Kitties keep trying to sleep on top of my wrist and elbow today.
Kitties keep trying to sleep on top of my wrist and elbow today.
This is silly, but real talk for a second: You are NEVER a burden to your friends, and the people who love you.
Talking about your mental health is NEVER a burden to ANYONE.
You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live a full and fulfilling life.
Think about this: if someone you care about came to you and said, “I need to talk about my mental health with you…” OF COURSE you would have that conversation. OF COURSE you would do whatever you can, from simply listening to actively getting on the phone with a counselor or therapist, to make sure that the person you care about and love can get help, so they can live their best life.
OF COURSE you would do that, because you are a kind and loving person who deserves to have good friends who feel comfortable opening up to you, right?
So *OF COURSE* you can talk to people you love and who love you back about your mental health, and you are not a burden. I promise.
Here, I’m going to give you a buff: If you still feel like a burden (I get it), I GIVE YOU PERMISSION to talk about your mental health without feeling like a burden. If anyone makes you feel like you’re a burden, you send them to me, and I’ll handle them.
You deserve to be happy.
You are not alone.
You are loved.
You are valued.
YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN.
That’s not to say my campaign didn’t have issues. It has a lot of issues, and I’m actually pretty worried about them. All of the issues that I’ve seen have nothing to do with the system, have nothing to do with the campaign… they all have to do with meatspace-related factors that are really hard to get around.
One of the things I’ve noticed that I’m
having a harder time with is time vs. the number of players I have. Our
role playing nights are heavily constrained by time. We meet once every
two weeks (the alternating week is a different campaign run by someone
else) and we start at 19:00, ending at 21:30. That gives us 2.5 hours
or, more realistically, two hours.
Two hours isn’t enough time for
my games, the way they’re run now. I keep having to shorten combats (as
otherwise they end up running the game really late), and that’s not
fair for the players who are looking forward to stabbing something. I
keep having to cut off banter between players, as it is taking up over
half of our time available (as you’ll see in the next adventure
update)… and that’s not fair for the players who are using this as
their primary social interaction.
It sucks. I think my
adventures might be better suited toward a “once a month, five hours on a
Sunday” type of thing instead, and that’s… not so great for my
A couple of things I have done:
- Change how I handle Initiative.
- Basically, I put everyone’s names on notecards (along with any foe) and sort them by rolled init. I call out whomever is first and give a heads-up if another PC is after that so they can plan their turn.
- This works great for the PCs that actually plan their turn. Problem being, I only have two of those.
- It did stop me from forgetting enemy turns at least, so that’s nice.
- I’m trying out a new init system in the intermission adventures. More on that in that write-up.
- I’m using computers in some way anyway, so I can always see a clock. I keep track of time and try to poke people along if I notice a scene taking a bit too long.
- Unfortunately, it makes me feel bad because some of these scenes are great… if I had fewer players, that is.
love my players, I really do, but I have six of them, two of which are
playing remotely in another timezone. It makes running the game quite
difficult; I don’t have the ability to give each player time to shine in
each game when the game only ends up lasting two hours. My ideal player
count is three, for reference, so six is a problem. I don’t want
to kick people out of the game, so this is a bit of a problem. In six
or so months, we’ll be down to five players semi-permanently, so this
will get slightly better. Also, I have two players who tend to drown out
other players in terms of volume (both audio volume and frequency of
speaking). I don’t really have a great answer for this problem,
Also, few of my players actually respond to
anything outside of the session itself. That’s rather infuriating to me,
as it means I can’t prep all that easily.
remote play is being a bit of a problem, as that causes issues with
interactivity – I can’t give physical props around without literally
snail-mailing them, I can’t easily draw out a map on the fly (although
I’m working on that), and I can’t use audio or lighting to my advantage.
There are, however, a lot of things I have solved for remote play, and I thought I’d share some of that in this section. Most of them are tech based.
- What I’d like to do at some point is use
two cameras – one on me, one on the players in the room. I haven’t had
much of a chance of looking into this, as I’m concerned that I’m going
to start having audio sync issues from this, but I think this is
doable… provided that I’m okay with stretching a cord across the room.
- The video capture device itself is a Startech USB3HDCAP, for reference. Works well, no real complaints.
- I can use the video output on my
Surface Pro 3 as a video input into my video capture device, throwing an
HDMI switch in front of it. It’ll work, although it means running a
cord across my living room again.
- Other option, and the one I’m
going to try this week if I have enough time, is to use video capture
software on my laptop to capture the contents of my Android tablet. Then
all I should need is a drawing app on my tablet (I have seven
installed) and I should be good to go.
- It doesn’t help with improvised things
though. My adventures this act have been around 60% improv, 40% prep,
and that’s about twice as much prep as normal for me.
Time to prep
I’ve… had a rough year, to put it politely, and that’s left me with little brainpower to spend on prep. Naturally, this is the most prep heavy campaign I’ve had in over a decade. I keep having to cut some corners on my prep and I don’t like it.
The biggest corner cut so far is that I don’t actually have a map of the Cormick City-State. It has been on my list of things to do for over six months now and all I have is a vague idea as to where a few key areas are. Heck, until the last adventure, two of my PCs didn’t even know that it is a port town or that it was built on a river!
I love drawing maps, and it hurts me to not have one of my lovely megalopolis. It also hurts that I don’t have detailed bits about other things – for instance, having prepared descriptions of random NPCs and the like. I’m spending my prep time on the adventures (where it matters more, to be fair) and less on the things that make the adventure more fully fleshed out.
This… I don’t know if it’ll ever get better. :(
I had decided to plan this campaign in terms of Acts.
Act 1 was, effectively, the party getting to know each other, starting to explore a new land, finding a new home, and convincing others that this is the Best Place. It took 15 adventures, ending three weeks ago as of when I’m posting this write-up. Below the cut is my general planning notes and so on, a sort-of behind-the-curtain approach. No worries about spoilers now, since the act is finished and I’m only talking about things that have been revealed.
I planned on 6-8 adventures, for reference. There’s been a lot of challenges with this campaign, and I wanted to talk about them. The issues (and some solutions) are in the next post.
Act 1 Structure
Basically, my general outline looked like this:
Introductions -> Exploration -> Players get bored and return to typical adventuring -> I plan out the rest then.
I seriously doubted that my players would enjoy exploring what is basically a new world. My whole initial plan was that I’d do the prep work for that new world, but also have a bunch of things in there in case the players had an Ooo Shiny moment. That… happened, but not in the way I was expecting. That’s good – I think 5 of the 6 players are really enjoying this exploration-focused campaign, and the sixth is still fine with it.
Once it became clear that they wanted to play in my sandbox, my outline changed to this:
Introductions -> Exploration -> Conflict -> Planning -> Return -> Conflict -> Vote.
That’s at least close to how things ended up. In reality, it looked like this:
Introductions -> Exploration -> Exploration -> Return -> Conflict/Planning -> Vote
Let’s talk about that dreadful DM trick of putting people on rails. I… really don’t do that. I put in some guidelines that I recommend you don’t cross, but that’s about it. What I mean is that my adventure planning doesn’t go “all right, they will do X, then they will do Y, then Z happens, then…”
It goes like this, and this is a summarized snippet from my actual prep:
- Players have said that they want to continue on to another potential city site, Site C.
- Site C has a lot of personal hazards involved – remnants of an old demonic biomunitions factory, leftover mimics all over the place, and a few other things they didn’t actually find.
- Threats to them directly are minimal – they’ll generally succeed as long as they don’t fiddle with things.
- When they fiddle:
- Weaponized Coconuts act like a very strong cannon blast. Can potentially KO (but not kill) the weakest party member.
- Mimics will eat them alive if they get the drop.
- They won’t send the mage to open a door like that, so that should be fine.
- Nearby forest has spiders and a Nightmare in it. They already know about the spiders and will probably figure out the Nightmare.
- Mountains to the east make it unlikely they’ll want to travel that way. If they do, <spoilers here>.
- They can continue on to Site D. See notes for Site D.
- Rain will occur in two more days. While no longer EvilRain, it still poses a threat to the party by virtue of it being a mini-monsoon.
- Creatures will escape the worst areas, going through Site C, so they’ll probably start getting into conflicts here.
See what I mean? The players are the ones who told me what they were going to do (at the end of the previous adventure) and all I’m doing is working around them planning-wise. They’re free to leave at any time and I’ll adapt, but there are some geographic clues in that this is the region they want to be in. It isn’t Railroading as I have no idea what they’re going to do (although I’m pretty good at predicting it), but it isn’t a complete free-form game either; I know they’re not going to want to spend the time going through mountains, so that’s effectively a barrier to them for the time being.
This is one of the areas of GMing that I’ve been praised on, and I’ve generally followed a similar pattern with respect to rails vs. sandbox ever since. This particular game is a bit more sandboxy than my normal, but that’s part of the premise.
I’m… not so great with D&D combat. In fact, due to time issues (see my next post), I’m not so great at combats as a whole. My games usually average a combat every other adventure, and this one had six combats in fifteen adventures. However, that’s not the only type of conflict.
As the PCs already know, there are eight groups of people investigating Dis. Each group of people are separated out a bit… except for one pair. The PCs are one member of that pair, and there is another group that they were pretty much inevitably going to encounter.
They weren’t going to be hostile, but potentially unintelligible and were probably going to cause some problems if they weren’t addressed early enough. What I didn’t know was how they were going to resolve it – after all, this was like the third adventure or something.
The conflict mentioned is that a parade of Water Elementals were going through the river right next to the party as one of the “events” that was going to happen within the first few days the PCs were on Dis. I rolled to see which day it would happen, and it happened on day one or two (I can’t remember which now). No one in the party knew Aquan, but someone did know Tongues… on both sides of the groups, as it turned out. They ended up initiating conversation and talking with a random water elemental, who eventually directed them to their so-called leader, a djinn of some variety.
The party was quite diplomatic (not too surprising in hindsight) and the two groups are generally on friendly terms with each other. Without that first encounter though, they were going to be royal pains in the neck of the party throughout the first act (and likely beyond). Basically, my players are really good at avoiding conflict when feasible, and I always like to make multiple options on how to resolve something possible.
The other major conflict that I knew was going to happen was back in the city. As the PCs are now aware, there is something fishy going on in the City-State, and at least some of that fishiness has to do with Necromancy. There were several potential events that the players would end up seeing throughout the city when they returned, and they hit the nasty one right off the bat.
There is also the whole Bertrum thing (that I knew was going to be an end-of-act boss, unless if they abandoned the whole Homestead plot entirely). I figured that one would end in combat, although I was surprised that they didn’t pick up on the hints a bit earlier.
All other conflicts that they were working through? Yeah, those were all improvised or just “hazards” planned, like the above. These three were the only ones that were planned from the beginning and everything else was going to be based on how the PCs did things. They… wanted to explore. So I let them explore.
Exploration / World Building
Oh boy did they explore. They actually explored pretty much the entire region I had expected them to explore throughout acts one and two, which is a majority of the reason why it took longer than I expected. They found two very powerful entities that they’re seemingly on friendly terms with, they’ve discovered the prior mentioned water elementals, they’ve looked at all of the potential city sites I had spotted out ahead of time in their little region of Dis… really, they hit all of the high points (and several of the detailed points). A lot of this I prepped well in advance; I had the regional map completed by the end of the third adventure and I have a less-specific world map completed by the fourth.
I enjoy world building, and I got the distinct idea that the players enjoyed it as well.
One thing I’m a bit disappointed in is the general lack of wonder as how weird Dis really is to them. Mion (the world that everyone in the party came from) exists on the inside of a cube world. The stars and planets seen from Mion are rips in space that allow them to see outside of the cube, and the sun is a giant heat source that sinks into the waters to the east and west on a daily basis. Dis, on the other hand, is a much more realistic world – round world, orbits a star, etc. Problem being, that’s what is “normal” to the players, so I think that fell a bit flat. My fault.
Progression / Rewards
This campaign is a bit lighter than normal in terms of rewards. Mostly because they were out in the middle of nowhere and the rewards were things they’d find. No one was paying them (yet) to do this, they weren’t taking loot off of dead monsters, they were explorers.
On the other hand, I sped up XP growth a bit. I don’t think the players noticed, given how at least one of them was complaining about how slow they were leveling, but that’s because I wasn’t exactly giving it to them easy. Things hit hard and fast because I didn’t have enough combats to justify a more traditional D&D grind. The party went from level 4 at the start of the act to level 8 by the end.
Also, in case if anyone is curious: I like starting PCs out at level 4. They’re still low enough level to have fun with, but they’re getting abilities that make them a bit more unique compared to each other. I mean, there are two monks in the party with almost-identical stats (swapping Charisma and Intelligence, basically); without having some of their monk path abilities, they’d be completely identical mechanically.
Beyond Act 1
At the moment, they’re in Intermission adventures. Basically, I gave the PCs some downtime for what they want to do, and they wanted to go start a sidequest they received from Lem a while ago. So, I did some planning and prep (for once, this sidequest is around 80% Prep / 20% Improv) and set them out on it. It’ll give me more time to set up Act 2.
Act 2 will start when the PCs return to Dis with their colonists and start making the town. It’ll have a lot more time skips, as I don’t think the players are all that interested in mundane day-to-day life stuff. Act 2 will probably have less exploration (although still the dominant factor in the adventures, most likely) and more political intrigue.
Last time on The Dining Campaign
The South Cormick Tax Association (read: Thieves’ Guild) revolted by some means, leaving a whole lot of very unhappy people (and tax collections halted via strike). Meanwhile, part of the party went after an orb of hallucinations… er… prophecy, which gave them disturbing visions of the future.
Present in this adventure:
- Elena, Elven Rogue-like-Bard
- Nocturne, Tiefling Cleric-like-Sorceress
- Galwyn, Gnome Paladin-like-Cleric
- Karma, Orcish Drunk-like-Monk
- Dharma, Human Saijin-like-Monk
NPCs mentioned in this adventure:
- Defender Yani Tyverius, Orcish Paladin of the Altecian Temple (and representative from the Unity Council on Religion)
- Grothurn Faan, Archmagi and head of the Mage’s Guild of South Cormick
- Horin, Halfling Arcane Trickster and representative of the South Cormick Tax Association (read: Thieves’ Guild)
- Myra Cormick, Succubus Mayor of South Cormick.
Tanzain Habib, de-facto leader of the Merchant’s Guild / Habib Conglomerate
Cheryl, a local seamstress and the jurist member of the city council.
- Bertrum, an adventurer from a different search party than the PCs. Enchanter/Necromancer? No one is quite sure.
This is the adventure where the proverbial excrement hit the ventilation system – the City-State of Cormick Council Meeting.
First, the party had learned (either in Adventure 14 or in this adventure) that three members of the council would not be attending. Tanzain had a prior appointment with the Habib Conglomerate and, when the council meeting was rescheduled, had a conflict he couldn’t deal with. Two others, however, did not attend – both Grothern Faan and Horin were no-shows. All three had sent their hidden ballots along in advance.
The party attended the council meeting held in the Tower of Power – the original tower that once held all of South Cormick (no really – this was from the original one-shot that started the previous campaigns). It had been spruced up to act as a meeting hall for Very Special Occasions – like a meeting that might dictate the future of South Cormick’s population and the population of the refugees that are starting to trickle in from the disaster of the city of Cannot Reach Because Cat*. Hundreds of people from town were in attendance.
The party put their diplomatic faces on and argued their case. They quickly realized they might not quite have had as much support as they thought, as Cheryl started asking some pretty important fiscal questions that led to some negative feelings.
The vote came back 4-3 in their favor, however, likely due to their persuasion skills (read: it was 5-2 against before they started talking to NPCs, but the party didn’t know that). As the meeting drew to a close, someone voiced an objection.
That someone was a 25? long skeletal dragon. That objection was a breath weapon attack on a surprise round, hitting the literal hundreds of people in that room. Lots of casualties, including bringing Cheryl to the brink of death and heavily injuring the remaining present members of the council… except Myra.
Myra, on the other hand, got charmed right before, by a surprise guest – Bertrum.
Bertrum was a mage of an adventuring party similar to this one. One that failed. They went off exploring a different plane with only a few members coming back. The party knew this, as they went around asking about the people in the party. The only bits that were being repeated were, basically, “Poor Bertrum. They never found his body!”
The party, naively, thought the phrase was that he was killed. Ha ha ha NOPE. Bertrum attacked the party. Strangely, Elena had actually figured most of this out ahead of time, but didn’t put enough pieces together to figure out exactly who on the party attacked. Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, as Bertrum arrives on the scene, being pleased as punch in charming what he viewed as his greatest foe.
The battle was hard fought… but short. Partially because we didn’t get to the battle until late in the adventure and partially because of some amazing rolls. Defender Tyverius (She’s SUPER EFFECTIVE against undead dragons, who knew!) and Commander Horus joined them, as did a contingent of guards with handguns (which mostly missed, but eh, thoughts counting and all).
The party all scattered and focused on backup. Karma went to go help Cheryl, surprising pretty much everyone, and actually managed to bring her back from the brink of death. Elena countered the charm effect on Myra (with, once more, a super lucky roll). Myra pretended to still be charmed afterward, but gave Elena a knowing wink. Galwyn helped her comrade-in-faith (even if it is a different / opposing faith) and went all smitey on the dragon. Dharma went after the dragon as well, swapping to Bertrum after finding his attacks less effective than normal. Nocturne played support (firing a few volleys at Bertrum as well), but ended up a bit distracted by Myra.
After deciding that the ruse has played its purpose, Myra cast Harm on Bertrum. A Divine Sorcerer magic sourced Harm, of the identical casting style and effect (although more powerful) as Nocturne. Nocturne may have finally found her first lead about her family.
After a bit, the party + support helped take out the Bone Dragon. They took out Bertrum shortly after, whose body simply disappeared. Turns out that Bertrum was a simulacrum – very powerful necromancy that allows someone to basically create a lesser double of themselves. Also explains the whole “never found his body” part.
* – not the actual name, but I couldn’t reach my notes at the time and the name has kind of stuck. I’m probably going to rename the city something that would have the initials CRBC somehow.
earlier today i was nonverbal for a bit but no one was around except the cats, so i signed at molly that she’s a good cat and she. immediately started purring. this cat knows too much. i live in fear that someday s
the cat killed op
Oh hey, Tumblr decided I needed more friends…
… so it went ahead and added one for me. Without my input.
I know cats have a stigma of being evil little robots who care for nobody but themselves. I don’t deny that there are some out there like this. But in defense of the large majority of darling cats who have been given a bad name due to the wicked few, I would like to tell you a story…
I am asthmatic. I’m not as bad as some; my asthma is generally well-controlled, and I don’t have much trouble with it on a daily basis. However, as all asthmatics know, getting sick becomes a nightmare. Even a small cold can turn into a days-long asthma attack, one that is very painful, and very annoying for me and those around me. The asthma cough sounds like an ill seal at best, or an angry moose with a nasal condition at worst. Y’all with asthma, and y’all with asthmatic friends, know exactly what I’m talking about. The bark. The hack. The Cough Heard Round The World. It’s painful, it’s loud, and it doesn’t stop. Even the rescue inhaler can only do so much to calm it. It just has to run its course with the cold.
Well, this week I caught the crud, and in the past few days it deteriorated into The Cough. Last night, I took some NyQuil to try and stave it off for as long as I could, just to try and get some sleep. That meant that for a few hours, I was cough-free. After that, I was still doped up enough to sleep through some of it. However, by 2am the sleep aid had worn off and The Cough woke me up. Since lying down makes it worse, and I didn’t want to wake my sister, I sneaked out of my bedroom into the living room, where I sat on the recliner and proceeded to hack up a lung while I waited for my next dose of NyQuil to kick in. That is when I noticed Simon.
Simon is a Russian Blue with a masterful resting-witch-face and an attitude to match. She (yes, she’s a girl, that’s another story) is old, fat, proprietary, and attitudinal. She isn’t shy about telling you when she is displeased, and does so with a loud shriek and some teeth or claws thrown in. She is convinced she owns the place, and owns all of us in turn. She is particular about where you can pet her, like most cats; and, like most cats, she loves her sleep and hates to be woken up.
And of course, my hacking woke her up.
Attempting to whisper an apology in between bouts of coughing, I noticed she was getting off her perch atop the chair nearby. She stretched, made a little squeaking sound, and trotted over to me.
I expected her to demand petting as payment for having woken her precious sleep, but she did not. Instead, this traditionally cranky dragon of a cat did something that amazed me.
She began to purr loudly, and sat herself directly on my aching chest. She kneaded my sternum softly, and nosed my chin as if to say, “I’ve got this, you sleep.” Even though I was still coughing, and bouncing her horridly in the process, she remained settled on my chest right above my diaphragm, purring loudly so that it vibrated through my ribs. I don’t know what magic spell she was chanting between her boat-like purrs, but within minutes my cough had subsided and I was able to sleep.
I didn’t wake up until about 4:30. When I did, it was to discover that my lap and chest were devoid of Simon’s presence, and I was coughing again. As I started coughing once more, I heard her familiar “I’m here” squeak from the area of the water dish. I heard some hurried lapping, and then her heavy gallop across the floor. She flumped onto my lap again, and resumed her purring and kneading. She had evidently been doing that for the past 2 hours, and had only left to get some water. Hydrated, she had returned to take care of me.
So yes, she has her share of evil, jerk-cat moments, but I can no longer pretend that Simon is entirely heartless. For that matter, I now refuse to believe that about any cat. Just because they act like a jerk doesn’t mean that they don’t love you.
Some photos from my Reykjavik Vacation
I’m in Iceland! WOO!