Hey everyone! I took April off to do some birthday cleaning, figuratively and literally. Those of you that follow me on social media know I just completed an online "garage sale" / 10-year purge recently, and the energy that such an endeavor released has been monumental.
It's amazing how much clutter we allow into our lives, and how many things we hold onto that weigh us down. Enough. Is. Enough. I feel lighter, stronger, and more motivated than ever. Here's to my next year. :)
It was only just May the 4th, and any nerd worth her salt knows what's up. It seemed a no-brainer for me to run a very special kind of game, and in preparing it, and running it last night, I've made a few key observations on how it's changed over the years, how my style has changed, and how I prefer to run my games in this system.
Saga Is The Best Version, don't @ me
I've played the original D20 Star Wars (where Jedis are broken beyond reason), the West End variations (very open and creative), and the most recent Age Of Rebellion and all its various extra settings (weird dice and conceptual misalignment, still good, just weird). But what I've always returned to is Saga Edition.
Star Wars as a property has a problem when it comes to their tabletop settings and systems. They don't maintain support on older systems, actively discarding and going out of their way to forget they even existed. Everything's out of print (or hundreds of dollars), resources are fan-made only (well done, chaps), and everyone pushes the new stuff down your throat. Now, I understand a business model where you have to push the new products out...but Saga was SO GOOD. I don't want your new edition with new rules and weird dice; nothing was broken, so why fix it?
But WHY is Saga so good?
Well, it took the best of the giants at the time, Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D. Now, the latter was getting panned, and the former heavy on the rules with lots of floating modifiers, conditional effects, and active rolling. We've talked about this already.
But Saga took some of that weight and just made it static. You have Defenses, not bonuses. You use skill checks in combat, and numbers aren't *as insane. Let's get into it.
There's no AC in this game. Instead, enemies will be targeting one of three static defenses: Fortitude - your constitution and strength to resist poison and getting thrown around, Reflex - your dexterity and ability to dodge, feint, or parry, Will - your mental clarity and focus. Now, in Pathfinder, these numbers would be bonuses to opposed checks against a Difficulty Class etc... But Saga takes a page from 4th Edition and keeps these numbers as static defenses. These are the numbers your enemies and you roll against to hit them and cause damage and debilitating effects, which is much faster and cleaner.
Perception and Initiative can be treated as static as well (rolling in a clear "passive Perception"), but my players prefer rolling for Initiative for familiarity and that possibility of striking first. Rolling with crazy bonuses IS fun, don't take them all away!
In 5th Edition, there's a proficiency bonus that increases every few levels; in Pathfinder, you've got skill ranks - points you distribute each level to offset your weaknesses and augment your strengths. In Saga, you get an automatic bonus of 1/2 your total level rounded down automatically added to ALL OF YOUR SKILLS. Then, like most systems, the appropriate attribute modifier is applied, maybe you've got a training bonus (+5), and that's it. Most of what you "distribute" by selection is done at character creation. After that, the numbers take care of themselves.
Feats and Talents
The bread and butter of Saga Edition is found in their Talent Trees and Bonus Feats. Let me explain.
There are only 5 Heroic Classes to play in the game.
Jedi - Noble - Scoundrel - Scout - Soldier
But each of these Classes has *at least* three different Talent Trees, and each class is awarded a Talent selection every odd level in the Class. These Talents can give passive or active bonuses, special powers, penalty removals...tons of cool stuff, and it's all very straightforward in how it operates (again, going back to targeting one of those three Defenses, or offering an easy bonus/alternative combat choice). Some Talents require others in order to be taken (Talent "chaining"), but it's never too alarming; the connections make sense and are easy to do.
And Talents fulfill other requirements later, like Prestige Classes (Bounty Hunter, Jedi Knight, Ace Pilot, etc.), but you can always take levels in another class to gain access to another Talent Tree. Multiclassing is fully supported and encouraged because, at the end of the day, your character ISN'T just a Noble, or just a Jedi, they're a complete person with various skills and, ha, talents. Leia may have started as a Noble, but lord knows she has Talent with a blaster and we KNOW she's force sensitive. There are no "capstone abilities" in each class, just an ever-expanding web of Talents.
Now, Feats suffer the same problem they do in Pathfinder, but instead of 2000+ of them... We're under 75 easy. And so many of them streamline the choice down to the player. Take Power Attack, a Pathfinder staple, for example: trade melee attack bonus for damage. Except, the player chooses how much to take away every time. I want to deal an extra 10 damage? Take a -10 to the roll. Only 5 damage? Take a -5. You choose the level of risk; that's an interesting choice, and we don't need compounding Feats to work through that.
Feats exist to help specialize the player, each class offering Bonus Feats at ever even level in a Class from a select list that makes sense. On top of this, each character gets a Feat from the big list at 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 18th level...but the amount of required chaining is either nonexistent, or only 2 or 3 in, and the bonuses along the way make sense. Yes, using a lot of Feats take some getting used to when you come from 5E, but at least this system flows a lot easier and is much simpler to digest. And since I come from the other end, I'm happy to teach the transition. :)
The Force and Destiny
The Force operates in two big ways in Saga: in the form of Force Points (a D6 added to a roll) and Force Powers. Jedi and other Force users collect powers in their Force Power Suite to wield within the world, slowly expanding the suite as they take Force Training (a Feat taken multiple times, based on your Wisdom).
Now, as per Raw, the Powers you have count as one use of said power, and this is where I split from RAW and flow toward my own preferences.
+ The Powers in your suite are treated like spells known and prepared. It tracks that a Force user that uses a Force Push would be able to push multiple times; they wouldn't forget how just because they already did it once.
+ Some Powers require the use of Force Points to work, while others can be augmented by the Force (using points), but most don't require burning them. Your pool only increases and replenishes every LEVEL, so no.
+ Most Powers take a Swift action in combat. I've seen Obi-Wan swing a lightsaber and shove a stack of droids in the same turn, so you guys can do it too. Force Lightning, on the other hand, may take a little more oomph in the action economy (unless you're a certain skill level in the Sith traditions).
Destiny Points function much like inspiration, but I add a nice big D12 instead. It's not *just* a re-roll, it's a possible value (you pick how you want to use it).
AND - Because my setting is in the Old Republic, when the Force is prevalent and surging, I added a mechanic to wonderful effect last night.
Your Force dice and Destiny die can Ace. Acing is a mechanic utilized in games like Mekton, Deadlands, and the entirety of Savage Worlds (probably a ton of others, but those are the ones I know). Anywho, if you roll the max number on a die, you roll again and add the two values together (Ace again? Keep going and keep adding). And because you can add a Force die to anything, a punch to the face might send someone through a wall...and isn't that awesome?
So, in short, Saga Edition functions like a streamlined D&D in space with laser swords and wizards.
It was so good, and it reminded me why I liked this system so much and why I miss it so terribly.
Get ready for a resurrection - we've got more stories to tell.
See you at the table.
For all the math involved in Pathfinder, they certainly had their creative character concepts down.
When Vigilante dropped, where the player has a literal alter-ego to manage, I was getting excited. When alternative classes were introduced, like the Antipaladin or the Samurai, I knew we were on to something special. The third in the latter's introduction is the Ninja.
The Ninja introduced an interesting concept (at more for me than the others). Though it was an alternate class for the Rogue (makes sense), its progressive powers were an uneven split between Rogue and Monk through the introduction of Ki, with added Ninja flair in the form of Tricks. This seemed to open the door for Pathfinder to introduce Hybrid Classes - classes inspired by and borrowing from two main core classes as "parent classes."
One such that springs to mind for 5E conversion today is that of the Skald.
What IS A Skald?
In Pathfinder, a Skald is a hybrid between the rage-filled Barbarian and the charismatic musical Bard. A Skald wields music and rage together to bolster her allies with courage and mettle, and crush her enemies with doubt and fear.
Now, when I present this idea in conversation in 5th Edition, I am too often met with the image of a half-orc barbarian picking up instruments he doesn't know how to play, playing them badly, then smashing them against foes (with the Brawler feat, to boot). The image ends up being more like:
Which I must admit, is pretty cool from what it looks like... But the whole thing's often played for comedy only, unfortunately. The awesome artistic rendition above serves well in a Battle of the Bards scenario, which is intended to be silly and over the top.
But this concept should be fueled by the power of both classes; not a bard who's bad at barding, or a barbarian who just happens to be (hilariously) a poet. Take for example this image instead:
Now THAT'S a Skald. A warrior who fuels their talent with rage and power, spreading that sonic force to its allies. It fills them inspiration and power, not comedy at its absurdity (which still has its place in certain games, don't worry). So how do we build this guy?
1) Attributes and Distribution
Something John and I discuss often when we try to build multi-class concepts is the problem of too broad a spectrum of necessary attributes in order to be effective, and this concept does not convert well out of the gate. We've got three of six (arguably four if we're going strength) that will be essential to our build, and that's Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma (duh). Normally, I'd say Strength too, but we'll be spreading thin - we're going Dex Barbarian already.
Race: Tiefling (Charisma bump is nice, and I'm sick of the Half-Orc Barbarian trope)
Standard Array: 15-14-13-12-10-8
Welp. You don't need to be smart to sing.
INT: 9 (+1 Racial)
CHA: 14 (+2 Racial)
This tweaks my nerves a little bit, as I often want one stat at its highest possible run as early as possible (my gut reaction is to put the base 15 in CHA, then +2, for a total of 17...but then we're left with slim pickings for our DEX and CON scores, and we need all three decent to make this work). Not to mention we won't qualify for Barbarian multi-classing without at least a STR of 13.
2) Class Selection Order
This might feel tricky, but our taking a look at what we get up front makes this decision for us.
Barbarian First: Light and medium armor, shields, Simple and Martial weapons
Barbarian Second: Shields, Simple and Martial weapons
Bard First: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords; THREE skills; THREE instruments
Bard Second: Light armor, ONE skill of your choice, ONE musical instrument
Now, take into account that by going into Barbarian later I STILL get unarmored defense, so as long as I have a Shield (which I will), I'm still fine. Barbarians get all weapons regardless, so Bard makes sense up front for skill versatility and a plethora of instruments with which I can sing my wrath.
4) The Need For Home-brew
The most glaring issue up front here is the fact that you cannot cast spells or concentrate on spells while raging, but my solution is pretty simple: ready? You can cast spells while raging, and you add your Rage damage to your spells (where applicable, like a spell that deals damage). In order to do this, you must have at least 1 level in both Barbarian and Bard.
Instead of a brand new archetype, or building a new feat structure, sometimes a little flavor swap and rules switch is all you need. This way, we still support the benefits of both classes.
Now, this build REQUIRES a home-brew allowance, which makes it contingent upon your DM's allowance, but since you're not delving into Unearthed Arcana territory, this feels very smooth. And I don't feel that it is exploitive in any way.
Giant thanks to John Tanaka for helping me streamline my thought process on this one.
More insanity on the way.
I'll see you at the table.
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This past weekend marked the beginning of something, and I would be lying if I wasn't the best mix of terrified and exhilarated.
I was invited/demanded/reserved-my-spot-immediately-following-the-last-one to attend a cool little shindig at Questers' Way called Quest Fest. At the close of every official semester, we hold a weekend event on Saturday and Sunday where we invite local artists and small businesses to take up space in the center and sell their wares, along with big deals, free classes, and our fantastic D&D Dinner Theater for charity on Saturday night. It's always a blast, but this time...something was different.
For one, I wasn't working. Well, I mean, not for the center. I was one of those local artists. And after having a YouTube channel (to middling success) for years now, becoming a professional dungeon master, and beginning to step into the very complicated and rewarding lens of painting miniatures just over the last year, it is a singular experience to be fully transitioning into legitimately selling my wares like some sort of underground fantasy resource.
I don't really have a business, mind you. I'm just a dude with a Patreon trying to make his way in the universe by providing good stuff for my fellow gamers that isn't going to break their wallet, and I'm happy to meet you where I can if it means you get more playing at your table. And it was that level of wheeling and dealing (and being on my feet, actively engaging with nautical tons of kids and adults) that I wasn't expecting.
I. CRAVED. IT.
It was beautiful. I had parents bringing back memories of when THEY played, kids lighting up as they imagined unlimited worlds unfolding before them, held insightful discussions with old and new players alike, and sold out of dice almost immediately! It was magical. I love talking with peeps about games, podcasts, stories, and painting styles. Got a lot of tips from some vets in the business, and got a few compliments too.
And D&D Dinner Theater finally starting to hit its niche. We've got a few more kinks to work out (don't worry, we've FINALLY got a sound guy secured for next time), maybe a little more plot to follow, but it's clear that its heart has settled into place. The rest will be easy. ;)
But the next day brought about a unique, surreal, and humbling observation.
My dice sold in under 90 minutes. 10 deals of miniature lots sold in the 30 minutes before D&D went live. No one knew what minis they were getting, but they bought them anyway. Barely anyone physically visited the shop on Sunday, yet I made back my investment through private messages and updates on available stock. The response rendered me speechless for a time.
Our world is overrun by access. Technology, internet, sharing, tweeting, instagram... Sometimes we catch things, sometimes not. But for those that subscribe value actively to something, they will commit it to their personal world. They will share it to the stars and hope that another sees its rays and finds the same value in it that they did, and share it again. This core of a perpetually rippling collective memory and experience is what drives a tribe nowadays. A tribe; a group of people who have rallied behind an idea, a concept, a mission, a neighborhood, a person. Something, or someone, they trust. They'll give them the benefit of the doubt, back them when they need help, and shout their praise when their voice isn't loud enough.
My success that weekend was in no small part because of the small tribe of people that frequent Game On, that like my Instagram, that listen to my podcast, that read this blog. Your love, your joy, your stories, your value...it warms my soul. And I hope I can do better for you, always.
Thank you for playing with me. It is an honor, My Tribe.
See you at the table.
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.
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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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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.
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.
I have only just returned from a 7-day respite in a far away land. A land where the drinks flow readily, the food is exquisite, and the magic is there as long as you are looking for it. What is this long-forgotten civilization of artisanal glass-blowing and dwarven rations? It goes by a name only whispered in dark corners and seedy taverns.
And what, pray tell, did I accomplish while in this dark city state; a secluded island of rich history, crowded busses, and a vibrant night life all wrapped up in the thin coating of tourism and mini golf?
Nothing. I did nothing. And it was the greatest Nothing I could have hoped for.
It was in this nothing that, for the first time in nearly three years, I was truly "away." My mind could rest, and it could wander. It could take note of my now practiced ability to easily make conversation, to make new people feel at home, and rejoice in new connections forged through such friendliness and courtesy. I got to meet many new people, some of which will remain friends beyond this experience, and all of which are accomplished nerds (including a pair of leather workers and armorers). I was immersed in a culture of ease, where tastes could be explored, conversations organic, and sheer existence celebrated.
I haven't been on a cruise in some time, and now that I am home, it is safe to say that was the best one yet. It wasn't the ship, or the food (though it was amazing), or the staff (they're pretty cool people), but it was company we kept - the people we met, the conversations we built, and the strong connections we made, that would define this experience.
And, of course, this got me thinking during the 3-hour drive home from Jersey - on the importance and significance that rest serves in a D&D campaign, and in life, and I think I broke it down into four main elements.
Recharge - The Obvious One
In game, you take a Short or Long Rest. Short Rests regain some abilities here and there dependent on your class features, and allow you to spend Hit Dice to shrug off damage a little easier than spending spells or potions. Long Rests heal you completely (in most systems), and you regain your spells and options, like a nice reset.
In life, we use rest to help our bodies and minds recharge. It exponentially increases our capacity to love, forgive, care, and share our energy with others. A human without sleep doesn't last long when it comes to empathy, communication, or any measure of joy. Without rest, we cease to function as people. So, take time to rest, if for nothing else than to refuel and rejuvenate your spirit to tackle tomorrow.
We need alternative views to grow as people, and these require time to process for each person that remains open to them. You ever get so wrapped up in a problem that you feel like you're going crazy, only to take a moment - a deep breath, even - and discover the solution the next moment? Yeah. That. Take a moment, give yourself a break, and come at it from a new angle. Everyone is healthier for it.
In game terms, this works precisely the same way. Combat, puzzles, and social challenges can be augmented and creatively solved the more angles you can work, and the more ideas you are open to. Considering the ideas and perspectives of others, while allowing yourself time to process said avenues, expands your imagination and problem-solving. So do it. Please.
Exploration - Wandering Is A Form Of Rest
Not all those who wander are lost, and this is most true when we allow ourselves space to roam. Too often in life, we become stuck in our path, locked into our chosen lane. Rest allows us to wander outside of that lane, open ourselves to new experiences - often outside of our comfort zones. This is a good thing. It keeps us flexible and moving toward a global literacy. Try things that are scary to you, try the road less traveled, and give space to new thoughts and ideas. Let them evolve and change, and open the door to revisit them to see what new facets of your being have now surfaced.
In a game, this is best represented by "side quests." Whether it be for a rare item, a shred of character background, or as a natural consequence to a poor decision...the best side quests are often more fulfilling than the main story. They could last a few days in game, a few months, or represent a brand-new arc of the story. Often, we learn much more in our wanderings and can grow tremendously just by venturing off the beaten path, so that once we return, we are forever changed; stronger, faster, more skilled than ever before, making our return that much more triumphant. Not that the main quest is somehow diminished, and, in fact, it only strengthens our desire to return to it at the close of our wandering. It bolsters our resolve, and equips us to move forward. Which reminds me...
Preparation - Pointing Forward
Often referred to as "downtime activities," extended stints of rest offer up opportunities to build elements, infrastructure, resources, and education for the challenging road ahead. In game terms, this is when players accomplish feats of extended research, business connections, stronghold building, magic item construction, SHOPPING, and, ahem, personal side quests. It helps to provide the players with not only a chance to breathe, but a means to point forward toward their personal and group goals, with the opportunity to prepare appropriately.
In life, rest - TRUE REST - allows our minds and bodies the valuable time to be "away" from it all. Then, we can return slowly, reintegrating the elements of our lives that we actually miss...and begin to build the tools necessary to augment and expand upon what we ACTUALLY want out of our lives, while leaving the excess behind. For me, it was a hard look at where I am and where I want to be; recognizing the elements of my life that I no longer need or want, and the elements I want more of; creating a clearer work/life balance separation for my own peace of mind and to help fight fatigue; FINALLY building a business model that not only supports the pursuit of my dreams, but keeps me sane on the way.
We need this facet of rest the most, yet so little of us have the opportunity to experience it. Even if we LOVE our jobs (and I do), we all need to get away for a bit to recognize all that we can do - all that can become possible - when given the time to prepare. And in case you're wondering, THERE IS NO LIMIT.
I'll see you at the table. I'm off to build a castle in the sky.
So we have a Livestream on Twitch. Didn't know if you knew that. Not many do, but those that do have been entertained quite well for the 14 episodes we've been running. You can find us HERE on Twitch, and 2 weeks behind up on YouTube, and, if you're a patron of our podcast (of any tier), you have access to the whole show in podcast form (soon with theme music and behind-the-scenes chatter pre- and post-show).
The Livestream itself is classic D&D adventure time for 90-minutes set in my custom world of Io-Empyr (the fifth age of my interwoven timeline), and features steampunk airship combat, sky pirates, floating cities, and dangerous foes from the Shadowfell and the Feywild as they vie for control of the skies. The show is called Cloudsinger, and features a rag-tag 4-person party of awesome adventurers attempting to trust one another as they navigate this high-flying world, all while dodging their various pasts, new enemies, and alarming secrets.
It's freaking awesome.
The experience itself marks the 6th campaign that I run weekly, and there's something very unique about running an adventure online in front of a digital audience; for the DM and for the players. My partner in podcast crime, John (Solomon Blackedge in the campaign), put it best: we're "accidentally professional." Everybody brings something unique to the table, and we run the gamut from REALLY experienced tabletop players to players just working through the main mechanics; we're patient with each other, celebratory of our successes, flabbergasted by our secrets, and no one metas too hard. We know others are watching, so we try to bring our best selves every time...and it's always an absolute BLAST.
I am always appreciative of this particular screen grab: Adam in disbelief, Jenn laughing but disgusted, John owning his live role-playing, and Lisa's just watching it all with a mask of utter apathy. Professional D&D players, everybody. ;)
Now, none of us are brand-spanking new, and we all follow a distinct mission here at Questers' Way Game On: to become our best selves through gaming. So, I thought it fun to take a look at the standard of play that I hold my Game Mastering to, and how it changes and levels up when you bring it to the Livestreaming Stage. ...Because it certainly changes things.
Clear, Consistent, Mechanical Rulings
The internet can be an unforgiving place. I've had my fair share of trolls on the internet, but D&D fans can be a little...possessive of the thing that they love so much. Critical Role isn't perfect on rulings, and they even bring it up as a defense: they're far from paragon players, and part of the fun is making mistakes.
For me especially, with custom rulesets for airship combat, special weapons, home-brewed monsters, whatever thing I bring up - I'm keen to explain my reasoning for its existence, and then play it through. In that case, if I reflect and find something does not work the way I wanted it to, I have to let my players know AND my audience online know if I change it and why. Now, upon writing this practice down, my brain screams: "Well, DUH" and this is because ANY campaign benefits from this practice, online or off, but online it is an absolute necessity. Rule and mechanic transparency is essential to keep the audience in the loop; in a way, they're playing too. :)
Always Moving, Even When Standing Still
Pacing can sometimes be tricky, regardless of the campaign. No person can be on-point all the time, and no party will be pushing for plot every session...and that's a great thing. Action can happen without "action." Character development is just as powerful and entertaining (sometimes moreso) than any fight. Sometimes the audience needs rest, too, and these key moments of "still movement" keep the characters growing and the audience involved. As a DM, don't be afraid of them. This is a group story, and few stories are one fight all the way through (and still entertaining).
Audio Setup Needs To Be Simple and Clean
We started the Livestream utilizing an online tabletop music resource called tabletopaudio.com. This is a copyright-free audio site where each audio segment lasts ten minutes and can be pieced together into a pretty solid playlist. ...However, with enough technical elements through the iPad (my main interface to save space in our setup), we had to abandon it. Still a great resource that you can find HERE.
Moving forward, we're hitting this on three fronts.
1) I've returned to Syrinscape. This an app available on mac or pc systems that is chock full of sound sets, music, and sound effects to help with your overall atmosphere and immersion. I did a review awhile back about how I found their music to be less than satisfactory, and opted out. I have since grown up a bit and I love that it's all copyright free. That's the big deal here. Plus, the interface doesn't take much to get used to, so I'm pretty pleased overall.
2) I'm writing music for this campaign. No joke. I write music, I've published two albums, had works premiered with live orchestras - I got this. It's a bit of work, but it's going to add something truly special to Cloudsinger that sets it apart from the rest of our weekly campaigns. If you care to take a look at my old stuff.
3) Cross-chatter needs to be at an absolute minimum. This is a theater thing: if everyone is mic'ed, then everyone can hear EVERYTHING you are saying, even if it's a funny joke you just thought of. Sharing is okay, but the timing needs to be clear. We're not going to talk over each other because A) that's rude, and B) it overloads the recording with essentially white noise. The dudes on Critical Role are respectful because they're good people, but also because it serves the recording tech tremendously.
Go With What Is Most Comfortable For You
No one wants a stilted performance. Not from the DM, not from the players. It's our game, first and foremost, so we're going to play the way we want to play. The audience will comment, but I don't really watch the chat during the stream, and that is so I can give my whole self over to the players I'm playing with. By keeping myself centered on them, and not on external hardware, I can be my best self.
In addition, peripherals are great tools. DnD Beyond comes up quite a bit and we decided to give it a go as a group to help ourselves get organized. Unfortunately, technical difficulties, connection issues, and the product of staring at a screen all the time just to check your abilities has started to pull people out of the action, or at least made it a little inconsistent. So, back to pencil and paper, dude. DnD Beyond is a great resource, and I still use it often to build out and test characters, but for OUR live show, we operate better without more tech at the table to look things up. It makes everything smoother, focused, and more intimate. ;)
Know Your Character, Know Your Stuff, and Get Organized
This one is a standard I always hold myself to. I am a professional, of course. ;) But this stretches beyond the DM.
When you're in front of others, like a performance, a certain level of preparation goes a long way in helping the audience become immersed, the players staying engaged, and story flowing well. Players that do their homework on their abilities, clarify understanding before and after the game, and think critically about the feelings, motivations, and personal stories of their characters will sync up to the world with alarming speed and precision. The less you have to guess about how your character would act, the better you can ACT, and therefore play.
The times that I have prepared my character - just got myself more organized, put myself into their headspace prior to the session - the more fun I would have, and I'd avoid those little hiccups of second-guessing. Subtle moments of pause when I didn't know what to do...disappeared. And I'm not the only one to put in some extra prep.
John, for example, runs a "test Solomon" in another campaign to help flesh out how THIS Solomon acts. This way, Cloudsinger Solomon is the strongest iteration of the character, and John clearly has a ton of fun playing him. Jenn and I have meetings every so often to chat about her backstory and where her character's motivations lie. Lisa is very up front about how Spifi acts, and Spark...well, remains a mystery, but in a good way (Adam B.'s on point as a cat-person).
We're eager to play, but we have an external responsibility to do so in the first place, so that little extra pressure is enough to warrant bringing our A-game every time. And that little bit of extra responsibility brings nautical tons of fun to the table.
Any campaign can benefit from these elements - I wouldn't save them for online-only experiences. I've been using music sets, sound sets, and mixes for a LONG time in my regular games, and I'm often recording the sessions for my own internal consistency. I do my homework every time, but any good DM should. Great players prep themselves before a session to ensure smooth play and fast fun. It's a great way to upgrade your gaming experience.
However, these elements I find to be absolutely necessary if you're running something online. The addition of an external, broad audience adds another layer to your game, and it puts some onus on you and your players to literally be entertaining...but don't add pressure that sacrifices fun. With so many people on the planet, if you're having fun, there are bound to be more peeps out there that like your play style. So, keep things moving, sure, but PLAY YOUR GAME. It's your time to have your fun - we're just along for the ride. :)
See you at the table.
Game On! Director, musician, music teacher, game designer, and professional game master. In short, I'M A BIG NERD.