2018 Retrospective

Image from DaPuglet on Flickr.com | Some rights reserved

In spite of heading into 2018 with a fair amount of optimism, it was a pretty rough year. So rough, in fact, that this is my 3rd attempt at writing this retrospective post. Somehow, I did less and feel worse coming out of 2018 than I did 2017–probably because 2017 ended with my completing NaNoWriMo for the first time ever and then securing a new job doing what I’ve wanted to do for years and getting a much needed and frankly life saving raise from it, while 2018 ended with no NaNoWriMo, the D&D game I was running quietly fizzling out, and one of my grandparents now fully in the throws of Alzheimer’s.

A quick recap of 2018:

  • My grandfather passed away in February due to cardiac issues right after I started my new job.
  • The son of one of my colleagues died in May on Mother’s Day weekend.
  • My wife’s grandfather was hospitalized and eventually passed away mid-year as well.
  • We hit yet another massive financial expense that would have been utterly destructive if we didn’t know some very good and amazing people.
  • My own mental health issues got so bad that at one point, I was convinced I had no friends left and spent probably the entirety of October and possibly November as well in the grip of a perpetual, slow rolling panic attack.
  • Work, although a godsend of unimaginable luck and opportunity, has also been very stressful.
  • My grandmother’s mental health since the passing of my grandfather deteriorated at an alarming rate with Alzheimer’s now tragically catching up with her, putting enormous extra stress on my mom and the family that lives close to her.
  • Our government started locking children in concentration camps, and then ultimately shut down entirely because our president and the Republican party would rather hold the country hostage to waste billions of dollars on a wall that would be ineffective in its stated purpose, instead simply serving as a monument to the ego, bigotry, and hatred of a petty, cruel man.

It wasn’t all bad–work has, for the most part, been enjoyable, and I’m thankful every day for both the position and the money that bailed us out of what was an unsustainable financial spiral. That said, some of the other financial things we’d hoped would come along…didn’t, so we we’ve been stuck in the small, cramped apartment, and with many of the same financial annoyances we thought would be in the past.

Additionally, I didn’t complete any of the writing goals I set for myself in 2018. I didn’t finish my novel. I didn’t write any short stories. I barely blogged–many of the posts that ended up here were actually done well well after the fact, such as the D&D campaign diaries, and simply backdated to reflect when they should have gone up.

By April or so, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to write anymore, that I’d lost the taste for it. The idea of sitting down and trying to come up with things to say filled me with anxiety, guilt, and exhaustion, and I told myself if that’s what I’d turned writing into, there was no point in continuing anymore. Writing was supposed to bring me joy. It’s not my career. I have no financial or professional obligations to it, so if I didn’t like it…why keep doing it? So, I didn’t.

That’s not to say that I shut myself down creatively. In April I started a podcast with my brother called Eerie Earfuls. I am a huge fan of analyses of pop culture, like Lindsay Ellis’s video essays and The Faculty of Horror podcast. Inspired by them, we tried to take an academic approach to analyzing movies, taking two movies with some shared theme, setting, character, or plot aspect, and comparing and contrasting them. It was a ton of fun, in part because I love movies, and in part because I love my brother. He’s incredibly smart and was game to participate in this weird, goofy project.

Unfortunately, editing podcasts is a lot of work. I used to do some audio work in college, so I knew my way around Audacity, even if it had been a few years, so I nailed a pretty professional sound after a couple episodes of trial and error. However, to get that level of quality, it took nearly all of my time. I wanted to remove all of the ums, the uhs, the breaths, the mouth smacks, and cut the silences down to improve the pacing. Plus, given that our initial conversations were frequently around 3 hours, trying to condense that down into 1 hour was a pretty monumental task.

I knew I was burning myself out, and I tried to trade off editing with my brother so I was only doing every other episode, but it took him even longer to edit than me, plus I still ended up re-editing parts of it to tighten things up further. By October, I couldn’t keep going. It sucks because I was and am extremely proud of our work, but ultimately, it was just too time consuming between watching two movies at least once, taking notes, doing research, recording for a few hours, and then the INTENSE editing.

In August, I also started DMing a D&D campaign with some friends from work–my first time to actually DM before. That may have been the most satisfying of my projects this past year. I was able to craft fun, dynamic stories WITH my friends. Each week, I had a rough outline of what I thought would happen, but being able to improv based on what my players decided to do, and seeing their faces as I built on their ideas and choices and worked them into the narrative was incredibly gratifying. I was probably at my happiest at this stretch.

Unfortunately, as I suppose all D&D games tend to do, after about 4 months, my work friends started rescheduling games with increasing frequency and it was pretty clear they were wanting out.

Where does that leave me now? I don’t really know. I’ve spent this past weekend doing some administrative stuff. Until I can go see a doctor and get some proper treatment for my mental health (my depression, my anxiety, and my possible ADHD), I’m trying to create ways to help me navigate online life a little better. How, you ask?

Well, first and probably the most obvious, I cleaned out my inbox. I went through and deleted years and years and years of junk. And then there’s this meme that’s been going around — the #10YearChallenge — where you post a picture of yourself in 2008 (or 2009, it’s varied), and a picture of yourself from 2018 or 2019. There’s humor and horror in seeing us all aging and changing, but it in conjunction with dredging up nearly decade old emails got me reflecting on things about my life.

I’ve been what I would call “an adult” for about 10 years now. I met my wife in 2009 and married her 1 year later. Unlike many of my peers who have been living the single life and dating, I moved out of my dorm after getting married and got an apartment and a job to pay for it. In that 10 years, I’ve graduated college, changed careers a handful of times, bought cars, gained a house and lost it, and moved far more times that I’d like. And consistently throughout it all, has been writing. And in reflecting on the creative side of my life, I’ve noticed a pattern of self-sabotage.

When I started this blog, back on Blogger, when I was basically copying Allie Brosh, I started getting a little attention from folks. Not any large amount, but there was starting to be an uptick in the people who read my stuff. Ultimately, I decided drawing was too much work, too much of a time constraint. Then, I started reviewing books, and people started contacting me to have their books reviewed. But I didn’t pursue that because I didn’t want to review the books, I wanted to write the books. I started reviewing movies. Then comics. I started a podcast. I abandoned all of it.

It’s not that abandoning projects that are too labor intensive or take away from what I really want to do is bad. It can show maturity and self-reflection. But only if I actually do the things that I say I want–writing, editing, submitting, and working toward, if not a career, then at least a side-gig in fiction writing.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that, although I’ve dipped my toe into online communities, I’m not very good at maintaining those communication lines. I used to wonder why other folks seemed to talk to each other so frequently, and why it seemed like people rarely talked to me. But the truth is, I rarely interact with people online. It’s easier than in person, but I find myself passively witnessing interactions, but can never think of anything to say, or worrying that I’ll be butting into someone else’s conversation.

So this year, for 2019, I’m trying a few things out.

1) Blog More

I’m going to try blogging more. This place is basically my diary, and I like being able to look back on how I was doing at any particular time. What I blog may vary–I may copy and past movie reviews over here from Letterboxd. I may write up campaign diaries (I’m starting a new D&D campaign soon–very excited!). But I think I’m going to try the weekly wrap up posts I used to do on Wednesdays again, although this time maybe on Fridays.

2) Write AND SUBMIT

I’m going to try to write AND SUBMIT a story a month. I’ve been working on one this month. I’ve been having some trouble with it. I feel rusty after having not written for so long. And I have a LOT of self doubt. Part of me wonders if this will be worth it–who really cares if I don’t ever get anything published? What do I have to add the already overwhelming chorus of voices out there? But I know I love writing, I just lack self confidence, and moreover, I don’t think I’ve ever truly and properly TRIED before. I’ve always gotten more wrapped up in the image of writing–reading the books, listening to the podcasts, posting about it on social media–rather than actually really trying to do the work. So I’m going to use this year and really try to give it my all.

3) Participate in the JOURNEY–ie, SOCIALIZE

One of the reasons that I think I haven’t been particularly successful in my writing goals in the past is that I’ve been trying to go it essentially alone. I’ve made some friends along the way, but I haven’t really tried to utilize groups or friends either for critique nor for cheerleading. I’ve only ever had one close writing friend, Brooke, but we have such different tastes that we’ve never really relied on each other. Brooke, however, has been active online. Not just posting, but actually active. She participates in groups, chats with folks, makes connections, and in turn has friends that cheer her on, folks she can lean on for support when she has doubts. I have kept that part of my life closed off from others for the most part, I think, ironically, because I’m afraid of the rejection.

So how to fix that?

The obvious answer is to put the SOCIAL in social media and actually participate and make friends. That means challenging myself to jump in and talk to folks, even if I feel anxious or stupid doing it.

Another way to deal with that is to try to manage my signal to noise ratio. I love Twitter for two reasons that, I think, are diametrically opposed. I love it for the easy way you can make connections and friends online. I also love that it gives you an easy window into many different insights on history, politics, sociology, and pop culture. One is a more intimate form of communication. One is essentially drinking from a firehose. And I’ve had a very, very hard time balancing that. But I have a plan.

I’ve created a new Twitter account with the specific purpose of being what I call “The Firehose.” It’s all of the Twitter accounts I’ve come across that share interesting perspectives and information. I can dip into that when I have the mental health and soak in information, news, hot takes, what have you. I’m keeping my original Twitter account separate, and only following people that I interact with. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “personal” Twitter, as I plan on it being my “storefront,” so to speak, on Twitter that I can point people back toward to follow, and I’ll still tweet from it. But hopefully I’ll spend more time on Twitter interacting and socializing and less time feeling exhausted.

4) Don’t beat myself up, but don’t let myself slide

This may be the most difficult thing for me. Namely, I want to stick to my goals and really do my best this year to try to pursue writing for publication. That means setting goals and sticking to them, not just on my overall monthly goals of submitting, but the actual day-to-day goals of writing, however that materializes.

I’m not sure how I want to pursue this exactly. Right now, I’m setting myself 30 minutes each day to try to write (and hopefully giving myself more, but that’s the minimum). In the past I’ve tried a word count, I’ve tried only writing on certain days, I’ve tried only writing on weekends. It seems like there’s always something that comes up that keeps me from doing it. Some of those things are acceptable–plans that get in the way, life events, etc. Some of those things are…squishier at the very least. For example, if I get stuck in a story, I will sometimes quit writing in an effort to give myself some distance and think through a problem. However, I frequently don’t go back to it for weeks at a time. Or I’ll feel too tired after work and don’t feel like I have the brain power. Or I sit down with the intention to write, but I get distracted by the siren song of social media.

Some of those things, like feeling too tired from work, happen when you have a day job, and there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that you need a break. But letting that break become days or weeks of not writing, usually accompanying a shame and guilt spiral where because I haven’t written, I get filled with anxiety and want to avoid writing because thinking about writing reminds me of how I haven’t written and haven’t been sticking to my goals. This isn’t exclusive to writing–this is just how I am about everything that has deadlines, particularly self-imposed ones.

I need to do two things: 1) commit to a writing schedule of some kind and holding myself accountable to that schedule, and 2) recognizing when life and/or my health will not let me meet that schedule and being okay with it. So that’s what I’m trying. That’s part of the idea of being more interactive in the writing community–so that I can have other people that can tell me the stuff I refuse to hear from myself.

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There are OTHER things that I want to accomplish as well. There’s dietary and health related stuff and work related stuff and other personal life things, but this is the thing that’s been on my mind this year, and the BIG thing I want to try to accomplish after years of pussyfooting around.

So, I hope to see you all more often in the future, and feel free to comment here, drop me an email, or hit me up on Twitter if you want to chat. May your 2019 be full of joy and prosperity.

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Campaign Diary (11/24/18)

Joshua Rappeneker from Flickr –  CC 2.0 Attribution & Sharealike

The “A-Team” has been seeking a wizard’s assistance to identify the magical nature of an onyx totem of Khurgorbaeyag, the goblin deity of oppression and slavery. Unable to afford the Identify fee, they have agreed to fetch spell components the magic shop was low on in exchange for the service.

They traveled 3 hours east to Sochet Lake where, after they were confronted by werecrocodile guards, they entered a small, ziggurat-style structure on an island in the center of the lake.

The party has faced many dangers as they’ve explored the temple-like structure, including a gelatinous cube, wild crocodiles, rooms that transformed into magical quicksand traps, and werecrocodile guards. After finding some useful magical items in an otherwise cluttered storage room, the party discovered a secret doorway that led further on, but were exhausted from multiple encounters and nervous about encountering the giant crocodile without being at their best. They decided to set up camp in the vestibule and rest.

The party settled down for the night, with each of them taking shifts. The first shift was uneventful, but during the second shift, the party was soon ambushed by eight werecrocodile guards. While Rose had charmed the guards earlier in the day to not attack them, that enchantment only lasted for one minute, and those guards fled for reinforcements. The battle was fierce, with both Shadyboi and Rose being knocked unconscious and needing assistance to get back on their feet. Eventually, though, the party was victorious.

Still exhausted, with only a short rest under their belts, they decided to try another attempt at a long rest. They decided the easiest place to take shelter was in the room where they’d previously fought the gelatinous cube. They’d already examined that room and determined there were no more dangers, so it should be fairly easy to fortify. They settled in for the night again, however, they were ambushed for a second time. The doors were kicked open and enchanted rocks were hurled into the room from which poured a sleep inducing smoke. The party fell unconscious, and when they came to, they were in a large ceremonial room, bound with ropes to stakes. Across from them was a large body of water. All around them were stands, like a sporting arena, filled to the brim with werecrocodiles in various stages of change, all chanting, “So-bek, So-bek, So-bek, So-bek.”

The party watched as the waters across from them began to stir.

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Not much of a recap, but I’m afraid there’s not much TO recap. When I created the combat encounter, I expected it–intended it–to be a TPK. Not to actually kill them, and I’d make that clear as they started going down. But since they were sloppy dealing with the guards–they just said, “go in the other room”…and then that was it! Haha!–I figured it was a good opportunity to give them a combat encounter, have them wake up in the room with the Giant Crocodile, and then have the big boss fight. This was also an attempt on my part to gauge just how strong they were before the big fight so I could see how to adjust the combat encounter.

Instead of a TPK, a couple of folks went down once, but it wasn’t that big of a deal otherwise. Maybe I should’ve played my troops a bit more ruthlessly, but I was impressed by how well they did and how strong they were. I wanted them to have the ability to POSSIBILITY to win the fight.

If they did win the fight, and they decided to press onward to avoid more guards coming (surely if the temple owners send a whole force of troops and none of them come back…they’ll realize something is up and send even more power troops, riiiiiiight??), then I would let them keep going. There were several rooms with encounters that I was going to drop the encounters, keep the puzzles, and let them learn some lore about the area that would be important later.

If they won the fight, but decided to take another rest…well…more troops would come to find where the other troops went, and these more powerful troops would capture the party and take them to do with that what they wished.

This might be slightly railroady, but if they were going to keep long resting and ignoring how much time that meant in game, and how much noise they’d already made as invaders into this area, then it only made sense that their actions have consequences–the enemy knows you’re here now and is coming to get you.

Plus, I REALLY want to end the year, if I can, on a cliffhanger revealing some backstory info for the characters. Justin and Danae seem a little distracted and like they’re maybe not super invested in the game anymore, and I think this reveal of Shadyboi’s backstory could maybe re-ignite some excitement and help them reinvest in the game.

So we plan to have one more session (the big fight with the Giant Crocodile and the big backstory stuff with Shadyboi), and then Stephanie wants to run a Christmas themed one-shot. I figure we’ll play that one week, maybe two if it bleeds into the next a little, and if we have any time left over in the last week before Christmas, we’ll just play some regular board games and maybe re-energize.

Stephanie is SUPER stoked about the game. She’s been working tirelessly on it. When she hasn’t been doing that, I’ve been working on the game I’m running with my mom. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

I’m so excited for Christmas this year! It’s going to be great!

Long Time No Blog

Boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on here, eh?

This blog functioned as a writing diary mostly, but I’ve all but stopped writing in the traditional sense. In February, I started a new job–one that I worked very hard to get and I’m incredibly grateful to have, but it has been eating up my time and brain power. I’ve had to hit the ground running and really dive in and learn and grow. It’s been going well, but it’s also not been easy. There have been a few late nights and stressful weeks, especially when the guy who was my trainer took a job at a different company and took a lot of tribal knowledge with him.

Work and the state of politics have kept me from being particularly interested in writing, so I’ve actually been doing more political work. I’ve attended several protests and participated in a door-knocking campaign to get out the vote for some local candidates. Those candidates, of course, were summarily trounced in the local election–most of the surrounding towns and counties voted something like 75-85% Republican–but even having progressive candidates running is a big change since most of these positions were uncontested for years.

On top of that, I got really into movies. So much so that around April, my brother and I started a horror podcast where we paired up movies that shared some sort of theme or subject matter, and we dissected them academically. It was a fun project, and I’m really proud of it. It’s unfortunately, on hiatus because I couldn’t keep up with editing an episode every two weeks, and even with my brother trying to help, it started becoming too straining on my time. We ended up missing several weeks repeatedly, and it was embarrassing. We were lucky to be hosted by Brennan Klein from Scream 101 and producer of Attack of the Queerwolf from Blumhouse, and he honestly would’ve been happy to keep hosting us, but I felt bad taking up his space for something that we weren’t really putting much into after a time, so I asked him to take them down, and if we decide to pick it back up again in 2019, we’ll just host the podcast ourselves.

Beyond that, I’ve also been getting really into Dungeons and Dragons. A couple of friends from college–including Brooke Johnson–started hosting a D&D game around March or April. It started as just my wife, her husband, and myself, with Brooke DMing. It was a ton of fun, and when she added a couple of other people they knew into the game, after a bit of an adjustment, we all sort of meshed. In the meantime, I started watching Critical Role, and wanted to try my hand at DMing, so I ended up doing a little one-shot sidequest with them and looking to start up my own game as well.

I’ve been running my own game with my wife, my brother, and a few people from work, and that’s been where a lot of my creative energy has really gone. I’m homebrewing the whole campaign (obviously using D&D races and basic building blocks), and it’s been very rewarding to see everyone quickly becoming invested in the game.

I think I’m going to post some short campaign diaries (actually they’re the recaps I read at the start of each session), just for posterity and for the record, and maybe flesh them out with extra info about what was going on from a player perspective.

I first played 3.5 in college with Brooke and her at-the-time boyfriend, but the campaign didn’t last long before it ended up falling through. And then I played a little bit back when I first moved into the area a few years ago, this time 4th edition, which I think had just come out. Getting back into D&D, this time 5e, has been great. I forgot how much fun getting to disappear in another personality can be–it reminds me of doing theater in college and how much I enjoyed acting.

And that’s all the updates for now. I may post some more D&D related stuff–things I’ve found with my first time truly DMing, ideas I’ve come up with and how they’ve panned out, plus campaign diaries are always fun.

‘Til next time.

Campaign Diary (11/6/18)

Joshua Rappeneker from Flickr –  CC 2.0 Attribution & Sharealike

The A-Team has been seeking a wizard’s assistance Identifying the magical nature of an onyx totem of Khurgorbaeyag. Their search brought them to Maloo’s Magnetic Marvels where a gnome artificer running the shop in Maloo’s absence agreed to waive the Identify fee if the party fetched him some spell and potion components. The party agreed and traveled east to Sochet Lake where they entered a small, ziggurat-style structure on an island in the center of the lake.

Once inside, the party found themselves in a square antechamber with doors to the left and right. The party traveled right first, where they were attacked by and defeated a gelatinous cube, and barely avoided a scrape with a couple of wild crocodiles. They then retraced their steps back to the antechamber, deciding to explore the door to the left. As soon as they opened the door, the ceiling of the antechamber began to crack. The party had to scramble quickly to avoid the cave-in, fleeing into the next room just as their path behind was blocked off.

They quickly realized they went from the frying pan into the fire as the floor of the room into which they fled suddenly began to shift and give way, turning into quicksand. The party members all sank up to their necks. It was all Shadyboi and Rose could do to keep themselves from sinking below the surface. Shelby and Shump, however, were able to navigate the thick, viscious substance.

Shump, a natural outdoors man raised most of his childhood in the wild, managed to swim across the room much faster than the rest of the group. While swimming, he noticed a switch on the opposite wall and deduced it must be an off switch of some kind. He pressed the switch just as Rose sank below the surface and began to drown. Once the switch was pressed, the floor suddenly became solid and the group found themselves lying in a normal room, the supposed caved-in antechamber also restored to normal.

The group didn’t have time to rest long as two werecrocodile guards, tipped off by the triggered trap, entered the room with weapons drawn. Rose cast Calm Emotions and charmed the guards, convincing them to investigate a “noise” in the other room. Meanwhile, the party continued onward into what appeared to be a storage room. There was almost no visible floor space as almost every square inch was crammed with junk, from beaten, battle damaged armor to used weapons, to cleaning supplies, to various tools. The group got the impression the room was both a storage room and possibly loot gathered from fallen foes of the werecrocodiles.

After defeating a couple of lurking mimics, the group found a broom of flying, an enchanted short sword, an enchanted greataxe, and roughly 100 gold worth of coins, gems, and art pieces.

With nowhere else to go, and still no giant crocodile eggs, the party returned to the entrance, an unremarkable room save for a pillar in each corner labeled with the symbol for fire, and two large stone slabs on the floor and on the far wall with the likenesses of crocodiles carved in the surface.

Shadyboi remembered Shump suggesting when they first arrived that they should try placing rope into the metal bowls and setting fire to that. He had everyone do so, and as soon as the ropes caught flame, the fire symbols on the pillars began to glow. Then, with a loud crack, the stone slabs on the floor and wall protruded inward a few inches. Writing along the circumference of the slabs clued the party that they had to turn the crocodiles to face each other, which revealed a previously hidden doorway straight ahead.

The room ahead was dark, and all Shadyboi could see was that the room was large and cavernous, and that the doorway opened onto a raised platform of some kind. Rather than pushing onward, exhausted from multiple encounters, and nervous to potentially take on the giant crocodile without being at their best, the party decided to set up camp in the vestibule and rest up.

________________________________________

I ended up giving my brother extra experience for that idea even though nobody listened to him at first because it was exactly what I was trying to hint. It was hilarious, I kept saying, “You place your torches into the metal bowls, but nothing happens. The interior of the bowls looks sooty, like something was burned in them before, but nothing is there now.” I just about said, “Fire needs fuel to burn, guys,” but I didn’t. I wanted them to figure it out.

This dungeon, although it hasn’t taken that long, is taking longer than I originally expected, and there’s still a fair amount of dungeon to go. I’m starting to rethink what I originally had planned to help push them into getting to the good stuff.

I’m really excited for them to get through this dungeon–not that I want to railroad them through, not that I don’t have cool stuff planned, but I have some really neat stuff planned after they finish with this dungeon, and it’s all I can do to keep from telling them, especially for one of the players. Their backstory is going to come up in a really fun way (I think), and I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.

In the meantime, I’m also thinking about writing up and running a game for my mom this Christmas. Something holiday themed and silly. She’s never played before, and I think she’d really enjoy it. I’ll probably get started working on that since I’m so far ahead on this stuff.

‘Til next time!

Campaign Diary (10/26/18)

Joshua Rappeneker from Flickr –  CC 2.0 Attribution & Sharealike

The A-Team have arrived at Biel to seek a wizard’s assistance identifying the nature of an onyx totem of Khurgorbaeyag. After setting up their rooms at The Dragon’s Hide, the party arrived at Maloo’s Magnetic Marvels, the local magic shop, where a gnome artificer running the shop in Maloo’s absence agreed to waive the Identify fee if the party fetched some spell components.

The party set out early the next morning to Sochet Lake, a medium-small sized swampy gulf with an island in the center on which rests a small ziggurat-style structure. After defeating a few werecrocodiles on guard, the A-Team swam their way across the lake with assistance from Shelby.

The ziggurat structure looked very old, and there were no doors or windows. After investigating, they discovered a loose brick, the removal of which revealed an arm’s length recess with a brass dome at the back. Etched into the surface of the dome were the draconic symbols for fire and blood. Shump shoved a torch into the hole to get a better look, and once the flames touched the surface of the dome, the symbol for fire began to glow. Shelby volunteered to supply blood, cutting herself on one of Shump’s spears and then transfering the blood on the spear to the dome. Suddenly, a section of the wall opened up, revealing a dark passage that led further in. 

The antechamber just inside the ziggurat was a square room with four pillars in each corner. On each pillar was the symbol for fire. Atop each pillar were empty metal bowls with sooty blackened interiors, making the party believe the pillars were to act as torches. On the floor, and on the far wall opposite the entrance, were round, 10-foot-diameter stones carved with the likenesses of crocodiles in their surfaces. Finally, there were 2 plain wooden doors to their left and right.

The party suspected something might be up and attempted to apply fire to the empty bowls on the pillars. Nothing happened. They tried applying fire to the the fires symbols themselves. Nothing happened.They tried applying fire to the crocodile carvings. Again, nothing happened. They tried applying fire to all four metal bowls at the same time. Still, nothing.

Finally, frustrated, they decided to choose one of the doors, heading to the right. They followed a stone pathway for roughly twenty or twenty-five feet, and then noticed the pathway had started to take on water. After roughly 20 or 30 more feet, the water had risen to ankle deep. They pressed on cautiously.

About the time the water reached their knees, they reached another doorway on their left. Curious, they entered it, finding a completely empty room, save a large, ornate archway to their right. Around the archway was ornate script in Draconic, which Shump could speak. However, it was very old script, and difficult to translate. After studying it for a few minutes, he was finally able to translate it to the group. It said, “Hasten friend, lest thy be bogged down and thine spirit dissolved in the thick of things.”

They studied the archway and the tunnel beyond from a distance. None of them could see all the way to the end. Shelby grew suspicious, worried they may run across more guards and decided to throw her torch down the hallway to illuminate it further. Instead of travelling down the hallway, the torch suspended in mid-air, the flame extinguished. It was then the gelatinous cube moved forward to attack.

The group was caught off guard, and there were a few close calls, including Shump nearly being absorbed into the cube’s form. Shadyboi took a hard hit from one of the cube’s tendrils, but the group was able to defeat the cube without too much difficulty. Deciding to get the hell out in case there were anymore cube hiding, they returned to the hallway. However, they couldn’t resist exploring the tunnel to the end.

As they pushed further on, the water became deeper still, rising up to their waists. Ahead, those with dark vision were able to see the end of the tunnel where something poked out of the surface water. Shump was sent ahead to investigate. He found a drain that lead out to the swamp outside, but nothing else. As he was turning to leave, he was ambushed and wounded by a pair of crocodiles before anyone could react.

Thinking quickly, Rose disguised herself as a werecrocodile and cast Speak with Animals, convincing the two crocodiles that she was their god and displeased with their behavior. The crocodiles fled, and the A-Team made their way back to the antechamber.

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As I developed the rooms of the dungeon, I began to somewhat understand what the story behind this place is. This whole thing up until this point has been very seat-of-my-pants. I just wanted an excuse to delay the party from Identifying the totem and give my brother a chance to use the totem more and unlock more features, but now I have a fairly fleshed out idea of the dungeon’s background and what the endgame looks like for the party.

One thing I’m not particularly great at is coming up with puzzles. That said, I love a dungeon that has some fun puzzle rooms and isn’t just hurling waves of encounters at you, so I did some googling and got some ideas to design the rooms around. As I designed each room and came up with roughly what I wanted the purpose of that room to be, I realized how I wanted this whole dungeon to culminate and give it a sense of scale and history.

I can’t say much yet as they’re still very early in the dungeon, but let’s just say that I’ve heard some things from some of the players that made me practice my poker face.

As for the gelatinous cube encounter? I just wanted an excuse to throw in a classic D&D monster encounter, and what better place than a dungeon?

I actually made my own mini for this encounter, too. None of the places I’d checked locally had any Gelatinous Cube minis, and ordering one on Amazon would’ve been pretty expensive and taken too long. So, I took a glass mixing bowl with a flat bottom, place it on top of my D&D mat and traced a 10×10 square. Then I flipped the bowl over to the other size and used a hot glue gun to make 2inx2in squares, then carefully used more hot glue to fuse them together. It ended up working pretty well, AND I chose not to put a bottom on it, so I could have it actually engulf their minis. The only disappointment was that I ended up not being able to use it since they kept saving out of it, ha ha.

The party still has one unexplored door, which I imagine they’ll go through next. And then? Who knows?

‘Til next time.

Campaign Diary (10/16/18)

Joshua Rappeneker from Flickr –  CC 2.0 Attribution & Sharealike

The A-Team have arrived at Biel, the capital city of Iounin, to seek a wizard’s assistance identifying the nature of an onyx totem of the goblin deity of oppression and slavery. As the party arrived at the city gates, Shadyboi attempted to forge a duplicate of the contract they found after killing some mercenaries pursuing a peaceful goblin tribe. The gate guards’ were suspicious, taking the forgery to validate with the Grand Chancellor of the Hearing House. They made the party agree to stay at The Fisherman’s Inn where they would monitored until their contract could be validated. However, the party instead rented room at The Dragon’s Hide in the seedier part of Biel where it would be easier to go unnoticed.

The party, sans Brottor who stayed behind for undisclosed reasons, eventually made their way to Maloos Magnetic Marvels where they met a gnome artificer named Pisa Lightsteel who was running the shop with his mechanical automaton Clankybones while Maloo was out. The party was unable to afford the 200gp price of Identifying the totem, but Pisa was willing to waive the fee if they agreed to fetch some spell components instead.

The party set out early the next morning to Sochet Lake, and once again Brottor declined to join them, stating he had important matters to attend to elsewhere. They traveled for 3 hours, finally arriving at the shores of the lake around noonish. Sochet Lake turned out to be a medium-small lake—actually more of a gulf or swamp that connected to the ocean. Weeping willows surrounded the lake, and toward the center, a small island could be seen. On that island rested a small ziggurat-style structure.

As the party investigated for a way across, they drew the attention of some lizardfolk guarding ziggurat. A conflict ensued, with the party fighting not only the guards, but also crocodiles that emerged from the murky waters. Shelby, growing frustrated with the situation, swam to the shores of the island. Upon slashing one of them with her sword, she was surprised to see that their wounds began to heal, as if her blade had no impact at all. However, when she struck them with her fists and channeled her strikes using ki, she was able to land some damage.

While the rest of the party dealt with the crocodiles and lobbed ranged attacks from shore, Shelby took on the four guards. One managed a lucky strike and bit her while she was distracted. The wound instantly became inflamed and infected looking. After killing one of the guards, the lizardfolk collapsed to the ground and transformed into a human corpse. It was then she realized these weren’t lizardfolk at all, but werecrocodiles.

After defeating the guards, Shelby crossed the lake again to assist the party in harvesting teeth and crocodile skin to sell later. Exhausted, and with Shelby worried about her bite-wound, the party decided to take a rest and plan their next move. They now had more than enough crocodile teeth needed, but the giant crocodile could be hiding anywhere…

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We moved our game from Wednesday nights to Tuesday nights due to some scheduling issues that were coming up. It doesn’t affect much, it just means my wife and I are busy two nights in a row each week–we have another game night on Monday nights with some friends from college. We liked having that day off in between games, but it doesn’t really matter.

Originally, the ziggurat was going to be a large tree and the party was going to crawl in under the roots and discover an underground labyrinth. The more I thought about it, though, the more I wanted to do something with crocodiles. I googled “werecrocodiles 5e” and learned that while there’s a homebrewed werecrocodile enemy/npc, there wasn’t one in the official rules. So, I reskinned the wererats. Same thing, basically.

The werecrocodile thing was mostly impulse, but it got me thinking…what are these werecrocodiles doing here? Why was this structure built? What is their purpose for being out here? Did Pisa know about this before he sent the A-Team on an adventure. I didn’t have all the answers when I first had everyone start their way out there, but I do now. I won’t be able to talk much about it until the full mission is over since I don’t want anyone (particularly my wife) to read this and get spoilers, but I think I’ve got some fun answers.

I’d been dropping hints about the true nature of these guards throughout the fight, especially once Shelby actually swam across the lake (motherfuckin’ tortles, y’all) and got a better look at them. I said things like, “These don’t look like normal lizardfolk; their faces are longer, more crocodile-like.” After Shelby’s first attack with her shortsword didn’t work at all (lycanthropes are immune to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage), I had her make an arcana check to see if she, with her scholar background, might be able to deduce what these creatures were. She rolled well, so she realized they were lycanthropes. When she got and had to make a constitution saving throw, Stephanie was literally shaking she was so worried for Shelby. It was sweet to see her so invested in this story and the consequences.

I have the actual layout of the dungeon already done because I used an automatic dungeon generator online, but I don’t have a lot of the specifics yet. I’ll get that fleshed out before next time. The only thing I’m sure of at this point is that they’ll be fighting a giant crocodile. I’m excited for them to experience a good-old-fashioned dungeon crawl.

Campaign Diary (10/2/18)

Joshua Rappeneker from Flickr –  CC 2.0 Attribution & Sharealike

The A-Team has been travelling to Biel, the capital city of Iounin, in order to seek a wizard’s assistance identifying the nature of an onyx totem of the goblin deity of oppression and slavery.

On the road, the party came across a group of mercenaries hired by the Hearing House, the governing body of Iounin whose headquarters is in Biel, to drive out goblins in southern Iounin due reports of increasing unrest among the tribes. The A-Team discovered the tribe the mercenaries pursued was peaceful and killed the mercenaries in retaliation, taking the Hearing House contract off of one of the bodies.

After a close encounter with Klas, a powerful goblin magic user who has been pushing for the uniting of the goblins against the empire, the party arrived at Biel. Shadyboi attempted to forge a duplicate contract, but it didn’t pass scrutiny. The guards at the gate took the forgery and said they’d validate it with the Grand Chancellor of the Hearing House, Marianne Ravenswood. The party agreed to this, but instead of staying at The Fisherman’s Inn in the merchant district as they agreed, they paid for rooms at The Dragon’s Hide, a seedier inn found in lower Wakenat.

Shadyboi, finally in a larger city, peeled off from the group to seek out some information. Attempting to tap into the criminal underbelly of the city, he struck up a conversation with some kenku whom he came across in a seedy tavern called the Hog’s Head. After inquiring about with whom he might meet to get some side work, they told him to seek out someone named Jabari, a Tiefling who prefers to conduct his meetings in the seedier and busier tavern/casino, The Squalid Squid.

Meanwhile, Brottor locked himself away in his room, declining to join Shelby and Shump as they went in search of the a place to eat…and the local magic shop.

Shelby, in an attempt to keep up their ruse to the guards, paid for a few rooms for several nights at the Fisherman’s Inn to provide them cover, even bribing the desk clerk to confirm that they were staying there, but had just stepped out.

With that settled, and with Shadyboi rejoining the group, they all made their way, much to Shump’s chagrin, to Maloos Magnetic Marvels, the local magic shop. Inside, they met not Maloo, but a gnome artificer named Pisa Lightsteel, who was watching the shop with his mechanical automaton Clankybones while Maloo was out running errands. 

The party was unable to afford the 200gp price of Identifying the totem, nor did they have any pearls on hand to trade in exchange. However, Pisa was willing to waive the fee if the party agreed to fetch some spell and potion components on which the shop’s stock was low. The party agreed on the additional condition that they also get a discount on healing potions since this would be a mission of some risk. Pisa agreed, the party purchased several potions and headed back to their rooms at the Dragon’s Hide to prepare for their journey to commence early the next morning.

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As you might guess, Oscar dropped out of the game. I have a few plans for how to write his character out without just having him completely vanish, but that will have to wait until they get back to town as they’re now going on a FETCH QUEST!

To be honest, I don’t have a really solid plan for what they’re going to do next. I know I want them to do a dungeon crawl because they haven’t done one yet, and I want Brandon to have a little more time with the totem…and that’s about all I’ve got. I’ll figure out more before our next session.

I’ve been sort of in a funk recently, and I’m not sure why. I generally like to plan a fair amount head in case the group ends up skipping something or going in an unexpected direction, but I’ve had a bit of a difficult time coming up with ideas. It may be that we’ve had to reschedule a few times, and I just really look forward to these games. I could also be that things have been stressful at work. Either way, I’m hoping it clears up soon.

Onto brighter news, my wife and I found a gravity feeder of The Hobbit: Unexpected Journey Heroclix. We spent the past few days rebasing them onto 1×1 in buttons, and now I have a whole mess of new fantasy minis! And for a fraction of the price of D&D minis. I’m especially excited to get way more goblin and orc minis. I bought a really cheap zombies and soldiers toy set years and years ago, and they work in a pinch, but there’s something enjoyable about being able to look at a mini and say, “Yes. That’s a goblin.” Plus we’ve been using superhero Heroclix as our minis, which creates some humorous visuals to say the least.

Justin and Danae bought and painted their own minis a while back, and they look great. It honestly seems like way too much work, but I gotta admit it looks nice, and I like the idea of the customizability.

Anyway, next time, the A-Team goes on a quest for crocodile teeth, and giant crocodile eggs.