And another Game chapter done

Monday night saw the end of what I’m calling Chapter Two of the Eberron-set Dungeons and Dragons game we’ve been playing. I’ve been using a mix of published and homebrew content again, inserting scenes and encounters to try and match the challenge set by my formidably adaptive and inventive players.

They’ve come through the trauma of losing their most potent warrior in-game to finally take down their prey, the vampire master spy Lucan, and made their way home successfully – so what next?

Eberron Motivator featuring a mage in near-modern dress
Just in case you were still expecting dungeon crawls all the time…

Well, there’s already material prepared to tie up loose ends from the first big adventure, and I’m hoping to tie that fairly seamlessly into an adaptation of some other material that I’ve had hanging around on my bookshelf for quite a few years now. I think it’s safe to say that they won’t be running out of horrible things to fight and outwit for quite some time yet.

Travelling has seemed to work quite well in the last two chapters, so I’ll carry on using vehicular mass transit as a good excuse to stage set-piece encounters. They allow me to set environmental challenges that have so far concentrated their minds in different ways. Battles on the top of moving lightning rail trains and surviving the aftermath of colliding airships have forced them to adopt innovative solutions to survive and thrive. They’ve overcome trials on land, and in the air, so we’ll see how they fare on the sea next probably.

Knowing they occasionally sneak a peek at the blog side of this site, not just the game write-ups, that last paragraph is either a spoiler or an elaborate double-bluff – as was my revealing a photograph of the cover of an adventure in my collection on Facebook this afternoon. My Evil GM side must be showing…

We’ll be taking a hiatus of a week from the game, mostly because next week it’s Lady M’s birthday – which she claims to have totally forgotten, but I’m not falling for that one in the slightest – and partly to allow the player who lost his character some time to come up with a replacement and for me to draw up a new set of digital maps to torture them all on.

Fun fun…

Doing Better

To the relief of pretty much everyone I seem to have come out the other side of the major dip this week – though not without giving my counsellor pause to wonder if it was sheer exhaustion rather than anything else that made me appear so calm when I met her on Wednesday.

Version 1 of the costume
Version 1 of the costume

Sleep still isn’t fantastic, but I don’t seem to be quite as restless, which in turn is doing wonders for my mood as I have more energy in the morning to get up and get on with the day.

So what’s in line for this weekend? Well we’re off tomorrow to MCM London, and the last touches are being put into place, along with some minor repairs and touch up of mask surfaces from the rigours of our trip to Fright Night. We’re going with Lady P who is a regular these days, and while it’s been a good few years since I’ve been to a comic convention, neither Lady M or my daughter have ever been, so this should be a remarkable experience for all concerned..!

For the most part I just need to do a bit of repair to the papier mache edges of the mask where they’ve come unstuck – so a mix of sellotape, glue and ink is my arsenal of choice. Enhancements to the costume are also underway, and in this I’ve been lucky to be able to tap the expertise of my brothers. One of their myriad hobbies is the related field of LARPing, mostly being involved in the Aftermath LARP and wreaking havoc on a number of people while dressed as the most amazing array of characters and monsters. So who better to tap for some prop and costume elements?

Version 2
Version 2

The result is a much more majestic affair, with a distinctive hand that resembles Hellboy’s Hand of Doom, and a hooded surcoat that I last wore to my youngest brother’s stag night on the South Bank.

I’ve found a replica of the One Ring to wear around my neck, and will probably have a couple of spare wands tucked in my belt.

The skull-topped cane that I bought for our Cambridge adventures, and that Lady M used while she was recovering from her foot injury fits nicely into the palm of the outsized glove too, because why not? At this point I’m not sure if this character is a plain Death Eater or a rogue Auror. Depending on how my cold goes, I may limit the mask wearing to photos being worn, and I’ll certainly remove it when I’m talking to people at their stands.

So there’s the plan, plus a little surprise this afternoon being planned for my daughter, so I’m off now to find my Oyster card so we can hit the bus.  I think I’ll ignore the muttered shouting coming from Lady M’s game of Destiny right now…

Last Night’s Game

So last night’s game was significant in that it was the first death of one of the characters in the current campaign. I know some people who play Dungeons and Dragons who prefer to try and fudge things for their players when then chips are down, and I’m not averse to occasionally tweaking things if things go wrong due to dumb luck.

By the same token however, our most lasting memories over the years have come from how characters have shuffled, or been pushed, off this mortal coil. I GM’d our group all the way through the classic Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, through the Slavers series and then the whole Giants and Drow epic leading to a facedown against the Queen of the Demonweb Pits. I established very early on that characters could and would die, especially if they did foolhardy things – and sometimes, yes, this might not seem fair, but I wouldn’t be actively trying to take their characters down.

Once more prompting cries of "we should have looked up"
Once more prompting cries of “we should have looked up”

We had a hell of a time, and a stable of remarkable and memorable characters whose lives and deaths – both epic and humourous – are still talked about when we reminisce about old games and evenings past.

The current campaign had, until last night, not claimed any player characters. There were a number of factors to this. Firstly, this is the first game I’ve GM’d using third edition rules, and scaling encounters to the outsized party I’m refereeing for has been a bit of a learning curve. Secondly I’m intentionally going for a more swashbuckling and heroic theme, with the characters being truly above average in a wild and expansive world.

As a result, there have been large set piece encounters where the players have been able to throw themselves in with almost foolhardy abandon and win through to the other side. The current endgame unfolding however has turned into a very different beast. It is still epic, it is still larger than life, but the big bad that they have been chasing over the last fourteen weeks finally turned and brought the fight to them.

Suddenly they have not been in charge of the pace of encounters, and the ziggurat within which they are all fighting is full of dark corners, air shafts and tight stairwells. More importantly they haven’t had a chance to regroup and re-order their arsenals of weapons and spells to best effect, and this has allowed the villain to start taking them apart.

Unlike most of the villains they’ve encountered so far, this vampire was a spy and rogue in life, and so he favours hit and run tactics. He has significantly weakened the spell users and priests in the party, and this week succeeded in causing the death of their most potent fighter. How? You’ll need to read the write-up


Gloom and Doom

I’ve struggled a bit about whether to blog about how I’m doing as opposed to what I’m doing. In part it’s a hesitancy to wash dirty linen in public, or at least that’s how it can feel, and in part there’s a degree of self defence and not wanting to get too deep in a public forum.

But then again, this is also a forum for venting, and its not like I don’t talk about things here I can’t with people in person.

So: I’m having a difficult time at the moment, but thankfully I’ve got people around who are willing to listen and support. Whether it’s a quiet ear, or the showing of small kindnesses, or providing strategic kicks to the rear end, I’m blessed to not be fighting my black dog alone.

From Ladies M and P, my counsellor K, my daughter, my brothers, friends, not to mention W and his family, I’ve had the fortune to be able to rest my fears and anxieties at a time when sleep is as much an enemy as something to miss.

This is a bad time of year for me, which is a pain, marking the anniversary of a violent event that still gives me nightmares. So it’s fair to say I’m feeling fragile at the moment. But I’m not giving up, no matter how much the dog snarls and worries at my ankles.

Right, back to the grind…

Hospitals and Runarounds

Another busy week – this week’s game has been written up, with lots of tentacle-on-thief action and surprisingly soggy vampires to boot. We’re getting closer to the final conflict with the vampire and his blade, and I suspect it will either end up as a battle royale or a rather swift bit of lateral thinking will rip the floor out from under the planned set pieces. Not to worry, I’ve plenty more material and surprises for the group – Roll20 has totally transformed our Monday evenings, so I suspect there would be riots if I downed tools so soon.

This week has also seen the start in earnest of my daughter’s looking at places to study her A and AS levels, so I’ve found myself wandering around schools and sixth form colleges – or whatever they’re calling themselves now – finding it all bringing back memories of when I worked IT tech support at West Thames College back in the late nineties. The same smells and slightly faded paintwork, the long corridors of hard-wearing carpet and bare-bones laboratories and classrooms that don’t do justice to the teaching expertise that can shine there.

I suppose I could wax lyrical about where all the time has gone since my little girl was a bundle in my arms, but I’d rather be proud of the self assured and formidable young lady who stood with me and her mother in classrooms and positively glowed as new learning options unfolded in front of her. I loved how she looked at the course requirements for each of the options she was interested in, and found it all reinforcing how she can basically turn her hand to anything she wants because of all her hard work, aptitude and attitude. A proud daddy? Of course I am.

We also found out this week that Lady M’s labyrinthitis could be treated with the Epley maneuver as we sought a private referral to get to the root of her ongoing balance issues. So far there’s a marked improvement, though she has to try and sleep sitting up for the next week or so to help her inner ear settle down. Fingers crossed she’ll be back to normal soon.

Meanwhile, the black dog is biting a bit this week so I’m keeping a quiet eye on that, but then it’s that time of year so only to be expected. Ho hum, onward and upward.


Fright Nights and Dungeon Crawls

Well, we seem to have made a fair few people jump with our dressing up for Fright Night at Thorpe Park last night. I was a little disappointed to see less people in costume than last year, but we embraced a “sod it” approach and went for it anyway.

commonsenseI joined Lady M and my daughter as a cloaked and masked deatheater, while Lady P opted to trial her new Deadpool costume, topped with a red cloak that we had spare. This led to a combination of reactions to and from our fellow queuers.

We made a point of being friendly/removing masks if smaller children were looking actually frightened, but others got menacing gestures, silent looming or shrieked curses that made otherwise cocky and burly young men leap in the air.

Staff seemed pleased to see we’d made an effort, and other in-character performers decided to not give us any scares; though I’m not sure whether that was uncertainty about how safe to attack dark wizards with wands it was, or being unsure if we were staff.

What we did learn was that some of the hijinks that are tolerated at conventions are not expected at the theme park, with Lady P nearly causing a security alert when she tried to blend with and disrupt a group of red robed actors that we’d thought was another group of cosplayers. We decided to err on the side of caution and eat instead.

We didn’t stay too late as Lady M’s labyrinthitis was making it very uncomfortable, and the cold weather meant that Lady P opted to change into warmer clothing halfway through, but all in all it was a great dry run for MCM London in a couple of weeks.

Oh, and I’ve finally written up Monday’s game session under Chapter Two, Week Twelve – Delving Deep, so go have a read of those musings too

Rollercoaster Week

Ups and downs this week, with unexpected bad news about the health of one of Lady M’s relatives casting a pall, but great results from the first of her exams and unexpectedly good feedback from a series of job interviews.

It's a bit wet at the stables

The library has been busy, partly from being short-staffed and partly because customers seem to have decided that ten minutes before closing is a great time to arrive and ask complex questions. I have been contemplating engaging Bernard Black shop-closing techniques involving a broom and a loudhailer.

Still, it’s the weekend so once my daughter’s riding lesson is complete we’ll be gearing up for the Thorpe Park Fright Night. Let the chaos begin…

Costume Developments

We spent a good portion of last weekend making papier mache and experimenting with acrylic paints and ink and I have to say the results are starting to look quite good. With the rest of the costume elements largely being made from existing kit and clothing, the masks are turning into the most intensive pieces of work. Hopefully though they’ll survive the next few weeks and end up being turned into something I can hang on the walls as a souvenir.

The initial sketch pad may have got a bit... embellished... since we started
The initial sketch pad may have got a bit… embellished… since we started

The basic cotton-based masks proved a good base for the glue and water mix I used, drying fairly quickly with some judicious use of airing cupboard space and strategic re-application of layers to reinforce tricky corners and junctions. Most of the issues came around trying to decide how to implement the various design ideas that we all had.

Most of the images found online for references use silver and gold, so those were the main colours that ended up being used as the base, but other hues and decorative patterns can also be seen on both official and fan-made designs, so I was pleased to find a good range of acrylic paints in a paint box that I had completely forgotten I had.

In the end I used a plain black acrylic paint base layer to seal the external surface so that further design work wouldn’t get lost in the text and pictures in the original newspaper coverings. After that we each took time to design shapes that we could cut into card and use as templates.

One of the masks with early silver drybrushing
One of the masks with early silver drybrushing

Some judicious use of water softened the card so that we could mould it to fit the mask contours and backed it with more glue for a secure fit, followed by more paint to help seal the whole surface. Then I dry-brushed silver over the whole assembly to pick out detail and give us a real idea of how each mask design was going to work out.

Death Eater masks are designed to inspire fear, so a bright colour scheme was never going to be on the cards, but I’ve also seen plenty of masks that use a brighter silver background to highlight dark hand-painted designs. I’ve not painted for quite some time, so I was reluctant to dive straight into that route. That’s why we went the card and template route.

I may adapt a cut out template at some point for another design if I do more in the future, as that seems a good compromise between the flow of paint and the structure of inlays. Each of us had ideas of how we wanted the masks to look. My daughter’s incorporates elements that look like a mask on the mask – or possibly a flayed mask, depending on how the colour scheme develops as she would like a little red in the mix somewhere.

Lady M models this year's Slytherin-inspired couture...
Lady M models this year’s Slytherin-inspired couture…

Lady M’s mask is all swirls and contours with splashes of green that suggest the Slytherin House background of many Death Eaters. My own takes cues from predatory animals, with dart-like daggers and stripes and stays with the golds and silvers.

By comparison, Lady P’s ensemble promises to mix bold colours with the dark cloak as a memorable comparison. The contrast should be rather striking, so I’m rather looking forward to seeing what she comes up with with limited preparation time.

For now, I think I won’t be doing much else to the masks, at least until this weekend when I reclaim the table that I usually keep my writing setup on as an art surface again. The final touches may not even go up until the morning before we head out to the event. Alternatively I might leave them, use the Thorpe Park event as a dry run and then tweak them for the MCM Expo in London at the end of October.

My Death Eater mask
My Death Eater mask

Each mask, to date, has about three or four layers of paint and ink washes on them with strategic dry brushing to highlight detail. Right now I’m struggling to find a point where I don’t either darken them too much, or give a cartoonish colour boost.

I tell you, designing these evil masks is a lot harder than it seems. I’m tending to go for more muted schemes given that we’ll be out in public as the evening draws in. Combined with hoods and capes and dark clothing beneath them, the effect should look quite intimidating.