Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Music: Transformer's Theme

Mutemath covers it:

To be honest, I'd forgotten that this version even existed.

Monday, April 29, 2019

DnD: Once Again Safe... ish.

The quick, epic version of this week's events:
The party decided that it was time to return to lord Aldenmier, sell off their looted equipment, and restock supplies (especially healing potions). Lord Aldenmier was waiting outside the dungeon when they emerged; he looked approving when they all emerged alive, and even more approving at the pile of loot. "A successful first expedition, I see." He turned to the serving boy beside him. "Please inform the Seneschal that the Ivory Scimitars have emerged from the dungeon."

He then led them back out of the inner keep and onto the streets, surrounded by a small group of servants and guards. People stared and gaped and whispered as they passed. They went to the local Adventuring Supply store, which is run by a young-seeming half elf (nice coat, white shirt, breeches, boots) who looked over the group and the looted equipment and raised an eyebrow. "We have a new Banner Company, I see."

The dragonborn stepped forward, and the haggling began.

By the time they were done, they got a pretty fair price for their haul. They took it back outside, combined it with the gold they'd taken from the hobgoblins and ghouls, and divided it with Lord Aldenmier. Then they went back inside, and bought a couple of things: another healing potion, and studded leather armor for the halfling rogue. That left them with a decent amount of gold and no real expenses, so after checking over the local mage's tower (which doesn't really sell magic items, as such) they returned to House Aldenmier. By now it was mid-afternoon: time to bathe, eat, relax, and eventually go to sleep.

The Dragonborn Sorcerer was the first one awake. He stepped out into the garden, yawned, stretched, and wondered why there was a crossbow bolt sticking out of his leg. Looking up, he saw a figure on the garden wall, heard guards yelling, and started cursing at the top of his lungs in Draconic. As everybody else spilled into the yard, the figure vanished over the wall.

Barrith (Ghostwise Halfling Rogue) immediately gave chase, scaling the wall and slipping past the guards to follow the assassin into the streets. Kaz (human monk, raised by wolves) followed him to the top of the wall, but stopped there to call directions for Barrith. ("Keep going! Now left! LEFT!")

Barrith skidded to a halt, having caught a glimpse of something strange to his left. There was a narrow alley there, too narrow for a human to stand comfortably; the assassin had slid into it sideways, and was now... not quite wedged in, but not in a position to fully face his pursuer. He'd intended to hide there while Barrith ran by.

Too narrow for a human, but not for a halfling. Barrith drew his short sword and stepped right in. The assassin drew a dagger, but kept backing away, side-stepping down the alley. Kaz arrived a moment later, took in the situation, and went running off again.

The assassin was just nearing the far end of the alley, with Barrith following him but not attacking, when he realized the monk was waiting for him there. And that was when Shadow arrived as well, crossbow out.

With enemies on either side and no room to maneuver, the assassin elected to climb. This may not have been the worst escape plan in the history of escape plans, but it was probably in the top ten somewhere. Barrith shot him in the leg with a bow, Kaz put a pair of darts in his other leg, and Shadow put a crossbow bolt in his arm. He didn't so much fall as scrape his way back down to the bottom of the alley.

The group tied him up and brought him back to House Aldenmier; a pair of the city guard caught up with them along the way. When they reached the garden gate, Lord Aldenmier was standing inside and the cleric was over at the far end of the garden, healing the sorcerer. Lord Aldenmier acknowledged the guards with a brief nod. "Inform Sherrif Mourn that we will hold this man until he brings the wagon around." He looked at the other guard. "You may remain to observe until he arrives."

Barrith had already begun looting the assassin's equipment. (Ahem. "Checking for hidden weapons.") So the assassin was laying there in his smallclothes when the Dragonborn stalked over and asked, "Why did you try to kill me?"

"Do as you will," said the assassin. "I tell you nothing."

Lord Aldenmier sniffed and gestured to his own guards, who removed the assassin to a cell. The city guard followed along with them. The other guards went back to their patrols, and Aldenmier muttered something about having the wards on the house renewed.

It was about twenty minutes later that Sheriff Mourn showed up: a solidly-built human wearing a leather coat that was probably fashionably cut armor, with a sword at his side. With him was the cart: a small, enclosed carriage pulled by a single horse, with bars over all the windows. He and his men loaded the assassin into the cart, and he left after promising to deliver Lord Aldenmier a full report.

Lord Aldenmier then called the adventurers in for breakfast. "My apologies," he said once everyone was seated. "I did not expect the other Houses to move against us so soon. I thought that you would be able to enter the dungeon several times before anyone reacted. I advise you all to be exceedingly careful, and not leave House Aldenmier alone."

Everyone agreed that this was sound advice, so they finished breakfast and then split up to spend a day within the manor: reading, resting, practicing, cleaning equipment. Tomorrow, they would try their luck with the dungeon again.

OOC Notes:
The Mousefolk Cleric's player wasn't here today (Avengers: Endgame is a very long movie) so I was playing him; but that's also why he doesn't have a larger role in the action.

Trying to roleplay the interaction with the shopkeeper didn't go terribly well; everybody was very excited and they kept talking over each other.

Money: The party currently has 135 GP, plus leather armor that they can sell off. The monk is keeping the light crossbow, and the halfling thief is keeping the two daggers.

Advancement: I've told everybody to go ahead and level up. Now I just need to remember to make time to do it with the boys.

Other stuff:
We're still having some issues with the monk's player and myself being much more familiar with 3e than we are with 5e. The monk was making suggestions about buying some minor magic items to help us along, and that... apparently really doesn't happen in 5e. At least, I can't find anything resembling a table with GP values for magic items, and I'm getting the impression that such items are much more rare than they were back in 3e.

The assassination attempt was completely off-the-cuff. It's not part of the pre-published campaign. We'd finished selling things off and buying new equipment, and I felt like the group wasn't going to be really satisfied unless they had a chance to defeat something. So... I introduced a bit more intrigue. Plus, now they have to wait until next session to find out more about the assassin.

On a related note: I can't believe they caught him. He had a good head start, Barrith's perception checks for trying to spot him aren't so great, and he really should have escaped. But Barrith's player rolled a natural 20 on perception, and saw him hiding in the alley. The rest of that setup was just to give everybody else a chance to feel like they did something to bring him down. And they were into it.

This is an awesome little group.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Must... Sleep...

Tired. So, so very tired. "If I can just get through the day," I told myself, "I can go home and go straight to bed." So I held on, finished my work, and went home.

Beautiful Wife was already asleep, leaving me to fix Secondborn's medicine. (He's on a regular dose of laxative following his hernia surgery last summer, and will be until the doctor thinks his digestive tract will stop trying to be constipated.) This also left me to feed the boys. (I ordered pizza. No energy to cook.) This also left me to get Firstborn to practice his bass. (He did.) This left me to put the boys into bed. (With their mother; she was sleeping on the lower bunk in Firstborn's room.)

The boys were actually very good about all of this, including getting into bed in the most ninja-quiet way possible.

"Thank God," said I. "Now I can read for a little bit, and then go to bed myself."

That was when I heard the voices.

Yes, they were all three awake. Yes, Secondborn needed water and a bit of Melatonin to help him sleep. Yes, of course yes, Firstborn had suddenly remembered that he needed to assemble the materials he'd brought home into something he could present to his class tomorrow. Yes, this was going to take at least another hour. Yes, I was so tired that it hurt.

Fortunately, Beautiful Wife was rested enough to take over. Unfortunately, there's essentially no way I can go to sleep if everybody else is still awake in the kitchen.

By the time they finished (an hour later) I'd passed my window. Still tired, mind you, but not at all sleepy. Of course.

I'd have been a lot more irritated, except that I clearly remember having one of those last minute, just-as-I-was-going-to-bed "Oh no!" moments when I was around Firstborn's age. Possibly more than once. So I did an admirable (I think - I admired it, anyway) job of holding onto my patience through this whole thing, and I did eventually go to sleep. I even managed to wake up for work.

But somehow I have *got* to find a way to be less tired.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Random Pictures

Kitty and the Ink Machine:

And they say dinosaurs are extinct:

Crush your enemies, see them driven before you...

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Challenge: Books I Discovered On Social Media

This is part of the weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's topic is Books I Discovered On Social Media.

Which... I don't even know where to start. There's a bunch.

All right, let's start with the one I'm reading now:

1. The City Stained Red, by Sam Sykes. I wound up following Sam Sykes on Twitter a few years back, I think mainly because of his interactions with Chuck Wendig (whom I'd already read and enjoyed) and Myke Cole (whom I hadn't, yet). So... this book. All right. You know what High Fantasy is? Grand themes, great heroes, inescapable destinies, and the ultimate war between Good and Evil? Yeah. This book... isn't that. This is more... Low Fantasy. Yes, it has a lot of the fantasy tropes, but it's also got a lot of crude humor, heroes who aren't particularly heroic (they've actually arrived on the scene because they're chasing someone who owes them money), and despite all that it has a lot very enjoyable adventure.

2. The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow. An intriguing, richly-imagined mix of steampunk and sorcery, which I believe I originally learned about from an article on John Scalzi's blog Whatever. (I wouldn't absolutely swear to that, but I distinctly remember the article and its discussion of how the romance elements within the book play out, and it isn't between the two title characters.) Anyway, after I finished that one I read the next in the series, and the one after that, and somewhere in there I basically started working my way through all of Lilith Saintcrow's back catalogue.

3. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente. Oh my God, y'all, I love this book so much. And I wouldn't have known it existed except that the author was talking about how it grew out of her deep, strong love of Eurovision -- either on Twitter, or somebody linked to the discussion from Twitter. This is a story about some deeply broken, very remarkable people who have to save humanity from extermination through the power of Rock'n'Roll.

4. Rolling in the Deep by Myra Grant. I'm pretty sure I picked this one up because somebody on Twitter said, "It has murder mermaids." I do not regret that choice. It's a bit campy (there's a bit of Found Footage approach to the way it's set up) but it does exactly what it sets out to do, and the end result is a fun little horror book set in the middle of the ocean. With mermaids.

5. Space Unicorn Blues by TJ Berry. This is another one that I can basically chalk up to, "I follow a lot of authors and aspiring authors on Twitter." I'm pretty sure that in this case somebody said, "Unicorns! In! Space!" and I thought, "I'm there for that." A misfit crew, an unlikely mission, a pretty fair amount of violence and explosions, and some actual personal growth in the characters. It's not going to be to everyone's taste (in fact, that's probably true of anything I like) but I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

There are others, probably a lot of others, but those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.

Monday, April 22, 2019

DnD: The Hobgoblins Next Door!

When last we left our heroes, they were on the first level of the arcane dungeon beneath Roslof Keep, and had just defeated a group of three ghouls.

They began this session by making a thorough check of the rooms - both the small room behind the concealed door where the ghouls has been hiding, and the larger room outside. They didn't discover any secret doors or other points of interest, but they did take a few minutes to examine the glyphs that decorate the walls and ceiling. They have determined by now that the glyphs seem to be scattered at random and don't appear to be any sort of message; their current theory is that the glyphs are part of whatever process allows the Infernal Machine to regenerate and rearrange the dungeon.

Having failed to turn up anything interesting, the monk suggested that they should go back to where they came in and see if they could disarm the trapped door. They managed fairly handily, and were then able to open the door. Behind it they discovered a small space housing a pair of large crossbows or small ballistae, each ready to fire a full-size spear when the door was opened. The group claimed the two spears (the drow assassin is keeping one of them, and they plan to sell the other). Then they checked the room over, found nothing, and moved on.

After a brief group consultation, they decided to go back to the door across the hall from the room that held the ghouls. This was the one they'd started to open last week, except that the cleric thought she heard something moving behind it so they went the other way instead.

This time, they marched up to the door, flung it open, and found themselves face to face with six hobgoblins: three in front with longswords, three in back with longbows. The front-and-center hobgoblin in the first row was tapping the flat of his sword on the palm of his hand. (Like this.) The melee hobgoblins charged up but stopped short of attack range, forcing the party to enter the room if they wanted to fight. The archers loosed, but... badly.

One of the hobgoblins rolled a critical failure, and shot his buddy in the back; I then ruled that not only was that melee hobgoblin injured, he also had disadvantage because he'd turned his head to glare balefully back at the guy behind him. The halfling rogue moved to get an angle on him and took a shot, but missed. The drow rogue, who also had a decent line on the guy, took his hand crossbow and put a bolt in his neck, finishing him. The monk stepped into the room and attacked, doing some damage. The sorcerer tried a firebolt but missed.

(Firstborn's Dragonborn Sorcerer is actually an attempt to copy an entirely different character class from an entirely different game. That particular class does everything with fire. So at this point, all his attack spells are fire-based, except for Magic Missile. This is going to become a problem later, as fire resistance becomes more common -- but I figure, that can be part of the character growth. Firstborn has definitely built for concept rather than optimization.)

The cleric moved in past the monk and around one of the remaining melee hobgoblins, so she and the monk were flanking him. The melee hobgoblins attacked again, missing the cleric but injuring the monk. One of the arrows from the archers hit the cleric, damaging him but not enough to take him down; everything else missed. The halfling rogue decided to make a support run; he slipped in beside the cleric, took a healing potion off her belt, and tipped it into her mouth. The drow rogue took another shot with his crossbow but missed. The sorcerer tried another Firebolt and missed again. (The Hobgoblins didn't have all that much in the way of hit points, but they had pretty good armor.) The cleric, I think, attacked a hobgoblin and damaged it.

This was about the point where the rogues realized that trying to fight with missile weapons at close range just wasn't working for them.

The hobgoblins attacked again, this time taking down the monk. (They had a decent, though not spectacular, chance to hit him; but what really did him in was that they rolled high on damage.) Barrith, the halfling rogue, had dropped his bow and whipped out his short sword. He now attacked, and scored some damage on one of the two remaining melee hobgoblins. Shadow, the drow rogue, dropped his crossbow, drew his rapier, and stepped into the room; flanking the hobgoblins, he attacked and did some damage. The sorcerer tried another firebolt and connected with one of the archers, and Aspen the cleric cast a healing spell on the monk.

That was when the battle turned.

The hobgoblins made fairly ineffective attacks, and the archer who had previously shot his buddy in the back -- remember him? Yeah, well, he snapped the string on his bow, gave up, and pulled out a longsword. Between the monk, the rogues, and the advantage and extra damage (for the rogues) provided by flanking, the two melee hobgoblins went down. The archers dropped their bows and drew swords, but they only lasted another round; Shadow, the drow rogue, one-shotted one of them, and I'm not sure exactly who took down everybody else, but it was short and sweet and we were running out of time anyway.

So, with the group victorious but also running low on spells and healing potions, the cleric declared that it was time for them to leave the dungeon. She planned to search the hobgoblins, take their equipment, and sell it; but mainly, she intended to live to fight another day. Barrith argued; the halfling felt that having cleared this room, they could just stay there while they recovered -- and he didn't want the dungeon to reset when they left. The cleric explained about the possibility of wandering monsters (which, as DM, was definitely a possibility), and nobody else expressed an opinion -- but I need to check with them at the beginning of next session. To my mind, the big argument for leaving now is the loot: if they're planning to sell the stuff they took off the hobgoblins, then we're talking about rather more equipment than you want to lug around the dungeon.

Current party acquisitions:
1. Six gold pieces, found in the concealed room with the ghouls last week.
2. One spear. (Shadow is keeping the other one.) (worth 5 SP)
3. Six longswords. (worth 45 gp)
4. Three longbows. (worth 75 gp)
5. Six chain shirts, which reek of unwashed hobgoblin. (worth 150 GP)
6. Six shields. (worth 25 gp) (Aspen is keeping one.)
7. One hundred and forty-four gold pieces, taken from the hobgoblins.

I have no idea how to calculate the Experience Points so far in Fifth Edition, and I'm not sure I care; that seems too much like work. I'm thinking that I may have them level up on more of a benchmark basis: they survived the practice dungeon and their first foray into the real dungeon, so now they move to level 2. When they find the stairs down to the next level of the dungeon, they advance to level 3. Like that.

Next Week:
This *might* be a good time to introduce them to the shops and other resources inside the keep. (That'll mean reading over the descriptions again, preferably right before the game.) Even inside the Keep walls, things will have changed: people will know that the Ivory Scimitars have reformed, and will start to recognize them. Some may scoff; some may praise; some may scorn; some may not care. But the Banner Companies are kind of like sports teams, and there's a big social element to being part of one.

On a related note: dear god, I have to get skills and proficiencies outlined for the sorcerer. He's the highest charisma, he needs to be able to be the face of the party, and his character sheet is a half-formed mess.

-The two rogues definitely started pulling their weight this game: disarming traps, fighting effectively, and working with the rest of the group.

-The mousefolk cleric is both the best tank and the most strategic thinker in the group, partly because his player knows the system better than anyone else at the table (including me) and partly just because.

-The monk, as expected, can do a lot of damage but can't take that much damage. We haven't had a combat yet where he hasn't been knocked unconscious; we also haven't had a combat yet where he hasn't killed at least two enemies. "I'm a glass cannon," the player told his father at the end of the game. That shouldn't be quite as much the case as it is; the monk isn't that easy to hit, it's just that when he does get hit, he doesn't have a lot of hit points to soak it up with. And the bad guys did just get some lucky rolls in there.

-So, last week we discovered the joys of the Help action and how much oomph it adds to skill rolls. This week, we discovered flanking and Sneak Attack damage, and how coordinating positions with your fellow party members can really work to your advantage. We'll make a team out of these characters yet! ...I hope.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Passwords and Social Engineering

I have an issue with passwords. I tend to create/update my passwords -- especially my network password at work -- based on my current mood and outlook. My passwords, in other words, are expressive and sometimes even clever. And this is a problem.

This is a problem because while it makes them amazingly easy to remember, it also makes me want to tell other people about them.

Which would be fine for absolutely any other form of self-expression.

Just, y'know, not passwords.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

10 Unusual Things About Me

This week's Blogging Challenge is "Ten Unusual Things About Me".

This is actually going to be kind of tricky, because I feel like a lot of the things I want to list are things that used to be unusual about me. I have this lurking (slightly depressing) feeling that over about the last ten years I've given up a lot of interesting stuff and become very boring. I mean, I'm not the most boring person on Earth -- that at least would be interesting in its own right -- but just sort of middle-of-the-road, trying-to-get-through-the-day boring. But enough feeling sorry for myself; let's do this thing. Ten interesting things about me, Past And Present edition...

1. I have never broken a bone. Well, not any of my own, anyway.

2. I once drove a frozen, severed goat's head wrapped in newspapers from Stephenville, TX to Dallas, TX. It's about a two hour drive, and I spent the entire time in absolute terror of getting pulled over and having to explain.

3. Interesting Thing #1 is even more impressive given the amount of time I have spent in precarious positions high above the ground. I don't do as much climbing now (in my mid-forties) as I used to do, but I was a climber and my boys are too.

4. Interesting Thing #1 is also impressive given that I once fell off a cliff. If you're wondering if this was a direct result of Interesting Thing #3, well... the answer is yes. I was doing a bit of ill-advised climbing and my hands slipped off. Fortunately, there was water below me. Even more fortunately, it was deep enough.

5. I have also done a lot of spelunking (caving), and even taken the boys on a bit of it. I'm not sure exactly how unusual this is, but I think it's uncommon enough as a hobby to count; it certainly makes it hard to watch most Hollywood movies involving things-that-are-supposed-to-be-caves-but-clearly-aren't-because-the-people-building-the-sets-didn't-do-their-research. (There's probably a German word for that, which wouldn't require all those hyphens.) But my introduction to caving (and the approach I still use today) is pretty Old School, which is to say that it doesn't involve a lot of safety equipment. You have to have at least three people in a group to enter the cave, and everybody has to have multiple light sources, but that's about it. The lack of helmets tends to freak out spelunkers with a more modern approach.

6. I have a knack for semi-accidentally scaring the heck out of people, or at least making them very nervous. I was the guy the campus cops knew by name back in college. (Like, "We had a report of a suspicious person outside the girls' dorm and... oh, it's you." Me: "I was just waiting for my girlfriend!" Officer: "We know.") I'd say I don't give off that sort of vibe as much anymore, but... I haven't really lost my touch.

7. I used to do a lot of tabletop roleplaying, and recently I've gotten back into it. I am now running a Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the boys and several of their friends. It's going really well.

8. In my family, we build things out of cardboard. My father (the engineer) is exceptionally good at it -- he did Firstborn's Halloween costume a couple of years ago -- but I've managed a bit myself. (I was going to add a link to a cardboard castle that I made to reduce a glowing ball to night-light levels of light, but after thirty minutes of looking I cannot find that post...)

9. I used to do a fair amount of martial arts, along with researching (and collecting) edged weapons: swords mostly, but also spears, polearms, and suchlike. I'm so far out of training now that going back to martial arts would be essentially starting from scratch, but it still informs the way I write fight scenes. And at one point, somebody on a Wheel Of Time fan-fiction/roleplaying site asked me for advice about finding a martial art that would let him learn to use a sword but would still be acceptable to his mother; given the family situation he described, I suggested he look around for Aikido. And two years later, I got a nice email from him that explained that he and his friend had just made Brown Belt, and thanked me for helping them get started. I'm still proud of that.

10. I'm an atheist. Honestly, this is probably the least interesting thing on this list -- I mean, what do you say after "I just can't seem to connect with religious beliefs"? -- but one of the other big things I'm proud of is having started a Facebook group for Christian Parents of Atheist or Agnostic children. My co-founder is an author of Christian fiction, and I think the group has done some real good for a lot of its members -- not changing the fate of nations, but helping people who need it, even if it's just letting them know that they aren't alone and it isn't just them. I'm not real active anymore, but early on I did my best to just sort of translate: like, "This particular argument isn't going to be very productive, because your child probably sees the situation more like this."

Huh. Maybe I'm more interesting than I thought I was. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to reading through other people's responses to this prompt.

Monday, April 15, 2019

DnD: Into the Dungeon!

Well, it took us two weeks but we got the DnD group together again.

Last time we had to cut off pretty abruptly, so we picked up basically right where we left off: standing outside the practice dungeon, and toasting the new incarnation of the Ivory Scimitars with Lord Aldenmier. The two rogues told Lord Aldenmier about the ghost they encountered, and he avowed that he knew nothing of any ghosts in his practice dungeon and promptly retired to his bed, telling the group he would see them over breakfast in the morning. An elderly servant showed them to their rooms, and they basically all just went to sleep.

At breakfast, Lord Aldenmier rejoined them along with a new addition to their group: a human monk. "I have looked over the practice dungeon," he explained, "and while you were successful and emerged without injury, you seem to have set off every single trap and even loosed the one monster. So, I have decided to add one further member to your party, to better your odds of survival beneath the Keep."

The party's newest member then introduced himself and received introductions in return. (We actually had to start with the OOC introductions; this is the ten-year-old friend of the family and while the boys know him, Firstborn's two friends from school did not.) So, to recap my recap, we now have:
  • Firstborn, age twelve: Dragonborn Sorcerer (Draconic Bloodline) named Dragolyd Toruv, with a penchant for setting things on fire. His goal is to restore his honor and re-enter his House.
  • Secondborn, age eight: Drow Rogue (aiming for assassin) named Shadow, whose basic approach is to kill first and ask questions later. His goal is to find the man who murdered one of his parents, and kill him; that man is part of one of the other Banner Companies.
  • Friend #1, age twelve: Mousefolk Cleric named Aspen, deeply suspicious of the sort of hooligans he's been assigned to work with. His goal is to get back into the primary dungeon, find his mousefolk tribe, and get them out.
  • Friend #2, age twelve: Halfling (Lightfoot) Rogue named Barrith, with an eye for treasure of any kind. His goal is to earn enough money and influence to get his brother out of jail and set them up for a better life.
  • Friend #3, age ten: human monk called Kaz (his name is apparently a Japanese phrase meaning something like He Who Punches The Wind) who was raised by wolves and later adopted by humans. He too is native to the village outside Roslof Keep, and his goal is simply to earn enough gold to lift his family out of poverty and repay them for taking him in. (I'd forgotten that this player has a thing for characters who were raised by wolves, but we're just going with it. As long as he has some motivation to stick with the party, we're fine.)

The game is still moving slowly, but we're getting better as everybody becomes more familiar with the system. A lot of our pauses are still crosstalk, hypothetical how-does-this-work questions, and looking up rules. This time we ran for two hours with a pizza break in the middle, and it was perfect. I think this is going to be our regular schedule. (It's also rainy and occasionally thunderous outside, so really a perfect day for tabletop roleplaying: we could do that during a power outage with very little difficulty if we had to.)

After the introductions at breakfast, the cleric broached the topic of extra equipment, and Lord Aldenmier allowed as how he had a little set aside from his days as an adventurer. That allowed the group to add some extra weaponry and (critically) three healing potions.

He then took the banner and marched the group from his manor to the Keep itself, and down to the small room that connects to the dungeon. There, he placed the Banner of the Ivory Scimitars into one of the stone plinths along the walls, and the magical membrane that keeps the dungeon from casual explorers shimmered and softened. The group arranged a marching order, and entered.

Having learned their lesson about splitting the party, they stuck together and acted as a unit: the cleric and the monk up front (both are capable melee fighters, and the cleric is the best-armored of the bunch); the sorcerer in the middle (to protect their source of higher-damage spells); and the two rogues in the back. They may want to look at this again later; the cleric and the monk have the highest Wisdom/Perception, but the rogues aren't as bad at finding traps as I thought they were. It's just that last time I had them using Wisdom to check for traps, when I really should have had them using Intelligence/Investigation.

So this time they investigated the rooms carefully, with one person checking things over and another person helping, while the rest covered them. They found their first trap, a door with not-terribly-subtle line connecting it to something behind it. They chose a direction (not the trapped door) and proceeded carefully down the corridor until they reached the first pair of doors, where they stopped and carefully checked for traps. They were about to open one door when the cleric thought she heard something move behind it, so they elected to open the other door instead.

This got them into a seemingly-empty room, where they found a concealed door in the far wall. After checking it for traps, the mousefolk cleric reached carefully up to the latch and opened it.

That was when the ghouls tried to grab them.

In the surprise round, the cleric swung at one of the ghouls (a prepared action) and two of the ghouls reached out to attack. They missed the monk but hit the cleric, damaging him but failing to paralyze him.

The main part of the battle opened with the monk attacking the ghoul in front of him but missing (just bad rolls, really). The ghouls attacked again, this time missing the cleric but knocking out the monk. The dragonborn sorcerer took advantage of the opening to cast flaming hands; since the cleric is teeny and the monk was unconscious, nobody was in the way and he did a fair chunk of damage to all three ghouls. The dark-elf rogue took a shot with his crossbow but missed, the halfling rogue took a shot with his bow and hit, finishing off the ghoul in front of the cleric. The cleric reached over and poured one of the healing potions down the monk's throat, which got him back on his feet just in time to take down the ghoul in front of him. The final ghoul obligingly moved forward, and he finished it off as well. (As expected, the monk is a bit squishier than a fighter or barbarian would have been, but he's mobile and he can dish out the damage at close range.)

So: they won their first battle, collecting six gold pieces for their trouble, and did so without losing anybody and by working together.

And yes, all that -- a bit of setup, four rooms, one trap, one battle, and a bit of corridor -- took us two whole hours (minus pizza break) to get through. But that's fine; that's the pace we're moving at while we get comfortable with the game, and everybody had a good time and felt like they'd accomplished something. Now if I can get everybody to stop trying to make stacks of dice between actions...

Favorite bit of semi-OOC interaction: Firstborn remarked that they had to be the weirdest adventuring party in the Keep. They're not, though they're definitely off in the right direction for that. But that gave me the chance to tell them about The Librarian. The Librarian is a Lich who lives in a small complex in the forest, about eight miles outside of the town. He pursued magical knowledge and power and eventually attained undead immortality so that he could finally finishing reading and writing all the books that he wanted to read and write. With the right letters of introduction, his library is a god-send to anyone doing research. He is the sort of librarian who keeps his library quiet and calm, and in fact he can enforce magical silence through the entire complex. The players were absolutely charmed to know that this place existed, and at some point they're almost certainly going to have to pay it a visit.

Friday, April 12, 2019

An opening...

The setting sun cast bloody light across the rooftops and chimneys, and left the narrow lanes and alleys far below in darkness. Somber crouched, shielding his eyes against the sunset as he muttered the litany that let him see into the shadows.

They were just passing below: nine of the Pale Ones, half again as tall as the dozen prisoners they herded between them. Somber dropped the litany, and nodded to the half-dozen children gathered beside him along the edge of the roof. They met his eyes and nodded back. Squeezing his eyes shut, he stepped off the rooftop into the empty air, and began a new litany as he fell.

He'd learned this one back in the mountains, almost before he was old enough to understand what the words meant and how they fit together. It was a protection against falling, preventing him from building up too much speed without leaving him light enough to be blown about by the winds. There were winds here sometimes, funneled into the narrow spaces between the buildings; but they were not like the mountain winds, and they were not here now. The air was still as drifted to the dark cobbles of the narrow lane.

The Pale Ones and their prisoners had kept walking and were some distance ahead of him now. Somber gave his eyes another moment to adjust, then started after them. He was still several paces behind them when he raised his arm and his voice, and called for the burning dart.

He'd learned that phrase not long after he'd learned the litany against falling. It was old and familiar, and he could have spoken it silently -- especially now, with the unseen forces so attentive after the litanies he'd used already. Speaking it aloud added emphasis, and told the children on the rooftop that the time had come.

The emphasis served him well. Two of the Pale Ones jerked in surprise. The rearmost of them jerked and collapsed, but that was the dart burning halfway through its chest. More darts fell from the rooftop, and more of the Pale Ones staggered back; three of them fell. Then one of the prisoners kicked out, sweeping the legs from under a fourth and springing to come down hard on top it. This was one of the Foresters, and while she wasn't the full size of the Pale Ones, she was taller and stronger than any of the human prisoners -- and better trained. She pinned the Pale One and ripped its throat out. Another prisoner twisted, the light from her lantern shield flickering between the prisoners as she coiled herself and then rammed the spiked leading edge of the shield into the side of another pale one.

Three left. Somber moved his arm and spoke again, and another burning dart smashed into the forehead of one of the remaining Pale Ones. They were larger than their prisoners and far stronger, but that also made them easy targets.

The last two tried to flee, but the children cut them down with another batch of darts from the rooftop.

Somebody screamed, then cut it off abruptly as he realized that the violence was already over. The Forester straightened, glanced across the prisoners to where the Warden had shoved her Pale One face-down against the cobbles and was ramming the pointed edge of her shield into its back.

Somber gestured. "This way."

The Warden stood up, glanced at him, and exchanged a nod with the Forester. Murmuring soft encouragements, they started to nudge the other captives back in his direction.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Lu Mitchell

Lu Mitchell: folk singer, songwriter, satirist. She played at our wedding, and scandalized the Southern Baptist relatives on my wife's side. (I count that as a win.) She died recently, at the age of 95. She was a friend of the family, and while I didn't know her all that well I'm sorry that she's gone.

She had a voice that was very much her own, mixing humor and truth in ways that were hard to ignore. From the superficially-light humor of "The Paper Shredder" to the more seriously spiritual "This Too Shall Pass" (and yes, I realize I'm picking two examples from the same album, but that's laziness on my part rather than lack of ongoing range on hers) there were pointed observations that deserved a larger audience than they found. (She was once compared to "a banshee zonked on truth serum" and I think that misses her humor at the fundamental absurdity of the human condition, but it's still apt.)

Here's a bit from 2005:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Weekly Blogging Challenge: Characters I Never Want To Meet

It's time once again for the Weekly Blogging Challenge courtesy of Long and Short Reviews. This Wednesday's topic is "Characters I never want to meet" and boy howdy y'all, that's quite a list.

Hannibal Lecter: Probably best known from The Silence of the Lambs, he's appeared in books, movies, and I think a TV series, and while he's probably best known for murdering people and eating parts of them, he's actually far more terrifying for his ability to get into his victim's heads, to understand and manipulate their thinking and their emotional needs. (Related: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti," turns out to be an esoteric medical joke. I had no idea.)

Scott Pilgrim: Martial artist, bass guitarist, deceiver of hostile Vegans... seems pretty cool, right? But even in the movie (and he comes looking better in the movie than he does in the original comics, I think) he's kind of a jerk. He cheats on Knives with Ramona, refuses to break up with knives and strings her along instead, and never really seems to have any sort of reckoning about his shitty behavior. I never want to meet him, because I'd feel obligated to smack the shit out of him and then he'd probably punch me through a wall.

...Annnnd I got sick and didn't finish this, but oh well, it's still technically Wednesday, I'm just going to go ahead and put it up.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Final(?) Addition: A Monk

So, the ten-year-old's father tells me that our last addition will be playing a Monk. (In Dungeons and Dragons terms, that's basically a martial artist: unarmed or lightly-armed combat, no armor, no shields, not able to soak up damage the way a Fighter or Barbarian can but more mobile and versatile and perfectly capable of dishing it out.) This is not a bad addition. The group could really use a tank, but if they can get some patterns and strategies together I think they can make this work. They just need to remember that they're not a toe-to-toe melee group; they need to rely on mobility, flexibility, stealth, and magic.

It's going to be interesting, because this dungeon is heavy on... well, no actually I shouldn't say; Firstborn does sometimes read this blog.

I'm still thinking about throwing an NPC fighter in with them, but I haven't decided on that yet. I may see how they do the first time they venture into the real dungeon before I make up my mind. It can be awfully fun to watch a non-standard batch of adventurers figure out how to make things work, and I'd like to see them sort out the party organization on their own.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Neighborhood Shitshow Continues...

So, a while back we had some issues with the house directly behind us, which we were beginning to suspect was actually being used as a chop shop.

We eventually decided that that wasn't what was going on. Unfortunately, we're still not quite clear on what actually is going on. Whoever is living there is clearly a hot mess (and not in any sort of good or exciting way), and at one point a whole bunch of people - probably extended family - showed up and hauled a whole lot of trash out of the house. (And basically piled it by the alley in a way that essentially guaranteed that the city wouldn't pick it up.) Since then, various of the extended family have been there at various time, including a few more cars that seemed to be on their last legs. (Yes, I wound up helping a teenager/early twenties guy push the car with no transmission around to the front of his house, and yes of course it was that same house.)

So on Sunday morning Beautiful Wife and I took a walk, and went by the front of the house. There are two cars (both in pretty bad shape) parked out front. (This is pretty typical.)

In more or less a straight line from the cars to the front door, we found:
-An unopened bottle of Michelob
-A cell phone

How drunk do you have to be to manage that? (Don't answer that. It's rhetorical.)

I took the items up to the door and knocked, but nobody answered and I couldn't hear anybody moving around. Oh, and also? The front of the house has acquired two new broken windows, which have been covered over with cardboard from the inside. Plus, there's one of those realtor's boxes, the kind that holds a housekey and requires a combination to open it, clipped around the door knob. These people are a grade-A mess.

So I tucked both items between the wooden main door and glass door, and we went on with our walk.

Which really should have been the end of it: just another entry in the growing catalogue of oddities and mild unpleasantness associated with that house and its current occupants, whoever they actually are.

But... no.

At dinner time we were interrupted by the sound of screaming. Long, loud, repeated screaming. It sounded, I swear to god, like someone was in the process of being beaten to death. So I went outside to see what was going on, and of course it's coming from that house. Only I can see along the side of the house to where an ambulance is parked in front of it. The flashing lights are hard to miss.

So I give up and walk around the corner.

The screaming is coming from a young woman who's with a handful of other people on the front lawn. An ambulance and a fire truck are blocking the street in front of the house, and after a minute I spot a police car as well, kind of wedged in between two other cars.

I shake my head, go back inside, and eat. But of course, things are still going on out there, so after a few minutes Beautiful Wife and I go back out there. There are now more people on the lawn and sidewalk, and from the way they keep moving around each other I'm not sure whether this is about to be a family reunion or a minor riot. Nobody starts anything, though, and every so often one of the family demands to know if somebody is going to be okay. The firefighters say reassuring-but-non-committal things; the EMTs are still busy inside. I must not have been the only one concerned about a fight, because two more police cars show up and all four new officers head inside for a look, then come back to stand with the crowd on the lawn.

Eventually they wheel in a stretcher, and a bit after that they wheel somebody back out on the stretcher and put them in the ambulance. One or two of the family members hop into the ambulance, and off they go. More family members arrive. The EMTs start bringing their equipment back out to the fire truck. Another family member arrives, and there are shouted accusations, recriminations, objections.

Finally it starts raining, and the whole crew files into the house while the last of the emergency personnel leave.

I'm going to have to get in touch with the local emergency services and get somebody to provide a copy of the actual report on this, because I am baffled by the whole situation. Best guess? The old guy who I'm pretty sure is living there gave himself a near-fatal case of alcohol poisoning, was found by family members, and is now in the hospital. But that's only a guess. All I'm certain of is that whatever is/was going on over there is messy and horrible.

Friday, April 5, 2019

And then we had our first game

Okay, so... Three twelve-year-olds, one eight-year-old, and me running the game. I'd planned on trying to get it done in an hour, with an extra half an hour thrown in for character creation. (Boy, was *that* optimistic!) Spent about an hour and a half building characters, and a bit over two hours on the "training dungeon". And it was GREAT. Exhausting, but great.

To recap, the party consisted of:
  • Firstborn, age twelve: Dragonborn Sorcerer (Draconic Bloodline) named Dragolyd Toruv, with a penchant for setting things on fire. His goal is to restore his honor and re-enter his House.
  • Secondborn, age eight: Drow Rogue (aiming for assassin) named Shadow, whose basic approach is to kill first and ask questions later. His goal is to find the man who murdered one of his parents, and kill him; that man is part of one of the other Banner Companies. (More about those in a minute.)
  • Friend #1, age twelve: Mousefolk Cleric, I've forgotten the name, deeply suspicious of the sort of hooligans he's been assigned to work with. His goal is to get back into the primary dungeon, find his mousefolk tribe, and get them out.
  • Friend #2, age twelve: Halfling (Lightfoot) Rogue named (I think) Barrith, with an eye for treasure of any kind. His goal is to earn enough money and influence to get his brother out of jail and set them up for a better life.
The campaign opens with the four of them in one of the six Great Houses of Roslof Keep, meeting with Lord Aldenmier - a tall, slender older man who dresses nicely but just looks kind of worn. Lord Aldenmier is both a former adventurer, and the possessor of one of the seven banners that allow access to the dungeon beneath Roslof Keep. The dungeon was created by an ancient and almost certainly insane wizard, and is all but inacessible without one of the banners; it is sustained by an infernal machine that constantly restores both its treasures and its dangers.

Lord Aldenmier has vowed to restore the fortunes of his house, and has gathered Our Heroes together to see if they can serve as the new generation of the Ivory Scimitars banner company. But before he signs them up (a formal contract, magically binding) he has a small task that they must complete in order to prove their worth: they need to venture into his Training Dungeon, and retrieve a bottle of wine from his wine cellar.

That was the tiny dungeon that I thought we could get through in about an hour, and boy was I wrong about that. The in-character introductions outside the dungeon were a bit rough. (Secondborn's immediate announcement, "Hi, I'm Shadow, I want kill things first and ask questions later," did not inspire immediate confidence from his teammates, nor did Barrith's relentless what-could-go-wrong cheerfulness. Nobody particularly established themselves as the party leader, and in fact the adventure got underway when Secondborn announce that he was going down the stair and everybody sort of half-chased after him.

They managed to succeed despite doing essentially everything wrong. The found the secret door, found a key, realized that the key was trapped, and then set off the trap in attempting to disarm it. They used the key to unlock the first set of doors, saw another door beyond them, and the sorcerer used Mage Hand to open that one; that set off the first of the traps, but fortunately everybody was out of its range. The sorcerer and the cleric deciphered a message indicating that there was trap in one particular hallway; they blithely sent the rogues off in that direction. (Also, for a party with two rogues, this group is remarkably bad at spotting traps.) The Drow Rogue stepped onto the trap, but managed to catch himself on the edge instead of falling into the pit. The Cleric and the Sorcerer spent a good deal of time figuring out how to get across the pit, and found a room with a sarcophagus in it on the other side. After carefully investigating the room they elected to open the sarcophagus anyway, with fairly predictable results. Despite the dangers already in evidence, they still kept the party split and so it was the rogues who found the ghost in the room full of junk and the secret door that led to the actual wine cellar.

With a focused, cooperative party they could have made their way in, located the wine cellar, and been back out with a minimum of trouble. Instead, this played out like the first half a Marvel superhero team movie - The Avengers, or maybe Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm hoping they'll do better at supporting each other and keeping the party together going forward; splitting the party is not only a bad strategy, it's really hard on the Dungeon Master. (Me. I mean me. Holy hell, jumping from one half of the group to the other was amazingly headache-inducing.)

But, they made it through (albeit in the clumsiest possible fashion) and maybe they now have a better idea of what lies ahead, and they've had an object lesson in how valuable the Help action can be, especially at early levels. I recommended that next time they not split the party, as that clearly caused some issues, but that was out-of-character; they players got it, but their characters are still going to have to find reasons and willingness to work together until they've built up some genuine trust.

Then they all rushed outside to tear apart our back yard and do their absolute best not to have to end their time together, despite the gathered parents waiting to take them home. But that's really an entirely different headache, and honestly neither surprising nor entirely unwelcome. After everybody had gone home/settled back down, I kind of collapsed; that was a lot of work. Absolutely worth it, but a lot of work.

Next time, Lord Aldenmier is going to front them a bit of money for supplies, and we'll probably be introducing one more player. He's ten, and a family friend; he was actually part of Firstborn's First Attempt At Dungeon Mastery. I'm told he's already building a character, though I have no idea what kind. Honestly, though, with the character spread that we currently have I'm not entirely sure it matters; more magic, more stealth, a tank... any of them would be useful, and the party doesn't really have any significant holes in its overall composition.

I also think that at some point a bit later on, probably about the time that they hit third level, I'm going to let them undergo a Ritual of Renewal -- basically, a magical initiation that allows them to re-balance their characters. It won't alter their races or classes, but if we've made trouble for ourselves with, say, poorly-selected ability scores we can look at tweaking that. I may even add some extra points for some of the characters; the Mousefolk Cleric rolled her ability scores, and while I haven't had a chance to look closely at her character sheet, I think she's overall a bit higher than everyone else (who were built with standard distribution). I'm not going to pull her down; I'd rather just lift everybody else up to match.

But those, my friends, are concerns for another day.

TL/DR: Daddy is absolutely exhausted, but the kids had a great time and we're going to figure out a regular schedule for this.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

...And Firstborn's other friend has never played DnD

So... Since we were opening up the game, we decided to invite Firstborn's other close friend from school as well. He's a bright kid, and this seemed like it would be right up his alley as well. So he showed up on time, and we seated him at the table, and...

He's never played Dungeons and Dragons before. At all. Or anything like it. Tabletop roleplaying games are a whole new world to him.

So... I asked him what kind of character he wanted to play, and told him that we could really use a tank - somebody to stand in the front line and keep the bad guys off everybody else. I also had him look at a bunch of the DnD figurines and see what appealed to him.

His first choice was a wizard, but when I remarked that was probably the most complicated thing we could try to create, he shrugged and said he liked either magic or stealth. Well, all right: it won't hurt to have another rogue in the party, and at third level he can opt for Arcane Trickster and have some spells to go along with it.

This turned out to be a really good choice, since I was already getting a headache from trying to build things quickly in a system I don't know all that well while school-aged children cavorted around me. Better still, he liked the idea of playing a small race, and we quickly settled on a Lightfoot Halfling. All of that, it turns out, is not only in the core rulebooks; it's also in the SRD. So the player of the Mousefolk Cleric stepped in, pulled up something called DnD Beyond (which appears to be a set of online resources from Wizards of the Coast, but I'm still catching up from when I stopped at Third Edition), and made him an online character sheet that he could access from his cell phone in about three minute flat.

So the party began the campaign with two rogues, a dragonborn sorcerer, and a mousefolk cleric.

We didn't spend a lot of time on his backstory, but I made a quick directorial decision that his was the only character who had grown up in Roslof Keep (or the town outside it, anyway) and that he had a brother who was in jail, and that he needed money to get his brother *out* of jail. He just nodded and went along with it, and then played up the character as a wide-eyed innocent who just wants to be friends. The Cleric is suspicious that he's not as naive as he seems, but then the cleric is suspicious of most of the rest of the party, and not without some reason.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Favorite Comfort Foods and Why (and Recipes)

For this week's Weekly Blogging Challenge we're looking at Favorite Comfort Foods and Why (and Recipes). So, just off the top of my head:


Technically a drink rather than a food, but still: all good things start and end with tea. I take mine with milk and honey, or occasionally with whiskey instead of milk. I'm always open to trying new flavors, though I generally favor black teas.

Long John Silver's fish: usually (oddly) when my stomach's feeling a bit upset. I don't know why it would help -- it's pure grease -- but it does. I'll go months between visits, but when the mood strikes, there I am.

Macaroni and cheese, just the cheap Kraft boxed kind: again, when my stomach's upset or I just want something easy to digest.

Scrambled Eggs with Things Mixed In: Partly, this is because I only recently got the hang of making a proper omelette, but this also has some memories of camping associated with it. And you can mix all sorts of things into scrambled eggs with good results: bacon, sausage, hamburger, diced vegetables, cheese... It's quick, it's tasty, and it's filling.

There are plenty of foods that I love, but those are the ones I'd consider comfort foods.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

And Firstborn's Friend wants to play a Mousefolk Cleric

I probably shouldn't be shocked, but I am. Firstborn talked with his friend about why a centaur might be a problem, and apparently that's fine: she has other ideas.

Not like, other ideas in that particularly ominous tone of voice, but just like she's perfectly ready to do something else instead. Her second suggestion was a Mousefolk Cleric. Which is a great class, but a homebrew race -- not part of the core books, not playtested in a way I can trust.

I balked a little at first, because the whole point of running the campaign this way was to use core rulebooks so I don't keep having to look things up and/or figure out how things work -- to keep my prep down to something manageable for me, basically. But here's the thing: appearances can be handled in roleplay. If Firstborn's friend wants to roll up a character using, say, standard Halfling or Gnome stats and then roleplay it as someone who looks like an anthropomorphic mouse, what actual difference does that makes? That's right: none.

And gods above and below, I do not want to discourage these kids from flexing their creativity.

But I've gone and looked up the rules for this homebrew race, and it's... well, it's fine. Not only is it not game-breaking, if anything it's a little on the weak side. They're not all that different from halflings in size, stats, and other traits. And y'all, the Mousefolk speak two languages: Common, and Squeak Squeak.

Squeak Squeak.

Squeak Squeak.

Yeah, Squeak-Squeak is going to be a thing in our campaign. The mousefolk cleric is going to use the mousefolk racial build. I don't even care. The player can keep track of that. I am completely charmed. Plus, we now have a cleric in the party, which is likely to be critical even if it means I have to read up on 5e clerics. It sounds like her background is going to be that a small tribe of mousefolk are trapped in one of the more stable areas of the dungeon, and she somehow got out (probably while one of the adventuring parties was adventuring) and is trying to find her way back and free her people. (Ordinarily, the mousefolk wouldn't be able to leave, for the same reason nobody would be able to enter: the dungeon is only accessible if one of the seven banners is in place.)

This looks good. Ideally, Firstborn's other friend will want to play some sort of tank who can stand up front and hold off enemies while soaking up some damage -- probably a fighter, barbarian, or even a paladin. But if he wants to play something else, I'll compensate with a couple of NPCs. There's plenty of dramatic potential there with possibilities of unspoken secrets, personal motivations, and potential for deception and betrayal. There's really no downside; since if I don't need to add NPCs, or only one NPC, it's less to keep track of; but if I do add more than one NPC, there are more things I can do with them. And I can always adjust the nature of the NPCs to fit the needs of the party, even if it means setting aside the one I'd really like to try out.

Monday, April 1, 2019

DnD Boys Campaign, Attempt Number Three

Okay, so: I have started two campaigns of my own for the boys. Neither has gotten very far because apparently I don't have the time to put into the prep work, so designing my own campaign is a no-go. (Some really cool ideas, but the implementation... basically didn't get done.) So, instead, I ordered the Complete Roslof Keep Campaign (available here if you're curious) and I'm going to use that.

Meanwhile, Firstborn mentioned the game to one of his friends, and she wants to join the game. Which is actually kind of awesome because we could use a few more players, and now we're going to ask one of Firstborn's other friends if he wants to play as well. (That means Beautiful Wife can skip out on it, which -- given the way her weekends usually go -- is probably a necessity.)

This particular campaign recommends (if not requires) that the characters have their own motivations for sticking with their exploration of the dungeons. It's a dangerous, frustrating place and they're going to run into trouble from other adventuring groups that are trying to explore the same dungeon. So I asked the boys what motivated their characters -- how did they end up in this situation, and what keeps them here -- and after a bit of back-and-forth we came up with the following:

Firstborn (Dragonborn Sorcerer, whom he describes as "trigger-happy"): This character was falsely accused by another member of his clan, and cast out by the Elder. He has come to Roslof Keep to redeem his honor, and so regain his place in the clan and have revenge on his rival cousin.

Secondborn (Drow Rogue or Rogue/Ranger - I'm trying to guide him towards a pure Rogue, because there's not a lot of outdoors in this campaign, at least not the parts I've read so far): Someone broke into his character's home, looting the place and killing at least one of his parents. He has trained until he's ready to seek revenge, but the attacker now leads one of the adventuring companies exploring the Infernal Dungeon beneath Roslof Keep, and Secondborn will need to hone his skills and work his way up until he can face his enemy. ("Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.")

I plan to have the same discussion with Firstborn's friend(s), and if it goes well then we're shaping up for a very interesting campaign. I have a few concerns -- Firstborn mentioned that his friend had "character ideas" and then followed that up with the word "centaur", which... isn't ideal for this kind of dungeon-driven campaign -- but I'm betting we can work that out. We're going to need a couple of tanks and hopefully some source of healing, especially for the early levels, but one way or another I'll make this work. I may even add in a couple of NPCs, both to balance things out and to add possibilities for future dramatic twists.

Next up will be the test dungeon, and then the individual negotiations with Lord Aldenmier for the terms of the writs that each character will sign to become a member of the newly-reformed Ivory Scimitars.

Character designs are, for the moment, limited to the core books and Xanathar's Guide to Everything.