The Hump

Sometimes I sit down in front of the PC with the intention of playing a game, clinic but then just…stare at the screen, ailment or scroll around on Twitter or Le Plus, viagra 60mg and in the end just realize I spent a bunch of time doing absolutely nothing. Other times I think “man, I paid for that PS4, I really should use it!” but don’t bother to move anywhere near it.

The weird thing is, once I actually make that effort to get started, I usually just keep going. Like this weekend, with nature swaffling the hell out of the North East again, I stayed inside. I thought that maybe I should get back to Dragon Age: Inquisition because it seems like people have either finished it, or are just starting it. I’m somewhere in between, and will be unless I get my ass in gear, sit down, and do it.

So I did. Several cumulative hours later, I’ve done more content than I think I had done previously. I killed a dragon (well, a wyvern to be exact, but it’s a cousin), lost Haven, gained Skyhold, shooed bandits, drained a lake, killed undead, sealed a butt-load of rifts (official measurement), figured out who “The Elder One” is, met the main character from Dragon Age: The Second One People Didn’t Like As Much As The First, and am now attending a ball in Orlais where I have to figure out who lives, who dies, and who gets to sit on the throne.

Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. I only quit because my couch is terrible to sit on, I threw my back out shoveling snow, and my ass was tired of sitting there. The ravages of old age. But I found that I was having a lot of fun, which really shouldn’t be a surprise since gaming is about fun. I’m thinking the search for more fun is dampening the fun we’ve already got, sometimes, and just getting back into that groove is what’s needed to be reminded of that.

Five Flew Over The Ambush Drake’s Nest

After having dusted off the spores that were launched from the dead violet fungi, order Adventure Co. struck deeper into the cavern complex in the bandit camp.

The next cavern was larger than the previous ones, and much darker as well. In a really convenient twist, the entire party enjoyed darkvision, which helped them to not stub their toes, but wasn’t really good enough to see details on the other side of the cave.

The druid opted to stealth his way though the darkness, and in doing so discovered bat. Lots of bats.Not only bats sleeping above, but piles of dead bats on the ground below.Not only dead bats, but dessicated bats. The team quietly joined him (except the monk, who picked the wrong time to pass gas) and examined the carcasses of the winged rodents. The bard, exhibiting her hitherto unknown naturalist side, noticed a single puncture wound in the furry corpses, and pronounced that this could only be the work of a stirge.

In a curious turn of events, the party stood right there in the cavern and debated what to do next. There was a drop off to the north east, and two exits to the south east and the north west. The party decided that the exit down a set of natural stairs (worked well the first time!) to the south east was the more appealing, probably because of the lone, pitted spear that was casually resting against the wall in that direction. Who doesn’t like tribal decor?

The dwarf went ahead first, and was surprised to find a heavy leather curtain stretching across the cave hallway at the bottom of the stairs. Unsure of how to proceed, she opted to carefully part the heavy strips of leather to see what was on the other side.

Good choice of sending the dwarf in! She immediately pulled her hands back as she felt small stings from touching the curtain. It was poisoned with tiny barbs! But as the party reminded everyone as if they had some kind of manual, dwarves have poison resistance. The rest of the party, significantly less poison resistant, handed the dwarf the spear to sweep the curtain aside.

The cavern beyond was a meat locker. Literally. It was naturally freezing, and someone had strung up animal carcasses between the stone pillars in the room. That was all. Sorry.

Back into the bat-cave, the party briefly looked down the embankment to the north east and decided that it looked like a trash dumping ground and no one wanted to play in garbage, so once more the dwarf was sent ahead, this time to the north west passage.

Sadly, the dwarf wasn’t paying attention and put both feet through a thinly concealed false floor, impaling her hairy feet on sharp spikes. But once again — poison resistance!. The rest of the party thanked the dwarf for taking another one for the team and jumped across the small chasm to the cavern beyond.

This cavern was slightly lit, with dancing flames casting moving shadows on the natural walls. A stairwell bordered by rough iron bars and a gate descended into a dark pit, but the players didn’t have time to investigate before they were noticed by four kobolds and their winged cousin.

The monk managed to bleed one kobold with a dart, and then proceeded to dazzle those assembled by catching the fucking rock that the kobold flung at him, throw it back, and kill that mofo dead. The druid wasn’t going to let himself be upstaged, though. With a monstrous shout, his Thunderwave obliterated four of the five enemies, knocking some of them into the pit.  In the ensuing silence, however, the party heard the sound of tearing flesh from the pit, and a brief investigation revealed three juvenile drakes fighting over the dead kobolds. Nasty.

Not wanting to be left without source material for a future epic, the bard took point and headed off towards an exit to the south west, but was surprised to find that the druid’s Thunderwave had apparently alerted a shitload (the official designation of a group) of kobolds from an adjoining cavern who were filing up the stairs and into the party’s cavern.

Combat ensued, as expected, where the highlights included the bard putting two kobolds to sleep, the dwarf cleaving two kobolds with one swing, and a dead body of one of the creatures triggering a stairwell trap as it tumbled backwards down the stairs.

The cavern at the bottom of the stairs was wretched, more wretched than a frat house, but not by much. The kobold warren only yielded an unusual treasure of 88 stacks of eight copper pieces. One of the kobolds had OCD, apparently. There were also four interesting carvings of dragon totems which the party seemed to pay not mind to, because apparently they’re more the Saturday morning cartoon crowd, and less the Antiques Roadshow crowd.

*   *   *

The party did really well this week. I can’t really go into too much “behind the scenes” recap on account of the fact that the party is still in the caverns and might double back  to some areas for additional hilarity.

We learned a lot this week, like how dwarves are resistant to poison, how badass the monk class can be, and that triggering a Thunderwave in a cavern is better then knocking to announce your presence. But despite the traps and the 15 or so kobolds that they engaged, the party came away mostly unscathed (the bard got pretty banged up).

I was happy to see the use of the skills this time around. The Stealth skills were wildly successful, Perception was working well for the party, and the dwarf’s failed saving throw versus poison was happily negated.

For a fine performance, each member gained an Inspiration…also because I figure that next week, they’re going to need it.

Holding Your Own Head Underwater

Most of the time the general level of outrage on the Internet starts at ear-bleeding levels, patient and just soars upwards from there. I try and keep my neck out of any nooses offered during those periods because like most everything else, unhealthy getting wound up over initial information, ailment rumors, and conjecture doesn’t always result in having been worth the popped veins incurred in the process.

Not this time.

Many gamers know that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), arm of Sony responsible for EverquestLandmarkH1Z1, and other stuff got sold off to an investment management firm, and became Daybreak Studios. Initially folks got their collective underthings in a bunch and started crying “doom” in all caps. I chalked this up to the Internet being the Internet; we as a community have no knowledge of what the plans are, and not all acquisitions result in dumbass, bone-headed, fuckwit moves.

Not this time.

So we just learned that Linda “Brasse” Carlson and Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson were laid off from Daybreak. OK, so under other circumstances folks might say “yeah, that happens when a company is acquired”. I’ve been through acquisitions myself, and I’ve seen them from the inside. Generally the layoffs happen in a pyramid structure, where those on the bottom of the totem poll bear the brunt. Those are the people that could be replaced or even rehired once the company regained it’s footing. As the structure winnows upward, there are some casualties (one company I worked for fired most of the telecom techs, and the next day the CEO’s phone couldn’t be fixed), but the buck certainly stops before hitting the corner office.

The dismissal of Brasse and Smokejumper is kind of a different story. They are very public, very visible, very loved and appreciated by the gaming community. They were faces that people recognized in person, and who roped people into the SOE orbit through sheer force of enthusiasm and dedication. Dismissing them is akin to taking the most popular folks in town up to a platform and shooting them in the head in front of a crowd.

Business is often like a black box to consumers, by necessity or choice. Someone in this investment management firm didn’t see the value in keeping Brasse or Smokejumper around, and because of that, I feel confident in saying that this company doesn’t have a fucking clue about what they’re doing with SOE. They don’t know what they have, and in a greater sense, they don’t know who they’re dealing with: you, me, and all the people who really appreciate people like Linda and Dave because they treated us (the customers) like friends and co-conspirators, and not like towels soaked in cash that were just waiting to be wrung out.

Daybreak still doesn’t have the confidence of the panty-bunchers mentioned above, and now I doubt they ever will. Whereas they should have worked to mitigate as much harm to their image as possible, they said “fuck that” and just introduced themselves by driving a bulldozer through the front door rather than politely ringing the doorbell. I don’t doubt that the investment company had to make cuts, and I’m not suggesting that they should have sacrificed others (who need their jobs) to keep Linda and Dave, but I can’t believe that there was any grand strategy in letting them go. I can’t believe they considered what message they were sending to those they hoped would be loyal consumers going forward.

Into the Cavern

Back in the days of Levelcapped, about it I’d provide a recap of our Thursday night Dungeons & Dragons 5E game. It was one of the few regular post series I enjoyed, cure so I’m picking up here where we left off*.

Trust me, that’s the most benign title I could have given this post

The party had returned to Greenest and had rested and gained a level, making their asses badder than before. In addition, they lost a cleric to AA, but gained a druid in the process.

In what can only be described as deus ex machina, the wayward half-elf monk Leosin stumbled into Greenest about a day or so after the players had returned themselves. Worse for wear, he proclaimed that he had learned what he could from the dragon cult, with one exception: he didn’t learn what was going on in that cave.

Being heavily armed, Leosin offered to pay the players more gold to go and investigate. The party was apprehensive: they had just escaped from there, and weren’t eager to return. However, this time they had the lay of the land and decided that they’d get all stealthy, checking out the camp from the canyon ridge before heading in.

Silence. Darkness. The smell of something foul smoldering. The camp was abandoned. The druid proved his worth by changing himself into a snake and slithering through the camp, verifying that yes, everyone had packed up and left. Just to make sure, the party hung out until dawn.

At daybreak, four hunters strolled casually into the camp, laden with a dead buck. While they were carving up their prize, the party took a chance and boldly strode into the canyon. The hunters couldn’t have cared any less, and even chatted briefly with the party. The raiders had moved out an hour after Leosin was discovered missing, except for a few holdouts who were staying in the cave. They were paying the hunters to provide them with food, but other than that, the hunters had no particular love for the raiders.

A discussion was had about potential methods for getting into the cave, but in the end, the old SWAT method was used: flank the entrance, kick down the door. Round two for the druid who cast Moonfire (?) on one of two dragonclaw cultists loitering in the cave, setting him ablaze, while his companion panicked in the face of this sudden immolation. Unfortunately, the ranger wasn’t able to hit either one with an arrow, leaving the task up to the monk and the warrior. When all was said and done, the party seemed to have escaped detection.

A quick search of the cavern entrance revealed nothing of note, so the party headed towards a set of stairs carved into the rock that lead down into a field of luminescent fungi. As fate would have it, no one thought to check for traps, and the ranger tripped the mechanism that collapsed the stairs and sent him sliding face first into a copse of violet fungi, semi-sentient and deadly mushrooms that managed to deal necrotic damage to the prone wood elf. The bard lit one of the fungi on fire, and subsequent attacks by other party members resulted in a cavern full of spores, but no further damage.

*   *   *

We didn’t spend a lot of time with the “getting to know you” phase that might have been expected in taking on a new party member. We didn’t convene last week, so folks were itching to get moving.

The cave was one part of the camp that the party hadn’t actually gotten to last time, and when I was preparing for the session, the further I read the more I cringed. This was the first “dungeon” in the module, and it’s really “old school”, complete with all that “old school dungeon” implies.

I am hoping that the players will step up the game aspect. We’re playing pretty fast and loose with the system, bouncing between tactical and non-tactical gameplay mostly by accident, but the use of the out-of-combat game mechanics has been pretty sparse. Skills and checks aren’t being used without prompting, and prompting is being done at the insistence of the module itself. Ideally, the players will be on point, using PERCEPTION and STEALTH and other relevant skills at appropriate times.

I’ve been reading up on the Fate game system, and one of the core concepts is that players can do whatever they want — if they can explain a plausible in-game justification for it. I really like that idea, because it fosters player ingenuity and makes a more collaborative game. I’m hoping that this cave experience can help kick-start the “tabletop mentality” after years of “MMO mentality” that I think we’re all still holding on to.

* I’ll be importing the other posts as soon as I have time.

Call of Cthulhu

I’ve had Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop for years but only got to use it last year when I conned a bunch of people into letting me run them through a Dungeons & Dragons episode. Since that time we’ve moved on to Roll20.net, more about but I still have a fondness for FG because of it’s all-in-one design and top-down customization options.

Yesterday, tadalafil I learned that the Call of Cthulhu ruleset was on sale. A ruleset for FG consists of the game system, visit this along with all of it’s associated data tables, character sheets, and errata. It’s like buying the source book, but in electronic reference format that allows searching, and it means you don’t need to spend time building or inputting creature stats. This package also came with four full adventure modules and some pre-made investigators for playing with people who don’t want to waste time rolling their own.

I really love Call of Cthulhu. I had played frequently when I was younger, and this rule set was always on my wishlist for rules to buy for FG. I have since lost my original source book (all of my original source books, sadly), so when this was on sale I figured it would be a no-brainer to have, even if I never got around to playing it.

Last Blog Standing

So I wasn’t entirely honest when I said I was getting out of the blogging biz.

Cedarstreet has been my central domain for quite a while now. I branched out to Levelcapped.com because the name fit better when talking about games than “Cedarstreet” did. I eventually spent more time over there than I did here, visit this site as I was keeping this as my general purpose dumping ground.

The problem being that I wasn’t really talking about much general purpose stuff. Most things I wrote about were gaming related, with the occasional odd post over here. I tried re-purposing this space for public sounding-board on writing topics, but I don’t want it to entirely spiral down that drain.

But I’ve kind of lost interest in video game blogging. Most of my recent stuff has been about recaps, the things I’ve been playing and what happened. I’m not super interested in reading that kind of thing, so I wasn’t super interested in writing that kind of thing. I’m tired of the weekly controversy that we seem to become embroiled in on cue, so I didn’t want to write about that kind of thing.

I want to write about interesting stuff. Stuff that other people want to read. And I wasn’t feeling that I had tons left to say on the subject of gaming, or at least not enough or frequently enough to warrant having a blog dedicated to that and only that.

So Cedarstreet is the last blog standing. I’ve deleted Levelcapped.com and Flying Blind. All the files and databases are gone.

I’ll be using this space for pretty much everything going forward, then. That means video games, tabletop games, media, non-gaming subjects, and all kinds of other things. I’m still going to try very hard to maintain a positive bent, so no politics or religion or stuff like that.

However, I’m not sure I’ll be advertising this on the social networks. I might just keep this on the down-low, manually throwing out posts as I see fit. I’m not looking for a following. I’m just keeping this space as a place to write.

Escape From Camp Crazytown

When we last left our heroes, this site they had been captured by the vile Dragon Cult and were chained alongside other prisoners such as Leosin the half-elf, Unnamed Character Who Will Factor In Later, Doug, Trisha, Larry and Biff the Unfortunately Slow Gnome.

The cleric had been able to free himself from his shackles and was left wondering how he, a cleric with no personal security skills what-so-ever, could hope to free his comrades. Also, should he just make a run for it. Much to his companion’s relief, he managed to assist the monk to freedom, and those two friends helped two more friends, and those friends helped more friends, and soon the Important People In This Story had been freed.

This was not without incident, however. The first attempt at freedom was to Charm Person one of the two guards that were holding occasional and distracted vigil nearby. The bard “faked” a panic about how the bloodthirsty elves were out to get her, and that she needed to be taken somewhere safe. Three times the cleric attempted his Charm Person, but he had a piece of parsley stuck in his teeth, which rendered him anything but charming. The guard merely went away with a headache and a rational hatred for gnome bards.

Once the monk was freed, however, his well-maintained dental work was able to Charm Person a guard who identified where their gear was being held. The party was able to convince their new friend that he and his other guard friend should go get their gear for them. Problem: the tent that held their stuff was guarded by Olaf The Humorless, supposedly a mountain of a man who hadn’t laughed since the year 823 (he’s also very good at ice dancing, but Olaf the Ice Dancer was already registered, oddly enough). Ned, the charmed guard, convinced Kors, the charmless guard, to distract Olaf while he rummaged through the tent. Kors apparently had a beef to settle with Olaf, and agreed without actually wondering or possibly caring about why Ned wanted the prisoner’s gear after having talked with the prisoners for a good fifteen minutes. That’s why he’s know as Kors The Isn’t Really All That Bright.

While Olaf and Kors engaged in noisy fisticuffs, the party packed up to leave, taking Unnamed Character Who Will Factor In Later, but leaving Leosin who refused to budge. He claimed that he had more to learn from the dragon cult, and asked the party to take a message to his paladin friend should he not meet up with them later in Greenest. Rather than waste time arguing (against the judgement of the bard), the party slapped Leosin on the back, bid him good luck, and made that “he’s crazy” gesture with the whirling finger at the temple when he wasn’t looking. They stealthed out, leaving Doug, Trisha, Larry and Biff the Unfortunately Slow Gnome utterly confused that their chain-mates had suddenly vanished into thin air.

On their way back to Greenest, the players stopped off in the canyon to check on the poor raider they had tied up and promised they’d return for. However, they found not trace of the guy. Good deed done for the year, the party felt liberated and ready to wreak havoc with a clean conscious from here on in.

The Governor and Escobert were eager to hear what the party had to say about the raider camp, and the young monk who asked them to find Leosin was sad that his friend hadn’t returned, but figured that he might have pulled some crap like that.

It was at this point that the party settled down for a Long Rest(tm), and enjoyed the benefit of reaching the end of the chapter which was a milestone granting them all another level.

*   *   *

Having looked ahead in the module, I had determined that this session would be short for a few reasons. The first was that it was the end of the chapter. The second was that because we’re using the “milestone method” for advancement (not tracking individual XP, but leveling at “checkpoints” in the story), the players needed time to examine their leveling options and discuss what would be best for them and for the party.

More importantly, however, is a lineup change. Our cleric-driver has bowed out of the game, leaving a gap in the five-person party. We were lucky to pick up @Sh4x0rZ as the party’s fifth person, Unnamed Character Who Will Factor In Later. He didn’t have a character ready, and needed to be brought up to speed on what’s transpired so far. A full party presence will be needed for the next chapter.

This was a kind of “crisis-lite” because as a DM, I’m not interested in killing the party, or in letting them get themselves killed unless it makes sense. I’m not a fan “dumb bad luck”, where an army just happened to be wandering by where the party is hiding, or necessarily that the players will become overwhelmed simply because they’re outnumbered on paper. That’s not to say that I’m interested in letting the party coast along in the interest of keeping the story going; there have already been several close calls, but they’ve been rational situations where the odds hadn’t come up in the party’s favor.

Next session, though, will be a test. Without giving away spoilers to those who don’t know the module, the players will return to the roots of D&D. This is going to require a more structured adherence to the character sheet than everyone’s been dealing with now. The players will need to be conscious of using their skills and abilities to navigate the chapter, or else they’ll end up suffering for it. The module is very specific in this regard, with DC checks in almost every other paragraph. It’ll be a bit jarring, as up to this point we’ve played this less as a “game” and more as a loosely bound RP experiment, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter to see if the players have really hit their stride and become comfortable with the 5E rules and the use thereof.

Into The Dragon’s Den #AdventureCo #DND5E

Not the literal dragon’s den; we haven’t gotten quite that far, ailment although you know in a module entitled “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” that there’ll be a showdown with dragons at some point.

We’d been on hiatus from our campaign for quite some time due to the holiday schedule and erratic results of adulthood, buy more about so it was quite a chore to remember where the party had left off last time. They had picked themselves up after what bards are already calling the “Siege of Greenest” and didn’t skip a beat when Governor Nighthill and his sidekick Escobert the Red asked them to track the departing raiders and find out what their ultimate plans were about. As a side-quest, more about a frantic monk asked them to keep an eye out for his teacher who went missing during the siege. Supposedly this guy was obsessed with studying the dragon cult, and may have gotten swept up in his zeal as his body had not been found within the town the morning after.

The raiders weren’t difficult to track, as scores of mercenaries and kobolds carrying sacks full of loot are bound to make an impression on the landscape they travel through. This brought the party to a rocky ravine where they encountered some laggards who thought it was a good idea to take their breakfast in the seclusion of some boulders. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t even get to taste the bacon before the party dispatched all but two: one died of his wounds very shortly, but the other lived long enough to spill  his guts (!) about the rear guard the raiders had left further along the ravine.

Despite knowing this, the party wasn’t able to use the knowledge to their advantage. From their perch above the ravine floor, the rear guard was able to get the jump on the players, harassing them from both sides of the canyon. Careful use of the blocking power of boulders allowed the players to drive the cultists and mercenaries into advantageous positions, and soon they had whittled the enemy down to a lone mercenary. Seeing as how mercenaries are a self-absorbed lot, this one traded his (relative) safety for some information on the raiders camp, and how the players could gain access, although it wasn’t at all glamorous. He suggested they could just…walk in.

Last night, walk in they did. Amidst the confusion of returning raiders from other avenues, the players were able to simply merge with the throng of cultist, mercenaries, and kobolds and found no one was any wiser as to their presence. The mercenaries were enjoying their adrenaline high with some drinking, gambling, and brawling, while the cultists limited themselves to their enclaves and gave thanks to Tiamat for being allowed to do her work.

Recon was in order. The players integrated themselves into several crowds, listening in on several conversations and being careful not to ask questions that might out them as new additions to the camp. In a rather brazen moment of debauchery, the bard of the party set up her hurdy-gurdy case close to the largest — and most heavily guarded — tent in the camp and played her own account of the Siege of Greenest, earning 17 silver for her performance.

The tent was an enigma: surrounded by four guards and four guard drakes, it exuded an aura of fear and command. There was something — or someone — important in there. Adding to the mystery was a cave beyond the tent where raiders could be seen dragging heavy sacks that the party assumed contained the spoils from Greenest.

One of their tasks was to locate the missing monk. Using subterfuge, they found nine prisoners chained to posts along the south wall of the canyon, but were warned to steer clear of the elf. Mondath’s orders were that he not receive any food or water. The ranger of the party managed to slither his way through nearby shrubs to get close to said elf, and managed to identify him as the monk they had been asked to find.

As the sun began to set, the camp began to wind down. Guard patrols formed once the influx of raiders slowed considerably. Cultists and mercenaries settled down beside their campfire and talked in low tones. The players set up a tent of their own, blending in and giving themselves shelter where they could discuss their next move.

As luck would have it, however, their tent was invaded by a patrolman who claimed to have received a tip from another raider that the party’s own monk had been recognized as having been in Greenest — on the opposing side. Quickly, the bard Charmed the guard, and though him learned that Rezmir, Mondath, and the half-dragon Cyanwrath occupied the large tent, and that the prisoners were sent into the cave to do some kind of work that he wasn’t privy to. The information extracted, the ranger delivered a swift blow to the back of the man’s head, which turned out to be a liability as his compatriot entered the tent in search of his wayward friend. When opportunity presented itself, this second guard was knocked unconscious.

With two raiders lying unconscious in the tent, the players were on the clock. They quickly moved to secure these two bodies when — wouldn’t you know it? — a third guard poked his head into the tent to see what was keeping the other two.

Seeing the party in the process of binding the guards, the third mercenary raised the alarm. Dozens of cultists, mercenaries, and, yes, even kobolds, emerged from their tents, torches held high, and ringed the player’s tent. The party attempted to slip out through the back, but their back was literally against the wall, and the raiders were able to close in on them, disarm them, and bind them.

In the worst case of wish fulfillment ever, they were brought to the clearing outside of the camp’s largest tent. Two figured emerged: a short-haired woman dressed in purple, and the half-dragon Cyanwrath. The woman was identified as Frulam Mondath, the one the mercenary from the rear guard had identified as the camp’s leader. Cyanwrath needed no introduction; indeed, he immediately recognized the party’s dwarf who had faced off against him in Greenest. He and the dwarf continued to stare one another down as Mondath interrogated the party about their identity and the reason for their presence, but none of them provided information that satisfied the cult leader. She ordered them to be chained with the other prisoners until morning.

Circumstances notwithstanding, the players now found themselves alongside the elven monk they were looking for. Try as they might, none of the party members could escape their chains — except for the cleric, who never told the rest of the party he was double jointed. Slipping from his manacles, he…

*   *   *

I knew this was going to be a difficult chapter, but it didn’t turn out bad at all. In fact, I think it’s been my favorite.

The raider camp is a kind of free-form scene. There’s some points of interest, like the division between kobold, mercenary, and cultist enclaves, the large command tent, and the mysterious cave, and of course the prisoners, but aside from that there’s no real gameplay guidance in the actual module for what’s going on here.

I think one of the reasons this session worked better than I’d anticipated was because the group is rather laid back, and without swords at anyone’s throat, and without a ticking clock, and without me feeling like checkboxes needed to be checked, the players were really in the driver’s seat. I had a whole table of conversation snippets that I used for overheard conversations, and the Charmed guard turned out to be the party’s new best friend. The bard’s impromptu performance wasn’t even out of the ordinary; with the camp operating in party mode, it made sense that no one would think it out of the ordinary.

The two problems were that the monk was recognized via an early roll when the player’s entered the camp. The module asked for all players to roll CHA to “blend in”, and unfortunately the monk failed, but it was a delayed roll, not to be used until the “worst possible time” according to the module. The second (IMO) was the overzealous beatdown that the players administered to the guards who appeared in response to the monk’s failed CHA roll. The first guard had been charmed and knocked unconscious, and the second guard was 75% of the way towards believing that his friend had just drank too much to complete his rounds. Had the players let the second guard take the first away, I was prepared to let the blow to the head give him amnesia about the whole Charm Person thing so he wouldn’t have remembered having been Charmed. Sorry guys!

But overall I think the pacing and flow went really well. It was a combat-less session, which I expected to be harder to run because most of it would have been “on the fly”, but a lot of the results were due to letting the players drive the scene and responding, and pre-loading some bystander stuff into Realm Works “for flavor”. My goal was to let the players mingle for as long as they wanted, assuming they weren’t making it obvious that they didn’t belong.

The hard part, though, is for the only free player — the cleric — to figure out how to get the other players out of prison.

The One Thing I Want For 2015

I don’t do resolutions, information pills because I try to go with the whole Zen approach to things, one day at a time. I have a retirement account, sure, but setting goals that can be thought up in a few hours means that they can be dropped and forgotten in half the time when they become inconvenient or when The Universe simply doesn’t want to make your life as easy as you’d hoped. I know that kind of sounds like a ready-made excuse for not having to try, but in the recent deluge of posts about New Years Resolutions, the one thread of advice that’s being repeated hasn’t been “go out and do it big”, but rather “make a habit of the little things”. When I think about the things that I regularly do (like blogging Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and think back on how I came to do them, this is the way they came to be: small tasks done with regularity until they became common practice in my life.

See, what I want out of 2015 is really the same thing I think everyone reading this wants: a better community. 2014 was probably the absolute low point in games and geekery for reasons we can all remember, and the only way 2015 can get any worse is if we continue to do things the way we did last year. There’s no “steady as she goes” about it: unless we all agree to make it a better year, things are going to continue to spiral deeper and deeper into Hell, and we’ll all be to blame.

That’s not a call to arms. This community is nothing if not over-dramatic. We’ve got a lot of templates to work from, not the least of which is “the hero’s journey” that makes up 98% of everything we consume around here. We’re a community of people who, until pretty recently, were outsiders who got a lot of shit for what we liked, how we looked, and what we did. Now that we’re a Big Deal around the world, we’ve gained a swagger: many folks around here believe that we’ve done time in the trenches, and now it’s time for reparations that are due us. It’s still a Wild West of sorts, with vacancies to be filled for the traditional roles of spokespeople, taste-makers, and influencers, and thanks to the egalitarian nature of our hobby and the Internet, every Tweet is an application, and every blog post is a campaign speech. See? Overly dramatic.

What we don’t need are people telling us all to “stop talking and start acting”. That just sounds to me like people are preaching a full-fledged riot as the only way to solve our ills. Instead, what we need are individuals who want to make this community a better place, because the only way that can happen is if we take care of our own, individual houses before we start trying to clean everyone else’s. Look at your own attitude in 2014 by thumbing back through your Tweets, Facebook posts and Likes, blog posts, and behavior in-game. Are you happy with how you appear to your fellow geeks? I suspect that most people will say yes, because why not, right? You’ve got nothing to prove to this wall of text, and your opinions are your own and form the foundation of your identity. Maybe there’s a few here and there that look cringe-worthy in hindsight, but by and large you spoke your mind and you stand by your public face in 2014.

Think on this, then: in 2014, how did you make the community better? I mean really better. I don’t mean how you think you made it better, with your rants in the name of truth, or all those times you called people out for their mistakes and shortcomings, or the pride you took in flinging sarcasm around as a weapon in an Internet battle. Those things don’t help build a better community. Those kinds of activities only allowed you to feel a bit more superior, and maybe to become a bit more noticed by the people we want to be noticed by: other community members.

See that link right there? We behave the way we do because we’re looking for appreciation from the people whose opinions matter to us. We want to be thought well of by a particular segment of the population, so we Tweet what we think will get re-Tweeted, or blog angry because we know people like reading and leaving their own angry comments, and we call that “interaction” and “community” based solely on traffic we generate in response to what we put out there.

Are you helping to build and repair the community through your actions and attitudes? Or are you subverting the community through negativity and snark in a bid to improve your own self-satisfaction?

What really gets me, then, is that games and geekery are ways of life devoted to enjoying things like video games, board games, cosplay, anime, science fiction and fantasy, books, comics, action figures, and stuff like that. No one joined this community because they have a burning hatred of what we’re about, so why, for the love of gawd, do so many people spend so many electrons being negative about it? And before you answer that — in the comments, or just in your own head — ask yourself this: who does your answer really serve? Are you going to say that negativity is a reflection of how fed up we are about the controversy du jour? Are you going to claim that you’re just “being honest” and insinuate that your rant is a universal truth? If you believe that you’re doing the community a favor by being negative or cranky all the time, then you’re not doing the community a favor; I submit that you’re profiteering off of the attention that negativity brings, or else you’re aligning yourself with a specific bandwagon for the anonymity being one among many provides.

No community or industry is perfect. There’s always a lot of work to be done to make things the best they can be, there’s always room for improvement, and often times that does mean identifying what’s wrong and bringing it to the attention of those who can fix it. We can and should identify the things that are broken, and work towards policies and practices that make this community better for everyone, be they consumer or be they the producer. But we have to do it in a such a way that we don’t feel that the only route from problem to solution is to mow down our fellow community members, or put our own desire for “Internet fame” ahead of the reason we claim is behind the “why” of our actions. In no line of business is progress made by being angry, foul-mouthed, sarcastic, and confrontational unless you’re easily fobbed off with any excuse given just to make you go away. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

And yes, I am aware that there are times when we get frustrated and angry at something we can’t redirect or repair, and we often take to social media to vent to those who we know and trust, and who we believe can help us regain our composure. So in the offline world, so in the online world, but even constant venting has repercussions: on morale, on perception of you and of your subject, and since words written in the haste of irritation often miss the nuance necessary to let people know that you’re venting for the purpose of taking a time out, it’s easy to be seen as the blogger or followee who only has negative things to say about everything. Just as we can feed on the happiness and excitement exuded by people in the community, we can become infected with an ever-present buzz of negativity, no matter it’s reason.

I’ll just say it again in closing: I want 2015 to be the year we actually start working on making this a better community by focusing less on being angry, less on taking action for our own self-satisfied reasons, and more on finding enjoyment in our hobby and subsequently talking about the things we like. Every post and Tweet is our opportunity to evangelize the reasons why we love what we do and to help make the community better. Let’s spend our energy working to repair the damage we’ve done to one another in 2104, and build on that to make things stronger among people who all love the elements of gaming and geekery. I don’t think it’s a tall order, nor do I think it’s particularly difficult thing to accomplish. We as individuals just need to take it one post, one Tweet, one comment, one interaction at a time by asking if the next thing out of our keyboards or out of our mouths is going to help build this community or not. I truly believe we can make it happen.

 

Update: Thanks to Brian Green for bringing this Slate article to my attention, entitled “The year of outrage 2014: Everything you were angry about on social media this year”. This is exactly the type of article I like because it’s not so narrowly focused on one or just a handful of elements. Rather, it’s a retrospective that takes the whole year in review, analyzes it, and extrapolates the overarching trend.

While this is a games and geekery blog and the focus is on the games and geekery community, the Slate article shows us that this element of cyclical anger and sarcasm is by no means limited to this community. It seems to have become a way of being in this dependence on social media as the growing “correct way” to interact with one another. I would suggest we get back to the “old ways” of thinking about our interactions by simply not saying anything that would get us punched in the face, but I know that there’s a generation behind us that’ll never know life without the anonymous interactions that social media provides, and will never have to meter their responses to situations out of fear of getting their ass kicked in person.

But to that end, we are in control of ourselves, threats of reprisals or not, and can and should think of our “public faces” when we’re addressing the world. Our voices reflect the types of people we want others to know us as, and the sum of our voices within this community is the face we present to one another, and to the rest of the world.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the book/movie “Contact”, which I think sums it up perfectly for anyone who thinks that we can never get past the rising tide of outrage, anger, and snark:

David Drumlin: I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

Ellie Arroway: Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.

A Tough Decision #DragonAgeInquisition

Saturday evening I got to spend some time with Dragon Age: Inquisition for more than just an hour. I’ve moved the PS4 back to the computer room TV so I have all the time I want with the system, order except that the TV is mounted a bit too high for my comfort, symptoms and my neck and shoulders end up hurting if I play too long. That’s not the point of the post, buy I promise. It is spoileriffic, although only from a point “early” in the game.

When last I left, I was ready to head out to Orlais and start the Val Royeaux junk, but I made a detour in the Hinterlands (again) to finish some business there. I busted up the red lyrium smuggling ring to the south and ran into (SPOILERS!) darkspawn down in the caves where the syndicate was harvesting the stuff. The Alpha Hurlock is a pretty tough customer, but I plowed through them and somewhere along the line I took out the smuggler that I was supposed to and finished the mission.

The initial foray to Val Royeaux cracked me up* when the Templar’s arrived, and as I was laughing out loud my wife asked if everything was OK. I didn’t stick around in Orlais, though, because I had a tough decision to make.

As those who have gotten past this part — basically, everyone I assume — knows, we have to make a choice between checking in with the Templars, or the Mages in Redcliffe. The Templars seem uncharacteristically hostile and lame at the same time: they don’t want to work with the Inquisition, nor do they seem to want to do anything about the rift. Cassandra thinks that’s kind of weird, as she claims to have some previous dealings with the High Seeker, and his behavior seemed off. Of course, on the way out of Val Royeaux, we get stopped by the leader of the Mage rebellion who claims that she’ll listen to the Inquisition, if we want to visit her in Redcliffe. The group consensus is that the Mages aren’t organized well enough, and that could lead to “herding cats” or an unreliable alliance.

I went with the Templars mainly because I agreed with the assessment on the Mages. The Templars are organized, although erratic for some reason that bears investigation. The Mages — at least the rebel factions — might be together for convenience of fighting their former hunters and caretakers, the Templars, but not much else at this point in time.

I thought the Templar branch was kind of interesting. You have to “collect” some Orlesian nobles who act as your political battering ram to earn you an audience with the High Seeker. Unfortunately, as soon as you meet the High Seeker, he pulls you in the Fade, which was creepy as hell. The minutiae was pretty convoluted, but the idea was that an “envy demon” who had originally taken over the High Seeker opted to try and take you over instead. The trip to the Fade showed you vignettes of what the envy demon planned should it be able to masquerade as you and wield the power of the Inquisition. Not pretty. You’re helped by a spirit named Cole who just…shows up…and gives you the mental fortitude to escape from what is essentially your own mind.

Once back to your normal self, however, you find that the envy demon AKA High Seeker was feeding the high ranking Templars red lyrium in an effort to break down their defenses and allow them to become twisted puppets. With the help of a senior Templar who still had his wits about him, you gathered some of the remaining high ranking lieutenants and some red lyrium, held off a demon incursion, and eventually had to fight the envy demon in it’s true form in the real world.

Heavy stuff.

Between starting out and completing the Templar collection quest, I found Blackwall, the only remaining known grey warden around. No one knows where the rest of them went, so in the absence of any darkspawn, Blackwall joined my crusade. I stabled him. Cassandra is doing just fine at the moment. I also got the intro to talk to Iron Bull, but haven’t done so yet. I think that’ll be next on my agenda. I do really need to recruit some non-warriors though, especially rogues. Varric, despite being the most interesting companion, is limited by his love of his crossbow. Everyone else has geared up appropriately, but he’s lagging behind.

 

* Also, the plaques under the statues in the initial entrance to Val Royeaux made me laugh out loud as well.