It's been a tough ride while in quarantine.
I've moved my side professions exclusively online, my main profession followed (hello distance learning model), and there is a difficult lack of separation between work and home. With everything so close, and no overt way to escape effectively, little things become big things and minor difficulties weigh heavy on our psyche.
This week was a rough one for me, and even rougher for my lady. It marked one of the few times she came in and asked me to mix her a drink.
Now, we're not alcoholic people. In fact, with our combined digestive problems, our liquor consumption is a delicate beast rarely visited, so the majority of my academic study of palette and liquor is for the consumption led by OTHER PEOPLE and THEIR taste buds.
WE consume things with a simpler approach - less ingredients means less chance for contamination, and when we find a mix we like and can trust, we stick with it. Disaronno and Coca-Cola is a great example; it's trustworthy and feels good, and won't hurt us. Beer? Disease. Most ciders? Pain incarnate. The whole majority of wine? Just...why bother?
But if I can expand our palette just a bit with a few simple ingredients from my cabinet, then we're in business for something special, and just because we have restrictions doesn't mean we can't help take the edge off during those rare moments where it could really help. So what follows is a trio of simple mixes that we have used to help with the hard weeks (consumed responsibly, of course) of the past, present, and future.
Easy does it.
This one's a simple shot. Smooth and hidden.
1/2 ounce Fireball Whisky
1 ounce Root Beer liqueur
Personally I go a little less Fireball, a little more Root Beer, but sometimes I swing toward equal parts, or rebalance the complete other direction. Due to my sensitivity around anything spicy, anytime I try this shot it's chased immediately by a full glass of water (keeps me from coughing, and keeps the burn down). This way I don't sacrifice the warmth in my bones for the doom of my esophagus. :)
This one and the next are adapted margarita mixes (a favorite of my lady), and thus will use Tequila as their bases. I recommend Gold Tequila, rather than Silver, if you have a choice. If not, don't worry about it.
1.5 Oz Tequila
3/4 Oz. Blue Curacao
2 Oz. Pineapple Juice
(mix up, and pour into a glass)
Fill the rest with Ginger Ale
It's a neat little drink, smoothed out by the Ginger. No Ginger Ale? Sprite will do, but you'll change the palette a little.
Yes, yes, I know it looks like a Tequila Sunrise, and it basically is with a slight twist.
1.5 Oz. Tequila
1 Oz. Triple Sec
1.5-3 Oz. Orange Juice
1/2 Oz. Sour Mix
1 Oz. Grenadine
So this is the most complicated in the sense that it has five ingredients, then Crushed Ice that you pour this over, but that ice and the extra Orange Juice is precisely what you'll need to spread this palette out to something you can sip by the pool, or on the porch, or chug in the kitchen. ;)
And as tasty as these are, alcoholism is a thing. Please be responsible whenever you consume alcoholic beverages.
I am not a bartender, just a modern Bard, and my experiences and studies are the information I draw on.
These are strange, difficult times for many people and there's a big difference between taking the edge off and turning things into dangerous habits.
Be kind to yourself and others, and remember to extend a little compassion to your soul.
I'll see you at the table soon.
With the advent of offering a mentorship program for aspiring Game Masters, I have taken two under my wing recently. They have contrasting skills and styles, and it is an absolute honor to share tables with them as we all continue to grow and become better communicators, storytellers, and world-builders. One of them, Ian, took it upon himself to jot down his reflections here and there during the process, and with his permission, every now and then I'll share them with you all. We'll call this segment topic: Notes From The Apprentice. Enjoy!
Originally Transcribed on 4/7/2020
Hello, everyone! My name is Ian Ohlsson, and I am the current test-pilot for the Dungeon Master Apprenticeship Program created by Adamus Drake Productions. A short background on me: I am currently a college student, studying as a Biology major and pursuing a degree that will lead me to a fulfilling job in the medical field. I have experience in creative writing and storytelling, and I am absolutely infatuated with this wonderful game of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as all of the creativity it inspires in the people around me. I am looking forward to getting to know each other further over the course of these Entries, where I will share with you the lessons I’ve learned about how to become a skillful DM from my mentor, Adamus Drake.
Today, I would like to discuss something that I was forced to acknowledge early on: when I get excited about a particular topic, especially during conversations with friends, it can be easy for me to turn off my inner filter and barrage my comrades with a stream of consciousness. As you can imagine, this lack of control over my speech can be a detrimental factor as a DM, where I am guiding my Players through a world of floating plot hooks and narrative descriptions. And so, the first lesson I learned on my journey to becoming a great Dungeon Master was the lesson of clarity; the ability to say more with less, and having confidence that the information I’ve provided is sufficient. It is important, my friends, to place value in the words you choose. In a more scientific context, we increase the quality of our words in place of quantity.
Now, this might sound restrictive to the creative flow that is crucial for being a DM, and counterintuitive considering how many 2000-word papers many of us have written during our youth. But in fact, it instills a sense of freedom in the speaker - no more will you find yourself compelled to defend your statements, or accidentally reveal secret narrative points, or fill the air with just sound for its own sake. With clarity comes the confidence to trust in your skills as an aspiring DM. Once you take this step, the wonderful world of this game will open up to you, and you will be able to harness the inspiration it fills you with.
Thank you very much for reading, and I hope this Entry has helped you on your own path. I am looking forward to continuing these posts weekly, and discussing more about how we can become our best selves through gaming.
Good luck on your journeys,
This month in the Moonriver, I was given the opportunity to set up a sequence of drinks for an online game. It was to celebrate my birthday, and thus I deemed it necessary to stage a test of four of my brews.
My players have told me they're excellent, but who can trust THAT LOT nowadays? A new test beckons.
What follows is a sequence of four drinks, all of which I have mixed and coined with portions and names. If you want to try the recipes, go right ahead! If not, maybe you'll be entertained by my strange walk down palette lane.
1) The Grandfather - Version 6
We kick things off with the most seasoned of the mixes. This is one I've been testing out and mixing down since I began this endeavor long ago, so I've had some nice practice, and it shows. Portions are done in parts, not oz, because I may have to make a lot of it at once, so that's not how I'm thinking.
1 part Drambuie
1 part Jack Honey
2 parts Fireball
2 splashes Amaretto
Fill in the rest with Dr. McGillicuddy's Root Beer
The Experience: The Jack and Drambuie creates an interesting smack in the face, fortified by the Cinnamon Whiskey, then smoothed out by the Amaretto and Root Beer. It warms my throat and my body and my soul, so going back for more was easy. I made the amount for 6 shots and none remained by the end.
2) Whimsical Kamikaze - Version 2
A Kamikaze is often a blast of Vodka and Lime or Lemon, and tends toward a sharper palette. I *tried* to smooth it out a little.
3 oz (2 shots) - Vanilla Vodka
1.5 oz (1 shot) - Triple Sec
1 oz (2/3 shot) - Cranberry Liqueur
1.5 oz (1 shot) - Lime Juice
The Experience: Flavor blasted and not my favorite. The citrus feel was achieved, but it needs something else to mellow out the effervescent lime and vodka. Maybe some Ginger Ale? [1 shot enjoyed, the rest ignored.]
3) Druidgrove - Version 1
This was born of a need to pursue the equivalent of a dark IPA flavor without beer (beer hurts me, so the simple solution is out). What came out definitely needs some tweaking.
1 oz (2/3 shot) - Four Roses Whiskey
1.5 oz (1 shot) - Oakheart Spiced Rum
3 oz (2 shots) - Lady Bligh Spiced Rum
5-7 dashes - Aromatic Bitters
Emergency Addition of more Dr. McG's Root Beer
The Experience: ...was harsh. 1 shot down and the burn of Four Roses is still inescapable. I need to stop mixing with this whiskey; it has never gone well. Maybe more Root Beer, maybe cut out the whiskey all together. Still, first try. I'm allowed a dud once in a while, and that just means more room for improvement!
4) Forbidden Fruit - Version 1
A fruity red drink was called for, and I've been itching to make stronger use of my Wild Cherry and Blackberry Brandys. The result needed a little adjustment during mixing from my original recipe.
3 oz. (2 shots) - Wild Cherry Brandy
3 oz. (2 shots) - Blackberry Brandy
1.5 oz (1 shot) - Raspberry Liqueur
2 oz (1 1/3 shot) - Pineapple Juice
Splash of Grenadine
The Experience: powerful fruit combo, yet smooth and sweet. I think scaling back the Pineapple to less than a shot will help even things out, and after a few others tasted this one, we wondered if a soda could augment it somehow. I'm open to a little Sprite or Coke to pull the sugars a different direction. Maybe no pineapple all together if soda flattens it correctly?
So of the four, The Grandfather was the only one finished with demands for more. The "Whimsy" needs a little more refinement, but we're close; I may be departing from the base of a Kamikaze and just embrace the journey ahead. Druidgrove is seeking that earthy tone, I can feel it, but I have more to learn to achieve that palette without wrecking my throat on the way. Forbidden was a lucky first try, and we're nearing the threshold of small changes to make it worthy.
Try these out if you like and let me know what you think. Any ideas? Experiments? Suggestions?
We all drink differently, and I look forward to learning more.
See you at the table (responsibly).
Okay, nerds. Here's a quick one for ya.
The only equipment needed here is a pull-up bar, and if that's not in the cards, there's always more pushups! We all want that ideal "quarantine bod", so let's get to work!
This is your 2-Day Bodyweight Split, with a rest day between each workout. If this is easy for you, then stay tuned for more advanced stuff. If this is NOT EASY, well, then this has become your Level 1. I look forward to helping you Level Up your fitness.
1) 5-10 Pushups
a. Beginner: from your knees
b. Standard: knees up, straight spine, hands shoulder-width apart
c. Advanced: “standard” but your toes are on a raised surface.
2) 10-20 Mountain Climbers
a. Standard: pushup position, then move your knees in and out toward your chest, like they’re “climbing a mountain” in the living room.
3) (Flip over) 10-20 Leg Lifts
a. Beginner: lie flat on your back, hands under your butt. Knees bent, lift your legs up to your chest.
b. Standard: “beginner”, but straighten your legs out.
c. Advanced: “standard”, but hold your hands up over your chest as you lift.
4) (hop up) 10-20 Squats
a. Standard: stand with feet shoulder width apart; bend at the knees, keeping the back as straight as you can. Try to keep the weight in your heels down and up.
b. Advanced: as you rise from the squat, jump and reach upwards, landing back in the squat.
1) 5-10 Staggered Pushups - this is a pushup where one hand stays at shoulder width and the other rests on the floor near your rib position. That arm will take the majority of the weight. Same variations as in Circuit 1.
2) 10-20 (seconds) Elbow Planks - put yourself in Standard Pushup position, then bend your arms to put your weight on your elbows and balance with your core. I recommend curling one hand into a fist into the other. Hold this position.
3) 10 Obliques - lie on your side, legs together, and rotate your waist toward the ceiling. Perform a crunch to your side, and hold it for 2 seconds before coming back down.
Rounds: 2-4 (Exercises 1 and 3 involve switching sides, so you need an even number of Rounds)
Note: this workout requires a Pull-Up Bar as part of each Circuit. If you do not have one, substitute another Push-up Variation (included below).
1) 10-20 Double Pump Squats - standard squats with an extra “pump” at the decline before jumping up and down back into the squat. It’s like pulsing at the bottom.
2) (drop down) 5-10 IN Pushups - Standard pushup position, with wrists turned in by 45 degrees (works chest and triceps).
3) 2-5 Neutral Grip Pullups - pullup with palms perpendicular to the body (works Lats and Triceps)
1) 10-20 Single Leg Squats - like the name suggests, balance on one foot and slowly perform a squat. You’ll get tired faster and that’s okay.
2) (drop down) 5-10 OUT Pushups - Standard pushup position, with wrists turned out by 45 degrees (works chest and biceps).
3) 2-5 Chinups - Pullup with palms close and facing toward you (works the Biceps).
1) 10 Water Pails (each side) - stand shoulder width apart and hold onto a moderately heavy, but easily moved object (a book, a weight, a dumbbell, ...a cat). Bend at the waist while turning toward one foot, then rotate and lift to the other side (as if you were chucking a full pail of water). Repeat until you’ve done this 10 times, then switch sides. Each set is done with both sides before moving on.
2) 5-10 "Under" Pushups - rest your hands on the first or second step of a staircase (or another raised surface) and position your body so your hands hover over your rib cage. Then perform the pushup.
3) 2-5 Mixed Grip Pullups - one hand Chinup position, one hand Neutral position.
4) 10-20 Farmer’s Walk - with something moderately heavy in each hand, lift up onto your tip-toes and take 10-20 steps. Your calves will be on fire.
Frequency - Try to perform, at least, each complete workout once a week. If you can achieve that, go for twice a week. It’s alright to have a rest day between. Just remember to keep moving; a walk, a run, even a few minutes of jumping jacks - goes a long way in personal fitness.
Standard - your regular pushup
Staggered - one hand standard, the other by your ribs.
In - standard but with palms facing in by 45 degrees.
Out - standard but with palms facing out by 45 degrees.
Wide - standard but with a wide wingspan and smaller range of movement.
Close - line up your palms with your pectorals.
Pike - basically Downward Dog but with a pushup (shoulders)
Underhand (Stair) - hands on the first or second step, positioned near ribs.
Elevated - toes on the first or second step; great for the upper chest.
Diamond - like In Pushup, but bring the fingers to touch, like forming a “diamond.”
Get it, nerds.
See you at the table.
The Core Concept (I love Kobolds)
Kobolds are cute. Always have been.
There's something pitiful in their representation, and they can feel like fodder if you're not careful, but I'd argue there's a depth to them we often don't get the chance to explore. They can be industrious, courageous, intelligent, even empathetic - their presentation suffers from always requiring a draconic master or a simplistic society or some other measure that keeps them downtrodden and low.
That's why in Io, though there ARE the "traditional" Kobold clans, there are still many others that break from that tradition and embrace their heroic natures. Whether it be the courage to fight, or the courage to study, there is a wide spectrum to the nature of accomplishment a race could achieve after a millennia of working with whatever they had to spare. That's something we may not realize; there are Kobold inventors, fliers, alchemists, bombers...these little guys build stuff. They dedicate themselves to industry...but their resources are often sub-par. Imagine what a Kobold could accomplish with access to the resources of a Dwarven forge, or an Elven library, or a Human leatherworker. Their weakness of station has little to do with their personal intellect and a lot to do with their environmental experience.
So with the understanding that a Kobold with proper resources would dedicate herself to the study of a craft, even if the methods may go awry or be haphazard in nature, would this not create a powerful master in this study? Skilled in unorthodox mixtures, brilliant workarounds, and a keen observation of new possibilities, a Kobold's need to survive opens the door to innovation.
This is where you track with me to the obvious Kobold Artificer...and I keep walking. For this study is a discipline of the mind, body, and soul, and for that to ring true, the more appropriate answer is the Monk.
Martial Discipline Carries Over
Any martial artist that's dedicated enough energy and time to their art can tell you: this isn't about fighting, it's about learning. In fact, a lot of the martial disciplines teach oneself, yes, how to move well, how to defend yourself, but moreso how to cultivate one's understanding of the world that surrounds them by learning how to learn for themselves. A disciplined martial artist isn't simply learning how to kick or punch or block, but how to navigate their world with intelligence and wisdom with the confidence that is only derived from a dedicated practice in self-improvement. Once you know how to learn, and you have cultivated your discipline to support the hard work needed, the world opens to you.
This is why swordsman drew calligraphy, archers played music, generals wrote poetry, and monks...learned to cook.
The Actual Build
DUNGEON COACH'S APPROACH
I'm not rolling stats the same way this time. Instead, I'd like to take a page from Dungeon Coach's book (linked HERE), and try an alternative roll. See, sometimes I get really lucky in my spread, and sometimes I stink hardcore, but Point-Buy doesn't thrill me and to me, Standard Array is boring. I still enjoy rolling quite a bit, even if the outcome is less than optimal.
So "DC" proposed something a bit different. First, we roll FIVE stats using our standard 4d6, drop the lowest, sort of fare. I'll do that now...
6 (oh gods why...)
OUCH. Now, my DM in charge *might* take a look at this trend and say "Nope. Start over." BUT NO SIR! WE'RE TRYING SOMETHING DIFFERENT TODAY.
Because DC's idea involves one more step. I add up all of these (shudder) numbers and I get...56. I then take a magic number that DC has discovered is the total of your numbers whenever you use the Standard Array - 72. I subtract the two, and I get my sixth stat: another 16.
The philosophy here is that for all the possible suckage one could roll out, you'd be guaranteed at least one decent stat out of everything, and conversely if you rolled remarkably well, you're guaranteed one stat as your main flaw - something we openly embrace around here. It's no fun playing characters that are just good at EVERYTHING.
RACIAL MODIFIERS AND WHERE THE STATS GO
Kobolds get some nice little bonuses, but their penalties are nasty in Volo's Guide, with a +2 Dexterity bonus but a -2 Strength penalty. Lump onto that some lovely SUNLIGHT SENSITIVITY and you've got a LOVELY little Package of Argh. But Pack Tactics is nice for the "group up" mentality and, though I hate the name, "Grovel, Cower, and Beg" will be great for setting up my (hopefully) Rogue and Barbarian allies.
Keesh is intended to be quirky, smart, observant, and adorably weird. The latter might convince you to put that already low 6 into my Charisma BUT NO I say! No, no. ADORABLY weird. Nah, I'm going to lean into that Strength penalty like WHOA. Monks need Dex and Wisdom, so let's save our 16 and (now) 18 for that madness. We're level 7 for his little adventure, so I'll need to pick a Feat or max out my Dex, but I'm getting ahead of myself. All told, my Attributes are as follows:
STR - 4 (!)
DEX - 18
CON - 10
INT - 13
WIS - 16
CHA - 12
But who needs Strength when I'm FAST and cute! He said, unknowing of the horrors his friend DM will unleash upon him for his birthday. Lawl.
By Level 7 I've got most of the things that make Monk great: Evasion, my fists overcome resistances, stunning strike, DEFLECT MISSILES, Ki, and Unarmored Defense. Next, I have a Feat to consider, and in a game that supports most raw numbers better than flavor, my first experience with 5E monk in a full campaign avoided Feats in favor of maxing out that beautiful Dex score. However, Mobile has served me well in the past (but Drunken Technique will open that door nicely) and Lucky or Alert are always super helpful. This time around, I'm favoring story over numbers, and I like the idea that this little Kobold can be favored by decent luck when things go awry; another testament to his survivability. Tonight I choose Lucky, and call it a day. Meaning, I shall shape up as such:
Class: Monk - 7 (Way Of The Drunken Master)
STR - 4 (-3)
DEX - 18 (+4)
CON - 10
INT - 13 (+1)
WIS - 16 (+3)
CHA - 12 (+1)
I'm going to use stale potatoes as projectiles, jerky as nunchucks, and spices as emotional currency. Keesh seeks to improve everyday cuisine by unlocking your senses, enhancing your flavor palette, and pairing everything with chocolate - because you can't go wrong with chocolate. Ever.
I'll let ya'll know how he plays at the table.
See you there.
The following is a reflection on our current state of affairs, world, and life goals. It might offer insight into my personal pursuits, reminders in this strange time, and advice from my own paradigm.
I exist currently in the between-times. A limbo of sorts; preparing more distance learning materials for my students while maintaining an online presence, but attempting to use my time wisely so as not to stagnate in my skills, goals, and creative pursuits.
Normally this would mean more writing, composing, and painting, and maybe some extra time to work out and maybe meditate. Good things, right? And yet, I am sometimes hollow.
The lack of connection, despite video chats. Lack of traditional business, even with the digital tools at our fingertips. It's only Day 4, and I'm losing my temper with people over little things. Something snapped.
I threw my mouse across the room.
It's wireless, and I've replaced the batteries several times to no difference in quality. It jumps and jitters around, unable suddenly to do its job. So. I threw it out the office door and watched it bounce on the tile in our living room, the cover dislodging at the first impact, a battery singing into the air to ricochet off the ceiling, and the body skittering to a stop by our back door.
I don't break things usually. All things considered, I'm a pretty chill dude. However, as I believe with most "chill" people, we all have our things. The little pieces of our world that just bother us; we might be aware of them, we might be working on them (as I do), but they're still there. We cannot deny their existence nor their weight upon us, and though we may be better equipped to handle them at times than others, they are ever-present and looming.
For me, it is a perceived lack of production.
If I am not producing a blog, a podcast, a paint job, a song... I feel like garbage. And with our current climate, I am blessed with sudden and isolated time. And yet, I felt trapped, unfocused, and frustrated, despite my long list of tasks I could complete. So I broke something. Interrupted the thought cycle and released some energy. Then marched my stupid face down to the basement and did a workout.
Ninety minutes later, soaked in sweat and tears, I was a new man.
Motivated, sore as hell, and ready to go. Like I'd been asleep to the world until this moment. And, you know, that's completely fair. Quite a bit changes each day lately, and A LOT of people's lives have been upended by our current events; there are numerous questions in the air, ever-evolving information, and a need to take things one day at a time. My wife told me that I had been in a state of "mourning." Mourning the past paradigm, mourning the current state of our lives, and quite literally moving through those stages of grief.
We've come now, ladies and gentlemen, to Acceptance. Now we can move forward.
Here are some things to remember, from my own perspectives, as we wade through this strange time.
Take A Breath
Practice: Patience and Perseverance
This is not permanent. It sucks, in plentiful ways. Many are still working, many not, and still many more existing in the grays between - unable to reach out for basic human contact and still required to exist. It calls into question every fiber of our humanity, and yet we must persist.
It is only Day 4 of this, and people are already panicking. We have lived through worse as a human race; being a scared little welp helps no one. Read, learn, and do what is right for the community to stay safe. Be kind to your young ones; they're scared and those less equipped aren't helping their hope. BE THEIR HOPE. We're going to be okay. Take it one day at a time and practice.
Practice: Self Care and Fitness
Some news outlets have thrown up their hands in disgust, exclaiming "What's the big deal? Just hunker down and watch some more TV!"
...That's terrible advice. Yes, at a COMPLETE LOSS of things to do, I guess TV is a thing. Maybe I just have "too many" hobbies, but TV is literally the last thing on my mind. I could record a song, catch up on my Japanese, write a goddamn book, READ a book, paint a portrait, finish my IT cert, clean the basement, put together a bookshelf (done!), EXPRESS MYSELF...in millions of ways that aren't the soul-crushing deluge of Facebook posts of fear and turmoil.
And I can finally exercise on a functional schedule. Which, for me, is 5 days a week. I achieved that for about 2 weeks back when QWay was open and I felt like a freaking superhero.
Be a freaking superhero. ...Because you definitely are (you just have to believe it too).
Unplug and Reconnect
Practice: Self-Talk, Focus, and Meditation
I rebooted my daily meditation. I had lost track of it in the madness. I had lost track of my nerves, my energy, and my center. My center. I'm going to need that.
I don't need to be constantly online. Given our quarantined state, any modicum of human connection will be essential, but not to the point of obsession. There is a line. And if you approach that line, put it down, take a deep breath, and do something else.
My favorite is grounding myself. I lie flat on the floor and feel my whole body get heavy; reconnect to the earth beneath me. Ground my spirit and my soul and remind me that I am okay. I am alive. I am powerful. And if I feel the pull that I am powerless, I HAVE THE POWER to change that feeling within myself. I can control myself in a space of chaos; I am the gatekeeper to my own mind. Never a victim of my surroundings unless I choose to be.
Turn off the news and listen to music. Turn off YouTube and read a book. Turn off the TV and play a board game. Just because we CAN be online all the time doesn't mean we should.
Take some intimate time with yourself and tend to your personal garden. Remember, you're the one that has to live in it. Pull up those weeds - without getting angry that they're there - add some fresh soil, water, maybe do some trimming, and perhaps you'll be inspired to change up a few things, or revisit that old tree that you used to love that lies gnarled and forgotten in the back of your grove. That one with the swing; old scraps of parchment and paintbrushes tucked away in its roots. Maybe that old love needs some attention too.
...Yes this metaphor has multiple layers. Like a parfait.
Be Kind To Future Adam
Practice: Hope and Practicality
The future is not yet written, and we can learn from the past, even our most recent. Plan and prepare, but do not obsess. Be proactive, but hopeful. Don't leave the important stuff to chance, but if that's done already, believe that this, too, will pass. And you know your future self quite well; we know the stress of a lack of time. Which promise do I sacrifice to maintain the current lie of my past? And what excuses are the proper weight to this scale of forgiveness for my future self? A justification for a lack of plan and follow-through is a weakness so many people have, and it will be a great tide to overcome in the coming weeks.
Pursue a better tomorrow by leaving today in a better place than when you began. Be kind to your future self by taking care of the pressing matters now, even though you're tired. Plan accordingly so your future self can keep his word. Portion out those cookies now so future you can enjoy them too in a few days. And not because we're in dire straits, but because we're fighting for a better place for our future selves to live.
We don't know what tomorrow will bring, so give your future self a fighting chance.
Give your world a fighting chance.
I'll see you at the table, digital or otherwise.
Be safe. Be kind. Don't forget to love yourself.
I came to this entry after a few weeks of interpersonal fire avoidance. It drains me when I need to do it on multiple fronts, and there's a lot to be said in taking your own space, but still being supportive of others' plights. The silver lining to all of this is that it also puts me in a reflective mood. And I've been pondering on the ever-changing state of my favorite event in recent memory: The Gray Owls.
It took Knight Owls 2 years to settle into its own identity, and Gray Owls is nearing that threshold. A lot has clarified in that time (like the need for two parties - I'll touch on that later). I learned a lot about the type of experience I wanted to offer over that time, and the lessons I've learned from it moving forward.
What is this supposed to be?
Gray Owls is a D&D experience built for mature, experienced, and resilient players. The world is dark, dangerous, and complex. It's also for 21+ players, so BYOB is allowed, and the space is safe to swear and drink and such.
Mature because it allows me and the players involved to explore themes and narratives that can get a little intense. Now, with my blog on Boundaries, there are certain elements of our reality that I don't allow at the table no matter what, but things can still get deliciously twisted and that's alright.
Experienced because the mechanics of the game should be clear and smooth, opening up our proverbial "action economy" to the higher nuances of our social and exploration pillars. It also implies that the player's agency should be elevated; much of the story is shaped by their choices and motivation.
Resilient because it might get a little rough. Emotions can get intense, the story might get complicated, and a lot of it is painted in shades of gray. The decisions you make may not be "right," but you still need to make them however you make them. Regardless of what you choose, there will be consequences and fallout.
For tone and storytelling, it becomes an landscape of mature themes, high emphasis on exploration and social interaction, with intense fights to punctuate the story beats. We've gone whole 9 hour sessions without a fight, and everyone walks away satisfied, but that makes the battle, when it comes, that much more valuable. The social contract is one of respect as players navigate an immersive game, but at the end of the day, we can't take things personally because it's still a game.
The Effect So Far
After chapters 1 and 2 of Gray Owls, the group seemed to really jive. The effect was like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. I fought for that feeling, sometimes too hard, every chapter going forward. It's true that when you're running a mature-themed scenario, where most opted in to a less than trustworthy relationship with characters, sometimes the first boss monster is the group dynamic - just growing into a dysfunctional, pyro-persuaded family that might actually trust each other. That growth was represented for Chapters 1 through 12A (our first 2-parter).
John and I agree that from 12B onward marks our Phase 2 of the story. Now that the party actually trusts each other (mostly), and have united against a more or less common enemy, the momentum will only get faster toward a narrative conclusion. A year of groundwork has been laid, and dozens of moving pieces have been set in motion. I expect the players to interact with 3, maybe 4 of them, and the rest is just me playing with my toys as forces move in the background.
In Phase 1 (Chapters 1-12A), the characters navigated a grim world of social manipulation, conspiracy, bounty hunters, and arson. Gray Owls is built to be intense and quick - each session picks up immediately where the last ended, given a few hours here and there. Meaning, in game time, the whole campaign has only been a little under a month. Forces and change are moving quickly, bringing our heroes into play just at the cusp of something epic.
Chapters 12B to 14 were in Feathertongue, where the group was able to finally take a moment to breathe and explore without threat of discovery. Yet, something was burrowing beneath the city, and upon its attack, it supported the moment when the already huge group of 10 could split up; 6 would return to the main city of Stormwrack, while 4 would pick up 2 new allies in Feathertongue and head northward to deal with this threat from the Shadowfell. Thus marks the official Phase 2 as the party splits to pursue the two main plot threads.
This also serves as a stylistic restructuring and clarification as the groups now tend toward more Cloak and Dagger and more Bug-Crushing Combat, and remain separated. This has made a world of difference in both timing - as sessions can last more around 6 hours instead of 9, and we get more done - and dynamic. We get to talk MORE and fight MORE, and everyone has been consistently more satisfied session to session. It's like the game was made for a group of 4-6 people or something!
The Need For Progression
Smaller groups means more getting done interpersonally, socially, and combatively, all while consuming less of our personal stamina. In other words, we're doing more with less, and it doesn't feel like work.
This means: MOMENTUM.
By now, we've spent 14 levels building up the world and our relationships in it, but unable to affect the larger scale events in big ways. Now, the characters have tools, power, and a direction, so they undoubtedly will desire to speed forward. Ahead lie tangible goals, dark secrets, and enough agency to explore them without getting caught *too* off-guard.
And with each new discovery, the implications and seeds sown throughout the entirety of Phase 1 are paying off. Massive doses of interconnected lore finally recognizing their one missing piece. The last "Team Bug" session, our party in the north, enjoyed a mind-blowing experience calling back all the way to Chapter 2 and every instance moving forward. It clarified dozens of plot hooks, holes, and character misalignments. ...It's like I planned this thing, or something.
It is so rewarding to watch my players figure things out. I'll give guidance where they're stuck, but Gray Owls is something special where I need to hold out just a bit longer until they're ready for the reveal. They have to EARN it in the narrative, because it will be that much sweeter to discover it in an organic way.
They are getting so close. ...But not yet.
The Need To Slow Down
One of my players described Gray Owls as a world where the only real currency is the information you gather and how you choose to spend it. I couldn't agree more.
In a Cloak and Dagger scenario (dubbed Team Tree for the group back in the city), a quick way to die is to act without knowing what you're getting into. Though the party is currently Level 17, the time when one might start fighting gods in the traditional game...with a lack of specific tactical, social, and subterfuge information, as well as mounting influence and pressure from their clashing forces, no one feels like they're level 17.
And to be perfectly honest, that was the intention all along. The magical weave is broken, the druids are dead, warlocks and their patrons are being consumed, and the shadow organizations meant to keep the world safe have grown corrupt. This is not a happy fantasy, nor is it remotely safe, so navigating it requires reconnaissance with eyes and ears open. Going off on your own can be tricky, especially as those in the background move their pawns, position their knights, and prepare to flip the board. Rash decisions can still kill you, even if you might get a few good swings in at your new power level.
Yet... It is not hopeless. Every session, threads of understanding are woven together in the party, with thickening webs for each personal story. Some gather at the outset, while others enjoy being closer to the center, yet all are blind to the grand weave that connects them all...and only I can see the ripples of their smallest decisions, ever-changing the flow of time and intention. Each choice, each action, sets another in motion; some predictable, many more random. And the final truth - they are strongest when together. But that won't stop a path to vengeance, or a tether to break, or a god to a raise, or a seed to plant, so they must balance between living and surviving.
And that takes TIME. When social interaction is your main weapon, we have to allot appropriate time to navigate such situations. Which also means patient players, willing to listen and watch and wait for their time to shine. And this group DELIVERS with remarkable consistency in that regard.
The Need For Aftercare
Though a dark world it is and we all knew it was coming, sometimes we just feel more than we thought we would. An interaction might spark a memory, some deep laid pain. Or something visceral brings out the fire inside that you never was there, and it has SOME THINGS TO SAY.
So. We take a breath. We take a break. We talk it out if we need. Then we come back to the table.
And the more these moments come up, the more resilient we become. We would never know what was going to affect us so fervently until it did, but then we can become skilled in pivoting, adapting, observing, and moving on.
I also know that my lovely players and their backstories...might have become more tragic as time goes on. There can be a lot of personal pain that drives good storytelling, but that doesn't mean it won't hurt when it arrives. What has to happen when that hurt comes is a mature mind to say "it's just a game." Now, that doesn't give me license to inflict truly abusive elements onto my players (see "Boundaries"), but it does mean that I check in with them often to see where they are in their player headspace, and character space. Emotional resilience can open the door to those rougher story threads, but a player having a tough time might be unprepared for such things. So I try to time it, I try to check in, and if nothing else, I try to listen.
It may be "just a game," but as John and I know, some games can change a person's life, and the people you play with can share that experience with you. You are not alone.
Stamina At The Table
The more comfortable we are in our spaces, often the longer we play. At this point, I plan about 12 hours of content (with story beats and possible chapter closes throughout) every session. This ensures that if the players skip a hook or two, we're still covered in content AND if they decide to indulge in a hook or two, I've got more for next time.
However, everyone has their limit. For me, it's CURRENTLY about 7 hours of play without an extended break (30-60 minutes). After that point, Exhaustion rears its ugly head. That's when notes and ideas come half-formed (even with my notes in front of me), interactions get scattered, pet-peeves creep into my psyche (harmless phones, loud jokes that pull attention, players seemingly "losing interest" [which has the added mantra of "you're a failure - you're losing them - get on your game!"]), and I start losing track of where we are and what we're doing.
A Lesson: I need to close a chapter before we all fall down. There's something black magical about that prime 6:00-12:30 range; we're all on the same wavelength, running and gunning, making our plans, and executing with ease. ...But after that time, when we start pushing the 1am and 2am slots, players start dropping. Combat becomes a definitive NO, and Role-Play becomes much more like herding the proverbial cats. So, even if the players say at 12:30 "We'll play all night!" chances are they'll start dropping off by 1am, so perhaps a chapter close is still most appropriate.
Our most recent session demonstrated this loud and clear. We had just done a massive, character-driven mini-arc, completely motivated and fortified by the players and their agency, and were this a book for real, that's where the chapter would end. ...And instead, we kept going. And, though most had a good time, we started struggling in small, but important ways. I started struggling in big ways. That's the marker. Hey, maybe we should stop.
My personal level up is extending my personal stamina for combat and RP interactions from 5 hours to 7. Next goal will be 9, but we'll give it time. For my players, a level up for you will be to do the same; take note of when you feel yourself losing focus and you may begin to build a better sense of where your stamina lies for the Three Pillars Of Play at the table.
I Love These Dumb Nerd Cats
Regardless of any introspection and reflection, the sentiment remains: I love these nerds. They challenge me to be better every day, and to consistently offer something unique and worthwhile - all while adding quality to a tabletop experience. It is in these people that I see my dreams; a community, a tribe, a party. And though many of these people began as my clients, many also have become friends. I feel like that's normal in this line of work - an entertainer in multiple settings will undoubtedly reach a level of rapport with those he entertains on a consistent basis, and a GM worth their salt has to develop a strong relationship with each player. That's the experience they've come to expect, and I'm happy to deliver. I can start to relax into being human around them, as I allow and support them through their own humanity, as per my professional promise for a good experience.
And that's not to say I don't lose my cool sometimes, or they don't have an off-day, or sometimes they're not a gaggle of distracted kittens swinging flails, but this is a tabletop game and no matter how strong our social contracts, setup, rapport, or execution...we collectively and willingly invite chaos to our table. And in the name of fun, I wouldn't have it any other way.
So as we march to the end of Book 1, we remind ourselves of the marathon over the sprint, of the many questions and answers to come, and remember to tackle it with maturity and patience. I will endeavor to do the same.
See you at the table, ya beautiful wandering kittens.
The cave rolls ahead of you, endless and quiet. Only the drip of the damp nearby and the scrape of your boots. Then you see it; an enormous web. Far larger than it should be.
Instinctually, a shiver runs up your spine, the creepy-crawling feeling trickling down your arms and filling your psyche with ghastly images. Then the cleric drops the torch, and you are plunged into darkness. You curse in the quiet, trying to summon another light source...
Then you hear them. Chittering clicks and tiny echoes. The feeling of being watched... With a flash, another torch is lit, just in time to illuminate the path ahead. You see...nothing. No foes lie in wait. And yet, something is not right, as you hear a chorus of bow strings being pulled back. You dare to look up.
Spider legs. Elven torsos. Longbow and sword. You have only a moment before the first arrow enters your head...
Inspiration and Lore
Gary Gygax often had a thing for strange juxtapositions. Take the Owlbear, for example. A cute, cuddly bear with the face of a freaking owl. I mean...why? Other than the fact that it easily captures the hearts of every adventurer I play with, even as its powerful claws rend the onlookers in twain, its rhyme and reason are nestled in the grand plans of its creator.
However, some beasties follow a logical evolution. If elves, then what about dark elves? If these "Drow" exist, what do they worship and why? How can such worship be rewarded, or scorned? This is more the case of the tragic Drider.
In Faerun, the mystical canonical realm of Dungeons and Dragons's published materials and adventures, the Drider is a product of chaos and evil. Tied directly to those scorned by Lolth, the Spider Queen, a Drider is the result of a Drow insulting or betraying the deity. Driders are cursed reminders of the power of Lolth, and are equally feared and scorned by the Drow population.
Traits and Features in 5th Edition
A Drider is a terrible juxtaposition of a Drow warrior and a giant spider, where the upper half is a humanoid elf and the lower, well, is a freaking giant spider. Powerful and dangerous, driders are accomplished fighters that make use of their versatile movement and superior size. Walking on walls, trapping foes, and some even casting spells, a Drider is a deadly opponent against an unsuspecting party.
By the book, these entities enjoy only the standard boons of their elven nature, but have a pretty decent AC (19 on most). Innate Spellcasting is helpful, and with three attacks to spare, they can cut down a Player Character pretty quickly. In packs of 2 or more, with a Drow strike team on the ground, a tactical group of Drider can overwhelm a party from the safety of the ceiling and the distance of their longbows. Do not underestimate them; to do so might just be the TPK you're looking for.
Drider In Io
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.