The internet appears to exist in two camps: those that praise 5E for being accessible, elegant, and a return to the classic days of D&D without sacrificing new avenues AND those that hate 5E, and call it D&D for babies. While Pathfinder is the essential "D&D 3.75," fixing the broken nature of 3E, and 3.5, with nautical tons of published content, options, and possibilities - D&D superheroes with limitless possibilities. Or that Pathfinder is an overcomplicated, standardized system where rules rule all and the amount of required reading far outweighs the power of play.
And I say to you, hordes of the internet, is it too much to enjoy both?
Seriously. Why pick sides, when you could just enjoy both for their individual merits? I play Pathfinder and 5E. I play Fate Core, and Starfinder, and Serenity RPG, and Exalted, and Werewolf. I enjoy them all. ...You're allowed to like multiple things, people!
But for a lot of folks, it comes down to preference and what they can get into initially. We live in a world of global understanding. Say the word "gym" and everyone gets a pretty clear image in mind. Say D&D, and anyone with a concept of a D20 system starts making some assumptions, and has a basic framework. Say Pathfinder, and the circle gets smaller, and there have been many moments where players have wondered "what's the difference?" Why pursue Pathfinder when I have 5E, or why look at 5th Edition when I already have Pathfinder?
As someone versed in both, and who actively plays in both often, let's break it down. :)
Rules and the Role of the GM - Social Paradigm
The first major difference is one found in the social philosophy that surrounds each game, and the observed trend of mentality across general play. What I'm pointing to are the social trends at the table, and how each system supports or struggles with a certain paradigm. The question is this: Are the rules flexible?
Now, it's often an assumed answer in most tabletop scenarios that the GM rules as they see fit; if something makes more sense to the narrative, the circumstance, the rule of cool...whatever your term - this is a social, group game - the GM can rule differently. However, not every system makes this understanding a PART OF THEIR RULE SET explicitly. Pathfinder does not, while 5th Edition does, and what this does in broad strokes is build two distinct types of players: 1) Players that interpret rules as written universally (RAW), and will fight the GM on rulings, and 2) players that interpret the rules as guidelines and openly accept and play-test homebrewing, circumstantial rulings, and work with the GM. While one camp keeps things mechanically sound and universal table-to-table, they don't give the GM a lot of narrative wiggle room (from a mechanical standpoint, we'll get to social soon), the other supports cooperative interpretation of the rules. Hell, even the dudes and dudettes that helped write the damn Player's Handbook use a ton of homebrew rules and content in their home games. The door is open, people.
These two camps represent the extremes, and there are thousands of striations in the middle, but it does reveal an interesting trend in the standardization of play table to table. Pathfinder offers so many options, with so many numbers, that the whole thing WORKS no matter who is running it; it is mechanically sound from a mathematical perspective, but (often) can result in more arguments if you have a looser DM and stricter, rule-based players. But 5th Edition, with its looser approach to running the game, opens the door to ALLOW higher mechanics if desired, but never requiring it. The ruleset is flexible enough to augment in subtle ways to add complexity, or strip down to bare essentials, and both approaches are supported; you won't break anything. All of this can be waived with a good group and clear social contract, so the systems themselves may not be fully to blame; these are just my initial musings.
In my experience, players that approach 5E from a Pathfinder background are industrial, mechanics focused, and eager to try strange builds. It supports organizational creativity, but they are often disappointed at the smaller number of perceived options out of the gate. My players that approach Pathfinder from a 5E background are immediately overwhelmed with the breadth of material (creating a Level 1 character should not take 2 hours, new system or not), and for some, the level of bookkeeping out of the gate turns them off completely...but those who stick around enjoy what is a highly versatile system that, once you get it down, can be truly amazing - it just requires a lot more investment.
I'd be lying if I said Pathfinder was easy. I've been playing it 10 years, and there's still things I forget about. True, I don't have to study it as deeply as 5E for my job (YET...the podcast is coming), but the learning through osmosis was essential. And, each time I build a character, I go through the process all over again. There's a lot to flip over from the D&D editions, and the parallels are pretty interesting, but you have to know what you're looking at to make the numbers work. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND investing in a fillable, calculating PDF when building a character. It not only puts numbers where you sometimes forget they'd go, but in working with the calculator, you'll start to figure out more directly how the game functions mechanically.
With so much content available, streamlining it all into a digestible format can be very time-consuming (future blog topic), and I think that this fact is the main blame to character creation taking so long. There are lists upon tables upon subtables upon archetypes upon traits and so many floating modifiers and circumstantial bonuses...that it can get a little nuts. BUT once it's learned, the system is extremely powerful. ...But it has to be LEARNED.
D&D 5TH EDITION
Anyone with access to the Open SRD content can begin play in the 5th Edition ruleset, as it was released for free to the public via the internet. Now, to be clear, Pathfinder started MUCH SMALLER than what it is now, just like 5E, so the size isn't what I'm arguing here. It's the lack of initial numbers, and ease of organization.
Emphasis is placed on narrative interest and group play as the main paradigm, and the language used, though employing game terms, is much smoother and easily accessible. Spellcasting requires less bookkeeping (we'll get to it), the system is more forgiving, there are less circumstantial modifiers (though they're still there), and everything feels cleaner in its organization. Less reading required, and many less moments of looking back and forth from different sections during character creation.
So let's break down the big differences, why they're there, and how I choose to roll with them at my table.
Confirmed Critical (PF)
What it is: When you roll a Critical success, often referred to as a Natural 20, but in Pathfinder threat ranges can be wider - so a "Crit" could be on a rolled 19, or 18, and so on. When this happens, you don't start your multiplier celebration; instead, you roll to "confirm" the critical by rolling the dice again to meet or beat their AC. If that SECOND roll is successful, then you start doing your crazy critical bonuses. If NOT, you still hit them, congratulations, roll damage.
Why is it there? - The critical bonuses in Pathfinder get a little nuts. Not only do you have weapons that crit on a 18-20, but some of those take the damage and multiply it by 3, or 4, or 5. Others get extra swings, special effects, bleed damage... Nasty stuff. So, increased critical chance mixed with huge consequences created an extra check to help justify the nasty.
Do I use it? - No. And here's why. Rolling a critical is celebratory, and being on the other end (as player) when you *finally* roll a crit, only to then roll to confirm and fail...takes the wind right out of my sails. If you work so hard to fight for that critical, only to have it fail anyway...it just sucks. In a game where creatures can have 40 AC and 2000 HP...yeah, buddy, you own that crit. Have fun. AND I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE THAT DOES THIS. Countless GMs, friends, and fellow player outright wave this rule. It cuts down the time, keeps the game rolling, and joins in on the celebration of the luck mechanic in the game.
Skill Ranks (PF)
What it is: Each level your character is awarded a handful of points (your class allowance + your intelligence modifier) to distribute as extra number bonuses to the skills of your choice. If a skill is included in the list given by your collected classes (because multiclassing expands this list), then adding as little as 1 Rank in it gives an additional +3 bonus (trained bonus) to it once. You can never have more Ranks in a skill than your total character level.
Why is it there? - This is one of the ways that Pathfinder avoids a blanket Proficiency Bonus and puts more agency into the player each level. It creates a pool of customization; you can choose to play into your inherent strengths by pouring points into "trained" skills, or just put them in any skills you like. You'll still get the Rank bonuses, and it helps you mitigate skills you were initially weak in. (this is how I got around Bigby's AWFUL perception bonus...put Ranks into it)
What do I think? - This is one of my favorite things about leveling up in Pathfinder because I'm a skill tree kid. There's a clear correlation between the point I put into a skill and what it will do in the game. This is how you get +20 to skill checks, people. And with no cap on the numbers in Pathfinder, you can go for the highest bonus you can. Plus, it adds to the level of customization; it's a core element, and I still love it.
Base Attack Bonus (PF) vs Proficiency Bonus (5E)
What it is: Base Attack Bonus (BAB) is a general bonus that is added to all attack rolls in Pathfinder, while your Proficiency Bonus is a general bonus added to attacks and trained skills in 5th Edition. Pathfinder - increases as you level up; some classes it follows your level, while others progress slower, and it is a cumalitive total in all classes that you have levels. 5th Edition - Proficiency Bonus starts at +2 (added to trained skills and attack rolls) and increases by +1 at distinct total level tiers, ending at a static +6 at 17th level.
Why is it there? - BAB and PB in both games are a numerical representation of your overall ability to do things. In Pathfinder, it ends up being an extra bonus to attacks, and 5th Edition uses it in place of Skill Ranks, and as a bonus to attack rolls, and saving throws.
What do I think? - Both make sense for the games they are in. The numbers get bigger in Pathfinder. Everything is tighter (lower numbers) in 5th Edition, so of course they rolled Skill Ranks and BAB into a general progressive bonus. Less to manage, and it works.
Full Attack Round (PF) vs Extra Attack (5E)
What it is: Pathfinder: As you progress in level in a single class, there is a moment where one gains access to a second attack. This second attack, however, suffers a -5 penalty to its roll. So, effectively, if one were to attack twice, the bonuses would be +6/+1 (before adding Strength or Dexterity modifiers that is). Also, you can only take that second attack if you move no more than 5 feet (1 square) this round. This is referred to as a Full-Attack Around, where you stand mostly still and wail on your opponent. As your BAB increases, though, your amount of attacks available also increases, and before you know it you're attacking 4 times in a round. 5th Edition - *some* classes gain access to the Extra Attack feature at 5th level, allowing you to make a second attack when you take the Attack Action on your turn. There is no penalty to this second attack, and you can move freely on your turn within your movement speed. Only the Fighter gains access to 4 attacks when taking the Attack Action at 20th level.
Why is it there? - It takes time, energy, and focus to hit multiple times or to fire multiple shots, and Pathfinder represents this effort by creating penalties or limiters to ensure that a player must sacrifice something to swing their axe and cleave down an army. 5th Edition supports faster combat with straightforward Action Economy, so the bonus never changes no matter how many attacks you have (less math) and believes that the more skilled you are with a weapon, the more efficiently you can attack, therefore it would never sacrifice movement.
What do I think? - I think the Full-Attack Round overcomplicates things, but I understand the penalties from a mechanical perspective. For ease of play, I have seen GMs rule that once you gain access to that second attack, you can just attack twice now, and still move freely. In my games, I still use the scaling penalties, but allow movement; because hey, if YOU guys can attack 3 times and be mobile, so can my monsters, so it's still fair. Any adjustments I make are made on both sides of the table.
Feats, ASI, and Attribute Limits (PF and 5E)
What it is: Okay. I've gotta' break this down carefully.
Feats in Pathfinder - ...are essential. They are many, and some are hyper-specific, while others are generally awesome. Some offer circumstantial bonuses or abilities to support specific builds, while others give static bonuses to help off-set flaws. And MANY have specific prerequisites in order to be taken in the first place, so "Feat Chaining" is required to get the most out of the system (and there's a lot to read). Because they're so important, EVERYONE gets them at every odd total level, regardless of class, and other classes gain Bonus Feats at specific levels.
Feats in 5th Edition - ...are optional. They are a variant rule employed by most GMs that allows players to opt out of their Ability Score Increase (or ASI) to instead take a Feat. Each Feat grants a main benefit, sometimes with a +1 to a specific ability score (as per the flavor of the Feat), with a few auxiliary benefits as well. Since you're giving up a numerical increase, you often get quite a bit from each Feat, and very few have prerequisites. Racial Feats complicate this truth slightly, but there you go.
Ability Score Increases in Pathfinder - ...Occur every 4 levels. You may increase an Ability Score by 1. There is no limit to the Ability Score number (I've had a Strength of 30 before).
Ability Score Increases in 5th Edition - ...are tied to the progression in a certain class. Most classes get them every 4 levels in that class, but others get extras at specific intervals (*cough*, Fighters and Rogues, *cough*). At each ASI, you have 2 points to distribute to your Ability Scores. HOWEVER, you cannot increase an Ability Score beyond 20.
Why is it there? - Pathfinder is a system of micro adjustments, and each Feat is an interesting choice for the player, but the benefits are minimal at the onset...awesome as the game progresses. It's a slow burn, like building a mech, and when your character comes online, all that careful selection and planning makes you a god. But you need to plan well. 5th Edition keeps numbers tight, so it's a trade to take a Feat, but what you get is so much more in comparison - more options, powers, and flexibility. Or you can play without them, and lose nothing in the flow of the game. Play without Feats in Pathfinder? Oops. I broke it. ;)
What do I think? - I've always been good at organizational creativity, so the Feat Chain only bothers me when I'm a caster, because I'm managing spells too. And because I love numbers, the Feats that create those insane bonuses are a rush to play with...but navigating the swell of feats available and sorting great from good from junk is a process. Again, 5th Edition is fast and most feats can be taken by anyone, making it less of a predetermined path for the ideal build, and more a cool character choice to open up a few options.
What it is: Woof. This is the big one. In Pathfinder and 5th Edition, you can prepare a certain number of spells to cast based on a few factors each day/long rest. That's not our issue.
As per RAW, in Pathfinder: You prepare EACH CASTING of a spell, and once it's spent, it's gone. So, if I prepare Cure Light Wounds... I've prepared to cast it once. Once I cast that spell, I can't cast it again, even if I have more Spells Per Day available. I would have had to prepare it as a casting again. So if I've got three Spells Per Day, and I want to cast Cure Light Wounds three times that day, then my prepared spells look like this: Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds. ALSO, many spells have more powerful versions at higher levels...that you must learn individually, like a brand new spell.
In 5th Edition: you prepare the use of a certain number of spells each Long Rest, not the number of casts of each spell. So you could prepare Cure Wounds, but still expend all of your first level spell slots (not spells per day) by casting Bane 3 times instead. This isn't a waste of Cure Wounds because of the added benefit of Spell Slots, where you could simply cast Cure Wounds (a 1st-level spell) using a 2nd level Spell Slot and make it more powerful at the same time.
Why is it there? - Power is important in Pathfinder, and knowledge is power. Magic is also much more discrete and distinct, so power levels are explicit. So spells of varying power levels are much more complex than their weaker counterparts, therefore they should be treated as separate spells. 5th Edition frees up magic use and interpretation, using Spell Slots to make casting more flexible and keep caster options open.
What do I think? - I've never employed this rule completely in Pathfinder. Ever. Any caster I've played, and any caster that's played with me, has held to the prepared spells rule, but never the number of casts per spell name. You have three 1st level spells per day, you prepared Bane, Cure Light Wounds, and Bless. This means you have three options every time you cast, not one casting of each spell. Why be that way? In extension, 5th Edition wins here, clearly and distinctly, because of Spell Slots.
If I'm a Wizard and I learned to cast the spell Sleep, why do I have to learn a more powerful version of it later? As I level up, it's implied that I'm learning quite a bit about the weave of magic and gain access to more powerful spell levels anyway, so why can't I just cast Sleep at a higher level? Nope, you need Sleep II, or Sleep IV. But in 5th Edition? Yeah, go ahead. Add an extra 2d8 per level above 1st. Great! Thanks, buddy.
You know what this also does? CUTS THE BOOK IN HALF. What a concept. Write the spell once, add a blurb of what it looks like at higher levels, and you're DONE. Duh.
Traits (PF)* vs Backgrounds (5E)
What is a Trait?
Traits are considered backstory "seeds" that give a mechanical benefit equal to about half a Feat at character creation. If used, characters can take up to 2 Traits, and never 2 traits in the same category (Combat, Racial, Regional, Religion, Faith, Campaign, Social, Equipment, Family, Magic, Mount). If you want more Traits, you may take Drawbacks - penalties that tie into possible story hooks or detriments - and gain more Traits. GM approval required.
*Not all GMs play with Traits. I've met a lot of Game Masters, and guys that have been running the system for eons didn't know they existed. With so much available at the onset of play, many feel Traits unnecessary, but including them can help create a clearer picture of where the character came from while adding a *minor* mechanical boon on top of it.
Backgrounds are important in 5E, but not really. The ones available in the book and their accompanying features are published options, yes, but you can just as easily pick 2 skills to be proficient in and a language, and roll it all into your origin story. Either way, you'll get two free skills and often a language or toolset, in addition to what your class and race give you. Again, simple, straightforward, let's play.
A Few Extra Notes
PATHFINDER has A LOT of options. Races, weapons, armor, potions, magic items...it's huge, and has a very effective and extensive crafting system supported by all those options. It is an involved system that rewards industrial planning and creative problem-solving, and remains at the heart of some of my most epic sessions. ...But you've gotta' put in the time to get the ruleset down, and it can get a little involved.
5TH EDITION has A LOT of flexibility, and can swing toward more complex features or toward more streamlined options without sacrificing balance. The material is straightforward and clear, and easily digested at the onset. Sure, there's layers, but you'll get playing fast.
Anything can be spoiled by a bad GM, or a bad table, but that's not the fault of a system. Create an effective Social Contract before engaging in any tabletop experience.
As with any game, the GM can choose to add or omit anything she pleases, as long as she discusses and justifies it with the players. A Feat you don't agree with? Strike it from the system. A rule that makes you feel weird? Make an adjustment and test it out. None of this is in stone, which is why I don't understand some of the hate being flung over a social fantasy game on some of the forums these days.
If you're still on the fence, pick one and try it out. What's the worst that could happen? You don't enjoy yourself? Great. Try something different. The best teacher is experience.
See you at the table.
PS: Next week will be centered on New Beginnings. Campaigns have ended, here's to the new adventurers!
Writing this blog each week takes time, energy, and focus. If you enjoy reading it, maybe consider taking a look at my Patreon, and helping support its creation.
Thursday D&D is now my oldest campaign. Running since my inception into the Questers' Way model, they've been fighting cultists, talking to dragons, crushing beholders, and squaring off against Ancient Ones riding gargantuan titans for nearly 3 years now. And last Thursday marked the close of the final arc of the story.
We'll have one last dungeon crawl at level 20, 5 years later, as our epilogue next week. After that, 150 years pass into the fourth age of Io, and we start anew at Level 2. It's been quite a journey, and they're not the easiest group to run ;), but the lessons are real with this crew and I've changed a lot since we started.
Here's what I picked up.
When I started the Thursday game, I was coming off a blend of 10 years running and teaching Pathfinder, and though I fell in love quickly with 5E, I had made some assumptions regarding its player options.
The system is deceptively simple and highly accessible, but I had listened to the cry-babies online declaring it "D&D Basic," and decided to create specific Prestige Classes based around lore and player discovery. It created a very special and unique option inside my custom world, where "secret" classes actually existed that could augment player builds, and could only upgrade through experimentation, player exploration, and discovery into the deep layers of the world's history. I still think it was a great decision. It adds a lot of rewards for players that invest of themselves in the history and machinations of this fantasy you've spent so much time on.
But after two years of deep-diving mechanics, game mastering, game design, player-master interaction, social development, and the study of flow... I realize I made a boo-boo. Not a mistake in flavor, nor in reward, but in mechanics.
It's a little thing, and the more you do the more you realize that "it's the little things" that matter most. In this case, my Prestige Class of the Aegis - a powerhouse of a Cleric that wields the souls of the dead to unleash fury upon her enemies - and the final form of a Ranger with a Legacy Bow - a weapon that levels up with you; semi-sentient and created by a god - created an issue with Action Economy and TMRPA (Too Much Rolling Per Action), respectively.
The Aegis's main mechanic involves gaining Furies - souls of dead warriors unwilling to pass on - and spending them like Ki Points to unleash powerful attacks, augment healing spells, and create more options. Unfortunately, as long as you have Furies to burn, there's no limit to their use, and at high level in any class, you're already managing so much... It eats up time easy when you're able to summon an Action Surge every turn AND cast AND fight. On the other side of the table, the crazy-bow-now-living-winged-armor attached to the Ranger added an extra attack, but the main time suck is derived from two main extra elements in play: the bow requires a Con save when it hits or the target takes extra necrotic damage. It's also got a crazy bonus (with a high level character with max Dex), so hitting is often, mean more rolls for me. On top of this, IF she rolls a natural 20 on the bow, she rolls Constitution damage on the target, on top of everything else. Moving forward, leveled up weapons will deal static numbers, instead of rolling more... And in terms of time, it always feels more effective in flow and execution to have a power spike (the awesome power of rolling 8d6 for a Fireball) than many small spikes of damage, so if I can eliminate the parceled rolls where I can, everyone still feels effective, but turns take less time.
In the fourth age, Io-Shar, though it is a more industrial time period of naval exploration (after the world flooded), home-brew materials are much tighter and more balanced; action economy manipulations have higher costs, and there's less compounded rolling. The bonuses are also much more subtle; there isn't a need to add a whole new system to track when it could be as simple as a palette swap in damage type. New age, new prestige classes and custom feats open up (hello, Knife Expert), but this play test has heavily informed what special elements are extended to the player. A little goes a long way - there is an elegance in that design, and it keeps the playing field even across the table.
I look forward to the interesting things I can give them this time around. :)
Self Actualization / Player Agency
NPC's can be tricky business.
Introduce them as careful lore drops, powerful relationships, killer resources...but never have them solve a problem for the players. Good gods. Holy cows on toast with mayonnaise. Don't do it.
NPC ex machina is not the way to go if it comes out of nowhere.
Well-established order of guards and officers? Sure thing. Sudden mass teleport wizard is sudden. If it feels like a puzzle to the players and they're enjoying solving it, don't help them with an NPC. Hints are fine, solutions can hurt the party.
...Unless they're utterly lost and confused. Help them along, but don't do it for them. EVER. If you do, you run the risk of insulting them and equally "playing without them." And that's just rude. ;)
Clear Intention Of Background
Some players want their background conflicts resolved in the grand arc of the story, while others use their backgrounds predominantly to inform their play style from session 1 and need it no longer.
Now, this group in particular was one where I didn't get that feel easy from most of them. With a high mix reactive players with a few proactive ones, some offering extensive background information while others offered a few sentences explained away, the hindsight of the matter is obvious but the player execution and my observations were misunderstood often. When you give a hook that to you is obvious, but the player misses completely, and therefore doesn't pursue it, one might assume that the view of their background fits into the former category.
Compounding confusion, still, are those that feed very little into the overall narrative, but then wonder when "their story" will be featured, but say nothing - instead assuming they were forgotten. Please talk to your DM; I won't be offended - it's much worse if you don't approach the issue until the end of the campaign and I wonder why NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. :)
Like many GMs out there, I'm not a *dick*, but I can't read minds. There are so many stories of a player misinterpreting a DM's intention, or of the GM making an assumption about a scenario that ended up being incorrect, or seeming to ignore obvious intentions. In the same vein of: "if I knew it was a problem, I would have fixed it right away," though we can intuit quite a bit the longer we're at the table, our human nature begs us to err. We miss things, we get caught up in the narrative, and we lose sight of players. I am imperfect, as are we all, so open communication helps everyone. Also, GMs, CHECK IN WITH YOUR PLAYERS MORE. I picked this up as a requirement when I started Gray Owls and OH MY GOODNESS is it an essential element at every table. I don't know how it took me that long to put in my workflow OMG.
Moving forward, with each new campaign, I've started to put together a few questions for character creation; some fulfill the essential detail of world building, while others touch on player intentions - what do they want to get out of this experience?
1. Where was your character born? Describe it as best you can; do you reflect on this place positively or negatively? Would you ever want to return? Why? Do you have a family there? How did they treat you? Were there any important people in your life growing up? Why did you leave?
2. What is your character's goal in life; what do you seek? When did you "grow up" and start taking care of yourself?
3. What emotion best describes your character? What emotion do you bring out in others?
4. How do you carry yourself? What are your means/dress/attitude as you move through life? What do find valuable?
5. What is your comfort zone? What is your greatest fear? Personal tastes, quirks, and opinions?
6. Player: What kind of story do you see your character fitting into? What role do you see them filling?
7. Player: Please weigh (3 being most important to you, 1 being least important) the Three Pillars - Combat/Social/Exploration
8. Player: How do you interpret your play style? What are your pet peeves? What do you respond well to?
9. Player: How do you want your character to die? (this is more important than you think; it strikes at the heart of our own values - your story could end abruptly, and if it did, how would they meet that end do you think?)
10. Player: Do you want your background details to be referenced or hooked into the story? You can always change your mind - just let me know.
Now, especially number 10 I can see a few of my fellow GMs hemming and hawing over. "You mean we have to bend over backwards to make this character's weird backstory fit into OUR GRAND NARRATIVE??? How dare they assume they'd be so important - they should be happy just to be playing!" ...Hmm.
This is a group game, and it's really important that everyone understands the type of experience they're getting into. Clear expectations are a good thing; Trust and Empathy are two main factors to building a great table of play. Now, do I have to make that character's stuff the most important element all the time? No. Absolutely not. But I can give them sprinkles of content more directly spun into the story. It won't happen all the time, and sometimes it might not even come up, but IF I KNOW going into this that there is a clear desire to wrap up a specific story thread, I can find more ORGANIC ways to weave and tie these disparate threads together. It might even be a limiter of location; hints of the conflict in the north (echoes of another character's story), but we don't need to go there now. It's just a sprinkle.
Everyone's connected to something. Everyone's from somewhere. We don't know everything going in; the mystery is the fun part, and some players want their mystery. Others don't care for it; I need to know which one you are.
Players Learn Too, And Comfort Tells Stories
And when they do, their real play styles come out. It's amazing what comfort will do for the table, and how much it reveals what a comfortable player actually WANTS to play, and if that concept doesn't jive with how their current class works, there will undoubtedly be a desire to play something different.
The more this group learned about how the game works, the more effective they became, but also the more some of them drifted toward other builds, concepts, and ideas. This type of momentum is helpful to notice; in a way, it reveals a player's true nature. Like the first campaign was our test run. The next one is where we're going to really shine; players and DM alike. We take what we learned about the game, ourselves, our styles, and how to advocate for the experience we want...and finally, just PLAY.
See you at the table.
Writing this blog each week takes time, energy, and focus. If you enjoy reading it, maybe consider taking a look at my Patreon, and helping support its creation.
I'm having trouble walking at the moment. My whole body hurts. I am currently lying on my back, pondering all the ways in which I have destroyed myself. A beautiful boulder rests upon every fiber of my being, like some stone slab cut perfectly Looney-Tunes style into the shape of my prone body. I am sore, bruised, and broken.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Motivation is something so many of us struggle with, and so many give up just when we start to reap the benefits. A lot people think it comes down to convenience, but I think it more specifically defined to a lack of resistance. We bring it up a lot in this blog and our podcast as a State of Flow in gaming, but flow can be achieved and maintained in all facets of our lives. The key here is building in that lack of resistance.
We recently opened a gym in addition to other things we offer through my business at large, not just my Game On! stuff, and the impact is palpable. I can now schedule my workout days around my work at the center, and already I can feel the shift in what has become possible for my training, my health, and my mental focus. But with those gains, I can already feel the familiar pull away from it all.
We all get it sometimes. The nagging, lazy bit of ourselves that manifests when we start making the most progress toward leaving it behind. It is the tiny voice that tells us we'll never get there, the one that complains in the middle of your chest press, that hammers your legs with doubt, and that seeps pride into your skin so you avoid safety in favor of stubbornness.
This is not something that is given to you after a week of work. Hell, you won't get it after a month, or maybe even a year. Great progress will be made in this time, but it is not the result. We will be shrouded in tiny victories; threads of hope bound together each day to form an unbreakable cord of resolve and perseverance.
Everything that I am and could be has been a product of my own choices. I am not the victim of my own circumstance and I prove this every day that I rise from sleep and seek the greatest version of myself, and it is with this knowledge that I take hold of the tethers of my own destiny...and pull. And I do this with the full knowledge that I am tearing down what I once was - the habits formed, the mistakes made, the lessons unlearned, and all the ugly bits. This will be painful, and I accept this pain, for I will rise from it, building as I go. I will sift through my own rubble, deciding what to keep and what burns.
This is going to suck. And here are some practical ways - mechanical habits, devoid of motivation, but full of functionality - that I'm going to do it.
Rest Times and Rest Days
Only key in on one rest day, never two in a row. That's mine anyway.
This past week looked like this:
Monday - Gym after work - Chest and Legs
Tuesday - Rest Day 1
Wednesday - Gym before work - Back and Arms
Thursday - Rest Day 2
Friday - Home workout - Bodyweight Blitz
Saturday - Kickboxing, Karate, then Gym - Arms and Shoulders
Sunday - Home workout - Bodyweight and Cardio
This sort of works, but I'd like my Rest Days to be Thursdays and Sundays, instead opting for Tuesday as another "gym rat" day. I think I'll get a better spread, and I'm working out consistently at 5x a week while avoiding a two-day rest period where I can fall into a slump. DISCIPLINE is key here to build the better habit.
But DURING workouts, I find my biggest time suck is in resting. My home gym workouts would take far too long due in no small part to the amount of time I was carelessly resting between sets. In the gym, the focus is different. I have taken the time out of my day to go to a space that is not my home to use equipment that isn't mine in order to build my best self. There's an onus there. Other people are here to do the same thing, so I'm not going to waste my time or theirs; the pressure's on.
So, I give 20-30 seconds between sets - sometimes I even count out loud, especially if I pushed hard enough to shatter my own metacognition. It keeps me moving. Instead of workouts taking 3 hours, I've knocked them down to 90 minutes for the same benefit. Employing my next element, I've got 'em down to under that.
Supersets, "Triplesets," and Circuits
Sometimes I get bored. Sometimes I get distracted. Sometimes I have a lot of workouts to get through and I feel pressed for time. So I double them up.
Single, focused sets are good. Great, even, and certainly have their place. But I'm always one to use Supersets and Triplesets to keep me moving and motivated on those days I have difficulty focusing.
A Superset is when you take one exercise, perform one set of it, then immediately perform another set of another exercise without resting between. For me, this practice serves two functions: 1) It's more efficient, and 2) for muscle growth and dynamic fatigue, it's amazing. Instead of just extending an exercise, or performing another set on the same exercise, I'm still working but the muscle groups are different enough that the grouping of the previous exercise "rests" while another works. That aspect of rest isn't actually true, mind you, but the difference in movement is the point here. I do my 20-30 second rest after completing the second exercise.
And if a Superset is effective, then a Tripleset must be awesome, right? Well, yeah, but we can also call that a Circuit. A circuit is a set of 3 or more exercises performed one after the other, then resting. I use Circuits to keep me moving (efficiency) and to pump (reach hypertrophy) faster, while maintaining strength training. It also lets me check off more exercises in my book in bigger, more satisfying chunks. :)
One More Rep...
Yes, the name of this week's blog is Embrace The Suck. And I mean it. Embrace it.
Accept that this is going to be uncomfortable. Anything worth it will reach a point of discomfort. This is mine.
There will be days that I will crave the things I don't need. Days I don't want to work out. Days I want to lay in bed and avoid the challenges my life will bring. And those days will SUCK.
But those days won't stop me. Because I know they're coming (a few have happened already, and I've crushed them). I know the feeling of doing pushups and your body lazily prodding you with "you don't need to do any more, that's enough," and the feeling of pushing through that to get one more rep. I know the feeling of pushing to failure, even when one more rep feels like miles away, and you have to fight against your own doubt and pride and hunger just to push through.
But I will. And it's going to suck. This is going to hurt. This is going to challenge every fiber of me. But I will become stronger; I will become better. And it will be that one more rep that is the difference between raw willpower and falling off this wagon. And to the latter: I REFUSE.
BEAST MODE ENGAGED.
I'll see you at the gym.
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Though I am pleased as punch to be in the position I am, there are inherent stresses to game mastering.
How do I craft a collaborative story that stays exciting and engaging for my players?
How do I invigorate and incorporate their backstories in organic and powerful ways?
How do I challenge them without luring them into a TPK scenario?
These are GM focuses 101, but the major stressor for me is in running high-level encounters. Put yourself in my shoes: these players are level 16. They've been building these characters up for literally years by now. Huge in-world connections, businesses, kingdoms...they've made quite a name for themselves. And now, they're challenging the old world - ancient beings that have awoken and now threaten their home and maybe even the fabric of reality itself.
When you stand against something like that - when you crash against it - not everyone comes out alive. And we, at the table, need to be OKAY with that. And here's why.
Great Risk, Great Reward
No character is awarded plot armor in an adventure.
When I started this gig two years ago, this was a mantra I had to remember, and a lesson for all of my players at some point or another. Make a bad choice? You might be dead. You don't get to do whatever you want just because "you're the hero." Now, I've never been a vengeful GM - "rocks fall, everyone dies" - but there are Natural Consequences to poor decisions, and my fellow GMs and I like to allow a 3-step failure so the player can try to right their course before falling over the proverbial cliff.
However, as you continue to learn a game system and triumph over the initial hurdles of misunderstanding, problem-solving, and tactical awareness, there comes a time when you realize that you were never actually safe. That no hero of any level is immune to the vast dangers of a tabletop world, and that surviving such dangers nets you some tremendous rewards.
But no triumph is without risk, and as we level up, our adversaries scale WITH US. At low levels, we might be challenged by a troll - a large creature of great strength that regenerates (our first real puzzle, solved by the use of fire, that halts said regeneration), but as we get stronger, we become aware of the greater dangers existing in the world. They've always been there, but we wouldn't have had reason to bump elbows with these entities unless we were seeking our own deaths!
By the time we reach double digits, and are well on our way to levels 17 or 18 (the capstones of many class archetypes, but not the level capstone of 5E at level 20), we'll be interacting with literal gods, demons, devils, fey lords, great mages, liches (undead mages), ANCIENT DRAGONS... There's a bunch we can play around with, and some things in that iconic Monster Manual are downright scary (and that's not even scraping the surface of all the custom monsters and ancient beings older than time that I've constructed in the last year). Woof.
But for each massive threat in scale and scope, each victory garners immense reward. Sometimes you walk away with your lives and a ton of experience, other times a hoard and a few magic items, and maybe even a powerful ally or two - but it's all on a grander stage.
Hope you were ready to become superheroes, because it's time to save the world.
It Can All End So Quickly
There is sometimes an idea that circulates arguing that combat in D&D becomes a game of attrition. Mountains of hit points smacking into other mountains of hit points until one reaches zero. If a combat devolves to this scenario, we as GMs, are DOING SOMETHING UNEQUIVOCALLY WRONG.
1) An Ancient Freaking Dragon has been alive as long as they have been for a reason; they will use cunning, tactics, and their breath to easily end confrontations. They WILL NOT simply land and do hand-to-hand combat with the plucky adventurers when their breath can MELT ARMIES. This is why 9th level spells exist. If you have access to Meteor Swarm and you are beset upon by a band of seven creatures hell-bent on axing you a question...THEN YOU LEAD WITH METEOR SWARM. Because why wouldn't you? You're a smart creature.
2) Taking massive damage should have consequences. This is a variant rule, mind you, but one can get pretty creative when dealing with acid or lava, and sometimes I rule circumstances if you just took more than half your hit points in damage. It's gonna' take you some time to recover from that; maybe your movement suffers, maybe one of your attributes is in trouble (because, you know, you're MELTING), maybe your action economy takes a hit until you can overcome some of that damage threshold. ONLY EMPLOY THIS APPROACH after discussing and clearing it with the group, but such things can remove quite effectively the idea that you are "fine" until you're unconscious.
3) High-powered attacks and spells can deal a great range of damage. This is a game with a hard and fast luck element. Sometimes the dice are in your favor...sometimes they are not. So if an attack rolls 14d10 for damage, the full range of this is literally 14-140 hit points. Depending on class and Constitution scores, that can drop a high-level hero; but if I roll the average (about 84), I've dramatically hurt everyone, but probably haven't TPK'ed the party. Similarly, players can nail their saves and take half damage (or none at all - bloody EVASION). Also, player characters should be dealing tremendous damage, bringing all of their abilities, items, and strategy to bear. This could all end very quickly - it just feels longer because we're managing a lot more abilities, options, and possible outcomes. In real time, epic fights are over pretty fast.
Sometimes Your Story Ends
I didn't kill your character... The DRAGON killed your character.
The GM is NOT there to try and kill you maliciously. She's going to play each creature accurately and strategically as appropriate to their abilities, tactics, and personality. Ancient beings are such for a reason; they ain't stupid - if they notice that the obvious cleric is obviously healing everyone, well, then they might attack the cleric. This will never become a GM vs. the players kind of game; those are mean and we need to quit them. The GM should revel in the victory just as much as the player-characters; it's a group game, and their triumph is celebrated, but as enemies become smarter, the battles become tougher.
Yet when a character dies, many players take it personally. Like they were attacked somehow (outside of the game). Some even go so far as to blame the GM; accuse them of acting in a certain way out of spite. But the thing to recognize, that I feel I MUST SAY, is that "sometimes, a character's story just ends."
It isn't heroic. It isn't pretty. It can be sudden and horrible and unfair. And with the number of friends whose stories have ended this past year... How I wish I could have rolled them up a new character. But that's not how life works, and if we believe ourselves immortal, what is the point in struggling to live in the first place? In the words of Gandalf the Gray, "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you."
When we suffer in a game, it offers us an opportunity to learn; to rise, and to learn. Sometimes that lesson is a product of a great loss - like the loss of a character you have spent years cultivating. But that's the game, and that's the risk, especially with high-level play. Sometimes heroes die when they challenge Olympus. But, at least for us, this is a game. You can always make another character. But don't hate the DM; we're not pulling our punches at this tier - you've earned the high-level play so when you win, you FEEL that triumph.
You wanted to fight gods? Well. Welcome to the Jungle.
See you at the table.
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Recently I had the honor to play in a new event type we're offering at the center: Modular Madness.
Now, witty title aside, the event structure is certainly no One-Shot scenario (though we did have a character death in the first combat - curse those Nat 20's), and not as grand long-form as a Knight Owls or Gray Owls. What it is is a set of 4-6 sessions planned over roughly 4-6 months. We meet and play for approximately six hours each sitting with 2-3 breaks between the action. We do this to experience and play through an actual module inside the given game system.
This time around? We're playing Dragon Heist.
Run by John, with a strict party of 6 adventurers at maximum, and no clue of each other's complete intentions, we muddled our way through chapter 1 of the adventure at our first session about a week ago. IT WAS A BLAST AND A HALF, and I've done some thinking on the experience.
I play a Yuan-Ti Wizard named Soren Finranda. He's a little creepy, keeps to himself, but is generous and cunning when he needs to be. Now, I've played wizards before, but I wanted to take a specific approach when it came to Soren.
This Yuan-Ti is not strong, nor is he dextrous in any way. My Constitution gives me +1 HP per level, and with 6+1 HP at first level...yeah, I have 7 hit points walking into this. With no armor and barely a dagger to my name, I have no business being a damage dealer. And, dare I say, until higher levels, nor does ANY WIZARD, and here's why.
Soren's spells are not built for dealing damage. Sure, the Yuan-Ti race feature gives him Poison Spray, and he grabbed Toll The Dead like a boss, but the rest is rounded out with Mold Earth and Minor Illusion. Yes, I skipped Prestidigitation this time. All of his level 1 spells? Grease, Shield, Sleep, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Magic Missile.
Soren's whole schtick is to wait and plan, and in a system where I often play Fighter, Barbarian, Paladin, Monk, Sorlock...this was old school D&D. There's a rite of passage that follows the low-level wizard; the knowledge that all it takes is one errant arrow and a failed saving throw versus halitosis and BAM you're dead. You have to be careful, smart, and save your VERY limited spell slots for the most opportune moment.
And Arcane Recovery... Well, Arcane Recovery at level 1 allows you to "recover" one level 1 spell slot (1/2 of the two you have at the get-go) during a Short Rest. Over the course of chapter 1, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE, so no long rests, meaning all I've got is one Arcane Recovery to recover ONE SPELL SLOT. Make 'em count, gents.
So I did.
Grease the troll so my melee buddy has advantage, and keep my distance. Arcane Recovery. Sleep the ambushing archers because they're close together and I rolled high on the 5d8 Hit Point pool (I'll at least drop one of them). One slot down. Summon Silent Image to confuse the heck out of a major foe and SKIP that combat altogether. By now, I'm tapped out. Just cantrips to go on. Use Minor Illusion to cover the mishaps of my allies and divert attention - fail a stealth check and nearly die from one arrow to the chest - then Poison Spray for max damage because why not?
I had to be quiet, careful, and cunning. Especially with average damage working out the way it does, and with a module setting with a high emphasis on laws, stealth, and cloak and dagger, my job is better served as a controller, not a blaster.
The Most Expansive Spell List
The wizard spell list is extensive. The biggest one in the game. And though there are some spells that we'll never get (lookin' at you, Eldritch Blast), what we do get can alter time and space. It's hard to argue with a well-placed Fireball, but I beg you to consider the less obvious options. Options like Charm Person - which can end a combat if you're on point, later following the Dominate Person and Dominate Monster train; Detect Magic and Identify keep you knowledgable of the arcana that surrounds you (not to mention spell traps around your allies); Disguise Self; Feather Fall has saved many lives in MANY campaigns; Flaming Sphere coupled with Pyrotechnics (flaming marble madness in a smoke cloud of chaos); Suggestion, to really drive a point home.
And most of those I just listed are lower leveled spells, so you'll have more opportunities to use them. An expanded spell list offers you options, and each spell has a reason to exist; I urge you to collect as many spells as you can into your spell book and entertain the option of each - play through the mental landscape of its use, usefulness, and level of control on the social, exploration, or combat fields. The rest is up to how patient you are with your tactics and how creative you can be with its use (but always have a backup plan ready in case it goes sideways).
You have the resources to be smart, and a wizard is a great class to practice playing smart.
The first time I played in 5th Edition I chose a wizard, and picked as many damage-oriented evocations as possible. Through playing, however, I began to understand more of the game's mechanics; not only my own, but how other players and enemies navigated all the pillars of play...and how magic can infiltrate, manipulate, augment, and dilute these mechanics.
And after 2 and a half years of teaching the game, talking the game, designing the game, plus over 10 years in other systems... I get it. My knowledge of how the game works, action economy, and how each spell functions makes me finally work like a wizard. Knowledge is power.
I understand how powerful prone is, so Grease is obvious. Silent Image is confusing and powerful to less inquisitive creatures, so of course I have it. As AC continues to rise, and I don't want to be seen as a combatant, then spells like Toll The Dead and Poison Spray, that require saves, are very advantageous early on...and will continue to be as I try to be secretive. On top of this, as my options continue to increase (the most expansive list in the game), I can continually adjust my focus each long rest, making me extremely flexible day to day.
Returning to the wizard allows me superstar moments. Time to wait, watch, and listen...then throw out a clutch spell that's going to change the landscape of the encounter. I have the power to alter time and space; you can bet your butt I'm going to wield that power with Intelligence to maximize its effectiveness, no matter what.
Knowledge is power.
See you at the table.
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Every Game Master has their fair share of custom content and home-brew incorporation. We add a mundane item here, a magic item there, pull from previous editions, or adapt from other mediums. Hell, maybe we'll change the setting altogether; flip the script and play in the whimsical alternate dimension of: Milwaukee.
Whatever the case, each Game Master has their own house rules and a whole bevy of alternative items, mechanics, and elements ready to be created, discovered, and reinforced by their players...
So I thought I'd talk about mine.
The Timeline Of Io's Seven Ages
My setting of Io enjoys seven distinct settings, or Ages, in its interwoven timeline. I did this originally to be able to offer an abundant mix of games inside the same system but with a progressive timeline. What this created was a beast of internal consistency, where the actions of a party of adventurers on Tuesday could potentially affect the world experienced on Wednesdays, and the actions of the Knight Owls could have echoes in the Gray Owls campaign. I was careful to allow a large enough passage of time to avoid any weirdness, but the extra-meta knowledge of players in multiple campaigns has been pretty cool.
What it's also done is allowed me to create a literal progression of industry from age to age, unlocking special race, class, and item options setting to setting - all of which have lore and reasoning implications. ...Like how the heck Illithids (literal Mind Flayers) became a playable race in the 6th age of Io-Firma (the Gray Owls setting). So here's a quick overview of how each Age functions and what type of setting it offers.
The NEXUS: where all creation began - the world and its gods came into being in the Nexus, where the raw energy found in its core flowed through the planet and forged the elemental forces. Many believe it still exists to this day, somewhere far beyond the planar circle yet intimately close - like a door waiting to be opened. The details of its location have been lost to antiquity, a single remnant referred to only as The Song Of The Ancients.
Io-Temm: The Worldshaping - The first age of Io, where the Seven Wings birthed the now known pantheon and their inevitable war that shaped the main continent of Erena, the disparate islands of Abaddon, and the kingdoms beyond the Aether.
Io-Sooth: Mortal's Edge - Classic D&D fantasy setting; the second age entertains the birth of the mortal races, created by the first known pantheon. Tiamat and Bahamut - Dragonborn; Pelor - Humans; Morahdin - Dwarves; Corellon - Elves; you get the idea...
Io-Ren: Balance and Ruin - The flames of industry have begun to burn and the mortal races try to harness the power of the gods, ushering in an age of demigods, exploration, and tempting fate. Campaigns: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Knight Owls Season 1
Io-Shar: The Broken Seas - After a cataclysmic event involving an ancient being ripping a hole in the plane of Water, the world has flooded and expanded into an age of naval piracy, massive sea creatures, and temporal storms. Campaigns: Wednesdays, Knight Owls Season 2, Knight Owls Season 3.
Io-Empyr: Cloudsinger - After a sky pirate and his merry band pierced the Veil Of Heaven, cities rose into the sky, forming Clusters of new nations and expanding the world further. Steampunk airships, sky pirates, and tears in the threads of the Feywild and Shadowfell summon a whole new caste of creatures and entities that threaten to take the sky for their own. Campaigns: Cloudsinger (YouTube)
Io-Firma: The Reclamation - Magic is broken. A Prime God is dead. The world is dark and deadly and cold. Shattered psions, enlightened gnolls, ancient detectives, hired guns, and mature themes, this is not an age of heroes. No, this world is just a tad...gray. Campaigns: Gray Owls (21+)
Io-Nixx: The Sundering - Not much is known of this age, as only one adventuring party has caught a glimpse of it. It is a battle; constant and enormous, where literal gods clash in the skies. It may even mark the end of the world as we know it.
So, depending on the age, we can assume that certain gear is available as industry increases. Sooth and Ren are pretty similar, but Ren's adventurers begin to discover the powerful Legacy Weapons from Temm (the first age), tapping into the power of the gods before the turn of the age. Cataclysm changes things in Shar, and the world adapts; ships, naval warfare, cannons, spell cannons, automated ships, subs - Outlaw Star style ship combat. Empire allows more steampunk gunslinging, taking the naval concepts to the air at the peak of an industrial revolution. Then Firma comes along and everything breaks, and it breaks hard; whole classes are gone, or changed dramatically; races disappear, others resurface with new abilities, and no one truly knows how the world works anymore - with magic mostly illegal for the lower class, now we've got to find other ways to get it (drugs, I'm talking about magic drugs).
So without going into too much detail with the various Ages, the following are *mostly* available in all of my games.
I like to employ all that the Player's Handbook has to offer for 5E, but sometimes I draw some extra inspiration from my Pathfinder days (extensive weapon lists), and add on a little extra blades for good measure. None of these are Masterwork (so no +1's, or cutting through resistances), but there might be some other cool perks. I've always been a fan of incorporating more martial arts weaponry (given my own background), and like utilizing die steps to help illustrate a power increase. Also-also, not everything is available at every shop. These custom mundane items, along with other items, might fluctuate depending on supply, demand, harvest, and other such factors age to age. Again, lore and reasoning for the world. The mass production of Duskweave in the third age led to a near extinction of the Displacer Beast packs, and no one's heard of a Pack Lord in eons. Whoops.
Claymore - adapted greatsword; 2d8 Slashing - Two-Handed, Heavy
Katana - adapted longsword; 1d8/1d10 Slashing - Versatile, Finesse, Monk
Wakizashi - reskinned Scimiar; 1d6 Slashing - Finesse, Monk, Light
Chain Maul - 2d6 bludgeoning - reach, thrown, grapple from 10 feet
Chakram - 1d6 slashing - thrown (10/30)
Gauntlet Blade, Retractable - 1d8 slashing - 4 lbs. - concealed, retractable (Shar+)
Monolith - 1d12/2d6 slashing - Versatile
Naginata - 1d8 slashing - reach, heavy, two-handed, brace
Tonfa - 1d6 bludgeoning - AC +1, Light, Monk
Sai - 1d4 bludgeoning - Light, Monk, Disarm on critical
Nunchaku - 1d6 bludgeoning - Light, Monk, x3 on critical
Plated Robes (not armor) - AC = 11 + Dex Modifier
Duskweave Leather - AC = 13 + Dex Modifier, Light Armor
Ironwood Scale Mail - AC = 14 + Dex Modifier (max 2) - Disadvantage Stealth - 35 lbs.
Elderwood Scale Mail - AC = 15 + Dex Modifier (max 2), Medium Armor
Ballistic Duskweave Doublet - AC = 14 + Dex Modifier, Medium Armor
Dragon Plate (specific materials required - AC = 18 w/resistance to the element associated with the dragon scales used
SHIELDS (I treat shields as weapons. Direct reference to my Pathfinder sword and boarding, so there you go)
Buckler - 5 gp - AC +1 - 3 lbs.
Constructivist Shield - 65 gp - AC +1 - 4 lbs. - Can be used as a reaction to raise your AC. Does not occupy a hand.
Round Shield, Light - 15 gp - AC +2 - 6 lbs. - Bash 1d4
Round Shield, Heavy - 30 gp - AC +2 - 10 lbs. - Bash 1d6
Tower Shield - 100 gp - AC +3 - STR 17 required - Disadvantage Stealth - 20 lbs. - Bash 1d8
Duskweave = made from Displacer Beast pelts, and thus has a smoky dispersal that shifts and moves as the armor moves.
Magic Items and Ammunition
Now, many of these additions are lifted from my Knight Owls Armory, but if you don't normally venture over there, you'd never see them. So here they are anyway for your consideration.
Charged Arrow - 150 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals 1d6 lightning damage and is consumed upon impact.
Boltslinger Arrow - 650 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow creates a 5 foot wide lightning bolt in its path to the target. All creatures caught in the bolt's path must make a DC 10 Dexterity save for half damage, or take 6d6 lightning damage. The arrow is consumed upon impact.
Bonebreaker Arrows (bundle of 10) - 50 gp - deals bludgeoning damage in place of piercing.
Burst Arrow - 500 gp - when fired, this arrow splits into 4 separate arrows; the user must make an attack roll for each arrow. These arrows crumble to dust after impact.
Divine Arrow - 150 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals 1d6 radiant damage and is consumed upon impact.
Flesh-Hunter Arrow - 200 gp - adds +4 to the attack roll. (when you REALLY need to hit that dragon)
Frost Fling - 500 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 2d10 cold damage and is shattered upon impact.
Green Gremlin - 400 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 3d6 poison damage and crumbles shortly after impact.
The Sapphire Chakram - 250 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 2d6 thunder damage and is consumed upon impact.
Immolation Arrow - 600 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow's impact creates a 5-foot radius fireball with the target at its center. All creatures caught in the blast must make a DC 13 Dexterity save for half damage, or take 6d6 fire damage. This arrow is consumed upon impact.
Soothsayer - 2000 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this ancient arrow deals 2d6 force damage and allows you to see through it until it impacts an object or creature.
Topaz Burst - 250 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 2d6 lightning damage and is consumed upon impact.
A good many of the magic items in Io are remnants of the past, but as time marches on, more and more wondrous things become available to the standard market, such as:
Cloak of Shadows - 1000 pp - an adapted Cloak of Elvenkind that grants the wearer advantage on Stealth checks and imposes disadvantage on creatures trying to perceive you. Also, when moving after sunset, roll a set of percentile dice. On a 75 or higher, the shadows wrap around you, granting you Invisibility until you make an attack, cast a spell, or meet direct sunlight.
Ring of Animal Influence - 5100 gp - this ring has 3 charges, and it regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dawn. While wearing this ring, you can use an action to expend 1 of its charges to cast one of the following spells: Animal Friendship (save DC 13); Fear (save DC 13), targeting only beasts that have an intelligence of 3 or lower; Speak with Animals.
Ring of Bravery (Attunement) - 2000 gp - wearing this ring grants you Advantage when saving against becoming Frightened.
Ring of Enlargement (Attunement) - 5500 gp - by turning the tiny, clicking inner track of this ring, you increase your size category by 1 for 1 minute. This ring can only be used once per Long Rest.
Ring of Protection (Attunement) - 6000 gp - You gain a +1 bonus to AC and Saving Throws while wearing this ring.
Ring of Spell Storing, Minor (Attunement) - 3750 gp - this ring stores spells cast into it, holding them until the wearer uses them. This ring, when delivered to you, arrives empty. It can fit 3 levels of spell power at once.
Alchemy and Herbalism
Alchemy and Herbalism, especially as it pertains to potion making as a pursuit, has really come to fruition in Io-Shar, where my industry-heavy players reside. They crave that personal control of their universe, and I LOVE IT.
So, potion-making in Io borrows from Skyrim, The Witcher, and my own head, as well as a blend of other home-brew resources dotting the landscape of Reddit, DM's Guild, and the Open-Gaming License. All that being said, let's run it down a bit.
Quick Brewing Overview
In Io, there are a large number of known ingredients that create specific effects in the brewing process, while others might augment or dilute others. Bloodgrass, for example, can be used to add an additional 1d4 to the healing amount for a healing potion you are brewing, but Rubygrass (grown in the Feywild), will actually REMOVE a d4 from the healing (the taste is sharp and difficult to swallow). So we use Herbalism to "enhance" the potion. We call them Enhancements. Some can cancel each other out, while others augment the effects.
Then, there are ingredients that we actually derive the Enchantment from. We treat them as our Core. The intended potion effect. Like using Void Root to brew a Potion of Flying.
Finally, we need a Base. The liquid that we'll be using. Some potions can be brewed in water, while others require Holy Water as their Base, or Salt Water, or Liquor. Specific liquids may also imbue the potion with specific properties.
So, if I want to brew a Healing Potion, I need at least a Base and a Core.
Base: Water. Core: Cherrymoss Extract. Then 3 hours.
If we want, we can mix in some Ground Ephedrana to increase the die step of the healing potion from 2d4 to 2d6. Finish the brew and you've got a "boosted" healing potion that heals 2d6+2 hit points.
And that's one potion. Booyah.
....Experimenting with all of this is going to be A LOT of FUN.
So there's a lot going on, and I haven't even talked about the Prestige Classes or the Legacy Weapons (they're coming, don't worry), but this post has gone on long enough, and hopefully it clears up any confusion from looking at the lists from the Knight Owls armory moving forward. :)
See you at the table.
I was recently invited to sit in and play at a friend's long-running Pathfinder game. Everyone just made it to 14th level, without milestones, so they've been playing for awhile.
A well-established group who have spent enough time through some amazing adventures to achieve a high-level sense of play and a complete lack of resistance for the DM in charge. It's clear the group and their DM have a lot of love for the game, their story, and the individual players and characters.
They ran like a well-oiled machine, with clearly defined roles for the players to help each other out as well as a strong idea of their functionality in combat, AS WELL as a justified means to protect each other and trust each other's abilities and agency when stuff gets real. Remember what I said about that lack of resistance...we'll be swinging back to that.
So I'm coming into this after a long stint of running Pathfinder, then falling headfirst into becoming a professional GM for a company who has helped foster the creative, and soul-driving endeavor of offering unique opportunities for players and game masters to become their best selves through tabletop gaming experiences. I write this blog, publish fiction, make custom content, and record show after show of an online campaign and a kick-ass podcast. NONE OF THIS is to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate that, more often than not, I'm not the player at the table - I'm the one behind the screen managing this chaos.
Which means on those rare occasions where I'm offered an opportunity NOT to do that, I tend to take distinct care to create something functional, fitting, and, for the love of Sauron, to KNOW WHAT I'M DOING. I have a certain calm to my preparation nowadays, and in Pathfinder you've got to know (or at least have the reference ready) what your stuff does to keep things moving and ask the right questions to clarify. I had the honor of working with the DM beforehand, hashing out a backstory that fits inside the awesome steampunk 1840's Yukon Gold Rush with subtle magic elements and a weird freaking train, then set to work chaining feats and working the numbers to stay competitive with this established crew. Not everyone knew I'd be coming, so I didn't want to bog anything down, nor arrive with no concept of my character (NEVER ARRIVE without your character already done. I mean it. If you are familiar with the system, there is no excuse. Do your damn homework).
So, life runs a little later than intended and I roll in a bit late with food and drinks as penance, say my hellos and mark my place. I like to be compact; character sheet and all accompanying abilities/spells/etc on a clipboard, selected dice in my rolling box, pencils at the ready, and spare paper in the clipboard. I even came with a coaster for my caffeine, just in case! The session begins shortly, and the team as is has some planning to do, so while they converse in character directly next to me, I turn toward our DM and we work through some short interactions to set up my individual plan and then... I wait.
And I loved it. True, every now and then there might have been a quick interaction where I could investigate something, look around, listen (I was being smuggled in a coffin surrounded by a den of vampires, by the way), but until actual combat began - I needed to literally wait. It was splendid.
I got to watch these people work. The few I knew in the party came over to check on me, apologizing that it was "taking so long," but if it was, I didn't notice. It was an honor just to watch, adding to the scene with my silence, with subtle actions here and there. No one knew what I was; I didn't announce any of my character or my mechanics when I arrived - they weren't sure if I'd be friend, foe, or something more, only that I was playing...at some point. And no one asked; not out of ignorance, or dismissal, but out of respect. I'd like to believe that they, too, understood what I was reveling in.
I was enjoying the subtle power of Silence.
Space To Listen - Space To Exist
Actively listening to the players, the party, and the game master.
This is a skill, and often I feel we forget it. We replace it with a need to be heard constantly, eager to be listened to rather than to allow others a similar space. By literally shutting our mouths and opening our ears, we begin to engage with the world around us in new and dynamic ways. I was ENTHRALLED by the antics of this party, and though I think that was in no small part due to their own nature, I'd like to entertain that my own active listening helped just a tad in holding my attention. I was consistently fully engaged in everything that WASN'T my turn, and I was remarkably happy to, well, WAIT.
Space where I wasn't flapping my jaws also allowed my active brain to shut up for a second, and just exist for a time. Errant thoughts - like looking up a feat, making sure that random mechanic worked the way I thought it did, checking my numbers quickly - can still occur, and I can quietly take care of them without interrupting flow (what a concept), but for most of that preamble, I am 100% engaged with everyone's story that IS NOT MY OWN. I am excited and energized by their cool powers, interesting ideas, and role-playing. It gave me a moment to read the room, and to appreciate the beautiful world that the DM had made with these players - take note of the great care with which they've crafted this experience, and sit in awe of seeing it all work, like controlled chaos.
Space To Reveal - At The Opportune Moment
Wait for your mechanics to shine before they are revealed.
This one I have to be careful with, because rules are important. The GM needs to know that you are not taking advantage of something/cheating/fudging your numbers/etc; trust is important, so the GM needs to know what you are and what you can do, and you MUST make sure that everything you can do is well within the rules you are operating with.
IF you are fulfilling this already, here's a suggestion: try NOT telling everyone about what your character can do right away. Create nuance and mystery by NOT showing them your character sheet right away, so when you get an opportunity to show what you CAN do, the beat hits harder. Case in point:
Combat begins shortly after I hop out of a coffin and dust a vampire, catching the sniper rifle it was holding and loading it as a Free Action (hint, hint). We roll Initiative. The highest player is at 24...except me. I rolled a 33. 19+14. ...I will revel the look of awe at that table, just in a small way. Mechanically, it's all kosher. Dexterity is a 22 (+6). Inquisitor gives me my Wisdom modifier on top of Dex (another +5) for Initiative, Gunslinger Initiative +2 (HINT), and a trait at character creation that grants a +1 (6+5+2+1 = +14).
That's one small element, and a neat little moment. My turn rolls around, and I use Deadly Aim to take a full round of 4 shots (reloading for free), with a prayer of Judgment (attacks are now magical) with +16 damage on every hit, and +22 to hit most shots - to strike down a vampire that just got slammed by the barbarian in a surprise round for nearly 160 damage...which was heavily reduced by resistances...then he got my blessed bullets and took full damage.
Yeah. I'm a holy Gunslinger Inquisitor with a southern drawl and fantasy-themed bible verses. Take into account that I still work all of my mechanics in my own voice, that's a fun reveal in the first round of combat, and it helped establish my own schtick early on. Plus, EVERYONE at the table is now experiencing this character at the same time as their own characters - I didn't talk up his personality or his voice or his abilities beforehand. Add on that I spent some Grit (special skill points that create cool trick shots and targeting) to alter the battlefield and provide utility to the group, and it's pretty cool.
The best part? They haven't seen everything I can do yet. And they won't, unless the opportunity presents itself. There's no reason for me to brag about the cool things I can do. It's so much more fun to use them when the time is right.
There's a big difference between telling everyone all the cool spells you can do, and SHOWING everyone the awesome spells you can do at the best time. The impact of the latter is so much greater, and it creates something beautiful and refined from a cooperative story experience. Try it out, I dare you.
Giving Way - To Think, To Breathe, To Be
While I was in Bermuda, my friend Jesse and I went wandering. We witnessed a curious thing: they have a specific sign on the roads. A familiar white, upside-down triangle with a red border and black lettering. What we would immediately recognize as a Yield sign, instead read the words: "Give Way." Together, we were pleased to see this. Jesse was pleased because it changed the language to allow people to think of someone other than themselves while driving, but bringing the fact home, my podcast partner in crime, John, swung it a bit further. When you Give Way to someone, you're not actually giving up anything. Instead, you are "Gifting" space for another.
When we practice silence, we gift space to another to fill, or we can choose to not fill such space. Quiet moments do not HAVE to be filled with noise, or speech, or music. I like to think sometimes that in gifting my silence to another, I might have given them a sense of peace and quiet in a world inundated by distraction and stimulus; so loud and uncaring that we feel we must speak constantly lest we be drowned out by the void. But you don't have to. I give you space. Try filling it with BREATH instead of words; you'll be surprised what you discover.
You ever feel like you're the only one speaking? Try stopping for a moment and assessing the room. Spotlight is important, sure, but high-level play comes from everyone's willingness to share that spotlight. Being aware of our personal time, our character's spotlight, how much time that uses, how our role-play may miscommunicate because we're bored, and thousands of other miscommunications because we don't feel like becoming engaged in the stories of others. A party that hasn't already experienced a lot of adventuring together (like, years of it) can feel pretty delicate.
Our silence, coupled with active listening, can help communicate an absolute respect for a person's story, but this is a two-way road. Kind and patient people can use up that empathy on a person that fails to notice their own spotlight hogging over and over again. Try this little thought experiment: on a group chat, if the majority of the last 10 minutes of posts is you...STOP. Give someone else some space to speak. At a table, if the last 45 minutes have been your character's scene, try to find a way to wrap it up. Once in a while is fine - but all the time is obnoxious. That's tabletop 101, gents.
The Well-Oiled Machine
This group flows.
Not one moment came up where the DM had to hush the players, or argue a point, or fight to get something across. Everyone at the table was absolutely engaged with the stories of each other, mine included (thanks, guys and gals). We got up, wandered the room, had in-character conversations throughout the house, all within the world, and the DM was aware of all of it. It is abundantly clear the level of play that this group enjoys; they adore the world that has been constructed for them, and it is a joy to play within it. They respect each other's time with immaculate care and fun, and we were happy to play until the wee hours of the morning (I barely noticed).
Now, part of this is a product of the extensive amount of work that each of them has put into their character's mechanics, and for the fact that they've got a literal human encyclopedia at the ready in the form of the host (thanks, buddy), but those are the roles they've established over years of play, and they are clearly dedicated to this cooperative campfire story. Even if I didn't have years of experience in Pathfinder, as long as I didn't behave like an obnoxious jerk, I'm certain I still would have had a blast with these people.
If I ever get invited back, it would still be my honor to wait quietly for my turn. ;)
See you at the table.
A lot of this fall has been spent tightening up the awesome games and campaigns we offer here at Questers' Way - Game On!, the supplemental fiction and world building, and the our online presence. With this growth comes reflection, and a greater sense of CLARITY. I've been curbing my two big loves - Knight Owls and Gray Owls - to be more transparent with what players can expect moving forward, and to better clarify the format that is expected for each, because, as anyone who's played in both can attest, THEY ARE CERTAINLY NOT THE SAME. So let's get into it.
Knight Owls - Episodic Hack & Slash Role-Playing (12+)
Knight Owls has had a long and sometimes confusing run through its personal identity. The first session had 11 adventurers for crying out loud, and ran 3 hours over (ending at the ripe old time of 3 a.m.). Since then, we've curbed most Knights into ending around 1:30 a.m. with a few exceptions (like the season 2 two-part finale).
Knight Owls has gone through a lot of growing pains, too. It, along with many of our other late-night offerings, had to have a price adjustment, and a small group of the players were demanding a higher level of customization, online extra play, and lore depth. An overcomplicated Time Passes system, a failed private Facebook group, and many, many blogs of past adventures later...it just got too much. For me, and for many of our players. Many of us don't want to have extra homework just to play our silly D&D game, and why should we?
The ultimate realization came with the advent of the Gray Owls project. This starkly different game approach provided a much-needed contrast to the much lighter Knight Owls, and I began thinking seriously about what type of adventure Knight Owls always was meant to be at its heart, assessing the mistakes I'd made in the past, and how best to move forward.
So. Let us begin.
Season 3 _______________
Knight Owls moving forward is intended as an episodic Hack and Slash campaign intended to run an ever-changing roster of adventures from levels 2-10, or 10-20, depending on the track being played. Each session is an Episode, with implied time passing between each, and, not unlike Justice League: Unlimited, the possibility of a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT roster each Episode. The Knight Owls are considered a pretty large organization, just like our aforementioned "league," and would support a revolving door of possible builds and players. Plus, no matter what, each episode features characters of the same level, so no power imbalance.
Our focus is also much clearer. If we place weight upon each Pillar of Play (3 being highest focus, 1 being the lowest focus), then Knight Owls reads as: COMBAT - 3, SOCIAL - 2, EXPLORATION - 1. Mechanics, strategy, and combat are the primary focus, with social encounters to provide a break to the tension, and a slice of world building that gets wrapped at the end of the Episode. New players to the system are always welcome.
I think this clarifying approach will help support players new and old in providing an awesome experience with transparent expectations.
Knight Owls Season 3 picks up on February 2nd at Level 2, 25 years after the events of the Season 2 Finale.
Hope I see you at the table. :)
Gray Owls - Character-Driven Narrative Play (21+)
Gray Owls was born from my personal desire to provide a more mature, intimate, and character/narrative driven experience for my veteran players. Just being considered for play requires DM approval by me in the first place, and there are some important player and setting expectations that were discussed and presented at the onset that I'd like to detail here so there's no confusion:
1) This is not a happy place. The setting is very dark, dangerous, and the conflict is not always clear; the monsters that lurk in the darkness may just be other people, and that makes it much more terrifying.
2) This setting is built for players who already possess a strong understanding of the mechanics of the game. That way, we can get the game out of the way and play in a deep story together; embracing a communal flow.
3) Sessions are called Chapters, and seasons are called Books. Each Chapter takes place more or less immediately following the previous Chapter, with a party that is (mostly) consistent session to session. Shopping, and other developments, are done IN SESSION as role-playing opportunities. So if you want to do something, it is your responsibility to make sure it happens when you come and play. Play is automatically more intimate and character focused, without a lot of downtime opportunities.
4) Obnoxious characters will have a very difficult time in this setting. There are many powerful entities in the world; magic is nearly illegal in some areas; laws are very strict; secret organizations and cloak and dagger plots abound. You have to be smart to survive.
5) Of the Three Pillars Of Play... SOCIAL/EXPLORATION = 3, COMBAT = 2. No Pillar is at 1, as Combat is an ever-looming possibility, and often serves as a powerful cap to the immense amount of character development each session.
All these being said, I don't think any of us playing realized how much Social and Exploration were going to be featured, but it seems exactly what the group wanted and needed. Slowing it down, allowing deep character development, dense and personal lore, and lots of possible story avenues. Bring a character, not a cartoon, and you'll get a lot out of this.
A Note on the Snap-Shots (Gray Owls Blog)
I've said it once, twice, a thousand times at this point. I learned my lesson from Knight Owls - I WILL NEVER REQUIRE ANY EXTERNAL BLOG FOR PLAY. Read the Snap-Shots if you want some extra immersion. Or don't. That's entirely up to you.
The Snap-Shots are parallel, tiny stories. They DO NOT involve the party; they are not summaries or recaps of their exploits. All they are are a means to build the world and augment my writing for a setting I love dearly. It helps me flesh out characters, introduce elements into the world, and HAVE FUN. Reading it is NEVER going to be a requirement of play.
Miss a session? Get the recap at the start of the next session you attend. Don't know what's going on? Ask in character. You wouldn't know anyway, so just ask. Asking questions in character upgrades play anyway - it provides opportunities to react authentically to events you weren't present for (that's a good thing). Feel out of the loop? Fix it through interaction, observation, and interpretation in play.
One Shot Wonders - Play Something New (12+)
Our one-shot game is ON POINT moving forward. Plenty of concentrated D&D games on the horizon, as well as an adapted Werewolf one-shot, Tales From The Loop, Tiny Dungeon, Deadlands, Savage Worlds, Exalted, Star Wars Saga Edition, and Fate Core. Keep your eyes peeled - there's always something to play.
Modular Madness - Multi-Session Mini Campaigns
And now we're tackling full modules over 4-6 six hour sessions of dedicated development and play.
It is assumed that each module set has a consistent party of players, so multiple sessions are expected when you sign up. Not as concentrated as any One-Shot, and not nearly as huge as a Knight Owls season, but your character's development is just as epic. And let's face it, there's something really cool about developing a character over time.
First up? Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (already FULL!). SOCIAL/EXPLORATION = 3, COMBAT = 1
That's my piece, everybody. Hope it clears up any confusion.
See you at the table.
So I just had a shouting match with my GPS while it struggled to find me in a construction-ridden city...and it was a profoundly cathartic and motivating experience. Venom and vitriol exploding from my face strung together with punctuated, palpable, and percussive expletives really gets the blood pumping and the mind moving. Heh.
I've heard Ken, one of my mentors, say "Where focus goes, energy flows" and I think that, though anger can be draining, people like me - who can generate sometimes an excess of energy - need to burn that extra bit to help us focus. Like a laser beam from our mind's eye.
Words become clearer, wit becomes sharper, recall gets faster --- at least for ME.
BLIND RAGE, however, is NOT okay. It shuts us down - we're so angry, we can't even function. ...That's not I'm talking about. I just wanted to make sure we understand that THERE IS A DIFFERENCE, HERE.
Rage is different than anger, I believe. Rage is deeper. Rooted in our core emotions, it flies forward with power, focus, energy, and strength. This can motivate us to do great things - some good, some bad, but all terribly great. Learning to wield your rage toward the positive is the true skill, not stamping it out. Everyone has something - connected to the marrow inside their bones - that will bring our rage forth, so learning to handle it when it happens and use that energy to focus on something productive is one of the most effective superpowers we mere mortals can achieve.
And, believe it or not, we can practice it.
At The Table
The key class in 5th Edition that utilizes Rage is, of course, the Barbarian. In fact, since the Barbarian's inception way back in 1982 as a fighter sub-class, then officially introduced in 3rd Edition, the high-damage class has always utilized the concept of Rage as a feature to augment damage output, survivability, and show off a full range of extra powers and versatility.
In 5th Edition, Barbarians enter a Rage for a damage boost, a general damage resistance, and, depending on their archetype specialization (their Primal Path), gain access to more devastating powers that grow in intensity as they get stronger. Those mechanics are all varied and versatile, but the focus of this post is on the Rage itself.
Many people assume, and I understand why, that a Barbarian's Rage comes from them losing control and/or becoming angry. In past editions or variants (like Pathfinder), there were some builds or archetypes that would have you roll a 'control check' when you took damage or suffered a trauma in order to avoid going into a berserker rage - losing track of your allies and entering into a blind destructive wave. In its most recent iteration, Rage feels A LOT more flexible.
I urge you to consider the following: what if the Barbarian's Rage is instead connected to the deep, primal feelings that surround their innermost selves; like a well. They only tap into this energy when they need it, because they know of its great power. Rage, not anger, is utilized as a focus point - a taxing, intense hyper focus on whatever task is at hand (often, battle). They DON'T lose control - it is a CHOICE to enter a Rage. Meaning, their intense feeling is always present, just like all of us, and we can choose when and how to unleash it to do the most good or be the most effective. We know that unfocused energy is wasteful. We wouldn't enter a Rage, a finite resource of strong emotion, on a whim. And that scarcity is a strong lesson.
Have you ever watched a person who is angry all the time? I have. It taxes them. It drains them of their empathy - their ability to connect with others, though they desperately need it. They spend so long finding things to be angry about that they have no concept of life without being angry. Their bodies are exhausted, and their hearts full of judgement and blame, to the point that they can barely function as a fellow human.
Rage...can be a resource. It is not something you spend without thinking. You know it will drain you, but you save its power until the best time, and by controlling it, it only manifests the way you want it to. The same way that my father, a man of few words and one who appreciates silence and mindfulness, would choose how and when to wield his words to be the most effective in communicating whatever he needed to at the time. You'd never see his rage; it was a focus for him, and him alone. Others would call it Drive. A need to change things. He controls it - it doesn't control him. And that's the difference.
So when you play your Barbarian, you're not a loose cannon, nor do you have to be a wild card. Your Barbarian doesn't have to be the moron, or an angry mess. Their battle rage is their resource; their nuke; their last resort - because they know the devastating power it has, and they can CHOOSE to press that button and ride the lightning that now courses through their veins. I long to see the quiet, intelligent, and perceptive strategist barbarian. One who takes her time, and watches, and waits for the best moment to open that well and unleash hell in defense of her allies. And when the smoke clears, she takes a deep breath, and that energy subsides. Control, focus, choice. That's what Rage can be. Get practicing.
See you at the table.
I am very sore today.
My back is cracking bark; my legs shaking steel; my chest whines as I stretch, and my arms feel heavy. Sleep calls, and rest beckons. But I must persist. I must exist.
And this pain is beautiful. I cannot wait to feel it again - knowing that I just pushed my body as far as it could go, and I'm still standing. I will rest, grow, and heal, ready to do it all over again.
Every time I do one of these entries, I like to come at it from a reflective state. A LOT has changed in my life plan and routine, and I want to share the lessons learned from the journey so far.
Intermittent Fasting (IMF)
Intermittent Fasting (IMF, for short) is a process of extending your fast to force your body into burning its stubborn fat stores. Very basic understanding being that the longer you are fasting, the more fat your body can burn as food, as long as you are staying active - thus telling your body to KEEP all that muscle tissue, and get rid of the excess.
I did this for the whole of 3 months. I would stop eating by 7 or 8pm, and start eating around 2:00pm the next day (18-19 hour fast). Days 1-4 almost drove me nuts, but day 5, my body acclimated. I got used to, and okay with, the feelings of hunger driving at my stomach - which was, for me, a heavy fear. I hate feeling hungry. Through this, I actually enjoyed the feeling, at least in the beginning.
Here's the kicker, though: this didn't work for me. I didn't lose weight, and all I ended up being was MORE TIRED, and less inclined to exercise on an empty stomach. What I DID learn, however, was that I didn't NEED a lot of food in the morning.
Nowadays, I have a muscle milk yogurt smoothie in the morning (under 200 calories)...and don't have solid food until about 1:00. With a strict regimen of water and exercise throughout the day, I started feeling my best again.
My diet changed dramatically, as well. Less carbs, more veggies, more protein (and fish, yay!), and more (yes, more) water. Soda doesn't taste right anymore, so it's out completely. Juices I haven't touched since my gall bladder ran away. Ice cream is a rare occasion, and most meals I skip dessert altogether. My tummy is very happy...and as of this morning, I can see my abs.
Let me repeat. For the first time in nearly 25 years. I have abs.
Lift Test - Machines On The Boat
My home gym is not very extensive. I have a bench, a curling barbell, a straight barbell, and a set of dumbbells from 25-40 lbs. Add in a dip station, pull-up bar, and a punching bag, and that's it. The majority of my weight training is free weights and (no spotter) chest presses with control over weight - my toughest workout days are majority bodyweight; tons of pushup variations, squat variations, and many grips of pullups. Kickboxing once or twice a week, and running twice a week...and I'm doing well for myself.
Recently, my wife and I found ourselves back on a cruise ship. The Anthem of the Seas - a "high-tech" vessel with a robotic bar, wave pool, bumper cars, and a teens-only extravaganza deck. They also have a Vitality Fitness Area, with rows upon rows of dumbbells all the way up 80 lbs, and a plethora of machines for any manner of exercise.
Our first night on the boat...I took 2 hours to myself and lifted as much as I could on every one of these machines. It's a powerful thing to be able to report the following:
Chest Press: 170
Leg Press: 350
Shoulder Press: 160
Tricep Pulldown: 65
Lat Pulldown: 150
Bicep Pulldown: 110
...and then many others that I failed to record. It was also great to happily curl 55 lb dumbbells.
I'd never have space for such things, but it's a great ego boost to know that it's working. ;)
MSM (Meditate, Stretch, Move)
This remains from the last big Buff DM post, and I'm still doing it. Starting my day with 5-10 minutes of meditation, then stretching, and making sure that I move. I need to spend more time on my feet than on my seat. :)
Taming The Beast Inside
I am not someone that suffers from anxiety, at least not overtly. But some may think I do based on the state of my fingernails. Since the age of 6, I have been biting my nails. I've been fighting it since that age as well, and every victory is short-lived as the habit "finds a way." Long story short, the habit has found its way into nearly every facet of my life. It sucks.
I'm not a nervous dude. I just have a lot of energy, and a lot of my passive thoughts are centered on productivity, creative thought, composition, and story-telling, not-to-mention a fair amount of energy dedicated to HOLDING ONTO those cool ideas...which makes me fidget.
This need to move manifested itself early on in my psyche as The Beast. A creature I would try to lock away and keep caged even as it infected the land around it. The best practice was to let it out, acknowledge its existence, then work to slowly purge it from my life - location by location. But he's a tricky fella.
…until the boat.
Throughout the 7-day cruise, I didn't touch my nails once. I watched them grow for the first time since my childhood. They look great. Still. It's a struggle back on land and surrounded by my usual stressors, but I'm fortified with a lot more this time. A huge part of that Beast died on that boat. And he ain't coming back.
Hey. Hey you. Yeah, you on the chest press. How many squats have you done? No, seriously, HOW MANY SQUATS HAVE YOU DONE!?
...That's what I thought.
I've always loved pushups. I love upper body work in general. It makes me feel strong, which undoubtedly adds to my desire to do it. You know what doesn't make me feel strong (at least not right away)? LEG DAY. Squats, leg presses, lunges, split squats...all those circuits and super sets. Ugh. It HURTS.
But here's what it's doing. It is ensuring that we don't get chicken legs holding up our gorilla torso. It ensures my third goal in this hot mess: SYMMETRY. It is more important to look proportionate and feel good, than to bench triple my bodyweight. Bench-pressing a car is all well and good, but I need to be able to run and fight and squat that car, too. Plus, a symmetrical body is exponentially more attractive to EVERYONE. Nobody wants to gawk at 10-inch biceps only to be disappointed by toothpick legs. And the better I look, the better I feel, the better I can do my job.
So. NEVER SKIP LEG DAY. EVER. Or trunk work. Or butt work. Every inch of us is beautiful, and should be treated just as well as our favorite parts.
In Closing - The FORGE Beckons
I am the strongest I have ever been, and I hope to be able to say that each time I do an entry here, but I want ALL OF YOU to feel as awesome as I do now. So, I've been talking it up here and there, but filming has finally begun, and with the advent of a fitness center under our control (wink, wink), it's time to build up The Forge: Level Up Fitness for the Athletic Nerd. Bodyweight exercises with Milestone progression, actual attributes for yourself as a D&D character, and a boss fight every tier. Let's get to work, nerds.
See you at the table. And maybe the gym.
Game On! Director, musician, music teacher, game designer, and professional game master. In short, I'M A BIG NERD.