Thursday, February 22, 2024

Adventure Writing

One thing about cutting out the booze and caffeine...so long as I don't overeat and get to bed at a decent hour, I tend not to sleep all that long. 

Today I awoke a bit before 5am, which is less than six hours of sleep, but part of that is stress. I've got a lot I've got to get done today...a LOT. None of it should be terribly hard, just mentally taxing as I have to deal with a number of different people with a number of different emotional needs and pitfalls to navigate. That bit's a challenge but...whatever. I said I'd do it, so I've got to do it.

Also, it's our last volleyball practice before our first game. Oh, man. Things are looking better than they were, but there is a LOT we haven't covered, especially regarding on-court procedures. And tonight's practice is going to be a short one; communicating info to the players while still working skills is going to be tight. I'm hoping we have a full roster today. I'm hoping the jerseys come this morning (they're supposed to) and that they fit. I'm hoping we're competitive this weekend. 

And the taxes still need finishing.  *sigh*

SO...adventure writing. A nice distraction from the stress and humdrum of daily life. I think I've done more adventure writing in the last 7-8 months than I've done in the last 7-8 years. Okay, that's probably an exaggeration. But I've certainly been writing more standalone, site-based adventures recently than any period I can remember in the past.  Contests and conventions have been largely the reason for this writing "explosion," but its also enjoyable work: a creative exercise, a stretching of the mental muscles. Adventure writing is one part of the DM's "craft," and it's fun to indulge in this aspect of the work. It's a chance to strut a bit...to show others what I'm capable of, to exhibit my own particular style and knowledge base.

And it's good practice. The strictures and limitations imposed by contests or the needs of a con game (time blocks, etc.) forces restraint, requires me to be "tighter" in my writing...expressing the needed information in the most efficient, practical means possible, for maximum clarity and playability. It's good, challenging work...and I enjoy good, challenging work...the same way one enjoys a good session of physical training (in the gym or on the field for example). It feels good to be constructive.

It's also nice to get feedback on one's writing. Most all the things I've published lately have received reviews from one source or another. Here (for the interested) are some of the latest:


This is all good stuff. Not just because positive feedback is encouraging, but because critique shows me ways I can improve...things I'm not doing well enough, areas I need to improve, exposition that needs more clarity. I've written before that reviews of game adventures are largely unfruitful without having played (and, thus, experienced) the adventure...however, for the author of  the adventure, reviews are helpful: they show whether our ideas are "landing" and whether or not they make sense for the person doing the reading. 

If we can't communicate the ideas properly, how is there even a chance that the adventure can be run in a fun and engaging manner?

These are the thoughts I'm having this morning. That and the question of whether or not, going forward, I should try monetizing such works. To date, all the adventures I've published have been freebies, downloadable from my mediafire files. Each adventure has garnered several hundred downloads. If I had polished them and sold them as PDFs on DriveThruRPG for a buck apiece, I could have netted...well, you get the math. Not a lot of money...but not insignificant, either. ANY money exchanged for one's creative endeavors is "significant;" it tangibly affirms the artist's decision to create.

Anyway...

Just my thoughts as I down my (decaf) coffee and prepare for the morning ritual to begin. And...it's time to go. I'll yak at y'all later.
: )

Thursday, February 15, 2024

On Losing

The kids have finished basketball season and have started volleyball (soccer, of course, continues year round). For both this is their first year of the sport.

Volleyball for boys remains very niche...in high school, I don't believe there is a boys volleyball league (at least not in King County). So far as I know, my son and his 7th grade teammates will have only two years to compete for their school with a chance of winning trophies. Maybe. There are only three boys from his class that signed up to play, and so we are combined with the 8th graders (who only had five) and are playing up a year.

Oh. And the school asked me to coach the team. Because (I guess) there weren't any other parents up for coaching boys volleyball (unlike during basketball when they had THREE coaches).

*sigh*

SO...I haven't played volleyball since I was in the 8th grade. Turns out there have been a lot of rule changes since 1987; I've been learning these (outside of coaching) the last couple weeks. Practices have been going well but our team is...rough. I mean, my own kid can barely reach over the 7' practice net, and the game net is going to be 6" higher. As with the basketball squad, our most athletic kids aren't the tallest. And this is the first year playing for ANY of the kids (outside of gym class). My confidence is none too high.

And yet, that's okay. Because one of the great benefits of youth sports (in addition to exercise and skill development and team building and teaching sportsmanship, etc.) is that they give kids a safe space to fail. Failing in the sports arena happens...blowing plays, losing, these things happen in sports. And kids get to experience that, and then experience that it doesn't kill you. It doesn't end your life, neither literally, nor figuratively. There's always another game to play, another play to be made. Part of MY job (as a coach) is to drive this home to the kids...so that they can be with the failure, yet still respond to it constructively.

It's important for kids to learn this lesson. Because later on in life, shit happens...loss happens...all the time. You get laid off from your job. Your spouse leaves you. Someone totals your car. Your basement gets flooded or your roof torn off by a hurricane. You (or a loved one) gets diagnosed with cancer. All sorts of trials and tribulations...some of our own making and some outside our control. And we are forced to respond to those trials and tribulations. There are all sorts of ways we fail in life; all sorts of way we take a loss. 

And how do we respond to it? What do we do about it? How do we roll with the punches?

A person's character is built over many years and many experiences. People can and do change their behaviors. But, man o man, there is a LOT about me, about my personality, that is much the same as it was when I was in my middle school years. Many of my bad habits were certainly acquired then, if not earlier. 

[not the drinking (thankfully) but definitely my tendency towards over-indulgence is a good example]

So allowing kids the chance to fail (yes, even these 13-14 year olds are "kids," despite being bigger/taller than me and having more mustache) is a GOOD thing. Get them losing, from a young age, is a good thing. Character building. Hopefully. Maybe (perhaps they've already had their personalities set, as mine was). Well, regardless...the experience should (I believe) be useful.

And I expect quite a bit of failure this season.

As an aside, I will note that old edition Dungeons & Dragons is ALSO a "safe place" for kids to experience (and learn from) failure, loss, and hardship. Playing D&D isn't quite as visceral as playing sports, but that's balanced (IMO) by a larger use of the mind, creative juices, imagination, etc. Personally, I find both sports AND gaming to be fun and valuable, and I encourage kids to partake in (or, at least, try) BOTH activities. 

Okay, that's enough. Time to start doing the taxes.
; )

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Fat Tuesday

Emphasis on the fat.

Tomorrow marks Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent for Roman Catholics like myself (as well as many other Christian traditions). No pancakes or leftovers in this house...I am currently cooking a pot roast (couple hours to go) while enjoying a delightful beverage of the alcoholic variety.

I've come to look forward to...and enjoy...Lent and its forty days. It gives me a good excuse to un-tether myself from the many vices and bad habits I've created...and enjoyed...over my decades on this planet. This year, I've decided to abstain from alcohol, white flour, and white sugar...all things that I should probably be abstaining from anyway (none of them are good for you, really). But the fact is I've been enjoying ALL of them in far too much abundance lately. The holiday season tends to do that...it's amazing how much weight I've put on since October.

But abstaining and fasting (I'll probably do a 7 day juice/water fast next week) are wonderful for clearing the mind, as well as the body. And I need to get "clear;" far too many ridiculous stresses on my mind the last many moons...really, since my mom died in April so, yeah, most of the last year. 

[I did get my shit together, round about September, but I started drinking again in October and everything kind of went down the tubes]

SO...one last evening of over-indulgence, and then six-ish weeks when I try to get a bit closer to God, and a bit cleaner with regard to my own "temple" (i.e. the body I've got to work with). Hopefully, I can re-establish some of the good habits I started building last Lent. 

Here's hoping.

Anyway. No gaming-related stuff to report at the moment, so I'll sign off. Happy Mardi Gras, folks! And happy Lent, as well.
: )

[for people interested in my pot roast recipe (which is delicious), I use this one from the internet. Enjoy!]

Like this, but my Dutch oven is
Seahawk blue (of course).


Sunday, February 11, 2024

Happy Super Bowl!

There is something distinctly American about Super Bowl Sunday...and that's part of why I love it. Oh, I dig on football and sport and competition in general, of course. But this year, as with most years, my team is not in the big event...and, yet, that will not stop me from watching. And it will not stop me from rooting HARD for the Kansas City (Amazon) Chiefs to upset the favored San Francisco (Dwarf) 49ers.

Because I hate the 49ers...and it is O So American to root against things we hate. 

And I embrace that about America, as I embrace many of the ridiculousness things about my country. No nation is perfect...we all have our flaws and foibles. Some are worse than others (in my estimation, of course) and some of those of the US of A are worse than a LOT of other countries. 

Still...we don't make things better by running out on it.

This is (as usual) a silly post to write, but it's what's on my mind at this moment as (again, as usual) I am pressed for time. The family is upstairs getting ready for church, while I'm drinking coffee in the kitchen, wearing a blue sweater over a Captain America t-shirt. I am not much of a suit/slacks guy...just plain old blue jeans (but clean and un-holed) for Yours Truly.  Hoping I'll have time to get some ribs in the oven in time for the second half (no grilling today...it's pouring rain in Seattle)...but chances are the fam will want a Sunday brunch after Mass.

Which is fine. It's just what Americans like to do...and we are having an extremely casual Super Bowl event this year: just us, "snacky food" (as my daughter calls it), making spot wagers with each other over what type of commercial comes up during the break.

The usual really.

Hope everyone has a safe and fun (American) holiday. Later, gators.
; )


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Slyth Hive

I’ve said before that it’s not really possible to review an adventure that you haven’t run or played. An adventure module is not a book; D&D is not a film to be viewed or acted. Dungeons & Dragons is a game that needs to be played to be experienced. Without that experience of play, the best one can do is offer thoughts and opinions, critiques and praise over how one BELIEVES the thing will play. And while…sometimes…those opinions will be informed by the experience of the “reviewer” with regard to game play and design, it’s still all just “theory” until the adventure is actually run as a game.

Call all that “The Standard Caveat.”

Slyth Hive is the latest adventure penned by the erudite rapscallion known as Prince of Nothing. You may recall his earlier adventure modules: Red Prophet Rises and The Palace of Unquiet Repose. I own both of those modules; I have not played them (nor reviewed them), though I have offered opinions on them (here and elsewhere): generally, I find them “okay.” In relation to other adventures published these days they are far better than the standard fare, but this is an extremely low bar and, despite nice writing and good-to-interesting atmospherics/aesthetics, I have my issues with them...it is doubtful they will ever see my gaming table.

Slyth Hive, on the other hand, is a different matter.

This is no sophomoric work or retread of earlier work. Rather, it is tour de force, far surpassing (in my estimation) the quality of Prince's early work, while still displaying his trademark flair for evocative writing and his penchant for sword & sorcery tropes. Yet Slyth Hive is elevated, and...for the most part...it is well designed.

True, it needs polish and definitely a good pass with the editor's pen. Several minor flaws related to the map and keying are present (I intend to send him a list of fixes...for when he has the time) and there are numerous 'slip ups' with regard to the system. But the bulk of what's here is "good stuff," and a cut above his earlier work in a way his earlier work is a cut above the usual business produced for publication. 

Let's begin with the basics: the adventure is written for high level (14th+) AD&D play; fully outfitted pre-gens are included. The adventure itself in its current form is some 50ish pages in length PLUS twenty-one pages of appendices (pregens, new monsters, magic items, notes, etc.), ten more pages of maps, and roughly half a dozen pages of (AI generated?) art. Characters seek to penetrate and conquer an enormous, multi-level hive of insect-like super predators (and their minions) obtaining great fortune and glory and (presumably) putting a civilization-razing threat to the sword. The adventure has been play-tested more than once...I observed Prince running it at the Cauldron convention, and I have heard nothing but glowing reports from those who've played the thing.

Something like this, but far nastier...and bigger.

It has been fascinating to watch Prince's gaming evolution over the last 6-7 years (well chronicled on his blog)...from Basic play (generally of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Labyrinth Lord variety), back to 2E (from his own primordial origins), to 1st Edition AD&D, aka The King of Games. It seems to have been quite a journey of discovery, aided both by discussion on various forum sites and his own delves into the numerous publications ('zine, mag, and module) of the game's early days.

Writing this post, I find myself wanting to write more about our Brave Sir Prince himself, rather than the module proper. You see, I've met the Prince...I have broken bread with him, have talked with him, have gamed with him. I have had the chance to take something of his measure. He is very intelligent and creative and cursed with the nagging self-doubt that ALL intelligent, creative, self-aware people seem cursed with. He is a young man...but he's no kid. As a creator, he is still maturing, and you can see the growing pains...even as you can also marvel at the brilliance of the work.

Okay, down to it: the scope of the thing is massive, though the premise is simple, drawing amply from a rather obvious list of horror and sci-fi media of the "bug hunt" variety. The tyranid species of Warhammer 40,000 figures hugely in the titular antagonist's mutating/adaptation abilities, creating the main operative pressure on the player characters: the more they fight the slyth, the more the buggers change and adjust (via manifest organic weapons and defenses) to come back harder against their persecutors. This is a wonderful and original concept and...while I might have some quibbles about its implementation...it is a fantastic way to challenge and punish players who take a passive and/or tentative approach to engagement.

The environments here are excellent: a level of prehistoric simulacrum, a level of fungal forests and killer slimes, a more-or-less submerged (underwater) level, a level featuring nothing but a gigantic cavern with a waiting army of killer bugs, etc. Good stuff. Non-bug creatures abound as well, including both minions and subterranean denizens willing to become allies of the player characters. This adventure offers many, many interesting challenges for experienced players, in a horrific, terrifying environment, with (what appears to be) plenty of reward. I'm fairly satisfied that this will provide many hours of glorious bloodshed and adventure gaming, and probably not a few "oh, shit!" moments...exactly what jaded, er, "high level" players are hoping for.

I will move to the criticism: aside from needing an editor to catch some of the errors, the thing could use an editor to tighten things. I hate to say it (because I can already guess the reaction) but, in my opinion, the thing is too big. There are a few many encounters that are too much the same despite the transformative ability of the slyth. There are things added that have the marks of "this would be great!" but really add little to the adventure as a whole. There are two or three too many Giant Impossible Utterly Devastating New Monstrous Threats sprinkled throughout...like endless video game boss battles. There are one or two too many homages present (sorry, not a fan of the Dune reference) that for me would indicate a little too much exuberance with the source material.

And I don't just mean the fiction from which the author draws...I'm talking about the source material of OTHER "high level adventures" that Prince has digested and is now re-synthesizing. He may have looked at TOO MANY examples from days of TSR past, adding things that are unnecessary in terms of theming or even gameplay. By the time an adventuring party has braved a gauntlet of six or seven levels they should be in their last legs...resources depleted, men lost, bleeding from scores of wounds. You don't then hammer them...and then hammer them...and then hammer them again with Ever Bigger Hammers. There is a rhythm to game play...ebbs and flows...even in an adventure like this. 

Back to the good stuff for a moment: Slyth Hive actually includes TWO sets of pregens. A group of mid-level miscreants than get sent in to investigate, followed by the immense high level heroes.  This is a great gimmick: it gives the players a chance to scout a bit and get some idea of what they'll encounter before taking the REAL troops into the jaws of death. Unfortunately, the mid-level guys aren't likely to get too far (unless played extremely well), and the Hive's defenses against gathering intelligence means the party is going to be operating in a blind, reactive state from at least the mid-point of the adventure. Perhaps that won't be an issue for experienced, resourceful players...but it could be a rough go for players of middling proficiency using the pregens.

Eh. That's just critique. As noted, the adventure has been run...multiple times for multiple players...and I am unaware of any complaints. "Stylistic nitpicks," I suppose...but I know what I like. And this feels...mm...'over-exuberant.'

Even so, there IS room to breathe, in the adventure...there are 'beats' that don't feel rushed. The adventure is BIG, but (for the most part) it is has the appropriate DENSITY of information. I didn't feel that in Prince's early adventures, even though they were written for a "basic" edition of D&D.

NOW...one last negative, and then I'll stop. Going hand-in-hand with the "learning too much of the (maybe wrong) thing" category, let's talk treasure. There's a LOT of treasure, and its not just the hand-waved 'millions and millions' found in TPoUR; but a many of the treasure piles are incredibly obscure...they take the whole 'treasure should be hard to come by and/or hidden' thing a little too far; some examples:
  • a monster whose "carapace, treated with acids and worked by a supremely capable dwarven blacksmith, yields 3d10 gemstones of 1,000 g.p. value..."
  • 125,000 in coins buried under a diamond-hard stone slab that weighs 50,000 pounds and is immune to stone to mud and passwall spells (but not disintegrate).
  • a 50,000 g.p. sapphire hidden in the heart of a giant mushroom (requires 120 h.p. of damage by edged weapons to cut through; every round of attack requires a save vs. poison at -4 to avoid effect of hallucinogenic spores; fireballs and the like have a chance of destroying the gem).
  • an immense pile of treasure covered in a colorless, odorless contact poison (lethal, -2 save, seeps through fabric and even metal gauntlets). The poison is slow acting (only takes effect after 1 turn) so everyone handling treasure has the potential to be wiped out without warning.
  • a purple worm nest with nearly 200,000 in detailed treasure that is not on any map and no indication is given of how one might discover it
A brief accounting of monetary treasure indicates something less 1,400,000 g.p. worth, which is surprisingly small given A) the size of the adventure proper, and B) the number and level of pre-gens on hand. However, magic items are plentiful (though many...specifically Eyes taken from, I assume EoPT sources, have no value listed), and I suspect that this, accompanied by valuable "cores" dug from specific corpses could get that treasure total up to 2.5 or 3 million. But that's still...not much? I'm probably looking for something on the order of 8M or more for something this size, and I can't believe I'm saying this (there are ENORMOUS sections of detailed treasure!) but this might be...stingy? Not on purpose, mind you...it's just tough when you're dealing with things of this size and scope. By the book, 92,000 silver pieces weighs 4.6 tons...and is worth only 4,600 g.p. That's not much bang for the buck when your 16th level mage needs 350,000 x.p. to level up.

Still. There's a lot of combat x.p. on the docket in Slyth Hive.

This "review"...this list of critiques...is going to sound overly negative, I know. Please allow me to reiterate that the adventure is an immense, fantastic tour de force. I have issues with it, but this is a case where my feelings are 90% positive and 10% negative, and I am only harping on the negative because...well, because that's what I do. I am impressed...very impressed with Slyth Hive. I paid $15 on DriveThruRPG for a PDF so that I could read the thing, and I'm not disappointed. It's an ass-kicker of an adventure, with some fiendish design, clever ideas, and evocative writing. It is solid enough to run. With a bit of polish and editing, some slight mechanical fixes (if you're going to include UA rules, you need to get them right), and...perhaps...a slightly streamlined system to the slyth adaptations, this thing would rate in among the best high level adventures of all time.

And I say that as someone who's not really into 80+ page modules.
; )

EDIT: For a more detailed review/advertisement for what's in the adventure (including designer notes and substantial SPOILERS), please check out Prince's own article on Slyth Hive.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Contests

AKA "Friday News Dump"

Or, rather, it would have been (a Friday news dump), if I had been on the ball today.

Let's get right to brass tacks. I feel like a heel for failing to mention this earlier, but Ben Gibson is currently running an adventure writing contest that ends on the 31st. I should definitely have mentioned this earlier, but the thing has a limit of two pages, which many would-be designers can bang out in a weekend. And guess what? You've got a weekend left. Get to it!

So who the heck is Ben Gibson? He's an adventure cobbler himself, who's written some well reviewed pieces, most (all?) of which are of the "short form" variety. Spent some time today downloading and reading things like The Fall of Whitecliff and Night at Fausen's Manor...3E/Pathfinder stuff that reminds me (somewhat) of the best of the old One Page Dungeon Contest (which might still be going on, but I'm not paying attention). Anyhoo...no wonder he's chosen the small format for his contest...if anyone's qualified to judge such stuff, he'd be. Heck, reading it nearly entices me to play a little 3E...except that I still remember what 3E turns into after 7th level or so.

[spoiler: a crapshow, that's what]

Still, for low level stuff, those adventures have definite conversion material/potential. Anyway, I'm going to try to get something in for his contest before Wednesday (the deadline); that's doable, right? Just have a basketball game, a soccer game, volleyball practice, etc., etc.

[somehow, I got tagged with coaching 7th/8th grade volleyball this year. I haven't played volleyball since 1987, when I WAS in 8th grade! *sigh*]

I am sorry I haven't been keeping up with the blog posts in the New Year...I've been distracted. NFL playoffs, and football coaches disappearing from the local teams and eager awaiting of news on those fronts have me glued to my radio while doing menial chores around the home. It's silly; it's distracting. 

*ugh* I don't have time to talk about this right now. Okay, I'm going to amend the title of my post. Get your contest submission in, if you have the chance (five more days!). I haven't yet put pen to paper, so it's not like you'd be lagging far behind Yours Truly...just get something in.

Yak at you all later. Later!
; )

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Return of the Jedi

Last night my family watched Return of the Jedi (AKA Star Wars, Episode VI). This was not our first time.

I was cooking dinner tonight...grilling, in fact (no rain...for a change)...and had briefly considered posting pix of how I make Paraguayan chimichurri and baked mandioca. Eh. Another time. My grill is on its last legs (at least the charcoal pan), and in need of a replacement (probably in the Spring). The film I just threw on as "background noise" while putting stuff together...although the movie I started streaming was Rogue One. It was my daughter that switched it to RotJ.

My daughter (Sofia) is nine years old. Because she is my daughter, she's already seen these films...multiple times. However, this is not the same with her classmates. Oh, some have seen the movies...her friend Posey, and most (all?) of the boys. But not her best friend (Milana), and another friend...Maddie...has only seen the original trilogy, and only over the last three weeks. 

They, of course, love it.

Still Good
So they've been playing a lot of "Star Wars" at recess. Acting out the movies. Pretending to be the heroes or the villains or the stormtroopers, etc. This is why she wanted to watch Jedi...they've been self-performing the films sequentially and only just gotten up to "Jabba's palace." Sofia says they know most of the lines (well, she does anyway), but she just wanted to 'go over it.' The film had only just started as my wife and son got home from soccer practice (her turn driving tonight), and Diego exclaimed "Hey! I want to watch!" So we did.

It's interesting, watching my kids re-watch these films...films that were so much a part of MY childhood (I saw all the original films in the theater...multiple times). Sofia is...mm...about where I was at her age as far as understanding goes, but interesting to see her amazement at non-CGI special f/x. My son is much more developed and mature for his age and eyes things with the critical eyes of a film critic and seasoned campaigner (a lot of pseudo-military stuff in these SW films and my boy is all about the war games and military history). 

BUT...just astounding how well they hold up as entertaining films for kids. I do not approve of, nor appreciate, all the the things my kids find "awesome"...a lot of their pop music, for example, or some of the kids shows they dig, or many of their book choices (I can't stand those "Wimpy Kid Books" and they both eat those up). But here's something that we all connect on.

It is also interesting that the 9 year olds are SO into this...perhaps this is the "sweet spot" for those movies? I believe Diego was about the same age when he started his "D&D Club" at school, mainly to run a Star Wars RPG of his own devising (based on the B/X chassis...natch). That club has since gone defunct, but the kids who enjoyed it are still playing D&D (albeit with different groups outside of school). But...Star Wars (and, specifically, the original trilogy) were a unifying factor. 

Sofia last night (during the opening scene in the new Death Star): "Darth Vader is the BEST!" He's pretty good all right, probably my favorite "supervillain" of all time. Religious zealot, scarred cyborg, rage-filled brute...plus, James Earl Jones. Just...menacing. Shiny helmet. Black cape. Featureless mask. It's all delightful. Jedi may be the worst of the first three films, but turning Vader into the hero at the end was a stroke of genius (although I prefer the original cut of the climactic scene which has NO inserted Vader dialogue during the crescendo of the film's score...why make the scene weaker, Lucas? Jeez).

Ok. I'll stop. 

[by the way, while Sofia has a huge appreciation for DV, I know that her favorite Star Wars character of all time...from all the films...is still Darth Maul. She will tell you the same, if asked. She prefers the Rebels for our Star Wars Legion games, but I'm guessing that'll change as soon as she sees a Maul model on the shelf]

Why am I talking about this? Partly to grease the ol' 'blogging wheels' (a little rusty lately). But also because it's (very slightly) pertinent to a project I want to talk about. NOT a Star Wars project, but...perhaps..."SW adjacent?" That might be accurate.

First, though, I need to get back to that whole 'procedural gameplay' thing I mentioned earlier. We'll get to it.