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Adventure Framework Part 2: Forget What I said, Do what I say! Conceptualizing Your Endgame.

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At the end of my last article (Adventure Framework Part 1: Start at the beginning) I said “You need to set a proper foundation, both for your players and yourself. From this, you set your pillars. The pillars are the stories you will tell. In part two we I’ll delve into the pillar of your adventures and how you should prepare each one.” I was wrong. I skipped a step: The Roof. For those of you that don’t know much about construction the roof is typically added last. You build from the ground up. You start with your foundation making sure it’s strong and level. From there you add your supports; pillars in our case. Then the roof.

Although we have created our adventure foundation, we don’t have enough information to build our pillars. We need more. What is our end game. What kind of materials will we use on top? Is it stone? Would you use the same pillars to hold up a straw roof as you would a stone roof? No. You wouldn’t. A straw hut has a very different foundation, most likely dirt. Though a straw hut and stone building are different in many ways their conceptualization is the same. They have a structure they follow.

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Top 10: D&D Characters I’ve Played

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When I make a character for Dungeons & Dragons they need to have the perfect name. If I’m not happy with the name, I won’t play the character. As such over the 30 plus years that I’ve played the game, my hall of champions has a relatively small number of characters. These are my top ten favorite D&D characters.

Killian: When I was first introduced to D&D by my friend Matt M. he had a character named Killer Kroc. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the Batman villain, but I liked the alliteration. Years later I had adapted the name into Killian Krocerian. He was a fighter/rogue type and his escapades were the stuff of great hyperbole and much exaggeration. He was my first hero and still holds a place of honor in my imagination to this day.

Farak: The next great warrior in my list is a dwarven buzz saw. Farak The Axe was a twin axe warrior that could wade through a stable of zombies in the time it took a paladin to kill one. True story. His greatest tale involves falling 40 feet through a wooden staircase while avoiding a wyvern. He eventually would climb those same stairs again to take on the beast bare-handed, and save his friend Veirden.

Veirden: Which brings me to my next hero. At the time I was in a small gaming group and I was playing both Farak and Veirden, the mad Halfling. Veirden was a rogue who had been rescued from a POW camp by Farak. The two were inseparable. I played this rogue with a complete disregard for his own safety, often drawing twin daggers and charging head first into battle alongside Farak.

Friar Chuck: Tired of all my warriors and rogues I decided I would try my hand with a cleric. Friar Chuck was part of a team, his sister Aliana was a bard, but the two of them would never see a table top together. They were merely an idea. Still, as time went on and I found myself in need of an NPC cleric, Friar Chuck resurfaced.  While running a Steampunk D&D game set loosely in Philadelphia my players ran across a street-corner preacher handing out pamphlets for Pelor. “Have you felt the Strength of Pelor? Have you seen the Light of Pelor?” all in a bored monotone voice. The party’s rogue latched onto Chucks boredom and convinced him to abandon his post and take up a life of adventure.

 

Zephyr: Zeph was a half-orc monk, all speed and strength. He specialized in in crossing the battlefield, avoiding the meat-shields, and focusing on the casters in the back ranks. When he snatched an orb of storm control from a vile wizard and smashed it, Zephyr earned the title Stormbreaker.  I was never sure what monastery he came from, but he was a favorite at the table. The greatest terrain plans laid by our DM were of little to no hindrance to Brother Zephyr.

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Gar: Ebberon was an awesome campaign setting. I especially loved the Warforged race; living constructs with no names except those given to them by their comrades. Gar was found by a dwarf in an old bear cave, and given his barbarian nature the dwarf named him after the dwarf word for bear. He was a great tank, eventually multi-classing with fighter. Unfortunately he met his inside the belly of a dire shark. His quest for warforged mods (centaur legs, wings) was not meant to be.

Ahrazul: Possibly my favorite character from 4th edition was this Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamut. Ahrazul was always the center of attention in combat, lest the enemies suffer his divine smite for ignoring him. The problem was he was also very hard to hit, even harder to kill. Not so much a problem for me, but it sure was annoying for the DM. My love of creating new characters won out and I convinced the DM to orchestrate a glorious end to Ahrazul .

Rusty: With 5th edition I wanted to go back to my roots, so I settled on the idea of a dwarf. Russik “Rusty” Ironheart was the grandson of Farak the Axe. Unlike grandpa, Rusty liked ranged weapons. Wielding a heavy crossbow and a hand crossbow sidearm I pictured him as sort of a door-breaker dwarf swat officer. Spells, Weapons, and Tactics. All fighter, and delving into the Eldritch Knight sub-class it still is my favorite fighter sub-class from 5th edition.

Mad Dog: The Adventurer’s League had finally caught my attention. I was stuck with this idea in my head of a fighter wielding a staff or polearm much like Darth Maul. To get the wicked feel of it I would multi-class him into warlock.  With his devil sight, darkness, and polearm mastery he’s proven quite effective as a melee striker. A former pirate who sold his soul to save his own butt seems to be my go-to background for warlocks.

Qui’noa: Finally we have Qui’noa. A tortle monk, assisted by the spirits of his ancestors. This barbarian-monk is his own traveling bar brawl. It’s not an uncommon combo with the release of the Tortle race, but at least I haven’t named him after a renaissance artist. The ancestral ghosts make him a sticky tank, and his shell makes him a hard choice for the enemies to target.

Starting Players on the “Right” Foot: A Dungeon Master’s Guide.

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Over a decade ago, there was a defining moment that would shape my Dungeon Mastering career. The moment that nearly all tabletop gamers share has long been burned into my psyche. A reminder. Thinking about it now: my hands clench into a fist, my heart skips a beat, my brow furrows. I feel a swelling of inner rage waiting to barf forward through my fingertips as I type. This moment, that still fills me with anguish and regret nearly 15 years later, could easily have turned me off from the hobby forever. It was the dreaded horrible first game!

No seriously… That’s it. A bad game.

The whole thing lasted around an hour before the Dungeon Master laughed maniacally as my Elven Wizard lied burnt to death on the ground being eaten by ravenous goblins. I was given no choice, no interaction, nothing. He made all the rolls. He decided what I would do. I had no idea what was going on. Nothing was explained. I felt lost…

Why is this moment so important? You may say to yourself: “Hey me, you’re awesome. You’ve been in bad games before and they didn’t leave a lasting effect. What gives?” This part, it isn’t about you. It’s about the countless number of people that will never return to our hobby because of the experience they had. Whether it be with the mouth breathing creeper, the surly rules lawyer, or the “DM vs. The Player” mentality, something turned them off.

We won’t see that person again. 

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Influential Female Characters: Keyleth

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Most of my readers and our fans know that when I started gaming again, my Dungeon Master suggested I watch some Critical Role to help me. I have a habit of getting stuck in my own head and being too worried about rules to just play and have fun. The show did help and also give me the idea to try what has become my favorite class in D&D because of  the Druid, Keyleth. I felt for Keyleth because her backstory. I was also really interested in her powers. I started playing Druids and that has become the class which I feel most comfortable, but I would never have chosen that class so quickly if not for watching Keyleth.

Keyleth is a Druid of the Air Ashari. Without giving away too much for those readers who are catching up on Critical Role, here is a little bit of her backstory. Keyleth has always been a talented druid, even when she was a child. Her father was the Arch Druid of her people and her mother left at an early age. Keyleth’s  father sees her potential and chooses her to be his successor. As it is then explained in the old intro, “ Just like that, her jovial childhood was stripped and replaced with endless spell memorization, teachings from ancient traditions, and exceedingly high expectations.” Here, I thought my school days were rough. 

 

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We never really hear about Keyleth having childhood friends. Nor, as it would seem,  has she had a lot of socialization till she is sent away from her tribe. When her father thinks she is ready, Keyleth is sent on a journey to the other Ashari tribes to “establish respect” with their leaders where she becomes a member of Vox Machina, what the group is known as, along the way. Because of this upbringing Keyleth is awkward and, at times, socially inept. She is also reckless in times of stress.

Keyleth is played by Marisha Ray who is not only a gamer, but also an actress and writer. Marisha often comes under fire for her style of gameplay. There are many reasons for why viewers don’t enjoy how she plays. Some of which are because of how their Dungeon Master allows his players to experiment and, some say, he is not enough of a rule enforcer. Marisha also really commits to playing Keyleth, flaws and all. She doesn’t polish her just because she isn’t the most popular character. I know that some of her particularly cringe-worthy moments make it difficult for me to watch her as well.

That being said, I give Marisha a lot of credit. She took a character who comes from a strict and sheltered religious background to thrust her into the world which does not follow the rules. Keyleth has gone through a lot of growing and evolving throughtout the game thus far. She has put aside many of the religious beliefs that she grew up with and has had to learn how to interact with people who have not. Keyleth continues to find her own strength and control over her powers. This has been particularly hard for her since they scare her at times. She also has come to terms with guilt that she continues to bury throughout the game.

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In short, Keyleth is an evolving and flawed character. She is very real because of her flaws. She is kind. She feels things very deeply, including remorse when she makes a mistake. Keyleth is struggling to be worthy of the responsibilities thrust upon her by others. She is finding herself, making herself better and helping those around her.

Keyleth helped me to understand that it is okay for me to play characters who unflinchingly believe in good. That I can play a character who isn’t a perfect hero from jump. Marisha has taught me that it is okay to make a mistake in game and learn from it. Keyleth inspires me to be creative with my characters. To allow an awkward moment to happen if it is what I think my character would do at the time.

She is a great example of being present in the moment of gameplay. Of going with your gut as a player. Of taking a risk because it might lead to something awesome. Keyleth is all of us just trying to figure the world out. She is us trying to figure ourselves out. Keyleth is all of us, just with awesome powers and a really cool headpiece.

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Check out episodes of Critical Role here.  

You can listen to a pretty rad soundtrack that Marisha put together for Keyleth here.

Always keep sparkling!

My First TPK | OMG THE FEELS!

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In 20 years, I had never lost a character in any of my tabletop games.

Twenty years! Please, let that sink in for a moment. Twenty years. Depending on your age, that will hold different weight.

Any character I had previously lost was part of the story or because I left the campaign, but never for these reasons… and I lost two in a month. The second loss was the result of my first ever Total Party Kill (TPK). A TPK, to me, was a that myth that happened to other people. It was that cautionary tale that meant you should be more aware, think things through, be cautious. Let me rewind a bit.

It was like a birthday present as we sat around the table, trying to figure out what we would play next and who would run it. Colleen, Thia, Vel and Orsen. Orsen pipes up: he can run us through Ravenloft. My eyes lit up as if I’d just unwrapped my big Christmas present or loaded up a game that just came out. Crymson Pleasure, Vampire Goddess (self proclaimed) has NEVER been to Ravenloft.

When it was mentioned prior, my party mates always said it was too hard. It was unforgiving and relentless. I scoffed at every single one of them, essentially calling them noobs. The realm of vampires is where my character longed to be. Take all of my angst and goth and put me into a realm of the undead, I beg of you.

I created Tereza Lupei and fashioned her after Gretel from the most recent adaptation of Hanzel and Gretel, the one with Hawkeye (at this point in her editing process, I’m sure Vanri is rolling her eyes. I know his name is Jeremy Renner, but he’ll always be Hawkeye to me).

Anyway, I created a fighter class character and gave her archery and handed her a crossbow. I even created an order around her family, but that will come later. I dressed her in  black leathers with a thick dark braid and off she went.

She wandered into the thick fog with her new friends in tow. A mad scientist/tinkerer, a barbarian, and whatever Thia was playing (you’ll understand later). So, we went through several encounters and quickly we were given a taste of how hard it was going to be. Several of us dropped to zero HP as we struggled to try our hardest. We learned to react a bit smarter. Orsen reminded us that he wasn’t going to pull punches. It’s Ravenloft, after all. It’s meant to kill the players. We smiled and nodded, but none of us really understood what that meant.

We lost Thia’s first character. We were overwhelmed and she dropped to zero. In order to save the rest of us, Vel created a ring of fire which burned her character to a crisp. She couldn’t be brought back.

Our group traveled on and encountered another group in the woods. With that group was an NPC: Isabella. She was Reza’s sister and Thia’s new character, a druid. Both from The Lupei clan (a group of vampire hunters, so to speak – centuries old). They continued on and Vel also created a new character, a Blade Dancer with whips. Orsen told us that we moved through more fog as our new group moved along, this time transported to the campaign, The Curse of Strade.

I was still utterly excited by all of this. We lost someone, but it was only the one so we’ll be just fine. Of course, this is the lie that we told ourselves. We proceeded with some caution, but we were still a group of murder hobos, as most D&D groups are. We had a few close calls and I shaped Reza in such a way that she became my most loved character ever. She embodied more of me than any other character before her.

They reached level 8 and it happened, the utterly unthinkable. The barbarian decided to see what was really in a crate labeled junk. It appeared that the junk was vampires… lots and lots of vampires. Trying to ensure that everyone got out safely, Reza distracted them. Everyone except Isabella got away. Isabella ran straight into the fray and was devoured by vampires along with Reza. The rest of the party decided to burn their bodies to prevent them from becoming undead themselves. This was the end of the sisters.

I cannot tell you how upset I was. I loved Reza more than any other character and now she was gone. I was hurt and angry, but there was nothing I could do. There was no magic, no hope. She was dead and I actually had to grieve a little bit. I have no idea why I connected so much with Reza, but I had and now that was gone.

So, it was time to make a new character. This time I made a Blood Hunter (thank you, Matthew Mercer, for creating this class). I made Demetrea, Reza’s mother. She had received news of her daughters’ death (I created the family/house so that, upon death, an important article of theirs was returned to their home) and traveled to join the party. With the way the timeline was set up, Demetrea had gotten the two articles weeks before the event actually happened in Ravenloft. However, by the time she came to the rest of the group, not even a full day had past.

They continued on and I had more trouble connecting with this character. She has a great build, but I couldn’t find her personality. I didn’t want her to be Reza, but Reza was all I felt, so I struggled with her. I roleplayed the best I could but tried to keep quiet because I didn’t know how to act.

Then it came, I finally found her voice and it was snuffed out. I connected with her anger over the death of Reza and Isabella right as they went up against the most powerful creature they had yet to encounter and no, it wasn’t even Strade. We had all made a grave mistake that we didn’t know about until this very moment. When our lives literally depended on it, we lost.

Everyone was killed. This had never happened to me before. I sat in stunned silence, waiting for some miracle, but none came. I felt a bit numb. This had never happened and two streaks were ruined in a month. I was devastated. I swallowed that feeling and dove into the creation of my next character for our new campaign.

How could this happen? Easy, we made the wrong decisions, several times over. We were too careful at the wrong times and reckless at the worst possible times. We tried our hardest but, in the end, Ravenloft won and we learned a few things from it. Hopefully we learned the right things, but mistakes will always be made when you don’t know the outcome. Like life, everything’s a gamble.

However the most important thing I take from this is… 

Ravenloft… I’m far from done with you. We will meet again and I will best you.

Tim from Last Week Reviews: Dungeons & Dragons #1

Writer: John RogersD&D#1 coverArtist: Andrea Di Vito
Colorist: Aburtov and Graphikslava
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Released: 11/2010 (collected 7/2011)

Review by: Tim from Last Week

John Rogers is one of those writers that you know, but don’t know you know. He handled the first script for the Transformers movie. He was a creator on The Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon (a favorite in the From Last Week household!). He created and executive-produced TNT’s Leverage. In comics, he was co-creator of Jaimie Reyes, DC Comics’ “new” Blue Beetle. He has also written for BOOM! Studios (Cthulhu Tales, Zombie Tales).

Andrea Di Vito has been working in comics since the early 2000s. His first regular art gig was on The First, followed by Brath (CrossGen Comics). Then he moved on to higher profile jobs, including Thor, Annihilation, and Nova (Marvel Comics). Di Vito has also worked on assorted G.I. Joe titles for IDW Publishing.

On the first page, we are dropped right into the action (don’t get too excited: it’s just a tease, to whet your appetite). Dealing with zombified orphans (“…nobody’s gonna miss ’em”) seems like a good place to start! Then, flashback to earlier that day. A pre-existing party of adventurers is signing up a new member at the local bar. The team is set (but not stable): Adric Fell (human, leader), Kahl (dwarf), Varis (elf), Bree (halfling), and new member Tisha (human/tiefling). We get to see them razzing each other, just before the action starts.

Zombies break through the floor, and we get to see everyone in action trying to stop the horde of zombies. It turns out the zombies were following tunnels under the town. But, it seems that the zombies aren’t really zombies, and that leads to the gang getting arrested for murdering a bunch of townsfolk. The group is about to be sentenced, but an old friend of Fell’s, Copernicus Jinx, arrives to explain the situation. It seems darkness is seeping into this realm, and infecting people.

As Fell and the team try to escape the now-infected constabulary, Jinx tells Fell that his daughter (who also has history with Fell) had already gone to investigate this disturbance at the Orphanarium. The team splits up to try to solve the mystery and save lives, some going into the tunnels, and some heading for the orphans. The tunnel crew finds that a strange being invoking dark forces below town. The orphan crew arrives to find that the orphans have already been “turned,” and Jinx’s daughter, Juliana, is defending herself from an onslaught of mini-zombies. A large explosion occurs below the orphanage, and we leave the story, there.

Reading this comic, I reacted similarly as I have to other D&D comics, over the years (more on that, later): this isn’t a D&D story, it’s a sword-and-sorcery story that happens to have the D&D logo on it. I’m still not sure if that’s a bad thing, or a good thing. Although I played Dungeons & Dragons when I was younger, I was never deeply into it, and I have only read D&D stories in comic book form (yes, someday, I will read all of the D&D related novels). As such, I do not have a deep connection to the worlds and motifs of D&D, and that may be the reason that I do not “feel” it.

However, I do have to say that I enjoyed the camaraderie between the adventurers, and could imagine being at the table with a group of players, having similar conversations in and around the gameplay. At the same time, I generally enjoy stories about otherworldly evil/darkness affecting the “regular” world, so I think this could be a fun story to explore. Though I am still not sure how effective this comic was as a D&D story, I do need to credit Rogers with giving us a taste of what could be a good sword-and-sorcery story. Maybe that is more important…

I’ve enjoyed Andrea Di Vito’s art in most of the titles mentioned above. Between his CrossGen Comics work and his work on Marvel’s Thor, Di Vito really made a name for himself in sword-and-sorcery comics. However, I sometimes find that his art is a little too heavy for some adventures. To a certain extent, most of his characters look very strong and powerful, but I like a little more variation between dwarves and elves, for example. But, I expected certain things in Di Vito’s art for this comic, and I got what I wanted. Dynamic characters, action, and good story-telling. While I am not sure this is my favorite Di Vito art, it is still pretty good. I am hoping that his characters evolve, visually, over the course of the series.

The granddaddy of tabletop gaming, Dungeons & Dragons has had an on-again-off-again relationship with comic books. DC Comics published a line of D&D comics in the 80s. KenzerCo published D&D comics in the 90s. In 2005, Devil’s Due Publishing was adapting R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf stories. In 2010, IDW Publishing obtained the license, and is still publishing D&D comics today. This series ran for a little over a year, and had 16 issues. Those 16 issues have been collected into 3 trade paperbacks. Volume 1 (“Shadowplague“) and volume 2 (“First Encounters”) are priced $19.99, and volume 3 (“Down”) is priced $17.99.

Dungeons & Dragons, and other great comics, can be found at Johnny Destructo’s Hero Complex located at 4456 Main Street, Manayunk, PA 19127. Visit him on Facebook!

From Table to Real Life: How RPGs Benefit Players

From Table to Real Life: How RPGs Benefit Players

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Tabletop gaming is definitely fun, especially if you find the types of games you really like.  Whether it be RPGs, card games or board games, there is something out there for just about everyone.  Games are also great for teaching skills, and maintaining those skills throughout a person’s life.  It’s a great way to teach children early, and in a fun way, skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.

Creativity and Imagination
You’d be surprised how much being able to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems will help you as an adult.  Creativity is not just a great skill for artists, writers, and designers, but anyone who has a job where problem solving is key will benefit from this.  Being able to come up with unorthodox solutions can often be the difference between just having a job and excelling at a career.

It’s a given that creativity and imagination are necessary for artists, writers, and any other job where someone has to create something from out of their mind’s eye.  Gaming, especially the imagination intensive tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, are a great place to get kids started learning how to tell stories and develop characters with interesting backgrounds and personalities.  Whether it’s creating their own stories as a game master, or acting out the stories of their characters as a player, they’ll get plenty of practice coming up with great tales all on their own.

Art and graphics are another source of inspiration for young people when it comes to tabletop.  There’s few entertainment mediums that have such a plethora of amazing art and graphics design as tabletop games.  Painted, or unpainted miniatures, character sketches, book covers, and playing cards are all great sources of art inspiration.  People literally have an art gallery at their finger-tips whenever they pick up a game, and that can translate to a study and love of art that benefits a lot of creative folks in future years.

Just the Basics
Math and reading, two skills that will serve anyone throughout their lives, are key to almost every game that you’ll come across.  Whether it’s calculating damage and points, or reading rule books to learn a game, tabletop will expand any young person’s skills with both of these.  Often with tabletop games, especially RPGs, people will come across words they’ve never seen, and terminology they won’t come across in school or on their favorite cartoons.  They’ll be exposed to complex ideas and references that may lead them to expand their study into things like history and sociology.

There’s no mistaking the need for even basic math when it comes to gaming.  Even the simplest game mechanic, like keeping score, will often involve addition and subtraction, and while kids are having fun playing a game they won’t even bat an eye that they have to tap into mathematics.  More complicated wargames and RPGs can get into time, distance, area, angles, and the dreaded thac0 formula of Advanced D&D.

Besides math, reading and vocabulary are two basic needs for gaming, and skills that will be vastly improved if this is your hobby.  Even down to the simplest card game, reading is necessary.  Rules, card descriptions, character backgrounds, and stories are all part of gaming.  Even board games have rules and often cards of some sort.  Starting with gaming early is a great way to make reading and learning new words fun.  Get kids involved and you’ll see a marked improvement, as much as you see when you read to, or read with children.  Even in later years gaming helps improve and strengthen vocabulary skills.  I still run into words I don’t often see, and new words I’ve never seen used before.

Socializing
Probably the biggest benefit of tabletop for me has been learning to socialize and break out of my shell.  Often us geeks and nerds, as proud as we are of the things we love, are introverts and quiet individuals.  Young people need socialization, but we tend to think this means sports, playing outside with other kids, or play dates with coworker’s kids.  Not every child is into these things.  Sometimes gaming is what they’re into, and just don’t know it yet.  Learning games with family, or visiting local game shops to learn to play board games might be just what’s needed to crack that shell.

Learning to interact with others in a competitive environment, sportsmanship, losing and winning gracefully isn’t limited to actual sports.  These are important skills to have under our belt when we get out into the real world as well.  Getting and keeping a job, or working in the art fields are competitive.  They don’t have to be negatively so, and teaching kids to compete fairly but also gracefully can mean the difference between success and failure.  Cheating to win can be just as self-destructive as failing and throwing a fit.  With gaming we can find a balance between teaching kids to win and lose, and teach them that having fun is just as important.

Besides the competitive factor, you usually have a group around any game.  Unlike video games, tabletop games are very rarely single-player.  It gets people around tables, talking, laughing, having fun, and most importantly just socializing.  Sometimes finding a way to make a person’s comfort zone also a social affair can bring the extrovert out of the introvert by giving them an environment where they feel at ease.

In the end, gaming may not be for everyone, but I think it’s something a lot of people would enjoy.  I think it’s a great way to help kids develop skills useful in the real world, not just to have fun.  It’s also a fantastic way for adults to hone skills useful in their careers, whether they be in the artistic fields or more run of the mill.  So, get out there, find your niche, and if your kids take an interest in the imaginative hobbies join in the fun.  It makes for some great family time.