"Oh shut up and eat your limestone..."
We've all had that first foray into the realm of fantasy. Consumed some segment of media early in our life that introduced us to the ever-expansive world of fantasy.
For many, Tolkien comes to mind. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings introduced millions to swords and sorcery before a single movie came out on the topic, and Tolkien's vision is directly correlated to Gary Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons lore.
Harry Potter was a more whimsical approach to the themes of magic and mysticism; who wouldn't want to attend a school of witchcraft and wizardry? Casting spells and brewing potions, and fighting the dark arts. I guarantee if I were in Slytherin (yeah, I took that quiz), I'd make sure that we had a hero in the Goblet of Fire...
But for me, the media that I consumed early on, and would watch over and over and over again until I wore the recorded-off-TV tape down to shreds, was a little gem called The Flight of Dragons.
Coming out in 1982, The Flight of Dragons tells the story of a scientist turned board game designer, named Peter Dickinson (ha), as he is transported back in time to a land of dragons, magic, and danger. Upon his entry, and a magical miscalculation, he is supplanted into the psyche of a young dragon named Gorbash. Now in a body he barely knows, he must lead a band of adventurers to stop the red wizard Ommadon (voiced by James Earl Jones) from unleashing greed and ire among the realm of man, urging them to use their science and logic to destroy themselves.
There are the makings of a classic adventure in here. The "party" sets off with Peter/Gorbash, an elderly dragon named Smrgol, and the knight Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe. I remember them being granted additional artifacts by the other wizards - all brothers, by the way, residing over specific types of magic - to help them on the journey; an awesome golden shield (that I really wanted as a kid) and a magic flute that can put dragons to sleep. On the way, they come across chittering creatures, other dragons, and a literal troll (which is a terrifying moment in the film; gave me glorious nightmares - loved it as a teenager though). I won't spoil the rest of the plot, because it's easy enough to find on Amazon or elsewhere online. A truly overlooked classic.
But the thing that fascinated me the most about the film were its themes of magic and mysticism blending with science and logic. There's a wonderful scene where Smrgol tries to explain to "Peter" how he can fly and breathe fire, but Peter's scientific mind questions Smrgol's "it just is" arguments. The scene evolves into a full scientific method of discovering why a dragon would swallow diamonds, then eat limestone, convert that to hydrogen, then expel the hydrogen - which ignites along a thimble in the roof of their mouth - which produces the flame. So, dragons are blimps. Awesome, sentient, blimps of death and majesty.
Makes sense considering that the story itself is essentially a blending of Peter Dickinson's (HA!) "The Flight of Dragons" and George R. Dickson's "The Dragon and the George", and both of these books offer up legitimate arguments as to the nature and history of this world and its creatures.
And this theme continues throughout the film, as its main question of exploration is: Can science and logic exist alongside magic and mysticism. The film's climax pulls no punches in this exploration, as an entity founded on the principles of old world magic goes face to face with resounding scientific basis, knowledge, and truth. It is jaw-dropping, and remains to be to this day.
My favorite thing, though, is the approach the film takes to this question. You have a modern-day person, in the body of a "mystical" creature, discovering how that creature could exist in a logical world; they're bringing science to an old land of imagination, without denying imagination. And when all is said and done, science and logic can hold the realm of humans together - truth denies mysticism - BUT the realm of magic can exist in our minds, in our dreams, in our souls. We can hold the magic within us and it takes us far beyond the stars.
I highly recommend the film, if for nothing than its mature approach to the struggle between sorcery and science, for there is a way for it to co-exist, and I think it speaks exactly to my own mission and vision moving forward. Our imaginations power the magic within us, while science and logic ground us in reality. Blending the two is where inventions come from: gadgets, games, thoughts, beliefs, paradigms, lifestyles.
Go forth and create.
So... What piece of media introduced YOU to the world beyond the stars? Fantasy, science fiction, noir, what did it? I'd love you know.
See you at the table.
One year later...
Welp. Here we are. One year since the first "pilot session," back when I thought "we'll just have a one-shot format, once in a while...we'll see if folks want to continue with this..."
Fast forward to now and we have freaking Waiting Lists to come and play D&D. And about that One-Shot format? Yeah... Oops. It wasn't for lack of trying, but a larger narrative began to take hold. I quickly discovered that I fully enjoyed the episodic, but split up nature the Knight Owls format allowed. Now we've got a (nearly) fully-functional website with interactive content, lore, adventure archives, and tons of custom rule sets for use in our little fantasy world...and for some, they can't get enough.
Many of you know that I come from a background in teaching. As of writing this, I am still a music teacher in a public school. I mention this because a good teacher's existence is marked by consistent (and sometimes intense) reflection of your teaching practices. With every gaming session, I would go over it again and again and again, trying to make something a little better for the next one.
This approach I think helped create a rising tide of a plot, which, again, many ate right up. The hangup that I've had as it got deeper and deeper into a narrative was centered around newcomers. How could we better involve new players in this grand story, without them feeling left behind...
And unfortunately, at the penultimate of this year, I did not yet have in place my plans for Year Two, and a few new players felt that disconnect...
The night was not ruined; but for me, I belabor the details, especially the ones that I could have fixed on the fly. I could have made a quick ruling, but I did not, and those new players suffered for it. To them, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. It was really the first time I felt a set of players disengage during the evening (one expressed that he was exhausted beyond reason, so I understand), and I am so thankful to have been able to speak to those players on what they felt impacted their experience. Though they still had fun, their input was extremely valuable.
Moving forward, I'm making a few changes. I was going to make them anyway, but this new information helps affirm my original beliefs, and I feel more confident rolling them out.
Starting Level - 5 and Acceleration adjustment
Originally, the start level was 4. Justification was: 1) Straight levels in a single class will have already made an archetype/school choice; 2) Feat or Ability Score Increase #1.
In practice: though the accelerated leveling helps minimize the problem session to session, a new person coming into the game at Level 4 alongside Level 11's (folks that attend often) is a little...stupid. The Level 4's don't feel impactful, and the 11's just keep getting stronger.
Also, the casters get pretty stuck at level 4, unable to access those clutch spells (Counterspell, Fireball, Haste) that help out in ways standard spell attacks don't, and remain awesome as the caster rises through their progressions.
So, our first major shift is to make the starting level for a new player Level 5.
That may not seem as super cool up front, but casters tend to get access to those amazing level 3 spell slots that can make or break a session and damage dealers tend to get that awesome Extra Attack feature at the same time. Funny how one little number can make such a big impact.
This ALSO means that the Accelerated Leveling System will be adjusted in two ways:
1) If start level is now 5, it only takes one session of attendance to become level 6, then 2 each until they hit level 10.
2) It should take longer for characters OVER level 10 to level up. Both to create value in the progression AND to allow players below double digits time to catch up (especially with players that have the opportunity to play often).
In the Knight Owls' current format, having "seasons" of play (a la Adventurer's League) doesn't exactly fit, BUT I'd like to adjust sessions in the following ways:
1] Moving forward, each Knight Owls session is for ages 12+. We have an awesome, passionate, dedicated, and creative set of teenage adventurers, and it just doesn't sit well with me to have a massive story where episodes can't be accessed by everyone that wants to play. That's just bogus.
2] There will be some sessions that are for specific level ranges, and may offer other boons to new players. We could start giving recommended level ranges to certain sessions where I know there might be need for it. The level 5 bump, I foresee, is going to make a pretty big difference. As more Owls join up, though, the level gap is going to get bigger, so when our numbers support it, I'd like to offer certain adventures for levels 5-9, or another for 10-15, etc.
3] First-time players should get a discount on the registration price. Because...duh.
4] Consider any Knight Owls event as "story mode" AKA a part of the larger epic story, continually updated in the archives and augmented through the (OPTIONAL) Interludes and other events.
5] Because we have to keep the lights on later, prices will have to be adjusted (nothing extreme, I'm good at running numbers, it'll be fair), but in order to keep offering cool content, we've got to increase a tad.
I love my world of Io, the continent of Erena, and the seven ages that are available for play... But remember, the original idea here was to support One-Shots. Tiny, concentrated, awesome one-time events in a vast variety of settings (and systems). And that vision still rings true. So, we're doing a little more come January 2018.
+ One-Time Wonders: Separate from the Knight Owls lore, these are legit ONE-SHOTS. Some are D&D, others could be Pathfinder. We could play Star Wars, Dresden, Fate Core, or Firefly! Seriously, go to the Facebook Game On page...the list is 27 games long! AND, we're talking more GMs. That's right, not me all the time. We've got experts in other systems, happy and willing to run adventures custom or module. That's pretty exciting. (depending on the system that month, it could be 12+, 18+, or 21+).
+ D&D Adventurer's League: we are very close to becoming a venue where these adventures can be hosted! (more info incoming, yay!)
+ One-Shots Live and Knight Owls Live: I became a better GM watching others livestream their adventures and listening to podcasts... We're gearing up to do the same, the first of which will be part of Knight Owls canon on January 13th, but, following that event's level of success, we want to do many, many more livestreams or podcasts with a live audience for charity. We'd run, again, a huge variety of systems; rolling dice with good friends, great food, and a valuable cause.
+ GM Workshops: fancy yourself a GM or want to become one? Learn how and test your mettle with players ready to test out your campaigns. :)
+ Tabletop Days: grab a chair and game all day, with instructors at the ready to help teach the games, clarify rules, and help you play!
So, plenty more coming.
I'll see you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.