What I’m Reading Today

Somehow I’ve got a lot sorted this week despite being on leave on the Monday. I’ll put it down to some selective delegation, some plate spinning, and asking awkward questions of the right people.

I’ve made myself start working through the TBR pile as there are several books that were gifts in there. The one I’m currently reading is Game Wizards: a history of the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and the fractious relationship between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Its absolutely fascinating and at the same time a good one for putting down and picking up

Well worth picking up either if you’re interested in the early history of roleplay games or want an account of the early days of a business and the wrangles that overtook it. The writing style is engaging and clean, and I’m greatly enjoying it

DDC on the road

Sunday’s game saw the group on the road in a freshly-bought cart, using dinosaurs as mounts. After an extended journey in the lap of luxury, the minor aches and problems of living rough called for some creative thinking.

First and foremost among that was provisioning, but that was mostly solved with some creative use of the “Create Food and Water” spell, seasoned magically with the aid of a wonderous pouch that magically generates spices and seasonings.

It did lead to the coining of the phrase “holy tofu” to describe the divinely supplied foodstuffs…

Then the practicalities of setting watches meant some opportunities arose both for pranks and some world building.

Late night travellers included one of the steam-driven constructs hauling a merchant caravan owned by goblins, and a cheery wave saw them pass by the camp with no problems. That said, the first evening they were still within settled farmlands rather than the wilds. Travelling further took them past an old battlefield, and into true wilderness.

That’s when the gnoll raiders sprang their trap, and we ended on that cliffhanger.

Plotting

We didn’t have a Sunday game due to a combination of people being unwell, exhausted, or attending the Geek Retreat anniversary – and my own brain fog didn’t help. I’ve made it a priority this week to give myself some time to let my head reassemble itself a bit.

Still, it is also giving me some more time to plot more aspects of the story – or at least the various jigsaw pieces that can be encountered along the way. I have now sort of got an idea of how the story arc is likely to end – or rather an idea of the important choices and dilemmas along the way. How that will all end up being strung together will largely depend on which way the players jump but that is one of the joys of this style of game.

For the next section at least there’s some road travelling and some thematic pieces of world setting and building I want to do. The homeland that Thorin’s backstory is set in saw fierce border wars during the Last War, with territory changing hands many times between the three neighbouring nations. Thorin’s Folk Hero background was born in these lands, and the scars and remnants of battlefields will be looming large. There will be visible remnants of his heroism, and reminders of his failures – and I think as a journey it will prompt a lot of roleplay between the players as we put some meat on the bones that have so far been only lightly addressed.

Thorin left these lands in search of a new start, and reinvented himself almost by accident – now its time to see where he came from.

Alternatively, expect a lot of dick jokes, because that’s positively Shakespearean too.

Unused Scenarios – The Ship That Slays Together

I’ve tried twice to throw this encounter in to the adventures of the last few years, but its never quite managed to either quite fit the action, or has been overtaken by events. The first try was during the goblin one-shot last Christmas where this aeronautic pirate crew were going to be the main villain of the action. We ran out of time on that one, so I kept the encounter loaded up in D&D Beyond as a spare. The second go was during the DDC’s trip on their own flying ship while in pursuit of a mad alchemist who had gone missing, presumed kidnapped. I ended up attacking them with barbarian halflings riding pterosaurs instead, because it fit the flavour of what they were up to at the time and hitting them with a second ship after that felt a bit crowded.

So – the scenario sits in my back pocket and now that the group’s levels have gone up I’ll need to retweak aspects of it. You may find the following entertaining though.

In essence there is a bunch of pirate/slavers with a flying ship. It’s pilot is a swashbuckler from House Lyrandar who works with a wizard, several toughs, a group of warforged, and a big net full of semi-tame mimics. Their method of attack is to fly over isolated settlements and dump out the mimics disguised as gifts which then capture and restrain prisoners so that the crew can descend and carry away their victims. The warforged work as a team to man a large ballista on the ship, only stepping away if needing to defend the deck – so typically all that victims and survivors see is a large shadow overhead, presents dropping from the sky, and then elves descending to steal people away.

This was unashamedly designed as a Christmas encounter. The other switch that wouldn’t necessarily come to light is that the crew is one big polyamorous polycule based on our player group – so the names were similar and the existing relationships and interconnections could be dropped into conversation or hinted at depending on the type of encounter being run. The option was to make this an extended running battle, or a group to be tracked on behalf of devastated communities. In writing this I’ve just thought of another way that this could be used, building on the origins of one lone kobold called Odif.

Anyway, hope this inspires you, let me know what chaos you unleash!

Unused Scenario: Shambling Death

One of the ways that I keep ahead of the players in my games is to design skeleton encounters that can then be slotted in more or less any order depending on where they go or how they choose to deal with a set of situations. For any given arc there will occasionally be bits I end up not using – and in this case due to the utter chaos of the assassination attempt on Thorin in the last few weeks I decided not to use the following scenario that was aimed more at a murder-mystery feel. Its a bit more Agatha Christie meets Dr Who with a side of murderhobo. It felt like it would be a bit too jarring on top of what they had already encountered.

So the unused scenario in this case would have had a series of mysterious deaths through the train – locked room mysteries where the victims all mysteriously died of a wasting disease overnight despite no previous signs of illness. Two of the passengers would begin to look suspicious – a distinguished elven general and his Undying wife – as it was worked out that they had all recently been seen talking with each of the victims.

In the end it would be revealed that one of the luxury suites was retained by a guest who has not been seen – a Deathlock Mastermind transporting three Mummies in a portable hole and using dimension door to access locked rooms. The Mummies under the creature’s control acted as muscle, rotting the victims while they were paralysed with fear and the Deathlock ransacked the room for an artifact wanted by its patron in the Emerald Claw. In the end the common thread of the murdered people would be that they had all adventured together years ago and it was rumoured they split in an argument over something they found.

With only one Mummy seen at a time, having three in the hole would allow for some misdirections and strategic scares with attention on the shambling horrors rather than the fallen warlock flitting around in the shadows.

Ah well – I’m sure its something I can properly develop for another time, but feel free to use and tweak the concept for yourselves.

No Game Tonight

We’ve got a general approach with the D&D game that if someone is unwell or hasn’t the reserves to play that we pause. While we stream and do charity events, it is after all just a fun thing to do rather than a job.

On a purely selfish level, the creative writer in me is a bit relieved this week as I’d been struggling with story beats and potential set pieces for the next section. I’ve at least been able to use this extra time to do some poking around in various wiki sites like https://eberron.fandom.com/wiki/World_of_Eberron and the various books I’ve accumulated.

I almost have a plan. It could always go sideways if (more likely when) the adventurers go off on a tangent, but I believe they’re invested enough in the story to be curious about where their current path takes them. At the moment that path is taking them to Thorin’s home and a mounting tangle of mysteries.

The summons home came from Thorin’s long-lost sister. His father’s axe was delivered in the mail. A paladin-Inquisitor of The Silver Flame tracked him down and started asking veiled questions about his sister, and now there has been an assassination attempt.

Like the group, I can’t wait to find out what happens next – this really is part of the joy of collaborative play.

Corridor Battle

The Sunday game was a pulse pounding battle in the narrow confines of a moving lightning rail train carriage. Assassins had landed on the roof in the night and attempted to separate the cars before focusing on Thorin. We’d left the previous week as a cliffhanger with Thorin and Valenia desperately fighting for their lives as the rest of the group roused from sleep.

This week saw Thorin fighting one on one with a skilled warrior, trading blows furiously while most of the rest of the group were held at bay by a warlock with an unearthly appearance – with tentacles and spikes instead of hair and slightly scaly skin. A detonated bead of force meanwhile had isolated Thorin from Valenia, who was in turn fighting a desperate battle with an orc assassin who was relentlessly beating her defences down.

The turning of the tide came with Kerne being able to concentrate and perform metamagic to extend the lightning of a witches bolt spell to both the warlock and the warrior fighting Thorin, just as the group’s newest member came crashing through a window. They’d climbed onto the roof, avoided the giant bats that the assassins had used as mounts, and made a supremely successful use of acrobatics to swing down between the attackers. As the group managed to finish off the opponents at that end of the carriage though, they could see Valenia fall beneath the blade of her opponent, joined by an assassin who had previously been kicked off the train.

The forcefield generated by the bead of force evaporated at that point, clearing a path for this newest assassin to press the attack on Thorin, while the first attempted and nearly succeeded in finishing off Valenia. It was only through a supreme feat of endurance that Valenia was able to retain consciousness and gulp down a healing potion they had bought before they left home. She barely evaded the attempt to finish her and was able to make a desperate shot with her bow as she lay on the floor to slay her opponent.

Thorin, utterly enraged at this point, was able to slay this new assassin with a fearsome display of prowess and as everyone stood, bloodied and exhausted we ended the session there.

Next week? Well who knows – at the very least some investigations in the aftermath…

Dinner on the Lightning Rail

We had a good D&D session last night, returning after a couple of weeks where people were unwell. The mighty adventurers are facing possibly their toughest challenge yet: high society. Travelling long distances takes many forms, but by far the most comfortable available at this moment for them is the Lightning Rail run by House Orien – and so they have joined the train in first class, along with a new member of the group and have some time to kill.

Its been a good excuse to pull back from the action and adventure and spend some time with the players reintroducing themselves and doing some reflective roleplay as they get used to both the new surroundings and people. Sometimes railroading can be a useful tool, and this has been very popular with the players as I’ve checked in after the sessions. Their biggest worry has been to decide on what to choose from the menu. Their biggest dilemma has been wine versus cocktails. Their main concern has been how drunk the dwarf barbarian might be getting…

I’m really enjoying going to town with the world-building in this little travelling location, and the players (and the characters) are enjoying it all too – watching the little wonders of the world pass by while retired generals and robust noblemen drink brandy and smoke cigars in the lounge car, and an undead elf tells a dragonborn sage tales of the fall of the goblin empires in the saloon. A tiefling warlock knits scarves in their cabin while their familiar snoozes with a hoard of table scraps, and hangovers are something that won’t happen until the next session…

Tangled Days

Work is complicated at present – well more so than usual – and I think between that and personal processing it has been more difficult to bring things to the blog in any coherent way. Sometimes, especially when it comes to work, there are things that I can’t talk about in a public form because of financial or confidential matters connected to them.

Likewise in the tangled pathways of my brain I have things I can’t coherently talk about because they’re still being mulled over. In some ways it’s like a jigsaw puzzle that I don’t want to display yet.

However I find the discipline of maintaining a blog schedule to be a useful one, if only so I’ve got somewhere to put things on display for later consideration or to entertain you. That’s why sometimes I have rambling posts like this that don’t go anywhere until I get a random flash of inspiration.

In this case its to muse that all things being well, the D&D group will be back on Sunday to continue their adventures. They are currently on a fantasy steampunk railway, mixing with reasonably high society. What’s the worst that could happen? What’s that, a murder? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

Ups and Downs

The brain weasels came out to play this weekend, on top of a general exhaustion that I’m putting in part on a change in my blood pressure medication. Still, we managed to get a rip-roaring Dungeons and Dragons session in this week, and that has done wonders.

There’s something about the social glue of people laughing and trying to overcome puzzles together that rarely fails to cut through a low mood for me, so thank you to the unusual suspects for this evening’s shenanigans, even if you did nearly kill your own characters off in the process..!