On Doctor Who

Like  a lot of people my age, website I started watching Doctor Who in the 1980’s, information pills which means that for the longest time, Tom Baker was “my Doctor”. I didn’t really keep watching after he left the series, and it wasn’t until the series was resurrected (regenerated?) in 2005 that I had the time and inclination to start watching again.

The thing about Doctor Who is that despite it’s often silly execution and relatively low-rent effects, it’s become a character show. The effects are sometimes only a step above community theater, and some of the episodes are just played for slapstick effect, but the structure of the episodes in relation to one another is such that whenever you get a light-hearted episode one week, you know you’re going to get a punch in the face real soon that will make you sad or creep you out.

Some people have said that Doctor Who is kind of a children’s show. It’s not really super violent, and the idea of struggling with pacifism is built into the narrative. But I think people assume because people aren’t being shot or getting into hand-to-hand combat, coupled with the sometimes silly and eye-rolling effects and creatures, that it’s intended for younger audiences. While I think overall it’s appropriate for younger audiences (immediate pre- and teens), there’s a lot of complex themes dealt with that younger audiences might not have references for.

How anyone watching the series can have a reference for the problems encountered by a 2000 year old time traveler is not really the point. Despite the Internet’s insistence of puffing up to try and make itself sound really smart by picking apart episodes and crapping on things it’s high-mindedness doesn’t like, I personally like the way the characters are written, and the circumstances that the characters endure in order to make the points about humanity and our interaction with the universe around us. Of course the Doctor has chosen to protect humanity, both past, present and future, and that allows humanity to continue up until the end of the Universe. We’re everywhere, and not only does that have ramifications on the universe, but most importantly, it has ramifications on the character of the Doctor himself.

Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was kind of a preface (as he admitted that he left over disagreements with the management after one season), which made way for a younger generation’s apparently favorite Doctor, David Tennant. While the Eccleston Doctor treated us to vague notions that the Doctor had a missing period in his life that he refused to talk about, Tennant kind of started the emotional ball rolling over the situation. He also started a deeper engagement with the companions the Doctor traveled with, which set a precedent that continued through to Matt Smith.

Tom Baker more or less started the current “manic Doctor” persona, but until Tennant, the character was more of a mentor and kindly caretaker of his companions. Tennant and Smith were, I assume, cast to appeal to a younger demographic, and could be viewed as more of a friend to the companions — and even potentially a winking romantic interest. Both were young and energetic, and many of the scripts seemed to focus on fun they were having. The series became a lot about the fun of traveling through time and space; like cruising around with your first friend who get his or her driver’s license. Of course, there was the undercurrent of pathos running through the series: the Doctor had seen (and done) some shit that we were never fully informed about (until later in the game), but which could explain why his behavior was so manic.

That’s why I find that I’m preferring Peter Capaldi over Tennant and Smith. I liked both, but I think they were cast to bring life into the role so the series could literally burst out of hiatus with unconstrained energy and appeal to a new demographic that shows up for the attractive cast, but stays for the fun of the series. Capaldi is older than the previous Doctors, which circles back around the very early days of the show, but instead of being the “grandfather” that the Doctor started out as, he continues the manic presentation started by Baker. Still, we’re now on the other side of knowing more or less why the 21st century Doctor is haunted. It’s not a secret to us any more, which means that from a writing perspective, we need to find another concern that the character can brood about. So far, it’s a conflict between the now-pacifist Doctor and soldiering. In the first episodes, we see the character asking his companion Clara “am I a good man?”, and admitting that he’s made mistakes, and now it’s time to do something about them.

I expect we’ll be seeing a less fun-loving Doctor and a more contrite and grumpy Doctor (which has already started), but also a Doctor we can relate to. While Tennant and Smith embodied the potential fun of being able to go anywhere and any when, Capaldi shows us what can happen when the past — a very, very long past — starts to catch up to us, and starts to weigh on us, beyond the simple 100 yard stares we got from Tennant and Smith that were meant to convey something was bothering him. It’s a maturation of sorts, because in the real world we have to come to grips with the fact that we’re not as young as we feel, and that we have to own up and answer for the things we did when we were younger, and that those things which seemed like a good idea at the time weren’t actually the best decisions we could have made. The most telling episode so far this season was “Listen”, where we’re introduced to the idea of fear that’s always with us, and is embodied in scene when Clara comforts the Doctor as a child by telling him to listen to his fears. This new, “older” Doctor takes this to hearts (!), and is being more open to his fears that he’s been trying to avoid for the past three incarnations.

I guess it remains to be seen if the Tennant/Smith fans will take to the Capaldi Doctor as ardently. Aside from the fact that he is older (“I’m not your boyfriend”, he tells Clara, and as a nod to the sentiment fostered with the previous actors), he’s shaping up to be crankier and more morose. From a character stand point, it’s something I like. From a demographic standpoint, we’ll need to see how it plays out.

Burning Down (Half) The House #DnD

Last night’s session saw the Adventure Co Brand Adventure Company watching the mill at Greenest (which sounds like a B&B, treat but is not). As usual, information pills spoilers ahead.

DND_Session3

At the end of the previous session, check the players crept around the mill and found themselves a secluded vantage point on the top of a hill overlooking the mill. From there, the Bard’s keen eye for performance noticed that the cultists they were sent to stop were just phoning it in; they were half-heartedly waving torches in the direction of the mill, but up close, it was obvious it was just for show.

Sensing that something was up, the Cleric asked around for a torch and a light, cast Disguise Self to appear as a cultist himself, and boldly walked down the hill to where one of the acolytes was pretending to set fire to things. Recognizing a brother (in the religious sense, not fraternal), the acolyte struck up a conversation with the Cleric, who managed to convince the acolyte that he was ordered over here to provide additional fakery for the…eh…why are we here, exactly?

The acolyte spilled the beans, thinking he was talking to another cultist: they were creating a diversion in the hopes that the late-arriving adventurers would be sent out here to “deal with them”, at which point the fake fire-starters would run away, and the adventurers would be ambushed by the small army of cultists and soldiers hiding inside the mill. The Cleric doubled down on the comradeship he was forging with the acolyte and cast Charm Person. He sent his newly acquired minion around to the others to tell them that cultist reinforcements had arrived to help out, and not to get trigger happy (or sword or spell happy).

Returning to the group, the Cleric was chastised by the Ranger for not having asked about the number of people inside the barn. Relying on the adage “If you want something done, right, do it your elf”, the Ranger (who is an elf…) had the Cleric introduce him as a raider, and the Ranger grilled the hell out of the acolyte before quietly introducing his sword to his internal organs.

Meanwhile, the Bard, still in full kobold regalia, slipped down the hill to the edge of light cast by the other cultists surrounding the mill. Her disguise worked well enough to allow her to approach the nearest cultist within Prestidigitation distance, and she snuffed out his torch. This immediately set the cultist off like a car alarm at 3 AM, and he and the remaining faux-firestarter fled shouting “They’re here! They’re here!”

At this point, the session turned into “Die Hard”, but only in that there were people holed up inside a building, and there were people outside the building trying to figure out a way to get said people out of the building without having to go in to the building.

The Bard — a 3′ tall gnome — opted to open the bottom half of the dwarven door (which we call a “dutch door” here IRL) and peek inside. It was too dark to see anything, so the Bard used Prestidigitation to light a nearby crate on fire. Unfortunately, the crate was isolated enough from everything else in the room that any unseen adversaries didn’t seem worried about it, and remained hidden.

While the bulk of the force held a committee at the front of the mill, the Cleric was hanging out with the dead body of his former acolyte friend, peering into one of the windows of the mill (being one of the only people who could reach the window, it made sense). Either because he was at is wit’s end, or simply because he wanted to get a better look inside as the only member of the party without Darkvision, the Cleric smashed the window and threw his lit torch into the flour mill.

In a move that no one saw coming, the torch bounced across the floor towards the grinding stone, and promptly ignited an unseen cloud of flour dust which blew out half of the mill building into the river.

Now the party could see the raiders inside. Three of them were charcoal briquettes, but the rest of them — seven assorted guards and cultists — were sufficiently convinced that the jig was up, and started leaping from the loft. Unfortunately, the dwarven door, only open half way, could not accommodate a party of bloodthirsty adventurers, and the Cleric — who lost his eyebrows in the explosion (not kidding — he only suffered 1 HP of damage in the luckiest roll ever) — was running back and forth between the flaming wreckage and the river, filling his water-skin and dumping it on the fire in one of the most comically pathetic sketches this side of The Benny Hill Show.

And of course this would be when the reinforcements show up from the keep. A bewildered captain interrogated the Ranger, who smoothly convinced the soldier that the raiders overplayed their hand and ignited the flour dust within while the party was totaly otherwise in control of the situation like the consummate professionals that they were. The captain, rubbing his face as if somehow trying to slough the incredulity of the situation away, told the Ranger that they had to see if they couldn’t capture one of the fleeing raiders. Escobert wants to interrogate someone, and although he’d prefer a higher-up in the raider organization, this might be a decent opportunity to get anyone into custody.

As luck would have it, the Bard’s earlier decision to open the gnome-part of the door paid off: one panicked cultist saw the light from the doorway and ran towards it at full speed, without realizing that it was only half the door that was opened, and that the half that was closed was where his face needed to pass through. The Fighter (a dwarf) ducked into the doorway and dragged the unconscious soldier out into the open air and turned him over to the keep militia.

With the mill in partial flames, the militia captain tasked the players with taking the captive back to Escobert for questioning while he and his men held down the fort (what was left of it).

Next Week: The players escort a captive back to the keep.

*   *   *

This is why tabletop RPGs are so awesome. You send the party out to protect a building, and it’s them who end up blowing it up.

The first phase of the session went well. The Cleric’s Disguise Self ruse went off without a hitch (there was no reason for it to fail, as he specifically said he wanted to appear as any cultist they ran into earlier for potential familiarity purposes), but he didn’t ask enough questions for a full picture, which brought the Ranger into the conversation to get the rest of the intel.

The second phase  was rather difficult. The players successfully short-circuited the raider’s plans, but the raiders were counting on the player’s reticence to actually burn down the mill. After all, their plan counted on the players wanting to save the mill, and then jumping them when they entered the building. The players were wary of putting themselves into harms way, knowing that there were 10 unseen enemies in strategic positions inside the mill, so a standoff ensued. I really had no idea how to move this forward. The raiders were technically safe in the mill, knowing the players weren’t going to do anything stupid (on purpose), so they could have stayed in there all night. They had no idea about the reinforcements on the way, though, so I guess it would have ended badly for them eventually.

I actually didn’t come up with the idea of blowing the thing up until maybe 10 minutes or so into this standoff. The image I had for the mill showed a pile of flour sacks in the lower right corner of the building. Then the Bard wanted to “set something on fire”. I was hoping she’d opt to try and set the flour stock on fire, but because she didn’t want to venture too far onto the mill floor, that wasn’t going to happen. The raiders certainly weren’t going to set the mill on fire with themselves inside, and they weren’t going to leave with the party camping the only viable exit.

Enter the Cleric, the only guy without Darkvision. I think his intent was merely to smash the window, shout something inside, and throw the torch in as a threat, but that was really all that was needed to put the flour plan into action.

When the reinforcements showed up, the Captain had no idea whether or not the players were telling the truth about the raiders having done the deed. Hell, they’re cultists; they’re supposed to be all about the martyrdom, so why wouldn’t they blow up the building in an otherwise un-winnable situation? At least half the building was left standing, and they had scored a captive for interrogation.

The night was ended with a discussion over appointing a leader for the group. Up to this point, there hasn’t been a lot of need for a leader, as the encounters have been relatively straight-forward, but during this session, the party was divided as the Cleric and Ranger were interrogating the acolyte, the Bard was attempting to shut down the two other cultists outside, and the Fighter and the Monk (the party has a Monk, remember) were holding down the fort on the hill overlooking the mill without opportunity to take meaningful action for most of the night.

Essentially, it was as the Bard said during the discussion: everyone is so used to being responsible for themselves through years of online gaming that the concept of reaching a consensus in a free-form environment has atrophied. While everyone was working towards “the goal”, the party has relied on individual strengths, individually, rather than coming up with ideas on how they can work together towards a single strategy. Part of it has to do with years of online gaming, but I think part of it also has to do with no one wanting to diminish anyone else’s potential contributions or ideas. Everyone is really respectful of each other’s approaches, but almost to a fault. We talked a bit about how Episode 1 could be considered to be the “tutorial” chapter, and going forward things are going to get messier and more difficult, and will require greater team work and communication.

In the end, the Ranger accepted the mantle of leadership (which is a good choice, as he’s also DM’s his own 5E sessions, which provides a useful perspective). It was suggested that maybe in between this session and the next that the party get together OOC and discuss how they can work together, either via Roll20 or via the forums on Anook. Of course, once the party starts to organize, that means I’m going to have to work much harder to ensure that they’re challenged.

Math Is Why America Is So Fat

So I went to my annual physical (which I hadn’t had since 2011) and I was told that I needed to lose weight if I didn’t want to die of a heart attack at some point in my life (my take-away message). I mean, search  anyone can die of a heart attack, more about so the best we can do is manage our chances to the best of our ability. One way to do that is to manage weight. This involves “exercise and eating right” which is what you hear every single health and fitness guru and commercial tell you.

What the hell does “exercise and eating right” mean, physician exactly? Exercise is pretty simple: get off your fat ass. I bought a FitBit, which has been serving as a totem to remind me to get up and move (I sit at a desk all day). I have been walking the dog in the morning before work, getting outside to do walking laps at work twice per day, and have been using the dust collecto…elliptical machine…that we have at home. FitBit wants me to hit 10,000 steps per day, so FitBit can go fuck itself because even with the regimen listed above (which I can achieve because I’m at work and need to get the hell outside), I’m not going to hit 10,000 — close, but no granola bar. Still, the 9000+ steps I do manage is about 8975 more steps than I was taking previously, so I’m pretty focused on the exercise part.

The eating part, though…that’s a lot tougher, but not entirely for the reasons you’d think. One thing my doctor said that resonated with me was “portion control”. Here in the U.S., we’re blasted for eating unhealthy foods, but what really gets us, I think, is that we’re given so damn much food. We like to eat food because it tastes good, and because we’re on the tail end of the generation that was raised to clear it’s plate before we could leave the dinner table. That’s a pretty bad combo right there, because we end up eating way more than we really should. We’re given more, it tastes good, and we don’t want to feel that we’re wasting food. If you’re a parent, it’s worse when you eat what your kids don’t manage to finish.

Still, our bodies require a certain amount of energy in the form of calories, based on our age, height, current weight, and other voodoo. If we don’t satisfy this need, we go into ketosis which is a scientific term for tapping the fat reserves, although you’ll hear fitness-terrorists refer to it as “starvation mode” because technically it’s what your body does — naturally — if you aren’t meeting your caloric needs.

So we’re supposed to essentially burn more calories than we take in, and that’s “losing weight”. There’s a lot of other aspects of “eating healthy” like fat and sodium and protein, but as far as losing weight goes, it makes sense that for all the calories we take in, we need to expunge an equal or greater amount through exercise.

Which leads me to this:

WTH_Fitness

See, this is my stats from the FitBit site, circa 2:30 PM today. So far, I’ve had breakfast, lunch, some snack, a coffee, and a lot of water. I’ve also walked the dog and completed two circuits around the office park. I’ve burned 1920 calories, and have taken in 1075 calories. Technically, I’m doing well per the logical assessment of how we’re supposed to lose weight, right?

No. Because I’ve got this nagging at me (from MyFitnessPal.com):

WTH_ExtraCalories

Look at that asterisk. I’ve “earned” an extra 490 calories. Out of the aether, I have been granted some kind of cosmic dispensation to take in another 490 calories.

Hold up: I need 2700 calories according to the Mayo Clinic. The meal plan that FitBit has me on wants me to take in about 2225 calories per day to reach my weight loss goal of 14 pounds (1 stone for my international readers). I’ve burned 1920 calories so far today, and have eaten 1075 calories so far today. By my math — fucking math — I need to eat 1380 calories to reach that 2225.

Is that right? I have no fucking clue. FitBit gives me a vague bunch of numbers and graphs in fancy “Web 2.0” fashion. Another dashboard tells me I can eat another 1150 calories. Add that to what I’ve eaten today and you get 2225, which is on target for my plan. But if I eat 1150 to reach the 2225, my total day’s caloric intake exceeds my current caloric burn of 1920. Making maters worse (in my mind) is that this 1150 they tell me I can still eat is a shifting goal based on my daily need and what I burn. If I hit the elliptical when I get home, I’ll burn more calories, and that 1150 need will increase.

If I’m understanding this correctly, and omitting considerations surrounding other elements (fat, sodium, et al.) I’ll need to actually eat more the more exercise I do. Where in the manual is this actually explained? Nowhere, that’s where. It’s totally counter-intuitive. The platitude of “eat well and exercise” is about as reductionist as this subject can get, and considering the amount of math and sliding scales that exist under the covers, I can totally understand why people may start on the fitness trail and get quickly derailed. It’s also why nutritionist and fitness coaches have to have degrees and certifications.

The best I can do at this point is rely totally on these charts and graphs, logging every food and recording every exercise. As I go, I’ll see what I’m taking in and what I’m getting rid of, and hopefully get a better feel for the rhythm of weight loss. But right now, the numbers and their esoteric calculations are throwing me off. Fucking math.

Session 2 – It’s Not A Sewer

Session two of Hoard of the Dragon Queen went swimmingly. As usual, information pills There Will Be Spoilers.

The players had just arrived in the keep, and were immediately asked by Escobert the Red to help out with their efforts. Being significantly more capable than the rank and file garrison soldier (even at level one), the adventurers were asked to head out and harass the raiders and/or bring back as many townspeople as they could to the (relative safety) of the keep.

Before they got their gear on, however, a scout reported to Escobert that the town mill was under assault. Being the slaves to carbohydrates that they are, this would strike a devastating blow for Greenest’s nascent toast industry, so Escobert re-routed the players to go save the mill (and bring back some bagels).

Problem: There’s a nasty hoard of cultists outside the front gates. Solution: The builders of the keep thoughtfully created a secret tunnel beneath the keep that runs south to the river. It was built to allow people inside the keep to get fresh water, should the keep be under siege. This seemed like one of those times, so Escobert gave the players two keys: one for the door in the basement on the keep-end, and one for the grate at the river end of the tunnel. He left them with one bit of advice: don’t let anyone see you using that tunnel, or everyone in the keep would be screwed.

What’s funnier than a party of five in which four members have Darkvision, but the drunken cleric doesn’t? Not much. The players leapfrogged through the single-file tunnel until they met up with a Swarm of Rats, who turned out to be nothing more than a speed bump on the way to the rusted grate at the end of the tunnel.

Someone decided that the dwarven fighter would be the one who had the best chance of using the delicate key in the rusted lock. Murphy, god of hilarious outcomes, was on duty that night, as the dwarf applied just a bit too much pressure and snapped the key in the lock. Cue the sad trombone.

In one of those moments that makes a DM proud, the Bard used Prestidigitation to remove the rust from the grate, and the Cleric used Mending to repair the key. This allowed the party to open the grate silently (no more rusty hinges!) and surprise a cultist party that was scouting the riverbanks.

Sadly, the distance between the party and the raiders was pretty large. The elven ranger managed to snipe a few kobolds as the monk — hitherto refered to as “some random guy who’s been following the party this whole time, but otherwise not really doing much” — was the second one out of the tunnel. Seeing an opportunity to show he was one of the guys, he Dashed into the fray, only to be the first semi-casualty of the campaign. The dwarven fighter took time out of her busy schedule of cutting humans in half with her battleaxe to stabilize him, and the Cleric eventually helped him get his groove back. The bard — know nicknamed “Pottymouth” — spent the night debuffing the enemies with Disadvantage through Vicious Mockery, calling into question everyone’s parentage, and generally harshing the cultist’s mellow.

The problem, though, is that after the battle the party realized that this wasn’t even their main mission. Spells were spent. Damage was taken. And they still needed to get to the mill and stop the raiders from burning it to the ground.

Quote of the night: After the Cleric announced his intention to use Blessing of the Trickster on the Ranger (which required a laying on of hands): “Show us on the character sheet where the Cleric touched you.”

*   *   *

This was a good session. I could see that folks were getting into the situation and contemplating the potential outcomes. The cleaning of the grate and the repairing of the key took me by surprise, but both were well within the parameters of ability and saved the party from noisily destroying the grate, which would have allowed the cultists in the river to gain Surprise to ambush the players. One bullet dodged!

Before the session, I was in Roll20 setting up some maps. Nothing fancy: I’ve started relying on R20’s drawing options to create the scene, which is totally 1/2 assed. It’s not optimal, but I realized that I didn’t have a tunnel map, nor did I have time to make one. I also spent time setting up the mill using the drawing tools, but with another week to prepare, I’ll revisit that and see if I can’t make something better looking.

Two things of concern from the DM side: The river encounter included 2 cultists and 6 kobolds. Ideally, we would have winged it like we did with the first kobold encounter, but there were too many enemies to keep track of. I placed them on the map intending to just use them for reference, but the encounter instantly morphed into tactical combat. It took a while to complete, leaving us no time to actually get to the mill scenario — the actual point of leaving the keep. The second issue is that of scale. I’ve been playing fast and loose with this, starting on the map of Greenest at 30′ per square, which makes sense for a town map. In actuality as I write this, I remember that in the settings for the map in Roll20, there’s actually a scale setting — and each square represents 5′ by default. This would have SIGNIFICANT effect on all kinds of things movement and distance related, and I’ve dropped the ball in keeping this consistent. I’ve built the mill map with the 5′ square standard, but I treated the river encounter squares are 30′, which is total BS on my part. Going forward, all encounter map squares will default to 5′. Larger overland maps will need to have their scale adjusted to simulate travel time.

And finally, I have to say, Realm Works paid for itself last night. Having the mission in bullet point form allowed me to skim quickly for information, and the hyperlinks to monster stats was a godsend. I’m totally sold on Realm Works as a gaming tool.

Realm Works from Lone Wolf Development

I’m a fan of getting shit together. Judging my my self-assessed performance last session on Hoard of the Dragon Queen, no rx I need to step up my organizational game when it comes to preparedness.

RealmWorksI found Realm Works from Lone Wolf Development (makers of Hero Lab) when I was cruising around the net looking for RPG resources. Now, healingswear by Fantasy Grounds, pharm which is excellent for creating brand new modules and campaigns, but I need something to allow me to just take notes of important aspects of the different sections of each episode in HotDQ. I can get the long winded low-down by reading the book, but sometimes things double back on plot points, so when I reach further in the campaign, I realize I’ve flubbed an important part by not having read ahead, or done some rather slick RP that ends up not fitting into the narrative. So reading ahead and taking notes and organizing plot points so I don’t run over my own foot is something I really need. I could use regular pen and paper, but with the need to cross reference and get speedy access to stats and other characters at the point in time where they’re needed, having a technological method should help a lot.

Realm Works is like a massive wiki, but also not. It’s a three ring binder, but which provides tabbed dividers that you can fill with whatever you need. It’s not really a great campaign creation tool, although with a big shoehorn you could get it done; Fantasy Grounds is far superior in this regard. RW is like a three ring binder of index cards, then: you supply a lot of one-liners that describe what you need: “King Gerald is having an affair with the ambassador from Luretia”, or “The players will be watched as they attend the opera”. Using dedicated, structured sections, a GM can fill out a few lines with shorthand info that makes it good reference tool for quick information.

The UI is pretty daunting, however. While very flexible, it doesn’t allow for custom layouts. Information is presented in a list format, divided by headers and sub-headers. Sometimes labels are present, sometimes they aren’t. Everything is initially entered in a one-line textbox that expands as you need it, unless it’s numeric or special case data. Naturally, there’s integration with Hero Lab (which I don’t own) for NPCs, and you can also “embed” maps, external documents, and even audio and video (I think). The best part is that you can create or modify existing structures as needed. For example, I created a “template” for a D&D 5E monster/NPC which contains all of the info I need. I just fill in the form and save the record, and that creation is available for reference when I need it. The best part is that all I have to do is use the name of a record in the body text of a field, and RW will offer potential matches to other known records, automatically creating hyperlinks between the two.

All of the reference material constantly talks about how RW is a GM tool for creating and managing campaigns, and that a player edition is forthcoming. RW is not a virtual tabletop. However, it does allow a GM to reveal information to players on a record by record basis. For example, amidst everything listed about the King, the line above about him having an affair could be released to the players on it’s own. This way, the GM can push out just what the players learn as opposed to dumping everything at their feet (including maps and such). I have no use for this whatsoever. I can see how a party in agreement might pick up RW and the upcoming player versions ($9.99 per individual license is the current, proposed MSRP for the Player Edition), and how it would work well for folks not needing or wanting a vTable, but I have to circle back to the UI; it’s just not all that appealing. It’s functional, and I cannot think of any way to allow for the flexible management of data that RW is aiming to handle, but…yeesh. The gaming group would need to just spend a few sessions doing dry runs to ensure that everyone knew how to use the software properly. The benefit is that anything shared with the players goes into their personal dossier, so they can refer back to info they learned without actually having to meta-memorize it. That has a lot of merit.

From my perspective, though, as an organizational tool, it works great…when it works. It just completed a KS campaign, and the tool itself is widely available, although admittedly incomplete. There are a few things remaining on their to-do list (which can be found scattered around the forums). One thing that needs some work is their SimCity-esque design choice to authenticate and sync data to “The Cloud”. See, in order to get the data from GM to players, LWD requires that users A) create an account on their server, and B) connect to “the cloud” to create a new campaign (which they call a “realm”). Then, and only then, you can either sync the realm to “the cloud” once changes are made, or work offline and sync when you damn well please. When I bought the software, I couldn’t create an account. I tried several times over two days. I finally uninstalled it and re-installed it to the suggested directory on my PC (I normally put everything on a platter drive to keep my SSD as lean as possible), and I was able to register. That’s correlation and not causation, so do with it as you will. Then, however, I tried to create a new realm — create a new file — and I was denied because of a connection error when trying to sync the new file to their server. While I can see the appeal of having data like this in “the cloud” — it’s actually one of the things that sold me on this product, being able to sync between stations without Dropbox or something similar — LWD’s infrastructure is experiencing some issues that, due to design choices, makes the program a virtual paperweight when it experiences issues (in honesty, only when you sign in, or create a new realm, not if you want to work offline and un-synchronized, which works just fine).

I think that maybe RW is overkill for what I need, or maybe it’s because the unflattering UI makes it seem less worthwhile than Fantasy Grounds, Evernote or OneNote, or just good old Google Docs, but once you get over the learning curve and adapt to the clunky visual representation, Realm Works is a great organizational tool which should help speed up a gaming session for the GM.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen Session 1 #DnD5E #HotDQ #AdventureCo

We had our first night with the new Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition rules last night, web and overall things went well. You can expect a write-up over at West Karana in the near future, but I’d like to numerate the perspective from the DM side here.

Note: This post may contains spoilers for those who haven’t played the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module. I’m only doing recaps to the points we reach during our sessions, so if your party is ahead of ours, read on. If not, then proceed at your own risk.

The Intro

As I wrote earlier, I concocted a story on how the players met up. The HotDQ opened with the caravan cresting the rise outside of Greenest, only to find it on fire, under assault, and under aerial surveillance by a large blue dragon. The caravan opted to beat cheeks in the opposite direction, but the players — in true heroic fashion — opted to run towards danger.

The module is very keen on ensuring that the players understand that the town is pretty much intact, but chock full of kobold and human invaders. The result is supposed to be that the players should exercise caution when moving through the town, as the invaders are everywhere, and the chances of running into an enemy party are pretty high. If players opt to just walk in to town, there’s a higher chance of getting into a fight than there is if they opt to sneak into town.

These players went right down the middle: they didn’t walk down the street, but they didn’t bother to hide. Instead, they crept through the forest. Although using stealth would have made them less likely to be seen, I partly opted to acquiesce to the idea that at night, it’s difficult to see into a heavily wooded area. Even kobolds with darkvision would have problems, since the woods are on the periphery of the town, and the town is alight with burning buildings. The result were fewer chance encounter rolls that were required for the “strolling down Main Street” approach.

Costume Party

While in the forest, the party bard — in what can only be described as the weirdest episode of precognition ever — remembered that she had a “kobold costume” in her pack. Being an entertainer means never having to explain your weird inventory, so she donned the costume and flagged down some passing kobolds while the rest of the party hung back in the woods. This diversion allowed the party ranger to put an arrow through the face of one of the kobolds, and although still far off, the party managed to take out two other kobolds and a human mercenary without issue.

This was a totally ad-hoc encounter, and had a few issues (all my fault). First, the kobold costume should not have worked. Had the encounter been with a group of humans, it would have been excused. But kobolds A) have darkvision, so up-close they could probably have seen something was weird, and B) kobolds are dragon-dog-creature-things; they should have been able to catch the scent of this “kobold” and been on immediate defense. Second, the encounter was way too easy. 3/5 of the party never really made it into the fray: two kobolds were killed at range, the human was cleaved in two with a battleaxe, and the last kobold…he was charmed, and was subsequently gutted without a fight. The problem here was that A) I didn’t play “the situation” properly, because with so many invaders, the kobolds should have detected the ruse, gone defensive, and flagged down more kobolds to reinforce them, and B) the kobolds and their human mercenary flubbed all of their rolls, and went down like a balsa-wood houses in a wind storm. I’m going to chalk this one up to hindsight, but I’m putting myself on notice: think more about reactions of the NPCs, and less about coming to grips with the wacky solutions players are coming up with.

Smooth Get-Away

One of the pivotal encounters the players run into early is a family that’s fleeing a party of eight kobolds. There are three kids, a wounded father, and a mother with a spear. The module says that the mother will stand her ground in sight of the players, as the kobolds close in.

This didn’t go according to any decent plan. The module states that it’s entirely possible (actually, probable) that the kobolds will see the players and assume they’re mercenaries on their side, hence ignoring them. The players can totally bluff the kobolds that this is true, allowing them to close the distance and gain Surprise for their attack. What happened, however, was that the players got trigger-happy and wanted to immediately open fire on the kobold party without taking the opportunity to realize the situation as an opportunity to position themselves for a significantly quicker take-down. I made matters worse by having the kobolds attempt to interact with the players by telling them to get lost. The kobolds were covetous of their potential victory, and didn’t want these mercenaries to interfere. The players shot back with a story about how this woman killed one of their comrades, which gave them the right to the kill. And the kobolds bought that…for some reason.

The problem is that this went off totally without verification, and without ramification. No dice were rolled to see if the kobolds believed the players; it made total sense — in some off-the-cuff kobold sociology terms — that there’s some kind of hierarchy in who gets to engage, based on grudges or something. I don’t know if that’s in-line with kobold societal lore, but I guess it is now. In hindsight, the kobolds should have just waved to the players, and then encircled the woman and her family, blatantly ignoring the players in a show of “we think you’re on our side”, allowing players to gain Surprise when they attack.

The result is that the woman and her family now thought the players were actually in league with the kobolds. Since the players didn’t make any actual threatening moves, the family bolted across the field towards the keep. The players followed at a respectable distance, but the “hook” that should have logically allowed them all to travel into the keep under the protection of a known villager turned into an awkward situation where the family ran inside, and the players crept closer, waiting to see if they’d get attacked by the archers on the walls. Because they needed to get into the keep, the archers (silently) made the assessment that this party didn’t look anything like any of the other marauders, so “what could possibly go wrong” by letting them into the keep. Ugh.

What Went Wrong

A few things could have gone better.

  1. It was our initial session, so we spent a lot of time getting a feel for the game, it’s rules, and our decisions. We opted to go with a more “cinematic” combat style over the tactical style, which turned out to be pretty good and well received. But it also resulted in some stumbling as we had to do look-ups and verification for items, spells, and activities. Standard stuff, and we’ll all get better at it
  2. We had a lot of fun playing, but I think we had too much fun. There was a lot of joking and fooling around, and while the point of playing is to have fun, I think the level of comedy was too high to allow the game to move at a pace that would have allowed for more gameplay opportunity.
  3. I made several bad decisions. The kobold costume shouldn’t have worked, and the attack on the family should have presented the players with an opportunity to take out the kobolds quickly, earn the trust of the family, and get them into the keep without the uneasy fudge that was applied.

What Went Well

  1. The 5e rules are a lot more streamlined than the 4e rules. Having a move and an action makes things happen quicker, giving everyone an opportunity to get their turn in before they get to bored.
  2. The party composition seems pretty solid. There haven’t been any opportunities for individuals to really use their characters to their full potential yet, but hopefully once folks settle in a get comfortable with their characters, they’ll find creative ways to express their classes for the good of the party.
  3. I did a little bit of pre-loading — maps into Roll20, index cards for creatures so I didn’t have to flip to pages with stats, notes on certain rolls and situations — which helped a lot, but I realize I’ll need to step up the organization for the next session to help with those on-the-fly situations that I’m not really that good at.

The Shame Of Losing And The Cult Of Winning

Here in the West, cost specifically in the U.S., viagra 40mg we value winning over pretty much anything. In any contest — sports, academic, military, and even social situations — the trajectory of progress is linear: keep your eyes on the goal, full steam ahead, and don’t let anything get in your way.

That’s what competition is about, after all. Why play if you’re not out to win? Why would you pay money to see a movie if you just plan on falling asleep? Winning at something isn’t really at issue here. Winning, coming out ahead, achieving first place…all inherently noble goals that under perfect conditions push us to do our very best and, failing that, make us want to learn more, train harder, and try again.

Trying again isn’t always an option, though, and that’s the problem. Our culture is so winning-oriented that we have effectively removed all benefit from failure. It’s become a dirty word, and a mark of shame. “You failed”. “You are a failure”. It’s one of the worst sitgma a person has to live with in modern Western society.

On one hand, we lionize winning. Our culture is seeped in messages that winning is everything: “win big or go home”. “Second place is first loser”. All sporting equipment is sold with the promise that it’ll catapult you into the winner’s circle. Watch any championship broadcast and you’ll see orchestrated images of happy winners and dejected losers. Even in the niche realm of PC components aimed at video game enthusiasts, you’ll see ads from manufacturers extorting how their products will allow you to “dominate” and “destroy your competition”.

Failure, then, is no longer defined as the position earned when the other guy did better than you. It’s now viewed as not having measured up, or that you weren’t good enough. Losers are shamed in this environment; it’s not even good enough to win. The amount of accolades a winner receives is directly related to how brutally they bury their opponent. The goal isn’t just to compete, but to brutally massacre the competition to the point where they can’t even rise again to demand a rematch.

It’d be one thing is we were just talking about sports here. After all, we’re a species that figured that putting guys with swords in an arena qualified as a “sport”, so in the Big Picture, creative camera work that highlights the happy winners and weeping losers is pretty benign. Here in the West, when winning means everything, it manages to infiltrate all kinds of places where there shouldn’t be any competition, and where there normally is, it elevates that competition to the level of a bloodsport.

The biggest ramification that I see is that it drives people apart. Everything becomes about winning, and about being right. It means that we can’t have discussions on important topics because each of us has closely held beliefs that we need to defend at all costs. Any potential point of view that could alter our personal world view would prove not that we were not right isn’t seen as an opportunity to expand our world view, but that we lost an argument and that we were wrong.

Being wrong is just as bad as losing in modern society, and the only way we can “be wrong” is if someone else is “right”, and only if both parties (if not more) are aware of it. That results in a social showdown in which one person gets to do a victory dance while the other looks foolish. On the Internet, this is magnified exponentially, and it never ever goes away. Our loss becomes institutionalized in Google’s cached page system, on Facebook, or other social network. So people do everything they can to minimize their chances of looking foolish and being branded a loser by not engaging in discussion, or, if they are pulled into it (willfully or not), the fangs come out and it’s a take-no-prisoners brawl which won’t end until one participant stomps the other into the virtual dirt.

So what are we really losing by demonizing losing? In an ideal world, the outcome of a competition isn’t the extreme polar opposite of winners and losers. It’s most honest representation is a sprint: two runners on parallel tracks, neck and neck, until one pulls ahead of the other. The loser didn’t lose because he or she wasn’t good enough; they lost because the winner was just a bit better. And there’s nothing that says that winning erases poor performance early in the game. Sometimes winning is done in the last moments of the competition, in a “come from behind” style victory we always appreciate. The point is, a winner is only the person who pushed ahead at the last minute. Before that, there’s no guarantee that the guy who’s ahead will win, or the guy who’s behind will lose.

The main benefit of losing is that we get to learn from our mistakes. In sports, performance is a big deal, and athletes take it seriously. They review hours and hours of past performance for both themselves and their competition. They learn from what they did wrong, and what their opponents did wrong, and they try and do better. This is what we miss out on when losing is equated with shame, and when the purpose of winning is to destroy the opposition so that they can’t come back and try again.

Outside of sports, though, one thing that not allowing dignity in losing is honesty. People will go to great lengths to cover the shame of losing by redirecting blame, or doubling their efforts to find an equally or more devastating attack on their opponent that will turn the tides. We aren’t allowed to own up to our mistakes because it makes us look weak and imperfect. When trying to project a persona (especially online to impress, or in politics), we can’t have any flaws. We have an idea that people will only accept us as superhuman constructs that can do no wrong. On the other hand, we’re horrified when we find out that these personas are actually human after all, as if we didn’t consciously know that already.

Most of the arguing on the Internet comes from this unfortunate situation. Being right is valued so much that being wrong is treated like a crime simply so the “winner” can feel superior and appear intelligent in front of strangers in an attempt to gain a virtual pat on the back and acknowledgement that they’re someone with good ideas and above-average intellect. By punishing the loser in a public forum, the winner shows that he’s someone you don’t want to mess with when it comes to arguing on the Internet, because he’ll destroy you and make you look stupid. It’s the modern day equivalent of kicking sand in someone’s face at the beach.