I want to be a level 10 Paladin, but with a mortgage!
January 1, 2013 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I want to be a level 10 Paladin, but with a mortgage!

Help some adults get into Dungeons and Dragons.

Last night my 30- and 40-something friends and I realized that we'd like to start playing Dungeons and Dragons. We also intend to get some young teens involved, too. It sounds like a fun weekly thing to do. We intend to do this in person, not online. It doesn't have to be D&D; I imagine any similar RPG would do.

I'm the oldest in the group, and did a bit of DMing in the mid-80s, but none of the others have ever played.

Of course, back then we designed maps with the Monster Manual, graph paper, and mechanical pencils. There has got to be software for this now; we're mostly an Apple crowd, and I really like the idea of everyone carrying their campaign and characters on iOS devices. But if software isn't the way to go, what do I buy?
posted by the matching mole to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
GURPS. It's a lot better system than D&D.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:48 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Things have changed quite a bit since you played last. Ask at local gaming store(s), many of them have a monthly or even weekly game day in house, and in my experience such groups tend to be welcoming. I know you want to start your own group, but if you're going to be the GM (they say GM now) then you need to know things like, for example, which ruleset will you be using? (this is a matter of schism almost religious in its intensity) and you can learn almost as much watching a bad GM as a good one.

I am speaking from D&D experience here, but I believe it would apply to other RPGs.
posted by tomboko at 8:53 AM on January 1, 2013

I see in your profile that you're located in San Antonio. It looks like there are two MeetUp groups for D&D in your area:
-The San Antonio Dungeons & Dragons MeetUp Group
-Southern Dragons of San Antonio
And a Wizards of the Coast community board where people ask questions such as yours:
-D&D in Texas
Maybe folks already involved with local games can give you some solid pointers.
posted by D.Billy at 9:05 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have enough interested players, then you have the hard part behind you.

I'd go to the local gaming store and look through the editions of D&D and see which would appeal most to your group. To cut it down to a sentence, 3E and later involve more tactical detail, and 2E and earlier are simpler and battles go more quickly.

Then, pick up the Player's Handbook of that edition, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and a pre-written low-level adventure. Read through them, get your guys together (in a non-gendered sense), make your characters, and play. Don't expect it to go perfectly, and think of it more as hanging out with your friends with some D&D as the activity.

After you've got a sense of how things flow, then start evaluating apps and other digital tools.
posted by ignignokt at 9:09 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: GURPS is OK tho I prefer D&D. Also if you do D&D you should consider what edition you want to play. I liked 3.5 a lot or just pickup Pathfinder, it's basically D&D 3.5. 4th ed is much more like a miniatures combat driven game, if you want lots of fast fights check out 4th ed.

Savage Lands is an interesting system with flexablilty to be set in just about any setting.

I guess it depends on what kind of game you really want to play. Setting, era, style of play? Do you want to just dungeon crawl and level up, do you want lots of role-playing and story development. There are systems like Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space where the system is specifically designed to encourage talking and thinking and de-emphasize combat.

As for using iOS devices yes there is a lot they can be used for. I try to get all my RPG books now from Drive Thru RPG so I can pull them up as PDFs. Stanza works pretty great and you can save bookmarks to often needed areas. I know plenty of people who use iBooks also.
I use GoodReader for opening up PDF character sheets since I can markup the sheets in there, also I can export them to DropBox to access them on your computer or a group share.
There do exist some character sheet specific apps depending on what system you use. Also various other RPG specific apps like Gamers ToolKit which I tried to use with Savage Lands but was not impressed, maybe it has gotten better.
I tried a demo of iGM at GenCon a couple years ago and it shows promise, but I haven't run as GM in a while so I haven't tried it.

For making maps there is RPG Cartographer which for an $11 app I wish it had a little more intuitive interface. I've wanted to try out Battle Map but for $30 I'd like to know I will defiantly use it first.
I also know plenty of people, myself included who like to use graph paper and mechanical pencils to build maps still. Also I know plenty who just use the wet erase style battlemaps and make it up as they go.
Another option if you or your friends have any of the D&D Board games, or Doom: The Board Game, or Descent: Journeys in the Dark, etc.. those all come with tile for building maps for miniatures and you can use Tile System, a Windows program to make up your DM maps then layout the tiles as you play.

Finally for note taking as a player or GM Tiddly Wiki can be great for making a wiki of adventure notes on the fly. I've been using TiddlyNotes to do this. There are plenty of general note taking apps if you want a more free structure for taking notes. I also like Neu.Notes+ for that.
posted by MrBobaFett at 9:33 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm an admin there and an active member, so I apologize if this is all a bit on the edge of self-promotion but I think the community at RPGGeek.com would be terrific for your group and questions.

A big decision point is whether you want to get back into the D&D you remember, in which case there is a whole genre now called "retro-clones" to consider. Whether you want the most "modern" D&D, in which case there is either Pathfinder or even participating in the playtest of "D&D Next" (version 5) freely downloadable here.

Or, there is an amazing amount of development of newer or different RPG systems, some of which you might find suit your adult lifestyle better. If you want to stick with fantasy, I'm really looking forward to trying out Dungeon World.

And here is a link to the general roleplaying forum where open ended questions like this are embraced.
posted by meinvt at 10:00 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suppose I should jump in again and post a defense of GURPS. Here are some of the advantages:

1. It only uses 6-sided dice. No polyhedrals.
2. Movement is on a hex grid. No arguments about facing, how far someone can move, and so on.
3. The system is much more varied. GURPS has modules covering various sword-and-sorcery things, but there are other modules covering a wide variety of other fictional genres, and they're all compatible. You can have your wizard and warrior suddenly find themselves in a Traveler-style space ship, complete with ray guns and light swords. Or in a 19th century Gothic Horror scenario. Or any of dozens of other situations which D&D doesn't cover.
4. It was designed by Steve Jackson, so playability and comprehensibility are excellent. Much less of a problem with rules lawyering.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:32 AM on January 1, 2013

Before buying anything, you can look at quite a few free game rulesets. There are freely available older versions of published games, free previews and completely free games out there. The only problem is investing the time to locate and read them, but having some idea of what kind of game in what genre you want to play, you can cut down the field a lot. People can give specific advice if you have specific desires. Other than that, I can only recommend searching the web and old MeFi posts with suitable keywords.

I think using online tools such as a wiki or other collaboratively edited documents can be really helpful for going through the boring parts of character creation, fleshing out the game world and back stories and otherwise doing the kind of things you don't want to waste your face-to-face time on doing. It's also a good way to let players keep secrets from each other if that the kind of play style you enjoy. You can think of using these tools to let each player have a bit of one-on-one time with the GM to pursue their own private storylines, without taking the time from the live playing session, which should be the main event of the game & fun for everyone.

Really, though, since pens and paper, plus maybe a rulebook and some dice were enough in the good old days, they should be enough now. Only use fancy things if they really add something.
posted by tykky at 10:44 AM on January 1, 2013

Best answer: Yikes! I am not going to push any particular system. You'd probably best go to your local gaming store, find a clerk who seems fairly knowledgeable, and ask them about the kind of system you might enjoy. They should be able to help you pick one that will work for your group. If most of them have never gamed before, I would recommend something on the simpler end (or, perhaps, something which has rules "modules" which can be added as the players get more used to the rules).

I would generally recommend against buying a lot of software/game aids until you have an idea of what your group wants/needs. You can get your feet wet with a fairly low cash investment; there is no reason to go crazy until you find out what support you need.

Instead, my suggestions would be:

1. Find a system to start (see above)

2. Come up with a few brief adventures that can be played in single sessions. These adventures should show off the various features of the system and give a chance for the players to learn to do what they/you like -- interplayer drama? hack 'n slash? emotional drives/character-generated story hooks? Do the players want to be told a story by the GM or do they want to create a story with the GM? Do they want to solve mysteries, rescue handsome princes, or just beat up Orks and steal their stuff for XP?Generic fantasy is a good place to start, but maybe your players, after a few games will realize they would prefer a modern setting or horror or SF or something different.

2. Create characters you think your players will like (that way they don't have to deal with the complexities of character generation).

3. Run them through the sessions, making sure a) each player has a "starring scene" every session and b) you show off the various parts of the system.

4. At the end of each session, take 10-15 minutes and discuss the session -- what worked? what didn't? What would the players like to see -- are they enjoying the short unlinked adventures or do they want an epic quest? Do they want to react to your story or would they rather set their own goals?

5. After 3 or so sessions like this, decide if you want to stay with that system or try something else. At that point, you want to offer the players a chance to keep the characters they have been using or create their own. By that point, they should have an idea of the kind of things they would like to be able to have their characters do, and you should have a better idea of the kinds of adventures they want.

Good luck!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:52 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nthing Pathfinder. It's by the former publishers of Dragon Magazine (thus the production values are great), and it's based on the same rules as D&D 3.5 (thus the rules are solid too). Their adventures are top notch.

Re: software, see ProFantasy for map-making and Obsidian Portal for an online home base for your campaign.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:37 PM on January 1, 2013

I haven't asked them for help specifically about D&D, but the folks at Dragon's Lair at Fredricksburg and Medical are always super helpful about anything I do ask them about. I'd head over and talk to them about your plans. I bet they can help!
posted by itsamermaid at 2:31 PM on January 1, 2013

I am a big GURPS fan as well, but if you're jumping back in, it might not be the optimum game; I would recommend giving it the once-over. You can download GURPS Lite free from the SJGames website. That, plus the first two Dungeon Fantasy releases, would have you ready to go for well under twenty bucks. If your players are all set on D&D, then as mentioned above, Pathfinder is much close to D&D you probably all remember than the current D&D is.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:34 PM on January 1, 2013

I really like GenjiandProust's advice above.

I don't really GM but I play, and I thought I'd put in a mention for the system our monthly group uses: Labyrinth Lord, which is like 1st gen D&D but open-source, and free as a PDF.

Our GM Alex has an excellent blog about RPGing, including posts on How To Build a Dungeon, this style guide and lots more. I think you might find it useful whichever system you go with.

We have a wiki for tracking the campaign, characters, maps etc. and there are frequently several iPads and smartphones out around the table, though we all have paper character sheets as well. One of the players takes notes as we go so she can add a summary of the action to the wiki afterward.

Alex uses a hex system for the overall map (not dungeon maps, I mean) where one hex = a day's travel. It seems to work well.

Good luck playing and have fun!
posted by daisyk at 2:21 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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