow Pre-Gens

The company line is that the pre-gens are provided as a courtesy, and that the preferred route for Encounters players is to sign up for the online character builder, or to buy the books, and generate their own character. This is a good way for experienced players to get the characters they want, and indeed many experienced, returning players do just that. The Encounters program however appeals to many types of gamers and potential gamers, many of which have no means or interest in making purchases prior to playing. For this group, including complete newbs, kids, and older folks returning to the game after a hiatus of many years, these people are why the pre-generated characters are provided.

In 4 seasons of Encounters, the pregenerated characters have always numbered more than the custom characters. The first season of Encounters, Halasters Lost Apprentice, was the friendliest towards homemade characters, since the character builder demo was free at the time and allowed character creation up to 3rd level. The second season REQUIRED the usage of pre-gens from the start, since Dark Sun was not released until mid-way through. By season 3 and 4, with the publication of Essentials the pre-gen scene calmed down, and it was easy enough to make a character with just the books. However, the lack of a free character builder squashed the potential for many players to try out a custom character. The pre-gen remained king.

Here we are at the beginning of season 5, and with no new pre-gens offered, it would appear Wizards of the Coast are trying harder than ever to get these children, curious walk-ins, and returning grognards to pony up the money for books or access to the online character builder. I can accept, and even participate in the attempt to convert these players into paying customers, but one thing I will not do is to FORCE them to shell out money to have the maximum amount of fun possible. Not in my game. This is wrong-headed and will end up driving away more customers than otherwise, in my opinion. For as long as I have played D&D there was no requirement for players to buy specific game merchandise. Many players I played with for years never even had a Players Handbook. It is the nature of the game.

There is one other reason I am providing these pregenerated Heroes of Shadow characters. I want to see them in play! This season focuses on the dark and shadowy realm, and Heroes of the Shadow just released, so it seems to be the perfect time for some product synergy. Wizards of the Coast, what were you thinking?


The One Page Character Sheet
Continuing on my diatribe of everything wrong about D&D, the next subjects are the character sheets themselves. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that character sheets need to be the 5-7 pages the online character builder spits out, especially 1st level characters for people with little D&D Experience. In this way, the beautifully crafted half-page cards provided as pre-gens for encounters and Game Days are exactly the right way to go. I love these cards and have kept as many as I could from all 5 seasons of Encounters. I even have a set of level 6 half-sheet cards from a game day long ago, so it is possible to have even mid level characters on a smaller sheet.

I wont go into details about my complaints in regards to the online character builder, but I will say that my primary concern was the page count, and my secondary concern was the organization of information. Power cards are another aspect I will discuss below. Page 2 of the character sheet is ridiculously empty, even for the 11th level characters of my home campaign, and page 3 is likewise lacking. These two pages should be excised completely, or distilled into their essence: a list of equipment for page 3, and a list of feats and abilities for page 3. If a player needs more detail they can look up the specifics, especially for the mechanical bits that are already integrated into the calculations.

Likewise, the first page is rife with needless space wasting items, like the huge D&D header. We know what game we are playing, find a different place to advertise, where the real estate is not in high demand. Likewise I took out many of the helpful notes that the Essentials style sheet comes with. These are great but space is a premium and they had to go. I added equipment form page 2 to the bottom half of the 1st column, and the feats and abilities to the bottom of the second column. The third column I left for powers.

The power cards are a complicated subject. They are nice in that they are well written, concise, and have all the information a player needs, but the lack of customizability can cause issues. A great example of how a power card can be accurate but still be “wrong” is the ranged basic attack power card for a character wielding no weapons, like a vampire for instance. Just what are they hurling for 4 points damage? Also, I think the way they are organized and stacked together on the page makes them difficult to find pertinent information. The cards seem to run together. I put the important power cards along the third column, cutting them down to the smallest size possible. It is clear to me that higher level characters would not have enough space for all their powers on a one-page character, but if the column is reserved for at-will attacks, a second page of encounters, utilities, and dailies would not be so bad.

Since there is zero customizability with the character builder I was forced to literally cut and paste a print-out to get the one page sheet I wanted. Once I did that, with scissors and Elmers Glue, believe it or not, I had a proof of concept and went ahead with my plan. I first downloaded a copy of Cute PDF, which is a free program which sets up a “virtual printer” on your computer and basically lets you “print to pdf.” I then opened the pdf and cut sections of it with the ‘marquee snapshot’ tool and began copying sections I wanted. I then opened a Word document, set it to 3 columns, with narrow margins (1/2 inch all the way around) and began pasting in my sections. It was a lengthy process and required fine tuning, but the end result is an ugly but workable 1 page character sheet.

I wish I had the time and talent to make character sheets of the same beauty and quality as the pre-gens supplied by Wizards of the Coast, but I am hopeful that these sheets prove useful. Now that you have read my ramblings, here below are the four characters. You can download them each individually below, or chose the package download over on the right under my “Items of Interest” listing. They are about 200 kb apiece.

Mighty Quinn

The Characters
Klaxu, the dragonborn black guard. So many noble dragon warriors follow the path of Bahamut and work towards a bright future of peaceful civilization, but there are other dragon men out there. Dragon men who seethe at the loss of empire, and long for a return to the days of mighty draconian armies shaking the ground. Klaxu is a throwback to an earlier era, when martial acumen was the mark of honor, rather than high ideals. Blue scaled, lightning breathing Klaxu brings the power of melee to the party.

Download the 1 Page Klaxu Character Sheet: Klaxu

Chiliax the Drow Executioner. With sword and dagger, the drow Chiliax is ready and prepared to kill anyone at anytime – for the right price. Chiliax can bring death any number of ways, from a slit throat in a dark alley to a poisoned goblet of wine, to a full frontal assault, Chiliax does it all, for death.

Download the 1 Page Chiliax Character Sheet: Chiliax

Constanz the Human Vampire. This noble creature of the night is quiet, stealthy, and likes to drink blood, both his enemies and his friends. He is tough as nails and not afraid to mix it up in close quarters fighting. In fact, that’s what he prefers: to see the blood flowing.

Download the 1 Page Constanz Character Sheet: Constanz

Gaunt the Shade Wizard. The shadows proved irresistible to poor gaunt, and he slowly gave up a portion of his humanity to be infused with the power of the Shadowfell. He wields his shadow magic from the expertise of the nethermancy school, with a skill that only a dark one like Gaunt could hope to achieve. Rather than blow things up, Gaunt likes to watch his enemies destroy themselves as they are consumed by the shadows. (There may be some problems reading the cantrips without a magnifying glass!)

Download the 1 Page Gaunt Character Sheet: Gaunt

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