How Bizarre

I was about to write a blog and found three unpublished drafts from over the last few weeks, so I’ve hit the button on them. That should confuse the stats.

It’s been a very busy weekend – we finally caught up with each other yesterday – so today’s gaming session was a bit more subdued and roleplay-led than our more recent weekends.

The DDC ended up visiting a casino and taking advantage of Thorin’s local fame and popularity to sweettalk the owner into giving them some information about the missing Lord Kemsler. They now have the office address and name of a skyship captain who transported the artificer.

It doesn’t sound much, but the session was full of visits to tailors, shopping for gifts, and asking questions of suspicious town hall gnomes. It was gentle, but we had fun.

We’re also starting to get a regular viewership – a steady half dozen or so listeners all the way through and another couple of dozen who dipped in and out. According to our stats we also have a healthy number of people who check in on the recordings during the week – so if that’s any of you, thank you very much and hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have making it.

If you’re not sure of the link, have a listen to and we’ll see you soon.

Why Kobolds?

Last night’s game ran over time, but was great fun, mixing the freeform joys of a festival with a guest player who needed to recruit the DDC. As with last week, I’d drawn up a timetable for events to help keep us on track for the session and by and large it helped us clip along at a brisk pace all the way through.

Was a good session

Our guest character, Zorra, was a warlock from the University library, well known to Kerne. An aarakocra looking like a large humanoid owl in a smart suit, Zorra had been shut out of her home by an invasion of kobolds and needed the DDC’s help getting back in.

Home Alone style hijinks then started before the group managed to break in and fight off the small statured but persistent pack – while Valenia and her wolf fell through into a sub basement which looked to be where the kobolds had come from.

We did overrun, so the story will continue next week with our guest returning – but if you’d like to hear and see what happened then go to and you can catch up there.

Games Report

Last night’s game dipped into more pulp and espionage elements after the side trip taken the last couple of weeks. A long-bubbling subplot regarding a missing artificer and artificially produced narcotics came into focus with a bit of a bang.

The session started gently with the identification and sale of various treasures recently recovered. This allowed them to have a bit of a shopping spree to update some of their equipment, and so everyone’s mood was high.

The courtesan Belle, last met in the Undercroft on the arm of Lord Harm, arranged to meet Valenia at The Brazen Hydra, the tavern just down the street from the group’s home.

Valenia brought everyone along, so they were all there when Belle revealed herself to actually be Sobrein d’Phiarlan, an Agent of House Phiarlan who specialise in entertainment and information brokerage. The House was concerned about the potential damage the drug could cause and so wanted to help point the group in the right direction.

Before they could move somewhere private to discuss it further, an assassin launched a fireball from an alley across the street, and struck Sobrein down. Iron Ryan, who has become Kerne’s companion, stayed to stabilise the fallen Bard while the group raced in pursuit.

It wasn’t destined to be a long chase, as Caeluma and Kerne both discharged spells in response. Caeluma’s eldritch blast clipped the fleeing assassin, but Kerne’s spell melted him into little more than a pile of gloop, much to the alarm of bystanders and a local guard patrol. Sobrein suggested that he might have been an agent of House Thuranni, bitter rivals of her house in spycraft.

Eventually they were able to get Sobrein to their house and complete their discussions. She was able to describe a conflict between the lowlives of the Dhaask gangs and the extensively connected Boromar Clan in the city of Sharn. House Phiarlan was concerned that if either group was successful they would wreak havoc in different parts of society and so wanted it taken out of both their hands.

The clue that she could offer was that Lord Kemsler had been to a meeting with someone at Casino Tanja. If they could find out who it had been with they would find it easier to track where the artificer had gone.

And that’s where we left the session. It’s probably just a coincidence that House Phiarlan’s symbol is a hydra.

Bouncing Back

Been a lot brighter as the weekend has gone on, and thats been more than a little due to the anticipation of and running of tonight’s game, which just finished.

It was a battle-heavy game as the group tracked down the people and entities responsible for the recent carnage and kidnapping of their companion. I was concerned at one point that I might not have judged things well from a balance point of view, but a combination of luck (both good and bad), tactics, and planning saw it all work out, including Caeluma being the one to strike the fatal blow against the Bone Knight responsible for everything.

I’m all energised in a tired way from that, so with tomorrow being my last day on holiday I’ll spend some time working out the next chapter, and then preparing for a new week of strangeness.

Lady M is back to work tomorrow. I suspect there may be some swearing…

Haunted Housing

A good D&D session this week, and as with last week we streamed it through Lady B’s Twitch channel between 7.30 and 10 (ish) – we’re enjoying it enough that we’ll continue as regularly as possible with that. Hopefully we’ll also have things uploading to YouTube soon.

This week saw them starting to explore the dilapidated house on the cliffs in search of the missing owner who was working on alchemical “stuff”. The scene before them was full of broken and moldy plaster, and rotten woodwork. Initial investigations revealed cold spots and flashing lights out the corner of people’s eyes. So far so spooky.

A heavy fog rolled in from the sea, and being rather cool customers this was met with a “huh” – by contrast, when myr s investigated the remains of the kitchen and disturbed a nest of giant centipedes there were cries of dismay fuelled by phobias and recently viewed video games.

I’ll take it.

With the group split (yes, they actually split the party in a haunted house environment), there was nearly a smattering of deaths, but quick thinking, sprinting, and maaaaaybe one or two fudged rolls on my side saw them pull through and licking their wounds.

Investigations continue, with hidden doors and ongoing spookiness… As ever, it was a great tonic after a long week

Neverwinter On The XBox One

Like an awful lot of people I played the original Neverwinter games as they emerged from the series of strong Dungeons & Dragons PC games developed by Black Isle and Bioware, so the news that a new title was coming out certainly made my ears prick up. I don’t play very much on the PC any more, mostly because I don’t have the budget, time, or desk space to dedicate to a gaming rig, and mostly play on consoles these days. That’s mostly why I didn’t pick up on Neverwinter when it launched on PC as a MMORPG – that and the fact that I was still playing EVE regularly and didn’t want to stretch either my wallet or time any further.

Fast forward a bit and the free release on the XBox One reminded me that it existed so I downloaded it and rather tentatively gave it a go. I’m glad I did, and it’s not just for nostalgia’s sake.

Neverwinter is a firmly traditional fantasy game with a rich tradition in games that have been published in the setting over the years. That history can be seen everywhere, from flavour decisions in character making, building and character design and naming conventions and in the lore liberally scattered around the place. There are enough players and NPCs around to feel that the city is a living and thriving location, matched by opponents that respawn fast enough to make their faction’s threats feel credible.

Considering how steep some games make their learning curve (I’m looking at you EVE), I was pleasantly surprised at the way the narrative was employed to peel aside the layers of complexity available to you as a player without feeling restrictive. In some ways that comes from the levelling system that (appropriately) feels entirely helpful and natural here – at least to this grizzled tabletop campaigner.

I’ve played through to level fifteen so far, and this morning spent some time unpicking the complicated process of talking someone through joining for a multiplayer group session. This took a bit of perseverence and I’m not sure if that was down to the XBox Friends/Party system or the Neverwinter shards/instance implementation. I suspect a little from column A and a little from column B – or at least the interface between the two. That said, when we’d managed to get into the right shard and team up it felt very smooth and the only disruption we had came from a technical issue with the other person’s XBox rather than any network or server-side problem.

Graphically, it feels a little last generation – but not unbearably so, and the sheer amount of things going on at once and the speed and ease of doing things make these part of the charm of the game. There’s a quietly retro feel to the game that I think is entirely appropriate. We’re not talking blocky Minecraft-style graphics or horrible glitches, but don’t expect to be parkouring around the neighbourhood.

I really like it – and I think I’ll be wandering around making myself a nuisance there for a while. There’s a huge amount of material and options that I’ve only just started to look at – including the professions minigame, crafting and making sense of the daily dungeons and alternate monetary systems at play. There’s a lot here that I suspect would make more sense if I’d ever played World of Warcraft – but beyond a ten minute demo a number of years ago that’s not been on my radar either so I’m learning a lot of this wholesale.

I’ll post more (spoiler-free) as I go along – there’s quite a lot to play with, which is always fun with a free-to-play game.

Eberron Campaign Mapping

Crusader Kitty
Crusader Kitty

I’m having a gentle Saturday, and in between watching films and Lady M trying to get one hundred percent on Peggle2 (not necessarily at the same time), I’ve been finalising the maps for our Monday night Dungeons and Dragons games. The structure that the players have been exploring in search of the plot macguffin was built by ancient giants – so to reflect the scale of the previous inhabitants has meant building a series of maps on an appropriately huge size.

Maps built for medium (human)-sized inhabitants will usually be depicted with five to ten foot wide corridors in enclosed castle or dungeon environments – and I use a grid on the maps scaled at 70 pixels equalling five foot. The original builders of the temple/observatory that the adventurers are exploring averaged about eighteen foot in height, so I’m scaling to around four times the normal corridor, room and door sizes.

warforged barbarian with an axeNow, I’ve been using a mixture of published and original material, so at least I’ve not been going at this totally blind, but to present the maps through the Roll20 interface I’ve had to manually recreate and edit them on an individual basis. I could have copied and pasted them from the Acrobat documents to save time, but they would have been monochrome and limited in presentation. By recreating them I’ve had a free hand to expand the scope, content and re-usability of those resources.

But I have to admit, there have been more than a few moments where it’s felt a bit of a faff. The reward comes in the player reactions and comments as we’ve been playing over the last seven months or so. I think, from the rate we’re going through the adventure that there’s probably another month or so, at most. After that? Who knows. I know the next big adventure block that I’m adapting, but I do need to bridge from this extravaganza to that – so there’s some original content I’ll need to write.

I’m looking forward to it.

Danger In The Dark Write-Up

Well, I managed to get this week’s session written up today, in between taking the car in for its MOT, meeting surveyors and doing various household odds. I’ve been glad to be mostly back at home today, especially with how cold it’s been. As I was walking down the road from dropping the car off, I found I was bitterly regretting not bringing gloves and being moderately bemused by how pink my fingertips had become. It was as good an excuse as any to drop in to a coffee house to warm back up.

While I was there, I went into my usual people-watching routine. For the most part it was all business as usual – a bit quiet, but it was first thing in the morning – with one or two people at their laptops in dark corners, parents chatting after dropping their offspring at school, and then there was the conversation at the next table that I was trying not to listen in on.

A man, maybe a few years younger than me, talking to someone who may have been a debt counsellor or possibly a solicitor as a consultation. He was going through his monthly outgoings, and explaining how a mental illness that had just been diagnosed had made it very hard for him to sustain a working routine, leading to unemployment. A discussion about his medications and support network then ensued – talking about what medicines he had stopped taking, what was being changed by his GP, and so on. I promise, I really was trying not to listen, but we all know how hard it can be to do that when so many features of what you are hearing chime with your own past experiences.

After a few minutes I did the decent thing. I finished my drink, shut down my tablet and left to go see if they had finished with my car. They didn’t need me overhearing these conversations, and I didn’t need – as an act of emotional positivity – to keep listening and let my memories jar loose things that are in the past, done and dusted.

Keeping positive is a key part of my plan to stay awesome this year. Sometimes it’s easy, especially when we have amazing game sessions on a Monday where I not only see things going to plan, but have the joy and privilege of accompanying my players through an emotional and triumphant journey in the game. Other times it takes a bit more effort, and requires me to do things like remove myself from situations that really don’t need my presence.

Tomorrow, I have a slate of work to do for people, so awesomeness will ensue.

Pre-Christmas Round-Up

Decorated Christmas Tree
No Humbug here

We’re in the final run-up to Christmas now, a season that didn’t really feel totally real until last weekend, where one of my younger brothers held his annual get-together. It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years – a gathering of friends and family for food, chatter, occasional music and a walk in the woods at night to the top of Reigate hill to share drinks, admire the view and rain fiery death on those below us in the form of chinese lanterns.

This year we took Lady P along with us, where she unexpectedly found herself in the company of the LARP/Cosplay prop-makers Artyfakes, who she has recently commissioned to make a unique prop for May’s MCM London Expo. As Lady P has been a major proponent of Christmas spirit at work this year, it made for a great confluence of work and home life to kick off the season’s celebrations.

We always try to make an effort for Christmas, especially given how lean the last few years have been. It’s a great time to push the boat out and celebrate, and we love being able to give gifts to people. For me, it’s about the look of surprise and joy on people’s faces when I manage to match something a bit unusual or special to their tastes. We try to pick things up through the year. In part this is to spread the cost out, but it’s also taking advantage of seeing things through the year that might not be available nearer the date itself, especially if it’s something we’ve seen while out and about on our travels. This year, we’ve got more than a few things that we picked up when we were in Florida, so I hope that with the more traditionally sourced things we manage to put a smile on everyone’s faces. If nothing else, we’ve got plenty under the tree to give to people.

So – one more working day this week, and then both Lady M and I are on our holidays, joined next week by the Charleesi before we head off out for the great family gathering for the holiday itself.

Updates on the website this week have included the regular Dungeons and Dragons session write-up, and the start of my putting up extra material from the campaign. These will both see ongoing updates. The adventures continue to be based on a mix of published and original material. This is partly because we’re still learning our way around the rules, and partly making the most of the time available. I’d love to be creating material for the campaign out of whole cloth, but being pragmatic we’re all enjoying ourselves immensely and I’ve had one or two people say they’re also enjoying the write-ups – so I’ll keep doing them.

Eberron and Large Mocha Days

Week two of this phase of the Eberron campaign has been posted; and looking back at it, I seem to be adopting a more editorial tone there than usual – probably because it was one of those sessions where the dice played tricks and it felt like we were still finding a new equilibrium in terms of who has what role within the group.

The role filled by Koff is being largely filled by another player who has rebalanced their character a little to add some muscle to the largely mobility-based feats he had been taking. The new character is a wizard – specifically an Evoker – so there are some powerful attacking magics to hand there that look likely to change the flow of the battles to come. I may have to do some on-the-fly jury-rigging of encounters until I get the balance again. Still, it does now make the group more rounded than it was, and provides a far wider bag of tricks and skills that they can use to overcome the encounters heading their way.

Meanwhile in reality, my off-the cuff labelling of rough days as “large mocha days” to the staff at our local Harris and Hoole has been adopted for their own use today. Apparently there was a sewage pipe break in the Tesco that the unit is based in last night, and it still hadn’t been cleared when staff turned up this morning.

By the time I arrived this afternoon on my way to pick up some food for tonight, things had returned more or less to normal and they had been given the all clear by environmental health/health and safety/powers that be – and they all looked completely frazzled around the edges. This was where I learned that the term “large mocha day” had been adopted. I feel strangely proud of that.

In other news, I’ve had to strap my wrist – some sort of RSI-type injury from writing/drawing/shelving/using computers at strange angles thing that is slowly getting better but has reintroduced me to the delights of Deep Heat. I’m hoping it will be recovered by the end of the week. Ho hum.