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Apologies and Adventure!

For steadfast readers who might have looked into my website, my Terminus books website, or my Conan Exiles server I host (server name is Phineas for anyone interested in checking it out – I’m always anxious to get more players on it) over the last couple of days I have to apologize. First off there was a power outage that killed my server. Then (today) I installed a new server and moved my databases over to it. There was downtime associated as I had to do some extra work to get the routings set up right. Everything should be up and running properly now though.

Now then, while power was out it was a great opportunity to get a little further into the adventure. The kids (Cody the paladin and Josephine the monk) were well rested and set out to talk with farmer Sherman. After interrupting him miking his cows they had a conversation that was only mildly confusing. They learned of two strange people – a man and a woman – that wandered off the road to the south and into the hills. They also learned that farmer Sherman knew of a Dahlia that was Baron von Griffinmount’s daughter, but had not heard of the Dahlia that they served for (she’s a merchant’s daughter).

Some fumbling around at the road’s edge (a 1 rolled on a perception check, for example) ensued and eventually they marched off into the south with no idea what to look for her or where to look for it. Instead they crested a hill and found a group of rocks complete with enough bush-cover to leave them clueless… save for the muttering in a language they weren’t familiar with (Dwarvish).

They crept closer but weren’t very stealthy about it. The voice spoke again (in Dwarvish) demanding to know who was out there and what they wanted. When they didn’t respond the dwarf barked thieves, a command word for his dog, and charged out of the weeds. They had to fight a large mastiff and the unusual dwarven prospector and, thanks to some convenient 20s, the fight ended with little more than a strike from the dwarf’s pickaxe hitting Cody. Both kids were upset at having to fight and kill a dog though, and now they both want to get a pet of their own (argh).

Amidsts some more fumbled rolling for tracking (1s are a DMs best friend) they eventually found the tracks of their suspected targets and continued their journey. An hour or two saw them to the edge of a shimmering forest. Upon closer examination they realized the shimmering was the sun reflecting off of the very fine spiderwebs that stretched from tree to tree and branch to branch. Numerous tiny spiders could be seen weaving their webs, which prompted the mighty paladin to cower in terror (he’s not big on spiders), even after it was explained to him that the spider silks are gathered by silk farmers (people) who have a way to weave them into some of the strongest and most beautiful silks in the world. The spiders themselves are harmless.

Since the tracks led into the forest, they had to follow them. After another hour or so of hiking Jo (Josephine) got distracted and walked into a tree (even monks have bad days). That noise prompted a wild boars to burst out of a nearby thicket and charge. Cody was ready this time and met it halfway. After their first exchange of blows the boar’s mate came crashing out of the same bushes and bore down on Cody (get it? the boar bore down on him).

Cody was gored a couple of times by the boars but managed to triumph. Josephine saw the boars as marvelous animals and refused to join the fight. Cody, to get her back for abandoning him, butchered one so he could have bacon when next they camped. I also explained to Jo (after the fact) that she could have attacked the boars (or the dwarf’s dog) with the intent to knock them unconscious and not kill them. It was my fault for not letting her know that earlier as it slipped my mind (and I was enjoying the turmoil in the party).

With that dispute resolved, they returned to trying to track Dahlia. The battle caused Cody to lose his bearings though. Fortunately Jo hadn’t moved so she picked up the trail and led them through the forest as they day grew long and the air thicker. The trees became darker and their leaves longer and broader. Even the ground began to grow moist as the forest turned to jungle.

It was there, on the edge of the jungle that they decided to camp. The sun had long since dropped below the mountains in the west and there was precious little light to see by. The gaming session ended for the night, short but fun for all. Stay tuned for part 3, whenever we can get to it. Hopefully that will be the end of their first official adventure, although their second one begins immediately – they just don’t know it yet!

 

Now some GM notes on fifth edition as I’m learning it. I have to admit, I like it so far. Players seem overpowered compared to monsters, but I think that’s my fault as much as anything. After all, I’m accustomed to old editions where these monsters would be more of a challenge to 1st level adventurers so I’m not throwing as much or as many against them. I did toughen them up a bit after the first session though, and I think I’ve found a better balance.

One other thing I really like is the dismissal of a lot of bonuses and penalties that really bogged the game down. Situational modifiers and circumstantial adjustments adding or subtracting from the die roll complicated things for DMs and players alike – or at least slowed the game down. In 5e they have a simple way of handling things – a roll is normal, advantage, or disadvantaged. A normal roll is a single 20 sided die like normal for attacks, saving throws, skill checks, or whatever. In the case of an advantaged roll two 20 sided dice (2d20) are rolled. The better roll is taken and then normal modifiers used. In a disadvantaged roll, 2d20 are rolled and the lower roll is taken. Roll 20s on both or 1s on both and it goes from critical (success / failure) to epic – I’m not sure if that’s in the rule books or not but it’s one I’m implementing.

So what can make a roll advantaged? Lots of things. One player declaring that he wants to use his combat action to help another, for example (e.g. distracting an opponent giving the other player an advantaged attack), fighting against an impaired target, having some magical boon or luck, etc.. A disadvantage can be had if you’re on the receiving end of such tactics. It’s early and my brain isn’t kicking in yet, but there are a lot of different reasons for advantage or disadvantage, including many pack hunting monsters that are next to the same target automatically gaining advantage because of their combat styles.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ve got some work to outside in between rain storms. That and probably more adjustments and enhancements to my new server to make. Somewhere along the way I have to fit in more writing too. The Goblin Queen has reached volume length already and there is a lot of story left to tell before it’s over!

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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Wayward Women

The first dungeons and dragons session with my kids went well. Surprisingly well, in fact. We didn’t get nearly as far as I hoped we would, but it only lasted a couple of hours. My daughter wanted more, but my son needed a break. It was a good stopping point and I was glad to use it to my advantage – I needed to modify the adventure I’d built now that I had some experience with the new system. They needed more of a challenge!

The characters are a paladin and a monk and they’re off on a mission to rescue a merchant’s missing daughter. She’s run off with a young man of questionable character and intent, heading not only outside of the city but to the west, where there’s only a few farms and a lot of danger. After three days, her father fears the worst and, since it’s outside the city walls, the city guards are unwilling or unable to help.

So off they went and, with the city walls only a few minutes out of sight on the dirt road, they come across two travelers walking toward them. Cody, the paladin, hailed them while Josephine, the monk, noticed how the two seemed to be looking everywhere but at the players. The travelers continued to approach while bantering with Cody and even mentioned being concerned about bandits. The players assured them that they were not bandits – in fact, they were upstanding citizens in search of a lost woman. The two men they’d met grinned and said, “Oh good, that must mean we’re the bandits!”

Battle was launched! Cody stood there, stunned by the sudden turn of events, while Josephine (Jo) seemed to know what was coming. She even managed to attack first, slicing high with her short sword and forcing her opponent to duck – and then delivering a kick to his chin that staggered him. He recovered and tried to counter attack, but she twirled away from the thrust.

Cody managed to knock the sword thrust at him aside with his shield, but was unable to counter. On the second round of combat Jo finished her dodging spin and thrust her sword into the bandit’s belly and up into his heart. He dropped, predictably, and that left Cody  squared off against his for. He gashed the bandit on the arm before the bandit could realize they’d picked on tougher opponents than they though. He turned to flee, giving Jo a chance to stab him in hip with a glancing blow. Off balance, he had no defense against Cody’s sword swept his head clean off.

Hearts pounding and breath coming in gasps, the characters and their players took a moment to recoup and then continued on. Next up was a farmstead they investigated. Speaking with the farmer was an awkward and nearly fatal experience given their direct questions and forgetfulness that they’d just taken part in a battle and looked the part. They managed to avoid getting shot by a crossbow or upsetting the man overly much though, and continued along their way with no new guidance to help them.

Needless to say, they skipped the next farm they encountered!

An hour or so later they found a third farm and decided to investigate. This time they were spied by the farmer’s son on their way up the lane. He warned his father of the dangerous looking visitors and they were greeted with caution. Cody and Jo handled themselves a little better this time and soon were able to move on feeling like they hadn’t just courted death, though they learned little they could use to help them find the missing girl.

Soon thereafter they were set upon by a pack of hyenas that lunged out of the grasses. Cody was daydreaming of righting heinous wrongs and missed the skulking forms in the waist high grasses. Jo tried to warn him, but she was busy defending herself from the toothsome beasts. Even five hyenas were no match for the would-be heroes, although Cody did suffered a bit of damage when one of the hyenas bit his arm and tried to pull him into the grasses.

They passed the 4th farm and hurried on to Silk City, which was little more than an encampment made by the silk farmers that gather the resilient webbing left behind by the spiders in the forest and turn it into particularly strong silks. Indeed, the silk crafted from these webs is unlike any made anywhere else in the world of Kroth, and is used for many purposes from clothing to durable and light weight rope and more.

They met a few of the people at Silk City, including Gwendolyn a semi-permanent resident that ran a small general store and hostel, and Reginald, a portly silk farmer that recommended they talk to Farmer Sherman, just up the road towards Griffinmount (the fourth farm that they skipped, of course). Turns out Reginald had spoken with the man while trading and he remembered him saying something about seeing some new faces wandering about.

And that was the day and their first adventure ended. Cody charmed Gwendolyn into letting him stay in her hostel while Jo slept on the floor. During the next session they will follow the clues and, hopefully, explore more of what I have planned for them. Perhaps even finish the original adventure – but not to worry, I’ve already expanded it and planned for what comes next. It will be some nonstop fun! If they thought the first session was tense, wait until they get to the new stuff I have planned!

Oh, and incidentally they haven’t quite made 2nd level yet, but I did learn that my encounters weren’t tough enough. I had to buff up the encounters on the fly to keep them from being over in the first and second round, for crying out loud! That’s something about D&D 5e I’m noticing – characters are a LOT more powerful than they used to be. Then again, I’m coming from a 1st and 2nd edition memories and, especially in 1st, everything was designed to kill you in the fastest way possible.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Fictional Event Planning

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I love how I can almost hear readers of this blog asking, what the heck is he talking about? For most of us, dealing with the day to day events is bad enough. Why fantasize about events that may or may not exist? Or even worse, why simulate them in our heads and map them out?

More years back than I care to recall, I had a group of friends that would regularly get together for role playing games. Typically the game being played was Dungeons and Dragons, but from time to time we tried out other ones as well (including a few we made up on our own – just to prove how socially awkward many of us were). Amongst our tight knit group it fell to a couple of us to run these sessions. That made the person in charge game master (GM) or dungeon master (DM), depending upon the game.

I tried different styles of running games over the years. Sometimes I’d come up with an idea and set down to prepare all the reference materials for it. These might be maps, encounters, creatures, and outlines or it might be little more than a suggestion of things to come along with possibilities the players might encounter or do. Of course playing with real people is the ultimate experiment in Chaos Theory, so that meant I had to be ready to roll with whatever they threw at me as well. Linear progression was virtually impossible!

And that, in a nutshell, explains how I came up with fictional event planning. Every gaming session was an event filled with multiple scenarios and opportunities. Maybe it was interacting with a serving maid in a bar to find out that the tavern’s latest shipment of ale was stolen or maybe it involved fighting a group of troll bandits that had stolen the aforementioned ale. And let’s not forget how much cuter the serving maid was after the ale was returned and a the first couple of rounds offered for free as payment for the adventurer’s services!

Fictional event planning is far more far reaching than gathering a group  of imaginative people to conduct fictional events in a made up setting. It’s used in all walks of life, from writing papers in college to telling jokes to preparing business cost analysis or life cycle management. Heck, we even use it when driving down the road and predicting what traffic around us might do and how we might react to it.

There’s another group of people to have learned to become pretty good at organizing fictional events: writers. The great thing about being a writer is that as long as something looks good on paper, you’re done! Real world implementation virtually never works out the way it appears it should on paper, but this is fiction. It works the way I want it to (or the way the characters tell me it’s going to).

I sat down last night to take a break from stressing over taxes and (hopefully) overcoming this miserable respiratory ailment I picked up last week. I started brainstorming about the third book in my Blades of Leander series now that book two, Victim of Fate, is in the hands of the editors and artists. While pondering book three I realized that I had more or less become a wedding planner. Although in my case wedding = epic fantasy story and planner = guy who writes down what my characters tell me to.

I’ve made the connection in the past many times. Planning a story is very much like planning a gaming session. Sometimes the objective is out there and the trick is to create an environment and obstacles for the characters to experience and overcome to reach the obstacle. At other times I come up with a scenario and toss the characters into it so I can see what they come out with. I like to think of the latter method as the rock tumbler approach.

Oh, and about those other guys that spent significant time running the gaming sessions… one of them has a couple of books published (Food and Philosophy and Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink) and he’s a professor. Another one has done a few commercials and is working hard to achieve success as an actor by the name of James Knight. Great guys that I still consider good friends, bonds forged by gaming and other adolescent pursuits. It just goes to show that not every gamer dork is doomed to a life of living in their parent’s basement watching pirated cable and becoming addicted to World of Warcraft and Internet porn. And it let me do a little name dropping, which is always fun!

Disclaimer: Yes, I tried out World of Warcraft when it was released. I quit inside of two months, becoming disgusted with the game play and cartoonish look. There’s just no substitution, in my opinion, for pen and paper RPGs.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

I Have the Coolest Toys!

For those that know me, the title of this post might raise an eyebrow. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not talking about those kinds of toys. 🙂

When I was a kid riding the school bus to elementary school I remember being too old for toys like action figures and such. It wasn’t cool, you see, but I sure did like playing with G.I. Joe and Transformers. I would even take one of them to school each day, stashed away in my school bag. Some people had a security blanket. Others had a teddy bear. I had play soldiers. That probably says something about me even at an early age… if it helps I always preferred the good guys over the bad guys.

Expanding upon the story, I somehow ended up one day sitting with the cool kid in the back seat of the bus. You know who I’m talking about, he was the good looking kid that was bigger and more athletic than everybody else, not to mention more socially adept than the rest of us could ever hope to be. He was also the guy who could determine the social status of every other guy in his grade just by what he said about them. Frightening power, in hindsight.

So I’m sitting with this kid and I’m scared shitless. Yeah, this guy was that cool and who was I? Just a stupid kid that liked to play with toys. Travis never played with toys, he was sooooo much more grown up and, well, cool! Well, somewhere along the way that particular toy came out and yes, there was some teasing that took place. I don’t remember the specifics at all. What I remember was that pretty much every day after that one the rest of the year he wanted me to sit with him and we’d break out whatever the day’s toy was and, in a very grown-up and cool / macho way, we’d play with it.

That was the last year of that. I don’t remember the grade or how old I was, but I do know it didn’t persist beyond that. Maybe I grew up too, but the toys stayed at home. Before too much longer the toys ended up being boxed away too, but thankfully my desire to play with them never did. I evolved into playing role playing games with friends, but time and distance eventually ended that as well. Soon my toys were gone, all I had was the memories of the good times. I felt like Al Bundy reliving his glory days of high school football before he became a shoe salesman.

I was reminded of this the other day when my daughter, who’s a month away from being 6 years old, sat in front of my salt water aquarium with my younger son (age 3) and went on and on telling him stories about the fish. He tried to add his own embellishments, but it was an amazing sight. She still plays with toys, though the Barbies don’t get nearly as much playtime as they used to. Instead she spends a lot of time in books and drawing / coloring, telling stories and making things up. Is she destined to be a writer like her old man struggles to be? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past her. In a few years I hope to write a book with her to see if it clicks (or if not, to at least help with the college fund).

The epiphany I had at that moment was that I still play with toys. Sure, I’ve got the manly grown up toys like a Harley and power tools, but I’m talking about the toys we keep stashed away for our private time. No, I already told you this wasn’t about those kinds of toys, I mean the ones that allow you to make up your own stories and your own scenarios. The characters are people you create, with talents and quirks that you pick out. The toys are in my head, and when you read my books they’re in your head too. Oh, and because some of you just won’t let it go, on rare occasions there might even be a book that has those kinds of toys in it. 😉

The moral of the story is that the toys may change, but we’re never too old to play with them!

In other news, keep an eye out for a pending new release from me called Bound. It’s got all sorts of great toys in it, from drug labs to hockey sticks to racy underwear and more! It’s technically a romance novel, but readers of my books will know that I’ve yet to meet a genre I can’t step outside of and take somewhere else!

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.