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The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games

Dragon Empire: City of Monsters

image: Drakkenhall map by Lee Moyer, as seen in 13 True Ways

 

From the moment I read the description of this city in 13th Age, I was hooked. A city governed by one of the more questionable Icons, always at the brink of war with the rest of the Dragon Empire. A haven for monsters and otherwise outcast citizens of the continent, horribly corrupt and treacherous with half of the it being a ruin. The shadow of the Blue and the Black reach far here, the Blue’s rule going unchallenged and unquestioned. This place was teeming with stuff to tinker with, even before the release of 13 True Ways. When that book came out, it opened up a whole new world (almost literally), and made me anxious to someday have my players go snooping around whilst being waist deep in danger.

It looks like dreams do come true, every once in a while. My Saturday game group is preparing to pack up and head to Drakkenhall in search of the Deck of Many Things, which is a key item in the overarching story being told. As I devour the information that 13 True Ways provides about the city, I grow more and more excited. The nature of the city will definitely take off some tension that the strict rule of New Port offers (in my game). I would imagine that they have a lot of murderhoboing to get out, and what better place? What makes it even better is the whacky and sometimes illogical laws that may be instilled by the corrupt creatures that run this pile of rubble they call a city. The sessions ahead are likely going to be very chaotic, a stark opposite to the way things have been going lately.

Deliberately throwing important pieces of the plot in vastly different settings for the players to chase can really shake up a campaign. Most interestingly, the party will be looking for a friend, making information gathering as to where to find him very interesting. Talking with monsters isn’t exactly something most of the party does… well, Lisbeth does but that’s besides the point. General disdain towards player races in the city will certainly increase tensions, with the watchful eye of The Black’s special forces creating paranoia and fear further. Thankfully that’s not the only “politically official” threat the party faces and they may get wrapped up in something they didn’t intend.

A tantalizing bit of info I’m not sure what to do with at the moment is that the city was never seized. It was given to The Blue under some sort of shaky agreement under a previous Emperor. It’s made clear that Drakkenhall didn’t always bear the name or monstrous citizens, it was once a respectable and mighty city in the Dragon Empire that plummeted into ruin and decay. There’s something hiding in this city’s history that caused this all to happen, and hopefully that’s something we’ll see in the upcoming Book of Ages by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. However, for now, all I have is my own creativity and speculation to fuel the way my players experience the so-called City of Monsters.

thethreeThe Three from 13th Age

The write-up in 13 True Ways has plenty of both fantastic and mundane details about the city that I believe will help me do it some justice. Perhaps the best part about this write-up (and the other cities’ too) is the 13 rumors. This little segment is a Petri dish for a GM to grow little adventure cultures out of. It’s absolutely beautiful, and will certainly serve me by creating more problems for the players than they originally planned and bargained for.

To further that point, there’s a segment with any and all vested interest the other Icons have in the city. Things are going to get complicated during the players’ stay in The Blue’s humble abode and could possibly take up the final stretch of our campaign (levels 7 to 10). With the deck being the primary focus of their little venture, they still have the looming darkness on the horizon that took their home of Ald Sotha. Time is of the essence, and they may have to attempt to recruit some monstrous allies to gain the deck, take back their home from Ossen, a terrible Lich hellbent on usurping the Lich King and plunging the continent into an age long darkness. But more of that in the campaign summaries.

I hope this has inspired you to read up and maybe include Drakkenhall in your home campaign. The city is seemingly one large dungeon that an entire campaign from levels 1 to 10 could easily take place in. Extract the ore from this impeccable mine of a setting.

Stay Metal \m/

Artisan Dice: Jack Daniels Oak

“Sean,
We apologize for the long wait on yourhandcrafted dice.
Included is a complimentary assorted wooden d20 for the wait.
We appreciate your patience.
Thank you and Best regards,
Artisan Dice”

 

So this is the very late follow-up to my post about the ancient bog oak die I had received as a gift for Yule. My overall impression was extremely positive, and now that I’m using it more often, not being able to see the numbers can be a pain in the rump just a tiny bit. That doesn’t keep me from using it because, well, I’m 22 and haven’t suffered enough in my life yet. First impression of these guys? That’s not going to be an issue anymore.

Now before I get too ahead of myself, I need to address the most important part of this whole gift receiving thing. These were ordered well before Christmas Day, by Jessica’s father as a gift to me. I hadn’t received these until late February/early March (if my horrendous memory serves). That’s a long wait time, but it was clear that wood supply was short and from Artisan Dice’s constant Facebook updates, it was blatantly apparent that they were having some machinery issues as well. Simply put: I was not in the least bit upset about how long it was taking. I don’t mind waiting some time for a truly quality product, and sure it would have been nice to have them earlier, but I wasn’t wiggling in my seat in anticipation. Now, I did order a set of purple heart wood dice for Jessica that arrived around the same time and having not sent a complaint email, Artisan Dice made an incredible gesture on their own. The featured photo is the tin of purple heartwood dice, the small tin is one of their assorted wood d20s as a good will gesture for the wait, and a hand written note to put the icing on the cake. I was shocked, and asked Jessica’s dad if they had done the same thing with the order he had for me (I had an assorted d20 too) and he confirmed my suspicion. From what I know, Jessica’s father did send an email to them asking about the long wait time, but I’m blown away by this company’s generosity. It warms me that there are still companies that are hellbent on giving the customer a quality experience.

Now that that’s over; let’s talk about dice, shall we?

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I’ve never had one of the wooden boxes that Artisan Dice offers, but even these little tins are well put together. As you can see from the small d20 only tin, the lid is fitted with this foam insulation on the inside to protect the face of the die. The housings for the dice themselves are made from some type of unfinished wood. It’s seemingly painted black and looks really good with the color contrast of my dice. The image doesn’t show it, but between the d4 and d8, they have etched into the housing a little maker’s mark (it’s in the shape of the state of Texas). It has no bearing on the product, but it does make for a nice presentation piece.

So, what’s the story with these? Turns out, Jack Daniels doesn’t retire their barrels until seven years after their whiskey has been aging in it. My thoughts on limited product supply were correct, for sure. The inside of whiskey barrels are very often charred, to give the whiskey a sweeter or vanilla taste. Any whiskey that comes out of America definitely utilizes charred barrels. Based off of logical assumption, that’s why the d6s have one black side; they utilize the charred inside of the barrel. The charred inside of the Jack Daniels whiskey barrel on the 6th side looks cool. These are the only parts with that charring, but the percentile d10 also has the slightest amount of it. It’s pretty clear this wasn’t intentional, but it still does look kind of nice. One thing I actually do enjoy about these dice is that the d6’s have pips instead of numbers. This shows off some complex layering of the wood inside the pips and is really pleasing to the eye.

Anybody who has worked with it knows that wood lacquer is really smelly. What’s incredible to me is that, though these dice are sealed with lacquer, you can actually still smell the wood itself through it. It’s a little odd that I smelled my dice, sure, but I’m a whiskey guy. Can you blame me? Beyond that, the charred sixth side smells different than the other bare wood dice. A rather trivial detail but, man, do I love it.

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Sadly, the one thing I didn’t find in the note is exactly what kind of wood my assorted d20 is made out of. I’m no wood expert, but if I had to guess, I would say its some kind of walnut. The rich brown color really falls in line with my general taste in wood color and really pleased me. That didn’t sound like I intended…

I store these guys in my Dogmight Games adventure case, I take advantage of the felt lined rolling tray in an attempt to preserve these Bad Larries as long as I can. Sadly, this is where the bad stuff comes in.

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One of the tips of my d4 took a hit, likely just from transport. The wooden doors on the adventure case aren’t lined, unlike the rolling surface. Therefore, when it’s in my backpack as I walk, everything is jostling around. Definitely not the die’s fault, but noteworthy. Also to note, the edges of all the dice are extremely pointy. This means that they’re sort of a target to become dulled or chipped anyway. I like how pointy they are, it’s certainly not a flaw. The die still functions just fine, but if this can happen during transport, certainly be careful while rolling. The points will likely wear over time, it’s just the way it’ll work. Bummer. Based off this alone, I would highly recommend you transport your dice in the provided containers to eliminate the risk of damage.

What I didn’t dawn on me until I plastered this picture in the post; You can sort of see the pattern I was alluding to when talking about the d6. The wood naturally has this strange criss-cross pattern that looks really cool. Inside the pips of the d6s, you can see that they’re more like strands almost woven together. Nature is an amazing thing.

From this point of the review forward is going to be the cons of the dice that aren’t things that I could control (like my storage). The geometry of the d20 and d12 are pretty damn near flawless. The other dice, however… well…

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Granted, this is a bit of a nit pick but if you look, you can see that the top point and the bottom point of the d8 aren’t aligned. They’re slightly offset from each other, which means the die isn’t fully symmetrical. That’ll without question affect the way this die rolls, and from what I’ve seen so far, not for the worse (heh…). I certainly don’t mind rolling well with it often, and thankfully my game group is lax enough to where it doesn’t really matter either. For some people, this may be a huge issue however.

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As you can see, this asymmetry is extremely apparent with the d10s. It certainly won’t keep me from using them but I feel this is important to note. Quite honestly, I’m not too upset about this. It does bother me that the dice aren’t true and that they won’t roll well, but this is the risk you run when buying hand crafted products. Human error is a real thing, and although there’s likely some sort of quality control in place, sometimes things slip.

In blatant contrast to the bog oak d20, these dice are incredibly easy to read since the burned in numbers are dark where the wood color is light. Even when rolled in the darkness behind the screen that my adventure case makes in front of the roll tray (invest in the LEDs, people. It’s a good idea), I can still read the numbers very clearly. The assorted one, on the other hand, does suffer the same fate as the bog oak.

To wrap it all up, I do absolutely love these dice. They’re gorgeous, fragrant (not something you hear every day) and just feel absolutely stellar to hold in the hand. This set runs you 167 USD, which is pretty expensive. Like I had mentioned in the last review, you get what you pay for. Having dice made out of a moderately rare and certainly interesting material is going to cost, it’s a simple fact of life. The one thing to certainly expect going in: these are going to take a while to get to you. Be patient, you’ll be happy you were.

 

Stay Metal \m/

Monster Hunters

image: Deviant Art

Factions and organizations make the fictional world go ’round. They help show that the world moves on its own, completely outside the influence of the PCs. That there are actually people with their own goals and ambitions living in the world as well. In many cases, the factions that PCs interact with most are in the either the same or a similar line of work: adventuring, dungeoneering, monster hunting. Here’s a small faction offering from my home game, Ald Sotha.

 

The Infernal Hunters

The Infernal Hunters is a group of monster hunters that could be plopped down into any medieval fantasy game. It’s comprised of only three people, all secretly lycanthropes. The name “Infernal Hunters” was made up by their leader, Feng. He’s a man who enjoys some irony, and since lycanthropy can be seen as demonic to some as a curse or demonic, he figured it’d be an indecipherable allusion to what they truly are. Their ilk is that of an ancient one, once simply called The Hunters. Their teachings were brought to near annihilation after a city long ago had accused them of purposefully siccing monsters on settlements to secure work. The truth? It’s been lost in the sands of time. What is true about the new Infernal Hunters, however, is that they serve humanity, protecting it from the shadows that lurk outside the corner of our eyes. The three Infernal Hunters have received their gift from the gods of nature (or the High Druid, if you’re playing 13th Age), to give them the same animalistic prowess of those they hunt. Alternate takes:

  • The “Infernal” part of the infernal hunters is actually because they focus on demons. This could turn the hunters themselves into powerful arcanists that draw on demonic power and twist it to do good.
  • They could outright be demons that are evil and hunt intelligent humanoids instead.
  • They could be intelligent monsters that hunt humans

 

Feng – The leader of the hunters. Feng is a werewolf, and knowing this before seeing his human form makes one wonder why people don’t guess this off the bat. His hair hangs past the shoulder, straight, and black as pitch. Feng sports a closely cropped beard that matches the color of the hair on his head, the contrast makes his eyes the centerpiece of his face: cold and stoic, the color of a frozen lake. He has a decisive look about him, stony as a dwarf and calm as the most remote lake in the wilderlands. Carrying a great sword on his back, most do their best to avoid angering him. Those that don’t? They regret it very quickly.

When spoken to, Feng defies his image. He’s very open and a fantastic listener. A compassionate soul, he’ll gladly do what he can for most anyone in need. Despite this fact, he’s difficult to deal with due to his tone of voice, which reflects his appearance. When the words and tone don’t agree, it tends to muddle the minds of lesser men. The coin flips, however, when people meddle with his work. Feng prefers to work alone, but with the lasting bond that he nurtures between the other to Hunters, it almost doesn’t show. When outsiders try to step in to a job he’s pursuing, the fangs of the wolf come out.

Boris – The muscle of the hunters. Boris is a bear of a man, quite literally. He’s the tallest of the hunters, and the tallest most everywhere else. His shiny, bald head contrasts with his chestnut brown, bushy beard. The facial hair hides his mouth while he speaks, but his smile shines through like a lighthouse in a fog. Boris has very crooked teeth, though they are as white as fresh snow. He’s a docile man, must slower to anger than Feng. When he does anger, however, someone will pay for it. Boris carries a very large, double bitted axe, and he does what he can to make it acquainted with those who truly deserve to be.

As one could guess, Boris is a werebear. He also has a redeeming quality that makes it almost painfully obvious in his human form: his love of mead. He carries a drinking horn everywhere he goes, with a small barrel of the stuff strapped to his back. The size comparison between the barrel and his chest/gut is stunning. The man is a walking, laughing stone tower.

 

Harold – The sneaker. Harold has beady little eyes, very patchy facial hair and almost always seems to be hunched over, if standing idly. His scrawniness and seemingly slimy personality make people wonder why Boris and Feng keep him around. Truth is, a wererat is incredibly useful in their line of work. Something about him makes him seem untrustworthy, and that instinct should be heeded.

Harold came from a life of thievery, an instinct that gets them in trouble almost as often as it’s helpful. More often than not, he spends his time in his rat form to sneak around and gather information about people and places to report back to Feng. He gets almost a sick satisfaction from it, the thought of being completely covert and seemingly mundane. It may be hard to warm up to him, but there’s no question about his importance as a Hunter.

 

 

In our Saturday campaign, the Infernal Hunters were used as a set of rivals to the party. They were hunting a vampire that lived in the city of New Port, the same ones the PCs were after. Where the Hunters saw themselves as protectors of the city, the PCs had a bit of a grudge against this particular undead revanant, making the two groups not see eye-to-eye. It made for an interesting adventure, and ultimately ended with the PCs and the Hunters banding together to take out a mutual enemy. You’ll get the full story from a campaign update that’ll be coming in the future.

Until then, I hope this sparks some creativity in you to either use the Hunters as written or to tweak them to fit perfectly into your own home campaign. Until next time…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Vital NPCs

Non player characters (NPCs) or game master characters (GMPCs) are the bread and butter of information giving in tabletop RPGs. Characters could always go to a library and read up on things, stumble across the answer to a mystery that’s plagued the world for a millennia or simply  just be lucky. This can be fun from time to time but what is dramatic and ties the player characters to the world is interacting with its people. Revealing some of the most important plot points in your game may center around an interaction with a key character. Because of this, the character must be equally, if not more, interesting than  the piece of information itself.

An example of this comes straight from my home game last night, an ongoing campaign that I’ve been running for three years or so.  A very helpful NPC had turned out to be an instrumental player in the Lich King’s plot to retake his empire. Though begrudgingly accepting this fate on fear of death in response to refusal, the character had helped the PCs and was eventually forced to come out with the truth to them. He has now turned into a double agent for them, walking the knife’s edge between good and evil. The plot was there all along, but there was a chance that he would end up on the opposite end of Lisbeth’s sword.

That’s where the careful planning and anticipation come in. Effectively presenting and preserving an NPC like this can make for a really gripping, complex, and engaging way to experience the story of your campaign. People are complex in life, and so too should they be in your RPG. The vital NPC needs to be a relatable character, yet still expressly unique to make the players feel sometimes at odds with them. It leaves the right amount of tension and keeps the players guessing whether they are good or evil. If they’re useful enough, the players will try to keep them around rather than killing them. It gives you ample opportunity to throw wrenches in the plot, but beware: if your wrenches are big enough to put the PCs further away from your vital NPC, that could lead to their death.

The problems that are introduced as consequence to the PCs relationship with your complex NPC should not have said NPC directly involved. That’s how your character gets dead, real quick. Players have an uncanny ability of cutting out the bull in a game, keeping around only what they see as vital, not interesting. As soon as your NPC becomes directly opposed to the PC’s, even if they’re a bit useful, they now become the focus as a villain. So, my one of six master vampires left in the world of the Dragon Empire, Wilton, is willing to help them retake their home of Ald Sotha by informing them on what he can about the Lich King for a time. The catch is that if the Lich King finds out and plays the game, Wilton won’t withhold information from him because he’s scared of the Lich King more than the players. He had said that right off the bat. However, it is abundantly clear to my players that Wilton believes that with careful planning and precision, they can topple the Lich Kings plan, thus making him willing to help. He wants to be free of the political obligation that our wonderful Lord of Undeath bestows upon him so graciously. This creates a very interesting and complex situation with the clear good and bad guys, but makes it deeply interesting by having the questionable character that is extremely open and helpful to the PCs.

It can be a lot to keep track of on the GM’s part to maintain a story line with such a rich and complex set of relationships, but it can be very rewarding to see your players react to such. It begs the question however; how do I keep them alive? This is the part that’s easier said than done. Continuing with my example character; the PCs had found out that Wilton was living amongst mortals and elves because he simply enjoyed their company, despite being a vampire. This takes away the mentality of “vampire = evil” thus making it a bit more difficult to justify killing him. Before the reveal, even, Wilton was very helpful and kind when the players needed some information about an event that happened near both his residence and place of business. It puts the NPC in good standing with the players, making them less likely to be outright angry when his real situation is shown. The blow of finding out that my majorly helpful NPC is a blood sucking monster was heavy, but not heavy enough to drastically change the way they were handling the other important situations.

Keeping him alive from this point forward is just a task of maintaining that level of helpfulness. Not any more, not any less. However, if you’re a GM who really likes to kick up the complexity, making such an NPC even more valuable than is originally presented can set the stage for an immensely dramatic shift. Putting that important NPC in danger or at odds with the players after that could become an important part of your story. The trick to this is to make sure that both you and your players explore all of that characters usefulness. If this doesn’t happen before the coin flips, your players could be missing out on some key information or experiences in your plot.

These double agent type characters can be a true joy to explore in a long term campaign. They keep things dramatic, tense, but also give your players a bit of something to fall back on when they don’t know what to do. The most important bit to remember, however? The story is about your players, not this NPC. I love Wilton as a character, I do. Sure, he’s massively important and preferably needs to stay alive,  but killing him won’t completely derail the game. It’ll make the players’ lives more difficult, without question, but the campaign can still be seen to the end.

 

There’s a lot to think about with this idea, and I’m sure all of you have some slightly (or radically) different approaches to such a concept. I’d be interested to hear them!

 

But for now,

Stay Metal \m/

Crowdfunding in Metal

This seems to be a pretty dividing subject among the metal community, so I said, “What the hell? Might as well throw my two cents into the hat too.”

The bottom line of my opinion: Crowdfunding could save this community. Period.

 

With the pirating of music being ever so rampant, I would imagine that music in general is having a hard time combating the outright theft of their income. The small community (relatively) that the metal scene is, it likely cripples us the most. There’s plenty of articles out there about album sales numbers and blah blah blah, which I’m not here to talk about. It’s no secret, everything has been going down although 2016 has been a big year for music thanks to streaming services like Spotify. Overall, however, people just don’t buy albums anymore. I know I sure don’t, and if I do, it’s the digital version instead of an actual CD.

Apple revolutionized the “micro-transaction” that allows you to buy single songs on the cheap and still make it profitable for musicians and, of course, the parent company that created the damn thing. Having a digital version of a song makes pirating it leagues easier, not that people had troubles when tapes were the big thing either though. Since there was, and still is, a really big market for digital sales, bands and record labels pretty much shifted the media platform in which people buy/experience music. That was a big source of fear in the industry when that whole bit came about, crowdfunding is no exception.

Crowdfunding basically removes a record label as the middle man for a band or artist. It allows a group to thrive off of an income based on their popularity, not based on how much a company agrees to pay them. When Protest the Hero launched their crowdfunding campaign back in 2013, there was so much negative backlash from the community that my stomach still does back flips to this day when I think about it. I don’t listen to Protest the Hero, not because I don’t like them or their ideals but I simply just don’t know their music. Yet, despite that, I was flabbergasted at all the people out there saying, “Stop begging and get a real job,” or, “Wow, I can’t believe they’re just asking for people to give them money.”

 

Are you people fucking serious?!

 

Isn’t that what any business is? Asking people to give you money so they can consume a product they need and/or want? Whether it’s food, lodging, clothes, art, furniture, whatever you buy, you’re giving someone money in exchange for a product you would like to own. If that’s the attitude you hold towards crowdfunding, it makes logical sense. It breaks down the need for huge companies that get fat and happy off some teenage kid working his ass off to make a buck playing the guitar. Isn’t that the dream? If musical artists don’t shift with the times and make money in an economical way, what happens to music? It disappears. Then your ignorant ass doesn’t have any metal to listen to anymore.

There’s going to be someone out there that’s going to get mad at me for that statement, and that’s okay. The idea is, “I have to work a ‘real’ job during the day and play music at night for nothing. How come someone else can simply ask for money in exchange for music that I am forced to do for free?” I can answer that question with a simple word: Risk. Business is about risk. If these people quit their jobs and try to live off of a Patreon campaign for their music, don’t you think there’s a big chance of failure? If you like their music and want them to continue making it, wouldn’t you like to support that? It can be manageable in your income to pay five bucks a month or whatever to a band that puts out music and probably gives you some extra bennies for being a patron. How can somebody logically get mad at that? It helps both parties have a working business relationship and keeps the stuff we love blossoming. If you get mad at a band for having a Patreon page, then you have to get mad at anybody and everybody having a Patreon page. Music isn’t any different from any other business, except for the fact that it’s not essential to keeping you alive.

 

So if you’re against crowdfunding because it’s “begging” in your eyes, I’m sorry. I hope that you realize that there will be a day where metal dies if everybody suddenly shares your opinion. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fund anybody on Patreon, at all. Not metal, not RPG podcasters, not game companies, no one. The difference lies in the fact that I don’t fund anyone simply due to the way I manage my income and I absolutely refuse to bash somebody for using that business model. Music isn’t easy to live off of. Let the fans decide if an artist has earned the right to their money.

 

Wintersun, congratulations on your successful campaign. I don’t listen to your music for the same reason I don’t listen to Protest the Hero, simply no prior exposure. Keep metal alive.

 

And for the rest of you,

Stay Metal \m/

Discovering Courage: A Small Snippet

Art: Campfire by Carl Buell

 

Hey everybody! To kick off the new “Fiction” category of the site, this is a bit of a story I’m working on called Discovering Courage. Sindarin is a simple elven woodworker who gets sucked into an epic adventure to find the elf who raised him, Tinlef. When he first starts his adventure, something a little unexpected happens…

Again, the daylight had begun to wane, and when he laid down for the night, he was startled by a noise in the forest around him. Frozen by fear, his eyes darted about into the dark, a weak attempt to see the source. Slowly standing up, he reached for his bow. It seemed like it took forever before the sound happened again. The second time, it was much easier to pin point the area it came from. Sindarin guessed, judging by the volume of the sound, that whatever crept in the shadows was of decent size. At this, he assumed it was some sort of predatory animal. Pulling back the bowstring, he aimed it in the direction with much more confidence than he had earlier in the day. A single bead of sweat rolled down the side of his head as he waited for his foe. Just as he made the decision to make a blind shot into the direction, a large figure blundered out of the brush.  Loosing the arrow, regret immediately filled him. It was a dog that came out, a mighty large one too. Thankfully, his aim had yet to be perfected and it hit the ground with a thud next to the beast.

The dog yipped and jumped back a step. That was the final expected thing it did. It looked at him with an almost human-like expression, “Hey! Watch what you’re doing with that thing!” Sindarin blinked and shook his head, not sure if his ears were deceiving him.

“That could’ve been the biggest mishap of the day. Take it easy, stranger. If I were here to hurt ya, I already would have,” the dog spoke the common tongue with a funny accent he had never heard before. It had the same grey and wiry fur as the wolfhounds that he had seen humans pass through with in the past, but a little smaller. He wondered if they all secretly talked.

Sindarin swallowed and mustered up some courage, “You can talk?” He almost felt silly for speaking to a dog.

“Yeah, and I can whizz myself too. Let’s be thankful that didn’t happen. Not that I have the problem of pants like you do.” The brush behind him rustled once more and a man fell out of it with a loud, oof! “There’s all these crazy beasts roaming around here and you’re surprised by a talking dog. Sheesh,” the dog grumbled to himself, rolling his eyes. The man that fell out of the darkness was wearing a funny looking pointed hat, it was made of a simple brown cloth. The brim was wide and circled around the spire that was now wilting in front of his face. From the fall, the front of the entire hat had come down over his eyes.

The man stood up groggily and brushed off the front of his clothes. He was wearing a brown coat that went to the knee, a white shirt peeking out of the open buttons, and some simple brown pants. A satchel was slung over his shoulder that clinked with the sound of glass as he batted at dirt on his chest. A closely cropped beard adorned his face, his hair was likely similar underneath the hat. The man seemed a little clumsy, just based off their first interaction.

“Uhm, hello,” the man said, a little nervously. “Sorry to startle you, we were curious as to who made the fire. We’ve had some bad luck out here so we chose to observe before approaching you. May we join you?”

“Just shut up and sit down before you embarrass yourself,” the dog said, “The name’s Alfred.”

“And I’m Tomil,” the man said, walking over. He pulled a small block of wood out of his satchel and snapped his fingers, it took the shape of a stool before he sat on it.

Sindarin cocked an eyebrow, “I don’t have any food to offer, sorry.”

“Oh, great. What are you doing out here with no food, you got a death wish?” the dog spat sarcastically at him. Sindarin was unsure of how to answer, he just sat there in shocked silence. “Looks more like braindead. Tomil, gimme something, will ya? I’d get it myself but this whole not having thumbs thing is getting in the way.”

Tomil was fishing through his pack, its contents noisy. It was simply amazing, the things he pulled out of that pack. He pulled out a spit, a small cauldron, some cookware, meat, vegetables, a blanket, a stuffed sack that was presumably for Alfred, and a book with a quill and inkwell. Defying all logic, Sindarin blinked again. He had always heard of magic, but it wasn’t something that the people of his village were well versed in. His childhood had been littered with tales of magical beings and items but he had never seen any of it. With that, he got a sense that the world was filled with things that he hadn’t seen, the thought made his heart swell with wonder.

“Well?” Alfred looked at Sindarin expectantly.

He stammered for a minute, “Oh, well. I, uh, yeah. I came out here to look for my village hunter. He’s been gone for twelve days or so.” Sindarin was conscious of the way he spoke the common tongue; he could hear his own accent in comparison to Tomil and Alfred’s. He could write and speak a few different languages but not that well. However, his good understanding of common certainly helped this situation. A lick of the gruff dwarven tongue left a bad taste in his mouth but proved useful from time to time as well. He took a second to be thankful it wasn’t a dwarf that popped out after the dog.

“Ya hear that, Tomil? Guy needs a sniffer,” Alfred said snickering, it was foreign to see a dog laughing.

Tomil looked up from preparing whatever it was he was making. “Do you know which direction he went? We were coming from the north and, if you’re following the game trail, it seems you’re headed north yourself.” Sindarin had all but ignored all of Tinlef’s lessons on navigation. He stared blankly at Tomil.

“Woo, boy. This conversation is going nowhere fast,” Alfred chided again. Tomil shot him an angry look and Alfred licked his lips before lying down.  He turned back to Sindarin.

“If I’m being completely honest, I sort of just left home. Didn’t think much about it, just left,” Sindarin said sheepishly. “I’m not sure what drove me out here, but there’s just this fire in my chest. I can’t explain it.”

Alfred threw his head back and gave a bawdy laugh that echoed in the night. Sindarin’s felt his face grow hot, Tomil ignored him. “It seems that you’ve discovered some courage. The beginnings of a good adventurer, surely.” He lowered his gaze back to the cauldron and continued cooking. It smelled delicious, Sindarin’s stomach reminded him of that fact.

“What? No, I’m not adventuring, just trying to find my father,” saying it that way shocked Sindarin for a moment. It must have shown because Alfred softened.

“Hey, kid, you have a bad relationship with your dad or somethin’? You look like you’ve never called him dad before, with that face. If he’s a jerk, who cares what happens to him out here?” Alfred’s tone was still light and loose yet he somehow seemed more sincere.

“Alfred!” Tomil shot at him angrily. “We’ve talked about this before, it’s one thing to talk to me like that but we don’t know this man. Show some damn respect.” Alfred’s ears pulled back.

“No,” Sindarin looked at the ground, “I never knew my father. My mother was called to the court when I was very young and Tinlef was a family friend. I still stayed in my mother’s home but he and his wife basically raised me. I’ve just never had the gall to call him my father before, that’s all.” He felt more embarrassed than sad. Sindarin let that statement hang, the crickets were singing in the night. The trees spoke, the flames danced in the eyes of the three that surrounded it.

The silence was not uncomfortable, at least not for Sindarin. Silence was a companion, it didn’t bring up painful memories, it didn’t make fun of him for things he couldn’t control. He studied Tomil and Alfred for a moment. Tomil scribbled in his book while the cauldron in front of him bubbled. It clearly wasn’t full, Sindarin wondered what was inside. Alfred lay next to Tomil on the stuffed sack, his chin on his front paws. The soul of a man was inside that beast; Sindarin could sense it. Alfred’s eyes had this look of wisdom, compassion, but he could also see sorrow. He knew some sort of pain too, just like Sindarin.

“Here,” Tomil said after a while, he had a bowl shoved in Sindarin’s direction. “If you’re going to be out here, you need a hot meal to fill your belly. You won’t last long without one.”

He took the bowl, feeling a little embarrassed once more. Gruel, that much was clear. At least it was hot and thick, it would definitely fill him. It had bits of carrots and some sort of sweet, tender meat. A spoonful revealed that it was made primarily with barley, Poe came to mind. Tomil scooped out a bowl for Alfred and put it on the ground next to him.

“It’s always so degrading to eat like this. Plus, this is worse than having facial hair! I swear, my snout is never clean,” Alfred complained. Tomil laughed softly, “Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll look out for you.” Sindarin smiled.

 

I hope they become my companions too…

 

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

Ald Sotha: The Seed of Deception

A steely silence hung in the air like a fog whilst the party digested what they saw. Crysx cleared his throat and turned to go back up the stairs. The weight of that curse mark was a lot for him, he just couldn’t stand in that room anymore. Tiberius followed suit but Corbin and Lisbeth remained. Though the sky was grey, Tiberius and Crysx squinted in the light of day after their eyes had adjusted to the dark during their investigation. Mia was still kneeling next to some of the rubble with a listless expression on her face. He gave Tiberius a look that he immediately understood. Boots crunching in the snow as he walked, he made his way over to Mia and knelt in front of her. He placed a hand on her shoulder, her eyes lifted to meet his, watery and hopeless.

“We found something in the basement,” he said softly, “it’s what we guess to be a curse mark. It was drawn on a sack down there. Has anyone been cast out of the farm recently? Someone who may have been angry with the rest of the community, perhaps?” He did his best to use a gentle tone of voice to soften the blow of the possibility.

She searched her mind, the clockwork of thought in her eyes revealing itself. She went to answer, but only a squeak came out, her eyes filling with tears again. Crysx’s heart ached, he didn’t want to force her to talk about it but it needed to be done. Wiping her eyes, Mia shook her head. Crysx sighed, hoping that this could have been wrapped up rather easily. He looked over his shoulder to see Tiberius walking among the wreckage, clearly unsure what to do with himself while Crysx tried to find an answer. He poked at the charred pieces of wood with his boot, shuffling them around once more to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. Much to his disappointment, there was nothing.

 

———————————

 

“I can’t determine the origin of this mark,” Corbin said with venom in his voice, frustrated at his lack of knowledge. He stared at the mark with determination, it almost felt like it stared back though it bore no visage of a living creature.

“I hope the farm folk are as clueless as we are, otherwise the elders aren’t doing their job to protect their people,” Lisbeth said. Her voice wasn’t inherently angry or bewildered, just thoughtful. The hands of her mind were fondling this puzzle box of a case but to no avail. “We should find out where those elders are, exactly. Speaking with one would certainly be more helpful than the girl. Ithildin have mercy on her, but I can’t say I blame her,” Lisbeth mumbled, standing and turning to the stairs. Her boots thudded heavily on them as she came back to the frostbitten land that was a functioning farm earlier in  the year. Corbin followed, shooting the mark one last glance before climbing the stairs. Its image seemed to claw at his soul, hateful and malicious. It chilled him, though he couldn’t figure out why. His curiosity had bested him in that moment. Walking back over to the sack once more, he pulled out a small knife and cut open the sack. The grain inside had gone black, the smell of mold and decay filled his nose. It made him sneeze, and before his eyes the rot started to spread, devouring the other food items in the basement. All of it withered before his eyes, and thankfully the curse didn’t seem to spread beyond that. That could’ve been a grave mistake, he thought to himself, now ascending the stairs as well.

The crew started throwing ideas around about how to be the most productive. An insane idea had entered Lisbeth’s mind, though she didn’t mention it just yet. She broke off from the group for a moment to speak with Mia again. “Do you know where they buried your father?” Lisbeth asked. Mia’s gaze fixated on the sack tied to Lisbeth’s belt, the one that held her father’s frozen head. “It’s important to make sure the dead are whole so the spirit can find rest. After all you two have been through, you both deserve some rest,” she said, trying to sound reassuring. It was a macabre topic of conversation but Lisbeth’s duties to her religion made it necessary.

“I can take you there. It’s in the meeting hall of the Ealdermen, where they meet to discuss important matters,” Mia’s voice sounded as if it would fail her at any moment. “It’s typically locked because only Ealdermen are allowed inside. You’d have to speak with them to gain passage.”

Lisbeth chewed on that for second, she couldn’t help but think, Oh, we’ll get in. With or without them. She gave a small nod to Mia before proposing the idea to the group. Crysx and Tiberius understood the religious weight of the situation, but something about this made Corbin suspicious. Lisbeth’s heart was too big for this to be a simple gesture, the others were too devout to see it. Corbin knew if he spoke up, the others wouldn’t hear him. “I really think that the best course of action is to do this without the Ealdormen. They won’t understand the burial rites, they probably would be offended,” Lisbeth said to the party.

“Well, shouldn’t they perform their own rites?” Tiberius was interested in Lisbeth’s thinking.

“No, not this time. there’s a curse involved and I’m not entirely sure their beliefs can shield them,” She answered confidently. She was certainly right in that, Crysx and Tiberius knew it. It was all they needed to agree this was the course they would take. Corbin’s stomach writhed like a pit of snakes. Being an elf of cold fact, this religious approach was making him uneasy. He believed that his calculated magic could circumvent the curse, obliterate it even. He knew better, though, Crysx, Lisbeth, and Tiberius would have none of it. Not until they failed.

Lisbeth had planted her seed, and she knew it would blossom. Once in the act, they couldn’t stop her. I’ve never resurrected anyone before, she thought, I hope this curse doesn’t affect it too much…

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

Incremental Advance

Leveling up has been, and probably always will be, a hugely exciting experience in role playing games. You get a cool new spell and/or feat that makes you feel that much closer to being invincible. GM’s have a way of giving you a reality check real fast, but hey, the feeling is nice for the ten minutes you have it before that red dragon gives you a good torchin’. This is also the reason why my players hate me sometimes: It so rarely happens in my 13th Age campaign.

With a level cap of ten, depending on the type of campaign you’re running, levels could come to the players as often as a lunar eclipse. My home campaign has been ongoing for nearly four years now and we’re at level seven. Most game sessions we play, the only dice rolled are for skill checks, being a more urban and politically focused campaign. The frequency of combat has declined steeply since the players started rebuilding their guild to take back their homeland. With that, combat has become this sort of ritual for my group, since it typically happens when they’re out in the field or if there’s a rather important reason to be fighting. Combat within a city tends to be a stone cast into the pond, sending ripples throughout the story. Since I don’t follow the model as outlined in the core book (one level per four encounters), it causes level gain to progress at a crawl. My players often moan and groan about it, but thankfully the game has a mechanic that helps keep them interested.

Behold! The Incremental Advance! It basically allows a PC to take a sliver from the next level and apply it to their current character, barring a few options. It even has its own little section on the character sheet.

Incremental advance

As you can see, there’s a swath of things you can choose from. It does a very good job at keeping the character fresh and progressing. What makes it balanced, however is the fact that you can’t take the extra weapon die or +1 to all (or any, for that matter) defenses. Withholding those from the PC until they actually level up puts a good emphasis on the word “incremental,” which the advance is so aptly named.

For the people that either don’t use this rule or don’t play this game, it begs the question: When do you get an incremental advance? The answer is a little nebulous, which can be so often the case in this game. To quote the book, “After each session that goes well…” is when a PC gets an incremental. It explicitly states that the GM can withhold an incremental based off of performance, munchkining or what have you. What the hell is a session that “goes well”? That could mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For a game like mine, that’s tough to say. Giving them an incremental after a game that went “well” usually means that there were a lot of good decisions made in regards to dealing with NPC’s, uncovering the shrouded information in a creative and effective manner, or simply showing some deep growth within the personality of their character. That sounds fantastic when I put it on paper, and it really is when it happens at the table like it so often does. The problem is, nearly everything outlined in the incremental advance section is related to combat, unless you take a feat that has out of combat usefulness or an Icon relationship. Since we so rarely fight at the moment, this means that the players would progress rather quickly without fighting, thus not showing that their martial or magical skills have been honed by experience.

That’s a little problematic to me. So, since the description of when to hand out an incremental is so nebulous, my game slows down even further. We’ll often go two or three sessions without a combat scene, and typically I’ll give out an incremental after one combat (that went “well”) for that reason. From what I’ve learned, doing it this way is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, it makes my characters appreciate progression of their on-paper character a lot more. On the other, it also makes the mechanics of the game less important than the setting. Throughout t he course of the campaign, the pendulum has swung between combat multiple nights in a row (usually a dungeon crawl) and then a long stretch without much of it. Regardless of what point of the spectrum we’re in, the incremental advance has been rather instrumental in keeping things moving forward. For that, I am surely grateful and really appreciate (and love) this mechanic.

To be clear: my moaning and groaning player is always exaggerated in posts like these, they do in fact love my campaign. I don’t think I’d have them hooked in for four years if it was the contrary. My humor can be strange, I’ve grown to realize this.

How do you use incremental advances? Maybe you don’t, maybe your games flow a lot differently than mine. I’d be very interested to know!

 

Stay Metal \m/

PAX East 2017

As Gen Con was my first last year, PAX is my first this year. Funny, I know, since I live up here near Boston, you would think that PAX was my geekly haven for years and years. Not the case, in fact, PAX was a little repelling. Not because of the content, but mainly because of the sheer number of people that attend this damn thing. I was always under the impression it would be too crowded to be fun, and I was almost correct. Almost. I started my gaming lifestyle when I was really young, around five years old. I started in video games and didn’t even know that there were tabletop RPG’s until I was eighteen. That huge gap in my gaming hobby was filled with video games. Kind of funny how backwards that works for the younger generation, eh? But I digress…

Reuniting with my gaming roots, I thought it was finally time to experience PAX. All three days, I went and whoo boy, was that an experience. It’s not called “Line Con” for no reason. In fact, if I wasn’t perusing around the expo floor, I was waiting in line. For food, to try a game, to buy merch, doesn’t matter what I was trying to do, I was in line. This is probably the most stark and shocking difference from Gen Con that lead to me deciding I prefer it over PAX. But I’m not here to tell you that PAX sucked, because it didn’t. It was very exhausting but a very interesting and fun experience.

Line Con 2017.jpg

The first day of PAX, I was a little late getting there because cosplay can be a pain. Jessica, my significant other, was wearing a ball gown type thing for a character from Odinsphere, a side scroller game. The kicker is that it wasn’t done by the time we had to leave so that ate up some of the morning. Which is ok, because damn, was it cold! I didn’t really want to wait in line so in hindsight, this was for the best. When we finally got in, I was completely and utterly gobsmacked at the sheer amount of people crammed into this place. Anybody who’s been to Gen Con knows that it’s pretty relaxed throughout the con, except for the exhibition halls. Here, there was no escaping the chaos. The second you walk into the expo hall, you’re greeted by the low murmur of gamers excitedly talking to one another and trying out games, the beeping and booping of various game screens showing you what they have to offer.

It was video game heaven, to be frank. It was almost a little overwhelming, and my experience on the first day was testament to that. I had nothing planned, I was just going to mosey on around and see what was there. The first thing I did was actually meet up with the mind behind the Twitch show Exploding Dice. We chatted for a bit and he gave some pointers to my friend, Ben, who is starting up a podcast himself called Nerdmantle. A very pleasant interaction, I’m actually hoping to open lines of communication and work together int he future. After that, I met up with Amber, a streamer and friend I met at the game I ran for Roll20 Con. I always love meeting up with people I’ve gamed with online, that personal connection is really cool. I went to three panels on the first day; The first one of which was about breaking into the industry. Mind you, they were talking about the video game industry as opposed to my preferred tabletop one. Surprisingly enough, there’s an immense amount of overlap between the two, although the two gaming styles are vastly different. It was a multi-part panel that was going to basically brush over everything, beginning to end. That initial part was simply about how to approach a company and how to handle interacting with them before being hired. Having just been through that with Pelgrane Press about their production assistant position, (which I didn’t get, congrats to Alex Roberts!) I was relieved to learn that I had handled the whole process rather well. Especially for someone with no experience in the matter.

I didn’t go to any of the other parts, though I probably should have, simply due to lack of time. The other two panels were about Indie game development and a Cards Against Humanity spoof panel about psychology in gaming. The last one was far less interesting than it lead itself to be, but the Indie gaming panel was very interesting, especially since only one panelist and the moderator showed up initially. I hadn’t played a single game but, man, was that first day tiring.

PAX xwing.jpg

Saturday was where I played some games, or one game rather. That day was conquered by an X-wing Miniatures tourney, it was actually the part of the con that I was most excited for. It was my first time playing in a tourney with an experimental Imperials list I had cooked up. While I lost two of the three games I played, it was incredibly fun and I’d do it again in a second. I walked away with an X-Wing coin and some alternate art cards from X-Wing Miniatures Maine, a company that had came down to have a small presence at the con. I hadn’t expected to win anything so this was actually a very pleasant surprise. The tourney went form 11 to 4-ish and I was pretty exhausted afterward. I wandered the expo floor for a while before finding myself in the Twitch Prime lounge upstairs to just sit back and unwind for a bit.

It had never occurred to me before how huge Twitch has become in recent years, how much video gaming is actually a big social culture now. They had a big projector up showing a panel that was going on elsewhere at the con. After that, it was some large League of Legends tourney going on somewhere. I was pretty wiped out by this time, so my attention was less than sharp.

Twitch Prime.jpg

On the third day, I was raised to gamerhood. Okay, maybe that didn’t sound as funny as I anticipated but I have to at least try every now and again. Sunday was more crowded than I expected, the original plan was to game on Sunday to avoid lines. Alas, I was wrong. Lines were still out in force. That didn’t stop me though, I bucked up and stood in line some more. I got to play a few games, one of which was a preview of the Morrowind expansion for Elder Scrolls Online. I hadn’t played ESO prior, though the interest was there because I loved Skyrim. It was set up  as a 4v4 death match thing, and I got thrashed pretty good. However, it did show me that I liked the way that ESO functions and after the con, I bought it for $20. Not bad, considering the original price tag before it was free to play.

That was really the only memorable game I played, though looking around, I’m really interested in What Became of Edith Finch , Prey, the Nintendo Switch and Mass Effect Andromeda. I didn’t get to play any of those, but the fact that they stuck out in my mind says they’re doing at least something right.

Overall, I do definitely prefer Gen Con. It’s more organized with the games, no lines or waiting unless you’re buying something or waiting for your table to fill. My PAX experience also showed me that my interests have shifted as a person. I care a lot less about video games now than I have in the past. Tabletop has taken the spotlight, mainly because of the amount of freedom and positive social interaction, I surmise. On the contrary, going to PAX did rekindle my love for video games, making me remember why I used to play them so much. Though not exactly what I have now learned I prefer, PAX was a good time and I will be going at least one of the three days next year. I can probably touch everything I want to see in one day on the con floor.

 

If you saw me at PAX and you don’t already, give this site a follow! I’d very much like to speak and maybe even game together someday. Until then…

 

Stay Metal \m/

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