The Clubhouse Part 7: Feature Wall

Now I’m sort of the person that believes every room needs a good feature wall. Particularly if its a big space. I’ve always imagined that behind my Dungeon Master chair would be this awesome dungeon wall. I had flirted with a few ideas before and originally I wanted to only spend about $5 per square foot. That didn’t happen. While looking around for great tile, my significant other decided that we needed to have a stone wall that would be modern and re-sellable in the future. You really don’t want to be too nichey, she’s right. So instead of your standard faux stone wall, we went to look at other options.

Silex_ambiant_388X389pxCork was an initial option but it wasn’t very “dungeon like” at all. The textures were rather flat – as they should be since most cork would be used on the floor. Then she saw this awesome wall at a furniture shop. We both went and fell in love. After some Google kung fu, we found the tile. And it was perfect. The tile was from Ciot in Quebec, Canada.

We called the main office immediately and found out the price. It was not good, $16 per square foot. Given the size of the room it would be almost $2100 just in material alone. Also given the size of 8″ x 48″, installation would be a nightmare. Luckily we had a guy, he’s awesome and a bit of a perfectionist. Which of course is exactly what you want. We were able to get a good discount and we got the price down quite a bit. Still ridiculously expensive for JUST a feature wall. But it did look money!

The tiles arrived within a few days and we’re off to the races. We decided on a 50-50 installation pattern (basically where the tiles overlap about halfway). This saved on waste and with expensive tiles like this – you definitely want to do that. Any time you install tiles beyond or under a 50-50 split, you’re generating quite a bit more waste as the cut off bits really can’t be used elsewhere as easily. With a pro helping, we were done within a day and it was awesome!


The Clubhouse Part 6: Lighting

Now that the drywall is done and painted by my thoroughly awesome friends. The next step was to look at lighting and sound. In my mind, a D&D room has got to be a great place for immersion. I knew that I wanted to have some form of “smart” lights and right now it seems like Philips Hue is really the market leader in this space with new products coming out all the time.

The Hue system is wireless. It requires you to plug your Hue hub into your router and then from a mobile device you’ll be able to control not only the power on/off, but dim as well as change colours! That being said, the standard Hue application is not quite that great and I would suggest one of these other third party applications to truly make full use of your (quite) expensive system. The entire system, starter set plus one extra bulb ended up being about $300. These Philips Hue bulbs were then installed into a recessed pot light that allowed your standard A16 bulbs to be screwed in. Perfect. One on each corner of the table.

The other piece of lighting that was most critical is of course the central light. It needed to both double as a tavern style light (Edison bulbs) as well as a homage to the purpose of this room. After a LONG search and a number of botches, my wife suggested this cool geometric light. The conversation went something like this,

“Hey look at this cool light, it’s made out of steel, and its black so it will match your décor. And its quite well priced … ”

“It’s a D20!”

“A what?”

“A D20! That’s amazing where did you find that?”

Clearly she stumbled on something awesome on a whole other level and did not even realize it. Anyways this light was a no brainer for a D&D person like me! I thought it looked quite snazzy installed! The low, almost orange light it gives off is pretty “taverny” to me!


Next step, sound!




Game Theory: Weapon Speed

There’s been a discussion about initiative and the roll that it plays. I do believe that initiative is important for structure, and D&D is based on a structured set of rules for a reason. Do I think that players need to ROLL for initiative every turn? No. Rolling for initiative is a bit of nuisance, particularly when you Dungeon Master a group of 8 or more players! So I’m going to steal a concept from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and put  my own spin on it. If I believe that initiative is important but I don’t want to roll for it then there’s really one solution that has proven to work for me personally. Predetermined initiative. Predetermined weapon speeds and initiative order does a few things for the game session.

  1. Quickens play by removing initiative rolls,
  2. Bell curves the traditional rolls by focusing on Dex modifier only and assumes that over time all players will be in this (statistically) fixed order,
  3. Provides a dilemma for characters forcing them to make decisions on how they want to face combat – therefore more strategic and hopefully more collaborative with their team mates,
  4. Give meaning to the lowly long sword (all kidding aside), and,
  5. While still giving players an option to “be faster” if they want to by choosing different weapons.

Basic Principles

Based on speed of character’s weapon.

  1. Subtract character’s Dex bonus (or Initiative)
  2. Character with lowest speed goes first in initiative order.

Determining Weapon Speed

 A weapon’s speed is equal to the maximum damage that it can do. (Therefore players have to decide for example, how they want to wield their bastard sword, or weapons that have the potential to do different levels of damage.)

Calculating a Character’s Speed Example

  •  A Cleric has Dexterity of 16, therefore his Dex bonus is +3.
  • A Rogue has Dexterity of 18, therefore his Dex bonus is +4.
  • The Rogue uses a Short Sword that has a weapon speed of 6 (Short Swords do 1d6 damage, therefore its speed is 6).
  • The Cleric uses a War Hammer that has a weapon speed of 8.
  • When they both use their respective weapons, the Rogue goes first because his speed is 6 – 4 = 2, while the Cleric’s speed is 8 – 3 = 5. The Rogue’s speed is lower therefore he goes first.
  • If the Cleric dropped his War Hammer and fought with his fists, then his speed would be -2 because an unarmed strike’s speed is 1. Therefore the Cleric would actually go before the Rogue in the next round.

Tie Breaking

 Sometimes characters will have the same weapon speed. To determine who goes first check the following tie breakers in order;

  • Lower unmodified weapon speed,
  • Higher Dex bonus,
  • Higher Dexterity score,
  • Dexterity as a proficiency, and
  • Lower Armour Class score.

If all else fails then both characters go at the same time.

The Clubhouse Part 5: Drywall

The table was a nice distraction but ultimately you need a space to house it all! Pulling up my very hastily drawn plans I knew I had to get to work. The space we had to work with is 13′ x 22′. Which is a sizable room for its function. As excited as I was to get started, there were a few things I needed to ensure I had,

  1. Four recessed fixtures for Philips Hue lighting system (future blog post!);
  2. Two speaker templates connected to a CAT-6 and flexible audio cables (that can do PC audio for instance); and,
  3. Two outlets for sconces on the eventual feature wall behind the DM chair.

12033191_10156201638580596_8072210229200431164_nYou will also see that we’ve installed Roxul insulation in the ceiling. That was due to the request from the wife (aka the Boss). She did not want to hear me play D&D in the basement. I can’t imagine why.

The funny thing is that this actually turned out to be pragmatic for another reason. Ceiling speakers function significantly better when there is a soundproof cavity. In the end, the Roxul in the ceiling actually served two purposes. I like that. The whole thing was pretty darn expensive though I have to admit. I spent around $300 in Roxul just in the D&D room itself. But today as we use the room, it was worth every penny. Not to mention it really keeps all my players and myself warm in the winter months! We also had drywall delivered to the basement at $1 a sheet delivery service, it was worth every penny. I went with a specialist drywall service here in Canada and I will absolutely recommend them to anyone looking for drywall.  They were super friendly and helpful and the delivery team was professional and very good.

Suddenly the drywall was all up. Okay it wasn’t quite so quick. But let me tell you about “Adam” or little drywall lifter. If you’re planning to do drywall. These rental machines are worth their weight in gold. I estimate that production was tripled with this little yellow machine.

Adam was awesome. We miss Adam. A quick note, any professional dry wall installer will tell you we really messed up the ceiling. Dry wall is NOT supposed to go adjacent like that. They are actually suppose to be installed staggered. We’re going to need to find superb tapers and mudders to fix this amateur mistake!

Can D&D make you win at life?

In his latest video Mike Rugnetta on the PBS Idea Channel, speaks about the impact D&D that could have on your life. He proposes that D&D could make a person more confident, more social and overall more successful at life.

My initial reaction? Yes, absolutely yes. Today in business, I use my skills as a Dungeon Master more than I use my other graduate degrees. What are these skills and how are they applied to real life?

  1. Understanding the motivations of others and how to immerse them in a shared vision.
  2. Understanding the characteristics and personalities of others and how to best work with them collaboratively to achieve team success.
  3. Organizing and scheduling  a large group of people with diverse priorities.
  4. Conflict resolution between two parties to achieve a mutual acceptance of terms.
  5. Attracting and retaining talent (at your table or at work).

Those 5 skills sure sound like a fantastic business read, but in reality they are the everyday duties of a Dungeon Master.

Do I believe that EVERYONE that plays D&D will be successful? No I don’t. I don’t even believe that players will necessarily get as much out of D&D than a Dungeon Master would – after all they are primarily playing one character and while the best players consider the overall group dynamic, most probably don’t 100% of the time. What I do believe though is that D&D is a great outlet to develop social skills such as public speaking, conflict resolution, social interaction, and general socially acceptable behaviours.

While D&D might not make you a CEO overnight, it is certainly not detrimental to one’s social skills by any means.



Game Theory: Shooting Into Melee

One of the most debated “non-rules” in 5th edition is the situation where a ranged attacker wants to shoot at an enemy who is “engaged” with a friendly unit in melee. The simple solution is probably to use the disadvantage rule. However, this is probably quite punitive (especially at lower levels) according to other DMs that are clearly much smarter in math than I am. Please check out their math and results here, here and here.

What am I trying to accomplish with this house rule?

  1. Penalize a character for shooting into melee. I feel that combat in D&D is not like playing a Japanese RPG video game. People do not stand across from each other and take turns bashing each other on the head. There is continuous movement and swipes. A “hit” in my interpretation is when one of these swipes actually connect.
  2. But not penalize a character too much. I want characters to “feel” more powerful as they level up, so that at higher levels shooting into melee is more of an inconvenience than a penalty. (Think Legolas!)
  3. I want my players to think tactically. I want my players to consider the movement and actions of other players in battle. I do not want them to default to certain positions. I want action to be dynamic in both tactics and cooperative movement.

DnDRangeModsAfter noodling it a little the following image I created in Excel demonstrates the situations where penalties can be applied. It takes into account a few existing rules, cover, range attack while engaged, and an overall AC bonus to the enemy. This image assumes that ALL engaged parties are of medium size.

Clearly there will be situations where both parties could be of different sizes and thus different modifiers could apply. I am currently considering a -2/+2 type scale for shooting at either larger or smaller creatures.

Thoughts? … Let me know what you think!


The Clubhouse Part 4: Stains & Poly-what?

Now that the table has been finalized, designed and put together the next step is to stain it. Having never done any staining myself, lots of research went into the how and the products that I needed. Pretty much when it comes to staining wood, the “go to” is going to be MinWax. They’ve been around for so long I almost feel that they are the default option.

Basically there are two options when staining – water based and oil based. Now I’m not a professional so the following is just my own opinion on the matter. After some testing it seemed to be that if you wanted a “white washed” look on your furniture, then water-based is a reasonable product. But if you want a richer and deeper colour then there is no option but to go oil-based.  What’s the difference? Oil based takes much longer to dry and of course it seriously smells. But in my opinion for a gaming table, this is a expected and reasonable cost for a great finish. In the end, I went with an oil-based stain with the colour “Jacobean”. Before the stain, the wood must be ABSOLUTELY clean. Trust me on this. Sweep it, vacuum it, blow on it, whatever it takes. Not having the surface clean is just going to cause tons of problems – mostly picking away at debris while trying to stain, not good for an even stain.


After the first coat it looked something like this. (You can see some spots still drying.) You can always make the wood darker but not lighter! So go super light on the stain and work it darker if you need to. Make sure when you stain you go even throughout. Now I experimented a bit and tried to emphasize certain areas over others by “over staining” some spots and I thought it worked out well, but it was pretty gutsy as there’s no going back.

One stain was all it took for me and soon it was time for protection. I wanted a good “ember” on the grain and so again it was a no brainer but to use an oil-based polyurethane. MinWax has a bunch of different types of coats, gloss, semi-gloss etc. I wanted the table to be more tavern like so I opted for semi-gloss to give it a traditional but modern look. Now you’re SUPPOSED to do three coats, with very light sanding via a 220 grit paper in between coats but I opted for a more grainy finish and only did one. *Gasp*. I have to say it worked out well for me and the grains definitely embered!


This was super awesome and I was very excited to see it “finished”. Remember to do all of this with great ventilation. I did this project in my garage in cold weather (7 degrees Celsius) so it took almost 5 days to totally dry. I’m sure it would be less in warmer temperatures. Now all that was left is to put it on its legs…