A Little Info Up Front
With the new semester just around the corner, we've got more players interested than ever before, and a few spots here and there available for folks to come play with us.
However, many of the parties with openings have been adventuring with each other some time, a few nearly two years. They've built strong bonds with one another, some fighting literal gods together... So how does one join into that kind of dynamic? Well, in short, slowly. But here's some more detail!
1. Read the Room
I put this one first because it is the most important life skill I have ever picked up in my years of teaching, performing, and just plain existing among other people.
Each of us possesses an ability to "read the room;" to gauge how others react to our presence early on in an interaction, the things we say and how we say them, and feed ourselves information on how to react in a way that isn't obtrusive to the other. It arrives in the form of that feeling at the base of your neck when you realize "I said something wrong" or "That joke didn't hit the way I wanted it to." This amazing superpower is frustrating, because it relies on immediate hindsight, but one can also address it immediately in public and help assure the others that nothing ill was intended. "That sounded better in my own head, sorry" or "That joke didn't land well, did it?" The trick is listening and learning to how the room reacts to your speech, mannerisms, and characterization and make slight adjustments as you go to keep everybody in a good place.
Unfortunately, there are many role-players so obsessed up front with the idea of their character and how they feel they want to express themselves that they end up ignoring the remaining people in the room, and their level of comfort, which can quickly lead to even the best people feeling frustrated with the "new guy."
So, when joining an established adventuring party (or work group, study group, livestream, podcast, social brunch, or any new social group), try this: imagine your character (you) at their highest level of expression...then scale it back to half power. I don't say this to CRUSH YOUR CREATIVITY and single you out; I say this to allow space for the others to allow YOU to grow a part of THEIR party. Because let's face it, you're the "new guy." A strong adventuring group is a delicate thing; too many are broken by internal strife, misunderstanding, destruction of boundaries, and feelings of isolation - so allow yourself and the others in the room time to get to know you, instead of explaining your entire backstory the moment they meet you. ;)
2. Find Your Niche
Established parties have established skill sets for each member. When things get nasty (combat or not), everybody knows what their job is and how to support each other. You've got to find where you can fit. Often, with a group that's been together a while, there isn't necessarily a gaping hole for you to fill - they've gotten this far without you, you know. So you need to find how you can augment their current establishment; do things that others struggle with, bringing something new to the table.
3. Take Your Space, But Respect Theirs
They won't trust you right away. To let you in, I mean really let you in, is a huge rarity first thing. You're going to have to earn your place, and respect their distance. This means not being offended if they're unsure how to work with you in the beginning. A new person is ALWAYS jarring.
If they cross a line with you, let them know, so you can establish boundaries, BUT if you do this, you MUST respect theirs in turn. If it's not okay for someone to reach out and pat your head, maybe you shouldn't poke the Rogue with a mage hand the first time you meet him...
Again, this is interaction with an already established group. They've wrecked bandits together, bonded over the corpse of a spider lich, done tavern crawls, and survived many a bar fight. They're friends, in some cases, even considered family. Being new is difficult. Be patient. Respecting boundaries goes a long way toward building trust early (in fantasy and out).
And often, establishing that level of mutual player respect, will speed up that whole trust thing exponentially.
4. Slowly Blossom
It's easy to get excited, you're playing an awesome game with awesome people... But take a deep breath. Feed them your personal story in small snippets; if they ask for more, reveal only what is comfortable. You don't have to fish through your bag for your handwritten backstory and then slam poem it to all of us - you can keep it vague.
This also allows you to edit your character as you go. You don't have to feel pressured about all of the intricate details in your backstory making perfect sense right away; it's YOUR character, you can make changes to the things no one knows yet, and that is extremely powerful to your own agency. You choose what to reveal and when; mystery can go a long way in building a bond based on what you can DO first, rather than focusing on where you came from.
Much like #2, you can find stronger connections to the party by finding (and editing) how your story intertwines with their values, desires, and skeletons.
5. Challenge Yourself - Create Agency - Reflect
Maybe you've never played before, and this is your first experience with a tabletop RPG; maybe you played a long time ago and want to see how the new edition of the game functions; maybe you've come from eons of playing the best games in the universe and you want to see how we lowly mortals function; maybe you're coming from a bad experience and are just trying to find your place.
Breathe. Just take a deep breath. Then take another one, and remember that no entity in the universe begins perfect.
GMs have a difficult job. They need to balance conflict with success, and provide contextual hooks for the players to help drive a narrative without railroading them. In other words, give the players agency of choice while also telling a story.
If you take damage, heal. If you get cursed, find a cure. Random demon possession? Something to overcome - maybe even an awesome side quest toward redemption where you discover the mystery of your bloodline. Not sure what to do? Improvise! Still not sure what to do? Engage your AGENCY.
Make a goal, and pursue it. And share this goal with the GM so they can find better ways to support your personal development as a player and a character. And, as the group gets to know you, they'll understand your goal(s) as well; able to back you up, as you have backed them up I'm sure.
Conflicts that arise in the game's world are opportunities for you, and your character, to persevere and grow - not personal attacks for you to complain about. Challenges to overcome, and stepping stones toward that goal. Reflect on what these steps mean to your character, and to you, the player. Doing this puts everything else into perspective and helps remind us that not everything can go our way every time. Sometimes settings are not kind places, and we must rise to the challenge, rather than complain of our hand dealt.
In closing, you can learn a lot by scaling back at the onset. It keeps you from looking as if you're trying to derail or "steal" their thunder, while allowing you time to read the room, find your niche, take your space, and align a goal on your own.
A good party is a delicate thing, and people can be very protective of it. Please remember and respect that perspective if you're jumping into a group that's been together for awhile. If you grant them that respect at the beginning, you WILL grow into the group easily and quickly.
BUT...if you don't grant them that space, there can be hurdles to overcome later; boundaries that have already been crossed, messages already sent. Not impossible to overcome, of course, especially with good people, but it will take longer to find one's place.
Hopefully that didn't meander too much. Here at QW we always try to foster positive gaming experiences with a high measure of patience, understanding, and teaching; none of us are ever perfect, so benefit of the doubt is great. But at other social game scenarios, new players may not be given that breadth of allowance.
Looking forward to the new faces already at the door.
I'll see you at the table.
Maybe it's because I've always enjoyed math, and I've always been good at quick calculation, but Pathfinder requires more than that. It requires organization, and rewards character planning.
There are many numbers in play in Dungeons and Dragons, and there are many more in Pathfinder. If you crave deeper mechanical customization, I highly recommend trying it out, as there are rules and builds for just about anything you can imagine...and they all use numbers to back them up.
Numbers aren't scary. They make games function, and there is safety in the mechanics that utilize clear values. Where Pathfinder becomes overwhelming for folks is when they start to consider ALL of their options. With over 1000 Feats to choose from now, and stacks upon stacks of books, home-brew, race builders, alternate class options, and a massively supported multi class system, it can feel like a little much.
But I love it. And I love it because it forces me to stay organized. I can cause shenanigans, insanity, and other hilarious hijinks, just like any other tabletop rpg, but I'm also supported by a system of numbers that I am continually trying to maneuver in my favor.
Say what you will about Sword Art Online’s first season (and it’s abysmal second half…shudder), but SAO Abridged by Something Witty Entertainment hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the active elements of Pathfinder.
The protagonist, Kirito, is squaring off in one of the earlier episodes against a band of player killers…and he’s just standing there. They surround him and slice into his form, and he just stands there. They end up heaving and wheezing, tired, and he calmly explains that in a game like this, it’s very simple. “My numbers…are BIGGER than yours. My wounds heal FASTER than you can make them.”
Now if I achieve THAT with Bigby, my Monday night Pathfinder fighter character, I’m pretty sure I’ve ascended to godhood - and it’s only possible if I somehow become half-troll or am blessed by the evil god of regeneration… I’m getting ahead of myself.
The main point here, and the reason that I really enjoy Pathfinder, IS its reliance on numbers and floating, conditional modifiers. At first, it WAS overwhelming, especially when compared, back then for me, to D&D 1st Edition and Advanced D&D, followed up quickly by 4th Edition and one failed attempt at 3rd Edition (not 3.5).
But after years of playing Grignor, a half-orc Barbarian in Pathfinder, and more years (8, before taking a break to dive into 5E) teaching the darn thing, you start to see the method to the madness of numbers, bonuses, penalties, and feat chaining. I organized my powers, rage abilities, and other conditions (like when my allies would cast spells on me like Enlarge Person and Bull Strength) into a literal spreadsheet to streamline my own process. Now, that doesn't have to be NECESSARY for play, but for me it was a way to make sense of the madness. "If that, then roll with this. If this, roll with that." Less thinking needed after some pre-organization. AND, after doing this with my characters, I started to become more organized in my own life. Recognition of my own need to be organized in a fantasy world, then executing that organization in a thoughtful way, opened the door to pursue a more professional workspace.
If one is thoughtful and plans accordingly, you CAN have a fighter at level 4 (4!) with an AC of 24 - without Platemail or Tower Shield - who can dual-wield with axe and shield, deals great damage, and if anyone shoots him from a distance with an arrow or bolt, he blocks it once per round. My DM, another of my team, bless him, has to roll a Natural 20 on most occasions just to hit me. Put simply: my numbers are bigger than his. And that is mostly through some good rolls at character creation, picking a human combat class that gets feats EVERY level, and focusing on one core concept: Sword and Board. Protect and Attack. If it does not support that concept, I don't even look at it.
Having a working knowledge of how my numbers act during play is the most powerful skill gleaned from playing Pathfinder, and one has to approach this idea with the understanding that the numbers working for and against you are literally the mechanics of the game at work. They are built in to provide a sense of realism for tasks and abilities that WOULD be difficult, even for an adventurer.
For example, with Bigby, dual-wielding a shield and sword is possible at level 1 with no help, but at that point I’m just a dude who picked up a shield and sword and tried to swing it around. To do so is possible, but hard without training, so I take a penalty: -6 to my attack with my primary hand (sword), and a whopping -10 to the off-hand (shield).
Now, coming off of 5E, that’s quite a penalty, but take note that Pathfinder is, by its nature, a machine-builder when it comes to your character. Those are the base penalties; now it’s time to stack the odds in my favor and make those penalties as small as possible or downright inconsequential. So let’s work through it.
At Level 1, Bigby has a Strength score of 20 - 18 rolled +2 for being Human, and a Dexterity of 17 - lucky roll and necessary later. I take the low ones in my mental stats; they don’t help me with those penalties anyway and it’s not part of my concept.
Strength of 20 grants me a +5 bonus to my attack and damage. Now those penalties are a -1/-5. Alright, then, but what does the class give me? Level 1 gives me a Base Attack Bonus (ONE of Pathfinder’s representations of a proficiency bonus) of +1. Penalties now: +0/-4. (Those increase by +1 every level)
Now I’ve got Feats to think about. Every player gets 1 Feat at level 1, humans get a bonus feat, and Fighters get a combat feat at level 1. So I’ve got three feats to figure out. Well, I need bonuses to my attacks, not penalties, so let’s grab these to start:
Right off the bat, I grab Two-Weapon Fighting, which evens out and drops the penalties to -4/-4, so with my bonuses now (+6 each)… that's +2/+2. That’s not bad, but I’ve got other problems. You see, IF I bash with my shield, I’m too busy bashing people’s faces in to defend myself, so I lose the bonus to my Armor Class (AC) when I bash. That won’t do, so for my second Feat I’ll grab Improved Shield Bash, which lets me keep my AC bonus when I bash (yay, less floating modifiers = less thinking for me). Finally, I don’t get my awesome Strength modifier to damage with my shield (off-hand), so I take my last feat, Double Slice, to cut that right out.
So, now, at Level 1, I keep my AC bonus when I bash, my strength gets added to all of my attacks and damage, and I get to swing two weapons with the same bonus to hit (+2/+2). Now, moving forward, those numbers will just keep rising, and I can keep finding ways to minimize my penalties and augment my bonuses. On top of this, I have Skill Ranks instead of a general proficiency bonus. That means that every level, I can pour points into skills to help the things I stink at, stink a little less; with more bonuses to skills that are part of my class. So far, Bigby's done this:
Level 2 - Shield Focus (+1 AC w/Shield), +3/+3 --- Level 3 - Two-Weapon Defense (+1 AC with two weapons), +4/+4
Level 4 - Missile Shield (block one ranged attack per round), +5/+5 --- Later, multiple attacks with shield, more bonuses to hit, higher AC, etc.
And so on. My point is, math rules. Math is power. And Pathfinder is one of the systems where math is clearly translated into power through the context of the game. By taking choice Feats early on, both my Fighter character and my old standby Barbarian were very tough combatants at low-level and could grow toward fighting literal gods...because I organized my play. Nothing had to be by the book, and I wasn't forced into any particular build; in fact, quite the opposite, I could be LITERALLY ANYTHING, and there were rules to support it. Which is awesome. But it takes some work. Anyone who has studied game design is aware of this... Any game, tabletop or otherwise, uses numbers to make itself function.
Now, I can build a character pretty quickly, but playing alongside others in our community, I understand their apprehension to the system. Taking a step back to look at it is downright nuts. So if you're new to Pathfinder, I highly recommend ONLY using the Core Rulebook's Races and Classes. There's plenty in there to keep you busy, and you won't get overwhelmed. Take it slow, and you'll see the power of math in action...right before you leap toward a dragon screaming that you're going to name it Fluffy. :)
See you at the table,
It is sometimes difficult to fathom how weeks of preparation for one event can be over in just three hours.
When LIVE ended, I think my brain just stopped. In martial arts terms, I dumped my cup out to allow time to fill it again, slowly, with reflection on every new drop.
Last night was AMAZING. I need to gush on a few points.
1) Goal #1 was to raise money and have fun doing it; I can safely say we achieved that!
2) The Questers' Way community, in all of my years of teaching, concerts, and events, is THE MOST understanding, patient, and supportive community I have ever had the pleasure to perform for. Every roll, every new player, every donation - the response is overwhelmingly inspiring. Just...wow.
So now comes the time of reflection. Extremely valuable, but sometimes dangerous for those of us with hyper-critical minds. So, in reference to the above, D&D Live was an overwhelming success. We raised a great sum of money for a good cause, raised awareness on that cause, and rode the chaos for fun and glory during the game. This event's success opens the door for many more games, game systems, and new Game Masters to try out (and tweak) this format. It was my honor to be the guinea pig.
Now, we look forward, and think critically on the things that we can improve upon, and how possibly to achieve that.
...I made a short list.
The Need for Immersion
The Cafe can get loud (the dreaded smoothie incident was a big indicator), and nothing pulls you out of the immersion faster than the other ambient noises of a mall. So here are my thoughts:
1) Start investing in a mic system with less large equipment and our own speakers, so audience members can always hear the music AND the cast, and no one has to yell over that ambience.
2) Think critically about the table placements of the cast (and crew) and the audience. *I think we did pretty well, and microphones will help big-time.*
3) I've got some backdrops lying around; we can make some of our own to set behind the cast, and tag charity stuff on (it might also help some of the sound reflection by aiming it back toward the audience).
4) Some sort of visual representation/display of the battle map, characters, visual aids, even just a "what just happened" aid. This might be a ways out and require a fundraiser of its own to get off the ground. ;)
Character Identity and Play
Now this one's a little tough to think on. I try very hard to keep lore, story, and player opportunities as my absolute priority. My players tend to put quite a bit of thought into their characters, their play-style, backstories, and all the cool mechanics they can use and exploit in and out of combat. This makes for really creative and epic group storytelling in all of our regular Knight Owls, One-Shots, and weekly sessions.
A live event for charity is different. The goals are different. And I admit, the most exciting, yet terrifying, thing about running a live tabletop RPG for an audience who can manipulate the game at their whim...is letting go and riding the tide of chaos.
I had a narrative planned. It involved arcane gang members vying for control of the city through magical pranks (which justifies all the weirdness generated by the audience), all while a bounty hunter hunts one of the players. That WAS the story...for about five minutes. I was not prepared for the overwhelming involvement and creativity of the audience (which was AWESOME), but in a way, I feel it might have stunted the players. We all had mixed expectations, and each was shattered as the evening went on (but again, for a good cause!). I'm not mad about it, just reflecting.
So, moving forward:
1) I want to make sure that the players get more opportunities to actually PLAY and the GM can tell some semblance of a story (while still rolling with the audience). Even if the goal is to embrace the chaos for charity, I don't want either party to feel that they've lost their personal agency, especially if they've planned quite a bit around their characters (they all showed up IN COSTUME and in character!). Chatting with the players afterward, no one felt robbed, but looking back on it, it felt like they did very little personal play.
2) To help with #1, I want to have more opportunities for the audience to MEET the cast BEFORE the event. We can help generate excitement and momentum through each cast member. For example, maybe have each cast member talk up, advertise, and otherwise try to build a fanbase of their character; they could generate donation funds specific to them, granting their character special boons before play (but all the money goes to the charity anyway), like pledging for someone in a marathon with fantasy items. I could make character Boon Tiers, like fundraising goals, for each cast member and audience members can choose to donate to a certain player when they get their ticket. These are just ideas off the top of my head, but we want to support the cast as their characters by connecting them better with audience members prior to the night of the show. This way, we're more invested in what the characters are doing and not *just* causing rampant chaos. :)
Streamlining and Tightening Up
I love how fast our community rallies around us and offers up ideas. At 10:15 last night, some awesome peeps paired up with our shopkeeper and our DM in line for Pathfinder Live to help streamline the pledges. Nothing's final yet, but I'm definitely in favor of what they were discussing. Speaking of the "little things" (which I think far too much on), here a few more:
1) Slight adjustment on gold and ticket packages so you get more bang for your buck + clear communication/education up front and in the weeks prior on how that works.
2) Prior to the show, give a brief but effective description of how the game functions; key mechanics in play, the various roles represented by the players and game master, etc. so newcomers aren't lost in the beginning. *(planned in the beginning, but got lost this time in execution)
3) We got A LOT of play-test feedback on the various pledge options, what to add, what to take out, and what needs some tweaking. We're on it! (Something Happens was extremely powerful, and super creative, so it stays with a gold adjustment)
4) Displayed Character names - *we were planning on this, but it fell through the cracks in the prep, so we'll hit it next time.
5) Character Portraits** - we might be a ways out on this one, as it pulls on artist resources, but it could be a great way to link up with our other awesome neighborhoods or bring in commissions from guest artists!
6) Auction Items - less is more; less offerings overall for better bidding - maybe make bidding blind (like on eBay), so we're not worried about outbidding each other by name. We also want to showcase a local artist in the community every time we offer this!
7) WILD MAGIC BURSTS - ...were not as awesome as I intended in practice; I'd like to keep them with 1 major change. I ROLL ONCE, that effect hits the whole party. Makes it faster and cleaner; less waiting on lists, rolls, and calculations (I might even be able to roll them in advance, then I/the GM can work them into the narrative better if/when we reach those fundraising goals). Also, the custom surge table needs some tweaking; less individual consequences, more group based. Again, faster, cleaner, but still straight up silly.
Still A Great Time...
The end of any good reflection acknowledges what was done RIGHT. Speaking with audience members - people had a good time. We raised money and awareness for a good cause, and played some crazy D&D. We dressed up and did our best to embody our characters while battling the Swedish Chef, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and the dark sorcerer Mary Poppins. We had guest players rock the table and have a blast destroying hounds, shrinking werewolves, and causing an entire tavern to turn to water and wash away. Voices were changed, unicorns were summoned, strange love triangles manifested, people turned to stone, broke out in song... It was downright jaw-dropping.
I can't wait for the next one. Thank you for making this one such a momentous success.
I'll see you at the table.
This is a moment when I wish I could plug a usb into my brain as I sleep,
When words are clear and thoughts, well, they keep.
I believe that maintaining a balance of our physical and mental states is one of the great struggles of our time.
It is far too easy to fall into dangerous spirals of inactivity, distraction, and anxiety in this modern world. Pulls of stimulus in unlimited directions spun in ways that ignite our hindbrains, and, like a moth to flame...there goes another day down the Netflix hole.
Why are we talking about this on a gaming blog? Well, I find that our love of social gaming can stem from a need to actually escape this flood of stimulus. After binging shows and skipping breakfast, at the end of the day what we really crave...is others. Spending time with one another.
My family and I thrive on board games. We love to play with one another, win, lose, or draw. We love to experience new systems, new takes, expansions; we love to compete, cooperate, and invent. ...And we usually default to a game when we run out of things to say or if the subject at hand makes folks uncomfortable. It is used to break the silence and imbue new opportunities for discussion and conversation, with an activity to fall back on if we don't know what to say.
But you can game too much. The hole of creativity, no matter how awesome, can pull us away from what is important, and maintaining a personal balance of work, life, and play is key to a beautiful life. You should never work so much that you deny play, and never play so much that you deny work, and never, ever, work or play so much that you deny others (and responsibilities). These three "pillars" of life are not unlike the three pillars of adventuring: exploration, social interaction, and combat.
If life is a game and gaming is life (winky face), let's ride this metaphor for a minute.
Exploration = play, creating, imagination, relaxation
In the game, it establishes the world small and large, its structures, discoveries, and sick, sick loot. In life, Exploration dives a bit deeper. It represents the exploration of one's self through play, imagination, creation, and taking the time to work on you. As I sometimes have to tell myself, "let Adam be Adam." Don't stress about HOW to play, just play. Don't get hung up on what you're creating, just create. Exercise to improve oneself, not to compete with others. That exploration is paramount to a mind and body of quality.
Social Interaction = Social Interaction :), family, quality-time
THIS. In game terms, social interaction represents how your character interfaces with the world at small. Relationships. Which means for us in the real world, RELATIONSHIPS. Carving out valuable time to spend with family, friends, and even strangers helps build a balanced human by reinforcing good habits, civil interaction, hugs, and love. It reminds us of the reason we all exist...which is each other.
Combat = Work, business, earning
Inside the game systems of old and new, combat is often the main way that player characters progress through their levels (unless you adopt a different leveling system, that is). They gain experience through combat, and therefore earn toward leveling up. So we, as beautiful humans, must work in order to earn cash money to eat and live...and maybe, through investment, risk, and reward, level up! It represents the daily "battles" that we wage each day to build a better life for us and ours.
2017 was a year of these three pillars for me. Day by day, week to week, I was running the tightrope between these three points. I fell many times, spiraling around each pillar for what felt like weeks at a time, but came close to sacrificing my relationships or my own exploration for work, or my own work for exploration. Here at Questers' Way, we acknowledge that we are all human, and we are all on the quest to achieve our best self. My best self has been adjusted over time, but the vision has been very much the same, and my proximity to this self has never felt THIS close before. And, I've read and I think I understand now, the closer we become to knowing our path, the more difficult it is to move forward. So in the words of Morpheus, "There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path."
Here is my Path, my full reboot, attempted in the past with little consistency. The following schedule I will be following for 1 month, then I will reflect upon it, and add, subtract, or adjust where necessary. Notes are below on things I've learned during other attempts at this schedule and clarification of a few of its entries. Enjoy!
Note: "M" = Mental, "P" = Physical.
DAILY ROUTINE - SO on Night Schedule
Asleep By/Wake Up By = 11:00/7:00 (full 8 hours of rest) (M+P)
Meditate + Stretch (M+P) - 15 Minutes
Cardio or HIIT (P) - 20-30 Minutes
Weight Training (P) - 30 Minutes
BF or Intermittent Fast + Read (M+P)
Shower and Dress + Check Time (M)
 Goal 1 = Accomplish all of this BEFORE 9:00 AM.
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays = Go to Work.
Tuesdays, Thursdays continue below before work (QW):
Practice Brass (M)
Web Development - QW
Marketing - QW
 Goal 2 = Accomplish before heading to QW.
Saturdays and Sundays continue below:
Blog - GM's Corner (M)
Edit and Post Videos**** (M, + huge dopamine spike)
Plan Campaigns for the week + make small adjustments during the week (M)
Knight Owls/One-Shot Prep (M)
Paint Miniatures - 45 minutes (M+P)
Prep Bands, Performances, and Extra Practice (Piano, Guitar, Violin, Melodica)
Archive Adventures for the Week (using audio archives).
Evenings = QT with SO (M), Bodyweight Circuit (P), Meditate before bed (M)
Sleep Schedule - I've actually been achieving 8+ hours lately, but getting to bed too late, so the timing obliterates my morning work.
** = get your chores done early, otherwise they may not happen!
Fitness is an absolute requirement in order for me to function (based on health and other factors), so get it done first to make sure it happens.
*** = One of my responsibilities for school and QW involves arranging music for a variety of instrumental ensembles, but also arranging music for my own cover band, and I need to carve out valuable time where I can focus on this in a more efficient way.
**** = as some of you are aware, I run a YouTube channel and Patreon account (The Dungeon Master's Den and The DM's Den), and, after an upload hiatus to allow some QT time and MOVING TO A NEW HOUSE, I will start uploading again later in late January. But in order to upload, I need to take a hard look at when and how to script and film and edit and upload consistently and efficiently without taking time away from my other responsibilities.
Here's to new beginnings and hitting that reset button on the proverbial NES!
See you at the table,
PS: I will be starting a mental health and physical health guide for gamers in a few weeks, dubbed the Buff DM Project. Stay tuned!
"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.
Learning Curve: Moderate (10 minute teach)
Final Verdict: I LOVE Seasons. Dice Rolling with hand management in a colorful, engaging game with a lot of changing variables through the changing seasons. There are MANY ways to win, which makes the game easy to pick up and supports tons of different strategies. That lets folks play their way without getting them stuck in the back, which makes the game automatically more fun for more people.
Seasons is published through Libellud, and designed by the awesome Régis Bonnessée.
You can find it at most game hobby shops and on Amazon.com.
This week was all about setup. Each campaign has been getting more and more lore peppered over their adventures. A hint here, a small encounter there, clues and crackers abound with hooks into their backstories and possible avenues for future adventures. It's pretty exciting.
But the biggest hint in each campaign is a looming darkness. Something working in the shadows, pulling strings and causing havoc out of the players' view. So far, no one has been affected directly...until now.
Tuesday's crew has been skirting around a general attempting to control more of the continent through vicious force, and were expecting a battle to come knocking on their door. Key characters have been experiencing nightmarish visions of past enemies, alive and dead, and the party has already seen their fair share of forces in motion. This week, they were greeted by a charismatic silk-tongued wizard calling himself Draz Talwar, who interrupted a city-wide council meeting...with no repercussions. The heroes found themselves Enthralled by his magic, only a few of them able to resist, and he proceeded to spin lies and truths to a room of 400 individuals, then simply left, just to show that he could. *1
Wednesday's pirates have had their fair share of plundering, sailing, and subterfuge, but the mainstay of the Age is found in the setting at large. Sometime in the past, the elemental plane of water "leaked" into the material plane, bringing with it streams of wild magic, massive aquatic beasts, and a whole lot of water. This uncertainty in the sea has been equal parts exciting and absolutely terrifying, as no one truly knows what lurks in the darkness... *3
Thursdays have had some pretty epic run-ins with crazy foes, most recently a Beholder Lord named Andrikees. Andrikees uses an eye-beam that transports his victims to a glass-like "display" in the Astral Sea, and he aims to "collect" the world. ...but he's dead now. Believing themselves safe, they set to work helping the remaining citizens, now freed from the Beholder's control, to rebuild the city. Leading up to this moment, one of the players has been actively contacting his patron (it's a Warlock thing) but getting no response. It's strange, but he kept trying periodically all through the last arc. Then, that night, he finally gets an answer in the form of a voice as he dreams...but something is off about his patron. The voice is similar, but not the same, and it seems like he's hiding something. The patron asks for permission, and the player grants it...then proceeds to suffer a massive psychic attack and hijacking. Meanwhile, his allies attempt to free his convulsing body from the psychic connection and a few of them sense something dark hovering over him. The Ranger shoots a divine arrow, usually super effective, and it is instead eaten by the creature, giving it enough power to flow out from the Warlock forming a smoky ball of lightning and darkness in the shape of a dragon's head...*2
So, I'm not a published author. I don't have any credits to my name when it comes to fiction. However, I have learned a few things about villains that work, and villains that don't. In the first year of Game Mastering here at Questers' Way, I can safely say that I've thrown a good many villains/encounters at players that missed their mark in terms of impact, and now in year 2, I happily use the few things I've learned to make them more impactful, dynamic, and thus, satisfying.
1) Show, Don't Tell - this is a rule in most visual fiction. It helps us see elements of a story while avoiding an expositional dump, while also communicating a character's motivations, vices, and/or abilities without overtly TELLING anyone. In this case, it was important for me to allow Draz to be himself; he WOULD charm an entire room, say his piece in confidence, painting the room in his slimy charisma, then leave in peace simply to communicate that HE COULD. That is a proud villain who is well aware of his own abilities, and, might be blinded by them. True, players might have been able to fight and overtake him in this opening confrontation, but not without great risk and a death or two at least. By having this reveal, he communicates easily to the characters, and to the players, his precise level of power and just how terrifying he would be in an encounter. Players are still telling me how intense that scene was; and that's an awesome feeling. A real villain strikes fear into the players, and ignites their vigor to rise to its challenge.
2) Subvert Expectations - there is so much media in the world today, meaning there are certain tropes that exist in most works of fiction; things that we've seen before, and therefore know and expect. Undead creatures are weak against Holy Water, demons can never be trusted, and shopping episodes are always safe. The latter especially was an amazing moment to helm; a moment where the entire table realized that everything that they could have brought to the fight (divine arrows, divine magic, healing, shielding, restoration spells) may not only have no effect, but could actually make the enemy stronger. And now, the players are forced into an uncomfortable space; coming from absolutely wrecking a suped-up beholder to an intimate, intense, and universally uncertain encounter where all of their most powerful options are called into question. Now, they know if they follow what they've done before, they're only going to make this evil stronger, and they're going to need to bring all of their collected resources to bear to fight this thing and all it represents.
3) Theme/Tone is Power - D&D Wednesdays in the custom "pirates" campaign has always been a mixed bag of morally gray characterizations. But this assembly of party members makes sense in what is currently a broken world in recovery; there has been a literal and figurative flood of magic and foreign creatures into the world that has drastically changed the status quo, which helps add to the air of uncertainty felt by all the players as they continue to explore the seas. Often they will come across a weather pattern, a strange creature, or, in most recent cases, a literal god walking across the water. Though they've been taking their time getting to the next plot location, there is a rising tide (ha, puns) of unsettling circumstances. They know something is lurking in the mists to the north, but they lack information. It is fun to continually re-establish this theme of uncertainty in a turbulent world. ...I'll keep you posted as we progress toward the reveal. Until then, all they can do is keep sailing.
So, TL;DR - Villains need to show their power, need to subvert player expectations to push the players off-balance, and the DM needs to wield atmosphere not just as a world-building exercise, but as a means to build momentum. Yarr. Let's go.
Year Two is shaping up nicely. Welcome to the next Arc, everyone. Now gather your party and I'll see you at the table.