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Dungeon Crawling: Warlocks

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Three months ago, I had surgery on my dominant hand.

Do you realize how much of a limiter that is? How difficult it was to do basic functions? How impossible it was…to roll dice?!

Unfortunately, I had to tell my fellow DMs in the Adventurers League that I would be unable to run games, let alone play until my hand was more capable. After a month, I returned to work which is mostly typing. I also began looking again for more AL games.

Recently Crymson asked ever so sweetly, “WHERE ARE MY D&D ARTICLES?”

Okay, perhaps she didn’t type it in all caps, but that’s how I (t)roll.

So, I’m back. After another 4-hour speed run at a local shop (have I mentioned that AL games really don’t emphasize Role-Playing?) I figured it was high time I started pumping out words for the RWOG again. So here I spew…

Warlocks

With previous editions of D&D, I was all over the melee board: Fighters, Barbarians, Twin-weapon wielding Rangers, Rogues, Paladins, and on and on. I avoided squishy casters. I relished getting right up in a monster’s face and dishing out loads of damage.

5th edition’s Warlock, however, has to be my favorite class now. Sure, most people see it and think, “Oh, he’s gonna spam Eldritch Blast. How boring.” I must say it is. Just a little. But it’s the other features of the class that are the exciting bits. What type of patron? What type of pact? What invocations? The ability to customize so much within one simple class structure had me addicted at first Hex.

Initially, in the Player’s Handbook, there were only three Patrons to choose from: The Fey, The Fiend, and The Great Old Ones. In our home-brew game, I chose to roll up a GOOlock. At least, that’s what the internet calls it when you sign a deal with some Cthulu-esque elder thing that falls into the Great Old One category.

For the price of admission, you get to talk to anyone with a language, that you can see, mentally. You also get access to other spells along the Crowd Control spectrum as you level, and the sub-class capstone at level 14 lets you create a Thrall from anything you defeat. Creepy and fun. I started as an Ex-Pirate from the alternate Sailor background and away we went.

That campaign fell apart. Meh. No harm. I love creating new characters as I’ve stated in other articles.

More home-brews elicited no more Warlocks because I wanted to try something different. Then I joined up with the AL to see what it was about and to play with a buddy of mine I don’t see too often anymore. For that, I created another ex-pirate Warlock, however this one had signed his soul away to a fiend.

Dropping Hex-ed foes yields temporary hit points, and the spells available included all manner of fire and blasty and commandy type stuff.  Mad Dog with his unnecessary eye-patch (explaining his low Intelligence and Dexterity), and fiendish polearm has become a rather tanky melee grunt. He still throws the occasional Eldritch Blast but it’s only filler as he closes in to hack-and-slash.

His progression has slowed due to my surgery and foray into actually being a Dungeon Master for the AL. Now that I’m back with a mini-dice tower to assist my crippled rolling techniques, I blew off the dust with a new Warlock from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything: The Celestial Warlock.

Izzy the Healer is an off-healer. His patron, some benign entity that has gifted him some daily healing dice and clerical spells to supplement his Warlock blasty-ness, chose to rescue him from the battlefield and send him forth as a Combat Medic adventurer. Shield and tome, with enough different attack cantrips to fit any situation he may run across. His last foray into the field had him working as the only healer amidst a team of level ones. His Guidance spell was put to great use as we snuck into a fancy dress masquerade to force a confession from our target… after some pretty trying party games.

Waiting in the wings, as well, is Chenzo, a crossbow specialist that has been taken under wing as a Hexblade; or should that be Hexbow? He’s fit and ready for Tier 2 gaming (that’s levels 5 to 10) in the AL, but circumstances have yet to pass that would bring him to another table. His hand crossbow is magical, bonded as his pact weapon, and can be used as a focus for his magic. It also relies solely on his Charisma stat for combat. He hits because he looks good doing it? *shrug* Works for me.

I still don’t really like the time constraint that the AL seems to enforce upon DMs and players, but I like the game and love Warlocks, so I’ll put up with it.

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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Adventure Framework Part 1: Start at the Beginning

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“A few small, mostly melted candles adorn an old round table at the center of this shadowy room. The candle light flickers lightly as you step into the room through an ornate curtain. The dancing luminescence wicks over numerous porcelain masks covering the walls, their demonic visage accentuated almost seeming alive. A single gold censer hangs from the ceiling, swaying lightly, it’s pungent smoke cascading from it. Sitting at the low table is an ancient man, legs crossed, as he adjusts himself on one of the oversized pillows set around the room. His eyes are glazed and pale white, his beard grey, long, and scraggly. He wears an enormous red turban adorned with silver baubles and ornaments. An ornate red demon mask lies on the table in front of him, his gangly fingers gently tracing its features. His head tilts towards you, looking more with his ears than his eyes. In a raspy yet elegant voice he says: ‘You’ve come! Have you brought it?’ “

This is an introductory event I planned out for an adventure set in a fantastical and far off, foreign land. After gathering some information from the players, I set out to design an introduction to the game WE decided to play. These introductions are an art form that takes practice to get right. They come in many shapes and sizes; though, I much prefer to use these events as an introduction to the game we will be playing. Therefore, when you plan your session 0 this should be the first thing you present to your players. This moment is an accumulation of the story you want to run as well as a representation of what your players ask for in your initial chats about playing the game. (You really should chat a bit with your players before you set up a session 0.) Each introductory event will be different depending on the type of game your players want to play and the story you want to tell.

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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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Review: Grim Dawn

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Review: Grim Dawn (7/10)

I don’t know what it is about steampunk and muzzle loader guns that attract me so, but I do love them in an RPG. Grim Dawn (available on Steam) is just such a game.

In Grim Dawn you play one of the Taken, a victim of demonic possession in a world gone to hell. Freed from your servitude at the end of a hangman’s noose, you are left with a connection to those demonic energies. This connection allows you to use Rift Gates as shortcuts to jump to and from the hubs you’ll encounter along the way of the linear story progression.

You’ll also be able to wield magical energies, as well as martial, as you level. The combination of two classes (chosen from a variety pack of 6) each with its own multipath of trees to specialize in. The customizations available are vast, and that’s got to be one the things that draws me to this game time and time again.

To date, according to Steam, I’ve logged 97 hours in the game. I still haven’t gotten out of the second chapter, or progressed beyond the mid 20s in level. That’s my fault though, too many creation choices.

The graphics are gory, the sound squishy, and the color scheme of the first areas a tad depressing. It is an apocalyptic setting however, so I urge you to look past that. With only a single body type of each gender to start with, your gear is the sole way to make you YOU. Find a weapon that suits you in all the myriad of colored-fantasy-rpg-rarities, summon your pets, carry a few potions, and by all means loot the bodies. Iron bits don’t grow on trees.

The Aetherials won’t kill themselves. Go face the Grim Dawn.

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.

There’s Something for Everyone in Gaming but Everything Isn’t for You

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That statement is pretty blunt, “There’s something for everyone in gaming, but everything isn’t for you.”  I imagine you’ve had one of three reactions reading it:  you either, one, nod your head and get it right away, two, give your computer screen a confused look because you aren’t sure if you should be upset by it, or, three, get upset and start to formulate a rebuttal to tell me how offensive this is.  Bear with me for a minute while I lay this out for you.

As I write this, there is another article being written about how games need to become less violent, more this, less that, and so on and so on.  There’s always someone, somewhere, trying to make the case that games are bad for us.  There are people, whether they are being honest or not, that think every game should fit into their own set of morals and standards.  Sounds a little nuts, doesn’t it?  I do hope you think so, because, if you don’t, you probably won’t like the rest of this.

Gaming has been evolving for decades now, growing from a niche novelty item into the largest entertainment industry in the world.  We’ve gone from just a couple of consoles and PC to countless platforms including handhelds and VR.  Where once your selection of games was fairly limited with just three games released in 1972, we’ve had about 680 games released this year.  The genres available to you are more than I can list, and just about anyone can find something to play.  Maybe that’s why it is estimated that 44% of the world is playing some sort of video game.

The beauty of gaming is it has those niches.  It has genres within genres, all of which appeal to someone.  The reality is they don’t appeal to everyone, and they shouldn’t.  Every one of us has a genre we don’t like, or type of game we think is awful.  There are games we won’t even try because of platform, publisher, subject matter, or genre.  That’s absolutely normal, and we shouldn’t do anything to change it.  Just like we all have book categories we don’t like.  Do we actually consider changing those to fit our tastes?  I wouldn’t pick up a romance novel any more than I’d play a Japanese dating simulator.  I couldn’t imagine demanding romance writers start writing their books more like fantasy adventures so I would find them more entertaining.

What it boils down to is there are definitely games out there for me, but not every game is for me.  That’s actually pretty great because it means more people will have games to play.  If every game fit my tastes, I can assure you many gamers wouldn’t find something they liked.  Our tastes are different.  I like FPS games, RPGs and MMOs, and I play just one mobile game.  I know a lot of people that don’t like any of those genres.  For FPS games, I play military sims almost exclusively, but thousands and thousands like Overwatch, a type of FPS I don’t care for.

Hopefully it’s making a lot more sense now.  But what’s the point?  Point is, when you see people saying “this game shouldn’t exist,” or “I don’t like that, change it,” keep one thing in mind.  Even if you agree with their dislike of whatever game they’re talking about, the next person may say it about a game you like.  As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that whatever game you do like, there’s people out there who don’t.  Imagine if we all stood up and said “I’m offended by that, ban it,” or started a petition to pull a game from store shelves.  How many games would we be left with?  So, when someone says a game shouldn’t exist, even if we don’t like it, we have to say, “yes, it should.”  Otherwise, we can’t really say much if someone comes after the games we like.