Friday, April 19, 2019

What are the Iron Archives?

I've been working on a Dungeons and Dragons related project since the end of 2018. Essentially it is a podcast series of a roleplaying game adventures set in the world of Mendria.

What is Mendria? Well it is a fantasy world created by our Dungeon Master DJ. One of the great things about Dungeons and Dragons is that players can take the basics of the fantasy world presented in the game and then add, remove or just completely change how they want it to work in their game. DJ created his own map, history, races and cultures for his game. I started playing the game in late 2017 and had a blast with it up to its conclusion at the end of of 2018.

DJ was running two games at the time and asked players from both games to join him for his podcast project. I thought it sounded like fun and became one of cast. We got to create new characters and play an  adventure that occurred many years before the series we had just wrapped up. So items, characters and events we had heard about in his previous campaign came to life in this one.

This was a short series, four episodes. The players were tasked with creating characters who were hunting down a dangerous and desperate assassin in an isolated land. Our job was to find him and kill him. These are brutal times, and justice was by the sword.

This was a lot of fun to play, and although there are a few recording hiccups along the way, I think the final product came out pretty darn good. But you can now check it out for yourself.

You can check out episode one here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Roll Out - Finding the party

Another classic 80s cover.
Anyway you look at it, Dungeons and Dragons requires at least two people to play. You need one Dungeon Master describing the world and adventure. Then you need one player to go on that adventure. But in most cases you want a few players to make things more interesting. I've found that having a group of 3 to 4 players and one DM is ideal. Get much bigger than that, and the game can slow down a bit. This smaller group can get enough character interaction in each session, as well as present a solid force against enemies. Make no mistake, some groups run larger, with 8 to 10 players and one DM. This can work in a combat heavy game, where roleplaying is kept to a minimum, and the players are familiar with the game.

Since I'm more interested in storytelling (and I'm a bit of a ham) I was looking for a smaller group to play with. We have a couple of local hobby stores in the area, but when I discovered you could play online that seemed much more appealing to me. There are several options out there for anyone interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons on a virtual tabletop. Some folks keep it simple and use Skype or Discord. There are virtual dice rollers, or you can use an honor system and people can roll physical dice. Then there are sites like Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds. These allow the DM to use full blown maps, digital miniatures, digital dice rollers, fully functional character sheets and ways to have video and voice interaction. These virtual table tops require a bit of a learning curve, but provide more immersive experience.

After some research I went with Roll 20. First off, it was free to join and use. It was fully compatible with Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition rule set. And it seemed to have the larger player base at the time. I found some videos on using Roll 20, and did some work creating characters, getting used to the interface and some of its quirks. When I felt confident enough it was time to find a group.

The magic of the internet!
Roll 20 has a board where groups searching for players can post. DMs usually post details about the game, the kind of players they are looking for and if they are open to new players. You can narrow it down by game, time zone and content. So I filtered for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition in the Pacific Time Zone. I'm are pretty open guy, so I didn't filter any content. I figured I'd just see what was available first.

I was surprised that there was plenty to pick from. But it was also interesting to see how the DMs pitched their games, and described the types of players they were looking for. Suddenly diving into this fun hobby seemed like it might turn into more of a job interview. Questions like "How long have you been playing?" "What type of gaming experience are looking for?" and "What kind of character did you want to play?" were typical. I actually got a little intimidated by amount of questions and how to best answer them. 

I'm sure he's friendly, he's smiling, right?
I ended up popping onto YouTube and found a few videos describing the best way to approach joining a party in Roll 20. And much of the advice was the same as you'd find when going in for a job interview. So I set up some clear and concise information on my Roll 20 profile (so DMs could find out a little more about me). I answer a few group postings in clear direct language. I also posted in about 7 different groups, because the odds of them all answering back were very slim.

I ended up getting three responses back, and soon enough joined a game. I'd taken my first step into a virtual table top game, and my views on storytelling suddenly changed.

Every try any virtual table tops? What was your experience trying to join a new group for your favorite table top RPG?

Next stop.. a lost mine!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A New Project Brewing!

So I'm currently working on a new project that I should be able to tell you all about in the near future. It is Dungeons and Dragons related, and has been a ton of fun to work on. Once things get a bit more grounded I'll be able to share more, but I'm looking forward to seeing (and hearing) the completed product.

In the meantime, I'll post a few more thoughts on my Dungeons and Dragons experiences. So far I have played in three completed storylines. I've run two short storylines myself and had a blast doing it. I've met some great folks and rolled some spectacular successes and hilarious failures. Really enjoying my time with this hobby and look forward to sharing some of that here.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Why Dungeons and Dragons?

One of the classic covers from the 80s.
So you might be wondering why I decided to delve back into tabletop roleplaying. There are three big elements that appealed to me.

The first was the surprise and vitality of creating a story in a group environment. One of the biggest issues I have writing fiction is the lack of interest with the story after I finish writing the first draft. I find it very difficult to go back and edit and reedit the story. Part of the reason for this is that there are no further surprises in telling the story. With a tabletop roleplaying game you never know what can happen. You’ve got other players at the table playing a variety of characters that may do something you’d never expect. And a good DM will be crafting the story as it plays out around the character’s actions. So even if you think you know where the story is going, you are usually in for a surprise – not just as a player, but also as a DM. Because even though a DM is creating the adventure, the players always change everything.

Never argue with a well
armed rogue.
The second also goes back to editing. As a DM you tell the story a single time with the group of players (unless time travel is involved). There is no need to go back over the whole tale again to perfect dialogue or make sure a plot twist is foreshadowed well enough. This also means you need to be doing some of this on the fly while the game is happening. But that can be a thrilling experience. As a DM you don’t need to get every detail perfect for the game. But the game does encourage fleshing out aspects for the world for the players to discover. You focus on molding the tale to make it more engaging to all the players. It becomes a living thing, evolving over time and the need for editing is much much less.

The third reason to get back into the hobby is that the adventure results in immediate feedback as the story is told. The DM gets to see and hear immediately how the story evolution impacts the other players. You can tell when they engaged and having a good time, and you can tell when they are feeling like the tale is slogging a bit. This lets you adjust things on the fly, crank up the challenge or change up the way things are going if the players aren’t engaged. Best case scenario you everything trucking along because everyone is having a good time.

Don't even think about
tossing him.
As a player there is a lot of enjoyment when you are exploring the story, impacting it in surprising ways and engaging with other players to flesh out the story. As I mentioned before, it helps if you can easily imagine and put yourself into the character’s mind, but there are plenty of players content to just absorb the story and battle monsters when needed.

Each of these ended up enticing me to return to tabletop gaming. I ended up picking Dungeons and Dragons because it has the largest player base, the rules had been streamline in real attractive ways and I love a good fantasy adventure. So the time seemed to be right to try it again.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

(blows the dust from this blog)

Been a while since I posted something here. Time for a little gear shift for this blog, and hopefully something you'll find interesting. As I mentioned in my Looking Back at 2017 post on my movie blog, I recently got back into Dungeons and Dragons as a hobby. Maybe it was nostalgia, maybe this is my mid-life crisis manifesting (perhaps both), but I really missed some of the exciting storytelling that occurs around a table with friends and dice and soda.

In this blog I'm going to be charting my adventure returning to the world of group storytelling and discussing what I like about it, what I don't like about it and some of the specific elements of the game as we go along. I'll do my best to keep it more focused on storytelling and less on dice mechanics.

But I figured that before I even really start, I should cover what Dungeons and Dragons is and the basics of how it is played.

Essentially Dungeons and Dragons is a game in which two to ten people sit at a table and tell a story set in a fantasy world together. One player is the Dungeon Master (DM). The DM is like the narrator, telling the other players about the setting, other characters they meet, playing the antagonists, telling them about treasures or secrets they find. If you think of it in video game terms, the DM is the game itself.

The rest of the players take on the role of player characters (PCs). They control one (sometimes two) character's actions in the game. This covers everything from dialogue to actions. The DM does not tell the PCs what to do, but will tell them how they are effected by events around them.

So the DM could say, "A hail of arrows rains down on your character." The PC says, "I dodge the arrows." Some dice are rolled. The DM says, "Alright you managed to dodge most of them, but a few hit your armor. Only one sinks in." The player replies, "I growl in pain and let out a sharp curse in Dwarfish." The DM smiles, "What does that translate to?" as she rolls some more dice.

About those dice... They are used to add some randomness to the game. In the example above the DM rolls for the skill of the archers. The PC has a set ability score to dodge, so the rolls have to be higher to miss. Only one archer was able to succeed, so now the DM rolls some dice to determine how much damage the heroic dwarf takes.

The random nature of the dice keeps things exciting. You never know how the dice may treat you that night. But even failure can lead to more storytelling.

In a recent game my character tried to swim across a river, but he wasn't very strong. A bad dice roll and the currents swept him away. Suddenly the other PCs were trying to figure out a way to save my character before he was carried away downriver to the monstrous waterfall roaring several yards away. I kept rolling to see if he could break free of the currents, and they were coming up with a plan to get a rope thrown out to me. But even that was going to be based on how well they rolled. In the end, I rolled well enough to get closer to them. They rolled well enough to throw the rope far enough to my character and haul his butt up the bank like a sad sack of potatoes. It created a memorable and tense moment for a simple river crossing.

The current edition of Dungeons and Dragons (the fifth edition or 5E) focuses much more on storytelling over pure action. This was one of the main reasons I was drawn back into the hobby. The Players Hand Book (PHB) is full of character generating ideas to give your character background and backstory elements to really give you an idea of who they are. It is up to the player to fill in those blanks and come up with someone who they know well enough to be able to play at the table.

That is another part of the fun, playing a character who may react to events very differently than you would. Maybe they are more heroic. Maybe they are more duplicitous. Maybe they are more dedicated. But you get to guide them on their path through the story. And if your DM is good he will weave elements of your backstory into the adventure. This not only makes the players feel like they are part of the world being created by the group, but it usually raises the stakes for the players. What do you do when that little sister you left back in your village is kidnapped by the evil sorcerer you've been hunting down?

So that is the basics of Dungeons and Dragons. You have a group of people telling a story together. To get the most out of the current game, you have to be someone with an imagination and be a bit of ham to act out the character. Luckily I'm a bit of both.

Have you ever played D&D before (or any other roleplaying game)? Every try a group storytelling exercise before? Is there any D&D related topics you'd like me to explore on this blog?

If you are curious about the rules, Wizards of the Coast has the basic rules available for free in PDF form. Check it out here: Basic Rules for Dungeons and Dragons.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First Draft Completed !

I finally finished writing the first draft of my fantasy novel. It was a long road, but one that I enjoyed quite a bit. I haven't written a work this long in many year.  it did feel good to sit down with a long story and let it unfold.

Here are some stats for those who are interested, and for posterity.

Started prep work on August 1, 2016.
Started novel work on August 19, 2016
Completed first draft on May 9, 2017
134,016 Words in First Draft
21 Chapters with a prologue and epilogue that are both about half a page long.

There was a lull in there around December and January where I didn't work very much on the novel. I would probably have finished it in March or so if I had stuck with my schedule from NaNoWriMo. I'm curious to see if the break affected the writing at all.

I ran into my usual problem with long fiction. I started off full of enthusiasm and burned through the first third or so. After that it became a bit harder to work through. The final third was difficult because I had several action sequences. I find those very challenging to write because I am very conscious that I could be overwriting them. I usually end up just throwing down a bunch of stuff and figuring that I can work it all out in the second draft.

This  novel probably had the largest number of main characters in it since my first novel. That first novel was written back in the late 90s and was filled with youthful excitement and insanity. Kind of funny to go back and read now. But I kept piling on characters, and since it was inspired by anime series of the day, some of the characters and plot lines were just bizarre and in conflict with each other.

This time I worked out backgrounds for my eight primary characters, as well as some history about the main location of the story. I think that helped to have that all fully realized before I dove in. I didn't reference my "story bible" too often, but the work spent there made it quite clear in my head.

I am a bit worried that ending might feel anticlimactic. I also think that one of my characters came across as a bit too stereotypical. I'll probably have to do some work with her on the next pass. I'm looking forward to rereading it.

But I'm going to follow Mr. King's advice and let the story sit for about a month or so. I've done this in the past and it really does help when you go back and reread it. In the meantime I think I might work on some shorter fiction. Been a long time since I tackled a short story or two. While I was working on this novel, I actually had a couple of ideas I jotted down (that always happens, and they always seem better then what you are working on at the time).

But first time to celebrate.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 - November 29

And tonight I crossed the fishline for National Novel Writing Month. It was a fun ride again this year, and I have to say that I feel like I got a good chunk of my novel completed because I had that driving deadline in front of me. Official total number of words for this year is 51583. But that only represents a portion of the total word count of the book. I had already written about 27000 words of the novel when I started, and doesn't sound the 30000 words spent on the world building and character creation work that I started in August. All told, that is a lot of material for just this one book.

What is great is that I haven't really felt any drag in writing this novel. Each time I sat down to work on it, it really felt like it was flowing pretty good. There were a couple days where it was tough to work, but I still met the minimum word count and was able to progress the story further.

At this point I'm still working away at Act 2 of the story. I'm going to toggle between the protagonists and antaongists as they continue their journey toward the goal. This means I'll continue working on the novel until it ends. At this point it could be mid-January when I finally wrap, depending on how busy December gets.

I will continue to post updates on this blog, but they will be a little less frequent and be more focused on the process of writing this novel and less on the word count goals. Speaking of that, here are the stats for the final night of writing for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Page Start: 177
Page End: 184
Word Count Start: 76163
Word Count End: 79194
Nanowrimo Word Count: 51562

  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Jeremy Soule
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and cheering me on. Your encouragement means a lot!