Today marks Day 8 of beta testing the first tier of my fitness program, and I'd like to share with you some of the benefits I've taken away so far. Get ready for some fit talk.
The first thing I do every morning is take 5-15 minutes to myself and meditate.
Meditation is equally one of the most foreign yet essential things for a modern human existence. It was used since antiquity to foster a stronger link between mind, body, and soul, and helps to focus and fortify our spirit to tackle whatever challenges are going thrown at us each day.
I recently recommended meditation to a good friend of mine, and, as she puts it, she's "only been able to relax her face so far," (which is huge, btw) but it makes a massive difference to her day and she feels it when she doesn't do it. The more consistently she practices the skill, the more effective it is, and the more effective she is throughout her day.
There's a funny thing about meditation. Everyone has their own image of what it looks like and what it's supposed to do, and how fast that should work. Thing is, each of us is a unique organism. We all have different stresses, habits (good and bad), education, paradigms - yet each of us can benefit from mindfulness, and relaxing our bodies, and fortifying our souls. So many people can benefit from meditation, but they give up before they really reap the big benefits, and often the reasoning is: "I'm not good at it" or "I'm not doing it correctly, so why try?"
If you feel like that, here are some questions to consider:
1) Are you in a space that is comfortable, quiet, and free of our digital distractors? - Yes
Then you're meditating. We have a saying here in the center: Disconnect to Connect. We use it to remind ourselves to put our devices away when we're in a class, or in the cafe, or in a game session; to free ourselves from that pull and open the door to connect with the people physically with us. What we're doing here is allowing our mind to reconnect with our bodies by creating space for this to occur.
2) Are you focusing on your breathing? - Yes
Then you are meditating. Our brain can be a stupid, blind, chittering monkey recently stung by a hornet - but we interrupt its strange path with breath. Breath is essential for every facet of your being; by focusing on it - even if you're only successful in bursts of a few seconds - you interrupt your panic pattern and bring what is most pressing forward. If everything is small details, imagine it flowing out of you, to rest instead next to you, to be sorted later. Not now - you're breathing.
If you are following those two practices, you ARE meditating. Everyone starts in different places, but everyone can benefit from taking just a few minutes each morning to focus their spirit and relax their body. Do not get discouraged; never compare your "skill" to another - we're all different, and there is no point in getting down on yourself because you're not doing it like him, or her, or them. Meditation is a muscle, and it needs to be trained. Best thing about it? You can train it every day and the workout's real short. :)
Here's what I do:
Working Title - Flowing Circuit
I sit on my couch so my feet can rest on the floor (as opposed to cross-legged). I allow my back and my neck (most of all) to rest against the pillows of my comfy couch. *Now, this usually prompts my cat to come over, but I won't shoo her away; she just wants to sit with me.*
1) Start with three long and slow breaths, in and out through my mouth, careful to use my diaphragm to open up my lungs from the resting state of sleep.
2) Eyes closed, I breathe slowly through my nose.
3) I reach out with my mind and try "feel" the tip of my nose. (I know, I know, stay with me) It's going to tingle a little, especially the first time, but find it. Now, I imagine a bead of energy, like a warm mote of light, at the tip. It enters my skin, and I begin to follow its spreading path as it courses slowly through my face, stopping to observe all the intricate pieces along the way.
4) If I get stuck, or a random thought sneaks in...the mote pauses, warming the spaces it has already touched. I focus on my breathing, and let the thought flow to its conclusion, and breathe it away.
5) I continue this process; moving the energy across my eyes, my forehead, my mouth - all the muscles of the face - then up my scalp, down the base of my skull, to flow down the cord of my spine while spreading like wings along my back. I feel and appreciate every muscle fiber; some need more attention than others, and that's fine. I'm not going to ruminate on the why; just flow.
6) When you reach the base of your spine and have spilled down your chest, you might feel a slowly spreading surge down your arms and legs; most of us have better circulation (due to use) to those areas, so energy flows faster. Also, you'll be accessing your third and fourth chakras. Heart and Solar Plexus - Heart's got Compassion, Love, Empathy; Solar Plexus has Power, Will, Energy, Emotion. The wealth of our energy, life force, ki, whatever; I just know that I've always had a lot of it. Once your mote accesses this pool, let it flow through your entire body. Revisit all the wonderful locales of your body and flood it with that warm, calming light.
7) When you're feeling good, or your timer goes off, take those three long and slow breaths again as you open your eyes, bringing yourself out of the map.
Steps 1-4 are good for most people. They either won't have time, or patience, or some other factor will step in, before they can go further. But this is a muscle; and it can always get stronger. There is no plateau. Just like in the martial arts, there is always another layer. Consistency is where we reap the greatest benefit.
IF YOU SKIP MEDITATION IN THE MORNING - you can always do it later. I pick the morning because it's going to help the rest of my day, guaranteed, so I better start my day with it. If you miss it, and those panic feelings begin to creep in and you feel out of whack, try this:
Take in one short, one long intake of breath through your nose, then exhale slowly out your mouth. Try to take in more air each time, and slow the exhale each time. Do this 3-5 times; if you can, close your eyes.
Why? Pattern interrupt with a kinesthetic change (short-long breath, then exhale) to make your brain focus on something else. Then move forward with a fresher perspective. :)
Why I Meditate: It provides power for my day. My mind can jumble and I hate feeling behind; taking a moment, instead of falling down the rabbit hole, is essential for staying on track. But by doing it FIRST, I have stimulated my own Willpower to continue the trend throughout the day. I'll be guaranteed to be more even, calm, pleasant, rooted, present, and in control of my universe. Booyah.
Instructor Mary and Master Jenny have often said that stretching is even better than a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. Now, let's not focus on my stretching levels next to the martial arts masters, but the point still stands. ;)
Naturally flowing from the body mapping mental relaxation and energy acquisition of meditation, it's time to stretch. Take 5-10 minutes and do whatever you can.
I end up on my back first, elongating my spine and realigning my shoulders so they don't round forward. I stretch my lower back and rotate my toes. Flip over - Child Pose, Cobra, Cat-To-Cow for ab control, Dragon Stretch, seated toe touch, then toe touch alternating legs. On my feet - all my dojo stretches; Heaven and Earth, slow splits, Butterfly. Find a wall - rotator cuff stretch, forearm stretch. GENTLE neck pull - it will feel SO GOOD.
Why I Stretch: I need to be able to move when I need to. I like burst energy, I've always had a lot of it, but I'm not going to hurt myself when I need to fly into action. This is preventative mostly, with added benefit of augmenting that meditation thing I just did. :)
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Do what I've been doing lately - walk your neighborhood with bursts of sprints for longer and longer periods of time. Bike rides are great. Move with a friend. But get up and get moving!
For a lot of people, this is when they'd work out, and for many that's fine. I ask to wait on your workout time just a tad more. This "move" is really to cement the previous two things you've done for yourself already. You've reconnected your mind, body, and soul while preparing your physicality for the day - go outside. Feel the planet. Even if it's cold out. New Englanders, I understand, there are exceptions; but even if it's raining, get outside. It's just water - jackets exist. Unlike the silly college kids that scream at the sky when they prance around in pajamas in a downpour...you know jackets exist. And I love walking in the rain; it's cathartic to feel the water flow over me - even in the cold. A brisk wind reminds you of the fireplace that waits for you; a vicious downpour sends you to huddle under a canopy with a good friend; moving alone brings joy to moving together.
...You do know jackets exist, right?
What does this have to do with gaming?
Stronger mind, stronger body, balanced soul = better gamer. ;)
See you at the table,
I have run a lot of games.
This statement is not a pat on the back. It is to communicate the level at which a game has affected me. Often, I'll run a session and it lingers for maybe half a day. I recount its story beats, write things down, reminisce the little moments, and begin planning toward the next one. There's a lot to focus on; so I listen to the recording after a few days and get to experience it again and make any necessary adjustments to my storytelling, tactics, and flow. Then it's done, and I keep moving forward.
But something about last Saturday has been sticking with me. More than any other game I have ever run. I've listened to the recording three times through already (7.5 hours each time, whew), and I'm still finding moments I love. It's clear that everyone at the table, especially me, really needed this one.
I've run games full of laughter, overflowing drinks, intense arguments, and awkward situations before. Grays had all of this, and more, held together by strands of respect and support. We had many situations of people pairing off with unexpected acquaintances, just to make sure they're alright. Characters stepping in to help what could only be considered to them, a floundering stranger in high heels. Characters acting like, well, themselves; making decisions based on their individual needs, their goals, their etiquette, deep and profound desires and feelings; all while attempting to keep a group of 'weirdos' from getting into trouble, then fighting alongside them to save a little girl. Connected by threads of real interaction between people who love this setting, this game, and their collective story.
And, with a mature setting and a full range of narrative possibilities, one might assume that at some point the story would have derailed into absurdity... Except it didn't.
John has mentioned A State Of Flow in one of his live-streams on the Facebook page as experiencing a lack of resistance. Though characters resisted in their own ways, there were no moments of drag from the players. Everyone was a part of this world, and they made each experience their own. Nothing was forced.
But it was the interplay between characters that spoke the most to me. It could be a product of the setting. The 6th Age is not a kind place, and Chapter 1 communicated its dangers in big ways. That experience, I know, stuck with people. They're not heroes; no one truly is. Many still don't know each other's names. And why would they? The world is dark and full of terrors. Some have been running all their lives from it, and may be still. There are secret agendas, challenges of faith and trust, and the assumptions that follow a life of betrayal.
Yet, in character, each player found another to stand with. To look out for. Many in small, but truly profound ways. And the players bonded...in ways I could not have predicted. In just two sessions, even with some new faces this time, an accord had been struck.
I've seen good teams before, and I've run some great games with flow, but like I said, this was different.
I could see it. There, on the edge of our collective psyche. The possibilities of our adventure; the abrupt, cruel ending to an individual story, fleeting moments of happiness that you must fight for, unexpected relationships blossoming from luck and circumstance, a beckoning journal of secret intentions, a lingering sense of unease as the rain hammers down in this beautiful city of dark alleys and dangerous jobs. And then there was the through-line. An unbreakable cord forged in friendships and imagination. A line that trusts you even if you haven't been honest; a line that has your back even when you believe you don't deserve it. A group that reminds you that you are not alone.
A family. In its greatest sense. Smashed together and barely hanging on. Powerful, screwed up, and beautiful.
Thank you for your time and attention. This is going to be one hell of a story.
See you at the table.
Back from vacay, ladies and gents, and I've been catching up on John's videos, and our Game On! content that I missed, and the whole process got me thinking.
There have been a few rules that I have adjusted in my games. Some to add flavor, others to streamline, and a few to add flair to an encounter or a creature. So I'd like to present those to you, complete with what it actually says in the book (if anything), what previous editions might have ruled, what I rule, and why. This way, peeps have a better idea on what to expect in my own games.
Let's get started.
1) Powerful Enemies Auto-Crit Unconscious Characters
ME: when a creature drops to 0 Hit Points, they fall unconscious. If struck by another blow in this situation (being at 0 Hit Points and otherwise helpless), the character loses 2 death saving throws automatically, as if being struck by a critical hit, dubbed "auto-crit." This occurs even if the attack is beyond 5 feet away.
Book: "If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure. If the damage is from a critical hit, you suffer two failures instead. If the damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum, you suffer instant death."
Subnote regarding Conditions: "Unconscious [...]. Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature."
Why: When working with intelligent tacticians, a creature at 0 HP is an easy target. You are helpless, and those that have the capability to notice the overall strength of a party - or have witnessed your healing capabilities - know that it would be unwise to ignore you just because you fell over. This mentality, coupled with the fact that you are HELPLESS before them in that moment, deems many creatures the ability to auto-crit on your lifeless form, forcing you to lose 2 death saving throws. This is less a custom ruling, and more an adjustment of the capabilities of certain creatures. A mindless grunt won't take notice, but a seasoned sword fighter would, and would probably take advantage of such a situation. I call this feature Twisting The Knife, and intelligent creatures above a certain CR will often have it.
But why, though? Dangerous entities should remain dangerous, and going toe-to-toe with something dangerous is risky. This ability adds dynamic stress to a situation when someone goes down, and it also offers opportunities for villains to do more than just wipe out a party. They can force ultimatums, draw their blades toward the party's cleric and force them to back down, lest they decide to end her life then and there. It can create a Change Of Circumstance, and can further alter the battlefield. These kinds of moments can define an encounter, and those are the things I love. Building interesting encounters with dynamic foes.
2) Critical Hits Double The Rolled Number, not dice
ME: when you score a critical hit, I have you roll all relevant dice involved in the attack (including Sneak Attack, Smite, and the like) BEFORE adding modifiers. Then, total that number and multiply it by 2. After that, add on your relevant modifiers.
Book: "When you score a critical hit, you get to roll extra dice for the attack's damage against the target. Roll all of theattack's damage dice twice and add them together. Then add any relevant modifiers as normal. To speed up play, you can roll all the damage dice at once."
Why: I first saw this practice adopted by Matthew Mercer of Critical Role, and it seemed to really speed things up. As cool as it is to roll a literal mountain of dice (which is what we Wizards LIVE for), the associated math can often bog down play in intense situations. So instead, I have peeps roll the appropriate dice involved, double the total, then add on modifiers. This also allows me to grant opportunities to the players to further multiply their damage with my custom Assets, special weapons that harken back to Pathfinder (where swords grant a x2 critical, with critical on 19-20; while most axes only crit on 20s, but offer a x3 multiplier), situational bonuses, and great ways to communicate a creature's weaknesses (oh, that creature is weak against Psychic damage...we'll just double that number now). ;)
3) Better Descriptions Yield Lower DCs
ME: the better you describe an action or present an argument, especially in character, the lower the DC to beat. Conversely, the more vague you are or the more terrible you present an argument, the higher the DC.
Book: this one's up for DM interpretation. For each thing you're trying to accomplish, the DM decides what ability or skill is relevant, then sets a DC in their mind all the way from 5 (Very Easy) to 30 (Nearly Impossible). There's no hard and fast rule here.
Why: it adds agency to a player's ability to PLAY. Improvise, argue, call people out, fall flat on your face. You get to use your acting and descriptive abilities to better (or worsen) your chances at success. Which is a good thing.
4) Downing Potions
ME: downing a potion consumes your Bonus Action, but not your Standard Action. FEEDING a potion to another character, which is more involved, consumes your Standard Action. No, you may NOT down two potions in a turn (thus consuming your Bonus and Standard actions). I allowed that once, to disastrous effect. Never again. The DM will remember this...
Book: this one required some clarification. This was later ruled as Use Magic Device or Use Magic Object, but either way consumes your Standard Action, just like the Use An Object Action.
Why: Sitting there downing potions, unable to do much else can rob a player of their class abilities, and I'm not a fan of that. This way, there's still a cost to using a potion, but to a seasoned adventurer, downing a vial of liquid doesn't take much.
5) Called Shots are a thing
ME: you can specifically target something by claiming that you are making a Called Shot. This sets up a few changes to the battlefield. 1) By targeting a specific place, you make the shot or strike exponentially more difficult, as combat is fluid, so the AC for this shot gains a +5 bonus. 2) If you hit, you deal an extra 10 points of the weapon's damage - BUT if you miss, you have disadvantage on your next attack this round, as you recover from the creature dodging you. 3) Hitting may cause a Change of Circumstance - maybe it partially blinds them (disadvantage on attack rolls), knocks out their knee (advantage against them), or some other flavor that I have to make up (which is actually fun).
Book: the term Called Shot does not exist in D&D 5th Edition, but it's existence is referenced in previous editions and exists in all its glory in Pathfinder. Pathfinder grants penalties to the player, instead of boosts to the AC of the target.
Why: this offers a mechanical opportunity for players with keen observation and tactics to change the course of battle, but with enough risk to support their own skill or specialization. A well-built archer can accomplish this more times than not, and our critical-fishers (advantage fishers) can achieve this to change the course of a tough fight, rather than just hitting it again.
And there you have it. Five ways that I like to augment my games. As these are custom rules, they may change, but they've gone through some rigorous testing and I'm pretty pleased. What custom rules do you use in your games? I'd love to know.
Till next time, friends. Hope to see you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.