Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 3

“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs then. She could have asked for better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy in her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, she immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, but she kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for whatever she might need. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some history and art works to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or easily purchased in the city. Her own coin might come in handy, though. She crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage, which sounded much more appealing than accompanying her father in one all the way to the city.

Placing her savings under her dresses, she closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

Leaving her room again, she went to find the nearest one–an older housekeeper that was dusting one of the hallway shelves. “I need you to go find Gaelin and have him move my trunk in my bedroom to the carriage outside?”

“Gaelin, miss?” she asked, putting her duster on her belt. She looked confused, but didn’t object outright.

Sensing what she meant, Esmina stopped her. “Right. The arm. Actually, go have some of the normal servants do it. Just don’t spend too much time in my room.”

The confusion shifted into a subtle hint of annoyance, but she nodded and left the other direction.

That done, she set off in search of Gaelin. She wasn’t halfway down the hall when he stepped outside of her father’s room, head down as he closed the door behind him.

“Gaelin!” she said, excited. “Did he tell you? Are you coming?”

He rubbed his bandaged arm and didn’t meet her gaze. “I’m afraid not, miss. He asked me to stay here to tend to the manor.”

“Tend to the manor? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to. You know how he is.”

She frowned. “All too well. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is it as nice as they say?”

“I don’t know who would s– well, miss, it depends on what you’re going for, I suppose.”

“Father didn’t say.”

“He does like his secrets,” Gaelin mused. The shadows on his face deepened as he said that.

“Well, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, I’ll tell you what I figured out with all my notes!”

He nodded. “Yes, I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss. Go wait in the carriage, I’ll let your father know you are prepared.

Review — Thief Town

Thief Town is a fun little party game that is sort of obscure, both because how simple it is and the fact that it doesn’t have much replayability. It’s got a retro style and some unique gameplay, though, so I think it’s worth a real mention!

This is a four player retro-style arcade game. It comes complete with two buttons (aside from four-directional movement), and is purely an arena where you fight your friends. The way that the game works is you and everybody else are a bunch of thieves trying to stab each other. The only trouble is, you, your friends, and a bunch of added non-players all look exactly the same. The only way you can figure out which one is you is by correlating movement on the screen with the input you put in the controller. (Keep in mind, though, walking around in circles will make everybody notice you.) Everybody, including the AI, walk around until one of the players decides to stab. If an AI is stabbed, they fall down dead and nothing happens (except everyone can see who the murderer was, if you’re paying attention). If a player is stabbed, they bleed out and die. Last one standing wins the round, and the first to a set number of points wins.

I did say two buttons, though. Depending on the sort of game mode you’re playing, players can have access to random one-time use abilities, like smoke screen, trap, or gun. They all have various uses, such as the gun killing everybody in a straight line and the trap revealing any player that steps on it.

The game also has a few modes. You can play with or without the abilities I mentioned, you can do showdown, where there are no AIs and you just have to rely on more skillful stabbing (sometimes while the players are literally invisible!), or you can do Sheriff vs. robbers, where the Sheriff player has to shoot the thieves while they try to remain hidden and act like AIs.

There’s more, but that’s the brunt of the game. All the music is 8-bit and the game itself is very pixelated. It allows the focus of this game to be the gameplay–hiding and stabbing. You can stab everyone near you or lie in wait for people to reveal themselves by stabbing.

My favorite thing about this game is that there is an element of luck involved. The last time I played, I won two rounds in a row only to come out with exactly zero points the third game, and not from lack of trying either. Sometimes your friends just stab the instant the game starts, and they kill you. Sometimes they try to stab somebody else and they kill you instead (or also). Sometimes a giant tumbleweed rolls onto the stage and flattens you before you can get out of the way. Is it fair? Not exactly, but games happen so quickly and it can happen to anyone, so what does it matter?

I believe the game is going for $8 right now. Even with three other people to play it with (and it does have couch co-op, as is kind of necessary), it’s still a lot to ask for. This is sort of the game where you play it for a few hours and you’ve had your fill. I certainly wouldn’t pay $8 for it because I don’t think I’ve gotten 8 hours worth of entertainment out of it, maybe even combined with the people I’ve played it with. There simply isn’t that much to experience in the game.

But if you don’t mind that, it’s certainly an interesting game to pick up, and it is a lot of fun for a short period of time!

Improv 101 — My Movie

Like many improv games, I’ve seen My Movie played a couple of different ways. The core of the game is the same, but there is a bit of variety to the nuances that can be tailored to suit the needs of a particular troupe.

Most often, it is played as a high energy group game. It can work with lots of people, but generally as long as you have more than four you’ll be fine. The idea is that the improvisers are a group of scriptwriters pitching movie ideas to the ref. You get some initials from the audience and you have the improvisers come up with movie titles using those initials. One by one, the ref points to them and they yell the title of a movie using those letters. If it sounds interesting, the Ref calls “Tagline!” and the improviser must then give a short description that could appear on a poster or in a movie trailer. If the tagline appeals to the ref, they can say “Let’s see it!”, in which case the improvisers must then act out a snippet of a scene from that movie. After that, the ref and improvisers return to calling out movie titles until the next one sticks.

The biggest difference in the two ways I’ve seen this game played is the intro. Namely, what happens before the ref starts pointing at people and the game actually starts. The first time I had seen this game, all the improvisers chant “My movie, my movie my movie, aww yeah!” in the same tone of Big Booty, a game I’ll probably never actually talk about in detail. Because I obviously can’t describe what the tone of that chant is, I think the second way is easier. Instead of the chant, all the improvisers just yell “My movie!” as fast as they possibly can while trying to get the ref’s attention as if they are a bunch of people at a crowded press conference trying to be called on. I prefer it this way, and it’s a lot easier because it doesn’t require synchronization.

Another reason I like the second intro is the faster pacing. The key thing to remember for this game is that it’s meant to be high energy. The ref needs to point to his or her targets quick to get them to pitch movie titles rapid-fire. There should never be a full second of downtime in this game, and all transitions must be seamless. This is the sort of game that is a good warm-up for an audience, because it gets their heart rate up. My Movie isn’t a very funny game, but it only needs to be fast and entertaining to get your viewers into the mood.

This is also the sort of game that combines preparation with on-the-spot moments. You kind of have to think about movie titles as you wait for the referee to point at you, but it’s hard to have both a tagline and a scene ready if it’s a good movie title, so you often have to say the first thing that comes to mind.

With this game, improvisers can do no wrong. With as fast as the pace is set, the most difficult thing about it is that you’ll often be expected to pitch movie titles faster than you can come up with them, and as such it’s a great way to force beginning actors to think more quickly. There will, inevitably, be instances where you have to speak when you don’t know what to say. It happens a lot in improv, but don’t let that stop you from saying anything. Sometimes the most memorable quotes come from instances in which you hadn’t put any thought to your words. And even if you do say something dumb, the game is supposed to be pretty quick. People will only remember the gems in a game like this. And if you have upwards of six people, this game is super easy, because it allows the other improvisers time to think about better titles.

This is one of those games that is great for beginning improvisers, and I try to introduce it very early on to the kids I teach. Also, here is a link to a great example of this game.

D&D — Different Kinds of Players

So, just as there are many different settings for campaigns to be set in, there are also extremely diverse styles that players (and dungeon masters) adopt, often based on their own personalities. This is the number one reason why having a conversation about what the campaign will be about and what everybody wants to get out of it before you start playing is very important. If the dungeon master expects their players to be very serious and in character the entire time without stating those expectations, the campaign isn’t going to go very well.

So, I think something that is more easily perceptible to people is that everybody plays the game differently. Keep in mind that while I am about to present to you a list of all the different types of players, there actually is no real “list”. I separate people into three categories, and the way I do it is very broad. It’s my own list based on personal experience of player personality and interest, which is often a very complex thing. I could diversify it into a list of six or seven types of players, but I’m going to err on the side of simplicity here and make it easy to understand.

The most common sort of player in my experience is the “Casual Fun” player. They are there just to have fun, and a lot of the time they come from a video game background. Many of these players don’t have much experience roleplaying and are therefore uncomfortable with the idea. They just want to get the quest and complete it. (This isn’t to say that everything has to be combat. These players can certainly be interested in fantasy politics and the world itself. They just aren’t interested in becoming a character and probably don’t care about having an engaging backstory.)

Another common archetype is often referred to as the “Murder-hobo”, but I equate this sort of player in the same vein as a “mid-maxer”. Often, these sorts of people actually are averse to in-game politics. They just want to kill monsters so they can level up, find loot, and kill stronger monsters. They play intelligently, usually using the best tactics they can to handle the situation. This also makes them notoriously bad meta-gamers, meaning they will often operate with information their character would not have, or telling other players to make their characters do things based on what they cannot know. For example, they might remind players of abilities or items they have when their character isn’t there to tell them. This isn’t usually a big deal, but it is a pet peeve of mine as a DM. Characters and players are two different things! The players are allowed to know (almost) everything, but they should also be trusted to do things that align with the information their character would realistically have.

My archetype, and somebody that makes the DM’s job easy, is the “actor”. This person plays Dungeon & Dragons as a means of becoming somebody other than themselves. They may use a different voice when they are roleplaying, and they love making a backstory for their character. They interact with the NPCs, often engaging in conversations for drama’s sake. No combat, very few dice rolls. They love talking and negotiating with the characters in the world. Most notably, these players make a conscious effort to do the things based on their character’s personality and the information they have. Now, I realize the way that I’m saying this sort of sounds like “This is the kind of player you should be, because it’s the best”, but that’s not what I’m saying.

Every sort of player has their pros and cons. I prefer players that are Actors because as both a DM and a player, I love character interactions the most, but that’s far from the only enjoyment D&D can provide. Like everyone else, Actors can be annoying to play with. They make terrible plays (Grog from Critical Role once haggled backwards because his character is an idiot. The player knew what he was doing, and it was a memorable moment because of it!) They can make other people uncomfortable by roleplaying when the rest of the party doesn’t want to. Their characters can just be jerks. It might make for an engaging story, where the Actor in the party is evil and works against everyone else’s goals, but it’s also pretty likely that the other players won’t enjoy it because they may feel like he’s an actual enemy rather than an obstacle. Actors can also be unpredictable and do things the DM doesn’t expect, veering the campaign off in a sudden detour.

Every player is different. But no type of player is inherently better than another. If everyone at a DM’s table is a Murder Hobo type of player, then making a combat-focused campaign is easy. Usually, though, you’ll get a mix of interests. What’s important to remember is that different types of players don’t necessarily conflict with one another. It’s the dungeon master’s job to fulfill everyone’s desires in the campaign, but everybody needs to know what they’re in for in order to accomplish this. If you only have on Actor in the group, great. Make them the voice of the party because they like being in character. Give the Murder Hobo a crazy cool weapon because they will love you. Casual Fun players might have certain interests, but one thing that new DM’s often get confused about is that they can be very comfortable sitting in the background as something of a spectator, never engaging in roleplay or being super active in fights. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t enjoying it. Talk to your players (or your DM) about the way they like to play, and accommodations can be made to fit any combination of player archetypes!

 

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 2

Within ten minutes, Esmina was fully dressed, shoes and all, outside her father’s chambers. She exhaled, taking pleasure in the last moment of solace as she knocked on the door.

“Esmina,” a low voice from the other side rumbled. “Come in.”

She opened and shut the door in one motion, as silently as possible. The room was tidy, though not by it’s owner’s hand. To her left was her father’s bed, neat and proper since the moment he got out of it. Now, his form was hunched over something on his desk, his silhouette outlined by the bright shaft of light that poured in through the window next to him, which was the only source of light. He wore a bright coat, which was contrasted by the black hair that masked his face. She gulped.“You sent for me?”

He did not look up. “I sent for you hours ago.”

“Gaelin told me–”

“Girl, that Tenshari is nothing more than a servant. It would do you well to remember that.”

“Yes, father.” She had her fists clenched, but her voice was polite. Gentle, even.

“Come here.”

She did as she was told. With every step, her apprehension grew. When she stood beside him, he glanced behind and sat up. He held a quill, and on the desk was a parchment. He had clearly just signed it, but Esmina couldn’t recognize it without examining the words.

“May I read it?”

He slammed his fist on the table, causing the inkwell and a few books to rattle. Her heart skipped a beat at the motion. “If you cared more about your education you would be able to recognize it. This is a Night Seal.”

She frowned. Was this some sort of test? “Forgive me, father, but Night Seals aren’t written on parchment.”

He sighed, an angry rumble beneath it. He stood from his chair and pushed the seat in, looking out the window, at the distanct city nestled in the hills. “Night Seals are bought and finalized through a written document. Then, you go and turn it in, where it is traded for the Seal itself. This parchment serves as a temporary Night Seal until I get the official one in my hands.”

“I don’t understand. You forged a document in order to receive a Night Seal?”

A harsh impact against her cheek sent an involuntary gasp of pain from her lips. The stinging sensation only grew worse as she held a hand to her face.

“I will not have my own family slander my own name,” he said, as casually as if he was setting down a cup of tea. “I care not what silly presumptions enter that head of yours, but you would do well to keep them to yourself. I did not come by this parchment by unsavory means. I traded it.”

Esmina was about to ask if he had won it gambling, but held her tongue. One throbbing cheek was bad enough.

“You are coming with me to Tal’Doraken tonight to go fetch the official Seal.”

“Tonight? We’re going after dark?”

“Are you suddenly deaf as well as daft, now? Yes, at night. This parchment will suffice. That is the point of it, after all.”

She held back a retort about how Night Seals were only meant for one person each, and she would therefore be in danger. Instead, she asked, “Why must I come?” Her voice cut short at the end, and she swallowed.

“There are things I want you to see. It’s a long trip, however. Pack your things. We will be staying the night, but we shall return before tomorrow’s Shadow.”

Life — August Update Pt. 2: What’s New

Last week I discussed the changes I was making to my blog schedule, which are all already in place. So this week, I’ll just talk about everything else I usually put in an monthly update post.

Monthly Update Topic Order: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things. (Though I’ll skip the blog part, since I already went over that last week.)

My writing plans are fairly straightforward for the time being. My fiction output is purely focused on the Spear Gate novel I’ve been working on these past few months, and I don’t plan on that changing anytime soon. Of course, I’ve historically gotten bored with long term projects that get too long, and this one is nearing that point, but I’ve gotten no warning signs yet. It seems the tactic of “Only plan as far ahead as the next chapter” is keeping me pretty interested in the story so far, so let’s hope that doesn’t change.

As far as video games go, I haven’t been doing that a whole lot lately. My computer died a few weeks ago, and my laptop isn’t good enough to handle anything like that, so my gaming has been almost exclusive to Dragon Quest Heroes II, of which I already have over 70 hours of. It still doesn’t seem like much in comparison to how much time I’ve put into Dragon Quest VIII, so maybe the figure I told people (about ~300 hours) is a bit larger than I remember it being. But in any case, by this time next month I may or may not be back to my regular games. We’ll see.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and listening to media lately. I’m about three fifths of the way finished with Two Towers (and I hope to be done by August 14th), but mostly I’ve been listening to a good amount of Running the Game, a YouTube series on being a better dungeon master, and Critical Role, which I’ve already talked about a lot. It’s the D&D weekly stream of the adventures of Vox Machina. I’m still about seventy episodes (and therefore 200+ hours) behind, but maybe some day I’ll be caught up… I will say though, the original drive for watching Critical Role stemmed from me wanting to watch and indirectly experience more D&D. Now, because of some interesting story bits, I’m watching it for the narrative, because it’s actually getting very exciting. I just wish there was a faster way to get through it!

The fall semester hasn’t quite started yet, but my classes are all set up and taken care of. This time around I’m taking two theatre classes (which will be my first in years) and I’m overall taking more hours in one semester than I ever have before. This means that I will, once again, be busy (in some form) every single day of the week. I’m not excited about that, but it is what it is. I just hope I don’t hate all my classes. I’ll settle for only hating three of them.

In other news, the old leader of my writer’s group has moved away, leaving me in charge of the group. It doesn’t actually add much responsibility to my plate as far as what’s going on in the writer’s group, but I do treat it very seriously. If nothing else, it’s an acknowledgment of both my writing ability and my leadership skills that I was the one entrusted with it, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like having people listen to my direction.

And lastly, I’ve decided to make some small changes to my outward appearance. As a consequence to my closed off personality, I historically don’t make friends. But this school semester I plan on changing that and reinforcing what I call the “Charismatic Introvert™”. A lot of people that don’t know me very well are surprised to find out that I’m a very introverted person, probably because I’m not socially inept like the stereotypical introvert is. So I’m going to make a conscious effort to be more amiable and introduce myself to people, and hopefully I can find people I share things in common with.

That’s all for this month. I’m excited to see where I stand come September. It’s my favorite month (for more reasons than just “It’s my birth month”), but we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 1

Esmina scanned through her notes, examining every single number and mark. It checked out. She tossed the parchment aside and grabbed the other one. It had the same numbers and the same equations, and she looked through it as thoroughly as before. She had double checked her work, and both papers came to the same conclusion.

Three quick knocks on the door. “Are you awake, miss?”

“I am,” she replied. “Enter.”

The door opened slowly, Gaelin using his back to swing it outwards as he carried a tray precariously with his unbandaged hand.. It held a plate of food and a cup of tea. “Your breakfast isn’t quite hot anymore, I’m afraid,” he said.

She didn’t move anything from her desk. She didn’t even turn away from her work. “Thanks, Gaelin. Just set it on my bed.”

The Tenshari did as he was told. “It’s already an hour until the Shadow, miss. You’ve been sleeping in lately, I noticed, so I thought perhaps you need your rest.”

She tried to rub the weariness from one eye, but wasn’t about to tell him just how little sleep she had gotten. “I appreciate that, Gaelin. You’re very kind.”

“Miss?” he asked.

Esmina turned to look up at him from her chair. He seemed worried. “Yes, Gaelin?”

“I… Are you alright? You haven’t been yourself lately.”

She frowned. “On the contrary I think I’ve been more myself. Father hasn’t asked me to do anything in days, so I’ve been focusing on my research. It’s kept me up a bit longer than usual.”

“All because of that dot you found a few weeks ago.”

“Yes. And I think I’m onto something quite spectacular, you know.” She couldn’t contain her smile as she thought about telling him about her suspicions. “I may have made the discovery of a lifetime, in fact.”

“You already told me it seems to be a tiny planet. Like the sister-planet only smaller and further away.”

“If all my math is correct, it may be so much more than that, though. Look,” she held up one of the pieces of parchment. “This is the–”

“Miss,” Gaelin interrupted. “Believe me when I say that I am interested in your work. The things you’ve managed to come up with are quite impressive for a girl your age, but I’m afraid we can’t talk about it now. You see, your father has asked to speak to you.”

Her excited demeanor froze in it’s tracks. “I’m sorry?”

“He told me to bring you to his chambers some time ago, in fact. I managed to convince him to wait until you had woken and eaten, but his patience seems to be growing thin. It would be in your best interest to see him as soon as possible.”

She sighed and started organizing the notes on her desk into a neat pile. As always, her interests came second to her father’s command. “I see.”

“I’m sorry, miss.”

“No need to apologize. You’re not the one constantly trying to ruin my life.”

When he didn’t respond, she turned around again.

He stood in the middle of her room, staring downwards. She arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright, Gaelin? You’re being far more unusual than I am.”

“Oh, yes, I’m quite alright. I’ll just be about my business, then. Do hurry and eat your breakfast, miss. I’d rather us both avoid an unpleasant confrontation with your father.”

“I will. Thanks again.”

He nodded and left her in solitude, closing the door behind him.

The last few days spent in her room had been blissfully quiet. Nobody telling her to meet with any tutors, nobody making sure she was dressed properly to be presentable for guests, and no lectures about how she was wasting her time daydreaming. She had thought that maybe she had earned some time alone, or her father was too busy to give her any orders.

Whatever the reason, it was nice while it lasted.

Having cleared it of most of her notes, she got up from the desk and grabbed the tray of food. Sitting back down, she realized how famished she was, but the prospect of meeting with her father soon put her in no mood to eat.