DDC Shenanigans

Life continues to ebb and flow in its complexities, but the DDC continues to be a creative and entertaining source of comfort, support, and humour in all the oddness around us.

Our latest set of things has been creating quizzes and games to play through shared screens in Discord. Whoever is running the quiz sets up a PowerPoint document with questions and answers revealed in turn, while everyone works together to find the answers. Mre B created the template based on their running similar things with their friends, and myr s has taken up the baton to create rounds tailored to our various strengths and foibles.

Roughly once a week we gather of an evening to play. We start with general levity, and yet despite there not being any competition between players, there’s soon a very serious air as people try to identify TV theme tunes from sight reading music, interpret kinks by their formal clinical names, identify pop culture characters from pets dressed up as those characters, and puns based on shows where one character has been changed – and that was just for starters.

Lateral thinking, chat, and everyone trying to resist googling any answers – a fun combination that is proving as much a draw as the weekly Dungeons and Dragons session.

Oh, and then we used Roll20 to make a Trivial Pursuit board and grabbed four different sets to make a monstrous random hodgepodge of topics from Star Wars, Stranger Things, Harry Potter, and a general family edition. That got very silly, very fast. We’ll have to do that again…

New Player Ready

So we’re spending this evening mostly helping Lady W set up a character to join in the DDC adventures. We’re having a quiet evening as people are just feeling a bit wiped out, and it came up in conversation that she had felt unable to join the group as she hadn’t been around for the first session.

We immediately disabused her of this idea. As Lady W has never played D&D before, we’ve been making use of the Roll20 Charactermancer and a copy of the Player’s Handbook to help her create a new persona.

There is much jollity, silliness, discussion, and explanation going on – and therefore a good wind-down to the week. It may not be the D&D session I’d planned, but I think its the one we collectively need today

The Importance of Preparation

I spend a lot of time, even if only inside my own head sometimes, preparing material for my tabletop game. Sometimes its thinking of names, or external events for the players to react to. For the most part I’ve tended to think on a mechanic level of what rules to brush up on, or the best tactics to pose a suitable challenge during the game.

What I’d only ever really fleetingly touched on before, however, was open up some of that preparation to the players. In particular, I’m thinking about the bonds and history between them. I’ve never been one for the trope of “you’ve all met down the pub and a mysterious stranger offers you a job” but it has tended to be brief discussions during character creation.

That’s easier to do with everyone around the table than remotely of course, which is why I welcomed Mre B’s suggestion for a formal session zero to kick off the new group. It wasn’t a concept I’d ever encountered before, but a quick read through suggestions online and through a comprehensive guide sheet that they pulled together firmed up the belief that it was a good idea.

I’ll be putting together a page under the Gaming section based on the document Mre B composed. Essentially though the session is not just one of working out links and shared history between characters, but also of ensuring respect at a player level to settle the ground rules of play and engagement.

I’m paraphrasing and simplifying wildly for the sake of brevity here, but it was extremely useful as we had a number of people who didn’t know each other that well, and who were also relative newcomers to tabletop gaming. No other game I’ve run has had quite that combination.

It sparked, and has continued to spark, a wealth of role-playing material and plot hooks, and laid the foundations for one of the most fun and diverse groups I’ve DM’d for in quite some time.

Generosity

Lady B has been secretly assembling a range of gifts to distribute among the DDC – literally, as she has a 3D printer. Today a care package arrived.

Our friends know us so well

Both Lady M and I received a prison for misbehaving dice, a pedestal for favoured dice, and a nameplate. The vox also contained a dice-rolling tray, an Eberron DM shield, a card game, and a glass bottle with four red dice in it, representing a potion of healing. Our geekery levels just jumped significantly.

We really are very lucky, and its been a lovely bonus as we head into the weekend.

A Cracking Session

We got back into the swing of things last night in D&D – with a mix of derring-do and investigation, but also tears and laughter in moments of heartfelt roleplay where these new adventurers began to come to terms with the harshness of the life that they had chosen.

Chief among the causes of their introspection was that the stories and songs they had been raised on didn’t talk often about what it felt like to have to make life and death decisions over their friends. The fighting had been sudden and unexpected and nearly seen two of their number cut down in the first moments of their career. Briar, as a child of retired adventurers in particular, was shocked at the realisation that these feelings must have been felt by their parents.

Your Friendly DM

There was also concern about who or what the undead had been before becoming what they were. What lives had they lived? Had they had friends and family? What had led them to die and then be so darkly reborn?

Others in the group took to singing and drinking and dancing to cope – celebrating their lives and raising the spirits of all around them. For some there was study, or the quiet discipline of knitting quietly and watching everyone else.

The former introspection was roleplayed beautifully and brought tears to people’s eyes, the latter celebration turned into a celebration that had everyone in stitches with laughter. An overnight recovery for the adventurers and players – but with the knowledge that a dark mystery remained to be explored with the discovery of an overgrown staircase leading deeper into the hill.

Additional Gaming Resources for RPGS

I’m doing a lot of setup and preparation for the new D&D group, and part of that has been going back and updating the resource, reference, and inspiration websites to help me when I need to come up with stuff quickly. Sometimes its needing to look the bare bones of something up, and sometimes its needing something to spark when I need an off-the-cuff name or location description.

As the DDC in its current form is not overly combat-orientated, and has a distinct preference for strategy and talking their way into and out of situations, I’m fully expecting to have all sorts of curveballs thrown my way.

Some of the resources are additional image packs that I’ve bought through the Roll20 market – some of them have been creature and character tokens, but the majority have been modular mapping packs – as each average about $4.99 or so I’ve been finding them very good value for money for then designing and customising location maps.

I’ve also been playing around with the following sites:

  • Iron Arachne – https://ironarachne.com/ – which has a wide selection of what it calls procedural generation tools for tabletop games, and also a list of other sites providing similar tools. Generating cultures, weather, names, heraldry is as simple as clicking a button, or just looking at the results posted on the site as recently generated results.
  • Donjon – https://donjon.bin.sh/ – has a huge number of random generators – be they names, adventures, dungeons, or worlds for a wide range of backgrounds and game systems.
  • Eberron Unlimited – http://eberronunlimited.wikidot.com/ – is a developing wiki of rules and information, generators and tables specifically focused on the game world we’re using.
  • D&D Wiki – https://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Main_Page – another treasure trove of information for quick reference for a number of D&D editions as well as Pathfinder, largely using the SRD kits for those systems.
  • Deepnight.net – https://deepnight.net/tools/rpg-map/ – browser-based map maker that also has a downloadable desktop app. I’ve used this to map out simple locations and then export them as png or jpg files to upload to Roll20.
  • Dave’s Mapper – https://davesmapper.com/ – need a quick village or cave system or dungeon mapping out in old-school D&D treasure map style? Give this a look. I’ve used this to quickly throw together at least one location.

Hope the gamers among you – whether players or GMs – find these useful, and I’m always interested to hear of others that people have found easy to use or a little hidden gem…

Have fun!

Getting Creative

In between a couple of odds and ends, plus doing a week’s groceries or so, I’ve spent time fleshing out the adventure the DDC is most likely to have over the next few weeks – mostly in terms of flavour text and items – on an old imported map I made a few years ago.

The thing is, perfectionist that I am, I’m not entirely happy with how the grids align with the layout. The grids are what each counter or token are set into on the Roll20 maps. At present they’re slightly off so items and characters could end up halfway into walls. In addition, its a simply styled drawing generated by a webpage, so it looks somewhat plain compared to some of the full colour ones I’m generally using.

I do have the option to switch off the feature that snaps items to the grid, but at the moment I’m trying to simplify things for the less experienced players – and there is that whole graphics element as well…

So thats why I’m taking the modular stone building set i mentioned the other day, and have started recreating the map in a version two. There’s probably more productive things I could be doing, but the map making geek in me is happy as a clam.

Session Two – Or Ticket To Ride

So we had our second game night yesterday – and despite some tech issues on the voice side for a couple of people we had another successful go at it. My aim as GM this time round is to use this initial simple adventure to get everyone, including myself, used to the rules. I have two people (Lady M and myr s) who haven’t really played much D&D at all, while Mre B, Lady B, and Lord S have played but not in a group with any one else around our virtual table. There’s a lot of adjusting and settling in to do – not least of which is finding the right balance between roleplay and rollplay.

Rollplay is what I’ve started calling those parts of the game that rely more on dice results – things like combat for example – rather than the interaction between characters that allows people to inhabit the fantasy. My aim with this group is to allow it to have as much a say in the direction of the story as possible, with the aim of finding a happy middle ground that satisfies and still challenges each person around the table.

Last night saw the DDC using the tickets bought by the university to travel to Fort Light on the borders of Thrane. Even travelling in relative luxury it was still the best part of the week, and I would have been happy to have the whole session be just them talking nonsense and getting up to hijinx. Unfortunately we had enough voice disruptions due to network bandwidth somewhere that the flow didn’t really get started – so I moved the action along.

As they were travelling through civilised lands there wasn’t any form of banditry or disruption to the service on this occasion – indeed the biggest issues was that of characters who had never had gold before not being sure what the trade up values from copper and silver were for working out their change for bar drinks and meals. The journey across the border from Aundair did at least give me a chance to depict some of the lasting scars of magical conflict on the land, and set the stage for the cultural change as they moved into a theocratic nation.

Some quick bargaining by Alfonso got them a cheap ride to the village described by their patron, and they were soon able to locate one of the shepherds who had found the opening in the hill. With his fresh impressions and extra details in their minds, they had no difficulty finding the way in the morning – “past the blasted oak, through the gate, follow the path and sheep droppings to the top of the ridge and the opening will be below you on the other side where the landslip has left it bare.”

They were expecting a cave, but instead found an enormous hall, wet and cold with fungus and mould. A ramp led down to the floor below, and bodies could be seen between two enormous pillars. A forest of man-tall mushrooms was clustered near a hole in the ground below nearer the back but there was no sign of anything immediately dangerous.

The first body proved to be that of the missing shepherd, with his dog nearby, but as the DDC moved to investigate the second, they grew near enough the mushrooms to trigger a wailing shriek from them that roused skeletal human warriors in archaic armour to move to attack them. Nearer the back of the room, a fungal-covered orc zombie warrior in similarly outdated armour pulled itself out of the soil and began to advance as well.

The fight initially did not go well as the party was scattered, and Kerne the dragonborn sorceror and Caeluma the tiefling cleric were nearly pulled down straight away. It was only Briar’s quick thinking as a druid that turned the tide with a healing word and an entangle spell to buy them some time. Valenia and Alfonso managed to damage some of the skeletons, but Kerne was able to melt one and badly cripple another with an acidic dragonbreath exhalation.

At which point, as a cliffhanger, we paused the game.

So – we’re off to a start, and we’ll see where it takes us from here. I seem so far to be getting the balance right – in as much as there is terror and uncertainty but barring anything outrageous the DDC should be able to pull through without major harm.

Day 372 of Isolation

What is days? What is space? Oh wait – hang on, I can go outside – ah, nope. Okay, so instead, while in between sorting a few odds and ends out with emails and remote access to some things, I’ve been experimenting a bit with some of the map pack options in Roll20 to make some maps for “just in case” – because if I’ve learned anything over the years, its that players are distracted by the slightest thing faster than you can yell “Squirrel!”

With a roleplay-heavy group like the current DDC, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. I plopped them down in a generic inn map while assembling things and it turned into at least two sessions of them making breakfast for each other, singing, and trying to teach a tiefling to catch apples with their tail. All the derailments so far have been purely character-chat – aside from the sudden desire to go find a training ground to practice combat.

Fortunately there are a great number of free map graphics made up. They’re searchable through the assets menu, but these all take time and I couldn’t find anything generic enough.

In the end I used a semi-random map for that particular moment. It did prompt me though to have a look at the various map pack options available to purchase through the Roll20 marketplace – rather than so many of the pre-made pretty options.

I ended up with three that look fairly flexible in that they are modular graphics with connectors – I can use the layers to blend the rough edges and the intended size and proportions so far have been quite user-friendly. I

‘ve been practicing with the Stone Building set to make some sort of generic mansion layout. Its not for a particular planned encounter, but is the sort of thing I plan to archive and keep to hand the next time they try something felonious or otherwise random.

Longtime gamers won’t even blink at the option of felonious in the above paragraph – and as this group has designated the rogue as their financier, I feel entirely justified in making up places that may suffer security lapses in the weeks to come.

Now my only concern is going to be what effect having lots of small graphics for the map will be like as opposed to having a single graphic that I’ve made elsewhere and imported. I’m using .png format graphics, so they should be reasonably swift but I’ll report when I start using them in anger. The other difference is that the group is currently five players plus myself, as opposed to the eight or so that the previous Wartorn Campaign had – I’m hoping this imposes a much lower hit on bandwidth and loading times.

Game Night Returns

Well, that happened… That’s actually the title of the game that I’m running and it seems entirely appropriate for a heavily roleplay-orientated group with similarly dry senses of wit as my own.

The mix of character personalities bubbles gently as we have a mix of introverts and extroverts at play – fortunately the most extrovert of them is Lord S, who as an opera performer delights in elevating everyone around him. Taking the royal of a flamboyant rogue of a noble halfling, he took us on a good five minute babble about the difference between asking someone nicely to do something and asking someone nicely to do something.

My notes on the session are as follows:

Key events – from memory: breakfast included another session of catching practice, where Caeluma switched up to using daggers rather than their tail for catching apples, and everyone thought a fight was about to break out. Alfonso and Briar took the stage to warm applause, but only after Alfonso nearly had a breakdown trying to explain to Caeluma the difference between asking nicely and asking nicely. The Secretary of Orcish Antiquities let people pet her Iron Defender “George” and her pet dinosaur enjoyed being snuck all the treats.

University IDs were handed out, a formal signing of the DDC charter happened, and a job was provided as a test run for the group to investigate a cave/ruin recently uncovered on the Thrane border by bad weather. Return tickets for the Lightning Rail to Fort Light have been provided.

Then there was a bit of a training session, first with a warforged ex-soldier called Speedy, and then with skeletons. The match was called after a minotaur skeleton KO’d Briar and sent them flying literally ten foot through the air.

We ended the session with a cut back to the bar and everyone covered in comedy bandages and moving in some discomfort to order dinner.

And then we mostly stayed up chatting until nearly four in the morning.

Dearie, dearie me…