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News from Gen Con: Demo and Domains are Fun, Tavis has New D&D Cred

It comes as no surprise to me that playing with Alex and Ryan is hella fun, but I'm glad that the Gen Con demo is giving other people the opportunity to enjoy the experience! What is a happy surprise is that the domain management rules are so fast and enjoyable in play. My own campaign doesn't have characters as high level as the ones we're using when we play the "King" segments of the demo, so this is my first chance to really see these stages in action. In this as in much else, trusting Alex's instincts and experience has really paid off. 

Last night's session ended with our King-level characters deciding to end their dungeon exploration on a high note and high-tail it out of the dungeon. That's a classic moment I enjoy in any fantasy RPG, especially when - as happened this time - on the way back to civilization and daylight, a yellow mold shows up as a wandering monster and kills the party's thief. (In an ACKS wrinkle I did already know was fun, when our cleric cast restore life and limb, lucky rolls on the thief's part meant the consequence of thus cheating mortality was that he came back with a lingering connection to the other side and can now speak with dead once per week.)

So after we're done dividing up the treasure and calculating XP - more classic moments - we start talking about what we'll spend it on. As I knew from playtesting the format we're using for our demo, using a big wall map to lay out the activities of all the characters, their followers, their follower's followers, and the resources they control like troops and magical laboratories meant we had lots of exciting things to spend our treasure on.

Then Alex goes "OK, with the time it's taken for the thief to recover, it's been a month since the last domain turn." (He'd earlier told me about how the activities of a typical adventure - one week to travel there, one to travel back, two for mortally injured PCs to recover - map onto the assumed monthly interval of domain turns, and it was nice to see this confirmed in practice.) 

Some things that were especially fun about this:

- The basic mechanic - roll 2d6 for your domain's morale check and add Charisma modifier to see what the mood of the area you rule is and how this affects its growth makes for a fast and flavorful mini-game.

- The decisions players make are also clear, consequential, and evocative; referencing another successful check earlier in the night, one ruler decided to start an annual festival in which the populace would be entertained by the dancing of the bugbears who had sworn themselves to the service of one of its priests

- The mechanics of calculating the growth in the domain's families and the resulting income/expenses/profit were handled really quickly at the table. Doing all this took as much time as divvying up the coins from the dungeon. And the design feature where PCs only gain experience if the profit from their domain exceeds a level-based threshhold is genius because it incentivizes players to conquer larger domains as they grow, and explains why NPC vassals who can't expand their fiefs don't automatically use XP-from-GP to grow powerful enough to challenge their lord in single combat.

In other news from Gen Con: a book to which I contributed a sizable chunk of game design, Mordenkainen's Magnificient Emporium,  is back on the Wizards of the Coast release schedule for Sept. 20th, 2011. When the cancellation of this title was announced I resigned myself to never having my name on the cover of a Dungeons & Dragons book; it was hard not to hug the player who told me it was going to come out after all at the demo last night. I did my writing for Mordenkainen's last summer, and although the pre-press copies of ACKS look beautiful I think it will still beat the final release into stores.

- Tavis