Monday, July 31, 2017

A Story on Twitter

Using Twitter for storytelling really changes the feel, just because the character limit forces a different sense of rhythm from what I'd normally be doing.

Here it is.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thinking About Story: The Stanley Parable, Dark Souls, and Intended Play

This was posted in one of my writing groups, and it's... interesting. Possibly fascinating, depending on whether you're a writer, a gamer, and/or a roleplayer.

My first reaction -- and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this -- is: "Ah, I see you've never run a roleplaying game before." Because if there's one thing you learn in trying to run a tabletop RPG (which is *at least* as interactive as any video game, and often far more flexible) it's that however carefully and irresistibly you've crafted your next story hook, however carefully you've steered your players towards what they're supposed to next, there is *always* the chance that they'll decide to do something else entirely.

I have a modest example here...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I don't wanna be a grownup!

I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to do all the things. I just don't!

This is somewhat ironic, in that yesterday I really did want to get out of bed and Do All The Things, but I wasn't doing to well. Today, I don't want to at all... but I'm doing much better.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

It is what it is

"It is what it is." Ye gods, I hate that phrase. I have never ever, ever heard it used in the stoic/zen/philosophical sense that it's supposed to represent. I only ever hear it used to describe situations which are:
A) Stupid
B) Untenable
C) Wholly beyond the ability/authority of the speaker to fix

"It is what it is." Yeah. And what it is, is unpleasant, unnecessary, and unavoidable.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Boys & DnD - The Second Session

So, on Friday the whole family gathered around the kitchen table after dinner and we had our second session in The Great Wildly Underprepared Daddy Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Much like the first session, it was both fun... and fraught.

The first major decision that they faced was whether to go back to town and report, or whether to explore further into the hole. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn opted to return to the hole and check for signs of any further danger. Secondborn, on the other hand, expressed the fear that there might be an invisible dragon down in the dungeon, and wanted to stay on the surface and kill things and get stronger before venturing back inside.

::sigh:: I probably should have seen that coming. He's only seven, remember.

After a certain amount of mild argument, the party split up. Firstborn and Beautiful Wife returned to the dungeon entrance; Secondborn wandered off into the woods. So, I handled this the only way I could.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife checked over the place where they'd battled the goblins, then explored further back into the tunnels. One of the goblins had tried to flee, so they went in the direction that it had been running when my Beautiful Wife the Halfling Sorceress decided to immolate it. They found a connecting tunnel, did some exploring, and found an enormous pit, with a ramp circling down around the outside edge as it descended into the depths.

Secondborn found a squirrel.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife reached the bottom of the ramp and found two exits, one on each side of the circular chamber. The one on the south opened onto a passage, but since the passage was perpendicular to the exit all they could immediately see was the far wall. The one to the north went a short ways and then opened onto a much larger chamber. They elected to head that way.

Secondborn heard birds. He then spent something like 20 minutes IC climbing up a tree, spotting a nest, climbing out the branch to get to the nest, discovering that the nest was empty, and climbing back down.

The lower level, like the upper, was assembled from dressed stone. The mortar between the blocks has been overgrown with strange mushroom and some sort of phosphorescent lichen. Firstborn and Mommy decide to put out their lamps and navigate using the natural light, which is dim but sufficient. They step into the large room and attempt to survey the length of it. I have them roll Spot checks.

It's a big room, with a row of columns on each side. Off at the far end, barely visible, is some sort of dais with a dark block atop it. The first thing they notice is that the high ceiling is covered in webs, which wind around and anchor to the rows of columns as well. The second thing they notice is that there are cross-passages in the two nearest corners, one about thirty feet to their left and the other about thirty feet to their right. There's a goblin standing in the one to their right. It screams and runs away.

Meanwhile, Secondborn encounters trees.

Firstborn and my Beautiful Wife decide to investigate this room before chasing after the goblin. They proceed towards the block at the far end, and Beautiful Wife expresses her (somewhat concerned) opinion that this is, or was, some sort of temple. Secondborn, of the Human Rogue/Ranger, is the only one with any sort of Hide or Move Silently skill, so they're basically just strolling through the web-infested temple. They're about halfway down the room when Firstborn looks up and realizes that there's a rather large spider lowering itself towards the halfling sorceress's head. He pulls his dagger and flings it at the monstrosity, which is roughly the same size as the halfling it's about to eat. The spider shrieks, the halfling looks up and lets loose with a Scorching Ray, then steps calmly aside as the stabbed, burning spider plummets down to land in the spot where she'd been standing a minute before.

Secondborn decides that the forest is really, really boring, and decides to go catch up with the rest of the party. He enters, then begins following the tracks to find where his friends have gone.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife take a closer look at the webs, and realize that there are web-wrapped, mummified figures suspended up there - quite a number of them. Beautiful Wife expresses the opinion that there might have been more than one spider. While they can't make out much in the way of details because of the webbing and the poor lighting, it looks like the bodies are pretty small: the size of goblins, say... or halflings. They proceed to the back of the room, finding the dais to be made of the same rectangular-cut stones as the rest of the place, and the almost-certainly-an-altar of a single stone block. It's a little hard to be sure what sort of altar it might have been, since there are no carvings and no adornments.

However, when they circle the altar they find a larger body. Like the ones up in the webbing, it's completely covered in webs; but instead of hanging in the air, it's anchored to the back of the altar. They cut it loose, and discover that while it's human-sized, it isn't human. It looks like a human-sized goblin: a hobgoblin, in fact. Also, it has a few coins, which they promptly claim.

Secondborn has spent this time following the trail. He's found the ramp and started down it. At the bottom, he stops to look at the tracks again, then follows them into the large chamber. I ask if he's sneaking or walking normally, and he says he's just walking. So when he comes out into the main room behind the group of goblins who are attempting to corner Firstborn and the Beautiful Woman, he finds that four of them have turned to look back at him.

The band he's facing off with consists of six goblins and a hobgoblin. However, only four of the goblins have noticed him. The hobgoblin and the other two are still approaching the back of the room, intent on trapping Firstborn and Beautiful Wife, and killing them.

We roll for initiative. Secondborn rolls something obscene, just like he did in the last session, and ends up going first, with Firstborn and Beautiful Wife coming after him, followed by the goblins and finally the hobgoblin. (No, I don't have the patience to roll for the goblins individually.) Secondborn puts an arrow through one of the goblins that's looking at him, killing it, and the battle is on.

These are neither the best equipped nor the most powerful opponents. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn take cover behind the altar, and Firstborn (the Elf Barbarian/Druid) looses his viper companion to go slither up next to the pillars, which it does unnoticed. Beautiful Wife takes a shot at the hobgoblin with Scorching Ray, but between the poor lighting and the partial cover/concealment of the pillars, she misses.

The goblins finally manage to attack, inflicting a bit of damage with arrows on Secondborn's character. One of them (lacking a bow) charges in close enough to attack with its axe, but misses. The other two goblins and the hobgoblin continue to advance, using the pillars for cover. One of them takes a shot at Firstborn and Beautiful Wife, but the altar provides excellent cover and the arrow shatters against the stone wall behind them.

Secondborn (against my advice) elects to drop his bow and draw his sword, and neatly dispatches the goblin in front of him. Firstborn decides not to do anything yet, and waits beside the altar. My wife, the Halfling Sorceress, takes another shot at the hobgoblin, and this time she melts his face.

The two advance goblins continue their approach, bringing one of them into range of the viper. However, despite the advantage of surprise, it misses. The goblins attacking secondborn loose more arrows, but fail to do any damage. The hobgoblin, being dead, merely smolders.

With the immediate threat dead, Secondborn puts his sword away and retrieves his bow from the ground. The two goblins who have been sniping at him try again, but again fail to connect with him.

At the other end of the room, Beautiful Wife finds that a goblin has crept up into reasonably close range. She draws her magic dagger, throws it, and puts the goblin down. Firstborn, meanwhile, steps up to the goblin that his snake has tried to attack. His snake tries to attach it again, but again misses. However, the goblin is now flanked between Firstborn and the snake, and Firstborn cleaves it in twain with a blow from his greatsword.

Secondborn takes a shot at one of the two goblins who are shooting at him, and puts a arrow right through its eye. (Natural 20, confirmed critical.) It dies instantly, and the one remaining goblin runs away.

Well, at this point we've been playing for two hours and it's time for the boys to go to bed. They loot the goblin and hobgoblin corpses, then head back to the farm to rest again.

Overall: So far, so good. I think we're learning to stay together and work as a group. The enemies I've given them so far aren't much of a challenge, but that's fine; I'd rather err on the side of weak enemies than put them up against something that kills them all. The boys are becoming more familiar with how all this works, and we've definitely established that having the one half-elf farmer's kid fall into these dungeons has opened up a real danger for the community. More importantly, the boys are really enjoying this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Books I will almost certainly never write

I've got nothing, so instead here are some books that I will almost certainly never write:

The Maltese Space-Falcon
He's the richest and most eligible bachelor on Alpha Centauri. She's an ex-cop who's been burned one too many times. The alien artifact they're searching for could unlock the secrets of an alien civilization, or destroy their own. Or both!

High Stakes
Evie Dowling is an ordinary high school girl, but when a 4,000 year old vampire joins her senior class, she suddenly finds herself dodging magical traps, supernatural assassins, and an entire squad of vampire hunters. Now she'll have to choose between her humanity and the tempting combination of immortality, supernatural power, and incredible wealth. High Stakes: humanity doesn't stand a chance!

Heroic Destiny For Sale!
Dov spends his days being herded by goats and dreaming of heroic deeds. But when he stumbles onto the magical sword foretold by ancient prophecy, he suddenly realizes that being a hero isn't as much fun as it sounds. Now the Dark Lord's minions are trying to kill him, Princess Jerra wants to throw him in jail, and his magical talking blade just won't shut up. Dov thinks it'll be okay, though: all he has to do is get to the market at Derwhit and auction off the blade for enough money to retire on, and all his problems will be solved.

It's not about the budget, it's about the priorities

I've mentioned this before, but when someone tells that there isn't money in the budget to do something - like, say, raise salaries for teachers, hypothetically? It's almost never about the budget. It's about the priorities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Boys Try Dungeons & Dragons

So, back on Saturday I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons for the boy.

It's a little soon. I mean, Firstborn is eleven, which is plenty old enough; but Secondborn is still seven, which is well below the intended player age for Ad&D. He did pretty well, despite his age and despite the part where we really didn't have a lot of visual aids.

We're playing in 3.5, because honestly:
A) That's the most recent version that I'm familiar with - I never really tried 4 or 5.
B) It's a good, reasonably balanced and playable system.
C) You can make it as simple or as complex as you like, relatively speaking.

For now, we're sticking with simple. Or... mostly simple. The boys have complicated things, all by themselves. And I've also discovered that, as much as I like to think of myself as a veteran Game Master (or Dungeon Master, as Firstborn just reminded me) it's been years since I played, and I've actually forgotten huge chunks of the rules. So I'm... well.. winging it. Specifically, I'm filling in the actual combat system with the "this seems reasonable" system, at least until I can read back through and wrap my mind around the system.

So let's talk about boys complicating things. I let everybody start at fourth level, because first level characters die ridiculously easily. So both of the boys immediately decided to go with split-class characters.

Firstborn has decided to play a Elvish Barbarian/Druid, which is odd but viable. He's taken a viper for his animal companion, and he's set up to be a fairly reasonable front-line fighter, who can then fall back and heal people when the battle is over.

Secondborn went with a Human Ranger/Rogue split, apparently with the intention to sneak up reasonably close and then snipe people with arrows. This is, again, odd but viable.

Beautiful Wife said she'd fill in anything that would round out the party's skillset, so she's a Halfling Sorceress with an owl for her animal companion. She has one really good attack spell, and some useful/defensive secondary spells, plus a magic dagger that she can throw; her job is to hang back and use ranged attacks, or to do the talking and negotiating for the group.

That left me in need of, you know, a setting and an actual adventure, but I think we're off to a pretty good start. The characters all know each other, and more or less grew up together - at least in the same town. They grew in the free town of Morendell, which is out in the southwestern edge of the great forest. It's an area that the human kingdoms generally consider to be part of the elven kingdoms, but that the elves consider to be outside of their demesne. Elves come there to trade with humans in a reasonably comfortable environment; humans come there to trade with elves without having to actually travel into the deep forest. The population is approximately 40% elves and 40% humans, with maybe 8% being half-elves and the remainder being dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and everybody else. It's a walled city, with a ring of farms outside the walls and the forest beyond the farms. Our heroes are a special unit of the guards, who patrol - or at least sort of check in with - the outlying settlements: the farmer, trappers, woodcutters, and etc. who live outside the walls and out in the forest.

For our first adventure, I introduced the human Chief Guard, Vendik (Fighter, lvl 7 - we're not hugely advanced around here). He's about halfway between a sheriff and a police chief, but he's well organized and keeps the city safe. He's also the one who recruited the PCs and set them to patrolling the outlying settlers. Vendik was waiting with one of the outliers, a half-elf farmer named Berrin. Berrin explained that his kids had been playing in the woods a couple of weeks back when one of them fell through the forest floor. The kids were smart: one of them waited with the one who fell, while the third went back to get help. Berrin and his wife came back with rope, and they pulled the kid out.

Since then, though, they'd been hearing noises in the night. They thought something was prowling through the woods and watching the farm. So Berrin had come into town, to get the guard to come have a look and tell them whether they were really in danger, or whether they were just scaring themselves.

Vendik told the PCs to skip their patrol of the eastern settlements, and look into this instead; then he told Berring that the PCs would take care of him, and went back to his office.

...And we were off.

One of the complications that came up immediately was that Secondborn (who is only seven, remember) didn't realize that being a ranger made him the tracker for the party. They got to the farm immediately, but it was quiet and when they went to put their horses in the barn they found that something had cut its way into the chicken coup, killed the chickens, and probably carried them off. Once the ranger realized he could track things, he identified the prints as small boots, and the party set out to follow the trail.

Unsurprisingly, the trail led to the hole that Berrin's child had fallen into. It wasn't a cave, or at least not exactly; the edges of the hole, and the fallen stones, were clearly clean-cut rectangular blocks. After a bit of consultation, the group descended into the hole, and immediately discovered that they were in a large-ish room, still mostly covered, with a doorway at the far end. Also, the Druid/Barbarian was just sure there was something else down there, even though nobody else could hear anything.

The Ranger/Rogue began to scout ahead, but the Halfling Sorceress got impatient and sent her familiar owl on ahead. The owl grew concerned and came flapping back, and all of a sudden everybody could hear harsh, guttural voices up ahead somewhere. So the Ranger/Rogue snuck up the hall, around a couple of corners, and looked in through a doorway. By then he could smell both smoke and cooking meat.

Looking in, he saw a large room, with pillars to support the ceiling, and a fire in the middle. There were three goblins sitting on stone blocks around the fire, and a pot cooking over it. He ducked back when one of the goblins looked at the doorway, and went back to report to the others.

They moved up to the nearest turn in the hallway, and the ranger/thief decided that he was going to sneak into the room and take the goblins by surprise. He crept silently down the hall, reached the doorway, and started around it. That was exactly the moment when he realized that there was a goblin sneaking around the corner in an exact mirror of his own plan. For a moment they just stood there, staring at each other. Then we rolled initiative.

Secondborn rolled something obscene - a 19, I think, which combined with his Dexterity bonus and Improved Initiative to let him go first at 24. Firstborn was next, and then the Beautiful Wife. The goblins rolled poorly, and all came after the Player Characters.

So Secondborn jumped back, I guess because he was startled, and pulled his longsword. (Never mind that he's an archery specialist; he's seven years old, he's startled, and by the gods he's going to beat things down with a sword.) The goblin, meanwhile, yells loudly to alert its companions.

Firstborn and Secondborn move to flank the door, leaving Beautiful Wife a little ways back down the hallway. The goblin is still there in the doorway, and Secondborn attacks with his sword - not a one-hit kill, but a one-hit KO which is good enough. Firstborn spots the goblins by the fire and charges one of them. This leaves him open to the fourth goblin, who was hiding just inside the doorway, but that goblin misses and Firstborn reaches his target and essentially cuts him in half. He's raging, of course, as only a barbarian can - and while his skin hasn't turned green, that elf suddenly looks a lot larger and more muscular.

Beautiful wife advances to the doorway, and sights the other goblin beside the fire. She lets loose with her one offensive spell, and immolates him. Like, he bursts into flames and then dissolves into ash. This, I suppose, is the advantage of taking a single-class character.

The one remaining goblin decides to dodge past the characters in the doorway, and race off into the deeper darkness down the other branch of the hallway. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite manage it, and Secondborn sticks a broadsword in his kidney but doesn't quite kill him.

When the next round starts, Secondborn decides to let the goblin go. Apparently, he's having second thoughts about wantonly murdering sentient beings over stolen chickens. Firstborn's character yells "Let it go!" for the slightly more sophisticated reason that he wants to chase it and find out where it was trying to go.

Beautiful Wife's character immolates it anyway, either because she's tired and cranky or because halflings are nasty like that.

After some prodding and some consultation, the characters decide to head back to the farm, put their horses in the barn (under guard) and bring Berrin and his family up to speed.

So... I think we have a good start. The characters have a decent base of operations (the city, and to a lesser extent the farm). The boys have had a decent introduction to the system and how it works. They've kept the farm safe and found out what got into the chicken coop. If they don't decide to explore the dungeon on their own, I'll have their commander order them to make sure it's safe.

More importantly, I think everybody enjoyed it -- even the Beautiful Wife, who spent a fair amount of the game looking at FaceBook. Firstborn is thrilled; he's actually asked if, once this adventure is done, he can try being the dungeon master. (For the record, I said: "Sure, but you have to realize that it's a lot more work than it looks like.") Secondborn did amazingly well for something that requires sustained focus, and I think had a good time as well. Beautiful Wife was less enthused at the outset, but she did get into it -- and, again, she's not feeling entirely well, which makes it hard to really dig in on something like this.

I've offered to take the boys to the local gaming store tomorrow, and let everyone choose their own dice, if they'd make a reasonable effort to go to bed. This, they've done. I may let them pick out figurines for their characters, too, if we can find anything suitable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Love is a Many-Translated Thing

So I've been thinking about that "if you receive a friend request from Steve Miller" meme that's going around, and... yes, I know thinking about it was my first mistake... Anyway, I've wondering about speaking with the pompatus of love. Is there, like, a Rosetta Stone program for that? Maybe Duolingo? 'Cause I think "fluent in the pompatus of love" would be a great addition to my resume.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A brief snippet of Urok...

Opening Paragraph:
Urok set his mug on the laquered wooden table and sighed. He'd wanted to see the town of Merchuk, and now he had. He'd wanted to have some human-brewed ale, and he'd done that too. He'd used up the coins that old Salvain had paid him for cutting wood and hauling stones. It was time to head back into the grasslands.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Self-Maintenance & Boy Conversations

Nothing for this morning, really. We finally got some news at work, but that's still going to play out however it plays out; I'm still writing, but that's also going to play out however it plays out. The boys are still awesome, though:
Beautiful Wife has noticed (and she is not alone in this) that Secondborn tends, when hungry, to be a bit... cranky. Irritable. Rage-prone. Homicidal. Unfortunately, he gets this from both sides. Fortunately, once fed, he morphs back into the sweetest little dude imaginable, and is all ready to tell EVERYBODY just how much he loves them, which is a lot. It's almost like Gremlins, except that the Mogwai only changes if you *don't* feed it, and if you do feed it then it changes back.

Beautiful Wife: "Man. When Secondborn hits puberty, it's going to be like a series of nuclear bombs."

Firstborn (who is eleven, and speaking in the most sardonic voice imaginable): "We're going to need a bunker."
So that much, at least, is still right with the world. And yeah, my family is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.

Oh, and also:
Firstborn: "I have decided that I will do Orchestra instead of Band when I start Middle School next year."

Me: "Now we see the violins inherent in the system."

Firstborn: "What?"

Me: "What?"
Meanwhile, I'm reminding myself yet again why basic self-care is so critical to writing and any other sort of creative endeavor (and critical to Not Getting Sick as well). I'm supposed to be a grown-up. You'd think I could remember that, but... no, apparently not. ::sigh::

Anything fun or exciting happening with you, gentle readers? Consider this an open thread.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Gifs of Life

Friend on Facebook is all like, "Using only a gif, tell me what you do for a living."


Monday, July 10, 2017

Another Old Project

So, last Saturday I got to play Dungeons & Dragons again, for the first time in... I don't know. Fifteen years? At a guess?

It was fun. It was good to be with friends. It was definitely not the sort of campaign I'm used to -- I'm pretty sure my character showed up just in time to help the other characters take over a drug cartel, for example. Fortunately, my character is both Chaotic Neutral and Not That Bright, so he doesn't have to be terribly concerned about it.

I'm playing a half-Orc druid, which means that I have two basic roles in the party. Basically, I hang back and summon animals to fight for us. Then, if I have any spells left, I heal anybody who needs it. So far, it's worked amazingly well. And since we're pretty low-level, my animal companion is the toughest thing in the party. He's a wolf. I call him "Puppy."

...All of which has gotten me thinking about an old character that I wanted to write about: Urok, the half-Orc barbarian. And I'm considering taking Urok and his soon-to-be-found friends, and posting bits of his story here once a week as a regular feature.

I've tried this before, with mixed results. It does help me keep things going, but sometimes I end up posting things that really aren't ready to be part of the story or desperately need to be revised (or abandoned). Several of my other blogs (mostly neglected, if we're being honest about this) were intended for this sort of use.

But... I'm also beginning to think that I need to be rotating several projects at the same time if I'm going to make progress on any of them. In my teens, I'd focus on a single project and just write it, but that was thirty years ago and my life was very different then. So taking a break to generate the next scene for Urok at least once a week might be just the break I need.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sales Calls To Our House

Beautiful Wife: "They say these sales callers aren't personal, but it turns out you can get them there."

Me: "I'm not sure that provoking them to the point of homicidal hatred is the best way to establish a personal connection with people."

Beautiful Wife: "But it does work!"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017