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.

Spoons Management

Yesterday wasn’t a fantastic day – one of being low in energy and mood, and it wasn’t helped by diabetes starting my day with an upset stomach that led to copious vomiting mid-morning. Still, at least when that was done I wasn’t as bloated and queasy and merely had a headache, lethargy, and a general feeling of worthlessness – so a reasonable trade-off I guess.

Part of the low energy and dip in self-esteem came from the enforced distancing and general ill health between us all. A big part of my love language is physical touch with those I’m close with – not necessarily intimately, but just the brush of hands or quick hugs or joking pokes in the ribs that cross the gaps between us and at least in my head remind and reassure of acceptance and comfort. So with Lady M having a bad fibromyalgia day and physical distance from myr s, it was a bad day to be having my brain throw a tantrum on that front.

Then there was just the part where I was physically tired as well as emotionally exhausted. I’ve been doing a lot between preparation for the D&D game, cleaning the house/decluttering, and generally being a supportive and positive person for everyone – and I just needed to collapse for a bit. Being typically introverted however, I’m generally not fantastic at communicating this coherently, which can lead to a bit of a spiral of my own making.

But that was yesterday – and today the sun is out, and we’ve spoken at appropriate distances with neighbours. They’ve all asked how we are doing now from when we’ve posted on local facebook groups about going into isolation. There’s been the affirmation that our experiences are not so different, and that generally people are choosing the positive view of how to deal with these weird times.

I have the game tonight, so I’me doing some minor tweaks and preparation for that, and I’ve started recording some odds and ends for a channel on our discord, telling stories. I’ve even written an experimental new beginning for the book and recorded that:

I think what I may start doing as I transcribe more of my short stories is also do recordings of them too as an ongoing process – partly to get practice in, but also to offer another form of accessibility to people who can’t read easily for whatever reason. It’s another creative form, and one that I hope people enjoy.

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.

Texted by the Government

Although they started making noises about it a few years ago, the UK government never actually got round to making any kind of formal emergency messaging system work. The cynical among us might think that because no one was lined up to get rich out of it that it never got the real push it needed – rather than being concerned that it would be a really sensible thing for a government to do to disseminate important information.

Compare this with South Korea, The United States, or the Netherlands for example. South Korea has been so aggressive in its development and adoption of it that they have reportedly been able to communicate the movements of infected people on their way to get tested or quarantined to minimise potential harm to others.

But no, here in the UK the govt had to ask the four major phone providers to send a text on their behalf to tell me to stay at home, just in case I hadn’t noticed the news in any way, shape, or form.

If it helps focus minds, then good, it’s better than nothing, but I’m already hearing from people whose phones flagged it as spam or suspected phishing attempts. That does not bode well.

Decluttering Day

Today has been spent pottering around, shredding old files and envelopes with personal data, and having a tidy. Something about the sunshine has obviously kicked me into spring-cleaning mode.

A large black binliner now sits by the door full of odds and ends and shredded paper ready for a late-night wander down to the bin store as a result.

And following on from the Cards session we’re now talking about getting Roll20 sessions going again. It’s a whole new group, but most have played at least a little before even if they’ve not necessarily used the site before. We’ll do a tech test tomorrow and see how it works

About Last Night

With isolation looming for many of us, a group of us self-confessed geeky queers set up a Discord server last night and started playing Cards Against Humanity.

The carnage was livestreamed on the Book of Faces for a while, and I have to say it was a wonderful three hours of letting our collective hair down and laughing at the world. My cheeks have not ached from grinning so much in ages.

Even with the coughing fits and pauses where we had to battle for bandwidth with everyone else using the site it was a great morale boost. It was exhausting, but much needed. Here’s to more, and I think there will be.

With all the worries and upsets around us, having a safe space to unwind is going to be all the more important, and this allows us to keep and make connections even as health dictates we keep our distance. I’d say it may even keep us sane, but that does seem like tempting fate.

Chaotic Day

Well, that was a day. I think my body is trying to collapse into having a cold, with a sinus headache that’s lasted three days so far. So as you might expect I wasn’t full of the joys of spring this morning when I got into work and started to do the float and cash up.

Very quickly, from phonecalls and emails, my to do list grew rapidly – and then I had to stop and search in the safe for extra money put aside by a colleague earlier in the week as the till draw started to get full. There was no note left to let me know however, so that was a nervous five minutes working out how I could be significantly under on the expected total.

And then I got a call. Bear in mind we’ve only been open half an hour or so by this point. Could you come over to Chertsey to supervise the coder dojo? The person who was going to do so has gone sick. There’s a volunteer to run it but we need you there as someone sensible.

Well there’s a lot to unpack there. The last coding I ever did was visual basic as a database front end some fifteen or more years ago. It also meant that I wouldn’t be there to meet an artist and supervise him putting up an installation, or any number of staff support and management things rapidly pinging on my radar.

On the other hand, what’s the worst that could happen?

It went okay. I stayed hands off and interpreted a few things for the children if they didn’t quite follow the volunteer’s directions – and otherwise managed a number of issues by phone. The kids were happy, the staff were happy, and I discovered new bus routes I was previously unaware of.

I do enjoy a bit of chaos to shake things up, but today was a bit non stop. Let’s see where the pieces I had to drop today ended up…

Friday already?

My bank have made a recent change that I both like and find irritating. They’ve stopped factoring my small agreed overdraft into the display of my available funds. It’s a small thing but I applaud it as a tool for making me have to think before using it.

There’s also an automated text to notify me if I do use it, and offering the carrot of not paying charges etc if I go back into credit by a certain time in the evening. You get the idea.

This morning I was moderately tickled to see I’d gone five pounds in to my overdraft yesterday, and received the expected text, then another text when I didn’t meet the deadline, promising more charges for as long as I was in the overdraft. Then within minutes of that my pay went into the account – and silence has fallen.

Must be a Friday

Congratulations On Being Alive

There’s a whimsical note to this as it isn’t as grim as it might sound. On my phone I have set a target of a certain number of steps and minutes of activity, all of which is measured by the accelerometer and interpreted by my health app.

Activity can count as running, brisk walking, or anything other than a gentle amble, and so I can aim at some degree of cardio exercise even if I’m just shifting stock or floor walking with customers at work.

My phone of course likes to congratulate me on achieving these targets, and so little notifications appear on my phone when I meet or exceed them, followed by a roundup nearer the end of the evening.

As the font is a little on the small and cluttered side, I therefore keep misreading Congratulations on being Active, as a sarcastic and/or passive-aggressive snipe about still being alive.

I’m reasonably sure my phone isn’t actually trying to kill me.

There’s An App For That

Every now and then I like to have a wander through the app store on my Android and see some of the oddly specific programs that people have produced. Sometimes I even try them out. There’s a rare few that find an instant niche and stay, I on my phone for any length of time – and these tend to be either writing tools or means of organising my time. Like many of us I lend weight to recommendations from people I know as well – after all, if someone has enjoyed or found useful an app enough to tell me that they think I’ll have a specific use for it then it would be rude and unappreciative of their time and thought not to at least spend a few moments to consider it.

Also like most of us, I tend to see my phone as quite a personal object – it after all not only spends a lot of time on my person and in use, but stores personal information and access to things that I enjoy or find of use. I see this every day in people who come into the library wanting to print off an email but being stymied when pressed to log into their mail service through a browser rather than through the app on their phone where they entered a password once a year or two ago and have never thought about it since. (We won’t even get into the people who don’t know how to use a mouse and keyboard because they’re so used to touchscreen technology.)

And so finding a useful app that crosses both into the personal and the useful is a great delight – expecially where it is useful to the dynamic between myself and lady s. We live a small distance apart, so anything that helps maintain contact without straying into slightly stalkery territory is a bonus – especially where it comes to the negotiated power transfers that come as part and parcel of a BDSM relationship. An online usergroup of which we are both part was discussing various online apps that could help with monitoring tasks, rewards, and punishments agreed between the participants of a dynamic and there was one that sprang to the fore for the flexibility that it offered – so we’ve been giving it a try.

We both downloaded the app and connected our profiles, and have agreed a number of tasks for lady s to undertake at various intervals during a week – whether several times a day, every day, or several times a day – and a points value towards rewards list for the successful completion of those tasks. There are also punishments defined and agreed for the failure to complete the tasks – and these range from points deductions, through restrictions on certain activities, through to other forfeits.

Activities on the task list include things such as eating a certain number of sit down meals a day, achieving a certain level of step counts, and certain household or personal tasks. Rewards include massages, the purchase of certain gifts, or activities to enjoy together.

As each day goes by, lady s ticks off certain tasks as she completes them, or leaves them if she chooses not to undertake them, and the app notifies me and counts/deducts points or assign pre-agreed forfeits that we can catch up on when we next meet – and for our dynamic it works. It appeals to the need for imposed structure and routine that lady s has without my needing to chase her for updates. The tasks have come from both of us, drawing on rewards and forfeits that we have both agreed – and at the same time, if life gets in the way, it is a matter of a few clicks to reset counters or remove forfeits if felt appropriate.

There are parallels with the reward schemes some parents set up with their children to encourage them to undertake chores in the household, or complete their homework from school – which I think makes the app more intuitive to set up and use as it is full of concepts that many of us have encountered elsewhere – so in many ways it does stand as a somewhat unexpected and yet inevitable illustration of the marketing phrase “there’s an app for that”.

Oh, it’s called Obedience – appropriately enough