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Dungeon's Master
Spotlight Interview
Bart Carroll

It's true—as much material as we can host on the D&D website, there's still no end to the glorious amount of advice, tips, tricks, house rules, and fan creations posted on other sites and blogs. Among this network, Dungeon' states that "The team at Dungeon’s Master comes from diverse background, yet share a passion for their favorite RPG -- Dungeons & Dragons."

In an effort to help showcase D&D's community of sites and blogs, we wanted to ask the Dungeon' team about their site. Ameron and Wimwick share their experiences playing, DMing, converting to 4th Edition -- and blogging about it all.

Wizards of the Coast: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about Dungeon' As you state on your site, you share a passion for Dungeons & Dragons. How did you get your start in D&D?

Ameron: My first exposure to D&D was in 1985. My cousins saw how much I enjoyed the Marvel Super Heroes RPG and suggested I try AD&D. I loved it. But as an 11-year-old with limited resources I couldn’t afford to purchase the books. That meant I only got to play on those rare occasions when I visited my cousins.

Three years later I scored a secondhand PHB, DMG and MM (which I’m proud to admit I still own). Around the same time I lucked out and found a group of kids who played AD&D at lunch in the school’s guidance office and they gladly welcomed me into their gaming group. I still remember my first game with them.

They were already a few sessions into the now-classic adventure, Keep on the Borderlands and had just entered the Caves of Chaos. The DM suggested I turn one of the NPC henchmen into my own PC. I ended up with a Fighter armed with a spear.

Although I now owned my own books, I was a bit rusty on all of the rules. The last time I had played was almost a year earlier when visiting my cousins. When my turn came up during the first encounter I asked what my options were. Someone suggested that I throw my spear at the monster, which sounded good to me. I threw and missed. On my next turn I realized I didn’t have a back-up weapon and I spent the rest of the encounter trying not to die.

Although I managed to live though the combat, the encounter left me frustrated and angry. I was angry at the guy who suggested I throw my only weapon and frustrated with myself for lacking the foresight to realize the consequences of taking that action.

As we approached the next room, the same guy who suggested I throw my spear suggested I take point. I refused. So another PC opened the door and the party rushed inside without me. The room was an unguarded armory filled with gear and even a few magic items. While I sulked in the hallway the rest of the party looted the room. I was left to pick through the stuff nobody else wanted.

I learned two valuable D&D lessons that day. 1) You control your own character. Regardless of what others may suggest, the final decision to act (or not) is yours alone. Once you make a decisions, be prepared to live with the consequences. 2) Fighters should wield swords, not spears. Spears suck! I refused to play a PC armed with a spear ever again, and to this day I haven’t.

Wimwick: I was introduced to the game through the SSI AD&D computer game Pools of Radiance. I was hooked on the game and wanted to learn more about its origins. That led me to purchase the D&D red boxed set. The rest as they say is history.

A recent encounter or perhaps even character that's memorable is Ethan, my Rogue from the campaign we've just put on hiatus. I came up with Ethan’s character concept while spending many nights awake with my newborn son. It was during the Beijing Summer Olympics and I was watching a lot of gymnastics. That became the central theme for this character: he was very athletic and aspired to be a professional athlete (unfortunately his adventuring career sidetracked that ambition). Whether diving headlong into a pit with a monstrous aberrant at the bottom and only a rope secured to his waist, or jumping from the crow's nest of an airship under attack, physical exploits became his signature. As Ethan advanced he became somewhat reckless, and as a player I enjoyed pushing the limits of how far I could fall before taking significant damage. The character performed some stunts that defined how he was played and Ethan ranks amongst my most memorable characters.

Wizards of the Coast: As a gaming group, you've been playing together for upwards of 20 years. What edition did you start with, and how did you undertake the transition to 4th Edition (and how did you feel when you got there)?

Wimwick: This is a very close-knit group that has indeed played together a long time. Most of our friendships pre-date our discovery of D&D and RPGs. Ameron and I first met in grade school, around grade 2 or 3. I'm not sure if we are unique in that regard or not, but it's great to gather weekly with long-time friends and enjoy a hobby together.

As I mentioned earlier, I got started with the red boxed set. I can remember purchasing the Expert and Advanced Rule Sets and marveled at how those early editions allowed the game to grow. Although I only played those early editions for a short time, they certainly stirred my imagination.

Our transition to 4th Edition was organic and natural. We purchased the new core rule books as soon as they came out and gave 4E a try. We really enjoyed the experience. While I like previous editions of D&D, I've always felt that each new edition adds something to the game. There's nothing inherently wrong with previous editions, but as the hobby continues to grow and technology along with it, new opportunities present themselves. I'm always interested in trying something new.

Wizards of the Coast: What can you tell us about the current campaign you're running or playing in?

Wimwick: We recently rebooted a 3.5 Edition game that Ameron was DMing. We've taken the characters and upgraded them to 4th Edition to mirror the flavour of the original characters as closely as possible. The delay in returning to this campaign was actually deliberate since one PC is an Artificer and three are Bards. We knew that the Artificer and Bard would eventually be released for 4E, so we decided to postpone the campaign until they were available.

Updating the PCs was an interesting process; trying to blend attack style, skills and spells that the PCs had in the earlier edition with powers, skill and rituals from 4E was a challenge. All of us strived to keep true to the original idea for our characters. As one of the Bards, I'm pleased with the end result. I actually feel that 4th Edition allowed me to create a character closer to my original background story due to the Bard multi-class versatility in 4E.

Ameron: Our most recent long-term campaign just ended. We started as level 1 PCs when 4th Edition first came out and stopped as the PCs hit paragon tier. I played Delian the Paladin and Wimwick played Ethan the Rogue. You can check out our Rise of the Phoenix campaign blog if you’re interested in finding out more about our entire party and our adventures through the heroic tier.

Our next campaign has me taking on the DM responsibility. We returned to familiar characters and a story that’s been on hold since 3.5. Creating 4E versions of our old characters while keeping the flavour of the 3.5 versions has been quite challenging. What’s even more interesting is that initial transition has the party made up of four leaders (three Bards and an Artificer). We’ll see how that party dynamic works.

The new campaign, called The Dragon’s Tooth, focuses heavily on role-playing and skills. Normally we see one skill challenge for every two or three combat encounters, but for this campaign we’re likely to see only one combat encounter for every three or four skill challenges.

This atypically approach to D&D will likely hold many unexpected surprises. I look forward to sharing whatever I learn, good or bad, with our readers at Dungeon’s Master. I know Wimwick’s expressed a similar desire to cover our campaign from the players' perspective.

Wizards of the Coast: About the blog itself. Why did you start Dungeon'—what were you originally looking to get out of it (has this since changed over time), and what sort of material were you (and are you) looking to create on the site? Is it a blog with the DM in mind (considering the name) or for D&D fans in general?

Ameron / Wimwick: After playing 4th Edition D&D for a couple of months we wanted more information and detail about certain aspects of the new system. In some cases Wizards of the Coast announced that the upcoming supplements would give us what we sought, but in other cases we didn’t see anyone addressing our needs. In our opinion, the most noticeable void was around the new mechanic of skill challenges.

Traditionally we’d looked to Dragon Magazine to give us new material and answer our questions. The only problem was that it’s a monthly publication. We wanted more and we wanted it immediately, so we turned to the Internet. There are a lot of great D&D blogs out there, but none of them had the information we wanted.

We figured that if we had questions then so did other gamers. So we started brainstorming and made a list of all the things we wanted that no one else (including Wizards of the Coast) seemed to offer. It started with skill challenges and skill aides, but the list kept growing. It was then we realized it was time to step up and do something about it. A blog was the perfect forum for us to share our knowledge and share new ideas about D&D with other gamers. It was also a way for us to become part of the vast online gaming community.

Our overall goal with Dungeon’s Master is to provide articles that both the DM and player will find useful. However, it's hard to deny that most of our material has been geared towards DMs.

Skill challenges are a big passion for us. There is a lot of information available from Wizards of the Coast on creating combat challenges, but there significantly less on skill challenges. One of the most common things we’ve read is that people don't "get" skill challenges or that they’ve tried them and didn’t like them. One of our objectives moving forward is to continue to explore interesting ways to incorporate skill challenges into the game.

Wizards of the Coast: Here we are after the holidays and you've run your Greatest Hits of 2009, covering everything from necromancers, psionics, and dungeons vs. skill challenges. Have you ever tried any house rules that didn't quite work as intended (for better or for worse)?

Ameron / Wimwick: Our preference is to use the rules as written wherever possible. But we’re always exploring the boundaries. We’re curious about how small adjustments to the rules may actually improve some situations. We strive to better understand why a rule is there and then know how best to tweak it when necessary, rather than just blindly follow every rule as written.

One of our earliest articles, Adjudicating and House Rules, allowed us to share our thoughts and ideas about what to do when the rules as written don’t seem to work. More often than not we do end up following what’s in the books. We know that the game undergoes rigorous playtesting so we have to trust that the rules are correct. Following the rules also keeps us on common footing with our readers when we provide resources or share our ideas.

Wizards of the Coast: Speaking of the holidays, you recently chose the winning entry for the Holiday Dungeon Contest. For those not familiar, what was the contest and what dungeon encounter did you select?

Ameron / Wimwick: The aim of the contest was to create a holiday themed encounter. Our winning entry was created by Corwin Riddle and was entitled Krangel's Workshop. We really enjoyed how Corwin took the classic story of the Grinch and applied a D&D template to it.

Wizards of the Coast: Finally, in May of last year you posted 100 great things about D&D in honor of your 100th blog post. Here we are in 2010—what sort of posts can we expect in the future from Dungeon'

Ameron / Wimwick: Moving forward we'll certainly continue to focus on skill challenges. We’ll still provide template challenges that can be used by DMs, but we’re going to run more articles on how to incorporate challenges into the game. Without saying too much we're really looking to expand the way skill challenges can be used in any given campaign.

We’re also very open to the ideas and suggestions provided by our readers, so keep sending us your feedback and posting your comments every day. As Wizards of the Coast steers D&D in different directions we’ll continue to follow their lead and keep our material relevant to what’s new.

We want to create an archive of great D&D resources that any DM or player can use for years to come. As 4th Edition continues to grow, we plan to grow with it.

About the Author

A handsome head and torso sit atop Bart's snakey trunk. This author has no legs, but travels in a snakelike mode along the ground. He has huge bat wings. His tail is barbed and drips poison. Bart's arms are strong and hairy, ending in paw-like hands.

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