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Happy Birthday to Me

This year for my birthday I received the dearest gift I have ever received — my brothers Max and Christian and my good friends Dan and Isabelle drove up from NY to stay at my place and play a 3-day marathon D&D game.  In fact it’s the same gift I’ve gotten for the past four years running, and I couldn’t dream of anything better.  I invite some local gamer friends to pop in for an hour or an afternoon or a day, whatever they have time for, and we punctuate the gaming with some good meals and the odd dip in the pool.

Dan DMed for us a very difficult dungeon, and I think I was the only one to make it through the whole weekend with the same character.  My brother Max and I were the sole survivors of last night’s climactic encounter.  Our little party of 3 4th level characters and 3 1st level henchman managed to get themselves in way over their heads at a Temple of Orcus, facing off against a 12th level priest, a half-dozen 6th level priests, a type II demon, and a flesh golem.  By all rights it should have been a very quick TPK, but on the second round my invisible wizard managed to slide near the high priest and cast a simple Charm Person spell on him.  Despite his +15 bonus to resist, he rolled a 1.  Thus the high priest of Orcus was more than happy to call off his minions, pile his treasure up outside the temple, and wait for us to return to hatch the next stage of our amazing evil plot (spoiler: there is no evil plot, we took all the loot we could carry and high-tailed it.)

We returned to town to sell off all the treasure.  We found we were in possession of a particularly nasty evil artifact made of solid gold.  Max wanted to sell it at full value to the shady fellow at the bar and his unknown “master”.  I argued that half-value was fine if we just melted it down and sold it for the value of the gold.  With only two of us left we were at an impasse.  Finally I said “let’s dice for it!” and what gamer can resist that?

We both snatched up dice and shook our fists over the table.  We looked each other resolutely in the eye, and let the dice drop, clattering mere inches apart on the tabletop.  I won handily — 13 vs 3.  Of course, it helped that while Max had chosen a d6, I had rolled a d20.

Tears streaming down our faces from fits of uncontrollable laughter, I managed to convince Max to let it lie.  We agreed to dice for it without specifying the die type, and it was his poor strategic choice to go for a d6.  As a consolation prize I gave him a trading card I got a few years back at TotalCon, depicting and signed by Mr. Tim Kask, the epithet on the card reads “Never bring a d4 to a sword fight.”

Apologies to Origins Players

As I’m posting here again, in the off chance that anyone who attended Origins a couple weeks ago and signed up for my games reads this, you have my most sincere apologies.  Due to a truly horrible experience at Logan Airport I never made it out of Boston and missed the convention entirely.  As bummed out as I am about that, I really hate being the no-show GM.  I did what I could to notify the convention to cancel my games, but I know how these things work, and I imagine some number of players arrived at my table for each game wondering where I was.

So, my sincerest apologies to those gamers.  I hope you’ll give me a second chance if you see me running games at a future convention.

New Game

I’ve joined a new gaming group and it’s quite a different experience for me.  I’m very used to being either the GM, the group organizer, or most often both.  In this game I am neither, I was invited into an existing group and was glad for the invite.  It’s a little different of a game from what I’m used to as well, we’re using the system DemonWars: Reformation based on the novels by R. A. Salvatore and developed by him and his two sons.  It’s definitely not my typical type of game, but I’m having a great time with it, mostly due to it being a great group of players.  Last night we had a near TPK, only one person made it out alive.  Clearly I’m with the right group.

I will post more details as the game progresses.  For now I just wanted to break the ice on never posting and introduce what I’m sure I’ll be spending more time discussing in the future.

Road of Kings now Free on Android

Road of Kings was removed from both Google Play Games and iTunes back at the end of 2014.  I still to this day get the occasional message from a fan wondering what happened to the game.  It’s especially bad for fans who bought the game, but since have upgraded their device or for some other reason can no longer recover the game from iTunes or Google Play.  Sadly that end of it is out of my hands, how those two markets deal with legacy games is entirely up to them.

But what I can do is now that some time has passed, I can put together an official, totally free, off the market version of the game.  Unfortunately Apple does not allow for any reasonable way for me to distribute such a game to players short of paying $100/year to maintain an account on their distribution channel.  Fortunately Android is far easier to deal with, so I present to you, totally free of charge, Road of Kings 1.3:

Download Road of Kings 1.3 for Android

Enjoy, redistribute, do what you like.  I’m just happy to see people play the game again.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Wizards of the Coast has once again firmly cemented for me the idea that I am not their target audience.  An article showed up today on Polygon titled “Dungeons and Dragons is changing how it makes books“.  Man, with an opener like that, it’s really hard not get super cynical on this.  And that’s reinforced with quotes like this one:

“I have this kind of personal philosophy for managing the product line,” Mearls said last month in Renton, Washington. “I don’t want to duplicate any product that’s come before. I think that if people have seen it, then it’s not really new and it’s not really exciting.”

Really?  And you’re doing that by making a book that has more narrative fiction in it and titling it “Volo’s Guide…”  Because we’ve never seen anything like that before.  Sigh.

But I’m trying not to be too negative on this, because honestly this book simply underscores what I’ve known for a long time, that I’m simply not their target audience anymore.  So who is it for, who wants 14 pages just on the beholder?  The answer I think must be people who are buying these books for the nostalgic factor alone, but don’t actually ever get to play the game.  Reading game manuals as a hobby in and of itself is definitely a thing.  Who am I to poo-poo that?

Honestly, I think my only problem is that D&D is still niche enough that friends and relatives will send me links to articles like this.  “Hey, you’re into Dungeons and Dragons, right?”  How can I explain to them that this is definitely not what I’m into?  The only arguments I can give are along the lines of “this is not Dungeons and Dragons” or “I’m only into early Dungeons and Dragons”, both of which really make me feel like a serious RPG hipster.  I wish Wizards would do me the favor of rebranding their product to stop the confusion, but obviously that makes zero fiscal sense for them.

I suppose ultimately what this means is that I really should just stop posting about stuff like this, as it’s basically not relevant to this blog.  In other news, Nike released their new Foamposite One sneakers today.

D&D Radio Show

A really nice find over at Playing at the World, I had no idea this existed.

The D&D Radio Show Pilot

EDIT: Just finished listening to it.  Really it’s highlights punctuated by analysis from Jon Peterson, which actually makes it even more interesting in my mind.  That said, the actual action of the radio show is about the best presentation of D&D play of anything from the era in my opinion.  It’s a shame it didn’t catch on, and instead we ended up with stuff like the D&D cartoon and a terrible series of movies.

Experimenting with OED

At a recent gathering Delta and I were discussing rulings we’ve used in how we run D&D, and laughing about how similar our play styles have become.  Someone asked “What is the difference between your games?” to which I answered “They only differ in which book we each keep behind the screen.”

That’s basically accurate.  Though Delta began with the three LBBs of white box, or original edition, or whatever you want to call that first version of D&D that is only actually labeled “Dungeons and Dragons”, and I began with what is called red-book or B/X or Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D, we’ve both house-ruled our games into pretty similar beasts.  And I suppose that’s not surprising given the fact that we play together regularly and often discuss our house rules in detail with each other, and have the same basic goals in mind of what makes good D&D.

But it’s not really true at all, there are some rather big places where we differ.  Delta has streamlined saving throws and thief skills in a way I have not.  Delta has demi-human level limits, whereas I charge extra XP for demi-humans to level and reserve level limits for multi-class characters only.  We both do not use 0 hp is dead, but have come up with different death-mitigation techniques.  And of course Delta does not have clerics.

To be honest, I find the no-clerics idea really fascinating.  If I were to eliminate a class my first choice would actually be thieves, as it fits with the original book (thieves were not introduced until supplement I), and I dislike their tendencies towards a skill system.  My favorite anecdote on thieves is the OD&D DM who told a player disappointed to find there were no thieves “if you want to be a thief, then steal something.”  Still, Delta makes an excellent point that the class simply does not jibe with the source inspiration material.  Search your Leiber, Vance, Howard, de Camp, heck even your Tolkien, and find me an example of a holy warrior with divine healing magic.  Oh sure, there are plenty of evil cults lead by dark priests with powers granted by evil gods, but by and large heroes do not go in for that sort of thing.

The other rule that Delta uses that really struck me as pretty cool recently is that magic-users can only memorize one copy of any given spell.  Now that’s not in any version of D&D either of us are familiar with, but it does fit the source fiction pretty darn well.  And frankly, I love what it does to play.  Each spell becomes unique and interesting.  Suddenly there’s a reason to examine the full spell list instead of just packing in a full array of magic missiles and fireballs.  It also kind of adds a neat aspect to magic wands.  Sure, your level 10 wizard is pretty impressive with his 10-dice fireball, but he can only do it the once.  Having a wand that shoots 6-dice fireballs by comparison feels pretty weak, but when you can shoot a dozen in a day, now it’s looking pretty sweet.

OK, 500 words in and I’m only just getting to my point.  Sorry everyone.  The deadline for game submissions to Carnage on the Mountain is looming, and I’ve been thinking about what to run.  I like running a lighter faster game in the Sunday late morning slot, as I don’t like Sunday being a wash, but I also know I’ll be burnt out by then and so will my players.  A quick easy dungeon crawl is kind of perfect for that time.  But every game is an experiment, so what can I do that is interesting?  Hm, perhaps I should try running it by the book — by Delta’s book that is.

In the past I’ve avoided taking on too much of Delta’s stuff because my games have been rooted in a consistent world since I started running them in 2010.  I’ve made changes here and there, but generally leaned towards not completely disrupting the continuity.  But convention games are a perfect environment for experimentation, so perhaps this is a good chance.  I don’t expect this will change how I run games regularly, but it may cement some ideas (like the 1-each spell idea) that I kind of like but am not totally sure I want to commit to just yet.

So let’s take a look at spells.  In fact, both Delta and I have written up little spell books that we use during play, though mine are really just for convenience while Delta’s are a serious project which you can find on Lulu.  I was curious though to compare our spell lists, and see where they differ.

Spells in B/X Missing in OED:

  • Cure Light Wounds
  • Floating Disc
  • Purify Food and Water
  • Remove Fear
  • Resist Cold
  • Ventriloquism
  • Know Alignment
  • Resist Fire
  • Silence 15′ Radius
  • Snake Charm
  • Speak with Animals
  • Cure Disease
  • Speak with Dead
  • Striking
  • Create Water
  • Cure Serious Wounds
  • Massmorph
  • Neutralize Poison
  • Speak with Plants
  • Sticks to Snakes
  • Commune
  • Create Food
  • Dispel Evil
  • Insect Plague
  • Quest
  • Raise Dead
  • Part Water

Not a lot of surprises here, as they’re mostly off the cleric list.  The cure spells (wounds, disease, poison) are not surprising and Delta compensates for this by making potions of such readily available.  There are a fair number of spells like resist fire/cold, create/purify food/water, and know alignment that feel fitting for a cleric but honestly I can’t say I feel like I’ve seen used a lot in game.  Also there are a few spells that feel redundant with other spells — commune is just a better version of contact higher plane,  quest is just like geas, and raise dead can be replaced with the magic-user reincarnate spell.  There are also oddly a couple magic-user spells that fit that same bill for me.  Massmorph just feels like a crappier version of invisibility 10′ radius.  Sure it can hide a lot more people, but they can’t really move.  Likewise, why do I need part water when I have lower water?

I’m surprised at there being no floating disc — that feels like a classic to me.  Ventriloquism I could live without.  Striking is a cool spell, and would be easy to translate into a magic-user spell.  Being able to temporarily make a normal weapon magical is pretty sweet.  And though I’ve really gimped the silence spell, I still find it to be a very useful spell that my players quite like to use.  Also I love the speak spells, even to the point of retrofitting speak with dead (B/X has plants and animals but not dead).

Spells in OED missing in B/X:

  • Magic Mouth
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Strength
  • Clairaudience
  • Rope Trick
  • Slow
  • Suggestion
  • Extend Spell
  • Ice Storm
  • Wall of Iron
  • Legend Lore

OK, a shorter list here.  Magic mouth always struck me as a weird spell.  It’s kind of cool, but I found used chiefly by NPCs whose dungeon you are exploring, rather than by actual players.  Do you really need an official spell for that?  I mean, there’s no explanation for any of the other random magical effects we love to litter the dungeon with.

Pyrotechnics, eh, no strong feelings.  Clairaudience is cool but slightly less good than clairvoyance.  Slow I could live without as I’d always rather haste myself than slow my enemy.  Rope trick I find to be a weird one.  It seems awful high level for something that just helps you climb somewhere and gives you a temporary hiding spot.  Though I did see it put to good use recently in conjunction with an extend spell to have a safe place to sleep the night, I almost wonder if a day shouldn’t just be its normal duration.  Suggestion I likewise am not impressed with – it feels to me like a weirdly vaguer version of charm person.  Legend Lore is a neat spell, though I’ve not seen it used very much, and it feels just a little less flavorful than contact higher plane.

OK, Strength is a great spell that we use all the time and is very notably lacking in B/X.  Extend Spell is also a very cool tool for the inventive caster.  Ice Storm nicely completes the missing damage type started by fireball and lightning bolt.  Finally wall of iron I like just for the idea of a spell that can actually create a permanent object.

So, when all is said and done, I can’t say there’s anything on those lists that feel like major deal breakers for me.  There are some spells I will be very interested to see introduced into my game, and a couple that I will be sad to not see as an option, but it feels more or less like an even trade.

Perhaps I’ll spend some time analyzing other elements of OED vs BX in a future post.  As of right now, I am feeling somewhat intrigued at the idea of running a pure OED game just to see what works for me and what doesn’t.

 

Monstrous Experience

I started in on my Monster Card project just to see how hard it was going to be.  I created a template in Libre Office, agonized over fonts, and searched the web for some place-holder artwork.  My thought was, let me create one card as a prototype, and then see how difficult it will be to fill in the rest from there.

I knew the text description would be an interesting challenge.  Dan had mentioned that most of this stuff was probably open gaming license, but I assume that does not extend to simply copy and pasting text right out of the Monster Manual.  That text is probably too long anyway, I can tell just from the existing cards that some heavy editing was done to make this fit on a 3×5 card.  I eventually decided as a start to just borrow the text from Labyrinth Lord, as it’s in the correct vein, is clearly open game content, and is available digitally for ease of copy and paste.  Even then I knew I’d still likely have to edit down, but it’s a start.

The next road block though is really something I was not expecting: stats.  I figured this would be an obvious straight copy from MM to card.  And for the most part it was, until I got to the entry “L/XP”.  What the heck is that?  The one bit of explanation text I get is on the back of the title card:

Monster Level / Experience Point value.  *Average value only, see DMG p.85.

OK, so I whip out my DMG and open to page 85.  Sure enough, there’s a chart there for XP value based on HD and special abilities.  The “level” bit is not there, so I dig through some existing cards and based on the fact that it’s shown as a roman numeral, I’m guessing that it has to do with what dungeon level on the wandering monster chart the monster appears on.  Where are those printed?  They’re not in the Monster Manual, maybe they are here in the DMG, but I’m not finding them.  Then I remember, didn’t they put a bunch of combined tables in the back of the Monster Manual 2?  So I get out that book.

Sure enough, there are the wandering monster charts in the back.  Great.  Oh, huh, this is interesting, that L/XP stat is here in the block for every monster in MM2, though again the intro text just vaguely refers me to the DMG (doesn’t even give me a page number this time).  Weird, why doesn’t this stat exist in MM1?  Suddenly, I realize that the use of this stat on these monster cards must be their first actual use case.  How do I know that?

Well, when making my template earlier I noticed that in the bottom right corner of each card is an indicator of where the monster came from.  For example, the Ankheg card says “MM 6” in the bottom right corner – Monster Manual page 6.  Almost all the cards in fact have the “MM” indicator, with a few interesting outliers.  The Nycadaemon stands out as being the one and only card with an “FF” indicator.  Why did they take one and only one thing from the Fiend Folio?  I have no idea.  The only other indicator is NEW, and it includes:

  1. Galeb Duhr
  2. Grippli
  3. Hybsil
  4. Korred
  5. Land Urchin
  6. Lycanthrope, Seawolf
  7. Mihstu
  8. Obliviax
  9. Thri-kreen
  10. Tunnel Worm
  11. Wemmic
  12. Zorbo

In fact, the front title card that came with each set, which BTW was about all that was visible in the original packaging (I recall they came in kind of flimsy clear plastic boxes that always eventually got crushed), says on it:

Monster Cards combine full-color illustrations with vital information on 20 AD&D™ monsters, including 3 totally new creatures, in handy 3″ x 5″ cards.

Fascinating.  The inclusion of new unprinted monsters in each set appears to have been a marketing ploy.  And not surprisingly the above list includes just about every monster in the collection that I’ve always found to be a very strange choice.  Also note, almost all of those creatures were then included in Monster Manual 2.  Here’s acaeum.com to the rescue with the full details:

These “new” creatures were then incorporated into the Monster Manual II published in 1983 — presumably because the decision to abandon the Monster Cards line had been made during the new hardcover’s compilation (thanks to Ed Jendek for this info).

As an aside, while researching for this post another interesting bit of info comes from the wikipedia entry on the Monster Cards:

A second group of four sets was tentatively scheduled for release in 1983, according to Harold Johnson, and those sets would have included several monsters from the Fiend Folio book.

OK, so, I’m really flying off on a tangent now.  How did I get here?  Oh yeah, L/XP.  So, trying to figure out how the values were reached is pretty difficult, since this stat is not included in any text for monsters that came out of MM1.  There’s this reference to DMG p. 85, but that chart is super subjective.  How do I draw the line between a special ability and an exceptional ability?  Perhaps I can examine some MM2 creatures and see if I can reverse engineer the rules?

Let’s consider our old pal the troll. Probably a poor choice, given Dan’s own research into what an outlier he is in XP calculations.  Still, we have an interesting point of comparison: the MM2 includes the Marine Troll (Scrag), which should be pretty similar.

So, given the 6+ HD of the troll, and let’s assume his regeneration ability is “exceptional”, I guess that puts him at 400 + 8/hp XP.  Hm, that’s exactly the same number as the freshwater scrag.  Surely the scrag should get a little extra for it’s ability to breathe underwater?  Though maybe that’s offset by his regeneration being limited to when he is in water?  (Side note: huh, nothing in the scrag’s listing actually says he can breathe underwater.)  And wait a minute, the freshwater scrag has 5+5 HD, how does that work?  Even if we assume the special abilities somehow compensate to bring up the base value to 400, the per-hp value, at least according to the DMG chart, should be directly tied to HD and not modified.  So how the heck does he get +8/hp instead of +6/hp?

I jumped then to examining the Bugbear (don’t ask why).  His L/XP value on the card is “III/135 + 4/hp”.  OK, 4/hp does line up with his 3+ HD line on the chart.  But how do we get to 135 base value?  Base value on the chart is 60.  Hm, the extra surprise could be an exceptional ability for +65.  That gets us to 125, still 10 short.  Um, if he had two special abilities instead of one exceptional that would be +50…  Nope, nothing I’m doing here is getting me a total of 135.  Where the heck did they pull that number from?

Sigh, this is really discouraging.  And all for a number that frankly I never even noticed existed on these cards even from when I first bought them back in the 80’s.  My urge to be true to the original format is strongly fighting against my knowledge that I would never use this particular stat in my own games.  What should I do?

Monster Cards

This weekend Delta came up and gave me the best birthday gift I can ever ask for – a weekend of D&D with my brothers and friends.  We played G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, which Delta ran for us a couple of HelgaCons ago and we failed miserably at.  I think we saw all of 2 rooms and ended the game in a TPK.  With more time on our hands we hoped to do better this time.

As Dan set up his material he discovered I had left nearby my copy of the AD&D Monster Cards, and started flipping through them to see what might be useful.  On getting to the Giants section he discovered the Hill Giants, Frost Giants, and Stone Giants, but no Fire Giants.  In fact, we weren’t surprised, both Delta and I have complained in the past of the odd choices in the composition of this set of cards.

monster_cards

At first blush the cards seem really useful – a nice full color picture on the front so you can show your players what the thing looks like, and all the pertinent stats on the back.  What a great idea.  But who picked these monsters?  Goblins and bugbears are here, but no orcs or ogres.  We get the Luecrotta and the Mihstu, but no troll or owlbear?  What the heck?

So I said to Dan, “we just need to make set 5 that fills in all the weird gaps.”  It seemed like such an obvious idea.  I grabbed my Monster Manual and the list of what’s in the cards and started my own list of what was missing.  I was looking for anything that really shocked me that it wasn’t included.  I skipped the weird stuff I tend not to use, and tried to limit myself to just what felt like “classic D&D” and/or that I use myself a lot.  Sure, this is pretty subjective, and of course I’m in terrible danger in doing just what the original authors did: leave out something someone else would feel is obvious.  But it’s a start.  So here’s my list of the cards I’d like to add:

  1. Chimera
  2. Dragon, Brass
  3. Dragon, Bronze
  4. Dragon, Copper
  5. Dragon, Blue
  6. Dragon, Green
  7. Dragon, White
  8. Elemental, Air
  9. Elemental, Earth
  10. Elemental, Fire
  11. Elemental, Water
  12. Gargoyle
  13. Giant, Fire
  14. Golem, Clay
  15. Golem, Flesh
  16. Golem, Iron
  17. Griffon
  18. Green Slime
  19. Hobgoblin
  20. Lich
  21. Lycanthrope, Were-bear
  22. Lycanthrope, Were-boar
  23. Lycanthrope, Were-rat
  24. Manticore
  25. Minotaur
  26. Men, Bandit
  27. Men, Buccaneer
  28. Ogre
  29. Orc
  30. Owlbear
  31. Pegasus
  32. Piercer
  33. Purple Worm
  34. Roc
  35. Skeleton
  36. Stirge
  37. Spider, Giant
  38. Toad, Giant
  39. Troll
  40. Unicorn
  41. Wyvern
  42. Wight
  43. Wraith
  44. Zombie

The two that gave us pause were Dragon and Men.  Do we really need all the varieties of good dragons?  I honestly never used them, but the original set of cards has two good and two evil, so it seems like we should complete the set.  And what about Men?  There are a ton of sub-types of men in the Monster Manual.  It seems crazy to not have any, I mean, players are always being beset by bandits, right?  But do I also need Berserkers?  Merchants?  Pilgrims?  Dan suggested the two I listed (Bandit and Buccaneer) as the most useful, so we limited the list to just those.

Looks like we need more than just one extra set.  In fact, the original sets were 20 cards, so I kind of feel like I want to trim out 4 entries so we can do sets 5 and 6 and follow the original pattern.  Once we have a list I’m sure I can dig up the right font and lay out the cards, but then I’ll need to find some artwork.  Do I just swipe scans from the internet or my books and make this a personal pet project?  I wouldn’t mind making this publicly available to the world, but then I need artists.  We could put the call out for submissions, but I don’t know if between Dan and I we have the pull to get 40 pieces of unique art.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Tell me what you think I missed that should really be on the list.  Or what you think is most prime for cutting it down to 40.  Once I have the list of cards I’m sure I can figure it out.

Picking Characters

Selecting pre-gen characters is a bit tricky, especially in games like Cthulhu.  For D&D I usually bring at least twice the number of characters required, so there’s always a nice stack to choose from and even the last person at the table gets a good number of options.  For Cthulhu though, usually you’ve got exactly enough characters, and they may even have some secret info attached to the sheet that should only be read by the person who’s actually going to play that character.  I’ve both GMed and played games where the GM describes the characters, then leaves it up to the players to figure out how to divvy them up.  This never goes well.  Usually it starts with an awkward silent hesitation, with everyone wondering who will lead the group into some magical equitable system of selecting characters.  Finally someone grabs the bull by the horns and just says “I really want to play X” and grabs up the sheet.  Then it’s a free-for-all, and polite players are rewarded with having to just play whatever is left over at the end.

I saw two things at Origins at two different games, both of which I think I’d like to steal for my next Cthulhu game.  The first is kind of minor – the GM of my first Cthulhu game began by putting out little name tents for each character that listed just the name of the character and their profession, then said “OK, select your characters.”  Name tents are a pretty common practice, often done on the fly with whatever scrap paper is lying around.  I like that the GM pre-made them, as they were of good quality: printed on stiff paper that did not droop and using a nice big legible font.  But also I thought it was clever to have players select based on this minimal information, and not deal with character sheets until all characters had been assigned using just the tents.

The second one occurred in our Star Trek themed game.  After listing off which characters were available, the GM told us all to roll percentile dice.  He then gave first pick to the highest roll, and choice then passed down the line from there.  Rolling dice to determine choice priority is not a particularly novel idea, but I liked that the GM just instituted it immediately.  There was no discussion, no hesitation, he just said this is the way we’re doing it and off we went.  It’s a reasonably fair way of handling things, and having the GM who is basically in charge anyway dictate it meant there was no dissension and the whole thing proceeded quickly and efficiently.

So I think I’d like to institute both of these at my next game.  I will pre-print some nice character name tents, put them out on the table for everyone to see, then demand they roll dice and have them choose from the tents in the order they rolled.  Nothing really revolutionary here, just a couple solid ideas that I think will remove all awkwardness and delay from this first step of the game.