Prompt — Peaceful Songs

The magic of Songs’ performance flowed like gentle currents of winds throughout the Laughing Escape Inn. Unlike many of the taverns in the lower district of Three Rings, people came here to enjoy the performance accompanied by food and drink, not the other way around.

As always, the tabaxi bard kept silent, letting the bow and strings tell the tale. This one was about the Feywild—about dancing faeries zipping around trees and grass as they played with other winged friends without a care in the world. Most of the simple folk here would never have been to such an exotic place, and Songs was happy to share a piece of his experiences. This was what adventuring was all about. Not for the glory or the wealth, but for the stories.

Another peculiarity of the Laughing Escape Inn was the total silence beyond the music. There wasn’t an empty seat in the entire building, and yet each human, elf, and dwarf sat in an enthralled silence as they watched the ethereal faeries dance around them, their tiny forms landing on patrons’ shoulders and kissing them on the cheek before dissipating into nothingness.

As the song neared its conclusion, he nodded his respect to the creatures that accompanied him on his performance. They were mere manifestations of his memories, given life through his magic, but he still felt it important to show respect to those that had given him those memories, for without them there would be no music at all. At least, not any worth listening to.

The magic faded, and the weaves of blue light disintegrated into streaks of dust where they fell, an unintended side effect of Songs’ magic. The people paid it no mind, however, and the tavern erupted into an applause as relaxed and respectful as his performance. This wasn’t the place for cheering or shouting.

Songs stood from his chair and bowed, a self-satisfied grin on his face the whole time. He began putting his things away and pushed his coin purse forward to encourage donations, leaving it on the stage while he approached the bar. It wasn’t that he trusted the customers—they were as apt to steal as anyone else—but the amount of money he’d collect on any one night was a paltry sum. It was nothing compared to the money he had accrued from his travels.

“Another astounding performance, Songs,” Thakros, the half-orc bartender nodded to him as he took a seat on a newly vacated stool. “Though I see you’re still getting your magic sparkle dust everywhere.”

“My apologies,” Songs bowed to him. “I still have much to learn about magic through song. Your patrons don’t seem to mind, though.”

“Well, I do. Who do you think has to clean it up when you’re gone?” he huffed, passing him a stein of Songs’ favorite honeyed whiskey.

“I’d be happy to take my business elsewhere if you wish,” Songs smirked, knowing full well that neither of them had any real desire to end this partnership.

Thakros smirked, his tusks protruding a bit with the expression. “No, no, of course not. I’m just having a hard time finding things to complain about ever since you stumbled onto my stage.”

Songs considered that. “I could set something on fire if you like. Perhaps one of your esteemed guests?” A dwarven guest came to the bar and ordered something, eyeing Songs with a suspicious glare as he said this. Thakros found the dwarf a filled stein before returning his attention to the tabaxi.

“As long as the people keep coming in every night I don’t care what you do.”

Songs glanced about the tavern, taking a swig as he pretended to identify a suitably flammable target. “No, I suppose not. Your clientele is woefully lacking in treants. Perhaps another time.”

“Songs!”

The tabaxi turned to see Olnele, Thakros’ daughter approaching, dressed in the messy apron of a long evening shift coming to a close. He nodded to her. “Evening.”

She rounded the bar and leaned forward across the wood, either finished with her work or too disinterested to continue it. “Lovely song, but I wish you’d play something more dramatic.”

“Well, I do take requests, what did you have in mind?”

“You make music based on your adventures, right?”

“To put it simply, yes.”

“Well, have you ever been to the Nine Hells? Or the elemental planes? Anything more… exciting than faeries dancing in peace?”

Thakros frowned. “You want him to perform songs of pain and death?”

Her eyes lit up just thinking of it. “Yes! Just think of the people we’d attract, playing songs like that!”

Songs frowned at the expression. He knew what she meant, but it was all too easy to hear ‘playing Songs like that’, as if he was just being manipulated. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Olnele deflated a bit in annoyance. “Oh come on, Songs! Why not?”

“I don’t travel to risk life and limb against dragons and demons. I do it to find the beauty in the world, and there is little beauty to behold in such places. Besides, the people here don’t come for heroic tales of combat, they come here to relax and forget their troubles. I am merely a humble servant catering to their wishes.”

Olnele shrugged, but she made her dissatisfaction obvious. “I think a lot of people around here might enjoy hearing some real stories, Songs. Just think about it, okay?”

He did.

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/sinlaire/art/Comm-Performance-Check-750752051

D&D — Dungeons & Dragons as Escapism

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while now. Technically, at least eight years, but I’ve only been serious about the hobby for the last two or so. I would attribute two things to this. The first is Critical Role, which I think is self-explanatory. If you play D&D you probably know what that is. The second was a surprising amount of interest when I offhandedly commented the possibility of running a campaign with my improv friends. Those two things put together suddenly made D&D a much bigger part of my life, and it wasn’t until then that I realized the untapped potential the game had for me.

Before I got serious, D&D was a hobby; an incredibly complex board game in which you made your character and then cast the spells you picked out on the monsters the DM picked out. But then I realized that it didn’t have to be simply a video game. It could be a stage. It isn’t just about numbers and statistics and jokes. It could be a place to become somebody new and then behave as they do. You work in a headspace not your own in a world so different from the one you live. It isn’t the natural 1s or 20s that interest me anymore, it’s the choices the players make at the table because of a world we all created together.

I had a dream recently where I ran down a steep hill and turned into a bird, gaining speed as I swooped down and feeling the air press against my wings as I soared upwards and over everything else. I have never flown in any of my dreams. The closest I’ve gotten was jumping like The Hulk or being thrown from point A to B. But the feeling of flying was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I am under no illusions: it is because my current D&D character is a druid that can shapeshift.

I don’t play to win anymore. In fact, the concept of “winning” D&D seems silly to me. Even if you and your friends are playing through a story that has a definitive beginning and ending, you can’t really “win” in the same way you don’t “win” when watching your favorite movie. It’s just an experience.

So nowadays, when I make decisions in this imaginary world, I don’t think “what is the optimal play”. I don’t even think “what is the optimal play given the information my character has”. Instead, I think “what would Taldarrin do in this circumstance?” For me, I get the most out of the experience by making the situation as believable as possible.

For example, at level 2, Circle of the Moon druids are basically the most powerful class in the game. Among other things, they can turn into a brown bear, which could probably fight off 3 other level 2 characters at the same time. Taldarrin has only ever turned into a brown bear once, and this was for intimidation, not power. He used to turn into a giant spider a lot, but every time he has, he’s rolled very poorly. So canonically, Taldarrin simply does not understand how to accommodate for all those eyes and legs, and thus doesn’t turn into that anymore. I think that makes for much better story telling than “when we fight I always turn into a bear, and if I roll badly it’s just a bad day. I’ll turn into a bear tomorrow”.

I don’t begrudge other playstyles. D&D is amazingly versatile, and any way anyone likes to play is certainly valid. I’m merely stating that I got a lot more out of it when I moved it from “video game” to “acting” in my head. I think all of us like being somebody else every once in a while, and Dungeons & Dragons is a great way to do that.

D&D — Preparation for a New Campaign

A couple friends of mine and I are going to be starting our next campaign of Dungeons & Dragons soon, which means new characters, new worlds, and new adventures. Creating characters is probably one of my favorite parts of D&D just because I love the process, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about that. It’s worth noting, though, that our dungeon master wanted us to make all of our characters in a vacuum,  so if we end up with five healers, so be it. But I mean, that would never happen…

That said, I won’t be giving you all my character’s backstory and whatnot here. I plan on starting a journal for him on the blog anyway, so I want at least some of his personality and tale to come up over time.

We’ll just name my character now for the purposes of reading and writing: his name is Taldarrin.

So, as always, I start with a seed of “Oh, that’s neat.” This time around, it was my character’s quest. Taldarrin’s quest is to find his daughter. It stems from the fact that most adventurers tend to be pretty young, and parents are usually completely out of the picture (often via murder), so I wanted to put a twist on that and have my character be a parent.

From there I tend to think of how to turn that idea on its head by adding something opposite to it, or as I’ve never called it until now, “the but”. My favorite example is when I wanted to make a lawful evil character, so I made him a bard. Ex: “This guy is deceitful and antisocial, but he plays happy tunes for strangers”. This circumstance was a little bit more tricky, simply because it was so open-ended. I went with “He’s searching for his daughter, but she doesn’t need/want him.”

At this point I usually have to spend the rest of my resources (defining race/class/gender) justifying how those two clashing ideas work, but for Taldarrin I was still left with a pretty empty bowl. So I just picked Druid, because I’ve never played one and they seem fun. Like every other class I haven’t played.

The implications of this are pretty interesting to me. In most typical campaign settings, druids form nomadic tribes that generally stay put most of their lives. It isn’t common for people to just leave, and that wouldn’t be an interesting motivation for his daughter, anyway. So I needed a way for his daughter to leave, which would naturally inform Taldarrin’s own reasons for pursuing her.

The rest of the backstory will more than likely come in time, but there’s a few more steps we haven’t got to.

At this point, I generally come up with the name and voice I use for my character. In short, I would describe Taldarrin as your typical lawful good paladin, only he’s an elven druid instead. I often use personality to figure out both of these things, and I came with something I feel is a contradiction: any voice I’ve come up with seems to be too deep for an elf! I’m still working on this, actually, but the vibe I’m going for is “wizened and pleasant protector”.

After all that, I usually write a short story in their perspective just to nail everything down, and then it’s off to roll some stats.

Welcome to the roster, Taldarrin.

Story — Three of Spades

“They’re going to die, aren’t they?”

“Probably. But such is life.”

Hart frowned, folding her arms as she stared at her brother. “Why do you do this, Spades?”

“You’ll have to be more specific than that, dear, I detest pronouns.”

“This game you play. Exploring the same moment in time over and over again with different adventurers. What do you get out of it?”

Spades nodded, swirling the wine glass in his hands and then pouring it out onto the table. As soon as it left the glass, the wine stopped moving, frozen in time just as the rest of the tavern was from the moment Hart walked in. He addressed her from across the bar. “That’s a neat trick, you know. You simply must show how to do that some time.”

“You bend the fabric of reality to repeat the same days over and over and you want to know how to stop time?”

“You’re right. Where will we ever find the time for such a thing?”

“Spades—”

“I’m looking for something, sister.”

Hart squinted, noticing the change in Spades’ tone. “What, exactly?”

“A change. An abnormality, one might say. You know, the last group of people I sent on this quest completed it without a hitch. Perfectly executed. They didn’t even break the curse.”

“Sounds like they were capable,” Hart said.

“They were boring, dear. I don’t care about competence, I want to be entertained.”

“So you’re sending a group that is the polar opposite of the last one. So woefully unprepared that they have no hope of survival?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I’ll give them a boon. To increase the likelihood for quality entertainment.”

“And what would that be?”

Spades pulled out a deck of cards from his coat pocket and laid the top card onto the table. As soon as one corner of the card made contact with the wood, it froze in place, showing a face up three of spades. Hart rolled her eyes.

“I’ll be a little more direct this time around,” Spades said, shuffling the rest of the deck. “As long as it gets me a more interesting show.”

“This is pathetic.”

“You can watch with me, if you want.”

Hart’s face convulsed. “Watch as half a dozen people, possibly far more, get slaughtered.”

“Since when did you become a paragon of virtue? It doesn’t suit you, I must say.”

“You’re insufferable.”

Spades smirked. “Yet here you are of your own volition, suffering me.”

Hart stood from the table and looked about the tavern, still as a painting. “Tell me something, Spades.”

“Something honest, or clever, or stupid?”

“Something honest,” Hart said.

“Ah, good choice. That’ll cost you, though. I’m afraid information isn’t cheap.”

“I’ll show you how to freeze time.”

Spades nodded. “That’s more like it. What do you want to know?”

“Is this group the one? Are they different from any of the others?”

“Probably not. I expect them to set a record for quickest failure, to be honest. In all likelihood they’ll be dead by midnight. But it’s about the journey, dear sister, not the destination. After all, we all find ourselves in Death’s chill embrace in the end.”

“You really are despicable.”

“Yes, yes, I’m well aware. Now hurry up and undo the spell, I haven’t got all day.” He thought about that for a second. “Well, perhaps I do, and therein lies a new problem.”

Hart glanced at the table, then back to him. “As you wish.”

She snapped her fingers, and the tavern was brought back to life. As the ruckus of the Daylight’s Kiss resumed around them, both the card and the wine fell onto the table, red liquid pouring over the edges and onto Spades’ hands and clothes.

He looked up at her, unamused. “Don’t think the irony is lost on me, sister,” he grumbled.

“I should hope not. After all you do love your symbols.”

D&D — The Commoner Campaign

I’m setting up a short campaign I plan to run over the summer, and it’s going to be somewhat different than anything I’ve ever done before. I plan on it being longer than a one shot, but it won’t have some “big bad” that you never get to even after playing for several months.

This campaign is based on a very simple homebrew class: The Commoner. This picture is all you need to know about what this class is.

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Short story even shorter: you’re just a normal dude that is average in every way. All your abilities are +0, you get no armor, and all you start out with is a dagger. With 8 HP and only 10 AC, this means you’re very vulnerable.

Let’s put that into perspective. A singular goblin, basically fodder, has +4 to his attack, and deals 1d6 + 2 damage. He only needs to roll a 6 to hit you with his attack, and when he does hit you, if he rolls a 6 on his damage roll, you’re instantly unconscious and making death saves.

I actually did a test run of this. One goblin versus one commoner with +1 Strength. Not only did the goblin win 9 times out of 10, but the goblin went first and just one-shot the guy three of those times. Now, admittedly that’s abnormally lucky for the goblin, but the point stands. A simple commoner has no chance, which makes sense.

I love the idea of my players being scared of what would otherwise be trivial creatures. I mean, an everyday spider (challenge rating 0) is now a real threat. I want to make everything my party faces scary. A goblin party raiding the town? Well you can’t just run out there and fight them off, you’re just going to get killed. You have to stick together and rely on the element of surprise if you’re going to have any hope of wining. Still, though, you’re much safer just running away.

I want the party to use their wits in this campaign, using their environment and real strategy rather than stats and rolls to succeed. It’ll be a challenge for everyone involved. For me, I’m going to have to make a compelling story and combat using only weak little baby threats, because if I get too bold I can end up taking out players with single attacks. Plus, commoners don’t have hit dice. Every point of damage will be critical for everyone involved.

But the cool thing about this is that I know this campaign will bring fun stories about amazing rolls. Rolls will be key in this campaign, and I know there will be several points in time where both players and enemies have only one health and manage to Do The Thing.

So, should be fun.

 

 

*Spoilers for people that personally know me and may be in this campaign*

Also, I have the best antagonist for this campaign. It is going to be two or three kobolds in a trench coat (or something of that nature). It’ll be hilarious when the party meets them and mistakes them for a dragonborn simply because they’ve never seen anything even remotely draconic. It’ll be fun for the party when they find out what’s really going on, and fun to balance because, for three or four commoners, fighting three kobolds is no joke.

D&D — Dialogues 5: The Death Dungeon

Yesterday (as of writing this) my brothers and a couple friends were caught without board games to play. They were all at somebody else’s house and nobody wanted to go back to get them. Usually, we just play Telephone Pictionary instead (you draw a thing, pass it to the next person, they write what they drawing is, they pass it, they draw the description, etc.), but we weren’t really feeling it.

So we improvised a D&D session. We only had flash cards, two sets of dice, and the internet at our disposal. Most of us randomized pretty much everything. Random race and class, and randomized stats. In fact, for stats we just rolled 1d20 each. One of my brothers got two 20’s (at level one). He only ended up with 3 HP, though, so as a wild magic sorcerer his character was bound to be interesting.

When I rolled my d20s, my highest roll, and the only one above 10, was a single 12. Two of my rolls were 1s.

So naturally I made a goliath rogue with 1 Intelligence and 1 Wisdom. His name was Gerg, because that was the only sound he was capable of consciously making. Most of his modifiers were -2 or worse (even his Dexterity). The only thing he was kinda sorta good at was Strength and stealth specifically, because his Rogue expertise brought his Stealth roll to +2.

The session was fun, and I won’t get into the more mundane details. We had four rooms to explore and we only got to two of them. Each door had different monsters to fight. When another friend stepped in mid-game as a half-orc sorceress, we were really surprised when she just attacked us.

Now, Gerg was an interesting character to roleplay. You can’t really use logic to explain his actions because, well, he’s real dumb. A baby step away from catatonic, in fact. So he tries to attack the other half-orc in the party, and chaos ensues. The only normal person in the party died due to collateral damage, both of the half-orcs got away, and Gerg stalked after them with pokey intent. (Very loudly, I might add. That particular stealth roll was a 1.)

The person whose character had died re-rolled a new random character and followed into this new fray where we fought the Spanish Inquisition (literally). Gerg poked the nearest targets before losing the remaining 4 HP from the previous fight, so two out of the five players were down, one not in the room, and all of our loyalties to one another questionable at best.

So this True Neutral gnome druid walks into the room and sees this chaos happening. She can’t tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, so she walks up to Gerg and casts Healing Word, which brings him to full health.

It was a mistake. Gerg wasn’t smart enough to know that this small thing was the thing that saved him. So… he poked.

And rolled a 20.

A sneak attack and 22 damage later, Devon’s poor second character met and instant, tragic, and hopefully painless demise. As Kollin I feel really bad still. It’s hard not to when you’re technically making the conscious decision to murder somebody you know helped you, even if the situation justified it.

But man, it was hilarious, too.

So, about three hours and a bloody mess of level 1 corpses later and we called it a night. I had a blast, because having a bunch of confused characters in a room doing crazy stuff is just silly on a level scarce achieved elsewhere.

We’ve discussed the possibility of making a random generator just for the purposes of a Death Dungeon. Spitting out random characters, random rooms, etc. I hope we do, because that was a ton of fun.

D&D — Dialogues 4: Do You MIND?

Sometimes, things just don’t go as well as you expect they might. Or sometimes they go just as poorly as you feared. It all depends on the dice with D&D. This one isn’t a funny story, but instead was a great moment of just how frightening some moments can be if done right.

 

This is the same campaign of Dialogues 2 and 3, only my character, a human priest named Kallos, has since died. In the session immediately after Dialogue 3, in fact. After getting knocked unconscious, he was thrown across the room (1 failed Death save) and then he rolled a 1 on his turn immediately after, so… dead. It happened really quick, and the party was only level 3, so there’s really no coming back from that.\

My new character is a halfling barbarian named Xiuhcoatl (pronounced Shee-uh-ko). She’s something of a monotone character, deadpanning everything, but she’s also a sadist, so it’s an interesting combo. This Dialogue, however, isn’t really her story.

The party has ventured deep into a tunnel, chasing an evil duergar who attacked our town. We have to find him to stop him from telling his people of the surface’s defenses. As we delve further into this cave (we’ve been in here for hours), we find a man sitting in the middle of a pile of bodies, all cut in half. He stands in darkness, mumbling to himself, and in walks my brother, who then joined the party. (This was a welcome surprise to the half of us who hadn’t been told he was coming.) His character seems a little… unstable. We warily accept him into our fold as we continue on.

Now, the party didn’t rest before following the dwarf down here. We fought him, he ran off, and we gave chase. My level 4 barbarian is at 18/53 health, our other warlock is tapped out for spells, and we’re all but spent as it is.

So our DM was surprised that, when we find a crumbling door and some tents nearby, we don’t rest and plan. In fact, we don’t even take the sneaky approach.

I accidentally alert the dwarves to our presence, and the party takes cover. Theren, our spent warlock, casts Grease at the choke point in the doorway. Jod, the crazy warlock, and I hide behind the doors and whack them as they walk through. There’s three duergar. Then, three more show up. Things are going well. The duergar are rolling pretty low and, miraculously, we haven’t taken any damage yet (in this fight, that is).

But as I said, we’re already tapped out. By the time we take out three of the dwarves, a mind flayer steps out of the third and last tent. As soon as all the players see this, we decide it’s best to retreat. We can’t take on three more duergar and a mind flayer. And while Kollin the player knows how dangerous they are, Xiuhcoatl has never seen one, and she likes to grapple people. If an illithid is grappling you it can eat your brain, which will kill you outright. So she might unwittingly get herself killed just because she doesn’t know what she’s up against.

On Theren’s turn, he takes out Remnant’s Necklace (as mentioned in Dialogues 2). We’ve since learned that this necklace will “greatly empower a single spell cast through it”. We haven’t been told what that means, exactly, so Theren casts Eldritch Blast through the necklace at the mind flayer. He does this to push him back and to discourage him from following the party as we make our escape.

The DM asks him to roll 5d10, as opposed to the normal Eldritch Blast damage of 1d10.

A giant beam blasts through the fray, slamming into the mind flayer and throwing him back into the tent. The party sort of mutually misinterprets this as a signal to go in, so we do.

Jod walks up to the mind flayer and casts Arms of Hadar, thrashing tentacle-like wads of paper (part of his backstory) wildly at him and the three remaining duergar.

On the illithid’s turn, he casts a wave of psychic energy outward, and the DM asks all of us to make an intellgence saving throw. If I recall correctly, our rolls were 3, 4, 4, 5, and 6. Our best score against this save was 10, and we needed to beat a 15. Think about that. Out of 5 people, all of us failed what could be considered a fairly average spell save DC. This also dealt about 12 damage, if I recall correctly.

So all 5 of us, in addition to the duergar, are stunned for 1 minute, or until we make the saving throw on our respective turns. Our monk has fallen unconscious. I’m at about 4 health. Theren’s almost down, too. All of us are stunned, and since Kallos died, the party no longer has a healer.

At this point, I would have said the chances of a TPK right here and now would be over 70%.

Jod and Xiuhcoatl make their save on their next turn. Theren and our artificer are still stunned, and our monk is unconscious.

On the mind flayer’s next turn, he walks up to Jod and grapples him with his tentacles. Really bad news.

On Jod’s turn, he casts Cloud of Daggers at 3rd level. This spell deals 4d4 (6d4 at 3rd level) damage when a creature enters the cloud or starts its turn in the cloud. So he deals 6d4 now.

Xiuhcoatl is too far away to get to the illithid without using a dash action. Instead, she rushes over to the monk and gives him a healing potion.

On the monk’s next turn, he jumps up and runs over to the mind flayer and starts clobbering him. He’s looking rough.

Everyone else is stunned. Theren would have cast Eldritch Blast to knock the mind flayer away. Our artificer could have dealt tons of damage, but they can’t.

I’m panicking because this is only the second time my brother has played D&D. I don’t want his character to die after him barely playing, but I’ve done all I can.

The mind flayer’s turn begins, and before anything else happens, Cloud of Daggers deals its damage.

The numbers on these d4 were 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4. He dealt 21 out of 24 possible damage, and because he rolled so well, the mind flayer dies, and Jod lives to see another day.

We were pulled to the brink, and as far as Jod’s life was concerned, that fight could not have been any closer.

 

Needless to say, we rested after that fight.