Trixie, Twilight Sparkle, and a third character (who was either Cranky Doodle or Fluttershy or possibly both, because, y'know, dreaming) were traveling together, for reasons which were either not made clear or which I've forgotten. They were only in one "scene" together, in which they were in a shared hotel room, bickering about who would get which bed and similar trivialities. Trixie said to Twilight, "For being the Princess of Friendship, you aren't very friendly to me," to which Twilight replied, "Well maybe I would be if you weren't so snide to me all the time! How am I supposed to make friends with someone who constantly wants to stick it to me?"
If Trixie had an answer for that, the scene didn't show it, transitioning instead to the hidden object sequence. The premise here was that wherever they had traveled to was "cursed," which basically meant there were cartoony halloween spiders, jack o-lanterns, ghosts, and things floating around, it was constantly night, and everything was glowy green and purple. The hidden object sequences consisted of finding and removing the "cursed items" from each scene, which would then make it go "POOF!" and become an idyllic sunny daylight version of the same scene. Honestly, I think this was just my brain remembering a game I actually played that had basically this setup, except when things got "found" they'd disappear with the graphics of one of Trixie's smoke bombs and she'd say something like "Gotcha!" "Zap!" "Ta-daaa!" "The Great and Powerful TRIXIE!"
Gotta say, I wish the Gameloft MLP game had a mode like this. XD
From here the dream wandered to the real world (or at least, a dream instance of the real world, as opposed to being Equestria), but it still featured Trixie wandering around doing stuff. She was attempting to get to a spa as far as I can tell (because, y'know, pony), and trying to catch a bus. For reasons which I missed, she actually ended up on top of the bus, clinging to the destination sign for dear life. The last thing I remember, as the bus reached her stop and she was trying to gingerly climb down onto the bus's rear-view mirror to get down, was Trixie saying "What a great and powerfully embarrassing moment!" and rolling her eyes.
Then I woke up.
Call It a Game
The object of the game was to show Seifer the ropes of Dungeon Mastering. To that end, I'd say "mission accomplished." There’s always more to learn of course, but once you've got a basic idea of how it goes, there's really only one way to learn, and that's to do it yourself. So in this option, once the Caves of Chaos are dealt with and the Keep on the Borderlands is secured, the group is simply declared heroes, rewarded for a job well done, and they ride off into the sunset. Pros: Simple, clean, provides a satisfactory "the end" which can be a rarity in roleplaying campaigns. Cons: No more game.
Storm King's Thunder
The most recent 5E adventure from Wizards of the Coast, theoretically at least the state of the art in D&D adventure design. I've looked through this and honestly it looks pretty darn cool. It does present me with a quandary, however, because it really should be set over on the Silver Coast and some 65-70 years later than the Keep as I've been doing it. However, a) I’m really the only one keeping track of my in-world canon, and b) the Appletop Wines are an anachronism already. So I don't imagine it would make that big a difference if we just slid over there and said the game was at the right point in history. Pros: Modern adventure, starts at around 5th level (which you might reach or be close to by the end of KotB), seems like a good adventure. Cons: Wibbly wobbly continuity wontinuity, and takes us to a different part of the world that only my previous players have any real connections to. Also, commits us to a much longer game. Adventure Size: Quite large, intended to take characters to level 11+.
The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Another classic module by Gary Gygax, a straight-up dungeon crawl of the old style. The archmage Iggwilv, mother of the demonborn Iuz the Old, was rumored to have left "her greatest treasure" buried somewhere under the Barrier Peaks. Seeking something that will help in the never-ending enmity against the Empire of Iuz, the party is hired by Thessalaine to find and recover Iggwilv’s treasure. Pros: Lots of old school dungeoney goodness; considered a classic adventure; smooth transition from Keep. Cons: Another Gygax module, with the usual backstabbing NPCs; set in the wilderness, providing limited RP opportunities. Adventure Size: Comparable to Keep on the Borderlands.
The Dragon’s Demand
This is a Pathfinder module involving the machinations of a devious dragon and its kobold minions; the basic idea would be that you’re following the kobolds south to make sure they don’t cause trouble wherever they land. Pros: A relatively modern adventure, focusing more on story and NPC interaction and less on dungeon assaults. Can tie nicely to Keep. Cons: Suffers from a lot of Pathfinder bloat; designed to go from 1st to 7th level on fast forward and is actually a bit thin for all that, so might require more conversion on my part (although probably just condensing will work). Adventure Size: Hard to tell. Probably about half again as long as Keep on the Borderlands.
The Temple of Elemental Evil
One of the definitive mega-adventures of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, also written by Gary Gygax. A generation ago, a massive horde of evil creatures swarmed out of the Temple of Elemental Evil, to be defeated at the devastating battle of Emridy Meadows. The temple lay quiet and all but forgotten, but in the little village of Hommlet, there are hints that evil may be stirring in the temple again. Pros: A cool adventure and one every D&D player should at least be familiar with, even if they never play it. Cons: Gygax yet again; in many ways, it’s a rerun of The Keep On the Borderlands just on a larger scale (the same way Lord of the Rings is The Hobbit again on a larger scale). Adventure Size: Roughly three times the size of Keep on the Borderlands.
The Age of Worms
One of the Dungeon magazine adventure paths that set the stage for Pathfinder, this is actually twelve sequential adventures. Prophecies foretell the coming of a new age of the world– the Age of Worms, in which the great god Kyuss will rise from the dead, to fill the world with his endless hunger. Pros: A complete campaign of creepy crawly undeady adventure that namechecks a lot of Greyhawk lore. Cons: All the usual problems with Adventure Paths, plus conversion from 3.x to 5E (which is actually a little trickier than converting older editions for various reasons). Adventure Size: Considerable. Designed to be a complete campaign.
Make Seifer Run Something ;P
This whole thing was his idea in the first place, wasn’t it? Just sayin’.
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'd like to hear from you, players! What sounds good?
Now I've got my own list of 4E pro-and-con points, but the one that drives me the most bonkers is what is famously referred to as the "disassociated mechanics." A lot of 4E stuff seems like random bags of powers designed to fill some game design function, with the story convoluted around to make sense of it, which for me is bass-akwards. Even in HERO System, the King of Disassociated Mechanics Rulesets, the powers are supposed to simulate what story-wise the character is intended to be doing.
Anyway, buried deep in the discussion, there was a recommendation of 13th Age as being a game system that has a lot of the same strengths as 4E but was simpler and faster. I decided to check it out, downloading a sample PDF, and found a batch of orcs which had an attack that did weapon damage, and then on a crit, added +[x] psychic damage.
I just blinked, and tried to parse it. I didn't see anything suggesting these were somehow magical orcs (although I was skimming, so I might have missed it). As far as I could tell, it was just randomly stuck on.
Later on I found references to the Essentials line Monster Vault series as being better than the core Monster Manuals, so I scrounged up a copy of one of those to look at (Threats of Nentir Vale, I think it was), and happened upon a wight whose attack did "[x] damage, and the wight turns invisible."
Again, just sorta, "Why?" I mean, there's no reason for wights not to turn invisible, I suppose, but that's the sort of behavior I'd expect from spooks rather than the walking dead.
Now 5E has a little bit of the opposite problem: most of the 5E critters have movement, and an attack (or bunch of attacks), and little else. I discussed this in detail on an ENWorld thread using the hippogriff as an example. The 4E hippogriff has an interesting "land on somebody and knock them down" ability on top of their regular attack, while the 5E hippogriff just does damage. (Plus, more than half the 5E Monster Manual entries are CR 2 or lower, which even with bounded accuracy is still a bizarre distribution.)
I've been threading this particular needle by doing a fair amount of monster customizing. I have the 4E Monster Manual and Monster Manual 2 on the same shelf with my 5E books to fish for ideas when I want to punch up a dull 5E critter.
But I'm still not going to have randomly-psychic orcs. ¬.¬
Per their usual routine, they intended to camp in three shifts, with two people up and on watch the whole time. Whoever took the middle watch... I'm not going to name names or anything... closed their eyes for just a second... and...
The party were suddenly all awake, with full gear, sitting in a campsite in a complex of caves, with no idea where they were or how they got there. After a few moments of WTFing, sirfox's rogue Nikki figured he'd better check to make sure they were weren't any beasties sneaking up on them, only to discover... beasties sneaking up on them. Specifically it was four gricks– strange wolf-sized snake-worm things with tentacles and a beak where their heads should be.
The gricks were dispatched, but the evening wasn't about to get any less weird. Nikki scouted ahead to find that the caves all led to a large central chamber with a bottomless pit in the middle with altars on either side of it, and four differently-colored magic circles in each corner of the chamber. Standing in the yellow circle was a strange figure in tattered yellow robes, wearing a pale mask and a crown. Floating over each altar was a grell– bizarre monstrosities that consisted of a large, floating brain surrounded by tentacles and also with a beak. Larger cousins of the gricks? Something else entirely?
Whatever they were, the party decided (not unreasonably) that there was nothing in there that would do them any good, but there also seemed to be no way around it but through it. Miskan the purrsian bard determined that the one magic circle he could see (red) acted as some form of gate, while also acting as a damage buffer to anyone standing in it, which suggested the other magic rings also had some sort of function. So most the party bunched up at one entrance ready to rush in, while Togar (the dragonborn paladin) and Drang (the storm cleric) strode in through the entrance closest to the Yellow King to confront him.
As soon as they entered, the grell scooped up amulets bearing the Yellow Sign from the altars, carrying them towards the two groups as if in offering (despite Nikki's confidence that his scouting had gone completely undetected). In their minds, the characters heard a deep voice proclaim, "Kneel before me, for I am your king! There is no escape, even in death. Give yourselves freely, and be rewarded!"
This, as might be expected, didn't go over well. The most polite response was Togar's bellow of "Never!" although some of the less polite responses were also quite entertaining. The grell dropped the amulets on the floor and advanced menacingly, and battle was joined.
Togar attempted to tackle the King in Yellow, only to go flying right through him as it was just a projection, but also felt an unpleasant burning sensation when passing through the yellow circle. As the melee commenced, zombies began to appear in the middle of each circle, adding to the mayhem.
The fight was a tense, long battle. Fortunately for the PCs, the grell's attempts to grapple them were not succeeding, but unfortunately the zombies proved annoyingly durable, repeatedly being reduced to 0 hit points, only to stand right back up again. The players decided that the best way to deal with the zombies was to grapple them and shove them into the bottomless pit. This tactic proved quite effective, largely because the zombies kept rolling really badly to avoid the initial grapple.
Nikki and Rina the wood elf ranger, trying to find some way of breaking the Yellow King's sending, decided to destroy the altars by shoving them into the bottomless pits as well. This did have the effect of causing the vision of the Yellow King to vanish with a cruel chuckle, but the fight carried on. One grell was dispatched in messy fashion all over Sheala the elf
It was late morning by that point, so the characters stuck with their agenda. Unfortunately, sirfox had to bail for the last half of the session, so we decided to stick to mostly non-critical things in his absence. Red Hand Harry and the other two captured bandits were hauled back to the keep, along with all the recovered trade goods and captured gear. The Corporal of the Watch and Bailiff Delahuge were quite impressed at the capture of Red Hand Harry. The Bailiff didn’t have the funds on hand to deliver the reward immediately (they don’t keep that kind of money in the Outer Bailey), so the party was instructed to wait for a summons.
Then, there was shopping. Oddwall the blacksmith and Garrick the trapper bought armor and arrows respectively, but the group still ended up with ten sets of armor that nobody would take. The bandits' horses were also sold. Lizbeth the innkeeper wouldn’t let Sheala store the remaining armor in her room (“It smells up the place and is against the rules of the Keep besides!”) so eventually the group broke down and paid 1 gp/week to store it in the Keep warehouse.
Curian the jeweler was quite distraught at the news his caravan was never coming. The group inquired why he didn’t just travel with the guardsmen and the provisioners on their regular weekly trip to [next town west], to which he replied he wanted to go all the way to Pellak (capital of the kingdom), but the roads weren’t safe to travel alone. Apparently being stuck without a caravan in the Keep was still preferable to being stuck without a caravan in a podunk farming town.
Miskan and Nikki (by proxy) killed some time performing in the tavern, during which they heard a rumor that an elf had disappeared traveling across the marshes and that his companions were still looking for him.
The session ended when Percival (the nebbishy scribe who took the party's names and descriptions on their first arrival at the Keep) came and delivered a notarized summons for the party to enter the Inner Bailey and speak with Lord Blakewell the next morning.
This session's strange dream sequence battle with the minions of Hastur was something I cooked up completely, partially to take a break from dungeon corridors and tromping around the woods, but also to give Seifer a taste of 3E/4E style encounter design in contrast to the more old-school flavor of running Keep On the Borderlands straight. I was actually surprised, after the fact, at my own reaction to it– Ugh! XD It was a nice reminder of what a breath of fresh air 5E was.
I also felt a little bad about the negation of Nikki's sneaking, after last session when he so carefully blocked off the doors of the bandit hideout, only to have the bandits jump out the windows. In both cases there were reasons why it went that way (the Yellow King created the whole scenario so he knew what the players were doing the whole time in this session, and the bandits were simply panicked and would have jumped out the window either way in the previous), but it's always kind of unsatisfying to have to tell a player "It was a good idea, but it didn't help." On the other hand, Nikki got good use out of his new swashbuckler archetype abilities (from Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide), so that was good at least.
No game session next week due to family visits. But when we get back to it, it'll be time to finally meet Lord Blakewell.
The part of my brain that realizes I had no business starting this game in the first place given my time commitments kicked that other part and said, "Remember that the whole point was to be able to finally say you actually ran Keep On the Borderlands, and also, that you had no business starting this game in the first place."
So yeah, I won't be doing that. But part of me wants to.
This has taught me a lesson, tho, to wit: no more "straight porting." The things that have changed from older editions did so for a reason. Older adventures were the right thing for their time, but it's 2016 now, not 1986, and we have both more sophisticated tools, and more sophisticated sensibilities.
So, among other things? That means I won't be running Dungeon of the Bear after all. It's too dang ridiculous.
With the cultists and acolytes all slain, and Brother Sampson captured, they proceeded to interrogate him, which was by turns useful, infuriating, and creepy as hell. They learned that the cult within the caves was known as the Order of the Mask and Tattered Shroud, who were dedicated to a god(?) known by turns as the Yellow King, the Veiled King, the King in Yellow, or Hastur. (There was some ambivalence about this last part. Hastur was what was behind the Yellow King's mask... maybe? Brother Sampson's ramblings were hard to follow.) The gist of it seemed to be that there was a high priestess, The Yellow Lady, who had (or claimed to have) some kind of claim to the throne, and was raising an army to go get it, at which point the Yellow King would come from his city of Carcosa (some place where the sky was yellow and the stars were black) and marry her and they would rule together.
(And by "raising an army" he meant reanimating the corpses of all the orcs, goblins, and other humanoids wiping each other out in the Caves of Chaos.)
Brother Sampson also gave them some intel about the general layout and power structure of the caves, informing them that the gnolls were the group currently most favored by the cult.
Once they got all they could out of him for the time being, they tied him to a tree outside before heading back into the temple to scout around a bit more. While they were outside, they spotted something that rather took them by surprise: a band of kobolds, maybe 30 in number, streaming out of the cave they had raided the day before. They were carrying bundles and marching– the surviving kobolds were fleeing the Caves of Chaos. "An apartment just became available!" quipped Brother Drang.
The party cautiously made their way back into the temple; Togar used his divine sense and quickly came to the conclusion that there undead in the various other chambers all around them. They also found what appeared to be some kind of dark altar that radiated strong evil, although not exactly diabolist or infernal in nature, so much as "the universe is sick here." Somewhat baffled, and not eager to take on "an army of undead," the characters retreated from the temple and decided to head for the gnoll cave instead in the hopes of finding and freeing Lady Cynthia.
They did not get far. A bad Stealth check alerted the gnoll guards at the entrance of the party's presence; Nikki, dressed in robes purloined from the dead cultists, said he'd come to check up on the lady they'd taken prisoner. This seemed to baffle the gnolls, and when they turned away to confer with each other, the group swarmed in and attacked. Two of the gnolls fled for reinforcements, and this led to a chase further into the cave.  There was a pitched battle in the corridors, during which both Sheala the wizard and Rina the wood elf ranger got knocked unconscious, but a natural 20 on a death save and a healing spell brought them back up respectively.
When the guards and their reinforcements were defeated, the characters retreated, blocking the corridor with burning oil to forestall pursuit. They came out to the ravine to find Brother Sampson, still gagged and tied to a tree, snickering at them not unlike Tim the Magician when Arthur and his knights were forced to run from the killer rabbit. They decided they'd had enough of him and marched him back to the Keep. On the way, they spotted the marching kobolds setting up a camp down in the river valley, and mused briefly on the difficulties that lay ahead for the tiny saurians. "Not our problem!" said Nikki.
Back at the Keep, Bailiff Delahue took a keen interest in the emblem of the Yellow Sign they'd taken from one of the dead cultists, and told them to show it to Captain Helgist while she clapped Brother Sampson in irons (and left him gagged, as he was a spellcaster). Captain Helgist, in turn, informed them that the gnolls who'd captured Lady Cynthia were wearing emblems like this as well, and went to report the party's actions to Lord Blakewell, the Castellan, and told the party that they should come back later for further instructions.
Content to the let the caves stew in their own gravy for a bit, the party then headed off to a theoretically-abandoned watchtower to the south of the Keep, where they'd spotted plumes of smoke rising from fires the day before. Some reconnaissance revealed the watchtower to be the lair of Red Hand Harry and his gang, the highwaymen who'd been raiding caravans between the Keep and civilization. The party waited until the wee hours of the night, when most of the bandits were asleep except for a couple of bored guards, and struck!
The guards were taken out quickly and quietly; Nikki then used his thiefly skills to block the doors and spread oil at the top of the stairs in the tower, and they began their assault. Brother Drang cleared out the entire bottom level of the tower with a thunderwave– announcing their presence in a dramatic fashion. The bandits, all rudely roused from their slumber, grabbed up their weapons but had no time to don their armor. What followed was a wild and chaotic fight, with some of the bandits fleeing, some of the bandits fighting back, and some of them slipping and falling on the stairs.
Red Hand Harry himself joined in the fight until Miskan warped his mind with dissonant whispers, causing him to flee. That almost backfired, as the reward the party was chasing was only for Red Hand Harry himself, and if he'd gotten away it would have been 500 gp lost to the night. Miskan gave chase and was able to follow up with a sleep spell, and Harry was out like a light.
Sheala, meanwhile, had gotten herself into a 1-v-1 with one of the bandit archers, who were much more capable than most of the bandit rabble. He was trading arrows for each of her rays of frost, and she ran out of hit points before he did. For the second time in as many days, she fell unconscious, this time bleeding from multiple wounds. Fortunately, the rest of the battle had been more or less wrapped up by then, enabling Togar and Brother Drang to restore the fallen mage.
Sorting through the items in the tower revealed that this gang was quite definitely responsible for the disappearance of the caravan that Curian the Jeweler was so desperately waiting on– and that the caravan was likely to never come now, given that everyone in it had been sold to the Lady in Yellow as slaves. They were able to retrieve a variety of trade goods, however, including several bottles of Appletop Wine, made with the rare honey from a colony of giant bees . Nikki claimed a bottle or two as "carrying charges," and the party decided to camp in the outbuilding for the rest of the night, tying up their prisoners and leaving the piles of bandit bodies in the tower.
 I actually misread my adventure key in this part, putting the gnoll commons in what was supposed to be a storeroom. Oops. The fight would have come out much the same, I suspect, except the room beyond was not intended to be full of gnolls. Oh well, retroactive revision is a thing! ;) This is something that occasionally trips me up in the old-style "every room is a 30' by 30' square" style dungeons... with no clear way to distinguish one room from another on the map, I sometimes get lost in the room numbers. But it's kinda like the Quantum Ogre... the dungeon doesn't "actually exist" until it's encountered by the players!
 Wibbly-Wobbly Continuity-Wontinuity. This is actually a reference to "Buzz In the Bridge," an adventure I ran with my 3.5 group something like ten years ago, back when Ryan was in the group instead of Sirfox. Teeeechnically, this game takes place earlier in the world's history than that game, so Appletop Wines shouldn't be a thing yet. But really it's just a game, I should really just relax.
The original adventure was written assuming levels 1-3, with only the stuff at the very end being a challenge for a 3rd level party. (And that's a third level "OD&D" party, not the durable heroes of 5E, although using modern stats for the monsters mitigates that some.) For a modern game, The Keep On the Borderlands should probably have been done assuming levels 1-5, with a lot more of the midrange stuff being factored for 3rd level groups, and the tough stuff assuming 4th or 5th. And really, looking at the math, I probably should have realized that just based on the encounter XP compared to the XP required to level up, I just didn't take the time to figure it out.
So, oops. ¬.¬
At the same time, this was always intended to be a "disposable" adventure, to show Seifer how it's done, so I'm not sure it warrants doing a lot of refactoring work. I put my own spin on things, turning the "Cult of Evil Chaos" into a cult of Hastur specifically and using that to spin the personalities, goals, and methodology of the various factions involved, but I have no plans for it beyond what's in the module and no real notion of a followup. If there's enough interest from the players, we might carry on a campaign, but we'd have to figure out what it would entail. If nothing else, I could just string modules together– I've got most of the "classics" from 1E through 3.x and ten years of Dungeon magazine to pull from.
I do know that after this, it'll be a while before I want to run low-level adventures again. The Silver Coast game started at 1st level because it was a new edition and I used the Starter Set as a kickoff, but the group had just hit 5th? 6th? when it imploded. If I was starting a new campaign with an experienced group, I'd probably launch the game at 3rd or 5th right out of the gate. I'd like to see what 5E looks like on a higher tier, given that SlyFlourish says it still feels like D&D at high level in a way 3.x and 4E didn't.
Anyway, we'll see where it goes. One of my DMing strategies is "never prepare more than a few sessions in advance," and certainly that holds true here. Tonight's session will probably be the deciding factor on what happens with this particular game. If they go the direction I expect them to, they'll pretty much "break" the Caves of Chaos (or get broken themselves in the attempt), at which point I'll have to refactor it anyway because they will have thrown a major spanner into the works of the monster factions' balance of power.
And if I have to basically overhaul the whole thing, it becomes time to decide whether it's worth moving forward, and how we might want to do so, anyway.
The session picked up from where we left last time, with the heroes marching forth to find the Caves of Chaos. With the super-helpful directions they'd received from Old Bob ("go that way until you find a road"), and possibly because they had a wood elf ranger on the team, they did eventually manage to find an ancient and overgrown roadbed that eventually led them right there.
The Caves of Chaos, as painted by Michael Komarck
It turns out they actually were several different caves, all nestled in a ravine, that was lined with bones, twisted trees, and the occasional hungry-looking vulture. After a bit of discussing possible approaches, the group finally picked a promising-looking tunnel and decided to scout it out, with Nikki the anthro flying squirrel rogue scurrying up a tree to gain a good vantage point.
It was then that Nikki discovered that there was already a kobold in the tree, waiting in ambush for parties approaching the cave. Battle quickly commenced.
Because of where the players had specifically described positioning themselves, they were actually in a pretty good position to take on the kobolds, who instead of dropping on them from above had to leap down from the trees and run to the characters to engage. One of them attempted a heroic leap from one tree to another, only to botch its Athletics check and faceplant into the dirt.
This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night. To put it mildly, the opposition was not having a good dice night.
The party made short work of the would-be ambushers, who all died saying things like "I'm sooo hungryyyy..." or "Lunch huuurts..." or (in the case of one who got a burning hands to the face) "I smell delicioussss..." Post-battle wrap up made it evident that these were lean and hungry, malnourished kobolds, who really needed a sandwich. Combined with the party's discovery in the last session of a band of kobolds who'd been wiped out by goblins, it became clear that these kobolds were at the bottom of the Caves of Chaos pecking order.
Togar the paladin and Sheala the wizard felt some sympathy for the poor kobolds; Nikki and Miskan the purrsian bard did not.
Into the kobold cave the party forged, quickly coming upon a guardpost just inside. Neither side had the advantage of surprise, and so each side simply waded into battle. Like the ambush outside, these kobolds were malnourished and clearly wearing thin. As Sheala advanced to get a better position, she stumbled onto a disguised pit trap, but succeeded her saving throw to keep from falling in. Rina the elf ranger attempted to leap past the pit, but botched the roll and fell down in, with the lid closing behind her, briefly taking her out of the fight.
The party quickly mowed down half of the kobold guards, causing the other half to run for reinforcements, shouting out alarms. They were knocked out by a well-placed sleep spell, but there was a new problem to face– swarms of rats, bursting through the walls of the pit, threatening to devour Rina alive. Brother Drang went down the corridor the guards had fled down to make sure they didn't wake up and make another break for it, while the rest of the party hurried to get Rina out of the pit, slamming the lid shut again on the rat swarms. They figured out that there were planks by the side of the pit, apparently what the kobolds used to come and go without falling into it, and so the party set out the planks so they could also safely avoid the pit themselves.
Then, the kobold horde came.
A seemingly-endless stream of kobolds surged up the corridor towards Brother Drang. Miskan briefly distracted the front ranks with an illusion of a sumptuous banquet, causing some of the kobolds to roll around in the illusory food like Scrooge McDuck rolling around in gold, and others to try to "eat" as much of the food as possible before their fellows could beat them to it. This gave Brother Drang the opening he needed to wade in and let loose with a thunderwave spell, blasting half a dozen kobolds and sending their bodies flying, but also making a tremendous boom that drew the attention of the kobold king and his personal guard.
Despite the devastation, the kobold horde kept coming, more of their warriors clambering over the bodies of their slain fellows. Now with the king there to provide discipline, the kobolds ignored the banquet illusion and began to attack in earnest, using their pack tactics to try to overwhelm Brother Drang. He blasted several more with another thunderwave, but it was clear that the tide was about to turn. Back at the cave entrance, the rat swarms had made their way out of the pit from somewhere down another corridor and returned, climbing all over Sheala and attempting to devour her alive.
Deciding that enough was enough, the party beat feet. Once everyone was past the pit, they pulled up the planks but Miskan (covered in rats but managing to succeed at a concentration check) cast another illusion that the planks were still there– this gave the party time to get away as the front row of kobold warriors went crashing down into the pit, and the rat swarms moved in for the feast.
It was a bad day to be a kobold. By the time the party made it back to a safe camp and managed a short rest, their tally came up with 30 kobolds slain.
Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal!
They decided to return to the Keep to rest and heal up. There they once again found Brother Sampson, who bought them all drinks to toast their heroic slaughter of a bunch of starving kobolds. They spent the evening in conversation with him, finally coming to the conclusion that he had some form of past history with the mysterious cult in the Caves, despite his reluctance to go into details. While Sheala got blind drunk to forget the horrors of being swarmed by rats, Togar invited Brother Sampson to join the party on their next foray, despite Brother Drang's reluctance to trust the traveling monk.
The next morning, the party set out again. Based on Brother Sampson's information that the gnolls (who had kidnapped the Castellan's daughter) were in the upper caves, the party decided to go overland and come at the Caves of Chaos from the top, instead of climbing their way up from the bottom of the ravine. They stopped briefly at a ruined watchtower at the top of the ridge, deciding it would be a good place to make camp if they needed to later, then continued on to the Caves.
They picked what had once been clearly a finished opening with pillars and a terrace, now crumbled to ruin by the passage of time, and went into it, despite the ominous feel and stale, rank smell of it. Inside they found a grand, vaulted hallway with tile floors. Picking a direction, they found some closed doors, and listening at one, they heard hushed voices of conversation. Nikki, with a prodigious Stealth roll, snuck into the room and found several priests? Scholars? dressed in yellow robes, engaged in what could best be described as "evil prayer group."
The party swarmed in to attack, taking the cultists completely by surprise– only to have Brother Sampson and his acolytes attack the party from behind!  Unfortunately for Brother Sampson, the dice weren't being any better to him than they had been to the kobolds. Three attempts to cast hold person were thwarted by PCs making their saving throws, and his acolytes couldn't land significant damage on anyone. Meanwhile the cultists inside the room were cut down like so much wheat– even one who was healed up and had sanctuary cast on him couldn't escape without taking too many attacks of opportunity and dropping. Another sleep spell took down Brother Sampson, and the fight was over.
The party quickly cleaned up the mess, dragging the bodies into the cultists' room and closing the door, and tying up Brother Sampson with intention to interrogate, and we ended the session there. The party ended up one malnourished kobold away from hitting 3rd, so I was glad they only killed 30 instead of 31. ;P But as I said on Twitter, this group survived one of the three classic TPK spots of The Keep On the Borderlands and then went straight up to the Chaos Temple and began their incursion. This team is hard core, and I'm not going to worry about things being too tough for them any more. If anything, I'm going to have to make sure things aren't too easy for them.
Time to kick things up a notch. };)
 Ah, a good old Gary Gygax adventure. Three out of four people you meet will try to kill you. Is it a wonder players used to just kill anyone/anything they found in a dungeon?
Last night was our first session of The Keep on the Borderlands, played almost entirely via Google Hangouts with my iPhone mounted on a camera tripod over the gaming mat. The setup worked pretty well once we got the kinks worked out, but one of the big annoyances with Google Hangouts is that there are different kinks every time. So when planning the sessions, I'm going to have to allow for the fact that the first half-hour is always going to be fixing whatever broke this time.
The adventure starts with the party arriving at the gate of the Keep, where they are ordered to state their names and purpose before being allowed entry. The characters were:
- Brother Drang, a human tempest cleric of Kord, come to the wilderness to kick butt for great justice
- Togar, a dragonborn paladin of Bahamut, drawn to the Borderlands by forces unknown to battle against Chaos 
- Nikki, an anthropomorhic flying squirrel rogue with magic juggling clubs
- Rina Gremaer, a young wood elf ranger looking for adventure
- Sheala Amastacia, an even younger (seeming) high elf wizard with the aspect of an 11-year-old girl
- Miskan, a purrsian (large, intelligent winged cat race) bard, looking for adventure and new tales to tell
An odd collection, to be sure, but as the corporal of the watch recognized the holy symbols of Kord and Bahamut, and the group seemed friendly enough, they were let into the Keep, although they did notice a scribe taking note of their names and particulars upon arrival.
Inside the Keep, tensions were clearly high. A jewel merchant tried desperately to interest them in his wares, which were obviously not selling, and they eventually learned that the lord of the Keep's daughter (Lady Cynthia) had been captured by gnolls, for nefarious purposes unknown, and that there was an enormous reward for her rescue. There was also talk of bandits, and of course rumblings about bands of widely different groups of evil humanoids, who would not normally be associating, but were all together in an area referred to as the Caves of Chaos.
In the tavern, they were also chatted up by Brother Sampson, a travelling monk and most jovial fellow, who insisted on buying drinks for Brother Drang and eventually dinner for Sheala, and happily chattered away about anything and everything. His two acolytes, a sour pair who had taken vows of silence and so could not join in the conversation, sat nearby impassively.
The group finally decided on a general plan of trying to investigate both the bandits and the missing Lady Cynthia. They spoke to Helgist, the captain of the guard at the Keep, who told them that Lady Cynthia had loved to go out hunting as she grew up, and that as the relatively low threat of nearby kobolds turned into the more pressing threat of aggressive goblin-kind and gnolls, Lord Blakewell had started insisting that she be escorted by guards. On one of these outings, they'd been ambushed by gnolls and all of the guards wiped out, with Helgist only managing to escape by pretending to be dead himself. The gnolls had carried off Lady Cynthia and there'd been no sign of her since, despite the Keep regularly sending out squads of troops to look for her– many of which didn't return.
Further investigation revealed that the bandit activity, and the humanoid attacks, were coming from opposite directions. Unable to pursue both simultaneously, the party decided to begin by investigating the woods where Lady Cynthia used to hunt to look for clues.
Tromping through the woods, they eventually encountered a hermit called Old Bob, who I described as being "Not quite Tom Bombadil, and not quite George Carlin, but somewhere between the two." They greeted Old Bob cordially and he returned the same, and they began to chat. He gave them general directions to the Caves of Chaos, but as they talked to him they gradually began to realize he wasn't exactly playing with a full deck– particularly when he began to talk about how "the king" spoke to him in his dreams at night and gave him strange commands.
Once they came to the conclusion that they'd learned all they were going to from Old Bob, they continued their trek, following the directions he'd given them. As the sun began to go down and they searched for somewhere to camp, they came upon a hollow with a grisly scene: several dead kobolds and a few dead goblins, with goblin arrows scattered everywhere (including in the kobolds). So it would appear that the various bands of humanoids did not necessarily get along as well as all that.
So they set up camp for the night, giving Miskan the first watch. All was well until suddenly, much to his surprise, the purrsian bard felt a vice-like grip around his throat– Old Bob had crept into the camp while the rest slept and was strangling Miskan from behind! Fortunately in his near-death throes Miskan had managed to yowl and kick enough to wake up the rest of the party– unarmored but ready to fight as they realized the true nature of Old Bob's madness. Old Bob's pets– a pair of mountain lions– joined in the battle, and things looked grim as Miskan had been dropped to 0 hit points by the opening attack (Old Bob was a 5th level assassin, doing 3d6+1 with an unarmed sneak attack). Togar used his laying on hands ability to bring Miskan back from the brink, as the rest of the party slew one of the mountain lions and attacked Old Bob, causing him to flee. Miskan cast sleep spell on the lunatic as he ran and he faceplanted, allowing them to tie him up as his other mountain lion fled.
When Old Bob awoke, they interrogated him, discovering that he was convinced that "The Yellow King" had ordered him to kill and eat people, and had been doing so for years. Old Bob also said that the stars were watching everything they did. When pressed for more details about who this Yellow King was, Bob was vague, other than that he was yellow, and had a crown, thus making him the Yellow King.
They marched Old Bob back to his home, a giant hollowed out tree, looking for evidence of his crimes, but there was nothing to be found. So they instead took him back to the Keep, delivering him to the Bailiff and explaining what had happened. The Bailiff locked him up, and the heroes (having been up all night) headed to the Inn to get some rest.
That afternoon, after getting much-needed sleep, they set out into the woods again. They followed the trail towards where they believed the Caves of Chaos to be until it got dark, at which point they camped again. Fortunately, Miskan's watch completed without incident this time. On the second watch, Nikki and Togar were somewhat surprised to discover that the party was surrounded by a company of wood elf scouts, who were apparently simply observing the characters to see what they were about. The elves were not terribly chatty, but seemed like good enough sorts, who wandered off into the darkness.
In the morning, the group continued their march east . As they traveled, they heard a vicious cackling and yapping– gnolls, converging on them fast. Most of the party hid, except for Togar who, being an enormous dragonborn in heavy armor, made a better Giant Distraction than anything else.
Unfortunately, being a Giant Distraction meant that the gnolls opened the fight by all three of them chucking spears at him. Togar dropped, and this time Brother Drang ran to his aid with a healing spell. The remainder of the battle was short but intense– the gnolls were quickly defeated, and the characters decided to take a short rest to recover.
We ended the session there; the characters had earned enough experience points to become 2nd level , so we dealt with that before signing off, and plan to continue next week. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I certainly enjoyed it. I never got to run Keep On the Borderlands "back in the day," so I'm happy to have the chance now.
 That's Chaos with a capital C! The Keep on the Borderlands is a very Moorcockian place.
 Even though I kept calling it west. Stupid map dyslexia.
 5E deliberately tries to shoot you up to at least 3rd level very quickly, but levels out a bit from there to keep you in that 3rd-8th level "sweet spot" for a long time.
I don't want to be the DM.
I mean, I do sometimes, sure. I've been a DM fairly regularly since 1981 or so, so I must get something out of it. I even have a Gamemastering Credo. But the thing is, the reason I'm usually the DM is not because that's what I want out of the game.
The reason is that if I don't DM, there is no game.
Like, almost ever. I have played in a few games, including a few run by jamesbarrett that actually spanned more than three levels. But not often, and rarely with sustain.
The reason I bring this up is because I spent the past week working on my Keep On the Borderlands conversion, and I put some thought yesterday toward how it could be built on if the group gels and people really get into it, etc.
Then I remembered my binder full of stuff for Secrets of Thunderdelve and how much of that never saw the light of day, and all the plot threads I put in to hint at adventures the characters would someday get to as they levelled up and so forth... and then Jamie's work schedule went south and we moved to Maryland and everything just fell apart. Again.
Blugh. I don't want to go through all that again. Especially not for what was supposed to be a throwaway game to teach Seifer how to play. Maybe I can pull stuff out of it to use again? I probably should have just figured out some interesting stuff for 1st level characters to do on the Silver Coast instead of Keep On the Borderlands anyway.
Meanwhile, I've got folders full of PCs I've never played, or only played in very small chunks; and for that matter I've got a certain drow bard I'm very very fond of and want to play more, but despair that I ever will.
I wonder if I should just suck it up, go find the nearest Adventurer's League location, and take what I can get. It's not the same experience as gaming with your friends, but it is at least gaming... and (theoretically at least) it would be with someone else behind the screen.
Three Good Things For Today
- Yummy mahi mahi dinner c/o lythandra
- Fancy-schmancy new mouse for gaming, as well as progress on the new PC
- Fun walk around Rio and some frozen yogurt
- Bonus Good Thing! Team Fortress 2 with Miertam, Plotline, Inkblitzer, Trixie, Maven, and occasionally Colley. It was a fun and new experience!
Three Goals For Tomorrow
- Clean up my desk (again :P)
- New badges for self and Buster the Crab
- Another Ponywatch pic
G'nite world, and have an awesome tomorrow!
(Faux titles for Overwatch: The Anime are a thing. There are tons of them! And most are quite good.)
Last night, for the first time, I managed to get into a game with a full 6-person group in Overwatch, and we hopped into "vs. AI" on difficult mode. Even this is not as challenging and varied as matches against real people, but it is still pretty tough because the bots do All Headshots All the Time, and when the headshotting is done by Zenyatta after a discord orb? You go down, fast. Playing solo against AI in difficult mode doesn't feel that different from playing solo in PVP games: "Boom. Headshot."
Playing as a coordinated team? HUGE difference. Yes, we had to work to win (the bots got nearly as far as the last checkpoint on King's Row, for instance, instead of being stomped before they ever got to the payload), but even with the bots doing All Headshots we could set up intelligent defense plans and coordinated pushes, combined ultimates for whombo combos, and figure out where there were holes that needed plugging and compensate accordingly. Honestly, with that group I would have felt quite confident to take on PVP games, despite my general n00bness and tendency to feel intimidated by them solo. (Tilt is a problem. I will overcome it with practice.)
We also did an All D.Va attack on Gibraltar, which was a ton of fun. We could melt anything– as long as it was within five feet of us. XD That only worked because we were up against bots, tho– human players would probably have torn us apart with Mei, S76, and Zarya combos.
The net result of this is that I'm getting quite eager to try my hand at ranked play– when the venn diagram of "ranked season opens" and "I have stable computer" overlap. The general consensus among the various players/commentators that I've been following is that people in ranked games (regardless of their skill level) value team play, focus on the objectives, and generally do their best to do well– which is the kind of environment I want to play in.
At least most of the time. Occasionally I just want to go Team D.Va and pfutz around. ;)
 Until my PC is reliably able to finish even a single match without crashing, I've been avoiding live games. Fortunately I've only got a little more than two weeks to wait, I hope!
Anyway, all week I've had as a to-do item "Three Good Things" post. But what's been happening is that at night I'm fighting to force myself to go to bed much against my will, which means I don't have a "wind down" routine so much as a "knock myself down" routine... and so the "Good Things" post doesn't happen because it's 2 a.m. and I have been trying to make myself go to bed for hours.
I blame Overwatch. :P But that's for another discussion.
So I decided that today I would simply list a ton of good stuff that's happened to me recently, in no particular order, and with no numerical limit. Most of this is very personal/self-centered stuff rather than any sort of "greater good," but that's okay. Sometimes things that are just good for me, are good enough.
- The weather has been crazy nice for most of May/June. This sounds trivial, but given the strong correlation between my energy level/mood and sunny days, it's a lot bigger than it may seem. It's weird, I can sometimes wake up and somehow know, just from how bleah I feel, that it's a cloudy day outside.
- I've been having fun playing Overwatch. This is a little more of a mixed bag because I've also been very frustrated with my computer trying to play Overwatch. The thing crashes five times out of six tries, and I don't currently have the funds to replace it. XD So it can be kind of frustrating to spend 50 minutes rebooting for every 10 minutes playing, but when the computer gets into a long "working" streak, Overwatch is a lot of fun. This leads to my next item...
- People are being super-generous about helping with the computer problem. A fan who prefers to remain anonymous is upgrading his own computer to a super-high-end model and basically giving me most of his previous one, which is still a giant step up from the one I'm currently using. All I have to provide is a copy of Windows and a video card, and that I can afford to do. ^.^ He's currently talking about handing it off to me at BronyCon, which is July 9-10. Another friend has given me a full license for Team Fortress 2, on the grounds that Overwatch is basically a newer version of that, to play in the meantime. XD
- Finished issue four! It'll be at AnthroCon! Rough Housing is starting to build up a body of work finally. ^.^
- AnthroCon is next weekend! I get to see a bunch of my furry pals and do arts and get commissions and stuff!
- We're moved! We've got the furniture all in place, curtains up and art on the walls. There's still settling in to be done, especially in the office and library because we don't use those rooms as much, but we do at least have the beginnings of a home going on.
- My heart ablation surgery was a complete success! I haven't had any afib since March, and as of this week, I am off the heart meds. In as much as afib ever gets "cured," this is it.
- My toe is healing nicely. I did cringe a bit when the doctor said it might need a pin, but then the x-rays came back that the joint was fine and that all I have to do is keep taping it up and wearing this silly shoe-brace-thing for a few more weeks. I'll probably be alternating between it and a regular shoe at AC, particularly for driving and/or if the weather is rainy.
- This video. Just... this video.
So... yeah. Some good stuff has been happening. I'm sure there's more than I've remembered to post here, but I am a lion of little brain and things fall out of it a lot. I'm going to try to be more regular about posting good things on a regular basis, but that requires not fighting to force myself to go to bed. So... we'll see. ;P
Levelling is an odd beast in Overwatch. You can gain levels even in the lowest difficulty "vs. AI" mode and it doesn't provide any mechanical benefit, it just unlocks new skins, voice lines, and that sort of thing. More than anything else, it's a measure of time spent playing the game. Thus, it's possible to grind away to level 100+ and never once compete against another player.
I've been thinking about this a bit as I've found a group of players that I've been hanging out with on a semi-regular basis, but unfortunately all they seem to be interested in doing is playing against medium-level AI. That's great when I'm tired and just want to zone out, but it's not exactly challenging. On the medium level, the AI pretty much always run straight to the point in a cluster via one or two predictable paths. Winning an AI match is trivial once you've done it a few times. I've pulled off some fun moves in it, most famously ramming four opponents off the wall and into the sea in Ilios with D.Va's mech, but I'm under no illusions that it was really that skillful a play so much as basic pattern recognition.
What the AI mode is really for is learning the mechanics of different characters, so while I've been in that mode anyway because that's where the people I was hanging with are, that's what I've been focusing on. I've also been making a point of exploring the maps and trying to learn where things like healthpacks are, but since the AI always follow the same paths there's not as much incentive to do that, it's just been me thinking forward to improving my actual gameplay later.
The net result of all this "practice, practice, practice" is that I'm 32nd level, but I would guess have been in maybe 20 actual (pvp) matches with five or six victories. (There is a site that shows your player stats but I'm not sure how that's broken down. It says I've been in 34 games with an 11/23 win/loss ratio... which doesn't jibe with my memory at all. EDIT: An e-mail from Blizzard customer support confirms the stats are from Quick Play games. So apparently I've played more, and better, than I thought!) I hope that the matchmaking algorithm doesn't look at "level" as a stat, because it seems to be pretty useless actually.
Anyhow. :) I do still want to get better at the game, and that means actually playing as it's meant to be played. I'm still hunting for some folks to group with in pvp matches, so I don't have to tough it out alone until Dan signs on.
On top of that, one of our core players (jamesbarrett) has recently changed jobs such that Saturday night was no longer viable. All of this, combined with putting our lives on hold to get the move done, conspired to basically throw gaming down the hole for us. This is a major bummer, as my D&D campaign had just reached a major plot point, and as I've been famously posting, my Ghostbusters 5E conversion should be up and running soon.
So I'm looking at my options. Keeping the old band together would require pretty much going totally virtual... which is doable but I've never been fond of virtual gaming. For me, half of the point of tabletop RPGs is to be in the same room sharing the experience with the rest of the group.
The other option is to seek a new group. Beyond Comics up the street has organized play and could be a source of new players; our old friend Dan lives in Frederick and probably has a group we could try to get into. I would really like the opportunity to be a player instead of the DM for a while... but I'd hate to just wave goodbye to a group I've been gaming with since 1983. ¬.¬
So, still trying to work it out. Meanwhile, Overwatch is kinda-sorta standing in for my gaming itch. If I could find a regular crew to run with, I could see "Overwatch Night" being a cool and fun thing that lasted a while, in a sort of "digital bowling" way. (Overwatch is really more like a sports tournament than a roleplaying session.) It has that "team working together to accomplish an objective" part of a good RPG session, at least, even if it doesn't have things like plot or character development.
Wow, what a difference 24 hours makes. XD Today was a good one in Overwatch! Three in-game victories out of five? six? games– two with Lucio, one with Soldier76. Even the defeats were hard-fought and not just pure stompage. (Well except for one, when I was dumped into a match 30 seconds before the team failed to escort their objective to the destination.) The best part, actually, was when another player got Play of the Game by one-shotting my Soldier as Widowmaker. I had to watch it on the Kill Cam, then at PotG, and I was just laughing the whole time. GG, WM. I ain't even mad. XD
See now, that's how the game is supposed to go! When even getting beaten is fun, you're doing it right. And I couldn't tell you what the difference was. I have my suspicions– first game was in the afternoon instead of at night, so I had more energy/awareness; computer worked right off the bat instead of crashing several times, so I wasn't frustrated before even getting in; and I've been studying L2P videos on YouTube when I can. I'm sure there's also the luck of the draw on the opposing players' skill levels, but there weren't any matches where I felt like the other team was just plain weak. I really think I've actually just gotten a bit better sometime between yesterday and today.
This doesn't mean that I am suddenly a champion, by any stretch. And none of my victories today were using My Gal D.Va, but that will come. (My first in-game victory was with D.Va, so we'll always have that!) I'd like to get a few in before she gets her buff, which will probably be in a couple of weeks.
Anyway! It's a really good feeling to have finally done well, and I'm glad I've stuck with it. Now to build on that success!
I know that I can succeed at the game, I've done it once. Maybe even twice, I think? But I'm unsure of my memory on the second one. But yes, on one "deny the escort" mission, my team actually did deny the escort, thanks to a last-second overtime push.
Every other time I've attempted pvp, I just get stomped. :-` Hard. And after two or three attempts, I can't think through my frustration.
"So Gneech," I hear you say, "why do you keep playing it?" It's a good question, and I don't have a real good answer. I like the game, I like the world and the characters, I like the design of it all. A lot of what I like about Overwatch is explained in this article on Wired. In fights against bots, I tend to do fairly well and have a good time... but fighting against bots is not playing the game as intended. :P
I would like to think that if I could find some teammates and get a groove on, I might start to get better. Unfortunately, the people I know tend to be on way past my bedtime– or if they are on when I'm on, my computer blows up its own brain rather than let me play.
I am reaching the point where I worry that even if I do ever manage to find a team, I'm just going to be a weight around their neck anyway, because I am such a lousy player. :P
So sometime in the near future (maybe this weekend if I can arrange it) I'm going to declare "Get Decent at Overwatch" day and just be on pretty much all day, trying to group with anyone I know and going into live games in pure student mode. Win, lose, die trying, doesn't matter. I'm just going to spend my time trying to learn from people in the game and do something more effective than getting killed constantly.
I had a patch like this in LotRO, and I did eventually manage to get through it with the help of my friends and get to a place where I was pretty good. I want to do that again, here.
Thanks for listening. Have a music video for your time.
DVaGneech and TracerBlitz by the-gneech on DeviantArt
Taking a little break from Ghostbusters  to get into Overwatch. This is a fun action-oriented online game from Blizzard (makers of World of Warcraft ) which is being described as a “hero shooter.”
What’s a “hero shooter”? I have to admit I barely understand the term myself. The shooter part is easy– the controls and interface are standard FPS. The “hero” part apparently refers to the fact that instead of controlling a single player avatar or character, you choose from a variety of characters depending on the needs of the team and the situation. So if your team needs a damage dealer to lead an assault, you might choose the jetpack-boosting soldier, but if they need to defend a point you might choose the sniping archer.
Overwatch has 21 characters currently, broadly grouped into “offense,” “defense,” and “support,” with subcategories of “tank,” “builder,” and “sniper.” Gameplay is fast and woolly: you are grouped up with five other players (either friends you’ve pre-grouped with or randomly-selected players of a similar level/rank) and tossed into an arena against a team of six other randomly-selected players (or AI foes of choosable difficulty). There are basically two missions currently: conquer waypoints, or escort/deny a moving payload.
I’m told it’s somewhat like Team Fortress 2, but as I’ve never played that, I can’t address it.
Now normally this isn’t the sort of thing I would expect to get into, being pretty much all action and no plot. The “payload” being delivered or blocked isn’t even identified beyond being a thing on a truck (it looks vaguely like a giant electromagnet). And I couldn’t tell you what made me interested in checking it out, other than a vague hole in my nerdery where LotRO and Borderlands used to be. But once I decided I wanted to play it, I found myself going on a long and painful journey into the underworld, by which I mean Windows gaming.
The Exciting Adventure of Gneech vs. His Computer
My gaming PC was quite beefy once upon a time. Specifically, around 2008 or so when I bought it to be an awesome platform for playing Lord of the Rings Online. It served me well in that capacity for a long time, and it never had the slightest problem with Borderlands 2, so I fully expected it to be capable of running Overwatch.
Ha, ha, silly me. How was I to know that Microsoft and/or NVidia had imposed mandatory retirement on my video card? (In fairness, the card design is 10+ years old, which is a very long time in the world of computers. But the thing still works! Assuming the fan motor stayed good it’d probably keep on working for 10 more years if the software would support it.) After much wailing and gnashing of teeth about not being able to afford a contemporary gaming rig, I finally took a gamble and bought a new card, basically a 2014-ish version of the same card. Any better/more powerful? Not really, as far as I can see, but it has DirectX 12 drivers, which the old one doesn’t, and that’s what was required for Overwatch to work.
However, the new card and the old system don’t really get along very well. Windows keeps polling the card like the guy in Smooth Criminal: “Video are you okay, are you okay, are you okay video? Video are you okay, are you okay, are you okay video?” But the video card, trying valiantly to render things the game is throwing at it, doesn’t answer quickly enough, so Windows decides, “Oh, the video card must have crashed, let’s reset it.” Which kills the driver, and by extension, kills the game. Usually about 10-30 seconds before the end of the match I’m currently in. -.-
Now this PC (currently on Win 7) is eligible for an upgrade to Windows 10, so I thought that might fix it. I tried to upgrade to 10 before, only to have it keep crashing on the old card, which was not supported by Windows 10 because reasons. I figured, “New card! Specifically states compatible with Windows 10 on the box! Maybe this will fix everything!”
Ha, ha, silly me. So I upgraded to Windows 10… which absolutely refused to acknowledge that there was any graphics card at all other than “Generic Display Adapter.” And you know what Generic Display Adapters don’t do very well? Render 3D objects. So, while I did eventually get Overwatch up and running under Windows 10, it was completely unplayable.
So… finally… I rolled back to Windows 7, and I’m living with a 40% chance that any given match will cause my computer to crash. 😛 The (relatively) good news is that if it’s going to crash, it usually does it early on. If I can get past five minutes in the game, it’ll probably be stable until the end of the session.
I have had a fan very generously offer to build me a new machine and bring it to BronyCon in July, for which I’m super-grateful! Let’s face it, if the worst thing about the whole situation is that I have to wait a little over a month to reliably play the most current video game, I have it pretty damn good.
The Exciting Adventure of Tracer’s Butt
Although the gameplay is fun and engaging in a pure-action kind of way, it’s really the art and character design that appeals to me about Overwatch, as evidenced by the pic at the top of my buddy Inkblitzer and me rendered as D.Va and Tracer, respectively.
And honestly, even then it’s only a few of the characters who stand out. Certainly none of the male ones: with the exception of Winston (who is still basically Beast from the X-Men) they’re all the same tired old tropes of “Weary Soldier,” “Sheriff Shooty McCowboy,” “Wangsty Grim Samurai,” “Cackling NOT-the-Joker With a Bomb” and so on. But Tracer, the game’s mascot, is a Peter Pan-style gadfly who teleports around poking her enemies with sticks (well, bullets, but still). D.Va, my particular fave, is a Korean gamer girl with a bunny on her chest and a giant pink mech who flings herself into crowds of enemies like an enormous bowling ball, knocking them all for a loop. Finally there’s Zarya, who is basically a Rule 63 version of The Heavy from Team Fortress, who deadlifts her giant plasma gun in character introduction screens and regularly invites everyone to the gun show.
The prominence of female characters in the game (and quite probably the fact that they’re way more interesting than the male characters) has of course led to all sorts of internetty nonsense about it all, most famously about a victory pose for Tracer that people decried as being too much about showing off her butt when the character generally isn’t sexualized otherwise. Given that Widowmaker (super-cliche femme fatale sniper in a skintight bodysuit) is all about her catwalk strut, and that Mercy (the healer who literally has wings and a halo) is all “tender goddess,” the complaint was basically “Can we have one female character who is not primarily rendered in terms of the male gaze for a change?”
Blizzard, to their credit, said, “it’s a fair cop” and changed the victory pose, but by then the dweeby fanboys had latched onto the whole business of butts, which can make looking for Overwatch fan art an exercise in eye-rolling as you encounter one “Durr hurr hurr!” Tracer’s Butt piece after another. :-` It’s a minor nuisance, but still causes side-eyes around a character who is otherwise fun and engaging.
Still! It’s a minor issue at best and doesn’t really impact gameplay. So far everyone I’ve encountered actually in the game has been either typically uncommunicative (it’s hard to type in the team channel and shoot at the same time) or has been very nice, with few or no dickweeds encountered so far. While the basics of the game are simple, actually going up against live players is incredibly challenging– I finally had my first victory last night, and it was very satisfying to finally feel like I was getting somewhere after my first attempts were so sad. The game rewards study and perseverance, and that’s a nice feeling I’ve been lacking for some time.
Will I still be playing in six months? I have no idea. Will anyone? It depends on where the game goes, if indeed it goes anywhere. People have been playing Team Fortress 2 for something like a decade now with no signs of stopping. With no single-player story to “beat,” the only way to play the game is in matches with other players, which can be a blessing and a curse. There is no real finish to the game, which means you don’t get people going through the single-player, being “done,” and wandering off. On the other hand, if it gets to the point where players become scarce and every match is made up of one or two humans and a bunch of AI foes, it could become a ghost town real quick.
It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out! And it’s nice to be in on something new for a change. 😉
 Sort of. The first draft is actually finished and I’ll keep posting about it in a day or two.
 Can you believe there’s a movie coming out for that? XD It actually looks pretty entertaining in its own schlocky way.
Anyway! Yes, you're right, I have been a bit less chatty as of late, but that's because my world, which has tended to flop itself upside down like a giant metaphorical pancake every few months for the past several years, is at it again. This particular floppage is a confluence of several things happening at once, so lemme break it down a bit.
This is the big one. The lease on our current townhouse ended in March, and for various reasons that will wait for another day, we wanted flexibility to be able to move sometime around July-ish. So we opted for a month-to-month renewal, because our other choice was another 12 months. The owner of our house was like, "Cool, I've been thinking of selling around then anyway, so I'll list the house and aim to settle around the time you guys are planning to move." We said, "cool," and she said, "cool," and all was good.
The first person who even glanced at the house bought it and wanted us out immediately. :-`
The current owner was like, "Uh, I'll sell you the house, sure, but I have a legal obligation to the tenants." So the buyer rolled their eyes and said, "Okay, fine, give them 30 days notice and be done with it." Thus it is, that we need to move by May 17th.
As you can imagine, this has rather flung us for a loop. We have spent the time since getting this news looking for a new place to go, selling/donating/disposing of even more stuff than we did when we were selling the Hobbit Hole, and generally freaking out.
The good news is, we have a backup plan, in the form of sirfox's condo in Maryland which is currently vacant. If we don't find anything else, that will be our safety net. But we are not settled on that yet.
Things That Aren't Moving
Meanwhile, when not dealing with that, I've been cranking away on my novel writing. As of this afternoon, Sky Pirates of Calypsitania has officially received two rejections, one from a literary agent who likes my writing generally but wasn't interested in that particular book, and one from Tor-Forge, who simply responded with a form letter. All of the other markets well-suited to the book do not take unagented manuscripts, so for the time being the strategy on that book is "keep looking for an agent, and keep working on other books."
In the other books department, I've returned to Tend on Mortal Thoughts and I'm trying to Second Draft it up to 80,000+ words if I can. Some of my beta readers have given me very good suggestions in that regard and when I'm not in the midst of moving I intend to make use of them. I have also put in some serious thinking on Brigid and Greg, and might just have a direction with that to go I like after all. But that's going to have to wait a few months.
But here's the thing about writing: when I start doing that, I tend to stop doing anything that's not writing. Video games, TwitterPonies, basic hygiene, whatever it is, doesn't happen because it doesn't involve putting words on the page. A typical writing day for me tends to be 8-12 hours of phrenetic typing, punctuated by the occasional five minute stare into space while I try to solve a problem, then back to typing. When it comes time to finally hang up my keyboard at the end of the day, I'm generally completely exhausted, and as a general rule I have to physically force myself to take time off on the weekend or at night in order to prevent turning lythandra into a Writer's Widow.
So as you can probably guess, progress on writing means little to say on LiveJournal, because LiveJournal is not putting words on the page.
Has Anybody Seen D&D? It Was Right Here a Few Weeks Ago. Also, Dammit Game Parlor.
On the topic of the world being turned upside down, jamesbarrett, who is a major participant in my current D&D game and is in fact the only other DM in the group, has recently lost his weekend evenings to his own life's topsy-turviness. It's just possible that the group might be able to find a way to making "super late Friday/Saturday night and all online" work, but it's very iffy. Right now it's kind of a moot point because moving has knocked all chances of gaming off the map until mid-May anyhow, but even once Laurie and I land gaming as we have known it is currently not looking like it will survive.
In this context, my discovery today that Game Parlor closed back in November. I can't honestly say I'm surprised, but I am bummed, because in its heyday it was the nicest gaming store I've ever seen. The late 3.x/4E-era collapse of the RPG market, combined with the rise of online shopping and PDFs taking over the gaming industry dealt them a series of blows it would have been hard enough to recover from if they'd been savvy about it all, much less putting their hands over their metaphorical ears, going "LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING" and trying to carry on through pure inertia. On the other hand, the owners did say they were retiring, so it may have been that they only needed for the store to stay open long enough to get them to that spot, and therefore mission accomplished. Dunno. In any case, this is a blow on par with the closing of the Reston Barnes & Noble. Not the end of the world perhaps– I've got plenty of online and other options for my gaming fix– but a major bummer nonetheless.
Buddha, Jobs/Career Changes, Familial Health, All That Other Stuff
Well yeah, there's a lot of other junk in the turning-upside-down of everything. Some of them are more heavy hitters than other, and it's not necessarily all bad, but it is all change, and in the mix. Even change you like is stressful, and when introverts get stressed they tend to get quiet.
So, for those among you who've wondered why I've been a bit remote lately, that's what it boils down to. Sorry to keep you in suspense! But when there's news hashed out, I'll certainly share it. :)