500 Words on the Adventurer’s League

Of late, (almost) every Friday night, I take a long trip from my flat to West Seattle so I can join in the occasionally madcap shenanigans known as the Adventurer’s League.

For the uninitiated, the Adventurer’s League is the ‘official’ organization for players and DMs of Dungeons & Dragons, sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast. Participants log their adventures, XP gains, and magical items to maintain a relative power level. There are three tiers of play, based on player character levels. New players start with characters at level 1 and work their way up the tiers, trying a smattering of different adventures every week as they progress.

To what end, you might ask? The advantage of the Adventurer’s League is that you can take an official, logged character to any League venue and game, and fit right in. No need to explain any odd stats or homebrewed items to your new DM. You can review a logsheet at any time, make sure things are on the level, and start rolling dice from there. It could be a friend’s house, a coffee shop, or a huge gaming convention. It doesn’t matter. Got that +1 breastplate and your holy avenger logged and approved by another DM? You’re in.

Speaking of DMs, being a Dungeon Master for the Adventurer’s League has perks all its own. When you run an adventure, you don’t just get the satisfaction of helping your players have a good time, even if you kill their characters. You also get rewards to apply to characters of your own. Dungeon Masters can be hard to come by — the DM experience is ultimately rewarding in and of itself, but it can be incredibly intimidating. There are incentives given just to get someone behind a screen at the table. After all, you can’t have a Dungeons & Dragons adventure without someone to populate the dungeon and bring those dragons to life.

Most of all, however, beyond the experience points and whatever else players and DMs gain, the Adventurer’s League is a wonderful way to meet new people. Tabletop gaming, more often than not, is a collective experience, and everyone has something to bring to the table. Meeting like minds who contribute to a wonderful night of adventure and magic helps create a feeling of community. It helps people feel like they’re not alone. It draws people out, and encourages them not only to engage their imaginations, but share it with others. That, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing to me.

This happens with most D&D groups, of course. But when gathering at home, most of the players know one another, or get to know one another fairly quickly as they meet regularly. In the League, this happens with strangers. Every week. And everyone benefits from it, and walks away having had a good time.

I know this isn’t always the case, but so far, my personal experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. In spite of my worries, I plan to keep making the trip every week.

Gothmatum: A Thin Dark Veil

A journal entry for Gothmatum Baenre.

I am aware that, as long as my life can be and as much as I may discover, there are some things I may never understand.

For example: necromancers tend to fancy themselves “masters of death”, then give themselves over to curses such as lichdom and vampirism.

They lie to themselves.

These are states of undeath. They are born of a fear of death, not mastery. Those who seek such states retreat to remote, dark places. Crypts and foreboding castles are the order of the day for these so-called “masters of death.”

Cowards and fools, to a one.

Life and death are separated by a thin, dark veil. Those who live can see death. When she comes, the living can run from her, try fight against her, or reach out to touch her. She has no master. She simply is. She lingers on her side of the veil, patient and eternal. She cannot be wielded like a sword or staff, but she can be understood.

That is my goal. Not to master death, but to understand her.

The nature of the veil is of greatest mystery to the living. Those who cross it are never the same, should they return. Souls are carried to other realms, other planes, or simply are lost forever. How does the transition work? Is there a mechanism somewhere in the cosmic clockwork of the planes? Or is it truly a duty of a psychopomp to take the soul by the hand and guide it to its destination? The nature of the veil — what scholar who truly wishes to understand death would not make that their primary focus?

This is the goal to which I have dedicated myself. Many who claim the title of necromancer merely wish to dominate others with their animated corpses and fearsome spells that bring death. But do not evokers also bring death with fire and lightning? What of those illusionists who fool others into thinking that ravine is solid ground. No — true necromancy lies in studying the veil between life and death. Seeking to understand it. Maybe, for just a moment, penetrating it.

I have spoken to one who has crossed that veil in both directions. He claims his soul went directly from Mount Celestia and back with no stops between. Does he merely not remember the journey? Is the veil both thin as a razor and infinite as the void? These are the questions to which I seek answers, not “how do I cheat death” or “in what way can I extend my life until it is the thinnest of threads linked to a shambling corpse that plays at still being a wizard”?

The paths to the answers are dark. There will be false turns and pitfalls into roiling seas of madness. But I will find those answers. I will negotiate those turns, avoid those pitfalls. I have seen Death with my own two eyes. Now, I shall find ways to understand her.

That, in my mind, is true necromancy.

Adventure Review: Quelling the Horde

“Quelling the Horde” (DDEX03-09) is an Adventurer’s League module set during the Rage of Demons story arc. The story it tells is a classic one: farms and homesteads are getting sacked by goblins, and adventurers are needed to rise to the challenge. This time, some of the goblins seem to fancy themselves as ‘knights’. Calling themselves the Skullspike Clan, they gruesomely drive metal spikes into their heads to resemble crowns, and ride on death dogs and giant toads during their raids. Something is definitely driving them to this madness, and it’s up to the players to discover that something.

There is a misprint, in some editions of the adventure, claiming it is optimized for five 1st-level characters. However, in its opening text, this claim is for five 3rd-level characters. This can confuse some DMs, and lead to sticking points. For example, a party of mostly 1st-level characters encountering the scarecrows at Callidell Homestead as written can struggle mightily, especially if none of the party has fire-based attacks. It’s definitely something a DM should be aware of in preparing to run the adventure.

That aside, the adventure is a solid one. There’s opportunities for investigation and interaction before hitting the main feature, which is the Skullspike Caves. There are goblin antics with training different mounts, an encounter with an incubus, and the final confrontation with Agrak, leader of the Skullspike goblins. There are connections to the Underdark that tie the adventure into the greater Rage of Demons story tableau, and the adventure is flexible enough that it can stand on its own or be part of a larger campaign.

: Would run again with some modifications and a better handle on keeping the party moving.

500 Words on Refocusing

You may notice that things look a little different here. A bit more fantastical. More dragons. Maybe the implication of a dungeon.

It’s not an illusion. I’m refocusing my endeavors outside of the job hunt on D&D.

I’m still carving out time for the novel, as head weasels and real-world obligations allow. I’m still on the hunt for a dayjob to cover my rent and the other expenses of living, and I still want to make a (hopefully) significant mark with my words. In terms of hobbies, however, it’s been a very long time since one has given me the sort of creative impetus and deep satisfaction that Dungeons & Dragons has proven to provide in the last few months.

I think a big part of it is the collaborative storytelling. Everyone coming to the table is there to have fun, to work together to create that environment, and to cheer each other on as the epic story grows, changes, and builds. The DM does not exist above this experience, as some divine or diabolical overseer. They are a part of it, narrating the tissue that connects the players to the world and each other, as well as playing referee when conflict inevitably ensues. And I love filling that role. I do it just about every Friday night, for the Adventurer’s League.

I enjoy playing, too, and I’ll be doing that on Friday nights on occasions as well. And the characters I’ll be playing will be getting stories and profiles here. So, too, will go reviews of the materials I use both as player and DM. Advice for my fellow DMs, thoughts on what’s exhilarating or frustrating as a player, comparisons of the current edition to older ones — it makes for a lot of material, and I’m going tap that vein.

Not only does it make for fun and interesting content, it prompts me to write more. It’s like a warm-up before the big lifts when working out. My hope is that with a few hundred words every day, I’ll be ready to write at least a thousand in the novel. It’ll be the initial incision in carving out more time to write more. A positive feedback loop full of words.

Planning for, running, and playing games of Dungeons & Dragons provides me with a surprising amount of focus. Moreso than most of my other endeavors, from coding to video games. I think a lot about the stories I and my fellow players want to tell, or will tell. I understand the math involved. I dream up new characters, monsters, and dungeons. My mind works at a good clip with good ideas coming thick and fast.

I may never make a ground-breaking video game. I doubt I’ll develop the next killer app. But I’ll tell great stories, as I’ve always dreamed. From a table of a few friends, to readers all over the world, I will be a storyteller. And maybe that’s the way I can, and will, truly make a difference.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Special thanks to Geek & Sundry, Critical Role, and Matt Mercer for helping to inspire these things.

Honor & Blood, VIII: Victor

The Twins

Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this tale can and will deviate from series canon.

The Story So Far: Victor Luxon
has completed his task of returning heirloom blades to the great Houses of Westeros. He and his household make for their restored castle at Moat Cailin, but not before visiting his father-in-law, Walder Frey, at the Twins…

“So…” The word was drawn out for a moment longer than most would consider polite. Victor Luxon tore another mouthful of meat from the haunch in his hand. He waited for the speaker to lean closer before he made eye contact.

Walder Frey’s mouth never stopped moving. The largest orifice in the old man’s weasel-like face was even more animated as he entreated his son-in-law. “So! You still have some of those old swords, do you?”

Victor shrugged. “My father has them. They’re locked up, under the Mage’s Tower.”

“The Mage’s Tower.” Walder turned his head to spit. The gelatinous projectile sailed down from their high table and landed in the soup of one of Walder’s sons. The young Frey gave his father a withering look. Walder merely chuckled. “Serve ya right for being so pretty, boy!” The old man turned to Victor. “Too much of his mother in that one. Too pretty.”

“So you said.” Victor took a drink of wine. “Why do you ask about the swords?”

“Freys don’t have ancestral blades. It’d be nice to have one.” He got that leer in his look again. “Just be a matter of putting a different hilt on it, I imagine. Who’d know the difference? A sword’s a sword, right?”

“To the peasants and the dim lower nobles,” Victor replied. “Show it to any of the Great Houses, and —”

“Oh, yes, have them call me a liar! I’m not used to that old sausage, not at all.” Walder Frey sniffed wetly. Victor tried to keep his frown to himself. He’d traded that bastard and his irritable smile for a completely different definition of the word ‘disgusting’. “Or, better yet, would I be ‘dishonoring’ the sword if I put some Frey colors on its hilt? That’s something you Luxons know all about, eh? Honor?”

“It’s in our words.” Victor set down his goblet. “Do you really want a Valyrian sword that badly?”

Walder blinked as if stunned. “Who wouldn’t? Pretty things, those. Look quite fashionable over my hearth.”

“A sword’s meant to be used. It’s a weapon, not a sculpture.”

“And how often does your lord father use his?”

Victor frowned. This conversation was quickly going in uncomfortable directions. “Often enough to make men without sense think twice before opening their fetid mouths.”

Walder’s expression darkened. “Boy, you’d best not take that tone with me.”

Victor met Walder’s gaze. “If we were squatting over the same shithole, father-in-law, you can be damned sure I’d tell you if your shit stank. I’d expect you’d do the same for me.”

For a moment, the mouth of Walder Frey made no sound. Then, like a hole in a sack bursting wide under the pressure of its contents, the Lord of the Crossing’s jaw hinged downward wide, and he laughed loudly.

“You just might be the most worthwhile in-law I ever had the good fortune to put in bed with one of my daughters!” He slapped Victor on the shoulder. Victor barely felt it. “I’ve seen lesser men, even my own blood, piss themselves when I round on ’em.”

“You do remember every insult hurled at you, or so they say. Most of that, I imagine, comes from so-called highborn manners.”

“Too right, you are.” Frey took a large drink of wine. “What is it that you want?”

Victor narrowed his eyes. “That’s a broad question.”

“Well, then, make your answer broad. Come on, speak up.”

“I want what you want.” Victor paused. “I want to make my house great.”

Frey leaned back, a long “ah” sound coming from his mouth. “And how, exactly, are you going to do that?”

“By engaging in actions my sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters after, will speak of in awe and reverence. By taking what is mine. By denying my house’s lands, titles, and holdings to those who’d take them from us.”

“You’re starting to sound like you see yourself as some kind of conqueror.”

“And why not?” Victor gestured broadly. “The North is vast. The Starks will not be able to control all of it forever. There will be opportunities that House Luxon will seize. I would dishonor myself, and all the Luxons past and future, if I settled for less than I’m owed.”

“So the Starks owe you the North, eh?” Frey grinned his skull-like grin. “Come now, boy. Such things should not be shouted from the parapets. They need be whispered, between those of similar ambitions.”

Victor furrowed his brows. He was not used to whispering about such things. He found the very notion uncomfortable. Honorable men did not whisper. Still, he nodded.

“Good. You have some sense, at least.” Walder Frey beckoned him closer. “Come, let us whisper now about our liege-lords, and how we might best serve ourselves, rather than their fat arses…”

Get caught up by visiting the Westeros page.

Next: Jon

Mondays are for making art.

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