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.

Review — Voice Acting Mastery

A few months ago I started listening to Crispin Freeman’s podcast, Voice Acting Mastery. Crispin has done tons of roles in both anime dubs and video games. I’m personally most familiar with him for his role as Winston in Overwatch and Itachi Uchiha in Naruto, but he’s also Alucard in Hellsing and prominent characters in Fate/ZeroFate/Stay Night, and Young Justice.

Voice Acting Mastery is a podcast about learning the fundamentals of the craft of voice acting. It includes tips on everything from learning the craft to establishing a professional career to interviews with actors in the field.

The primary reason for my interest in this podcast is not of vocational purposes. Mostly, I want to learn how to use my voice to become different characters in both Dungeons & Dragons and my acting career (as a hobbyist and instructor). Also I’d like to be a better narrator for my own stories when I record them.

That said, much of the content of the podcast is irrelevant to me, so here’s the disclaimer. I don’t need to know how microphones work, I don’t need to look for an agent or anything technical or “business”-y about the field. I was mostly looking for tips on how to change the quality of my voice.

So I was a bit disappointed to find out that most voice acting roles are signed based on the natural speaking voice of the actor. I may be pulling this number out of thin air, because I can’t remember if Crispin said it or not, but I believe I remember something along the lines of “80% of your booked gigs will be booking you for the emotion you put into your real voice, not for having an amazing pool of voices to pick from”. This isn’t the podcast for that.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t have useful knowledge. Most of the tips he provides are useful for any professional in the creative fields. It’s also never a bad thing to hear about the personal experience from anyone trying to break into industries of this sort.

So with as many podcasts exist in the world right now, is this one worth listening to? Well, it depends. For somebody looking into becoming a voice actor, absolutely. This teaches so much valuable knowledge about what it’s like, it’s a good tool. For somebody like me that is only recreationally interested in the craft, it’s not that great. My recommendation would be to go through all the episodes (there are currently 134, and the pre-100 episodes are only 20 minutes long), look at all the titles, and if they don’t sound relevant, they probably aren’t. The interviews are cool to listen to, but typically Crispin brings on specific people to talk about specific things, so if you know you’re never going to do motion capture for a video game, you can probably skip the interview with the actress he brings on for it (though she is a lot of fun).

If nothing else, I’ve learned a lot about what I need to look for in my pursuit for utilizing different voices, so I at least have that to thank Crispin for. He’s also a great teacher, and since he lives in my area I might consider taking a class or two with him to get more direct instruction.

Review — Battle Chasers: Nightwar

It’s been a while since I’ve played a traditional turn-based RPG. I mean, my favorite video game ever is Dragon Quest VIII, which was released over 13 years ago, and I honestly haven’t played many games in that genre since. (Dragon Quest XI still has no western release date, but it’s on the agenda.) So here’s a (mostly) spoiler-free review of the game!

So when I got my hands on Battle Chasers, it was like an itch that hadn’t been properly scratched in a long time. The last JRPG I’ve actually put time into is probably the original Suikoden, and it’s been several years. Now I didn’t know much about Battle Chasers going into it, I just knew that the art was cool and some online people I enjoy praised it. When I found out it was a turn based I was delighted.

This game was just a blast from start to finish. The opening cinematic(s) did a great job establishing the personality of each of the characters, and it did some interesting role reversals that were cool to see. As I played it, I found that the game really had everything I wanted: a meaningful progression of power (leveling up is really impactful to the experience), a sense of exploration, rewarding the player for being investigative, a clear sense of what being a completionist would entail (meaning “what can I do to see all there is to see?”), and challenging them with optional puzzles and quests.

This game was also a lot longer than I expected it to be. It took me 45 hours to beat it 100% (not New Game+), and if I had the time I would have no qualms with going through it again. New Game+ is cool because, while it isn’t necessarily “harder”, you can much more easily get Legendary quality gear and feel powerful, even if the monsters you’re fighting are 6 levels above you (when the maximum level is 30).

My favorite thing about this game was that it had time to put in lots of unnecessary things. All of the dungeons are randomly generated, so the puzzles you see the first time will be different when you revisit it. (This is a double-edged sword I’ll get to in a moment.) It has lots of side quest type things that feel rewarding. There’s also lots of cool lore books that are interesting reads, and the narration in general can be pretty sassy.
Ex: The game gives you an option to throw money down a well. When you throw 1000g in (a good chunk if you’re about a third of the way through the game), the narrative replies with something along the lines of “You have enough gold to feed an entire village for about a month, but you decide it’s best wasted by throwing it into a well.” It’s neat because this game very much adopts the philosophy of “just because your character can do it, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice to make”. A lot of the game actually seems to be modeled as a Dungeons & Dragons type adventure.

 

 

I do have two problems with the game, though. The first is that it can be somewhat unclear with the consequences of something. When you find an artifact, the game makes a big deal telling you that they’re valuable, which implies you should keep them, even though you have the option to sell them for a different type of currency. What it doesn’t tell you is that this is literally the only use for artifacts. They’re meant to be sold. Don’t hold on to them. What’s more, some of the optional bosses can be encountered accidentally if you’re “adventurous” enough, and there’s actually no way to know the power level of what you might be getting into. (There’s a mini boss in one area that’s four levels higher than the monsters inside, and he has a passive of reducing the party’s healing by 50% when you’re fighting him. He’s no joke!)

By far my biggest gripe with the game is how the “random” tiles in dungeons are placed, though. There’s a random encounter in the first dungeon with a skeleton, and you can choose to help him or refuse. If you refuse, he attacks you. If you help him, you can find him (randomly, again) in a later dungeon, and he attacks you there. Here’s the problem. Neither of these events are guaranteed to spawn in either dungeon. And what’s more, you have to do the first dungeon at least twice in order to take both options, because in both instances he’s a unique monster. So in order to fight every monster, you have to do it multiple times. The worst part is it was bugged for me, so I couldn’t go back to the first dungeon to fight him after I helped him in my first runthrough. So I had to do New Game+ in order to complete my monster book. This is terrible game design!

But really, it’s a fantastic game. I expected to beat it within 15 hours, but it had over 3 times that content for me. Overall it’s great, and it can be very challenging if you want it to be. Also, it has fishing. In my experience, every game that has time to add optional fishing stuff to it is going to be a good game.

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.

D&D — Dialogues 3: The Law of Averages, Pt. 2

Two (in-game) days later. Our party had been rescued by a stranger (the paladin’s new PC), and taken to the secret base of the resistance. The leader, a ripped dwarf lady named Boulderback, says that she could use our help toppling the ruthless leadership of the dwarves currently in command. We owe the resistance our lives, for rescuing us in the first place, but its also personal. We lost a friend in that fight. They would have their help.

The party is instructed to go attack a guard tower at the same time as the rest of the resistance. A coordinated attack meant to be swift and decisive. Our rescuer, a female artificer, joins us for the battle.

Now, it’s worth noting at this point that out of character, I’m telling the monk in our party that Kallos is going to destroy these guys this time around. I (jokingly) argue that since Inflict Wounds rolled so low the first time it hit, the second time I hit with it it would have to deal at least 30 damage. It’s called the Law of Averages. Our monk remains skeptical. Plus, I tell him, it’s my birthday, so the universe has to cut me some slack. Kallos (and I) want revenge for being humiliated in that last fight. And this time, Kallos has a plan.

The party is in an open, garden-like area with statues placed throughout. These provide half-cover, and if we’re careful we can use them to sneak up on the guards.

Kallos casts Invoke Duplicity, making a perfect copy of himself behind a nearby statue. Then he sneaks towards it and fumbles a stealth roll (-1 Dex is a real killer).

As soon as the guards come out to investigate, however, our artificer engages. She deals an incredible amount of damage in the first round, nearly killing a guard right off the bat. The rest of the party moves in to engage while Kallos sneaks around the statues, still not quite involved in the combat.

While the guards are distracted with our warlock and artificer, Kallos sneaks up to the nearest one and casts Inflict Wounds. This time, with Invoke Duplicity right next to me, I have advantage on my attack roll, meaning I roll twice and take the higher number.

I didn’t need the advantage, though. I rolled a 20 on the first roll. I believe this is also Kallos’ first crit.

Now, in this particular session, the way our DM rules crits is “Double dice roll, then max damage”. So, if your attack would deal 1d6 damage, it would turn into 2d6, and immediately take the max without needing to roll, meaning it would automatically deal 12 damage. Inflict Wounds, of course, deals 3d10, so when it crits by these rules, I deal 60 damage.

Now, I didn’t have enough movement speed to get to the boss-man. This guy was just a lackey. He gets disintegrated. Literally.

At this point, the DM has me roll initiative, as I’ve entered the combat. I don’t roll very high, but I still move before the boss. So when it creeps up to my turn again, I walk over to him, and realize it is the same guard captain that killed my friend.

“Thought it tickled last time, did you?” Kallos says, casting Inflict Wounds at 2nd level again. I still have advantage, but again, I don’t need it. I roll another 20 on the first throw. 4d10*2, maxed, equates to 80 damage. (Again, for perspective, Kallos has 27 health. That amount of damage would take him down nearly 3 times over.)

So, having crit with Inflict Wounds twice in a row, he’s dealt 140 damage in one turn. Our monk is at this point nodding sagely. “I didn’t realize how powerful the Law of Averages was.”

Now, this guy doesn’t die. Instead, he does what anyone else would do when faced with certain death at the hands of dumb luck. He turns into a demon.

That’s pretty much the end of the exciting part of the tale. He turns all of his buddies into husks as he mind controls them using lampreys (which was, may I say, exceedingly gross). He keeps fighting Kallos, unwavering, and with his two attacks a turn (and terrible armor due to my wanting to be more sneaky this combat), he doesn’t do so well. And, I kid you not, the die that rolled two crits (not technically back-to-back, since I had advantage) proceeds to roll 4 2’s in a row.

So, needless to say, Kallos doesn’t last long against him. He falls unconscious, and I legitimately thought he was going to die that session. The rest of the party manages to pull through, however, and the would-be valiant end of Kallos Mortani instead became “That time Kallos wasn’t useless in combat”.