Monthly Archives: October 2010

Unboxing the D&D Essentials “Red Box”

So I’ve done a couple book reports before. It’s something I’ve meant to do a lot more of, just to keep this site interesting. I read enough books, I may as well do something useful and sharing with that fact.

So anyway, speaking of useful and sharing, I recently was overcome by a fit of marketing induced nostalgia and purchased the new D&D 4th Edition Essentials “Red Box”. The D&D Red Box is something that’s about as sacred to a gamer of my generation that you can get. Way back in “nineteen dickety-doo” I was a young lad of about 12, and I had spent a lot of time staring at the AD&D books during my many trips to the bookstore with Pop. Not even knowing exactly what it was I decided to get into it, if nothing else because it looked so cool and was about swords and stuff.

The original D&D Red Box was a gateway into the game, but it was more than just a gateway. It was a game you could actually play. It supported levels 1-4 (if I remember correctly), which is a good long while of game play if you do it right. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

So I was pretty excited about getting a new Red Box. I have been fairly disappointed with the Fourth Edition (4E), but the Essentials line is touted as a return to basics, to the original “feel” of the old game. The box itself and the Elmore art on the front and the promotional posters at the gaming stores directly target that nostalgia, and what I was expecting was the feel of the old game, enhanced by the packaging of the old game, along with 4E rules, and 4E rules that had been “fixed” to help create that role-playing feel of ye olde tymes, as opposed to a very limited miniatures combat game.

Let us relive my unboxing of the new Essentials “Red Box”:So far so good. This is why we bought it, after all. It’s a big, red box, and it’s even got the original artwork on the cover! I am excited to open it.

And open it I do! There is a slim red rule book with a bag of dice sitting on top of it, just like when I bought the original back in the 80s. This box is bigger than the old one, though, and I was expecting a bunch more content. I was puzzled by the angle at which the books were sitting. I also noted that the vintage Elmore art had been replaced on the book covers with some modern styled art.

PACKAGING!The dickery started here, and it didn’t really stop.

In all fairness to Wizards, they tell you exactly what the contents are on the back of the box. But this is a review, and I am going to review those contents. You get a MAP! Some CARDS! Some TOKENS! Bleah. The big deal is the two rule books and the dice. That is what is important. The other stuff is just filler, really. You don’t need any of that stuff to play a game of D&D. I bought into D&D when I was 12 and didn’t even OWN a miniature until I was in high school.

OK, this is where I actually started to get mad. I waited for a while to write this review, because after I read through the two rule books I felt as if I had tried to pet a really nice looking dog who was wagging his tail at me, right up until it bit me in the groin. The original Red Box had several sections in it, and the first one was a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) solo quest thing that introduced you to the concept of role playing (RP). How many kids of my generation had their first adventure going through those same catacombs chasing down Bargle the Evil Wizard, ending up by dragging that poor cleric he poisoned back to town? From there the races and classes were explained, there was a section on character creation that had a list of weapons, armor and equipment, and then at the end there was the basics of the rules laid out. The Dungeon Master’s (DM) section was a big mysterious book of monsters and even more rules and tips on how to create an adventure.

This…. THIS! This was not that. Someone at Wizards decided to be clever. Clever is OK for collectible card games (CCG), but piss on CCGs. This is D&D, and there is a certain expectation. What do you get? You get a CYOA that is the ENTIRE PLAYER’S GUIDE. You start off cold, being attacked while sitting on a wagon, and your actions determine your race and class. You know, that bit of cleverness would be cool if it were followed in the book by anything else that looked like a player’s guide. Maybe some blocks of stats, an equipment list and a section of rules. But you don’t get that.

Those are the only two tables in the entire book. Maybe the rest of the game information is in the DM book? But it isn’t. The DM book is a couple of paragraphs about being a DM, and then mostly an adventure scenarios to go along with the map included with the box.

With the original Red Box you had everything you needed to play the game for four levels for about $10-$15. With this new 4E Essentials product you pay $20 for a barely involved presentation on what a role-playing game would have been like if they could have been bothered to include one in the box.

I wasn’t expecting a lot of stuff from the Red Box. But I expected a lot more than was actually in it. The dice were OK, is about the nicest thing I can say about it. OK, so I have a bunch of 4E books from before Essentials and don’t need this anyway, right? But what do you do when you’re just getting into the game, when you’re a 12 year old interested in swords and stuff like I was back in the 80s? Can you buy the new “Red Box” and play the game? The answer to that question is sort of. This product is a “starter set” in a very literal way. You buy this product, are introduced to the game, you have enough to muck about with the game and an idea about RP but not much more beyond the included adventure. So what do you get out of it? With the original Red Box you could play three or four levels worth of adventures, which is hours and hours of fun. This new Red Box? For $20 you get an evening, maybe a single weekend of actual gaming. Then you have to branch out into the other Essentials products. 10 “core” products to play the game, each about $20 or so (if you can figure out which one you need). And those are a mess I’m not even going to get into.

The verdict? Waste of time and money, even if you’re 12 and wanting to get into RP. Honestly, this product is a bit insulting to the intelligence of 12 year olds. If you’re a geezer like me you should resist the packaging and the nostalgic impulse. If you’re a kid wanting to get into RPGs, there are better ways to do it, like earlier editions of D&D or AD&D. Even if you’re sold on the idea of “modern D&D” you don’t need this thing. Go out and read the Hobbit, skip the “Red Box” and just get straight into the regular D&D game, because the only thing really usable are the dice.

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KENDO! A demo and a promotion!

15Oct10 I helped to put on a kendo demo at the Overland Park Convention Center. Apparently there is a branch in the Kansas City area for the Japanese corporation IHI. They were having some kind of big dinner party thing and hosting some of their compatriots from the parent company in Japan. Part of the night’s entertainment was displays of Japanese culture, though you’d imagine that since the Japanese were coming to Kansas, and already knew about Japanese culture, that the local company men would have entertained them with displays of American Midwestern culture. I suppose they could have gone upstairs to the tool show for that, but still. Anyway, I was happy to be able to put on a demo, and also to get a chance to see the group from the Olathe South High School Ki Daiko Taiko drummers again. They never disappoint. Oh yeah, after we did our bit we were invited by the nice people from IHI to dine with them and enjoy the performances that followed ours. The food was good, the drumming was good, the sake-in-a-barrel-drank-from-little-wooden-boxes was good. We also mingled with some of the Japanese folk afterward and chatted about kendo and whatnot.

The following morning, 16Oct10, I dragged myself out of bed and got to practice with KC Kendo for once. The big deal about that? I finally was presented with the ikkyu rank certificate I tested for last year!


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The Toasters & The Checkered Beat at the Jackpot in Lawrence

11Oct10 I went to see the Toasters play a show at the Jackpot Music Hall. They got the local group Checkered Beat to open up for them.

– It’s good to get out every now and again. There’s a host of people I just don’t see anymore, and it seems like some friendships have been “collateral damage” in my effort to reforge myself as a worthwhile member of society. Events like this used to be my excuse to act like an ass, but you can’t blame the ska for that. The ska is unimpeachable, and dressing smart and dancing stupid is still one of my favorite things in the world. But anyway, it was good to see some folks I haven’t talked to in a long while.

I have been curious about Checkered Beat ever since I got back from England. I wanted to check out their August show, but wasn’t able to get out. It’s been since Ruskabank that there’s been a local ska band that I’ve been excited about. The Sex Police out of Kansas City were good, but just never inspired me to dance, and that’s critical. Or maybe I was just much more in love with the brew whenever I saw them, and it’s not their issue but mine. But anyway, I had some reservations when Checkered Beat took the stage. Back in the 90s I think we were all a little burned from the huge cash-in of high school band geeks suddenly discovering a cool genre that they could play, and flooding venues and record stores with really, really third rate music. And cover bands. Cover bands playing “ska’d up version” of other songs sort of became a genre in itself, and one that I don’t mind having died out.

But as Checkered Beat played on they got better and better, and by the time they closed out with a version of “Ghost Town” I was just floored. And I do mean “version”, because all of a sudden, during one of the musical breaks, the lead singer dropped a dancehall style toast, and I decided right then and there that I was a fan.

The Toasters themselves rocked so hard that I was too busy dancing to take a picture. I danced my ass off, and that’s a positive thing indeed. But here is a picture of what remains of the old scene in Lawrence: an old tour sticker that’s survived in that bathroom through probably a dozen different name changes for the bar itself. I really need to go dancing more often. And did I mention that the Toasters rocked so hard I was too busy dancing to take a picture, or anything else? Because the Toasters rocked.


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2010 Greater Kansas City Japan Festival

2Oct10 I attended, as is my custom, the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival, hosted by the Heart of America Japan-America Society with Johnson County Community College. They have this awesome torii that they bring out to the event.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a member of the JAS in Kansas City, but my school schedule has kept me from being active since last spring. My school schedule has kept me from being active in a lot of things, such as updating this blog on a regular basis.

This was after the demonstration. Last year I participated in the iaido demo, so this year I rotated back to kendo. The demo was shorter than normal, which was a relief for my knees, which are not going to magically not need surgery if I don’t get it done, but that’s neither here not there. I mean, really, my damn knee hurts. I was late to the festival so I didn’t get to go to any classes or whatnot like I like to do. The classes and workshops there are really worth it if you’ve never been. And I couldn’t stay, either, so I took some representative shots of my friends before I left. If you’re not interested in the workshops, there is always the food, as my mates here were well aware of.

Like I mentioned, I was running late that day, so I missed my chance to participate in the MJER workshop that morning. Which was a shame, because I like to help out with stuff like that. Egan sensei came up again this year to support Andreson sensei. I missed out on the workshop, did the kendo demo instead, but the following day I was happy to be able to partake of three or four hours of iaido training led by Egan sensei. And man, were arms sore the following week…

Drakey sensei (pictured above) I get to see more often than Andreson sensei. My kendo gear was in the car when my house was robbed (link), but my poor iaito was abducted, and I’m afraid it has come to a bad end. I normally don’t have time to get out to Kansas City for practice,  again because of school, but I still do every now and again.

I really do love kendo, and the people I get to do it with. KC Kendo is a great group of people. My college club is great too, but KC Kendo will always be “home” in the kendo world. Anyway, the Japan Festival was good, the slice of it I was there, with the only hitch being as I was rushing out to another meeting and finding out I had a flat tire. But forty minutes and a can of flat repair later I was on the move again. Story of my life, right?


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